Rosa Merced is riding home on the subway on a frigid January night after another twelve hour day at the office. She did not expect to come face to face with a dying man.

This story was inspired by a newspaper article I read years back in NYC. Don’t recall if it was legit news or a tabloid version. Enjoy!

We Gotta Go, Lady

Bob Gillen

Rosa Merced stomped her feet on the floor in a futile effort to warm them. The air in the near-empty subway car had to be ten degrees colder than the winter air up on the street. She pulled her wool beanie further down on her head and snugged the scarf on her neck.

Two more stops and home. Rosa pictured herself wrapped in an electric blanket, with a cup of hot tea and the chocolate chip cookie she had wrapped in a napkin in her purse, a leftover from her department’s catered lunch. That seemed like an eternity ago. Twelve hour days were getting too common.

The train doors were closing as a transit cop stepped in from the platform. He stood eyeing each passenger in the car. Satisfied, he moved to the door at the end of the car. The train began to move into the tunnel. Rosa closed her eyes for a moment, wishing for her warm blanket. Just as her car rolled into the blackness of the tunnel, the train squealed to a halt.

Shit, what now? Come on guys, I need to be home.

The lights in the car flickered, went dark. Rosa could hear the transit cop talking into his intercom. “Okay. Okay, yeah.” She turned to stare out the window. Darkness. She sat in the frigid blackness for what felt like hours.

She spotted beams from flashlights bobbing around in the tunnel. 

The conductor’s voice came over the train’s PA system, so garbled all she heard was, “…delay…as soon as possible…”

The transit cop exited the car and walked towards the rear of the train. Rosa heard voices, muffled, anxious, coming from outside along the tracks. An emergency floodlight powered on, lit the tunnel. Several firefighters stood nearby. An EMT approached the side of her train holding up a blanket.

Rosa startled as she followed the EMT’s path. She was face to face with a man. A man standing up against the side of the train. He had a filthy beanie pulled down over long gray hair. An unkempt gray beard trailed down from his chin. The man’s face was lower than Rosa’s. She guessed he was standing on the wooden guard that ran across the top of the powered third rail. 

The EMT draped the blanket over the man’s body, covering him from the shoulders down. Rosa realized the man was wedged between the side of the subway car and a steel support column alongside the track.

The man looked up. His eyes locked on Rosa’s.

The transit cop reappeared, his flashlight poking the darkness. “We need you all to walk though to the rear of the train and exit at the last station.” Without waiting for a reply he moved on to the next car. The few passengers began to shuffle toward the door.

Rosa stared at the man in the tunnel. His eyes pleaded for help. Firefighters fussed around him but he took no note. He continued to look to Rosa. She met his eyes, willing herself to hold his gaze. It was a look she knew well. Her dear aunt had lay dying, unable to speak, her eyes saying, ‘Don’t leave me. I’m not ready to go yet.’

The transit cop came back, waving his flashlight beam in her direction. “Lady, you have to exit the car. We need to move the train.”

Rosa said, “Give me a minute.” The cop looked out the window, saw the trapped man, nodded, stepped away.

Rosa pulled off one glove, fumbled to open her purse. She found the chocolate chip cookie. She stood. A blast of frigid air hit her face as she opened the train window. An almost overwhelming smell of urine wafted in. She knelt on the train seat and handed the cookie out the window. She realized the man’s arms were pinned. She reached down to hold the cookie to his mouth. He took a bite, chewed, swallowed. A thin smile creased his face. A face crisscrossed with lines and crevices of pain. Rosa offered him a second bite. His eyes lit with joy. A tear rolled down his cheek, froze before it reached his chin.

“We gotta go, lady.” The transit cop spoke quietly from behind her.

Rosa pulled her arm back inside the car. She held the man’s gaze for a few seconds longer. 

Oh God, I shouldn’t do this. Rosa smiled at the man, took a bite of the cookie herself. He nodded. She stood, placed her palm against the cold glass for a moment, and backed away from the window. The cop directed her to the rear of the train.

When she reached the station platform, the doors closed. The train inched forward. Rosa stood watching it crawl into the tunnel. Shouts of firefighters and EMTs filled the space as the train moved further into the tunnel. Somewhere in that tunnel a man was dying. She heard a single scream echo through the tunnel and the station.

Rosa tossed the bitten cookie down on the tracks. “For your journey, my friend. Vaya con Dios.” She turned towards the exit.