He was sitting on the wooden bench on the platform when my eyes fell on him. On the vacant seat next to him he placed the black trash bag which had all his worldly belongings. He sits there idly, gazing at the tiled wall before him. There are very few people on the platform at that hour. A suited gentleman thumbing the knob of his iPod with one hand and a folded news paper shoved into his armpits walks by him towards the trash bin; discards the news paper and moves on. He is very quick on to his feet and moves towards the receptacle to retrieve the paper. He opens the paper ignoring the front page article about the new President’s pitfalls with surgical tack on Detainees and flips to the sports section to see how the New York Yankees fared against the Boston Red Sox the previous night. Satisfied with the result he grunts a sound of approval, folds the paper and shoves it into his sack for latter reading. He is feeling hungry and it’s been a while since he has had a full meal. His hand dives into the sack for a bottle of water. The pangs of hunger have temporarily subsided. He looks down at his boots. The sole of one of the boots is fast wearing out and the sole of an another is partially detached making and odd clapping noise every time he takes a step. The socks have long lost their original white and are now of a nameless undefined shade of color and they also stink very badly. He unties the lace and drops the heavy boots. He lifts both his legs to provide some air circulation to his torn socks. The prim old lady who was hovering near the bench covers her nose in disgust and moves away from his immediate vicinity. He lets out a sarcastic grunt. Five minutes of displaying his exposed toe to all those who cared to see he slips on his shoes again. He looks at the watch on the platform. It shows 5 pm. The rush hour A train was only minutes away. He hops on to his feet slings the bag over his shoulder as a light appears at the end of the tunnel. He moves towards the end of the platform where the last compartment come to a halt. He waits patiently for all the people to get off and get on. He is the last one to board the compartment just as the doors close bang shut. I was a few compartments away from him. Too absorbed in looking at a beautiful girl all thoughts of him slipped from my mind.
After two stops when she got off and the train had started again he made his way to my compartment from the compartment interconnecting door to my right. The compartment was jam packed with people returning from work. And to make matters worse the air conditioner was non functional so people were perspiring. He slowly moved through the mass unperturbed; skillfully like a circus acrobat. People all around him flinched as he approached them asking for some loose change. It is as if there is an unwritten rule in the New York Subway transit : never make eye contact with strangers. No one looked at him. People suddenly remembered to change the songs on their mp3 players / view pictures on their phone/ open a book that had been lying closed for a good part of the journey/ wipe their spectacles/ adjust hair or makeup / glance at the map/ look down at their shoes/ make some casual remark to a friend who’s swinging in an invisible hammock of sleep. No one as much made a single movement indicating their desire to part with a few coins. He trudged along the mass of travelers with all faces turned away or people trying to act busy just in the nick of the moment. He appealed to their conscience to feed a poor, hungry and homeless man. He came to me. Our eyes met. Those dry deadbeat eyes with no life in them. A face softened by the harshness of time. Wrinkles cropping up on his forehead and cheeks; a grey beard and and an unruly mop of hair. A tattered New York Yankees jacket and a cap adjusted at an awkward angle smelling of piss and vomit and the shoe sole making a rhythmic clapping noise as it flapped. I dropped the quarter i held in my hand into his cupped palms. The guy next to me looked at me disapprovingly. His eyes lit up and he tried to smile and say something but a long time had passed since someone had given him something and the words weren’t as forthcoming. He moved on now with a slackened pace. A small donation had given him a hope that someone else too would try to emulate me.
From the left hand door of the inter compartment connecting door a Mexican guy with an acoustic guitar slung over hi solider made an appearance. This is one of the things i like about the subway trains the mellifluous melodies I get to hear by talented musicians for free and live ! So here was this middle aged guy strumming his guitar producing random notes of music and trying to win over an disinterested seeming audience. His first few notes evoked a few eye balls to drift in his direction. This renewed his confidence and he started playing a lively number. I don’t play the guitar (even though I’ve posed like a guitarist in a few pics :D) but this dude was bad. The notes lacked rhythm and coherence. Just because you have a guitar on your pelvis doesn’t make you Elvis. A small number of people started paying attention to the musician and he gave a five minute performance. He ended it with a flourish of his hat and went around asking for donations. And strangely enough barring his cacophony of sounds people generously loosened their purse strings. The musician and the homeless man met in the middle blocking each others way. The homeless man stared the the guitarist hard and for long. Neither making a movement. It was just like the final gun battle scene from the good, bad and ugly. Each willing the other to make the first move.
A train stop. People getting in and people getting out. But these two are where they were before. The guitarist impatiently jiggles the loose change in his hat making a clanking noise as if challenging the homeless guy. The tension in the air was palpable. People stopped doing what they were doing and all eyes were focused on these two. The Homeless guy suddenly backed off giving the guitarist the right of way. The guitarist went ahead and managed to garner a few more coins and was making his way back when their paths crossed again. The homeless man was furious. While some people had been generous to the ribald musician none even made a movement when he came near them. They just shrugged their shoulders in helplessness indicating that all their loose change had been lost in the financial meltdown on Wall Street. He was infuriated now. His eyes turning a tinge of red. He stopped the musician and said out aloud “ You give your money to this guy who doesn’t even know how to hold a guitar properly and to me you give nothing. Am I not pathetic enough for you ? ”
Saying this he unzips his jacket and throws it on to the floor and lifts his shirt up to show boils on his back from a skin disease he has been suffering from for a long part of his life. The skin is a patchwork of different shades and even rotting away in a few places. He is frail, scared and sad. He never asked for this life. He hates his life but he can’t do anything also.
He yells out one last abuse before moving on to the next compartment “All you people, you just want to be entertained ! you have no pity or concern for an another person.You just wanna be f$%#@* entertained all the time !”