Subway stations are downright creepy at night. The darkness envelops me as I stand at the edge of the platform, arms wrapped around myself to ward off the late-night chill. Overhead, the station’s yellow lights flicker and sputter to a sporadic rhythm.
There’s barely any sound, just the groan of air moving through winding tunnels. Every breath I take echoes in the silence. It feels like I’m the only person alive.
I shouldn’t be out at this hour. It’s not even safe. A young, small-framed woman like me would be a prime target for any passing stranger looking for someone to take advantage of. I should have stayed home, but taking that night shift was the only way to make some extra cash. God knows I need the money - although I’ll probably waste it at another cheap bar this Friday. Maybe I’ll make a night out of it, pretend I have a good life. It would be nice to be happy for a few hours, even if it’s just an act.
But I’m not making it anywhere until this blasted train comes. I peer down the yawning tunnel of the subway – nothing yet. I sigh, tugging my scarf over my mouth to block out the smell of mold and rotting garbage. Living the dream, I think bitterly, glaring at the wall across the tracks. To think I left home for this waste of a life. Momma would be ashamed.
A familiar stab of pain cuts through me at that thought. Don’t think about Momma, I order myself. She’s gone now.
No. That’s not right. Momma’s still there, living her life without me. I’m the one that’s gone. I’m the one who left her. And for what? A world of cigarettes, alcohol, and minimum-wage jobs. An apartment with nothing but a sagging sofa and the stuff I grabbed before leaving my elderly mother to fend for herself.
Finally, I hear the echo of the train speeding down the tracks. It rolls to a stop in front of me, and the doors slide open, revealing empty seats and metal flooring. It’s completely deserted when I step inside. Figures, with the time and all. I take the nearest seat – by the door, so I can get off here as quickly as possible when the train stops again.
The cart lurches as it begins moving. I lean back in my seat, squirming to get comfortable against the hard plastic that digs into my shoulders. Overhead lights buzz softly, mixing with the sound of wheels against the track and the hum of the engine.
I rest my head on the window behind me as a wave of tiredness crashes over me. It pulls me under its current – I close my eyes and fall into a dream. Or is it a memory? I can’t tell. I’m six, standing by the edge of the tracks on a subway with Momma gripping my hand. A man stares at me from across the crowds, his cracked lips moving as he talks to himself. I shy away and Momma pulls me closer, putting a protective arm around me.
“It’s alright, Angie,” she says, using my nickname. “I’m right here. You’re safe. Just stay close, now.”
The scene fades into another – me, older, standing in the kitchen with my arms wrapped around myself as Momma paces from the counter to the table, her slippers squeaking against the tile. Darkness stretches outside the window.
“You should have told me you were coming home late,” she snaps.
I glare at my shoes. “I didn’t know the party would go on that long.”
“A party, Angie? You told me it was just a get together with your friends.”
I wince. “I thought so, too, but then they invited these guys over, and…” I look away. “It would’ve gone on a lot longer – but I left early.”
“Did you even know the people there?” She shakes her head. “You’re lucky something didn’t happen to you.”
I don’t look at her. Silence stretches between us until she finally breaks it with a hesitant, “Did something happen?” When I don’t respond, she says, “Angie?”
My shoulders slump. “Almost,” I mumble. “A lot of people got drunk. There was this guy–“ I cut myself off. “You know how it gets at parties. It’s why I left.”
“Oh, baby.” Momma steps forward and wraps me in a hug. “You did the right thing. It’s all okay now. This is why you have to be careful – the world is such a dangerous place.”
Something jolts me awake, breaking the dream – the train, taking a sudden turn. I crack open my eyes. The lights are dimmer now, and somehow, the hum of the cart moving and shifting seems distant, like I’m underwater.
I blink the sleep from my eyes. The dreams cling to my thoughts, even when I try to shake them off. I take a few deep breaths to clear my head. They were just memories, nothing more. Move on.
I check my phone for the time. The screen won’t turn on - out of battery. Oh, come on.
Looking out the window gives me a view of pure darkness. No light in sight, and no way of knowing where I am. I slump in my seat, head in my hands, staring at the scuffed soles of my cheap shoes. Those memories are still floating around in my head, refusing to leave me alone.
Someone coughs a few seats away. When I lift my head and look over, I see that the train isn’t empty anymore. An old man rests a few seats down, leaning over a weathered cane, his back hunched with age. He holds an open book in one wrinkled hand, the cover faded and torn at the edges.
For a second, I debate whether I should talk to him or not. Speaking to stranger’s isn’t my strong suit – but I gotta know where I am, what time it is. So I clear my throat, lean over, and say “Excuse me?”
The man doesn’t look up. Instead, he turns a page of the book, tapping the spine with one wrinkled finger. His skin is leathery - dark and rough, like he spent all his youth in the sun.
“Hey, uh—sorry to bother you, but can you tell me what stop we’re heading towards?”
“I just need to know where I am. I think I missed my stop, and I really wanna get home.”
“Do you?” he asks, eyes staying on the page. His voice is surprisingly smooth. A grandfather’s voice, made for telling stories and singing lullabies.
“…Do I want to get home? Uh, yeah. See, there’s been a mistake-“
“Has there?” He finally looks up, meeting my eyes. His are dark, deep-set and mellow.
I clench my jaw, leaning back in my seat. “Can you just answer my question?”
“Hm.” He resumes reading. “Maybe.”
Oh, for God’s sake. “Alright then, fine. Thanks for your ‘help’.”
To my surprise, he smiles at that, shifting the book towards the light, probably to read the words better.
I turn away from him and check my phone again, jabbing at the power button and willing the screen to flicker on. When nothing happens, I glance around the train in search of a charging station, a power outlet - anything to get this thing running again. No luck.
Fine. I’ll just have to wait