from FIVE TOPOGRAPHIES


You wait, looking down the tunnel, the inside curve of its throat, fixing the spot where the light first spreads, your knowing the beginning flash, how it will push along the wall. Or your looking for a hard line of light sliding on the metal track towards us, soundless, an influx of cold air excitedly shifting in front of your body.

How long being the number of faces along the tracks, an instant density or lightness. Taking out the objects you wait with, or resisting taking anything out, time moving faster with something to fix yourself onto, wanting not to disappear into it.

The moment of seeing the light being brief, and only if you have been studying the track, willing the train to arrive by facing down the black hole, the hole a place to put your anger, especially if you have waited longer than the scheduled interval, sometimes that waiting interval having been doubled by mysterious events on other parts of the line, possibly on the sunlit stretches of above-ground platforms, which, from underground, seem impossible, fairy-tale like, like other countries when you are not there, though of course, right now, on an another continent, someone is eating yogurt, or walking up a small hill, or rolling a large, meaty bead in dirt, or as prim ladies do in some places, drinking beer over breakfast.

Not wanting to thread yourself into the comb of the bench’s armrests, heading up the platform, heading down the platform, to the end wall near a dripping in all weather, all seasons, all times of day. This dripping, a bathroom sound in public, reassuringly lonely, and marking something out, marks what out? A pile-up, a mucus-like stain of time on the platform, a piling of your thoughts on a platform, though they steadily dissolve, with one emerging invisibly from the next.

Or sticking closer to the side walls, surveying advertising posters, although you know them all already, the model’s airbrushed hands comforting familiar, and the columned darkness between you and the platform of the opposite direction, the trains of which go by with an antagonizing regularity, the trash between tracks, picking out the movement of a rat or a mouse, having divided stations into two kinds: rat stations and mice stations. The more common rat station having one rat at a time, at least one for uptown and one for downtown, one loping along a rail, plump, pigeon-like, industriously focused on a domestic hustle, jittering the plastic film from a cigarette package, or digging under an empty soft-drink cup, straw still in the lid, a milky puddle with pennies and AA batteries, the rat preferring some passageways to others, rats waiting in the dark under the platform we wait on in the light.

The lateness of your train because of a medical emergency, or because conductors are finishing a coffee at the end of the line, or someone being accidentally locked in or out, possibilities, which, if you are late now, do not help, but the idea of an explanation helps, asserting your waiting is necessary. The train’s doors standing open at a station far away, held long enough so that passengers start to look up, get out of the train and get back in, some abandoning the car altogether; your giving up on the train, now behind you, your footsteps occupying the stillness of the platform instead, in the special quiet of something gone wrong, your long jacket corners buckling in a breeze of walking determinately; or your staying on the train, as in choosing the parameters of the known over the unknown, as in having invested in this train, its troubles, hunching the investment will pay off, as if leaving would begin an entire new clock.

When coming into a new station, not knowing which direction the train is coming, looking to the direction of faces, all tilted similarly, leaves trained to the same source, instead of standing at the edge to check the tunnel, your sitting back at the bench watching two women checking the track, their eager or disappointed expressions a guide for when to pick up your bag.

How standing at the platform edge, you like to swivel to face upstream, all the faces exposed, blinds open, expressions pointed in curiosity, and you are looking into them unasked, like opening an acquaintance’s bathroom mirror, there being no purpose in surveying the contents, but still wanting to, but what possibly, could the contents behind your mirror say about you? Your objects clumped on one side of the plastic shelf, the new kind of deodorant, a roll-on surprisingly, a small cheap-bristled brush, two nail clippers starting to rust, arm folding down, someone’s generic painkiller, someone else’s band aids.

Remembering band-aids, their plastic and hand cream smell, the moment of holding out your body, the feeling of ointments under the band aid, pressing the band-aid to produce two small overhangs of ointment on either side, like squeezing sandwich breads can push mayonnaise out the sides, the slippery feel of the bread sliding over tomato and the spine of the lettuce.

The way you could rip off the band-aid and put it back on, to reposition it vertically, horizontally, or a little to the left, doing this methodically or doing this absent-mindedly, or so that it doesn’t pinch your ankle or pull your elbow skin. Or the wet band-aid after a shower, half detaching, wet, flapping against your ankle, or ripping the band aid off to leave a wedge of black stickiness.

How if you are on time, you were organized, but if you are late, it was the unprecedented misalignment of trains.

Pausing together right after the train has come in, blurred, metallic, screeching, and then stopped, and we, having seized bags and jackets, surge up, that moment we stand separately at the train, the doors closed, still closed and we are clumped, poised, airless together.

The moment the train comes in, a long and noisy moment as it rides in pass you, the relief of the moment having arrived, and the pleasure of the speed of it right near you especially from the edge of the platform, passed the yellow line and even on the yellow bumps, being aware that if you advance to the edge of the platform, it puts others mildly “on edge,” how they will ask you to step back laughingly, and though you are meek in many ways, you are pulled toward its movement and noise as if to merge, not unlike the pull of putting your finger into the pretty blur of a fan’s blades, the way you remember once falling down twelve stairs as a child as a musical slowing of time, an exception to time, inside time, bracketed in air.

The locking of eyes with the train driver as the train comes in, the feeling of having locked eyes with the train driver, whose face is often bored and still unlike the noise of the train coming in, or the sense that the glass was cloudy so perhaps he wasn’t looking in your direction at all, how you have seen people from the front of a train, puny and stage-lit on the platform, awkwardly individuated.

The face of the train seeming cute, especially as it rounds the tunnel before you can hear it, the face coming out of the dark, rising up with the halo first visible, its bright round number almost annoyingly cheerful coming round the bend as if to jauntily say, how could you think of my not showing up when I have been moving steadily toward you all of the time you were waiting, even before you were waiting, I was coming toward you.

Contributor

Yasmine Alwan

YASMINE ALWAN is the author of Elsewhere and co-editor of Tantalum, a magazine for new prose.

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