By Natasha Bredle
You stand on the platform of the A train. People hustle all around you, some lugging bags and suitcases, some tugging children along. Some brush against you as they rush by, and you feel their leather jackets and velvet coats and wool scarves and tasseled hats. But their faces are blurred, their voices murmurs, distant as you stand and stare at the one person who is not caught up in all the mayhem: a man sitting cross-legged against the tiled wall, below a ripped poster. The man wears layers of blankets and presses his calloused hands together as if in prayer, his head tilted down toward the beaten cardboard sign that lies at his feet. Homeless, it reads. God bless.
He looks up briefly, your eyes connect, and right that instant, you step into his shoes.
The muscle beneath your chest carries a subtle ache with it. Not burning, just weary. As if a dozen minute strings are pulling it at once, each in a different direction, and yet you lack the strength to follow any. Shadowless beneath the shade the platform wall provides, the darkest thing you hold is not the black marker scrawled on your weathered cardboard sign, although that may come in at a close second.
Your dark pupils are effortlessly lightless, staring out at the crowd, yet unseeing. Because she’s there, in a place better than the present, her eyes laughing, her hand grasping for yours.
Your sign doesn’t say Homeless. It says lost. It says come back to me. It says I’m so sorry.
An abiding sigh hangs in your lungs. In a few minutes, you will let it seep out, slowly, so that it seems like no more than a soft exhale. Then you will gather up your few belongings, ignoring the stabs of hunger—several different kinds—in your gut, and trek to find an empty bench in the city park. You will fall asleep to the sound of the owls echoing your loneliness, and in the morning, if you wake up, you pray it will be from a dreamless dark.
You blink. The moment ends, and you are back in your place on the platform, in your own gray and blue flats. In your own buttoned coat, with your own luggage. The homeless man sits, as motionless as before, face still shadowed, the corner of the poster behind him fluttering. You finally force your legs to move: one step forward, two steps, and continue until you reach the man. You dig out your wallet and remove some bills. He looks up as you hand them to him, and for the first time you catch the details of his face. He looks strangely familiar.
* * *
Natasha Bredle is an emerging artist based in Ohio. She writes about what she thinks about, which is really too much for her poor brain. You can find her work in Aster Lit, Trouvaille Review, and Full House Lit, to name a few.