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As Long As It's Safe This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   On a cloudy evening when no one chanced walking home, the 86th Street platform was jammed with a pulsating mass of life characteristic of downtown Manhattan. From her seat on the subway, Elmira Hodges could clearly see that life was about to get a little more complicated.

The doors rushed open, releasing a tide of bodies into the train's car and then the doors slid shut, jamming a woman's purse. They clanged open and shut, repeating the process four more times before the bodies crammed far enough inside to allow the removal of the offending object. Elmira sighed. Another day in New York City.

Forty minutes later Elmira was walking through Washington Square Park with her briefcase in hand. As she trudged toward her apartment, she reflected about how another hour of her life had been swept away with the ebb and flow of the faceless city. White faces, black faces, yellow faces (hers was a black face), young, old, middle-aged, all with separate lives, with no one giving a thought to reaching out to the person beside them. Just a while ago she had been eye to eye with a beggar who smelled like the dumpsters on a steamy July day. He'd asked her for meal money, and Elmira had handed over two dollars out of her precious paycheck, only to see the stony stares of the folks across the aisle bore right through the man. Had they no mercy? No. No mercy. It was a cold city, a city built on the vices of humankind. It was a city she wanted to escape, a city of fire escapes, exits going up, exits going down, but No Way Out.

Passing a cop on the left side of the street, she heard him say the niggers were ruining the city with their _ _ _ _ing crack. Crossing the market, Elmira heard the brothers say the cops were ruining the city with their _ _ _ _ing corruption. Elmira thought, Aren't we all lost in this city from our _ _ _ _ing hypocrisy because we can't see beyond the labels? Each and every ethnic group and social class has labels coming out their eardrums until you fit someone's stereotype of a young black middle-class white collar single urban white woman. Oh, yes, she whispered, passing the stores with their lights, man lives not by bread alone, or whatever the Great Men say. We live by labels caused by our ignorance. And we know it too. We won't knock down the walls and tear at the bars of the cages as long as it's safe to live inside. 1


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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