Late To Work

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The loss of time was slowly choking him. He was fifteen minutes late. Already, it was nine o’clock, and he stood in an unfamiliar land, exposed under the half clouded sky. It was the same path he took to the subway every morning, but without the crowd of people surrounding him, he felt naked in the street. For once he could see the cracks on the sidewalk extending down the road, and for once he felt vulnerable as he walked, as if the streets of Manhattan had never seen him before, such a man dressed in a brown coat, with jet black hair, and a pale face almost reflecting its surroundings. As his right arm tightly gripped his suitcase, the other clutched at the little gold pocket watch in his left pocket. It was a clutch tighter than he had ever known, and he could feel the clicking mechanisms within the watch, delicately ticking, yet ever so slightly stressed by the force of his fingers upon them.

As he made his way down the two blocks to the station, he tried to make himself inconspicuous. He stared downwards, averting his eyes from the full view of the street, and looked at the concrete. He found himself quickly matching stride with the cracks between each slab, unknowingly falling in rhythm with the sidewalk. Of course, that was what his life was all about: falling into rhythm with his surroundings. He had tried to escape it, but it’s clung tightly to his being, and even in such a city so far from home, a city where he was one in millions, having few friends, he was once again constricted by such an invisible presence. It was just like every other day, even when he was on time, he would blend in with the crowd, shoved around by its force. Unable to look down, he would look to the sky, a slice of blue and gray held between the dark glassy skyscrapers. He kept walking.

He was not quite sure what he was thinking of as he moved closer to the little sign denoting the entrance to the metro. Indeed, making it to the sub in a timely manner was his main concern. But he was never quite taken by immediate concerns, and the backdrop of his mental theater was swirling in thought. He wondered what difference it would be if he was late anyway, as his position lacked any sort of daily supervision. All that mattered was that at the end of the week, he had some product to show, a sketch of the next house to be built, or the stability test results of a model ready for construction. He wondered why he had become a civil engineer in the first place. He wondered how he had suddenly begun to stride in tune with the concrete cracks. He wondered why he was in New York. But as he descended into the dim lighting of the station he wondered why the woman in front of him, wearing a tight red dress and high heels, seemed to have struck something the deepest corners of his consciousness. He walked down the stairs, eyes fixed down onto her crisp, wavy hair.
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A sense of relief overcame him as he stepped out on the floor of the terminal. No longer open to gridded street ways, he lost his thought for a moment as he stood and listened to the sounds which resonated through the underground edifice. He took in the clicking of shoes across the linoleum floors, the beeping approval of the metallic machines reading in metro cards, the whirring of the turnstiles, and the echoes of voices through the building. He recollected himself upon hearing the distinct click-clack of the woman in red making her way towards the turnstiles, and it was then when he realized what was so particular about her. Around him was a world of action, people struggling to make it to their destinations, yet each one’s mind was far removed from its surroundings. They were all remotely controlled; most of them probably wouldn’t tune in themselves until they reached their cubicles. He was starting to feel the daze too, as the chaos of footsteps passing through the turnstiles, eerily illuminated under the incandescent lights brought him away from any of his daylight concerns. He unclenched his grip on his pocket watch and started to reach for his metro pass. But this woman knew exactly where she was, and with every click of her heels, it was almost as if the step was predetermined: she knew exactly where she was going. Of course, so did everyone else, but until they sat down in their rolling chairs, they would wouldn’t really know. He swiped his card through the machine and followed her through to the platform.

Fifteen minutes after the daily 8:50 rush, and he was surprised by the heat climbing out of the jet black tracks. It was something new to him, who usually stood in the middle of the crowd and waited for the pushing to commence. He walked up close, past the little yellow strip, and peered over the edge of the block to take a look downwards. It was nothing spectacular, just a clutter of darkened stones partitioned by the two steel columns. A few bits of trash hung between the pebbles, shuffling into new positions with every breeze which hit them. Gradually they flew to the sides of the tracks, caught in the light of the oncoming train. Further along the platform the woman in red was also waiting for that same train. She stood there, almost completely still, watching the bright lights of the blue line sub, waiting as if she was looking for more than the end of the line, as if this one train encapsulated some greater significance than a means of transportation from one location to the next. He watched as her head slowly turned to face the train, and just as its front passed her by, she stepped back and froze, her blonde hair lying still upon her small shoulders. In contrast, he was unprepared for the gust of air which caught his face. But he did not notice, and he watched her slowly inhale before stepping onto the train, eyes fixed straight ahead of her. But before her other foot left the station, he was pushed away by the crowd behind him.

It was quite strange to him that though he had not needed to be pushed onto the train, the car he was in appeared just as full as yesterday’s and the day before’s. He was once again in the center of the crowd, but by slightly raising his head, he could see her at the other end of the car, strangely alone as it wobbled along the tracks. She held tight to the silvery support bar with both her hands. The train started to wind through the underground, and he returned to wonder what he would be working on today in the office. Last week he had completed the first drafts of a new bridge for a small freeway, and he supposed today he would have some sort of meeting with his superiors regarding the design. He was still thinking about the dimensions of the bridge when the glass shattered. He looked down the car but saw only the backs of the crowd. Raising himself by the support bar, he glimpsed her leg hanging out the broken window, and saw the high heels dangling by her toes, swinging viciously as she lifted herself onto the top of the train. Just as the leg lifted from sight, the shiny shoe fell away into the black. The train rocked violently as he fell to the floor. The lights went out.





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