A Journey's Handprints

March 28, 2018
By Alexandra.A.M BRONZE, Garden City, New York
Alexandra.A.M BRONZE, Garden City, New York
4 articles 0 photos 0 comments

The monstrous train screeched to a stop, and after a long, daunting hiss, smoke permeating throughout the atmosphere of warmed pretzels and burnt cigars, clumps of people began to board the metallic, huffing vehicle, departing from the platform of Penn Station with extreme relief. Gripping her suitcase, protectively, with her clammy, gaunt fingers, she stood behind, watching them skeptically, as her treasurable watch hugging her wrist, securely, counted the seconds away…Normally, she would dive, immediately, into the frantic mob, with the powerful lust for stealing the perfect, green leathered seat in the furthest part of the clustered space...isolated, with nothing but her valuable solitude, and preferably, a window as well.


But for some reason, the people pushing against each other, most of them snipped from reality because of the headphones twisted into their ears, music contaminating their minds with a variety of melodies, captivated her more than the perfect spot that awaited her...What did they thirst for? What hungered them so much, they disregarded the feet they stepped on, and the children they continued to shove out of the way, almost selfishly? Eventually, despite how compelled she was with the draining crowd, each person sweating with desperation and indifference, she finally snapped back to reality, unlocked her legs, and moved her exasperated body towards the clogged up entrance, before the train could give the world its final hiss, signaling its departure...


    Momentarily, after observing each seat precisely, walking collectively past the many rows on either side of her, stuffed or empty, she finally detected the only one that had been left secluded...way in the back, without a wailing newborn, or chortling toddler close by, or the habitually opened and closed exit doors that shivered the nearest passengers with brisk wind...Alone, untouched, with some of the leather ripped, as if during its many days of a vacancy, within the darkest part of the train, it had withered with age, rotted. 


    And now, her part of the train.


    And as she sat down, the watch wrapped, snugly, around her wrist glinting with dancing sparkles of silver beneath the fluorescent lights, she studied her neighbors, the many people covered, warmly, with hand knitted hats and sporty beanies, some bundled with thick ski coats, others burdened without even mittens, and imagined who they were. What were their lives like, their reasons as to why they took the train, rather than a private car? Were some of them criminals dashing away from shackles of the law, or simply students trying to catch their next night class?


Frightened that someone, specifically the crinkly old man who was chewing, eerily, on a piece of his sweater across from her, would notice her staring, she quickly bounced her eyes over to the tunnel wall just outside her window. Seconds passed, and eventually, as she focussed on the glass, drilling her gaze into the texture, its color, the bricked surface a few inches away from it, she noticed something odd, and irregularly shaped, disrupting her vision. Blinking several times, she found that the glass, in reality, was smudged with a coalition of finger and handprints. Cocking her head, thoughtfully, as the train began to finally move, she looked at each smudge carefully, unaware of her meticulousness, and felt her mind rattle with a tantalizing question…
A wonder that made the ticks and tocks of her wrist-watch fade off into silence…All she heard was the pounding of her heart, the acceleration of her blood rushing through each vein of her body, and  carrying with it, a pumping thirst for answers…for an exploration into the layers of truth, the authentic definition of what had been left behind in the musky train, as if it was a secret language, or better yet, a message left behind for her, and only her, to decode.


She stretched her index finger out, making sure she didn’t  stub her fingertip into the masterpiece in front of her gaped eyes, accidentally, and began to trace the unnoticed shapes using the air, as if analyzing the graffiti that had been sprayed along the bridges and bricked walls of town shops during one of her family road trips. 


     Who left these fingerprints and handprints behind? What did each one mean?


Were they children, wiggling on their mothers’ laps, their legs tingling with what felt like endless energy? She could feel the handprints, a simple head tilt away from where she sat, prickling her skin as if their presence were sending an electrical shock through her thin body, her destiny, her universe, attempting to turn her flushed head, once again, toward the filthy, yet perceivably symbolic, glass of the window.


She closed her eyes for a moment, wishing she would just forget her question, the question she knew no one near her would be able to answer without thinking she was crazy, and instead tried to think about the summer, or the newest movie coming out in theaters, or the new book her favorite author had written. However, despite her best attempts, she found herself visualizing the dozens of passengers she had witnessed storming into the tight space of the train, filling its air with mixtures of perfumes, whines of their children, and the audible beat of their songs thumping, at full volume, from their headphones... Did one of them litter the surface of the glass with the palms of their own hands? Was it lust, or a simple reflex, that moved their wrists? Sighing, exhausted from delaying the inevitable, she glanced back at the window and was startled, noticing the tunnel wall had vanished, inexplicably, and instead, the rooftops of houses, along with clothings lines, began to zip by in fogged mixtures of greys and browns, the sky a dimmed blue, striped with shades of light pink and genital purples, like an endless, massive bruise.


  At that moment, the conductor snatched the ticket she had placed, mindlessly, beside her thigh with a loud exhale and began to punch it, swiftly, his eyes halfway open, slightly pink...droopy. She wondered, as she peered from the corner of her eye, if the man, dressed in a professionally coordinated uniform, with his balding head shining like the surface of a copper penny beneath the lights above, which had begun to flicker, ever got rest...a few hours, minutes, maybe seconds of sleep. Was there a bleary dawn, or unbearably sluggish dusk, when he had decided to take a necessary, desperate break and had slouched in a random seat? Was it her seat, with the holes and darkness surrounding it, he had sat in, or usually sat in?


Had he pressed his hands against the glass?


She began to daydream about this man’s emotions, dreams, and quenching avarice. Did he ever feel the urge to open the window, if at all possible, and attempt to fly over all of those rooftops zooming past them in a blurred mess of shapes? What would he glide toward, if he could? Was there a dream, somewhere within the clouds, his heart had constructed during the hours he spent puncturing holes into the tickets his scruffy, blistered hand would hold, effortlessly?


She parted her lips, her new questions forming words, each one irresistible, and vulnerable like quivering teardrops, ready to tumble off her tongue at any moment. However, despite her want, her need, she held her breath, knowing that this man, with his burnt-orange skin, glinted with sweat, and his perceivably itchy uniform, appeared to be in no mood for any sort of communication.


The rumble and growl of the continuous engine burned her eyes, giving them the same, peach shaded heaviness similar to the conductors’, and her head, despite how full it was from her quizzical thoughts, began to soften, and empty, as if there was a summer breeze swirling within its hollowness, blowing everything away...to nothing...She felt nebulous, the motion of the vehicle, combined with the sway and faint murmurs of the passengers, slowly obliterating her presence, blending her in with the gloom of her unnoticed spot within the train. Despite the difficulty, the sudden need for a minute of rest, of darkness, she kept her eyes glued to the window, to the handprints she imagined were waving at her.


Invisible, but there, just like her. Were they the marks of ghosts that had floated up from beneath the tracks and had attempted, courageously, to signal the world that they were there...outside….watching over the people that boarded and shuffled out into the crazed energy of the city? She visualized short, clumsy girls like herself, sitting in the back like she was, curled up in a ball, clutching their knees to their chests, their breaths toasting the glass caressed against their snow-pale cheeks. She saw their hair, blacker than the starless night that had suddenly covered the earth as if large fingers had scribbled black marker across its exquisite image, which had once shimmered onto the passengers in dusty beams of sunlight.


Time flowed, and she noticed the rooftops rising, buildings charging into view, rather than houses, thick with millions of patterned tile.


Time flowed, and through her haze of grogginess she fought through, she could faintly see the outline of trees, and further beyond, whether she had concocted it, or actually seen it, caught a glimpse of the ocean, sparkling, as if the stars had fallen from the tranquil sky above and were winking, instead, from its rippling surface.


Time flowed as if life were an unstoppable faucet that constantly poured the blurry days, never stopping, despite how drenched people were with exhaustion


Time flowed, flooding the world, the universe, with unpredictable tides...a wild, free river, guiding the train through the numerous cities...the passengers, each one, delicate and utterly unique, taken through miles of evolving journey, like leaves ripped away from branches and stolen, instead, by the unpredictable wind. And as time flowed, she thought about the clumsy, flawed girls that maneuvered throughout the earth searching for a place to belong, just like herself, the girls that wished their dreams would come to them as easily as catching a firefly beneath a dancing twilight. Thinking this, she placed her hand on the glass, as if hoping to transport a message to them, her own way of assuring all of the lost that they are not alone. She smiled at the mark she had left, her handprint, her message that she imagined, someday, she would explode through the sky like a firework.


The train rattled, and despite the night sky, the shadowed world covered in costumes of grey,  the loneliness, the vacant seats around her, the silent, empty air, once jingling with laughter and secret conversation from the passengers, she had fallen asleep. The train shook her body, as she began to snore, softly, her mouth opened in a complete circle, her mind wiped clean from questions, and instead occupied by dreams, which lightly bumped the sides of her head like rose petals pushed by a calm breeze…


Who had left their hands resting against the window?


In a random course of seconds, each hand once trembled with glee….loss….anger, moved from the lust to touch what zoomed beyond the cool surface of the window beside them... Obligation, determination, success, and the craving to escape kept this train moving. It was the fingertips that slid along the surface of jaws, foreheads, and purses, stressfully, the imagination that shot out of the eyes that were stuck to the outside beyond the protective windows, which blowed unstoppably in a incomprehensible swirl of color...the little girl, sound asleep in her green leathered seat, her head clogged with images of the glorious life ahead of her...that contributed and enlarged the destinations that lay ahead…and kept the train moving….


Can you see them?


The handprints?


They are the marks of warriors, their first marks toward success…


Keep your eyes open, for they are riding the train, the wind, the pull of fate...they ride it, and ride it, and ride it. To where? That is not a question, the answer isn’t hidden within a handprint, fingerprint, or smudge...but a door that is to merely be opened. A blissful discovery waiting to be found...
   
   


The author's comments:

This piece was inspired by my many experiences using the train. I always wondered who was riding it, why they were riding it, where they were going, and their reasons as to doing so.


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