Somewhere in a City of Strangers

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The sight of concrete, cars, and graffiti stirred me from my sleep. Blinding sunlight shone across my face, and, as I shielded my eyes from the rays, I realized that what I had thought was the downtown six train had just crossed over the East River. I wiped the sleep from my eyes and attempted to hide my disorientation from the passengers next to me. I was surrounded by strangers whose faces and figures were hidden by scarves and parkas. Some were huddled over in their seats, while others leaned against the doors of the train. Unfamiliar hands clutched coffees, bags, and cell phones. Someone’s guitar leaned haphazardly against a greasy metal pole. Sneakers and boots, some crossed, some spread apart, lined up beneath the seats. I suddenly became very aware of the silence filling the space above our heads as we all traveled to our separate destinations. As I sat among these mysterious travelers, each with a foreign life, job, and purpose, the train rattled off into the unknown. We stretched farther and farther away from Manhattan and the doctor’s appointment I was late for.

I was thirteen, and it was my third time taking the subway alone. I had never been on a route that rose from the familiar, dark, grimy underground to tracks shaded by trees and clouds. The sunlight shined unnaturally against the anti-smoking ads lining the walls of the train. I had allowed the metallic reverberation of the moving train to lull me to sleep, and now, looking down at my watch (2:07 pm), I realized my dentist would be waiting for me in eight minutes. My heartbeat quickened and a familiar queasiness spun around in my stomach. As a female voice broke the silence in the train, announcing Queensboro Plaza, I decided to get off the train. I stood up and followed a group of passengers onto a platform littered with wrappers and newspapers. I didn’t have to walk long before I noticed an information desk, where I managed to summon enough courage to ask for directions with a relatively even voice. The woman behind the desk responded warmly, and, soon after, I found a sign reading “Uptown Manhattan and the Bronx.”





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