On some train within the vast NYC transit system, there is an old man who can always be found in the last car--all the way in the back. There he sits in his shabby clothes, dozing. His white Nikes worn out and covered in black grime. His pants are a nightmare of grime and dirt, his upper body hides inside a crusty down jacket, and at the end of the sleeves as well as at the neck one can catch a glimpse at his skin--leathery and old, baked by the strain of a life at the margin. His head is tilted to the side and carries a long white beard that hangs down to his chest, colored at the lips and nose in a greasy yellow. His wrinkly eyelids are pressed shut; seemingly carrying the only tension in his demeanor. The skin around his big, crooked nose is charted by filigrane capillaries.
From time to time a passenger gets on, sees the old man and sniffs the air in the car. But the old man doesn’t smell. He just rides.
A young man enters the car. He seems to be in his early thirties. A faceless admin. Black imitation leather shoes from Fabco, black slacks, a white shirt, a warm jacket, and a practical backpack. You could call him a square, or maybe a corporate lemming. His facial features are taut either because of the subway ride or because of a life of quiet anxiety. The corners of his mouth are almost imperceptibly lower than the apex of his curved mouth line, a squint hides just behind his eyes. A nervous groove hangs vertically between his eyebrows. He’s holding a thick neatly folded winter sweater in his left hand with a filled McDonald’s food bag propped on top of it.
As he enters, his eyes immediately search out the old man in the back of the car. He walks through to him holding the neatly folded sweater on his right palm balancing the bag on top of it. The old man is still sleeping. The young man looks at the bag and then back at the old man. Then, he sits down in a good distance next to him placing the sweater with the bag on top carefully in between. He looks at him pondering whether to wake him up or not. Neither of them moves. Occasionally they are being shaken by the moving of the train. Slowly, the old man begins to move. He lifts up his head, opens his eyes slightly, and turns his head towards the young. The young man seems alert and pushes the McDonald’s bag on the sweater over the bench closer to the old man. The old man lays his hand on the bag.
The young man begins, “I can’t go on anymore. Life here has become something I despise. So much work. So little time. No reward.”
There is a pause between them. The young man swallows and has his eyes fixed on the old. The train leans into a curve now. It is still going at an elevated speed. The deafening screeching of the wheels fills the tunnel reverberating along the walls and penetrating back into the inside of the car. A shrieking specter floating through to each passenger. Screaming in their faces, trying to make them cringe. The old man looks at the young man gently, then he begins to move his mouth. The young man anxiously moves his head closer to be able to listen. The old man’s lips move issuing each murmured word with a careful precision imbuing them with something. Something the young man is eagerly apprehending. After a while the old man ceases to speak. He turns his eyes away, tilts his head to the side, and closes his eyes again. His hand pulls the goods close.
The young looks at him pensively, then at the floor in front of them. A time of contemplative staring passes. The young man stands up and the exhaustion in his features has taken over. His eyes are tired; the muscles in his face are relaxed not because of leisure, but because they reached their destined exhaustion. He staggers a little, positions himself by the door and waits for the next station. Slightly hunched over, the pole seems to be the only thing that holds him up. As the train stops he takes a deep breath preparing himself for the step out onto the platform unsure whether he can make another one after that.