My eyes stuck on the page of the book spread open across my knees and I am re-reading the same word. Not even the same sentence. Said. Said. Said. The letters nothing more than lines and curves on paper. I cannot possibly focus. The words on the page cannot possibly matter enough.
“Please,” a man is begging from somewhere on this crowded train – a collage of faces and bodies—a tossed salad of strangers—and I cannot read a single sentence because although I cannot see the face from which this pleading is coming from—the words loom so large that he must be everywhere all at once.
“I don’t want money,” says the voice. “I’m so hungry. I’m so thirsty.” The sound of it cracking like nervous knuckles. He is breaking. Spider—webbing.
Here I am with all the strangers wearing heavy jackets and colorful scarves and gripping expensive electronics and smiling and laughing and then there is this face that must exist somewhere beyond these pleads and we are all on a blueline train toward Forest Park. I am on my way to work.
“Please,” the word hangs in the air and I see it everywhere. Every word in my book. Please please please please. The walls and ceiling of the train covered not in advertisements about surveys you could be part of but with that word. That word uttered so many times for so many different reasons and right now the reason is clear please help me I’m just so thirsty I’m just so hungry.
I can’t remember the last time I have begged for anything but I’m sure about one thing—when I did beg it was for something stupid like the attention from the boy I like or to get a shift at work covered so I can do something fun like go to a concert and dance and sweat and end up curled around someone I love or for someone to bring me coffee while I was working. But to me none of this is as much begging as it is whining. Maybe I haven’t ever begged, then. I have never had such a longing come from somewhere as raw and hollow as this man.
“Please,” he says again. The weight of that one single word enough to sink the entire world.
The train pushes forward and everyone’s body rocks with the movement back and forth nodding our heads like we’re all listening to the same song but we are not. There is no song. There’s just the grumbling of the train or maybe the hungry man’s stomach or maybe both at the same time and when the train slows and the people standing in front of me sway I try and peer around the spaces of their bodies like I’m in a thick forest and look for the mouth these words are coming from. I have given up reading a book. There is no more book like maybe there was never a book at all. I slide my hand into my jacket pocket and curl my fingers around the cold neck of the bottle of OJ I was bringing to work.
Do I want this orange juice? I do.
Do I need it? Absolutely not.
“Just a drink? Leftovers?”
Last week I screamed so loud and hard that my throat turned into sun burn because I felt completely overwhelmed with life and bills and my mysterious health issues and I screamed because I was frustrated and angry. I am aware that I’m only struggling financially so bad because I’ve been careless and reckless and comfortable and then I screamed because I should know better than that. I remember feeling a little relief after getting it out. And then I got a hot shower and made some tea and sat on my couch to write out a list of attainable goals and a very detailed budget plan and right then and there I came to a very simple conclusion: I am going to be okay.
I have a roof over my head. Is it expensive? Hell yeah. But I afford it.
I have a fridge with food and drinks and half of that food and half of those drinks I won’t even eat. Half of those foods will be wasted. But they are there for me if I feel like I want it one day.
I have candles scattered throughout my apartment with names like “Cozy Home” and “Warm Lavender” that I light every single night.
I have a Netflix account that I use to watch my favorite TV shows when I’m having a bad day and need an easy laugh.
I have a stupid cat who waits for me to come home every single day and greets me like I’m the greatest thing in the world.
I have a phone.
I have an army of people who tell me I’ll be okay and mean it.
I have cold orange juice. I feel it in my fingers. I feel it in my palm.
When the train stops at Clark and Lake I stand up and fight against the people pushing to get off the train—a smear of people with places to be—and make my way to that sad, sad, voice.
“Here,” I say but it’s a whisper on accident and I don’t think he hears me.
“God bless,” he says and that’s how I know he did. He takes the bottle from me gently, patiently, lacking the hunger I had just heard in his voice, but I see it in his hands. I see the eagerness in which he unscrews the cap. I notice it in the whites of his knuckles— grasping the drink like it’s saving him from a great fall. And then, I swear to god, in one single gulp he finishes the entire bottle. He uses the back of his hand to wipe his mouth and then his eyes and face because he is leaking. He is a broken pipe. He is crying and crying the sobs escaping from him in hiccups. And suddenly his please is now thank you, “Thank you thank you”—the chorus of the song we are all listening to.
“I’m sorry,” I say because what else. I feel a heaviness I don’t know how to distribute. “I’m just sorry….” I don’t tell him what I’m sorry for. I don’t tell him I’m sorry for repeatedly telling the universe that I have nothing when I am so incredibly lucky. I don’t tell him I’m sorry that it’s even possible for some of us to have so very much while others have so very little. I say I am sorry because I can honestly say that I have no idea what it’s like to be so thirsty that drinking orange juice would bring me to tears. I cannot begin to imagine what living like that must be like. “I’m sorry,” I say and as the words fall out of my mouth I fall apart myself and before I know it I am crying with him. I am crying and crying and the train lurches forward and it’s almost time for work and this man is sad and I am sad and I have no idea why this moment is so powerful to me. I have seen and even in been in so many other situations much like this one. I have no idea why this one consumes me. All I know is that it does.
I get off the train with my heavy limbs and steady my breathing. I am angry at myself when I cannot picture his face with the kind of clarity he deserves. I want to be able to picture him smiling. I want to be able to picture him happy and not lonely or afraid or thirsty. I stand there on the train platform—a car crash happening somewhere inside of me—because I am conjuring an image of this person in my head and all I have is the shape. All I have are the words; Please. Thank you.