Apr 30
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Next Stop

By Miranda Brown

 A 4-year-old boy in a subway car was not a common sight. But it was not the strangest sight seen on a subway car. Jamie had a big book in his lap, Find The Constellations by H.A. Rey. Stars were magical. They existed in books, and outside of his city. He was excited to grow up and see them every night. A halo of curls framed his face. The word “Gap” was boldly plastered across his red shirt, despite being filled with holes. 

Jamie had boarded today, his eyes filled with determination. He sat, trying to resist the urge to suck his thumb, so he could be a “big boy” as his Abuela always said. He had to get to The Tempest and buy his Abuela a gift. She worked every day at the big building stretching high into the sky, bringing people to their hotel rooms and pushing the big golden carts with suitcases on them. She came home tired and cranky and dropped her metal name tag into the bowl on the counter. Once she retreated upstairs, Jamie picked it up and inspected it. Luciana, Front desk staff, it said. Abuela didn’t work the front desk anymore. The people who owned the big building hadn’t bothered to change it.

Next to Jamie was a young woman, her Walkman earbuds obscured by her giant afro. A handbag on her arm, jean skirt, and legwarmers. This was Kiara Cooper. Growing up in North Carolina on her family's farm, she was the first person in her family to go to college. An NYU student, she was sociable, and quickly made friends. Stylish and modern, she joined the Black students union and spent her time forging for equity. After she graduates, she will move to Philadelphia and go to law school, and become a social justice lawyer. She will get married and have three children. On her way back from work one day, she will forget to turn her headlights on. A police officer will pull her over. It was raining the day before and her black umbrella will be in the passenger's seat. Moving her hand in a way the police officer later said, “scared him,” she will be shot. The bullet will lodge in her chest, and by the time the paramedics arrive, she will be gone. But here, on this subway car to another place, she is unaware that this will happen, and a picture of modern and cool. The subway car stopped, and only one person got in.

A recent Columbia grad, working to get a teaching degree, dark circles piled under his eyes, and he hadn’t done his meticulous hair care routine in days. The night before he had sat in his room and felt his body shake uncontrollably. He couldn't breathe. He thought he was going to die, as his heart pounded. Alone in his flat, he screamed “What is wrong with me?'' until his voice hurt. Things were so desolate for him, and he was so talented no one had ever thought to teach him how to help himself. This man's name was Theodore, and he was known by the people at his local queer bar as a talented singer and drag queen. He hadn’t gone there in weeks, but he had been getting drunk by himself more and more. 

The intercom clicked on. 

“Hello, passengers. This is your driver speaking. I speak the word of God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit bless you from this day forward if you join now. Jesus Christ loves you and…”

The passengers looked at each other. Jamie started to ask a question but stopped. Kiara laughed. 

"Some people are crazy.”

A few rolled their eyes. 

All these people, different pasts and futures, nothing in common except one subway car. 
A woman clutches a letter in her manicured hand. She mourns her aunt, not only because she was kind, but because she was gone in the very way she had fought against. NYU is holding a memorial service in recognition of the way she shaped the university. 

She rereads the sentence, “You are invited to Kiara Cooper's memorial service.”

My namesake thinks Kiara. She is named after her aunt, and she wants to be like her desperately. Kiara spends hours trying to be other people, unsatisfied with herself. She runs a trembling hand over her hair and says a prayer.

The train arrives at a station and two men get in. They take seats in the back and begin talking to each other. 

“That was nice to see them again.”

 “I know, and the venue was gorgeous. Those two are just such nice people.”

`In New York for the weekend, Theodore and his husband visit college friends. Theodore sees his old haunts again, and it is a pleasant break from their Ohio condo.

“I remember riding this same subway route many years ago. My first year of teaching school, wow, how I have changed.”

He thinks of that first year internally every day. Panic attacks daily, and yet he had no idea what they were. Thought he was crazy. The low sleep, the anxiety. He hasn’t told his husband how much he struggled, and how close he came to not being here today. That year had shaped him, showed him how to recover and how to grow. He now runs an educational program. Knowing the goal he is working towards is something he would like to see in the world is more drive than any money could ever give him. Theodore is happy now, but he knows unhappiness and has stopped seeking to erase it, but to move past it. Growth is everything. 

 Another man sits on the subway. A Puerto Rican college student, home for the break to visit his grandmother. Grown now, he wears stylish clothes and enjoys playing soccer. He has his earbuds plugged into his iPod, and he sways to the music. He likes classical music. He loves college. As a child in public school, he had always seemed to slip through the cracks. Here, he is popular, because he is intellectual, whereas, in school, his big vocabulary was laughed at. His grandmother lives on her Social Security money, and because of his GPA, a solid essay, and probably some luck, his school is rich enough that he goes practically for free to college. Getting out of the city was good for him, and so was therapy. Tattooed down Jamie’s fingers, was the constellation he saw when there was a citywide blackout. It was faint, but there. The archer, shooting far ahead.

Like ships in the night, people slice past each other. Something familiar is all they will ever know.

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