The baby wasn’t crying so much as trying to get our attention. He blinked his solid brown eyes, clenching them into fresh wrinkles, as if to clear his lenses. He looked up at us, the mashed-together subway riders on the uptown 4.
He shifted his binkie, tethered to the handrail of his old-school steel-framed carriage. He looked left, then right, then up at me, seeming to read the back of my paperback book. I flipped it to the cover, as if to show him the title. His mother glanced at me. “Stand back,” her eyes said, “I don’t know you.” I telepathically sent her a message, hoping it would show on my face, “I have two children, I’m not bad.” Her glare increased. I turned away.
The 4 train is crowded no matter the stop. Compare this to the uptown D train, which is half empty by the time it hits mid-town. I can shave ten to fifteen minutes on my commute by taking the 4, but the 4…oh the 4.
As the train doors opened somewhere near Wall Street, the too crowded passengers fell backwards, spilling out onto the platform, falling into each other’s bodies, tangled up. They clambered to their feet, made regretful and apologetic eye contact with each other, and stoically hurried to work. The mother and carriage shifting towards the center of the car, but there wasn’t any more room over there. New passengers pushed their way on to the car, pressing the mother into her carriage.
Three of the seated people immediately stood up offering her a safe place. She refused. She said aloud, to the empty space between the poles, “If these motherfuckers can’t see that I’m pushing a baby then they can all go to hell.”
The seated people cautiously sat back down, hoping the mother would change her mind. An elderly woman, hissed at her, not maliciously, but to get her attention. She was offering up her seat for the mother. The car drew quiet. Then, just as the doors were about to shut, which would allow the train to continue its lurch forward towards the next stop, one last person tried to push on. She held the doors open. The train conductor was firm on the speaker, “Please use all available doors, there is another train directly behind this one…”
The woman holding the doors yelled into the car, “Is there space over there? I see some space…” A current passenger, a matronly woman, now pressed against the handrail and the half-open doors tried to twist to look into her face. She replied, “Can’t you wait for the next train? There’s no room here.”
“I see it.”
“There’s NO room”
“Can’t everyone just step in a little more?”
‘What makes you so important?”
“I see there’s room…”
The conductors voice grew agitated, “…there is a train DIRECTLY behind this one…”
At that point the mother with the baby carriage had enough. Speaking again to the neutral space, the bit of empty location just above our heads and the roof of the train, where the air might be clearer of heat, dust, and body smells…
“I have a baby here! I’m moving back to the Bronx, people know how to live up there. You Brooklyn people are crazy!”