You can also hear me read this story on: Episode #48 of R.B. Wood’s “The Word Count” podcast.
The prompt asked that we use THREE words in our stories:
Train | Blink | Dark
* * * *
I walked into the subway station en route to an Economics class. It was the final year of my undergraduate program, and I was barely scraping by in the course. With ticket in hand, I approached the subway booth. It was empty. I looked around, no one directly behind me. Without a further moment’s hesitation, I made a motion of dropping the ticket into the holder but held on to it, pushed through the turnstile, and quickened my pace. I half-expected someone to yell after me but heard only the pounding of my runners down the steps. It was such a silly thing. I got away without paying a measly fare. Things like that never happened to me, but for some reason, my mother’s voice echoed inside my head.
“Today’s your lucky day,” I heard her say.
I knew luck had nothing to do with it. The clerk had probably gone for a coffee or stepped out for a pee break. Despite it, my mother’s words bounced around in my head. Like most Chinese women of her generation, superstition often disguised itself as wise sayings, which then translated to proverbial truths. If my mother had her way, she’d be forcing me to buy a lottery ticket—as if getting away without paying should be rewarded with more money. The logic never made much sense to me.
While waiting for the train, a large, disheveled woman walked by me reeking of urine. She appeared disoriented and unsteady on her feet. I held a finger under my nose and stepped away from her. As she staggered away, I inched to the edge of the platform and peered into the dark tunnel. It was two in the afternoon, and I knew the subway was not running per its rush hour schedule. A tiny light inside hinted at a train about two stops away, but it wasn’t moving. I glanced at my watch and cursed under my breath. If I didn’t board that train soon, I’d be late for class—again.
As I was about to step back, a disturbance arose several feet beside me. I turned and saw a man in his twenties leap onto the track. Bystanders on the platform screamed in horror. I was shocked to think that someone so young might want to die this way, and then I quickly realized my mistake. The man had jumped in to help the smelly woman who had just passed me. She had fallen and appeared unconscious, sprawled face down on the tracks. Indeed, she was dead weight as the man tried to raise her. The commotion attracted more people. A group of teenage girls ran by me, filming the incident on their cell phones. Several people on the platform knelt to help the rescuer below. Others yelled suggestions to him for how to lift the woman, but no one else was jumping in. After several unsuccessful tries, the young man hoisted the woman to her feet until several passengers grabbed her. One man almost fell in trying to help. While the commuters struggled to pull her up, I heard the distant rumble of a train.
With the woman now out of harm’s way, the man in the tracks spun around toward the sound and the light in the tunnel.
The cell phone teenagers screamed the obvious, “The train’s coming!”
Squealing wheels pierced through the mayhem. I met the eyes of the Good Samaritan, dared not blink. In the next second, he flung himself toward the platform like an epileptic high jumper. Despite his ungraceful move, a burly man snatched him by the collar and one of his sleeves. Another grabbed his dangling legs and pulled him in. All three fell backward onto the platform as the train screeched to a halt just a few feet from where the man was seconds ago.
I stayed behind after the incident and stood near the young hero. He looked a bit shaken and scruffy, but overall, seemed fine. He smiled at commuters who patted him on the back or wanted to shake his hand. Two attendants from Emergency Medical Services came with a stretcher and carried the injured woman away. Someone in the crowd said they had seen her before, a homeless person who sometimes came into the subway begging for money. I imagined she had gotten in for free just like me, and she almost died because of it.
Later that evening, I spoke to my mother about the subway incident. We rarely got into intellectual debates, but somehow the experience touched me in a way I could not explain. How did a tiny piece of good luck for me end up being so bad?
“Not bad luck,” my mother said in her heavy Chinese accent. “It is all good luck.”
“How can you say that?” I asked. “It was horrible even though nobody died.”
“This is what I mean,” she said. “Both people are still alive. Both could have been electrocuted or run over by the train, but they were not. You brought them good luck by being there.”
I sighed heavily and let silence seal the conversation.
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