Fiction Friday: [A Study in Human Behavior on the C Train]

I clenched my jaw against the screech of metal grinding against metal and didn’t relax until it stopped. The subway car filled with the droning hum of an idling train. And the groans of my fellow commuters.

It happened way too often for me to be concerned and nine times out of ten we’d be moving again in under a minute, so I remained quiet behind my New York Post. No point wasting the energy when I knew work would stress me out enough.

Peeking over the paper, my eyes skimmed over heads buried in books, those happy to have an extra minute of time in a world far from the bowels of New York City. My focus was drawn to the faces already painted in panic. The man who stood in front of me mumbling swear words under his breath. The huffers and the grumblers. The eye darters, the feet tappers, the head shakers. And to those who needed the entire train to understand how inconvenienced they were by the situation.  

It wasn’t like I relished in other people’s discomfort. I was just captivated by human nature. Like how a situation could yield such a variety of reactions based on the culmination of individual factors that led them to this very moment. It was fascinating.

A pin drop silence filled the car when the idling hum came to an abrupt end. I stretched my jaw to clear the cotton ball stuffed feeling it caused in my ears and enjoyed the ten seconds of muted confusion before the realization kicked in and the air filled with irritation and impatience. Even the most passive of commuters joined in. We were going to be here for a while.

The crackly fizz of the intercom drew everyone’s attention. Every ear dutifully tilted upward as if straining their necks would help to translate the marbled words woven deep within the static. The announcement ended, none of us any more informed about the delay than before. This only served to garner more outbursts and exaggerated sighs from the attention seekers, more shuffling and nibbling from the nervous Nellies. Even the bookworm’s faces flashed annoyance before digging their noses back into their fantasy worlds.

Moments later, the lights flickered above right before the train jerked forward. The man standing in front of me knocked heavily into the woman next to him. He muttered an apology under his breath, but nose in book, she barely even noticed. Applause dappled around the train car, the strings of tension loosening. As the air thinned, I sat exhausted by the choppy waves of emotion that had crashed all around the past three minutes.