Listen. You ever have one of those, how can I call it, “spontaneous conversations”? Know what I mean? When you’re sitting with a group of strangers, nobody knows each other, and then by the end of a half hour you’re all chatting like you’ve been mates for years. They don’t happen often, but when they do, it’s great. Even if you all never see each other again, it’s a little glimpse into someone else’s life.
Anyway, I had one of those today. And man, was this one a doozie.
I had gotten onto the subway, off on my usual forty-minute commute downtown. It’s a Thursday, which I personally consider to be the worst day of the week. It’s day four, the week is dragging along, but you still don’t quite yet have the weekend to look forward to yet. Everyone’s grumpy and short-tempered on Thursdays.
I got onto the train with no problems, taking a seat between some young punk, dressed in a leather jacket covered in patches and sporting purple and black spiked hair, and an older man with a thin shock of white hair behind his ears. Both of them begrudgingly made room for me, just one more middle-aged guy in a business suit, headed off to a long day’s work in a stuffy office somewhere.
About fifteen minutes later, however, stuck halfway between a couple of stations, the train began to unexpectedly slow down. We all glanced up from our distractions. I had been leafing through a couple financial documents without much interest, but now looked up, as did the other passengers. I took this chance to glance around.
For a weekday morning, my compartment was surprisingly empty. Aside from the young punk and the old man, there was also a brown-haired woman who looked to be about my age, similarly dressed in a pantsuit. A young man, probably in his mid to late twenties, was lounging across a seat, dressed in slacks and a polo. A very old woman was sitting uncomfortably in the handicapped seats, a cane leaning against the plastic next to her. As the car slowed down, coming to a stop in the darkness, they all looked up, unsure of what was happening.
A moment later, we heard the metallic rattle of the PA system. “Sorry, folks, but it looks like there’s a bit of traffic up on the station ahead,” came an indeterminate male voice, not sounding very sorry at all. “We’ll be sitting here a few minutes.” Click. The voice ended without offering any further details.
“Great. Now I’m going to be late. Just frickin’ great.” To my surprise, this loud complaint was voiced sourly by the old woman, still rocking slightly on the bench.
“You? Last week, my boss caught me sneaking in late.” The woman who looked about my age was speaking. “If he catches me late again, I’m going to be fired. Fired! Can you imagine finding another job? In this economy?” Her voice was rising, beginning to approach panic. The young man in the slacks and polo leaned forward and gave her an uncomfortable pat on the shoulder.
“So what? I’m gonna be late for my date!” shot back the punk kid with the brightly colored hair. He caught me rolling my eyes, and withdrew slightly. “Matters to me,” he muttered to himself.
“Hey, I’m in just the same situation,” I pointed out, trying to keep my tone reasonable. “The only thing worse than having to work is being late for work, I’m telling you.”
The older man next to me snorted. “I’m supposed to be going to see my daughter-in-law for her birthday,” he informed the cabin loudly. “And she’s going to rip my head off. She’s never liked me.”
“At least she’ll still be there!” the middle-aged woman yelled. “I might not have a job to come back to!”
“I’m late for a hospital appointment!” the old woman screeched.
“Screw that! I’ve already been demoted down to guardian angel, and if I don’t get to my assigned human, I’m going to be busted all the way down to freaking cherub!”
We all turned. The young man in the slacks and polo was standing up. As we all stared at him, open-mouthed, he slapped his hands over his mouth, his eyes going wide.
“Angel?” the punk repeated slowly…