At 8:30 on a brisk Tuesday morning, a man walked down the coffee stained concrete steps to the platform of a busy Metro Transit Authority train platform. Like many other commuters, the man was invisible. Not that he could not be seen, but, like anyone else bustling to and fro on another Tuesday, no one noticed. Trains arrived, stopped momentarily, doors opened and closed, and the trains departed. Travelers embarked, and others disembarked. The man remained.
In a major metropolitan city, a single man in a neatly tailored herringbone suit with an attaché case slung across a shoulder is hardly remarkable. In this city, on this platform, a single man in a herringbone suit stood on the MTA platform watching the trains come and go without a single glance in his direction.
At 11:22, a security officer for the Metro Transit Authority strolled her beat for the crowded station, looking for jumpers, pushers, tweakers, panhandlers and loiterers. Since 7 am, she had nearly completed her fourth circuit when a strange loiterer caught her attention. A man on Platform 3 stood motionless in a spot he had occupied for at least two of her laps. Dressed like any lawyer or banker in the city, she had overlooked him in her earlier laps. This circuit, the security officer stood at the bottom of the coffee stained steps and watched.
A train rumbled into the station, kicking up a furious wind on the platform. Loose litter and metro cards whipped into the air, and swirled up the stairwell. The train stopped, the doors opened, travelers stepped off, the doors closed, the train sped away, and the man stood still. Passengers passed the officer on the stairs, some going up and out into the city, some coming down and in to wait on their trains. A man in a herringbone suit, carrying a shoulder slung briefcase stood motionless on the platform.
At 11:37, the security officer walked towards the man, now standing in a crowd of passengers anxious to make their lunch break trains. She stood next to him, and faced the concrete cliff overlooking gravel and rails. Some spoke on cell phones, although most stared into their handheld computers. The man in the herringbone suit stared straight ahead, without sound or movement. The security guard watched him breathe, and waited.
A train arrived, doors opened, people stepped off, others stepped on, the doors closed, and the train sped away. The man in the herringbone suit turned to the security guard as she waited motionless.
“Didn’t you just miss your train?” he asked, considerately.
“It’s not my train,” she said, examining his speech, his pupils, his body language.
“I see,” he said, nodding in understanding. “It wasn’t mine either.”
“When does yours arrive?”
“That’s a great question. I don’t know.”
“But don’t all the trains stop at the same stations?” she asked. “Surely one of those is yours.”
“Perhaps one was, yesterday. Today, today I don’t think so.”
“What makes you say that?” the security guard asked.
“Do you ever notice, when the train stops, when the windows are clean or the metal walls are shiny, you can catch a reflection of yourself in the train?” the man in the herringbone suit asked.
“Sure,” she answered.
“Well, when the train moves, that shadow just dances along the edges, fading and returning, to finally disappear when the train pulls away. I see myself on the train when it stops, but what is on the train is just my reflection, not me. I’m standing here. I could step onto the train, and the shadow would disappear, and I would be on the train, following my reflection. I could stay here, and wait for the train to leave, and the shadow would disappear. But I remain, off of the train.”
“So why stay on the platform? Why not head back out if you aren’t going to get onto a train?” the security guard asked.
“Because with each train that comes, and each train that goes, so many people pass by. So much life. So little living. These trains come in, the people step on, and the animus leaves. The trains arrive, people step off, and they walk up those stairs knowing that life has passed them by, not while they stood on a platform, but while they stepped off and took a train.”
“So what are you going to do now?” the security guard asked.
“I’m going to stand here, and watch life pass, on time, without being in time.” A train pulled in, its doors opened, people stepped off, others stepped on.
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to issue you a citation, then, sir, for loitering.” The train sped away.
The man in the herringbone suit turned and slowly looked at the security guard. “I’m afraid you missed your train.”