The Commute

Posted on: April 14, 2016

The transit driver gets back onto the car carrying a leather, sand-colored briefcase in both hands and raises it high above his head. “Does this belong to anyone?”

Almost all the passengers in the lead car look up. A young red haired lady sitting in the seat ahead of me takes her earbuds out and looks quizzically at the passenger sitting next to her.

“What did he say?”

The man looks up from his reader. “I don’t know, something about the briefcase.”

The woman turns as he passes her. Our eyes meet.

“He’s asking if the bag belongs to anyone,” I say.

She shrugs, turns around and replaces her earbuds. The driver walks through the aisle, still holding the briefcase over his head. I can hear him ask the same question as he enters the second car.

The driver returns, carrying the bag like a football under his arm. He adjusts his Port Authority cap. He raises the bag high over his head again. “Last call.” No one even acknowledges him this time.

“Come on, already,” a teenage girl shouts.

The driver returns to his seat, places the briefcase at his feet, and puts the car in gear. My eyes follow his every action. That is a beautiful bag. I slouch in the hard pew-like seat and try to get a quick catnap before the rat race begins.

“Nice bag, huh?” The man sitting next to me interrupts my plan. He removes his glasses off. “I was shopping for bags online about two weeks ago. Saw one just like that, you know, the saddle bag look.”

“Yeah.” I nod, hoping he’ll take the hint.

“Yep. It cost almost twelve hundred dollars.” He replaces his glasses and returns his attention to the newspaper in his lap.

I turn my head. “I believe it.”

“Who would leave a beauty like that?” He picks up his newspaper. Our conversation is over.

I can see the bag clearly from where I sit. It even has locks on the two buckles. Who would leave a bag like that? I wonder what’s in it. Maybe it’s full of hundred dollar bills from a bank robbery. Nah. It’s probably stuffed with important documents. The person who lost it is probably going to get fired or hung out to dry. Or both. No, with a bag like that, she’s the boss. Maybe somebody’s carrying their lunch. Trying to look important. Nobody would forget an expensive briefcase like that one. The motion of the train brings me out of my thoughts. Everyone else has returned to their business. One fellow traveler opens his newspaper. The headline, in bold print, erases the grin on my face. Suicide Bomber claims the lives of fifteen in an Iraqi marketplace. I can read it from four seats away.

Wow, that’s crazy. People just going about their daily lives, and all of a sudden their world is ripped apart – dead. I take another look at the bag. It could be a bomb! I push that thought away. But it’s a stubborn and persistent demon. It could be--no one would just forget an expensive bag like that! The bag was heavy, you could tell by the way the driver held the thing. You couldn’t miss that. What if it is a bomb? I swallow hard.

The first terrorist bomb attack on an American public transportation system. I read last week about how the transportation systems and seaports are the most vulnerable spots in our security. This is crazy!

The tie around my neck is suddenly too tight; my lips are parched. I can smell the odor of my fear seeping through my new white shirt. My sound of my heart slamming against my ribs is like the ticking of an old clock in a room at night. All the other passengers are in their own world. It’s a bomb. At the next stop, I’m getting off this train. I’m going to stand right by the door.

"Next stop, First Avenue Station. First Avenue Station, Next stop," the automated voice announces.

First Avenue Station, the first station underground in the inbound direction. Underground, that’s a great place to set off a blast. Got to get off! Wait... wait, if I stand by the door I’ll be nearer the blast. Gotta get off before the train enters the tunnel.


I stand and pull my handkerchief from my back pocket to mop my forehead. My fingers do a tap dance on the cool metal handrail. The car approaches the tunnel to the entrance of the First Avenue Station.

Think, Alan! Think!

I pull the stop request wire violently.

"Stop Requested. Stop Requested,” the automated voice sounds out.

Everyone is oblivious to the danger. The train isn‘t slowing!

Perspiration showers down my face. An older man wearing a shabby, two-button polyester blend sports jacket opens his mouth to speak.

A monstrous roar drowns the man’s words; a blast so loud I grimace in pain. The shock wave somersaults me like crumpled newspaper. I crash into the lap of an older woman; my legs swing around and catch the side of her face. I can feel the crack of her neck. My eyes snap open.

Parts of arms and legs tumble through the car like ten pins. Screams are cut off in mid shriek.

Blood splatters paint the windows and walls of the car.

The world is black.

Then bright.

“Sir, sir? He’s conscious.”

The nameplate stitched on the navy blue shirt reads Acosta.

“Sir, I’m an EMT. Everything is just fine. We have managed to stabilize all your vitals. It’s nothing really serious. You had a minor panic attack.”

Written by: Charles Stone
Photograph by: Daniel Vidal

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