Looking up for a moment, he caught the eye of another passenger, then quickly turned away in embarrassment. He scanned the rest of the subway car where everyone was occupied with something – listening to music on headphones, scrolling social media, reading, listening to music and consuming other media at the same time.
He turned to his own device and wondered if anyone would hear him if he said something, anything, at a normal conversational volume. Would the sound of his voice pierce whatever wall they had erected to shield themselves from the idea of existing naked in public – present without pretense? He thought about what he’d say if he was the bold type, unafraid to see end results of impulsive acts. He knew it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to say anything and nobody would hear him if they did. Not in the way people hear a sound and react to it with some kind of human response. Anything that did register as an actual sound would be dismissed the same way his glance was dismissed just a moment ago; an unfortunate imposition of character in a scene that everyone implicitly agrees to participate in as equals in background or anodyne scenery. It seemed to be the new social contract – there but not at the same time.
The train slowed then braked hard as it approached the next station. The smell of rubber on metal wafted though the car. Ten people, evenly spaced, and similarly occupied waited on the platform. The doors opened and a rush of people exited and new people boarded. He watched the mechanical movements with the requisite inattentive set of glances then turned back into himself. The scene registered as a changing of the guard, bodies without faces moving to a practiced rhythm.
The train started moving again. He bobbed his head to music that wasn’t playing through his earbuds because, well, he wasn’t sure why exactly. It was just something he did in these situations. He would sometimes stop himself if he noticed himself doing it, but not always. Sometimes it felt appropriate. People tend to ignore behavior that seems entirely appropriate but also a little too performative in a public setting. He thought it was the best way to blend into the scenery and be forgettable on purpose. There is a fine line that divides the actions he was pondering at first and what he was doing now. He was careful to always stay on the invisible side of that divide.
He remembered why when a deranged passenger came into the car from the one ahead. The man was shoeless, reeking of long days and longer nights of exposure to the elements and an indifferent public, shouting obscenities, and looking only for a helping of small change. It was the kind of disturbance everyone registered in their peripheral vision and inner monologues but worked even harder to accentuate their indifference to anything happening beyond their jaded exteriors. Everyone instinctively folded deeper into themselves as the man tried to engage them.
Anyone who has seen a zombie movie knows it’s best to not draw attention to yourself. So he went on bobbing his head, going with the flow, killing time. He considered the zombie analogy and wasn’t sure who was the zombie in the scene – the deranged man causing the ruckus or the person tracking him.