A Passenger’s Library
By Anaís Fernández
An exploration of ghostly subway rides during the COVID-19 pandemic.
the faces on this train used to tell stories good stories stories like the ones passed down from our mothers stories that feel like speeding through space or maybe through a darkened subway tunnel the faces on this train used to tell stories with all the figurative language my English teacher could ask for I could find similes in their smiles metaphors in their mouths imagery right behind their eyes and always irony tucked into the corners of their lips the faces on this train used to tell stories sad stories stories of cold nights and not enough to wear stories that sound like clinking coins in cups stories printed in black-and-white, flipped through and left behind for the next person loud stories stories of boombox bass and beat and beat-up baseball caps stories that start with it’s showtime, folks and read like limber limbs around steel poles the seats on this train used to tell stories stories of lost things — of umbrellas and MetroCards, mittens and hats, they say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure and I imagine if all the lost things on the subway were turned into illustrations, they would create the most beautiful picture book. sticker stories graffiti graphics call me written in red and a phone number ads and ads and ads and the bodies on this train used to tell stories in the summer they would shine and in the winter they would disappear only to come out again too early forgetting the snow always has the best April Fools’ Day trick up its sleeve. the subway was my favorite library no overdue policy and the shelves were always stocked but never the same I treated the threshold between the platform and train car floor like a steel-bound front cover and when the man tells me to stand clear of the closing doors it sounds like a dedication. the faces on this train are few now covered and concealed by a cloth veil I know that behind the mask there is still a story but for now all the titles are the same: keep breathing.
This piece started as a quick scribble on my first subway ride since the COVID-19 lockdown. Like most New Yorkers, taking the subway was a constant for me, and I had come to treat my daily commutes like some sort of intimate interaction with the city. My return to a mostly empty subway car was a little jarring, and it felt like I had lost something. This piece is my reconciliation with that loss.
Anaís Fernández is excited to publish her first piece through Girls Write Now as a first-year Writing 360 mentee. When she is not writing poetry, prose, or random snippets living in her head, she is making music, acting, or reading. If she had to eat one thing for the rest of her life, it would be rice.