He closed the apartment door and walked down the corridor. While he waited for the elevator, he put his hat on and buttoned his jacket. Inside the car, a man and a woman smiled sheepishly at him. The fluorescent lights flickered. The flagrant smell of sex, tangled with cologne and perfume, clung to the paneled walls. On the ground floor, they exited first and he followed. Whatever they had going it wasn’t enough to last. He shrugged and stepped outside the building.
The dull light of dawn hung like a netting above the city. He headed west, toward Fieldston, carrying a brown paper bag and limping slightly in his usual manner. A flock of pigeons noisily took to the air a second after he trespassed on their sidewalk. They left sticky feathers and diarrheic droppings behind. At a street corner, he picked the morning paper from a kiosk and a pack of sugar-free gum. His mouth tasted of stale coffee grounds. He cleared his throat and spat.
Twenty minutes later, he entered the subway ticket booth. He exchanged a perfunctory greeting with the man he replaced. Five days a week, he spent forty minutes going to and fro, plus a quarter hour at the grocery store outside either apartment or booth.
Commuters with an attitude whizzed by. They hurried to their shops, offices and meeting rooms. He ranked them by the clothes they wore and pictured most in desolate, poorly lit cubicles. Some of them sat back and stretched their legs on mahogany desks in refined offices with large windows offering expansive views of the cityscape. All of them though, everyone, just like him, had nothing better to do but to go back and forth.
At noon, he pulled his lunch and a thermos out of the paper bag. He absentmindedly munched on a tuna sandwich. The lettuce was soggy and tasteless. He sipped the hot coffee. It was infused with a metallic tang that he had stopped to notice. Human traffic dropped from the thousands to the hundreds. The stress associated with his workload, that of accepting exact cash and dispensing tickets, went down a notch. He unfolded the paper and read, not paying much attention to the wars ravaging countries in other parts of the world. It certainly wasn’t his fault. Nor was police brutality, city-council corruption or vile presidential candidates. Once, some years ago, he read that anyone who was worthy of becoming president won’t run for the office. It stuck with him and made up the core of his political belief. That was the reason he won’t even vote. He shook his head.
Shortly before rush hour, when the second wave of humans flooded the subway, he punched his card and unlatched the booth’s door. A turbaned man nodded affably and took his place behind the thick glass. On his way up the stairway to street level, a discarded gum stuck to the back of his shoe. He cussed under his breath and limped east.