I wish someone had warned me, but I’m beyond that now. My feet are crossed under me, arms tucked at my sides, backpack neatly in my lap. I sway from side to side as we round corners, my eyes glazed – turned toward yellow stripes that flicker in in the twilight. Not long now, and I’ll get to pull the dirty plastic cord. I pray I don’t miss my turn. It’s likely I won’t get another one, given where we’ve been and where we’re going.
I breathe shallowly, trying for air while minimizing the filthy odors crawling into my nose and mouth. It’s a wasted attempt, but I fool myself into feeling some control. My stomach roils, churning at the bottom of my throat as we jerk and slow in stuttering increments. My knees cram against the plastic of the seat in front of me, and I have to turn sideways as the creature next to me lunges upward and toward the aisle.
I desperately suck my body inward, trying to avoid even the frayed and dirty edges of clothing moving past me. It’s no use, my cringing and pressing. I’m subjected to a full frontal assault of physical and olfactory sensation. Slick, sticky nylon and discolored cloth dig and drag across my backpack and hands. Somewhere under the layers, a body exists. I can feel the outlines of bones as the skeleton forces the muscles and organs through the tight space. I wonder if my bones and organs are also on tactile display.
A toothy metal zipper chews my knuckles and a boot stubs at the inside of my foot, jolting it sideways. I hold my breath, chin dug into my chest, as I try not to inhale backwashed air. Finally, the neverending moment ends; the exit is made, and I am solitary.
My feet rearrange themselves, my hands and backpack return to their neatly defined positions. My gaze slips out of focus, sliding across gray and black shapes that connect and disconnect almost instantly. They catch on a canary yellow splash and I panic – did I miss it? Oh my gods, what if I missed it!?
My body tightens, a painful internal burst of chemicals speeding up my heart and panting breaths. Tired eyes reach forward, grabbing desperately at any familiar scrap –something that would indicate that I am not too late. Though hazed and clouded with used dirt and dried fluids, plastic provides a window of opportunity. I can see that I am near, but not too far. The rubber burns my skin, and the smell of old grime lingers.
Then….the nightmare is over. I exit at the next stop.