The whole day, Raury Paulson had been doing things that he had never done before. After shoving an old woman outof his way, he had jumped into a taxicab whose driver was shorted half the fare after a long, silent trip to Grand Central Station. The taxicab driver had been in a chatty mood at first, but seeing the busy eyes of the panting man in his rearview mirror had given him the hint that there was no use. The man looked like he had just finished robbing a store, except for the fact that he had nothing to show for it—no bags in hand or police chasing after him.
Raury was no longer dangerous, just tired and somewhat withdrawn from reality—so much so that when he got out the taxicab there was no thought that he had to pay. That was until the middle-eastern accent from inside demanded his cash. This human interaction jerked Raury back into reality. He regained composure and apologized sincerely to the driver for not having the full fare.
After hurriedly slamming the car door—and narrowly missing a racial slur in so doing—Raury walked briskly to the entrance of the station. If the initial strange behavior of the man hadn’t warranted the driver to take note of his features, the half-paying of the fare did. The man was tall (about 6’2) and thin, weighing no more than a buck fifty. He wore a black beanie over shoulder length brown hair and had a thick moustache and goatee that had almost hidden the sunkenness of his mouth and the lines, like parentheses, surrounding it. He had dark green eyes.
Raury had never been to Grand Central station before yet had forged his way through the vast beauty and grandeur of it as if he were the architect of the station. His tunnel vision lead him into a luxurious bathroom where he dumped the beanie and wig into a stainless steel trash can, took out the dark green contacts and flushed them, before kneeling over an open toilet with a small mirror in his left hand and a razor in his right to get rid of the last distinguishing feature, his facial hair, all in one quick swoop as if he had been practicing it for weeks. In actuality, this was the most half-baked thing he’d ever done in his life, he thought. Yet the necessity to continue living required unprecedented carefulness despite—or because of—the lack of practice.
After flushing, Raury left the stall and was beginning to exit the bathroom when a sight in the mirror made him do a double-take and jump back, aghast. Without his facial hair, he thought he had seen another person, someone homeless and sick. His first thought was that he needed to eat.
In the terminal, there was a myriad of food choices to choose from: Ceriello, an Italian restaurant; Oyster Bar; Mexican food at Zocalo’s; Manhattan Chili Co.; Junior’s (apparently home of the world’s best Jewish cheesecake); Financier’s, a French bakery; and Masato, a sushi bar. On an ordinary day, any one of these would have been fine, but given the circumstances, Raury’s stomach was quivery, so he loaded up on some baguettes and got water to coat them.
As he ate on the second floor, he saw a woman sitting on a bench not too far from him. She had probably just bought a ticket and was waiting to board. Hopefully, it’d be his train, he thought. Her hair was up in a jet-black bun, which starkly contrasted her ivory face and was yet again brought out by her red, pursed lips. She could have been a movie star, Raury thought. This was plausible; after all it was New York. Her clothes were of the highest fashion. She adorned a black dress that had symmetrical triangular cutouts at the sides and lower thighs which had revealed that her body was indeed uniform in its white flawlessness. The hemline of the dress was see-through. It had to be fresh off a Paris runway.
All this was seen because the nude trench coat that would’ve shrouded her was fully open. The coat was slightly offsetting to Raury’s tastes, but he figured it was the pop or exclamation that all fashion people go for. Or, quite simply, it was chilly. The coat ran all the way down to her black patent-leathered feet.
He would’ve looked back up to sneak peeks at her uncovered sides but noticed her heels were open-toed. Her toes were painted red to match her mouth, the bright color had made an interesting fact more noticeable to Raury—she was missing the tip of her third toe on her left foot. She did have a seasoned aura about her, he began to notice. A maturity and wealth of experience that had encapsulated and highlighted her spoiled-ness—as he surmised by the looks of her clothes. She was still young, so whatever resulted in that missing toe couldn’t have come naturally with age. It was most likely a tragedy that was responsible for that quirk, as well as that knowing countenance. She probably had come to terms with tragedies that could strike anyone at any time and that she’d better live as fully as possible while none were striking her.
Amen to that, Raury thought. He’d come back and pick her brain once he finished buying that ticket.
American flags were draped from above in the station’s focal points. Even higher, the concave roof was a pool blue. The stony walls were sandy brown and the floor was a similar hue. The rush was building up on the floor, so, as Raury made his way down the stairs, the beach was dotted with black. It was strange how popular of a color black was—if it was as crowded upstairs as it was downstairs, he may not have even noticed the woman on the bench.
He stood in a shrinking black line leading to the ticket window and intermittently looked around for blue uniforms. He realized he was wearing black as well. That was good; he blended in.
The ticket said his train would arrive at quarter to noon. He had fifteen minutes to elude any police and talk to the woman on the bench. The police were sparse at the moment, but Raury knew there would be a lot more coming. He made his way back up the steps, pushing through the oncoming crowd as politely as possible.
The woman was no longer on the bench. He approached the stone railing through a gap between the walls, to check back at the lines downstairs. No jet-black bun or tall nude trench coat was in sight. His eyes continued to scan all over the floor to no avail. He stood by the women’s bathroom for two minutes before approaching the railing again. This time, looking over the railing, he was checking for police. Seeing none, he began to make his way outside—she could’ve been a smoker. Just as he descended the stairs, a flood of police rushed in through the front, about twenty. They were looking for him.
Once the flood of police ceased, Raury rushed downstairs and out of the entrance into cold, fresh air. He thanked God he spent time on that disguise. There was a row of disheveled police vehicles lined up, but none were occupied; the police were all inside. People were speckled here and there, theorizing on what could be happening. Some people were more cautious and made their way to leave. During his search for the woman, he overheard talk of bomb-threats and terrorists. Getting halfway around the building, Raury realized he had just enough time to head back. His train was arriving in about five minutes.
He had cut it pretty close considering he had no clue where his train was going to be. The lack of planning was haunting him. Looking around the station for signs was about as helpful as running around aimlessly. Raury found no other choice but to interrupt the nearest paying customer and ticket-handler to learn the whereabouts of Greenwich 254.
With slightly over a minute left to board, he ran down three flights of stairs to the stone-and-steel underbelly of the station. Running was well worth the risk; he got there just as the train pulled up. He considered the observation he had just made as he was rushing to get to this train—all the police he saw earlier had congregated, like ants, into a corner of the station up above him. He was safe.
The train was as luxurious and packed as the station itself. He ended up in an aisle seat and caught his breath with reserved excitement. His excitement quickly faded when he spotted the laptop screen of a man diagonal from him. On it was a video of a burning building which cut to running people and then to firemen and rubble. The fervor of his fellow passengers had suddenly crept into Raury’s awareness. An intense, hostage-like silence had subdued everyone—any talk at all on this packed train about the fresh tragedy was taboo. The faces of all the people were in a meditative focus as if praying for continued safety.
Raury knew there was nothing left to worry about today, and, as if to reinforce this, he observed in the back of the train near the doors in a window seat that jet-black bun and the unforgettable pale face with the red lips—it was the woman from the bench, the wise young survivor of tragedy. She, unlike the others, didn’t look worried at all. She had experienced it all before. He didn’t know how, but he was going to talk to her. He prayed that at the next stop the couple in the seat in front of her would get off—so he could talk to her.
He would tell her that when he saw her, he knew everything would be okay. He would also inquire about her missing toe. Once she told him about how she lost it, he would tell her that he had just absolutely known she had been through something like that and that he hadn’t for a second thought it was any birth defect. He would tell her that there was something beautiful about that oddity of hers. He would tell her that he admired her tenacity and spear-headedness which, as he was sure she’d already known, would get her through situations even the toughest of people would drop like flies in the face of. He would tell her that her fellow passengers were lucky to have her aboard—and if she’d ask why…
An anemic old man in the front stood up to go to the bathroom, unnoticed by most of the passengers who were still anesthetized by their nerves. There was no sound from inside the bathroom, but according to the red tab on the door slot, it was occupied. The old man stood there for a moment. He turned to walk away when the bathroom door flung violently open, cracking his head—knocking him unconscious.
Upon the abrupt impact of the patent-leather heel to the door, the fragile calm that the passengers built up was shattered as easily as a wine glass thrown to the floor. What ensued was a riotous and futile bum rush to escape the packed train. Those in the back had a better sense of what was happening, yet the fear was the exact same for all those aboard; from those who hadn’t seen anything—and may have ordinarily assumed the thud was just luggage dropped from a compartment—to those who had been inches away from the aisle where the old man lay with a gashed, leaking head.
Aside from this old man, only Raury, who had been deeply ruminating on what he’d say to the woman in black, was unaware of what was happening. When the scream of a lady from the back had rang in response to the unconscious man, Raury was shaken halfway to reality. He looked back with no regard to those rushing in a flurry over seats and through the aisle. His attention was drawn to the woman in black, steely-faced and reaching for something in her nude trench coat.
…He’d tell her that lightning never struck the same place twice.