The train station platform thronged with people, all of them jiggling and jostling along under the warm, yellow lights. They gleamed like sunshine from skin, coats, hats, scarves, luggage. The murmur clamored to an unintelligible crescendo as tones, voices and conversations of so many, swirled in an audile wave and washed over the human beach. Hands rose into the bright illumination over the heads, necks craned and faces lifted on tip-toes to find family members, loved ones, friends.
She clung to her father’s hand, her coat hanging warm and fuzzy over her hips to mid-thigh, her curly, ill-behaved locks tucked into a restraining barrette at the back of her head. Loose disobedient frays sizzed from her temples and over her brow, her Mary Janes shuffling along with the human current in the river of bodies. Expressionless, she stared into open train doors obscured from her view by the masses. She saw the tops of the black maws yawning open, and the uniformed men swivel their heads over the crowded platform. The wall of people shielded her from any wind, the forced huddle in the confines beneath the lamps warmer from body heat.
She trailed her parents, her father checked the rectangular document in his hand. A ticket? Perhaps. The print on the document face was small, too small to read, but she felt sure it was a ticket. She felt a shudder, so slight, worm down her spine, but she didn’t feel cold. Something bored into the side of her face, like light focused to a pinpoint on her cheek. She turned her head, and the sea of humanity parted, for a moment, and she saw the other girl.
Dirt-smudged face and dress. Or nightgown, perhaps. Tattered remnants of lace, thread-bare silken material, her hands filthy, nails grime-laden. Her tangled nest of hair matted against her head in ropey straw-like vines. Her eyes shone under the amber lights. The little girl stood in the door of the train car across from her, and she guessed this pathetic urchin couldn’t be much younger than she was. Then in a blink the flux of movement carried masses in front of her, and when they parted again long enough for her to see, the little dirt-child was gone.
She turned back to her parents. The sea of humanity seemed to polarize, to move with singular intent and formed lines about the train car doors. The uniformed men stepped off the stairs into the cars and called with loud, piercing voices, words she understood but didn’t comprehend. The call of train-speak. Her father did comprehend, though, and he moved his tiny family into position to board the train.
She turned again and scanned the crowd. For a second she locked eyes with the little dirty girl once more, and the stranger shook her head. No, the motion stated, solid and sure. Emphatic. No, don’t get on. She knit her brows and wondered, but the wash of human flotsam blocked her view and when it cleared for an instant the filthy child was gone.
She wondered, and stood on her toes, lifted her eyes as high as they would go, but the smudgy girl was gone. She felt the insistent tug on her hand and followed, her eyes surveying the crowd, ducking and weaving to see between the thick columns of people as they swarmed toward the train.
They filed in, trooped up the metal stairs, dispersed to the left or right through sliding doors that ground open and shut part way before the next clump of people parted it to disappear into the bowels of the train. The line shifted and swayed forward. At last her father stepped up to the train stairs and boarded. Another man in uniform gave a cursory glance at the fanned tickets in her father’s gloved hand. He dismissed them with an absent nod, his eyes returning to rove the lines as the masses poured into the train.