|In the name of my parents|
The subway slowly pulled into New York’s Grand Central street station. The crowded downtown express was pushing its way south on a steamy August afternoon. In the third car down from the front Harry and John had difficulty in finding two seats together. The carriage was extremely crowded with the early afternoon shoppers going downtown bargain hunting.
Earlier that morning John had told the office that this was going to be their day. They were on their way to make a presentation that if successful could change the future of their business. John was already dreaming of the little sports car he saw every day on his way to work. The other day he had even sneaked into the showroom to ask the price and just for the pleasure sat in the driver’s seat imagining himself on a fling to Atlantic City. It had been a memorable moment of self-indulgence.
As the train left the station John mentally calculated they had about another ten minutes to perfect their respective roles in the forthcoming presentation. He opened up his laptop and booted up the presentation. It looked good, but depending on this last run through he might change the last two pages. First they should go over the presentation just one more time. He turned and spoke to Harry.
“ Okay, let’s go over it just one more time.”
He instantly noticed Harry seemed to have lost a certain amount of concentration and was staring up at a pregnant women who had, no doubt, boarded the train at 42nd street. She was now standing right in front of them.
Harry, had, indeed, lost his concentration and his immediate reaction was to give up his seat to the pregnant woman. He heard a cacophony of voices from the past. “You stand up for pregnant women and allow them to sit down.” This statement had been drilled into him from birth, first by his parents, later by his masters at school, and just recently by his latest girlfriend. It was something one always did. Next to him was John, computer opened, insisting they go over the presentation for the last time. Well, he reasoned, this meant he just would not get up, after all he owed the woman nothing, why should he feel embarrassed; they would never see each other again. As he turned to face John he remembered the time his father had boxed his ears for not immediately giving his bus seat up for a pregnant woman.
In a whispered tone Harry said, “John, I think I will have to get up and let that pregnant women sit down.”
John replied immediately. “Are you crazy. I have just set up the computer, don’t waste time, we have to run through the presentation, I am thinking of making a minor change to the last two pages.”
“John you don’t understand, this woman has put me in an enormous dilemma.” said Harry, “ As a child my parents, and later, my teachers always impressed on me that you should give up your seat up to pregnant women and handicapped people.”
“What do you mean ‘Impressed on you’, as in command, as in the army, ‘told you’!” Gosh, every time my parents told me something I always did the opposite; what is this shit?” John barked back.
“John, it is like helping old ladies and blind men cross a road, it’s something I have always done.” Harry then lowered his voice and whispered in John’s ear,
“I can feel her looking right through me. Women have a sixth sense of homing in on the guys that will give up their seat for them.”
At this moment the train stopped at the next station; more passengers board making the train even more crowded. The woman was now practically standing on top of them. Harry felt her leg touch his knee, under the circumstances a most unpleasant sensation.
“Harry, listen, we are about to have the most important date of our business career. I couldn’t care less if the woman is having twins. It’s not our fault she is pregnant, we didn’t ask her to get into our car. Hell! Let someone else get up. She can look at you all she likes, but in no way are you vacating your seat, we cannot stand and use the computer. Now let’s get back to business.”
John’s forceful remarks had a sobering influence on Harry. He was just about to start on his role for the presentation when by mistake he once again glanced up at the woman. Her eyes, her face, the way she had her legs parted to relieve the weight all seemed to scream at him, “You bastard give up your seat!” Harry broke out in a cold sweat. Everything his parents had taught him started flying out of the window, he reached forward as if he was trying to grab all these lessons before they would be lost forever. By this time Harry noticed John was getting a blotchy face, no doubt from the anger that was swelling up in him.
The train stopped at another station. Harry again felt the unpleasant sensation of the pregnant women leg touching his knee as the train became more crowded.
“Harry, listen for the last time, get your priorities straight, to hell with the woman; that goes for all pregnant women. This is unbelievable.” In the emotion of extreme anger, his face looked like the gathering of black clouds one sees before an enormous storm. He looked up at the woman and said
“Lady, please leave my friend alone.”
The woman never said anything she just looked at both of them and gently shifted her feet. There seemed to be a calm about her that said it all. Your friend will give up his place was written all over her face. Her silence sent an eerie shiver down Harry’s back. How could she assume Harry was going to give up his seat?
Harry turned and looked at John. His mind was numb, his hands started twitching; they were moist with perspiration. He was lost; he could see John’s point of view, but the sounds of how one is expected to behave kept ringing in his ears. The memories of his childhood came rushing back, a vision of his parents, the wonderful summers they had all spent together, their love for each other, his brothers and sisters good, decent people. It was a cruel moment. He leaned towards John and in a child-like voice said.
“I have to give her my seat”
The reaction was immediate; the thunder finally arrived. “Harry, if you do, I am getting out at the next station and going back to the office, you deal with the presentation.”
Harry hardly heard John’s words; he stood up and as the woman slipped into his seat he heard a dainty voice saying. “Thank you.”
At the next stop John stormed out of the subway. They never said a word.
Harry stood there wondering what had happened. To make matters worst John’s seat remained empty as a reminder of his folly. The woman lay back in her seat and closed her eyes. Harry wanted to lash out at something or somebody. He believed if the woman’s husband had been there he would have killed him on the spot. All he could do was to wallow in his misery. What an idiot he had been. In his anguish he nearly missed the station where he had to get out. He slowly realized the only course of action was to go and make the presentation and hopefully he might be successful. No doubt if this was the case John might forgive him, but knowing John it was highly unlikely. He also knew that without John he had little chance of carrying the day. John was the brain; he was decidedly the second fiddle.
As he left the subway car he took a last look at the woman, she still had her eyes closed. He felt like giving her a kick on the shins and asking her to thank him one more time. Too late the doors closed and he was left looking at the red taillight as the train disappeared down the tracks. He regretted having not taken the train’s number as he had a macabre thought at some later day it would look good on his tombstone.
From the station Harry walked slowly over to the building in which the clients had their offices. A feeling of panic started to take hold of him. He would call and cancel the meeting. As he entered the lobby of the building he took out his cellular phone. Seven little numbers would temporarily relieve the anguish. The word temporarily pounded in his head like a hammer striking an anvil. No, this was no way out. Maybe he should call the office and see if John was there. At least if he heard his voice it might alleviate his suffering. He was just about to dial the number went he saw John running into the foyer.
John was literally shouting, “Thank God you are here, I was in the wrong, you were right, let’s go and knock them dead.”
History relates: that their presentation was successful. John bought his sports car and died two months later in car accident on his way to Atlantic City. Harry married a year later and the happy couple had six children. He never allowed his wife to travel on the subway.
- The End -