The direct sunlight that one could only experience in the dry, desert atmosphere choked her. It squeezed her like her mom used to squeeze the sponge before cleaning the delicate china. She felt all traces of water evaporating from her pores and she couldn’t even tell if the water she was drinking was making it to her vital organs. Her hair had been wet a few minutes ago from her morning shower, but the air was ravenous, seeking water, choking anything and everything to quench its thirst.
Even in the evenings, the girl felt dampness on her face, but when she reached up to touch her face, there was no water. Carrying a light backpack that was glued by sweat to her back and thin tshirt, she stepped onto the subway. It wasn’t rush hour, but it was about to be. The only attraction in this town, the baseball game, would let out in a few minutes, and even though the stadium had been mostly empty, the amount of people was enough to cause traffic in this abandoned city.
The people there were so different—from the people she knew and from each other—yet so talkative and friendly. She looked around and saw a mother with five young children. She dragged one by his shirt and tore beef jerky into small pieces with her teeth to feed to the two youngest kids. A tall man wearing a skull necklace leaned down and said to the girl,
“Have you seen those posters of that new robot movie?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Are those robots real? Are they coming out with those now? Have they been made or something?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Good thing because then we’d be doomed,” he said as he turned to make out with his girlfriend who had Mamasita tattooed on her chest.
The subway jerked to a stop and she moved to the corner as more people piled in. She noticed how the fluorescent lights accentuated everyone’s oily faces and hair. She had pulled back her own hair.
Startled, she lost her balance for a minute. Leaning against the door was a young man, with hands of a laborer and the face charred by the desert sun.
She was skeptical about talking to a stranger in a foreign city. Who knew what could happen to her there. As she stared at him and exchanged a small talk, she couldn’t help but to pulled in by his charisma. She didn’t want to talk to a stranger, but he kept asking questions.
“Coming from the baseball game?”
“Who were they playing?”
“Uh. Give me a second. Actually, I don’t know. I’m not a baseball person.”
“Was the team wearing blue or red?”
“Maybe the Dodgers.”
“Yeah, maybe.” She decided not to mention that she had been in the stadium for over 6 innings.
“Are you in high school?”
“Where are you going to college?”
“Oh nice. I was there during spring break and it’s pretty cool. I have a couple of friends up there. I’m going to Brown grad school.”
“Wow that’s amazing. That’s really impressive.”
“What are you studying?”
“Psychology. I was trashed while I wrote my dissertation, but I got in,” he said with a shrug.
“So yeah. In your face.”
“Are you from around here?” she asked.
“Well, kind of. I’m here for the military.”
They exchanged nods.
“How about you? You’re from around here?”
“No, I’m from New York.”
“Where in New York?”
“Ugh I hate that place.”
“Yeah, I think a lot of people do.”
For a while, she looked to the back of the car and saw a drunk man stumbling off the train. Next to her she heard tourists referring to people on the train as crack addicts and she couldn’t help sighing at their neverending criticisms and judgment.
She stepped away. “This is my stop.”
“Funny, it’s my stop too. If you have time before you leave, check out this burger place nearby. You’ll never have burgers like this anywhere else.”
“I’m pretty tied down. I don’t know if I’ll have a chance to go there.”
“Tied down by what? You have a boyfriend or something?”
“No, nevermind. It was nice talking to you.”
“You too. Good luck with life.”
She got off the subway and started walking towards the crosswalk. As she waited for a red light, she looked back to make sure he wasn’t following her, but by that time he was gone. Like many locals he had crossed over the subway tracks to the other side of the street and he was out of sight.