Crazy Man in the Subway

Prey can never become predator, but it can become something else

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Photo by Charl Folscher on Unsplash

It’s too late to change direction.

Once a predator has locked on you, running the other way rarely has the outcome you desire. Especially when that predator is just feet away and faster than you are. Even more so when there are two of them. I’ve seen many nature shows in which that was the last lesson the impala learned.

I don’t want to be the impala.

The pair whose attention I’ve attracted are hungry, strong, agile, single-minded, and dangerous. Their gray hoodies, black jeans lacerated from previous encounters, and dirt-entombed Nike’s are the perfect camouflage in this charcoal world. They’re at the bottom of the stairs, rocking on their toes, ready to pounce.

It’s 1:35 a.m. and I’m at the IRT station at 116th Street, my mind numb and reflexes dim from watching an endless river of digits on a screen. All of New York is tucked safely and securely in bed, while I am alone inside a tunnel illuminated by the glow of ghosts. It’s just us, prey and predators.

One of them slides his hand in his pocket, a hand that can transform with the press of a button into a sharp, steel talon to slash and pierce my flesh. The other predator licks his lips, anticipating the spoils.

I have no defenses, only a soft underbelly. I am perfect prey.

The predators ignore an enormous rat that emerges from a crack in the stairwell wall. The rat glances at them, twitches its whiskers, and retreats back into the hole, the scratchy sound of its footsteps swallowed by the rumble of a distant train.

The predators are five steps below me at the well of the subway entrance. Their intentions are clear, their will unstoppable, and my fate determined.

But then I jump, a wild, crazy impala move. Not up and away, because I would never escape. They are too fast, and the pain that follows a failed escape is always worse than that of acquiescence.

I jump down the steps, pirouetting through space as I fly toward them, the most ungraceful creature that has ever engaged the air. When I land on the subway platform, I spin around one more time, raise my arms to the ceiling in a V formation, and say, “Look at the moon! Moonbeams are what hold humans together.” I acknowledge the predators one at a time, opening my eyes wide, offering them a look into my deranged mind. “Moonbeams smell like mint and feel like kitten fur.”

One predator retracts his talon, and the other presses his lips tightly together. The predators step back, weary of confronting diseased prey, fearful they might catch what I have. Shoulders hunched, they scale the staircase in a wide spiral around me. When they pass, they bolt up the rest of the stairs, like they are now the prey.

I board the subway toward home.

An American writer in Japan, editor of The Binge-Watching Cure books, author of the bestselling book, Outwitting Squirrels. Occasional pilot, 24/7 cat owner.

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