The A train rattles through the tunnel underneath the East River. It’s late on a Sunday night and the train is not very crowded. About ten customers are spaced equidistant on the seats. They stare up at the ceiling or down at the their feet.
Doors at the end of the car click and slide open. A woman shuffles quickly down the aisle distributing business cards. She says nothing, placing the unwanted cards on the thighs of passengers who won’t look at her. One side of the card says; “I am deaf…” and asks for a donation. The other side of the card depicts the sign-language alphabet. Each of the 26 characters has a tiny hand hovering above it, configured in a specific way.
When each leg has received a card, she makes another trip through the train to gather them back. A teenage boy has been skulking in the corner seat. His size is intimidating and his demeanor—-intense. The hood of his bulky jacket obscures his face. When the woman comes to collect, he hands her a quarter and keeps the card. He spends the rest of the trip hunched over it, carefully posing his fingers in the prescripted way, silently spelling out words which none of us cardless passengers can understand.