Photo by Rian Castillo
He sat sprawled on the furthest side of the Q train, nose plumped with alcohol and ears flushed a chili-pepper red — laughing so hard his breath left two giant spheres of fog on the window. The rest of us were bunched on the other side, in an attempt to escape the stench of human grime and drink. Outside, the pale evening howled and sifted the sky’s dandruff along rooftops. Every once in a while the doors parted at a stop and a gust of cold, biting air rushed in, ruffling people’s furry hoods and flipping the pages of their newspapers. When passengers walked in and glancing at The Beggar, headed in the opposite direction—he hooted, and slapped the glass, chuckling something in mock tones to himself. A faded, knit hat with a huge orange pom-pom on its top wiggled right to left,left to right on his head. He tucked a few greasy, silver strands back in and around his earlobes.
First we all ignored him, shifting uneasily in our seats. If you looked, he’d jiggle the Styrofoam cup that held his wages at you, as if toasting, and wink. Then we read and reread the advertisements for “The Vampire Diaries” and Brooklyn law offices lining the paneling overhead. When The Beggar stood up clumsily, as the train rocked along its icy rails, some of us tensed our jaws and shut our lids in mock sleep —as one does when avoiding guilt for not feeling like rummaging through pockets and purses for spare change. Our noses prickled as the soiled, old man shuffled nearer, chewing on his empty gums. The folks closest to him stood up from their seats and sat further away, or turned their body toward the window. The rest of us turned up the volume on our iPods and fixed our expressions to neutral aloofness.
Despite this, we heard—
“Don’t worry. I ain’t gonna inconvenience yous tree-scum schmucks. I’m off duty!” followed by hoarse chuckles. “Yous thinking yous the shits of the shit, yea-ah? Sittin’ there, worryin’ about those bills …that leave yous too spent to enjoy all the big things yous worked for at that big ol’job that makes yous too tired to enjoy them anyways! know what I got? I got free seatin,’ free heatin,’ all around views. Not much money to spend. But no bills to pay. Yea-ah! I’m as good as better. Look at yous, sorry ass people. Frowni-frown- frownin’. Yous all sittin’ on MY bed. Yous in my LIVING room. Yea-ah! That’s right. Stop pretendin’ like yous don’t know it… ”
And with that, he began hooting so hard it flanked our ear-drums. And those of us with our eyes sealed were forced to open them to The Beggar of Brighton 5th street— who stood in the middle of the train, empty, pastel-blue seating along each side. The pom- pom bounced in animated circles over his forehead as he slapped his knee with his left hand, and with the other jutted at us a long, nicotine-stained expletive with a pitted nail.
Glora Manuilova lives in Brooklyn’s bootleg Soviet Russia– Brighton Beach (or “Little Odessa,” as some call it). She teaches World Humanities at The City College of New York, where she’s also an MFA candidate. Website: http://amerikanish.tumblr.com/