The other day I found myself in the pedestrian tunnel that connects the Eighth Avenue subway station under the Port Authority to the Broadway lines beneath Times Square. It was pouring outside and the block-long corridor was packed with morning commuters. We scurried forward in close formation so no one would get trampled under, having shaken the excess water off our umbrellas, dressed uniformly in black, anonymous and monotonous, except for the girls wearing their multi-colored galoshes. Petals on a wet, black bough. Effin poetry, what good does it do? You'd been taught to expect to find beauty in the least of creatures, in the worst of circumstances. But it doesn't always work that way, especially on a morning when the stairwell leading to the street is closed because of flooding and everything smells like piss.
A tiny ageless black woman in a beige coat and Easter hat stood against the left wall about halfway through the tunnel. She straightened her body and declaimed, "Nobody knows! Nobody knows when he's gonna come back. You people. You don't know! Nobody knows the day." She waved her right hand above her head and clutched a fistful of pamphlets in her left. Each elongated syllable took a full breath. She was the color of cast iron. Of course, everyone stepped around her. Her eyes bulged out as she shouted out again. "Nobody knows the day the Lord is coming back." A chill ran through me, soaked as I was. Maybe I was coming down with something.
We were on our way to work. Who needed her? We had emails to open, phone calls to make, documents to file, notes to write, meetings to attend, gossip to share. We had an effin paycheck coming to us. We had no idea where we were going, but we were going just the same, hurrying along underground to avoid the rain. We carried our professional lives with us like tourists carrying their effin luggage. Marching forward with man-made purpose. Like lambs being led to slaughter. Effin religion, what good does it do? It's worse than poetry. You start believing that someone's listening to the words you speak. Who needed this woman, with her thick spittle flying into our ranks? Who needed her accusing eyes, her piercing voice, or her primitive superstition? We didn't need her. We needed more coffee and a break in the weather, not some religious nut accosting us underground on another rainy day at the end of March. It was Holy Week and the subway station was full of prophets. Before I got to the shuttle, I passed three more -- two women, one man -- calling down a consuming fire on ignorant humankind.
At least drug addicts are interesting to themselves, even if they bore everyone else to death. Same with the gasbags who play with their smart phones in public. Those of us scurrying along with a purpose, we've got other gods now, even if we can't name them. For us, there's no going back, no way to turn the tide. If you stop you'll get pushed aside, left for dead with your dirty book, holding up the wall, screaming into the damp uncaring crowd.
I paused for just a second to get a good look at her and this big guy wearing a Yankees warm-up jacket and cap bumped me and gave me the look: why you stopping? You for real? She's crazy. It was clear he had a purpose in life. So I picked up the pace and went with the flow. Behind me I could hear her cry out, "Nobody knows when he's gonna come and save you." The crowd marched past, heads straight, eyes forward, hands at sides. I had no idea what to think, nor did anyone else from what I could tell.