I was king of the subway for just one day.
(My grandfather jests every time we meet that I am the mayor of [Chestertown][ctown] — greets me as Your Honor, the way everyone did before he retired –)
I was on the last car of the train — had just barely made it onto the train that would get me home on time. I heard it pulling in just as I put my ticket into the turnstile, went scampering down the escalator, slid right into the last door just as the goodbye tones sounded. I was lucky. Most days I’m not, I fear.
(I told a girl once that I didn’t believe in luck. At the time I said it without considering it. The kind of thing you tell girls you want to impress. But after thinking it through, I really don’t believe in luck. Not really. It just feels otherwise sometimes.)
I was staring out of the back of the car, watching the world recede, feeling invulnerable, the way I did when I was a kid riding in the back of my friend’s family station wagon. We were almost home now — the highway stretched out around us. Everyone in their cars looked terribly serious but not in a sad way — just distant. Living a different life than me.
We were almost to the station, so I put the book I had been reading earlier on the trip back into my work bag and snapped the buckle shut. The man across the aisle did the same, with almost the exact same rhythm. Coincidence. I believe in coincidences but not luck.
When we pulled into the station I rose, and so did everyone else, as if they had all been watching me, waiting for me to indicate it was safe. They followed me out the doors like a procession, like I was leading them towards their own private homelands. And I happened to look over at the next door up. There was a girl my age there, dressed in the same colors as I was. Coincidence. Her hair was blonde and her eyes were blue, just like mine. And there were people following her, too.
We looked at each other for a stranger-second — that space of time you’re allowed to look at people without it being too weird, too wrong. She could have been a queen. There was a meanness behind her eyes that suited it.
I was lucky to escape that day. To only have to be a king for the briefest of moments. Just long enough to enjoy it.