In the midst of hundreds of curtains of tightly drawn people in the metro, the man stood up and cleared his voice. It was as if he was to begin talking shortly, Pochinsky, the student, thought.
Pochinsky was standing up and reading his book. He was holding on to the railing at the top with one hand and holding his book with the other. It was an early short story of Fitzgerald. Pochinsky hated it. He wondered at how the transition had been made from this rubbish to the later magic of The Great Gatsby. In just three years, at that. Pochinsky took a great deal of hope from that. Give me three years and I'll be someone, he thought.
Then the man who had cleared his voice started talking. At first he was barely audible above the whoosing noise of the metro as it rattled through its daily routines, bringing millions to where they needed to be brought. Soon though nothing else could be heard in that wagon other than the man talking, and everyone else looked stoically on in silence.
'I am extremely sorry to bother you ladies and gentlemen, I ask for your attention for just a moment...'
In that moment Pochinsky knew already what was the case. It was the case that this man was one of the increasing numbers of poor buggers who went around the metro day and night asking for money.
'...I have tried everything else, and I have a family of three children to feed. I am poor and I have no other way out but to ask you for some help. If you could have some pity on me and give me whatever you may have at your disposal, I would be...thank you madam...'
A young girl had pressed her small carton of milk into his dirty hand. He paused briefly for consideration. Then he continued with his speech, but it was as though he were saying nothing at all. No one was really paying attention. Everyone suddenly seemed to have problems of their own.
Pochinsky looked all around the metro. He looked slyly, using his book to hide behind. The cover of the book had an old car, from the early part of the 20th century, on it. It served him well here, but he hardly needed have taken the precaution. There was a general culture of looking away. Even Pochinsky, who thought himself a revolutionary student, could hardly make himself look at the man. It was just difficult to do so. As if when you looked at him, you might be overcome by a feeling of empathy and attempt to help the poor soul.
Then, finally, Pochinsky made himself look. The man was beautiful. He was also ugly as hell. It was just all mixed in there, with all the desperation and the imaginary flies on his hair and the dirtiness of his face and the thorns on his hands. He was a real sight. There was an immediate hopelessness about him that was very real. He had no chance, really. You looked at him once and you knew he was fighting a lost battle.
At least he was fighting, Pochinsky thought.
The man had finished his speech now. Most people pretended as though they had not heard it. There were blank stares. There was a lady who tried to look indifferent but ended up looking ridiculously effected, as if her cousin had just been trapped under an onrushing bus. She looked down but you could see she would cry when she got home.
Then Pochinsky saw another man, of about his age, taking out his wallet. He watched the man closely. He took out a couple of coins.
The beggar man headed away in the other direction. He charged away blindly but harmlessly in the moving metro. He would hurt no one. He was but an object of pity. There was no way he could ever win, really. His pride was all that was at stake now. But it was lost already, really, the moment he had stepped foot inside the metro wagon.
'Look, over here, someone has heard you,' Pochinsky felt like calling out to him. But he kept silent. It was hardly appropriate to call out such things in the metro. The public metro, where no one knew each other and no one cared for their neighbour.
The metro shuddered on silently. The crowd watched the man swirl past as men and woman of all shapes stepped aside swiftly to let him pass in the crowded aisle. Of course no one was looking. But really they were. No doubt about that. This was a spectacle, a spectacle made by society and blindly supported by it.
The man turned now on his shaky heels and came back down the aisle, towards Pochinsky. He was swaying a little now with the effort of making a nuisance of himself in public, coupled with the effort of walking in a moving metro. There was a look of distress in his face. He caught your heart, somehow, in an animalistic way. The poor soul, Pochinsky thought. And yet he was scared stiff that he should head towards him.
The man approached rapidly. There was nothing to it. He was coming, charging at Pochinsky. He was heading straight towards him, to ask the screaming question: 'You, supposed revolutionary, why don't you help me?'
But he didn't get there. Instead the man manoeuvred to his left and reached for the outstretched arm of the man who had brought out the two coins for him. Pochinsky was relieved. He looked at the two coins. They were a 20 and a 50 Cent coin. They dropped lazily into the outstretched, dirty hand, shooting like deadly knives towards his palm.
'Thank you,' he said. His teeth sprayed in all directions as he said it.
Then, all of a sudden, the show was over. It was as if the power plug had been pulled out of the theatre that had become the metro. There was no more blood on the walls of the wagon. The man was suddenly not the centre of the show any longer. His ugly-beautiful face suddenly became normal. He stood right behind Pochinsky and waited to come out of the metro. It was strange, Pochinsky thought. Now he suddenly looks like a normal man again.
The metro slowed down now and then came to a stop. The doors hushed open with a whisper and Pochinsky exited, holding his book by his side. He looked around him and saw the man hurry out of the wagon and into the next one. There, the show was about to begin.
BIO: Matthias Krug is a writer and photographer born amidst the flowing deserts of the Middle East and currently based in Madrid, where he is working on a novel. He has written and photographed for prestigious newspapers and publications across six continents, including literary magazines like Bartleby Snopes and Danse Macabre. For more of his work visit his website: www.krugwriting.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org