When the doors opened by Union Station, a very drunk man stumbled onto the Yellow Line. He was late middle-aged, at least fifty. Perhaps over fifty-five. He sat down behind a woman in a wheelchair. She was small, perhaps thirty-five, and had a blanket over her legs.
“Can I ask you something?” he said, slurring his words. The woman said nothing.
“Can I ask you something? What’s wrong with you?” She turned her head.
“Nothing,” she said. “What’s wrong with you?”
“You’re in a wheelchair.”
“What’s wrong with you?” He could not sit straight. His shoulders rocked with the train and he put his hand against the window.
“Are you asking me why I’m in a wheelchair? Is that what you’re saying?”
“I got shot. That’s why I’m in a wheelchair.”
“Bullshit.” From his slurring mouth, all the syllables were longer. The Ls, in particular, were stretched in such a way that left his inebriation wholly undisguised.
“You don’t believe me?”
“My brother got involved with some bad people, and when they came for him, I was with him and I got shot.”
“And then, he was scared and felt guilty about what happened to me, and he killed himself a few days later.”
“That’s why I’m in a wheelchair.”
The man seemed to think, very slowly, and then looked as if he believed her. “Was it gang-related?” he asked.
“Yes, it was.”
“Were they black guys?”
The woman paused, and said “Yes, they were.”
“Are you racist now? Because you were shot by a black guy?” Both the drunk man and the woman were white.
“You should eat something,” said the woman. She got some crackers from her bag, and gave them to the man. He began to eat, spewing crumbs onto the ground.
“I wanna go to Lloyd Center,” he said. “When’s Lloyd Center?”
“You’re on the wrong line. This is the Yellow Line.”
“I’m not going to Lloyd Center?”
“No, you got on the wrong line.”
“Fuck.” His hand was on the window. “Your hair is so pretty.” He put his hand in the woman’s hair. “It’s like you’re an Indian,” he said, running his fingers through her strands. She was blonde. “Can I go to your house?” he asked her.
“No,” she said, “I think you should get off and go in the opposite direction. That way, you can get on another line and go to Lloyd Center.”
“I wanna go to your house.” he stroked her hair, and ate crackers.
“This is my stop,” said the woman. It was the same as mine.
“Okay,” said the man. He put his hands on the back of her wheelchair.
“I know how to work this,” she said. “Don’t worry about that.”
I saw them going in the opposite direction, and was very, very afraid for the woman. Even obviously intoxicated, the man still had two legs and could take her. Very quickly, I turned and jogged up to them.
“Ma’am,” I said, “is there anything you need a hand with? Anything you need taken care of?” I nodded at the drunk, still holding on to her wheelchair. My heart was pounding. I was offering to get in a fight on this woman’s behalf. Even if I called the police, I would still have to deal with him for a few minutes. There would have been unpleasant physical altercations.
She smiled at me, and said nothing for a several seconds.
“I’ll be fine,” she said, “but thank you.”
She and the man went in the opposite direction, and I hoped that she was right.