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He saw the lights first. Blue and red, flashing in a regular pattern. Lots of them, scattered south of the station in the parking lot, and he couldn’t help himself.
Moss had boarded the train in San Francisco that afternoon expecting nothing out of the ordinary, just a normal ride home with his best friend, Esperanza. The train was crowded, plenty of people eager to get back home at the end of the weekend. They’d been lucky to find an empty set of seats near one of the doors. Moss had leaned his bike up against the side of the car and scrambled to claim the spot next to Esperanza. But then their luck had worn off. The train now sat motionless, caught between the Embarcadero station and West Oakland, where both of them were bound. Moss closed his eyes and sighed.
“We’re never going to get off this train, I swear.”
He looked over at Esperanza, who had taken her half of the headphones out from her left ear. Moss could hear the tinny sound of Janelle Monáe as he removed his own earbud. His best friend’s head was thrown back over the seat in frustration. She removed her thick-framed glasses and began to rub her eyes. “This is it,” Esperanza said. “This is where we’ll be stuck for all eternity.”
“Well, we can’t be stuck here forever,” he replied. “They’ll do that … that thing they do where they just redirect us around a train.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Can they even do that here?”
Esperanza sighed while putting her glasses back on. “I don’t know,” she replied. “I haven’t ever been stuck inside the tube itself.”
“It’s giving me the creeps,” he said. “What happens if there’s an earthquake while we’re down here?”
She slapped Moss’s arm playfully. “Don’t say that! That practically guarantees it’s going to happen!”
“Then this really is like the start of all good apocalyptic nightmares,” he said.
“Well, we better get used to living here, Moss. There’s no escape for us. Our life as we know it is over! Which means we need to start planning out how we’ll design our new home.”
She stood up, grinning, her white blouse hanging loose on her body, and she gestured above the BART doors next to her. “We’ll definitely have to install some curtains here,” she explained. “I’m thinking … something that’s gray. To accent the dreariness of this place.”
Moss shook his head. “I am a man of high taste,” he said in the most grandiose voice he could manage. This was always their game. “I cannot rest my body on this filth.” He pretended to be deep in thought before exclaiming, “I’ve got it! Bunk beds. They’ll save us space and give the place a youthful atmosphere.”
Esperanza faked a swoon back into her seat. “Moss, you are just so full of good ideas. Plus, it speaks to the reality of the situation: We shall remain celibate for the rest of our lives, as I highly doubt that there are any cute girls for me on this train.”
“Hey, speak for yourself,” Moss shot back. “I’m pretty sure I saw a hella hot dude with a fixie a few cars down.”
“Gonna corner the hipster market on this train, then? Smart, Moss. Very smart.”
“You think so?”
“Well, they’re young and ambitious. Lots of disposable income. Willing to gentrify your neighborhood at the drop of a cupcake.”
Moss laughed at that. “Well, it otherwise seems like there aren’t any cute guys in this whole city that I can stand for five minutes, so I’ll take what I can get.”
“That is surely a tragedy,” Esperanza said. “Well, after being confined to a train car until you wither away and die, but a tragedy nonetheless.”
The two of them went silent, as Moss often could in her presence. She didn’t expect him to make conversation, letting him fade back comfortably. Moss turned his attention to the vacant and detached stares about the train, a familiar sight on the BART no matter what day it was. It was late in the afternoon, though, and he saw the exhaustion on their faces, in the way they slouched their bodies. He and Esperanza had spent the afternoon at the mall in downtown San Francisco, pretending to be elegant and well-off shoppers, building an imaginary wardrobe full of clothes that they would probably never be able to afford. They had drifted from store to store, Esperanza a successful poet on her book tour and Moss a world-renowned fashion designer helping her with her wardrobe. The last time they’d gone out, Esperanza was a backup dancer for Beyoncé, and Moss played bass in her live show, and they had stopped in San Francisco on a world tour, casually drinking iced tea and wearing the most fierce pairs of sunglasses they could find.
It felt good to pretend. Like Moss had another life, a future he could look forward to living.
The sudden crackle of the speakers in their car startled him. “We apologize for the delay,” said a voice that reminded Moss of his mother’s, “but there’s police activity ahead of us at the West Oakland station. I’m not sure if we’ll be stopping there, but I will let you know once I have any information. Hold tight.”
Esperanza sighed again, though her exasperation wasn’t an act this time. Moss reached out and began to fiddle with the tape on the handlebars of his bike, impatience rushing over him. He just wanted to get home.
He leaned into Esperanza’s shoulder, thankful that they were both the same height. “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow,” he said. “I know, I sound like the world’s most clichéd teenager, but I’m dreading it.” Moss paused. “You ever think it should be two days of school followed by five days off? That’s obviously the best schedule for learning.”
“Oh, come on, it’s not that bad,” Esperanza insisted, and rested her head on top of his. “We’ll get through it fine.”
The train jerked forward suddenly and a couple of people clapped. Moss watched a tall, lanky kid lurch forward and grab for the handhold that was attached to the wall just above Moss’s bike. When he grabbed the top bar instead, he balanced himself and winced. “Sorry, sorry,” he blurted out. “Got surprised, that’s all.”
“It’s okay,” Moss said. “No big deal, man.”
Copyright © 2018 by Mark Oshiro