Briefcase in hand, I trotted down the stairs to the subway at East 42nd Street, my hair swishing behind me. In my business suit and sensible commuter sneakers, I felt far wiser than my 19 years. I had an apartment on Long Island, a glamorous job working in a fancy real-estate office in New York City, and plenty of friends. I was living the independent life, and I loved it. I didn't need anyone taking care of me. Those days were over.
I passed quickly through the turnstile and caught the No. 7 train to Hunters Point Avenue in Queens, my first leg of the journey home. My friends and I had gone out to celebrate the end of the workweek, and I'd lost track of the time. Now I had to really move to catch my commuter train out to Long Island. Glad I'm wearing my trusty sneakers, I thought. At Hunters Point Avenue I got off the subway and raced up the steps to the outdoor station where I waited for the Long Island Rail Road.
As soon as I reached the top of the stairs, I knew something was wrong. The dark platform, usually swarming with commuters, was deserted. I glanced at my watch. Now I'd done it. There were no more trains stopping at Hunters Point tonight. Now what?
I looked around. The neighborhood was desolate. Closed factories and condemned buildings lined the streets. I'll have to call a cab, I thought, picking up the pay phone behind me on the platform. I couldn't get a dial tone. I moved on to the next phone farther down, then the next, but each one was dead. The last phone didn't even have a receiver. Someone had ripped it out, cord and all. I looked out at the street. Not a cab in sight. A chill ran down my spine.
I headed back down the stairs into the subway station. "Excuse me," I said, tapping nervously on the bulletproof token booth. "I missed my train. Is there a subway going back to the city?"
The clerk shook his head. "Can I use your phone?" I asked. "I'm stranded here." He turned his back. "God," I whispered, leaning against a cold brick wall and closing my eyes, "please help me. I don't know what to do." All of a sudden I didn't feel so grown-up and sophisticated.
The woman tapped on the token booth, but the clerk ignored her, so she walked over to me. "Did you miss the train too?" she asked.
"This sure isn't a place you want to get stuck in," the woman said. "We need to get back to 42nd Street." Then she seemed to know just what to do. She closed her eyes and bowed her head. Is she actually praying? I thought. Right in front of me?
After a moment the woman lifted her head and looked into my eyes. "Will you pray with me?" she asked simply. I placed my cold hand into her warm one. "Dear Lord," she said, "please show us the way out of here, all three of us, in Jesus' name we pray. Amen."
The three of us? I wondered. "The clerk in the booth," she said, as if she'd read my mind. "This isn't the safest place to have to work." Everyone needs to be looked after, I realized. Just then the ground under my feet started to rumble, and the most beautiful train in the world (for a dirty old subway car) pulled into the station, headed back to 42nd Street. From there I could take an alternate route home.
My new friend and I squeezed into the crowd and were immediately separated. I could see only the back of her head. I kept an eye on her, though, as people got on and off at different subway stops, but I couldn't get closer in the crush of passengers between us. The next thing I knew, the auburn-haired woman turned so I could see her face -- but it wasn't the businesswoman I'd prayed with at all. My look-alike angel had disappeared!
At 42nd Street I stepped onto the platform and took one more look around for my friend. No luck.
The train sped off, leaving me on my own. Well, not completely on my own. Not anymore. Not ever again. I was way too sophisticated for that.