Sunday, March 29, 2015

Night Ride

Now fully transformed with the exception of the application of her Midnight Fushia lip stain. Jamaica was ready. She was ready to feel beautiful again, sing, dance and burn off the stress of her life of compromise. She was the successful hard hitting sales executive James Cooke by day. On the weekend, she was Jamie to her mother who sometimes couldn't remember her when she visited the Alzheimer's facility; and also by her obsessively Christian sister who made no secret of how she didn't approve of her lifestyle. Tonight, though, she was Jamaica.

Jamaica glanced with pride at her reflection in her pocket mirror as the train pulled into the station. As she was preparing to board, she caught a brief glimpse of a woman - a beautiful woman, in her mirror before returning it to her bag.

The woman was middle-aged, but with a timeless, classic beauty Jamaica aspired to. Her maroon scarf matched her nails as well as the delicate straps that accented her ankles. The woman held her head high somehow looking beyond her surroundings, passed her husband, and over the stares from those who wanted to be her, or be with her.

Estrella entered the train at the Metro Center stop behind Jamaica and her husband, Antonio. Antonio seemed not to care who went first, but he knew if he led, Estrella would follow. She did all the while smiling a faint smile, but her eyes and soul were somewhere inaccessible. 

Antonio and Estrella were a striking pair. Everyone on the platform absorbed their presence. He was impeccably dressed, and wore an expression of casual composure. She was the beauty queen that could accessorize any person or environment she was around. While Estrella was absent, Antonio's presence was deliberate. He relished the attention, but gave the appearance it didn't matter. Upon greater investigation, there was a desperation to him - a constant search for approval.

Jamaica purposefully took a seat in view of Estrella. Estrella sat next to the window so she could experience the city moving by in flashes of light while Antonio placed himself perfectly beside her.

Just as the doors had begun to close, a thin but muscular, disheveled young man ran into the car and fell into the first available seat. He was out of breath with sweat visibly dripping from his face. The odor of perspiration touched Jamaica's senses first, then Estrella took notice with a brief downturn on her lips departing from her usual slight smile. Antonio moved his posture subtly away as if to distance himself from any affiliation to the odor.

Inner Worlds

Jamaica wanted to move her seat farther from the sweat drenched passenger only one row behind and to her right, but she was so consumed by Estrella's presence, she couldn't. Instead she took in everything - the shape of her nails, subtle highlights in her hair, her mannerisms that emanated a cool sexiness. Jamaica was taking copious mental notes while imagining herself with her expanded repertoire of style and cool.

Estrella had an awareness of Jamaica's interest. She gave it a passing acknowledgement. At that same moment, noted Jamaica's sequin-lined skirt, sparkling blue-flecked eyelashes and thick wrap around ankle straps on her Sex and the City knock-offs with bands of shiny silver beads atop a platform base. 

Estrella felt a tinge of repulsion at the bright ensemble draped over a distinctly masculine frame. Instead of focusing on Jamaica's shiny package, swallowed her thoughts into a well of buried words and meaning as she drifted to the usual places away from anything painful, anything emotional, anything real.

Outer View

After the new passengers boarded, Antonio conducted his survey of how many eyes were on the couple - more importantly, on him. The beautiful power couple were hard to miss, but it was 9 p.m. and the riders consisted of second-shifters, workaholics heading home, and partiers heading out- each with their own agenda that ignored Antonio's need to be seen.

He repositioned himself leaning into the image of the doting husband. He intentionally placed his hand over Estrella's. She acknowledged the touch with a gentle smile, looking at him, yet through him with a ghostly gaze of someone half alive. He then patted her hand and moved his hands back to his lap clasping them together with importance. The young man looked-up for a moment to catch Antonio's movement. He looked more from a state of hypervigilance than any real interest in the actions of the people around him

Just gotta be cool. Be cool. Be cool, he thought unable to slow the furious beating in his chest. He focused for a moment on his breathing – heavy, yet shallow and fast with fear. He had run straight from the tip of the southeastern projects into heart of the city where visitors and natives all mixed and gathered to catch trains that dispersed them to every destination.

Vicenté's thoughts flashed back to the phone call he had with Kemal that afternoon. “I can’t go back there, those muthafucks gonna kill me. They kill you, too, if they see you with me,” he pleaded. 

“Help me out, man. I ain’t got no one else. Jus’ loan me enough to get me outta here. Meetcha at Minnesota at 7. Cool?” asked Kemal. 

“Cool,” Vincenté agreed. He wanted to say no, but he owed him.  He owed Kemal his life.


Jamaica refocused her attention on her appearance. She pulled out her pocket mirror to finish her look. She moved her head from side to side eyeing the placement of her wig, and applied her new shade of lip stain. She then reached down to hike her skirt up just enough to show off her lanky runners’ legs. She straightened herself to an upright position in preparation for the stop, and began humming a tune when the conductor announced, “Next stop, Dupont Circle.”

The train jerked to a stop causing her to stumble backward. She regained her stance. The doors opened, and she strutted off the train enjoying the feel of her freedom. Antonio and, especially, Estrella felt a sense of liberation at her departure, but the relief was brief. Estrella quickly returned her gaze to the window.

She was drawn to the sight of the lights coming up and passing as if the train were holding still and the world outside were moving. She enjoyed the feeling of time stopping even if only an illusion. 

Antonio leaned over to Estrella to announce they would be getting off at the Tenleytown station. She nodded and glanced over at the metro map posted near the door. That’s four more stops. She took a breath and melted back into the lights speeding by while she remained suspended in time. She knew that for just a while longer, she didn’t have to pretend.

Next Stop

"Next stop, Tenleytown," "Estrella, ready? Everyone's looking forward to seeing you. Hold still. Your collar's cock-eyed," Antonio said. He reached over to correct the collar which had turned inward. She let him. She had learned it was easier that way. 

Antonio stood up and held the handrail. In a gentlemanly gesture, he reached out his hand to help his beautiful wife to her feet, and stood behind her with his hand on her waist while they held the handrail. She took one last gaze out the window as the passing lights slowed to a stop. "This is Tenleytown. Doors opening on your right." Estrella followed her husband off the train. He held her hand as they walked off to the formal Gala event at American University.


Passengers entering and exiting the train were of little interest to Vicenté. His mind was racing as fast as his heart was beating. He kept replaying the last images and sounds of his visit to the neighborhood where he grew up. He wished he never went back.

Vicenté's thoughts drifted back to events of four hours earlier when his train was pulling into Minnesota Station. He could see Kemal facing in the direction of the train while two of his former Bloods were backing him into a corner across from the metro stop. 

Vincenté took one step off the train while focused on Kemal's expression. He noticed the wide openness of his eyes and upward movement of his chin as he spied Vincenté on the platform. The nod was a signal for him to stay away and keep going. He knew that signal from before. Kemal had used it in the past.

This time was different. In the past, Kemal maintained a cool look of confidence. This look was one of resignation. Vincenté was used to following Kemal's lead. He instinctively stepped back onto the train as the door's were shutting. While the train was pulling out of the station, he pounded his fists on the closed doors repeating, "No! No!" As he lost site of Kamal, he heard a loud POP. He knew that sound. 

"Last stop on the red line," he heard the conductor say. Vincenté stayed seated waiting for the train to start moving again - back to the city.

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