Ethan takes the steps down to the first level of the underground. The escalators are both stopped and a homeless man is guarding the entrance to one. He asks everyone coming out of the tunnel if they need directions or if they have any spare change. Ethan looks his way for a moment, but turns away quickly. Eye contact will draw him over.
Passengers for SF MUNI and BART purchase their tickets on the first level. The walls are all white tile. Many bright flourescent tubes light any flaw in passengers or surroundings. One woman is franticly pulling two small boys along as she holds on to many shopping bags. One of the boys is pulling back. A twenty-something is banging on one of the BART pay stations.
He’s is screaming at it, “you took my fucking money.” He looks around and begins again as five people wait in a queue behind him, shaking their heads, or ignoring the outburst with eyes away or to their phones.
A saxophonist, case in front of him with a few coins, belts out a bebop rendition of Amazing Grace. An street entertainer in full Scottish regalia, kilt, sporen, sock braces, shiny black Dr.Martins, poet shirt, and glen gerry cap, adjusts his bagpipes across the underground from sax. A group of 10 or 15 female teenagers, clumped together, giggling and pointing out passerby’s as they wait for two adults talking to a Muni ticket agent. The agent is disinterested and talks to the two, but never looks up from a magazine. I round middle-aged man with a scraggly beard franticly searches through his wheeled bag, as a large Chihuahua in a green sweater barks at him over a yellow puddle.
Ethan inserts his Clipper card into the slot on the hip high gate down to the BART platform. The hard plastic blue card is the SF/Bay area’s transportation pass that is good on most transit including ferries, and it draws funds directly from a bank account or credit card. Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) is a light rail train that connects SF with cities east and south. The card spits out and the gate does not open. He turns the card upside down and tries again to the same result.
“You’ve got it upside down, idiot.” A man behind him says. The man wears a grey modern-cut suit, white shirt, blue-tie, and black tassel loafers, like an advertising character out of the 1960s. His a couple of years younger than Ethan, 6′ 2″, and carries a brown attaché case. “Here,” before Ethan can turn around, the suit reaches around him, removes the card and reinserts it. The gates open.
“I tried that.” Ethan pauses.
“Here,” the suit, snatches the card, hands it to Ethan, and nudges him through the gate. “Tourist.”
Ethan stops a moment to confront the suit, but he is through the gate and half way down the escalator, before Ethan can open his mouth. “What a fucking ass,” falls on deaf ears.
Ethan gets on the escalator down to the platform. As he steps off the moving step, his nylon bag catches on a metal spur of a 4-wheel cart behind him.
“Hey,” Ethan expels, “wait,” but the woman pushing the cart rushes away and tears a hole in his nylon bag. His lime drops to the floor and rolls toward the inbound track. Ethan bends over just in time to see it reach the edge and drop off. “FUCK,” he yells, but no one even looks up, and the woman with the cart is nowhere to bee seen. The platform is crowded.
Ethan pushes his way to the train monitor and reads out the arrival of the to possible outbound routes, “Richmond 10 minutes, Pittsburgh 15 minutes.” A short wait, he looks to the columns and the wall separating the station into inbound/outbound for a place to lean. A Richmond Inbound pulls up and the crowd surges forward. A two column wide stream of riders flows from the train’s door and makes its way to the escalator. Many people exit, but no one boards. A space has opened on the wall, and as he makes his way through elbows and shoulders, an exiting rider cuts him off and takes the spot, stepping on the front of his sneakers and toes.
“Ouch, What the hell,” Ethan says and looks down at his prized blue, Dr. Who shoes to a black smudge. No one responds. The guy stairs and smiles at Ethan, then turns his back to him. What the fuck, you fucking asshole, he mouths in silence. Someone else pushes hard on his backpack, almost knocking him over, and forcing him to step forward, barely missing another woman’s foot. He turns his head to look.
“Carry that backpack, jackass,” the person says but not directly to Ethan.
“What the fuck is wrong with these people tonight?” Ethan asks out loud and catches a glimpse of who made that remark. It’s the same douche bag and girlfriend accessory from the restaurant.
“Some people are so rude,” she shakes her head and looks directly at him.
Do they fucking recognize me? Are they following me? Those two SOB’s, I’d recognize them any fucking where. What the fuck is going on tonight? He asks himself and shakes his head. I should have stayed home; I could be a spent napkin by now. It’s five minutes till the Richmond arrives, and his phone receives a text. Ethan sits his sack down, but keeps a foot on the handle. He takes his phone out of his pocket.
“Got u gd brgr, hurry up or it’ll be ice.” Joel texts.
“On Rich, b 10-20 in a few.” Ethan texts back.
“Sorry buddy,” a large black man with too many beers on his breath bumps into Ethan and steps on his sack. “Wha da fucks ya got in there?” He says as he wobbles forward and grabs Ethan’s shoulder to stay upright.
“It’s an RC, man.”
“Damn, RC, I ain’t had ones in a longs time.” He picks it up, pulling the handle out from under Ethan’s foot. “Here. Some nigga’s gonna’ fall on it,” he hands it to Ethan.
“Thanks,” Ethan holds his breath as the man passes by, and the crowd on the platform spreads in front of him as well.
“Richmond outbound arriving,” a voice chimes in over the loudspeaker.
Ethan steps into the black man’s wake, and follows him to the train door. The couple from the restaurant steps in front of the giant. “Ladies first,” the douche bag says, and for a moment Ethan holds his breath, will justice ever be served?
“That’s a mighty fine leg you’se got,” the drunk says and let’s them on the train. “Um um, as good goin’ as comin’.”
The BART is packed, standing room only. Ethan stands two rows of seats from the door. The aromatic drunk stands next to him, and the restaurant couple sits in elder seating next to the door. Two elderly men and one woman are standing over them next to the door, looking down on the couple.
“Those seats are for the elderly,” one of the men says and motions too his female companion.
The sitting couple doesn’t make eye contact with him or anyone else on the train. They ignore the man and continue to chatter between themselves. He says, “I just could not stand right now; I’ve had a really hard night.”
She says, “me either,” and giggles, as he wraps his arm around her and closes his eyes.
The older man is fuming, and his friend says, “don’t worry about it dear, I’ve been sitting all night. I don’t mind standing.” The sitting couple ignores them.
Fuck, will karma ever catch them, Ethan thinks to himself. Those two need to be taught a lesson. I can’t believe how fucking rude they are? Who the hell do they think they are? There parents should have ever met, or better yet, should have been sterilized. Ethan frowns and his brown tightens, he watches the bay tunnel walls pass, then Oakland as the train exists the under ground. Those fuckers; I wish I had a knife or a gun. Their fucking parents would never know what hit them. Am I the only opportunity for justice? I’d be surprised if they even knew what that meant. They’ve probably had it all handed to them, fuckers. I would shit in their mouths if I could.
The Richmond pulls up to its first stop at the West Oakland Station, opens its doors, and riders exit the train. The doorway is empty and the wobbly drunk moves to exit the train. The young couple stands and both yawn almost in unison in front of him. They look at him, quivering lips, blocking the black man’s way to the exit. He reaches out and puts his thick arm through the door to stop it from closing. “Allow me,” he says.
The girl steps through first and in my mind all I think of is karma, golden sun rays turning into arrows, no sword tips. Karma police, won’t somebody call the fucking karma police, The two take there time and the exist beeps louder and loader, with the two of them yawning once more in the doorway.
“NIggers must wait,” the punk, whispers in his girlfriend’s ear, and she blushes as she giggles, but I can hear it. Can the drunk?
Is that it? Ethan asks himself. I hope the black guy stomps there ass right on the platform, but he waits patiently, pitching to an fro. Can’t he hear them? The alcohol must keep him from hearing those fucking obnoxious bastards, Karma? Where the fuck is the karma police?
Ethan walks over to behind the drunk and pulls the hatpin out of this coat. I am Karma, I am Karma, me, I’m the only one who can do something, anything about these two, me. I am karma. He puts the pin between his third and fourth finger, like he’s using it to shoot the bird, and braces the pearl with his thumb. His heart is beating faster than he can ever remember; sweat is rolling down his forehead; and all than can think is me, I am Karma, me. As an inaudible chant, he repeats, “Karma, I am Karma, Karma, I am Karma.
The giant black drunk steps through the door behind the young couple, and Ethan looks around the BART cabin. His hat is low over his eyes. He is still mumbling to himself, “I am the only one, the only instrument; I am Karma; I am karma.” Ethan raises his hand above his head, and as the drunken steps full onto the platform, they couple block a late arrival. The flow of riders has stops. Ethan breathes in deeply and exhales at the same time his hand flies in great underhand arc out of the doorway. A giant semicircle orange blends into the decor of the Bart cart.
His target, the vain punk who chastised him at work and initiated this night’s setbacks and frustration, looks in the opposite directions and lets out a sigh, “what the fuck is the hold up?” The sharp golden point of the pin, punctures his jeans, his underwear, and finally his skin and muscle, tapping the bone in his right cheek.
Ethan withdraws the pin as quickly as he extended it, like the tongue of a viper, and the door shuts in front of him as the train moves off to the next stop, his stop. That’ll teach that fucker, he thinks to himself as a wave of emotion pours out of him. Ethan entire being shakes violently.
“Are you OK, son?” asks the elderly lady who took the young couples seat.
All the color drains out of his face and he pants faster and faster; foam forms at the edges of his mouth and drool rolls down his chin.
“Take my seat,” her partner says, “sit down.”
The light of the room is closing in around him. He reaches up to wipe his mouth and rolls his hand over, front to back. The pin is gone. Did he drop it? Did he leave stuck in that pig? His hand covers his mouth as he fights to catch his breath. It falls down to the buttons on his jacket and the pin is back where it started. What? Ethan closes his eyes for a moment and relives the last few minutes in slow motion. The voice of his victim complaining again; Ethan withdrawing the pearl hatpin from his coat, raising above his head, and the bump of bone resisting its tip. Did I just do that or imagine it? He closes his eyes for a moment and focuses on his breath.
“Here,” woman sitting next to him says, “I’ve drained some water onto this handkerchief.” Her husband, boyfriend, or friend, pushes Ethan’s head back and places the handkerchief over his forehead. “What is your stop, dear?”
Eyes still closed, the coolness of the wet rag, slows his breath to normal. “Emeryville.” he whispers.
“Can we call someone for you?” She asks and pulls out her phone.
“No. No, I’ll be OK.” Ethan opens his eyes and looks into the man’s eyes. The emotional tremors have stop. “I’m calm,” he deeply exhales.
“Oh dear, are you sure we can’t call someone.”
“No, no.” He stands up and hands the handkerchief back to the woman. The man hands him the sack with the RC in it. “You drop this. I’d be careful when you open that.”
“Thanks,” he says. Ethan stands up and looks around. Everyone is smiling at him, and he can’t help but return the gesture. “Thank you again,” he says to the couple. He leans down and hugs her. “Thank you too,” he says to the man and shakes his hand.
The Richmond train stops at Ashby, and Ethan steps out. No one follows him. No one is watching for him. Did it really happen? He feels the pin in his coat and replays the memory again. It must have. I must have, he thinks to himself. “I was the instrument of Karma,” he says out loud, but his underwear feel cold and wet. Did I piss myself? Ethan walks away watching and reaches down to feel his inside leg. No it’s dry. I am glad I brought and extra pair of underwear.