Angel on the Orange Line

By Kara B., Age 17

The automatic doors to the crowded subway car slid open, and I was pushed out into the station by the wave of people behind me. I hoisted my bag higher onto my left shoulder and blinked twice to adjust my eyes to the dim lights of the underground.

It was only three o’clock, but I had already had an exhausting day. Pilates began at nine, and was followed by ballet class, modern, pointe, and various rehearsals. I was hungry and tired as usual, but today, there was something else as well. I felt as though my morale was dragging along underfoot like a pair of untied shoelaces, picking up dirt and tripping me mercilessly every couple of steps. And while having perpetually untied shoelaces is generally considered to be a minor annoyance, I had gotten to the point where I was beginning to feel really frustrated.

Life was getting to be a kind of a struggle for me. Have you ever heard of the term “starving artist”? Well, that was me alright. But as fate would have it, food was not the only thing that I was starving for these days. I was also starving for affirmation—for someone just to tell me that I was good enough at what I did. You don’t hear many uplifting words in the viciously competitive world of ballet, and as a consequence, I had begun to feel a bit disheartened—like I’d been cast into the bottom of a deep dark hole and forgotten there, and there was a very long climb to get back up to the light again. Weary in body and weary in spirit, I did not believe for a moment that I could make it out alone.

Someone shoved me rudely from behind, and I quickened my pace down the stairs to the next train. I glanced at the businessman to my right and I wondered what he was doing in a suit with his laptop on a Saturday afternoon. A faint jingling sound reached my ears, and looking to the left I noticed a man sitting against the wall with a collection cup in his hand. Embarrassed, I tried, to look away, but it was too late; he had already seen me looking at him, and he jangled his cup in my direction imploringly. I shook my head and attempted to hurry away, but to my surprise the man called out to me as I passed:

“That’s okay, miss, that’s okay—hey, wait a minute!”

“That’s okay, miss, that’s okay—hey, wait a minute!”

I stopped, hesitated for a moment, and then turned around. The man was beckoning for me to come closer; a warm, amiable smile was decorating the folds of his brown weathered face. I approached him warily nonetheless, preparing myself to use wisdom and caution to the best of my ability. I was hungry, and I wasn’t about to let anybody con me out of my hard earned money. Not only that, but I was surprised to hear the words of my mother ringing in my ears, just as if I were four years old and she’d just finished warning me, “Be careful and don’t ever talk to strangers! They may seem nice at first, but when they get close enough to grab you, they’ll cover your mouth and carry you off to their caves so that they can do science experiments on you!” (Um…okay.)The man’s smile grew wider as I went closer, until finally he burst forth into a jolly laugh—just an honest, hearty chuckle, but the very sound of it warmed my freeze-dried spirit. Upon hearing it, I began to relax and to lower my guard ever so slightly. This wasn’t the kind of man who had a cave to do science experiments in, I could tell. Forget owning a cave; it was doubtful that he even had a home at all—for upon nearing him, I began to notice the disheveled look of his worn, thin clothing, and the small dirty bag of belongings that he kept close to his side. He laughed again and I found that I just couldn’t help but smile. He noticed, and commented,

“There, now! Do you feel better, child? Not so serious? How are you doing now, huh?”  

“Better,” I said shyly, my smile growing wider as I observed the lively sparkle in his deep cheery eyes.

 

“That’s good, that’s good to hear, child! And I’m glad of that because, you know, this isn’t the first time that I’ve seen you. No, it sure is not! I’ve seen you before, many times, and it gets me when I see you lookin’ so down and worrisome.”

I nodded, bewildered. When had this man ever seen me before? I had certainly never seen him—or at least, I didn’t remember seeing him ‘many, many times’ before. I glanced down the corridor towards the tracks and opened my mouth to tell him that I had to go make sure that I was on time for my train. But before I could say anything, the man stabbed his finger into the air and said,

“Ah! Wait just a minute! I’m not done talking to you just yet. I notice that you’re feelin’ kind of upset at the moment. Kinda like you’re scared about your future, and the things you’re tryin’ to achieve. Am I right, child?”

I nodded, slowly. He was exactly right. It made me wonder with a slight horror what my face must have looked like as I descended the stairs to the trains that day. If this man could have perceived so much about my emotional state by just looking at me, did that mean that almost anyone could simply pick me up and read me like a book?

“Listen to me, child! There is nothing to worry about! D’you hear? You’re going to be just fine.”

I nodded again, but at the same time I thought to myself, sure, whatever mister. Like you know what I am trying to be and do. Like you know the chance I have at succeeding in the ballet world. Like you even have any idea. Again, I thought I’d heard enough, and tried to turn to go. But up went the same dark finger into the air, and it seemed to arrest me in my tracks. you you idea.

"You don’t believe me. You don’t think that I know what I’m talking about. But I know more than you think, ho ho! Remember? I’ve seen you many, many times before! And every time I see you I just think to myself, well now. Now there’s somethin’! You’ve got that somethin’, do you know that, child? Aw, don’t tell me no one’s ever told you that before! I can see it on you from across the room! I can see it in your eyes. The way they shine, Lord! And I tell you, every time I see you, I get blown clear away! You’ve just got this wonderful somethin’, like a bright, bright light, bright as day, that just shines right forth from you, from your whole different from all the rest, child. Hey, c’mere a second. Let me tell you somethin’."

He lowered his voice, and motioned for me to lean in closer. Breathlessly, I did so. He glanced around us at the crowd of commuters, descending the stairs and passing to and fro. No one looked at us.

"You’re not like these people, You’re special. You’re different and special and it is going to set you apart from the crowd. It’s going to get you notice."

He sat back away from me and I stood spellbound, without moving. Perhaps it was only hunger, but I began to feel my head start to spin ever so slightly. I tried to process everything that I had just heard, but I found that I was just too shocked to even begin to digest it. Set apart? Me? He couldn’t be serious. He simply did not know what he was talking about. Obviously—how could he? I had always been just another one of the crowd, a space-filler, an extra body. To hear him say that I was different—that I was special, even—well, that was certainly something that I hadn’t heard in a while! The man was quiet just long enough for my fumbling mind to grasp what he had just said before he began to speak again.

“Listen,” he said, his eyes serious, "I can tell that you are feeling a little discouraged, huh?” good. “No kiddin’.” “Now, look at you. You are workin’ hard. You are giving your all. You are living your dream! Your dream, child! Every one of us in the whole world got a dream, but the difference is that you are making yours come true, while the rest of us…nah. Don’t matter ‘bout the rest of us. It’s you that matters, child, you and your dream. What is your dream, child?”

He had caught me off-guard.

“M-my dream?” I stammered.

I had never had a stranger come right out and ask me about my dream before. I blushed slightly and admitted, “My dream is…to do ballet…I guess.” 

“You guess!”

“No, no! It is ballet; it is, of course it is! And you are out there, and you are going to achieve that dream no matter how hard you have to work for it, because you will work for it, I know. But listen child; don’t let your hard work get you down. There’s no need! One of these days you will wear the crown, and you will have achieved everything you ever dreamed. Trust me child! I know it. I can see it in your face.”

I could barely breathe by the time he had finished speaking, and leaned his head back against the wall to take a good look at me. How did he know? How could he have ever known? It was as though suddenly the fire had been rekindled within my ribcage, and the warmth and comfort of the blaze was flooding my whole being again. I opened my mouth to thank him, but no words would dare come out. So I stood there, opening and closing my empty mouth, completely at a loss for words. How can you ever thank someone for something as simple as a conversation, and yet as generous as the renewed strength to carry on?

Away down the tunnel I could hear the faint shriek and rumble of an approaching train. I looked down at the good man desperately, frantic to let him know of my absolute gratitude. He just smiled at me, and nodded.

“Take it easy child,” he said, his voice soft and tired, “Just take it one step at a time. And remember—every one of us has their share of trials and tribulations. I got mine, and you got yours, child. You just gotta keep your chin right up and your eyes on your dream, and you will get that crown, child, at all costs.”

The train screeched to a halt and I found myself reaching down to touch him once before I left, just to see if he was real. He took my hand in his and squeezed it, and immediately I found my voice.

“Thank you,” I whispered, “God bless you, sir. 

“God bless you," he laughed.

I took one last look at him sitting there in the hallway with his bag and his cup before diving into the train. I made it to the car just before the doors slammed shut. It was crowded for a Saturday, and so I stood and hid myself behind some people and their backpacks, hoping that no one would see my tears of relief reflected in a door or window.

As I stood contemplating the effect one stranger’s words could have on someone’s life, I suddenly remembered a magnet that my mother had at home on her refrigerator. The magnet had a Bible verse that I ended up reading every time that I was hungry, and thus I’d come to memorize Hebrews 13:2—“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some may have entertained angels unawares.” I thought of the few dollars in my pocket, and a new wave of emotions crashed over me. Suddenly I didn’t feel quite so hungry anymore. I thought, what must his hunger be like in comparison to mine? And he had expressed concern for my problems, as if they were even half as troubling as his own!

My life was a little bit different from that day onward. While I still haven’t “achieved everything I ever dreamed”, I never stop working towards that goal. Every so often I still find myself getting a bit discouraged, but I will never again let those sentiments drag me down. All I have to do is remember the words of that kind stranger, and I am ready to try again. I am convinced that I did indeed meet an angel in the subway station that day. Although I had not given him anything at all, what he ended up giving me was one of the most precious gifts that I have ever received—the gift of hope. I still look for my angel every day when I’m riding home on the orange line, but I have never seen him since.