It's not my intention to mock the plight of the homeless by relaying this event, but this morning I spotted a man carrying his life possessions in a duffel bag and knew there might be an "incident" when he boarded the next available subway train. His worn black leather jacket had a mark of elegance to it but his appearance was lost on the fact that he gave off a terrible stench trailing some 8 to 10 feet from him. When commuters got a whiff, they searched their surroundings trying to find the source. He was a harmless nuisance at most, a reminder of our own human frailties.
The man entered the middle car doors and once the train started moving we were all trapped in his scent. Passengers covered their noses with scarves and tissues and began a rippling flight towards the far ends of the car, away from the source.
I was already pressed against the emergency door to the next car; and as soon as the train stopped, I, along with a mass exodus, led the flight from the invisible danger to the next car. There was a collective sense of disbelief and relief on the faces of the commuters, who made eye contact with each other and commiserated about the trauma to their olfactory system. With each stop, newcomers from the abandoned car continued to pour into our packed refuge.
The alchemy of the man lingered as my nasal hairs clung to his human imprint. Not unlike memories of death and decay, it was a substance none of us wanted to acknowledge in ourselves. After all, we are all but a few weeks away from a similar fate. How many days, I wondered, would it take for me to be in the same condition; would I even care when and if the time comes?