February 15, 2003

Subway Story: Fallen Angel

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

3 Feb 03

They all sat across from me, a family of four, each of them bundled up in winter clothing; mittens, scarves, and woolen hats, protecting them from the Canadian artic air that swept down into the North East, that brazenly unleashed a deep freeze which had last nearly two weeks. After they took their time getting settled in, I noticed that each of them were holding bibles, shiny black books, with the words “Holy Bible” in bold gold letters on the front. They opened up their books, and one by one started reading the same passage. They weren’t speaking out loud, but they were mouthing the words as they read, beginning to salivate with each sacred word. I realized I was never more terrified on a subway that ever before. I’ve ridden the subways for almost twenty years, at all hours, in under all forms of inebriation, during all the cycles of prosperity and debauchery the city has undergone in recent decades. I do not fear muggers or thieves like I fear happy-go-lucky Jesus freaks, fresh out of a bible study group or prayer meeting, or seven straight hours in service getting direction from the Lord Almighty. Have you peered into the virtuous eyes of religious zealots, as they triumphantly rode the crowded downtown No. 1 train with you? Their judgemental looks tell their story. I can hear their scorn and warnings, as their pious glances nick my rugged skin like sharp rose thorns, leaving tiny cuts and scars, only soothed by a heavenly salve concocted by the devout ones.

The youngest one, a girl perhaps nine or ten years old, tilted her head and spoke over the muffled conversations of the crowded subway car and over the mechanical sounds of the train whizzing through the tunnels underground NYC at 47 miles an hour. She looked me in the eye and said, “You are a fallen angel. Take one step towards God, and he’ll take two towards you.”

I looked her in the eyes and sarcastically quipped, “Great, ‘cause I’m going to Las Vegas next week. I’m gonna need the Big Guy’s help counting cards.”

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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