May 09, 2003

Subway Story: May Flowers

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

4 May 03

3:17 AM. The subway fares jumped to $2 a few hours earlier at the stroke of Midnight. The uptown #1 subway was running behind schedule. Already I forked over more money for shitty service. When the train arrived it was crowded with late Saturday night partiers. Sure it was technically Sunday, but these folks were going out, going home, or just going. You’ll catch a bevy of drunks on the train at that hour. A group of unsullied college kids from Columbia stood in the middle of the post Midnight Saturday crammed full train happily laughing and recanting the highlights of the night’s festivities which included illegal cigarette smoking (NYC banned all smoking a month earlier), a lost cellphone, under aged binge drinking, and an unsolicited hand job in the bathroom at the Dakota Roadhouse. Scattered among the seats were passed out lightweights amid tired and grumpy restaurant workers… un-amused bartenders, single-mom waitresses, ethnic busboys, and ex-con line cooks. Their weary glances and dirty work attire gave themselves away. This is their rush hour.

At 96th Street a young man with gold teeth got on the train with three young children. The oldest was ten and the youngest five or six. Two boys, both wearing baseball hats, and a young girl with glasses each held flowers. Bright red tulips. Bright. So bright that they illuminated the subway car. Two of the kids sat down while the father stood in front of me as he clutched white and yellow tulips. The bottoms of the flowers were covered in dirt and their long stems were attached to bulbs. These weren’t freshly cut flowers bought from a corner bodega. They were stolen. I wondered if Dad took his kids on a Midnight walk through Central Park? Possibly smoking a joint of seedy dime bag weed, as he stumbled upon a newly planted bed of Dutch tulips, which populated the park in the last few weeks. The guy got his kids to steal the flowers! I assumed my tax dollars paid for the maintenance for all of the city’s parks and the planted flowers were a part of that deal. Technically I paid for the flowers. And that’s what the guy thought during a stoned moment of ingenuity. He got down on one knee, whispered half jokingly and half seriously as he convinced his kids to quickly hop a fence. They followed their father’s orders and pulled up as many flowers as they could carry before anybody saw them.

The youngest child split the flowers apart, first beginning with the petals, plucking them off one by one as they floated to the grimy subway floor. They slowly fell as their shocking color disappeared instantly. When life was ripped from them, their bold colors faded. His sister held tightly onto her neatly bundled batch. Was it her first bouquet of flowers? Possibly. She closed her eyes after she bent her head and smelled each one, taking the time to individually check out every flower. I was enamored by her technique. Somehow she got intoxicated by the sweet aroma of each sniff, enthusiastically drifting off into her dreamland, like a Lower East Side junkie getting his morning fix plunging a spike into his weathered vein.

After a couple of minutes the father grabbed the kids and told them to prepare to exit at the next stop. As she got up she saw me staring at her flowers. Her taught grip relaxed and she pulled one out from the middle. The young girl handed a flower to me as the subway doors flew open and she got swept away from the drunken rowdy flood of exiting passengers. I tried to look out the door to say, “Thanks.” But I could not see her as the doors abruptly closed. The train sped off towards the Bronx and I closed my inebriated eyes and bent forward to smell the fragrance of the stolen tulip.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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