THE WOMAN'S HAIR blew in the wind and her hat was lifted into the air with sudden vitality. “Oh!” It escaped her reach and fell on the subway tracks. “My hat!”
The woman peered down from the edge of the platform. “It’s okay,” an older gentleman said from the platform opposite. “It’s just a hat.” She looked up at him, then down at her hat.
“My late husband,” she said.
“It’s okay. It’s just a hat. There are many hats, but only one of you,” the man said.
The woman knelt and bent forward. The hat lay to one side of the tracks, the side closer to the woman. She lifted her head up moments before the train arrived and sped past without stopping.
The hat was where it had been, flipped upside down. “What did I tell you?” the older gentleman said.
The train operator had watched the woman’s hair fall forward from her shoulders. He hadn’t sounded the horn. It would have been too late, anyway.
The woman grabbed the edge of the platform and leaned in again precariously. A little boy ran to her and threw himself at her, and she fell headfirst onto the tracks.
The boy stood with his mouth agape. A little girl joined him at his side and peered down at the woman, who lay on her side groaning. A train horn sounded, and a young man jumped onto the tracks.
He helped her onto the platform, and clambered out just in time. The front of his shoe hit a lit window.
A thin crowd formed a semi-circle. The woman pushed herself up. She sat up and examined people’s faces. The older gentleman was not among them.
“Young man.” She shook the young man lying beside her. “Young man, can you take me to the hospital? I hurt my hips.” The young man’s eyes were wide open.
He helped her up and led her to an exit.
“It was a couple kids,” someone in the crowd said. “Where’d the kids go?”
Another train came and this time stopped to let out a group of passengers. Those on the platform who’d been waiting went in. When the doors closed, the train departed to resume its course.
A tall man leaned his full weight onto a tall woman next to him before recovering his balance.
The man sitting on the bench looked up, raising his eyebrows. “Did you see those kids? They pushed her and ran off laughing.”
The tall man shook his head. The woman looked up from her phone at the dark tunnel.
A man selling candy out of a worn sack walked by, but then turned back. He thrust a chocolate bar at them. The bar rested on his four thick fingers.
“That’s them!” the man on the bench shouted, pointing at the next car. On the other side of the two sets of windows dancing with each other, there were two children. “That’s them,” the man said and made toward the children. The train braked and he stopped to hold onto a pole.
The man saw the children leave and went out to the platform, caught up to them. “You can’t push people like that!”
Everyone in the car could hear his loud voice.
The tall man pointed at the empty seat on the bench. The woman refused politely and offered him the seat, but he insisted, and the woman sat down, putting away her phone into her purse.
The man spread his feet wide.
“Sit down,” the woman said. “There’s room enough for both of us.”
The candy seller went up and down the car, thrusting the chocolate bar at people.
“She never picked up her hat,” the woman said.
The tall man had caught the train last minute and didn’t know what the woman was talking about. The car’s doors closed, and the train jerked to a start. He shifted his weight mostly onto his right foot, the foot facing the front of the train.
“You saw her didn’t you? The woman who fell.”
The candy seller once again paused in front of them. He reached into his sack and produced a crimped, beige hat. He held it out at the woman. “For a pretty lady.”
Jae Kim lives in St. Louis and teaches as a Third-Year Fellow at Washington University, where he recently finished his MFA. Jae is the recipient of the university's Novel-in-Progress Award, and his fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Anomaly, Catamaran Literary Reader, and the Digital Shorts Series by Platypus Press. Jae was born in Korea and spent his best years in Japan.