Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Street Preaching

I hear five loud reports tear through the dusk sky, then a heavy sound of metal and glass crashing. Sirens come immediately, wailing like harbingers of death in Biblical times. The others on the train station platform fall silent, exchanging somber glances, all of us reminded of how sudden and intrusive the forces of chaos can be. Someone cynically remarks, “Welcome to the big city.”

The rest of us are unable to break our reverence.

What comes next makes the moment even more unreal, even more apocalyptic. Someone is hollering in Spanish over a megaphone, the only words I understand are “Dios” and “Cristos.” The preacher’s voice is filled with frantic, mournful tones. I don’t need to know the words to understand the cries behind them. I can’t see him from the platform, but the scene is close, only a few blocks away. I can see several police cars and one ambulance.

A young girl with dark, curly hair pulled back from her face meets my eyes.

“Scary,” she says.

In spite of what brought us together, my first thought is of how I can get into her pants. My better side keeps me from doing anything but nodding.

The megaphone is overtaken by a female voice and the preaching gives way to singing. It’s still in Spanish, but I feel the death in the words, the horror, the grief. Each syllable, each note cuts into me, and it’s as if a great chunk of me is carved away with each passing moment.

As the Spanish woman’s dirge continues, the last rays of the sun disappear in the devouring darkness of nightfall. It’s like someone flicked a switch and shut off the sun. The lights never come on at the station and we are left in darkness, pierced only by the spinning red police strobes that seem more and more like tongues of fire. The woman continues her song of death, and it drowns out everything else.

Then I see him coming up the stairs. His eyes are full of paranoia and fear. In the sparse light, the gun seems like an extension of his right arm like in that Cronenberg movie with James Woods and Debbie Harry in it. The guy comes closer to us. I seem to be the only one that notices him, but that changes real quick when he raises the gun and fires off a shot.

Some of the people scramble for the exit on the opposite end of the station. Others foolishly run towards him or jump onto the train tracks. Those that run towards him are gunned down, and I see their silhouettes fall in flashes of red light. I can’t move; I can only watch as the gunman approaches. His eyes meet mine as he levels the barrel at my face. I want to know about him. Why he’s doing what he’s doing. How he got away from the police. What happened to lead him down a path of violence? Instead when I open my mouth, all I can do is scream. My feet are frozen in place and I can’t run despite every instinct telling me that I need to.

He pulls the trigger and it clicks dry. I’d call it a miracle if I believed in those sorts of things. I think about the street preacher and the wails of his singing counterpart. I stare into the gray eyes of the gunman and he stares right back at me, his face washed in red strobes. We’re brothers bonded by the unreality of the moment. Neither of us move until the police rush onto the platform, guns drawn. He tosses his weapon onto the tracks and then he’s gone, leaving only the bloody chaos and me, the traumatized survivor of it, to pick up the pieces, to restore order. As I stand among the flashing red, the wounded and the dead, the wails of sirens and street preaching, I wonder if I ever will.