Procrastinating altruism

We’re always putting off becoming better people. That new and improved version of ourselves lives in a future we can’t quite yet see, even if we try and squint past the fog.

It is around 7:30 and train from Journal Square to 33rd street is quiet. That comfortable mutual silence shared by early morning commuters as doze off in plastic seats or hanging on to metal poles.

A tall thin black man, blind, starts calling, loudly, “Excuse me, does one have a few dollars so I can get something?.” His voice is jarring, yet sing-songy, the words melting into each other so it sounds like “Scusi me, does one have a dollar soIcangsomething?.” That last word is said in a particularly bright way, the last syllable almost sharp, like a ring falling into a metal cup.

I fumble in my wallet for a dollar or two, hoping that he gets what he needs, but also hoping that he moves on to another car too. It is early and a cough kept me up last night. Very few people in the compartment give him anything, they keep their faces carefully blank, schooling their features into the dull weariness that was there before. But I can know they can hear him through their headphones, unless the men and women in neatly pressed business casual have Metallica playing on full volume.

His mostly empty cup rattling, his black cane tapping on the floor, the man eased through the divider between the train cars and was gone.

We lapsed back into that amicable, knowing silence, relieved that we did not have to be better people, at least today.

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