The money lasted two months. After that, he was dead, and we went on the stipend like everyone else.
I shoved the memory away. The days of good times with my dad were over. And there weren’t many more good days to remember with my mom, either. Not after that.
I kicked a piece of rock fallen from a decaying building as I walked. I was anxious, not just for the testing, but for the trip to the city. Too many people around made me nervous, and even though I’d grown up on the streets, and mostly alone, I always felt out of place no matter who I was standing next to.
Slowly, people started to emerge from the shadows as night slipped away. My lens immediately started calculating, identifying each individual by name and status.
All greens. I was perfectly safe. No unknowns. No criminals. I took a deep breath and hurried towards the platform.
As I took the first step up the stairs, my stomach lifted and I gasped a little. Butterflies. It was an unfamiliar feeling, a sudden nervousness.
Excitement, I thought.
Something was about to change. Once I got into the city, I could go anywhere, even if I’d be broke by the time I reached the station on the other side.
It could be good. There was a chance, however slim, that I could pull this off.
I climbed the narrow staircase to the train platform and stood behind the others, waiting. The train arrived, on time to the second, the banged up doors opening with a loud squeak. I stepped onto the train quickly, knowing that when the doors closed, they wouldn’t be opening again for anything.
I scanned the people inside. Green. Green. Green.
My breath caught.
It was a woman. Dressed all in black, she sat at one end of the car, her feet propped up lazily on the empty seat opposite her. Her dark hair was cropped short, eyes covered in thick, black makeup.
I tried not to stare, but fear held me frozen. My lens was flashing, covering my vision with a blinking orange overlay, urging me to turn and move in the other direction.
The woman snapped her gum, looking around the train car at the greens who avoided her. Then her eyes caught mine. She smirked, and then winked.
I started, immediately dropping my gaze. My heart thudded as I moved to the other end of the car, hoping she would leave me alone. I shouldn’t have looked, shouldn’t have tempted her. My lens stopped flashing as I surrounded myself with the other greens. I found a seat easily, though this side of the train was much more crowded than where the woman was keeping court. But as I sat down, I saw that she was distracted by her lens, still sitting in the same spot as her eyes flitted back and forth, quickly sorting through whatever information interested an orange. I exhaled and sat back against the seat as the train began to move.
We climbed up, up, as the tracks soared above the water that covered much of the city. Not far from the tracks, the buildings gradually fell into disrepair in the places where the sea had reclaimed the land. They were long abandoned, their lower floors flooded. Soon enough, the rest of this place would be underwater, too, with no wall to protect us. I squirmed in my seat as I imagined what it would be to stay here, trapped in our dingy apartment as the waves slowly crawled closer and closer with each passing month.
APPROACHING MANHATTAN WALL
The words blinked on the lens screen that covered my pupils, then faded out again. I looked through the window and saw the wall that encircled lower Manhattan. It was a hundred feet tall, recently increased from the fifty foot barrier that was slowly becoming obsolete. The white stones, new and yet untouched by the sea water, rested atop the older, charcoal ones that had guarded the city since long before I was born.
The train rushed forward, flying over the water of the river towards the open gates in the thick concrete. My heart jumped as we burst through the gateway into the great city beyond. This train only had one stop inside, and as it pulled up to the outdoor platform, we all stood up, ready to disembark.
I stood back, let the other people on tighter schedules jostle each other as they made their way towards the exit. As they filed out, the countdown clock above the door started ticking down.
10 … 9 …
I tried not to push the woman in front of me.
… 8 … 7 …
Finally, she had found her opening, trotting through it out into the morning beyond. I intended to follow her, but once her frame disappeared around the corner, I found a set of eyes looking at me I hadn’t expected. Standing directly across from me was the woman, the orange.
… 6 … 5 …
I froze, staring. She smiled wickedly and held out her hand, indicating I should exit ahead of her. I swallowed heavily. Most of the greens were already off the train now. I needed to get out of here or it would be just the two of us left inside, trapped together for the long ride back to Brooklyn, a dangerous situation for anybody to find themselves in.
… 4 … 3 …
I ducked my head and made for the door. My lens flashed orange, warning me to turn back. I just managed to hold back a yelp of fear as I passed by her and the dreaded jaws of the doors, not daring to look her in the eye.
I quickly moved away towards the vanishing group of greens, seeking to hide myself within their safe numbers. I didn’t even glance back as I held my breath, trying to push my way in.
I felt a strong shove between my shoulder blades and nearly fell face first onto the platform. I grabbed the jacket of the man in front of me, trying to right myself. He glared back at me.
“Sorry,” I said, looking around.
She had already turned away, was jogging across the open platform towards a different way down.
I panted, still clinging to the man.
“Excuse me, miss,” he snarled.
I looked up, dazed, and released him.
“Sorry,” I said again.
He headed down the narrow staircase, following the others. I stood still for a moment, staring at the spot where the woman had disappeared. Finally, when I realized I was the only one left on the platform, I turned and followed the others.
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