By Eduard Tatomir
The subway pulls in during another busy rush hour in Toronto. The doors open and people attempt to pile into an already packed car. Even sardines are envious.
“Please stand clear of the doors,” the robotic voice repeats itself over and over as one person blocks the way with his backpack.
Amid growing health concerns, this might sound like a nightmare. But one commuter sees this as an opportunity to showcase his skills.
“This is my little secret,” whispers Jerome Parker, a second-year physics student at Ryerson who is sick and tired of standing for 45 minutes. He covertly slips a packet of pepper out of his pocket, tears it open and takes a deep breath.
No one around him notices. They’re all just convinced he’s another person talking to himself on their 6 p.m. commute home. Not a single head turns in his direction. They’re all unaware of him—now all he needs to do now is ask for some change and he’ll practically be invisible.
That is until, “Ah-ah-AH-ACHOO!”
All of a sudden, everybody scatters like cockroaches. People start climbing over each other, hiding under the seats and breaking the glass to escape.
Parker sneezes again.
They’re completely panicking now—some have even begun to cry. It’s truly a scene straight out of a horror movie. They don’t know what to do. The train is stuck because of that dude with the backpack and someone has sneezed in their midst.
With no one having a cell signal, any attempt at calling the police is futile. They are sure there will be another statistic in a tweet from the TTC. Man who tested positive for COVID-19 rode the subway from x to y between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., it will say.
And they were on that subway with him, right then, right there.
Parker sneezes one more time.
Screams can be heard all around. Someone presses the emergency alarm—a Silent Hill siren starts ringing inside the subway. They approach the next stop and everyone rushes out. People are being trampled, women and children go first, the students are left behind—they believe social distancing is a myth and need to make it to their St. Patty’s Day party.
The subway is now almost completely empty, except for Parker. No one dares to enter at the next stop when they hear what’s happened.
“He has it,” somebody who didn’t manage to get off at the earlier stop yells.
They gasp. They’re shocked. They never thought it could happen to them—but here it is.
The doors close and finally, peace and quiet. Parker wanders around the empty subway cart in search of the perfect seat; red, not blue, spotless, must have a seat in front of it as a footrest and an interesting advertisement ahead, like a Casper puzzle.
But as he nears the end of the train, he notices he’s not alone. There’s a woman sitting down in a red seat and she looks over at him.
“Looks like it’s just you and me,” she says before coughing violently into her arm. “Now I don’t feel so alone anymore.”
Parker is horrified, and turns slowly. “No, it was just pepper,” he says. “Look!” His pockets are empty, the packet is gone.
“It’s okay, sweetie. It’s not pepper anymore. But don’t worry. You have me.”