Earlier this year, I was feeling groggy from Cyclobenzaprine and Naproxen that I’d taken to treat my neck spasm. The muscle-relaxant and anti-inflammatory pills often helped, but for the drowsiness that accompanied them. Although my wife had suggested that I avoid grocery shopping, fearing the weariness might get too overwhelming, I followed on with my decision for there won’t be time rest of the week. I knew I’d be somnolent only if my body went on inactive mode, having learned how I responded after taking those pills previously. So, for the entire duration – to the grocery store, shopping, and pushing the cart back to the train station – I was super active.
I’d found a seat near the door – with my cart full of grocery in front of me – when the Path train left Journal Square. Two of the dozen Mexican tomatoes in a plastic bag that I’d kept right at the top peeped out at me. My destination was Newport with Grove Street, the only station, in between; the total travel time not exceeding ten minutes. Though my eyes were involuntarily closed from the drowsiness, I heard both sounds of the door slamming shut and footsteps of people as they moved between train cars, the crispy sound when an old man flipped the pages of his book, the constant clickety-clack of the train wheels. I coughed softly a few times, I was aware.
Though I was too dozy to cover my mouth, I was certain that my mouth wasn’t open when coughing. (Wish I was alert enough to use my hands.)
At Grove Street station, a group of people boarded the train, followed by a middle-aged man. The train wasn’t crowded, but all of the seats were taken; the man was left standing. He was wearing a green shirt and black trousers. I closed my eyes; let out a couple soft coughs, my mouth still closed. Within seconds, I heard a sound barreling toward me from my right, where the man was standing. “This’ sick. You should cover your mouth when coughing.”
I turned my head to glance at him. He was a short man whose face turned a tinge of red that I thought meant intense dislike for me. I told him, as my eyes were closing again, that my mouth wasn’t open and that I was drowsy from a muscle relaxant. This explanation – that I hadn’t needed to give – didn’t satisfy him, and he came at me more aggressively. “This is America. You’ve no idea what you’re doing.”
None of the people who were sitting across from me uttered a word, which sort of vindicated me because they had the visual that my mouth wasn’t open. I politely told him again that my mouth was closed throughout.
He said, “I’m so sick myself – don’t want any sickness from you.”
Now: he looked sick.
I was not sick.
My unexpected coughs (more like discreet coughs) were perhaps from a can of chilled coconut water I’d drunk at the grocery.
I asserted this time that I was fine, and, “I should be more concerned about catching something from you.”
“In the new America, people get slapped for coughing like that on a public transport,” he said.
I grinned at him – my eyes won’t close for a while now – as I stood up to exit at Newport. My 6’1 frame, as I walked by him, probably forced his mouth shut. Only silence thereon. Glad tomatoes crowned the cart, and therefore not crushed.
What I figured out later was that he was livid that even a grocery cart had found a space near the seat. He wanted to take his anger out at someone, and I happened to be the closest non-white guy he could find a punching bag in? If he’d asked me, I would’ve given him my seat (I always do, like I always cover my mouth.)
In last more than a decade of our life in the US, this was the first experience of its kind.
I am apolitical, but was as much against Hillary Clinton’s alleged deleting of thousands of emails as I’ve been against President Trump’s fear-mongering rhetoric. The day James Comey testified before the Senate that the President had asked for his loyalty, the following happened in Union Square on 14th Street in Manhattan.
The blocks of dry ice emitted fog that drifted away.
I was a mere witness, didn’t know what to make of this. For some, it meant Trump’s ephemeral longevity, for others it was a protest against his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. But, let’s not forget that Donald Trump became a president because he had the required electoral votes, although FBI investigation into Russia’s meddling in America’s election is ongoing.
In the new America – yes – anything can happen. Since the new president took office, we’ve heard a few incidents where non-whites, especially Indians, were targeted, resulting in deaths, too. So I decided to go back to my kickboxing routine. For self-defense. And if the man walked the talk next time, I must be ready.
But my punching bag will remain a punching bag. I’m non-violence personified.