In July last 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 except 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 would not be time the rest of the week. I knew I’d be somnolent only if my body went into inactive mode. So, I was alert for the entire duration: the train ride to the store, grocery shopping, then back to the station with the cart.
I’d found a seat near the door when the train left the Square station. My destination was Port Station with Grove in between. The total travel time wouldn’t exceed ten minutes. Though my eyes were shutting from the drowsiness, I heard the sounds of the door slamming shut, footsteps of people as they moved between train cars, when an old man flipped the pages of his book, and the constant clickety-clack of the train wheels. I was aware that I coughed softly a few times.
Though I was too dozy to cover my mouth, I was certain that my mouth wasn’t open while coughing. (Wish I was alert enough to use my hands.)
At the Grove 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, and the man was left standing. He was wearing a green shirt and black trousers. I closed my eyes and let out a couple of soft coughs, my mouth still closed. Within seconds, I heard a sound barreling toward me from my right where the man was standing. “This is 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 shutting 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 could see that my mouth wasn’t open. I told him again that my mouth was closed throughout.
He said, “I’m so sick myself and don’t want any sickness from you.”
Now: he looked sick.
I was not sick.
My discreet coughs were perhaps from a can of chilled coconut water I’d drunk at the grocery.
I said, “I should be more concerned about catching something from you.”
“In the new America, people get slapped for coughing like that on public transport,” he retorted.
I grinned at him – my eyes won’t close for a while now – as I stood up to exit at Port. My 6’1 frame, as I walked by him, perhaps forced his mouth shut. Only silence thereon.
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 on someone, and I happened to be the non-white guy he found a punching bag in? If he’d asked me, I would’ve given him my seat (I always offer my seat.)
In more than a decade of my 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 the Union Square on 14th Street in Manhattan.
Blocks of dry ice emitted fog that drifted away.
I was a mere witness and 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 the 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 should be ready.
But, my punching bag will remain a punching bag. I’m non-violence personified.