Chill, Baby

by Nadia Owusu

There was, as is often the case, no warning that the G train would not be running past midnight. No flyers or posters. No announcements on the A train telling passengers not to bother getting off to transfer. Nothing. The woman on the microphone at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn Street station sounded thrilled about this inconvenience even as she apologized for it.  

I was pissed off because nobody came into the restaurant for dinner that night so I didn’t make any money. I only had two thirds of my rent that was due in a week. I was going to have to pick up shifts during finals. I stood around all night polishing wine glasses and folding napkins instead of studying for my statistics exam. Tonight would be another sleepless one. There would probably be crying. I usually cried when I studied for math tests because I’m very bad at math. Doing things that I’m very bad at makes me sad about all the things in the world that I will probably never really understand, like electricity and Einstein's general theory of relativity.

During my shift, the bartender I was in the process of breaking up with had gotten drunk and annoying. He flirted all night with that blonde woman from across the street, and not just in the compulsory bartender way. She came to see him every night, even in this snowstorm. Usually he was polite to her, but disinterested. She had thick, square, acrylic French-manicured nails. She wore sticky pink lip gloss. She always started out her evening with a Sex on the Beach. Her voice sounded like her acrylic nails on a chalkboard. But, he leaned over the bar and looked into her eyes. He probably talked to her about his art, how he’d dropped out of law school for it. I did not like the thought of him sharing that part of himself, the part I liked, with her. So what if I had ignored his phone calls for three days? I was supposed to be the one ending it, not him. And now the stupid G train wasn’t running.

I kicked an empty forty bottle that someone had discarded on the platform. It was still wrapped tightly in a brown paper bag. It rolled unsatisfyingly for a few seconds then stopped at a middle-aged Rasta’s feet. He had his head tipped up as though waiting for further instruction from the MTA. I was not holding my breath for any such thing. We were, I knew, on our own.

“Chill, baby,” he said.

I hate it when random men call me ‘baby,’ especially when they’re telling me what to do. I might have told him as much. I thought about it. I was in the mood for it. But I had kicked a bottle at him so I didn’t exactly hold the moral high ground. I scowled at him instead.

“I hear ya,” he said, even though I hadn’t said anything. “How we supposed to get home?”

“Yeah,” I said.

There was a bus that would get me close enough to walk to my apartment. Not as close as the G train, but closer than the A train. I had never taken that bus but I knew it existed because my friend Sarah who lived down the street was always going on and on about how she took it everywhere. She talked about taking the bus the way people talk about juice detoxes and meditation which is weird because there’s nothing about the bus that is healthier than the train. At least nothing I can think of.

Outside, the snow was still coming down in heavy, sharp white pellets. It was the kind of snow that made opening an umbrella look pitiful. I buttoned the coat button that pinches the skin under my chin. I had to do that so my hood would not blow off in the whooshing wind. Google on my cellphone told me that the bus stop was six blocks away. The bus, I thought, better be running as usual. My brain said this in threatening tones. I needed the universe to know that I meant business.

What’s nice about walking in a snowstorm when you’re somewhat unreasonably miserable is that it makes your misery more reasonable. I don’t mind snowstorms when I don’t have to go anywhere except down the street to my favorite hole-in-the-wall for a hot toddy, or when I can stay indoors reading books and making soup. I do mind them under most other circumstances.

There were very few cars out that night; very few pedestrians. Downtown Brooklyn didn’t feel peaceful though. It felt abandoned. It felt like everyone was safe and sound at home except for me. I blamed a lot of people for this. I didn’t care if my reasoning was irrational. I was not interested in considering association versus causality. Perhaps this tendency is why I was having such a hard time with Statistics II.

It was my landlord’s fault for raising the rent by $150 when I was already struggling to pay it. I knew that this would happen when the hipsters moved in. I blamed those hipsters and their rich parents. I blamed my parents for not being rich. I blamed the university I attended for being so expensive. I blamed financial aid for not covering my whole tuition. It was the bartender’s fault for flirting with that blonde woman and making me jealous enough to stay at the restaurant for an hour after closing time to drink whiskey with him. The MTA was the worst institution that ever existed. Never mind that it ran trains and buses twenty-four hours a day so that I didn’t have to own a car. The G train wasn’t running right now. I also had a bone to pick with the mathematicians who developed theoretical and applied statistics.

I was walking with my head down so that the snow didn’t attack my eyeballs. They’re very sensitive. Walking in that way made it difficult to see where I was going. I had to stop every block to check whether or not I had arrived at the corner where I was supposed to turn left. My sense of direction is very poor. I was standing on Atlantic and Nevins when something large and brown leapt past me and into the street. A bus, perhaps my bus, rolled over it. The bus kept going, leaving the street empty and white again, except for a mangy mutt that was now bleeding red into the snow.

The mutt was silent. I rushed over to where it was lying. Its belly had been crushed and split open. The sight of its exposed flesh and guts filled my lungs with freezing oxygen. It—he—was dead.  As far as I could see, there hadn’t been anything or anyone chasing him, nothing to spook him. I wanted to touch his nose but as I bent down and reached out my hand, I started to shake.

“Hey sweetheart,” called out a man wearing a backpack with a hard hat tied to it, “you okay?”

I don’t like it when off-duty construction workers I don’t know call me ‘sweetheart,’ but it didn’t seem important in that moment.

“There’s a dead dog in the road,” I yelled at him.

“Why?” he asked.

That the mutt had been hit by a bus was not the answer to that question. It was only a consequence.

“I don’t know,” I yelled. I didn’t need to yell. He wasn’t very far away. Maybe I wasn’t yelling at him.

I felt ridiculous standing in the street now, so I joined the construction worker on the sidewalk. The two of us stood in silence, looking at the mutt.

“That’s the way it is sometimes,” he said after a while. “It was probably the snow.”

What he meant by that last part, I did not know. But, I nodded and started walking towards the bus stop again. This time, I let it snow into my eyeballs. The snowflakes didn’t feel as sharp as I imagined. They just felt like cold water. I blinked and let them drip onto my cheeks. I had to accept that the storm would keep storming until it was over. And when I got to the bus stop, the bus would come or it wouldn’t. There would be reasons for whatever happened just as there must have been reasons for the mutt in the road. But, I might never know them. And they wouldn’t necessarily mean that any of it made sense.