STOP

I pondered my seating options. Usually I stood for the short ride. But today I craved a seat as if I’d just run a marathon. Late nights working two jobs were catching up.

He was pinching a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger. An oversized jacket belittled his frame. One end of his scarf, considerably longer than the other, hung between his legs. Corduroy pants were rolled up to his ankles, exposing dirty sport socks stuffed into torn running shoes. I looked down at my sandals and thought how hot he must be on this sticky afternoon.

Beside him a shopping cart teemed with plastic bags and newspapers. A white stuffed rabbit rested on top, a companion found somewhere along the way. His right hand rested across it, informing others that he was the owner.

He sat facing backward. And as we hurtled south from St. Clair West to Dupont, he stared out the window. But there was nothing to see. His right foot anxiously tapped the floor. I too, disliked the confinement of tunnels.

Finished studying this portrait of a downtrodden, I reached for my book. Metal grated on metal. My head jerked up. He’d moved the cigarette up to his mouth while his right thumb tried to spark a lighter. More startling was the aerosol can in the other.

I looked at nearby passengers, willing any of them to take action. But they poured over their phones and newspapers.

Heart racing, I glanced up at the subway map and noted that the writing beneath the message “Subway Evacuation Procedures” was far too small to read.

Click, click rasped the lighter. I strode over.

“Stop. What do you think you’re doing? You can’t do that in here.”

Alcohol fumes crashed into me as he mumbled and sniffed. Two women near him moved away. A man leaning in the door moved to the other side.

“You need to leave,” I said, gentler than before. I bent down to grip his elbow to propel him up. “There’s the door. Get off when it opens.”

“I just…I just…” His words slipped into nonsense. Then, “Go away!” And then, click, click. I sucked in my breath. No one else noticed or cared.

We entered Spadina station and he slumped lower, obviously not getting off. I rushed out the door.

“There’s a man on the train trying to light an aerosol can.”

The driver made eye contact as the subway doors slid shut. He must have heard me. But maybe he thought I was crazy.

Four minutes later the next train arrived. I got on, surprised service hadn’t been stopped. We pulled into St. George.

Through the window I saw him on the platform. He yanked his cart. The white rabbit flopped to the ground as he hobbled onto my car. The unlit cigarette was still in his mouth.

Click, click. I punched the yellow emergency strip.