The subway train was late. A crowd of tired people had gathered on the platform in heat that made us all sweat right through our cute hairdos and oxford shirts.
This particular tunnel belonged to the yellow N/W trains, and as more people filed down the stairs to wait for the next ride home, the air kept getting hotter and the mood switched from impatient to desperate and abandoned.
I was standing close to the edge of the platform, so I could crane my neck out to check for oncoming trains, when two skinny rats suddenly darted onto the tracks. They were little brown ones, chasing each other over the steel rails and wooden planks, through the puddles of rain water that had collected there days ago. The whole front line of the crowd silently watched the vermin run around their little obstacle course, squeezing through impossibly tiny cracks and squeaking at each other.
Then the chasing rat stopped still on top of one of the steel rails and stared up at the crowd. It was weird, but as that rat looked up at us, I had an overwhelming urge to shoot him like a squirrel in a tree.
Now, I've never been hunting in my life, but I did grow up at a school in Arkansas where all the kids stay home on Deer Day, the first day of deer season, so they can go set up camp for the fall hunting trips. Maybe the inclination of shooting squirrels is just part of my rural fabric, but when it occurred to me how people would react to some nutter taking aim at a rat on the tracks, I realized how absurd country living must seem to lifelong New Yorkers. Of course, I guess it would also be weird for a country boy to think about standing in a packed crowd of strangers in a sweltering underground cement tube.