Even though the foul smell of the station is enough to make any person’s face scrunch up, the subway is the easiest way to get around New York City. The people in the station all have their heads down as they push through the crowd to get to their destination. Neither Andrew or I, stand out in the crowd of people who stare at the ground. Our movements are just as hurried and purposeful as the rest of the busy people.
“Why does it always smell down here”? Andrew speaks my mind. “Did someone use the bathroom or is there a dead body laying around somewhere?”
We continue our way through the crowd in the smelly station in silence. I do everything I can to ignore the foul stench. The stream of people never stops as we exit and move towards our train platform. My eyes wander to an ad near the platform. It is the ad with Her.
If only I could be like Her. She is so beautiful while she holds the Farrago in her hand– holding it like she is toasting with the gods, like the drink is the key to the world and not the destruction of it. I have the sudden, but not unexpected, urge to bow down to Her.
Her name is Alexandria and she doesn’t require a last name to identify herself. Everyone knows Her, and everyone knows this advertisement. This is the image that opened the can of obsession to anyone that has ever caught a glimpse of it.
“Danny, snap out of it.”
I stare at Alexandria’s angelic person and how her impossibly gorgeous face is framed by her hair. Long and golden, yellow like the sun’s shine on the brightest of days–her hair is so mesmerizing that I think I can feel the silkiness of her luscious locks by just staring.
Pain cracks across my face as my eyes are averted from Alexandria. I turn to see Andrew breathing heavily and eyeing me intensely. He seems panicked, for some reason. Our train pulls into the station.
Andrew grabs my hand leads me away from Alexandria and onto the subway. Slowly, the fog in my head dissipates as he leads me to the back of the near empty compartment. I sit down and survey the car.
On the side of the car near the door is the same advertisement. This time I make sure to look away and focus on something else. I notice a large man across from the ad in a similar trance as I had been back at the station. His eyes are locked onto Alexandria and his body is stiff, completely unmoving. I am worried that the man had forgotten to breathe.
Across from the man is a woman who is so thin that her skin seems to be draped on her skeleton. Her face is discolored with dirt and her hair is gray and staticky. She rocks herself back and forth in the seat as tears trickle down her face in a steady stream. I can tell that it has been awhile since she has eaten and her stomach is slowly and painfully digesting itself.
“Does anyone have any to spare?” Skeleton Woman croaks. The people on the car avoid eye contact with her. “I don’t have much time left.”
Everyone on the car understands her, but we all pretend like she is speaking gibberish. Seeing our fake confusion, the woman sighs and slouches in her chair. She becomes so thin and tiny that it is almost hard to see her. I have no idea how old she might be, but any idiot could tell that she is starving to death.
“Hey, Girl.” I am startled by Skeleton’s interjection. I stare at my shoes instead of looking at the woman. The lump in my pocket grows heavier. “You look healthy, girl. I used to be healthy like you…” My shoes are very old and the soles are worn. “Like a normal teenage girl, riding around with my boyfriend on the subway…” Andrew tenses up beside me, as if he wants to jump out and correct the woman. I notice that the sole of my right shoe is wearing away. “Why did it have to be like this, Girl? I am so, so hungry. I just need a sip.” On my left shoe, there is a nasty piece of candy stuck to the side. “That’s all I need if someone could please show some charity… Just a sip, please, please…” The woman begins to cry as she still pleads to the cart even though no one is listening. I keep staring at my shoes.
Skeleton Woman continues to plead with me as I continue to ignore her. Eventually, we arrive at our station and Andrew and I get up to leave the subway. Skeleton follows us off the train and continues to beg.
“I’ll starve, if you don’t help me, Girl.” The woman cannot walk as fast as Andrew and me, she is so frail. We start to walk away from Skeleton woman. She reaches out and grabs my wrist, forcing me to face her.
“I’ll starve and die, and it will be your fault if you don’t help me, Girl.” I freeze at the woman’s touch. Up close, it is easier to see how hollow and dirty her face is…
“We have to go, Danny. Your mother is waiting for us.” Andrew comes over and grabs my other wrist, pulling me away from Skeleton’s cold grasp. The woman falls to her knees as I am pulled away from her. I am more than willing to follow Andrew away from Skeleton Woman.
We walk briskly away from the woman while she continues to plead for help, sobbing on her knees in the middle of the near-empty station. I can still hear her cries even after we walk far away from the woman. We don’t stop walking (and Andrew doesn’t loosen his grasp) until we make it above ground and breathe the fresh, chilled air. I can’t remember the last time that I was this thankful to smell the city.
Above ground, things are much different. The grungy subway station contrasts with the bright metal skyscrapers that tower over us. Brightly colored cars drive on the road beside us as different advertisements flash as they pass. The streets are just as busy as the station below, but the people here are more likely to cause trouble. Pickpocketing and haggling are too common. Whether it is a seller begging for your business or a starving Jumbler begging for help, we are bound to be targeted. In the subway station it is easier to blend in with the crouched faces. Above ground, it is clear to most people that we are not starving. We look full. The hungry want us to share.
We have to be more cautious in the busy streets of Manhattan. I walk close to Andrew as he leads us to my house. He keeps his hands clenched in his pockets and his head looking forward. People holler at us asking for business or charity or both.
The crowd on the sidewalks decreases the further we walk away from the subway station.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” I tell Andrew. “And thank you for helping me out back there. With the ad, and the woman.”
He shakes his head. “Danny, you need to be more careful. If you can’t handle that stuff then we can’t take the subway everywhere anymore.”
“I can still handle it. I was completely in control earlier.” We both know that I’m lying, but thankfully he doesn’t argue with me.
I am always so thankful for him. Walking alone in the city can be dangerous… if not for the bad people but for the ads. I try not to think about how many times Andrew has saved my butt.
We take a right onto a quiet side street. The streets here are much more narrow and fewer cars drive by. Instead of skyscrapers looking over head, smaller apartment buildings block the horizon from my view. The ads that flashed constantly are replaced with closed windows on the side of the buildings.
When we get to my building, Andrew punches in the entrance code and we walk inside to the dark hallway and staircase. After climbing two flights of stairs we reach my door. Andrew pulls out his key and unlocks the door, holding it open for me to enter my apartment.
The TV is on but muted and my mother is sitting on our couch, the back of her head facing us. It is chilly and dark inside, but the light is on in the bedroom across the living room. My apartment consists of three rooms in total. A tiny bathroom connects with the bedroom, living room, and kitchen.
“Daniella? Are you home?” My mother calls without breaking her gaze from the television.
“Yes Ms. Stewart, it’s us,” Andrew replies before I have the chance to. “We made it back as fast as we could, but we got a bit held back on the subway.” I leave the doorway to take a seat on the couch next to my mother. The headline on the bottom of the screen reads “Convenience store robbed: Robber only stole Farrago.”
“What happened on the subway?”
I look to Andrew who is leaning against the wall near the TV, asking him to answer for me. “There was a particularly clingy haggler on the train,” Andrew answers my mother. “She followed us in the station and grabbed a hold of Danny. She was very persistent.”
“You still have the Farrago, correct?” To answer I her, I pull the purple can out of my pocket. “Thank goodness.” Her relief is evident. She continues to stare at the news.
I look to the TV. Some old white guy is talking with another old white guy about something political that almost nobody cares about. Beneath the two men is a red bar that scrolls continuously while they talk. I read some of the grim titles. “Farrago prices increasing steadily! New team attempts to study Farrago addiction! Two men and one woman shot in a robbery uptown.” I honestly have no idea how my mom can stare at this for so long without wanting to get up and fight someone. It’s so horrible.
I look at Andrew. He leans up against the wall, hands in his pockets, his blue eyes staring at a wall intensely. I often catch him staring at something, but also staring at nothing. He says he does it when he gets lost in thought, but sometimes I’m not sure. He looks concerned, worried about the news. I’m worried too actually, but that doesn’t mean I am going to stare at a wall for 10 minutes to “think” about it. I need to do something. Not think, do. Unfortunately, it’s not like I can leave the apartment, go out, and take down the Farrago Corporation single handedly. There’s not much that I can do. Staring at a wall might help me sometimes.
“If you stare at that spot on the wall any harder, you might burn a hole through it.” Andrew averts his eyes from his spot on the wall and looks at me instead. He chuckles a bit.
“Well, Danny, I was hoping that if I stared at the wall long enough that I might be able to convince it to move. I’m not too sure it’s working.” I chuckle too. I guess staring at a wall actually did something: lighten the mood.
“If you ever figure out how to make things move with your vision, let me know. That could be quite useful the next time we [do something].”
“Shushh.” My mother tells us. “They are about to announce a new statement from Fargo Corporation.”
That shuts Andrew and I up. I wonder what kind of announcement they are going to make. I have never heard of Farrago making a statement before, I am unsure why they would. Andrew sits down on the chair in front of me and smiles. He doesn’t show any teeth, but I smile back. This would definitely explain why my mom is paying such close attention to the TV. Andrew and I have been good friends for a very long time… Since Emilio moved away about 5 years ago. I am Andrew was the only kid who paid me any attention at school. Most people just ignored me but Andrew was never mean. He would sit with me at lunch and we would talk about books and school and my little sister. Oh how things have changed. I often think about how different my life would be now if it were not for Andrew. He has been at my side forever it seems. His hair is messy and falls in his eyes at times.
“Good evening” the announcer says. “I have a special press release from the Farrago Corporation. Farrago is looking to hire participants for a few tests regarding the sideeffects of consumption. If you are experiencing these side effects and want to learn more, you should call the number below to receive more information. There are only a few positions open so call now. Also, the announcer pauses dramatically. Farrago is in search for a spokesperson for their company. THey will be hosting auditions in the [building] here in New York City this weekend. If you are interesting in becoming the newest face of Farrago, please be in the doors before 10am on Saturday morning. That is all. Please enjoy the rest of your scheduled programming.”
I want to burst out and laugh at the announcer. What kind of person would be interested in promoting Farrago, an awful detrimental company that manipulates its users? I could never imagine doing something like that. And testing? Are people out of their mind? I do like how they failed to mention that the main side effect of Farrago is fierce vomiting and lack of appetite to the point where starvation is common among people in withdrawal. I don’t know what i was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this. I was hoping for something more positive, not just an empty jobs wanted poster on the nightly news.
My mother turns off the TV, clearly disappointed. She must have also been hoping for something less pointless as that. Maybe a true diagnosis of Farrago that explains why it causes side effects, or why it is so extremely addicting. I guess we were both too hopeful. Sighing with defeat, she gets up with the purple can of Farago in her hand and brings it across the room to the kitchen. I watch as she methodically pulls out a glass from the cabinet and cleans it in the sink. She opens the can which makes a satisfying sizzle that all carbonated drinks make and pours the clear liquid into the glass. The smell of the beverage is so strong, I can still smell it on the couch. It is a pleasant smell… like the sweet smell of something dirty after it has been thoroughly cleaned. I stare at her as she scowls the drink. After a brief moment’s contemplation, she brings the glass to her lips and takes a large sip before putting the glass on the counter again. Her expression reminds me of someone who remembers that they are on a diet after eating an extra serving of dessert: horribly guilty, yet satisfied.
“Danny, do you need a sip?” She asks. Already, the corners of her mouth are turning towards the sky in a sort of inappropriate grin.
Begrudgingly, I walks to where my mother stands next to the drink and I repeat the same process that my mother had: brief contemplation, large sip, horrible guilt, evident satisfaction. The taste of the Farrago seems different every time I drink it. It tastes similar to how it smells… like something new after a long time of routine. It tastes like sweet happiness with a hint of excitement. It bubbles happily in my mouth for a moment before I swallow. After one sip, I want to take another. I want to chug the rest of the can so very badly. Before I have the opportunity to take another sip, I set the glass down on the counter. I should feel bad about willfully drinking the Farrago, but I feel the guilt slip away as the corners of my mouth begin to turn upwards as well. I look back at Andrew and find that he is staring at me in a similar manner that I had stared at my mother.
“Julie?” my mother calls my little sister. “Please come out here for one moment.”
Julie emerges from the bedroom. “Yes, ma’am?” In reply, my mother grabs the glass and hands it to Julie. Her eyes light up as she takes it in both hands and stares in the cup.
“Only one sip, Julie. I will let you have some more tomorrow with breakfast.”
After a brief glare at our mother, Julie takes her sip and sets the glass down before swallowing. There is no guilt on Julie’s face as she lets the Farrago sit in her mouth a little longer than necessary. Her eyes are closed, her head tilted upwards, and she is smiling widely. Julie is too innocent for this.
After she finally swallows, she opens her eyes and gasps. “Mom?”
“Can I please–” Julie stretches out her word as my mother begins to shake her head. “Ease– have one more tiny little sip?”
“Julie…” Before my mother can scold Julie, the phone rings.
Clearly, it startled my mother. She jumps at the sound and practically sprints to the phone. “Hello?” She answers it.
I walk back to the couch and sit down. The newscasters on the TV are talking about the new Farrago “job” opportunities. The old white guys think that this it is a great opportunity for people, that this testing done by Farrago themselves might turn over useful results. I still don’t buy it.
I turn to my mother again and notice that all of the color has left her face. Andrew is already standing at her side, holding her hand. I stand up as my mother hangs up the call without saying another word.
“I just lost my job.”