What is she saying?

There’s a new addition to the cast of characters who permanently inhabit the corridor between the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Times Square train stop.  She paces the area, making her speech in a sonorous mezzo/alto voice.  I have been walking past her for the last week.  I am in a rush like all the other commuters who are paying no mind to anything these people say.   I act as if these tunnel inhabitants are invisible to me.  The other commuters appear to be acting as if they are invisible to them as well.

Except…I am not certain whether they are acting or they really don’t notice the speech makers, the subway evangelists, the Indian accented, bespectacled evangelist, the really short and highly skilled accordion player, the Chinese man playing his bamboo flutes in a pentatonic scale, the little boy on the keyboard, the superb violinist who I now know is Susan Keser – Violinist for Hire, the family of five, undaunted in their acapella rendition of something or the other, the old Chinese woman seated outside the newsstand – asking for nothing but pleading all the same.  I blend in with my fellow commuters…except…I know I am acting while being hyper aware of these subway tunnel citizens who appear to have dropped out of the raw deal that the rest of us have made in our lives.

The pre-caffeine faces are all blank in the morning, sans animation, all programmed to reach their bathed-in-fluorescence destinations with no emotional stops in between. 

This new woman wears a plaid jacket and boots.  She has a warm woolen scarf tied around her neck and she never smiles or stops to take a breath, as though doing so would derail her train of thought, wreak havoc on her momentum.  The Doppler Effect of her voice remains with me for a very long time. Even after I’ve reached the end of the straight tunnel I feel as though I am still hearing a phantom echo of her voice even though her actual voice is out of hearing range.

However, I am yet to understand what she says.  I know a language or two well and I have a sense of how some of the ones I don’t know sound.  I can assign a broad, general region to most of the sounds I hear.  She doesn’t sound like she is from anywhere.  She punctuates her delivery, she uses recognizable inflections but she doesn’t make any sense at all, the words are unearthly.

I am left wondering why.  I wonder what place she calls home.  She isn’t unkempt or noisome.  I wonder why she chose this venue or where she was before.  What’s her last thought as she turns in at night? Does she set the alarm clock for a certain time each morning, not wanting to be late for this unpaid gig at the tunnel? What drives her to do this everyday?  Is she as familiar with the 9:15 am faces that treat her as invisible every morning as some of the ones who only pretend she’s invisible are with her face and her voice?

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