This is the second and concluding part of the new, short fiction, The Subway, which began in last week’s post. Our narrator discovers something about her friendship with Cindy and about herself as the subway drama plays out.
‘I don’t have my phone’ I stammered. What an idiot I was! One or two of the bystanders trotted past me, back up the steps, phone in hand and I gazed after them, feeling like the last runner in a marathon to arrive at the finish line.
The heroic coffee shop woman had the homeless person on their back now, covers off and she was pumping away on his chest as she knelt there amidst the grime and filth.
‘What can I do?’ I asked her and she told me to go and look out for the ambulance. The subway was becoming crowded now as more spectators gathered to watch the spectacle of fragile life hanging by a desperate, dangling thread. As I climbed back up, I could hear her scalding the rubber-neckers as she pumped away, telling them to keep out of the way.
It seemed like a whole day of waiting, standing in the rain, straining for a sight or sound of the ambulance and it was a long time, too; but at last, the vehicle came careering around the roundabout, sirens wailing, pulled up and issued two paramedics. I led them down the steps and the hoard of onlookers parted like The Red Sea. The heroic coffee shop lady was still doing press ups on the man’s chest, which was astonishing given that the ambulance had taken so long. They did their stuff, the paramedics, checking the man over, giving him oxygen then manoeuvring him into a wheelchair before lifting the chair up the steps and into the ambulance. They closed the doors and one had a word with the woman who’d helped him. We watched the vehicle depart.
‘He’ll be alright, I think’ she said. The onlookers had dispersed and the rain was ebbing.
‘You were amazing,’ I told her.
She laughed. ‘Tell you what- my coffee will be cold by now, so why don’t you come and join me in the café.’ I looked at her then. I hadn’t had a chance to before. She was about my age, I judged, but with grey hair and no make-up, not glamorous, just a pleasant smile. I was soaked and she had grubby stains on her jeans but I followed her back inside the café, which was now almost empty of customers, as most had been outside spectating. The café staff were kind enough to offer us towels to blot the worst of the wet from ourselves.
We settled at a table and introduced ourselves. Greta, she was called. I asked her where she’d learned about first aid.
‘I used to work for the Red Cross before I retired,’ she said. ‘That was a while ago but every few years I get myself on a refresher course. It comes in handy sometimes. There’s nothing to prevent anyone from learning a few basic life-saving skills. You could do it, too, if you wanted.’
I shook my head. ‘I’m hopeless in emergencies. I can organise things ahead of time but when I’m faced with a crisis, I’m no good at all.’
She leaned across the table. ‘That’s not true, though, is it? You took control out there. You did what you could then went for help. It’s much more than most people would do. All those gawpers just stood there.’
We talked. I discovered that she also lived alone and that she loved to visit new places, although sometimes found it difficult to find companions to travel with. We had a lot in common, Greta and I, including walking, theatre, cinema, cooking and literature. Before we left the café, we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses and made tentative arrangements to visit the cinema in the following week.
My head was full of the mornings events and it was only as I turned into my street that I remembered Cindy. Not only was I now impossibly late but I was without biscuits. As there was no sign of her pink Fiat in the road, I had to assume she’d given up waiting and left. She’d be angry, I thought.
I could hear my phone screeching as soon as I opened the front door and as I picked it up, I counted the text messages- eleven. Eleven! And five missed calls. I turned the phone off and went to change my clothes, then sat at my laptop and Googled ‘first aid courses’, of which there were several I could sign up for.
Later in the evening I read a few of the messages, the first couple concerned then morphing through irritation and on to anger at being left waiting. When I rang her, she said she’d been worried about me, that I’d been in an accident. I explained everything but it was a mistake to mention Greta. She became very cold when I described our conversation over coffee.
‘You went for coffee with this…this stranger, when I was waiting outside your house?’
‘I’m sorry, Cindy. A lot happened. I just forgot.’
‘You forgot? What about our holiday planning?’
There was a pause while I thought of what to say. I felt calm, detached. ‘Cindy,’ I said. ‘I don’t think I’ll be coming on holiday now. I’ve just signed up to go on a first aid course. I won’t mind if you want to take someone else though.’
There was a further pause. ‘Oh, don’t you worry,’ she spat. ‘I’ll be taking someone else for sure.’ And with that, she hung up.
That was the last I saw of Cindy, except from afar when she was browsing the make-up counter in Boots and I was searching for crepe bandages. I went to see a film with Greta and we’ve been on a few walks since. Now we’re talking about doing a weekend in Devon with a walking group. I’ll take my first aid kit, of course- you never know what’s around the corner!
Many thanks for visiting and taking the time to read my fiction. For the next couple of weeks Anecdotage will feature more short stories, then will return to travel tales.
Grace is the alter ego of novelist and short story writer, Jane Deans. To date I have two published novels to my name: The Conways at Earthsend [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Conways-at-Earthsend-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B08VNQT5YC/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2ZHXO7687MYXE&keywords=the+conways+at+earthsend&qid=1673350649&sprefix=the+conways+at+earthsend%2Caps%2C79&sr=8-1 and The Year of Familiar Strangers [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Year-Familiar-Strangers-Jane-Deans-ebook/dp/B00EWNXIFA/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2EQHJGCF8DSSL&keywords=The+year+of+familiar+strangers&qid=1673350789&sprefix=the+year+of+familiar+strangers%2Caps%2C82&sr=8-1 Visit my writer Facebook page [https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=jane%20deans%2C%20novellist%2C%20short%20fiction%20and%20blog or my website: https://www.janedeans.com/