The Subway Chronicles
The Brighton Line


By: Zoe Malcolm

One of the pleasures of living in New York City, and especially of living in Brooklyn, is the "Brighton Line," the D/Q Train that runs from the beaches of Coney Island and Brighton Beach, past the boats of Sheepshead Bay, barely scraping the surface of Flatbush, diving under Prospect Park, through Park Slope, and then bursting through Brooklyn cement to hover across the East River, as it rides the Manhattan Bridge and views the glittering metallic silhouttes of Manhattan. This is best viewed on one of those stunningly clear blue mornings of late January, when the winter chill crystallizes the light as it bounces of the river and the buildings. Or just as the sun sets, when Manhattan concrete becomes the playground for purple, pink, and personal reflections. Or perhaps at night, as the dank depths of subway tunnels give way to the artificial lights of Manhattan that shock you with their intensity, their contoured angles, their every-night comfort.

One of the pleasures of riding the D/Q train is seeing young faces light up in sheer delight, shock and incredulity as the train leaves the caverns of Brooklyn and is dazzeled with air, water and sunlight. The expanse of water that stretches from the mouth of the East River to New York Harbour where Governor's Island and the Statue of Liberty rest, and where they are barely noticed, because all the child sees is... light, light light!!! Light from the sky. Light reflecting of the buildings. Light reflecting of the bridges. Light reflecting of the boats. Light relfecting of the water. So much water. And if it is one of those clear cool mornings... Blue blue blue water. Can I drink some? Can I swim some? Can I be some?

The whole world rides the D/Q train with you. You name the country; a citizen is riding this train. You name the language; the words are spoken here. There are the traditionally known New York languages: English, Spanish... wait, what are the traditional New York languages? I can hear, French, or is it Kreyol? I hear Urdu, Arabic, Gujarati, Cantonese, Mandarin, Patois, Russian, Serbian, Croatian, Hebrew, Hindu, Yoruba, Twi, Wolof, Sinhalese, Quechua, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Indonesian, Somali, Amharic. Do I exagerate?

Well, if you don't like to eavesdrop, you can always silently observe the shades of brown and cream, the shapes of faces long, square, round, heart-shaped, with high cheekbones or with high forheads, warm eyes, cool eyes, round noses, sharp noses, straight hair in free fall or wooly hair in free fro. The tired skin of old women with too many bags sitting sullenly after working all night in a sweatshop. Young people improvsing mother tongue with home-tongue with urban tongue. Young adults almost hip, discovering that they can make it and listen to their music, too. Students carrying biology books, mathematics books, business books, portfolio cases. Young men talking to young women. Young women ignoring them, or at least trying to. Elderly men standing gracefully in their worn suits and green shirts. Families brown and salty from a day at the beach; or just plain brown from a day in the park (THE park being Prospect). Kids sitting together zapping away with their Game Boys. Newspaper reading in Chinese, Hebrew, Russian, in The New York Times, The New York Post, and The Daily News, Torah reading, Bible reading, Koran reading, library book reading in Mystery, Romance, Drama, . . . People reading.

One day, after waiting on the platform at the Parkside Avenue station, after daydreaming about the great shade, and the great purple flowers, of a particular tree (which is really three trees) that stretches over the tracks, I borded a D-Train. As I sat down, I noticed a mother with her son and daughter. The children were switching between Spanish and English amongst themselves and only Spanish with their mother. The mother, she was small, very neat, very pretty, hair falling carefully onto her shoulders.
She was quiet. She had no reason to say much. Her children were playing and talking together. They were about eight or ten years old. The boy being a bit older and a bit rounder. They were exploring their section of the train, and even if they strayed into other peoples space, somehow it was not an intrusion. They were good to each other, good for each other. Their joy, their comfort with themselves, their sureness of love and kindness shimmered from their laughter, their talk, their movements, their small touches.

At first, I marvelled at how this mother has had the luck, or the skill, to have had two such caring and joy-filled children. Sibling relationships are rarely so calm. I was enthralled. Then, I realised that I was not the
only one who was entranced by them. The mother and her children were sitting directly opposite me. To the left of them, an old, skinny, wrinkly-smooth, grey haired black man in faded clothes was leaning against the train door and holding onto one of the vertical metallic bars, watching.

And as I watched him watch the children, I saw his face glow with the longing and the knowledge of love in the hands of children. And as he smiled wide and silent, tears appeared... shimmering on his cheeks. He made no move to wipe them. He did not even notice them. He just held onto this pole, leaning his tear-wrinkled face closer and closer, and glowed.

The family did not notice him.

I wondered if he knew where his grandchildren were. I wondered if he knew where his children were. Or if he had any of either. And I wondered, if any children had come to him, climbing up his knees and pulling on his hair. I think not. I think he misses them. I think he is alone. I think he knows love when he sees it. Perhaps too late.

Note (coutesy of an MTA friend): Currently, the D/Q Service doesnt exist under the same name, or under the exact same route due to construction on the Manhattan Bridge. Instead there is the Q-diamond and Q. Also, the original Brighton Line was a steam surface ralilroad that went between
Brighton Beach and Prospect Park. As far as I am concerned, as long as there is a train that goes through Brooklyn and over the Manhattan Bridge, that is all that matters.

Malcolm is a British-American-Caribbean woman, approximately 27 years old. She currently resides in London, but spends lots of time in Belgium, where her partner is and where they will soon buy a house. She lived in NYC for 14 years, including 4 years at University.