The Rat Race and Smiling Over Spilt Coffee

by : Connie Tsang

As if choreographed and rehearsed the night before, one lays witness to the rumble of heels, a sea of italian-crafted, waxed, buffed and protected from any Act of God footwear, tap-tap-tapping down the staircase: the mesmerizing beat of the damned.

On cue, all eyes dart to the tunnel, shift to the clock display, and as if mistrusting the red numbers flashing on this digital billboard, raise their watches in unison, tilting their rolex faces on an angle so as to blind the few people who dare to look elsewhere. In a heave of a massive sigh, worthy of destroying all sound barriers, they look down at their footwear and see a blemish. Brandishing their Palm Pilots in one hand, and orchestrating life's events with the wand of bad penmanship, they record their thoughts:

Buy Financial Daily. Shoeshine. Check Stocks. Pretend to look busy. Make ten times as much money as those people doing ten times more work than me. Check Stocks. Remember there's a family waiting at home. Make appearance at dinner table. Go to office room. Check stocks. Kiss X goodnight.

The train jets into the station, a cup of designer coffee dislodges from a hand and dies on the platform. A few grimaces surface here and there, yet their hard, solid shoes maintain their ground. Starched blouses and suit jackets, unmoving and defensive. Only a few hairs swagger out of place, licking the air as if it was their first time breathing oxygen. As quick as these strands taste their forbidden fruit, the fiesta terminates:

Insert after shoeshine: Check hair. Gel hair.

And I, as I examine my own hair, dishevelled and marked with split ends, my hand stained with the stamp from the concert two nights ago, my shirt with the gaping rip in the shoulder from a misfortunate accident with a wire hanger, as well as my own feet, swathed in worn canvas casings a la Payless, I watch them collectively board the commuter vehicle, each person's suit jacket spooning another suit jacket, as anonymously and unemotively as possible.

The conductor tilts his head. 'You coming?'

I stand still, watching the occupants of the train, looking off into the distance, as if daring not to blink, daring not to breathe.

'Hey, you! You coming or not?'

'No,' I say, jumping right into the puddle of spilt coffee. 'I've got other plans.'