After Jonny went in, there were policemen and firefighters. Days later his mother’s church sent a crew and detectives accompanied them into the tunnel. The train line was all fucked up. There were subway announcements and posters like milk cartons in all the five boroughs. Seeing his face everywhere was weird, like he was famous or something.The mayor said things on TV. Church basements trembled with lamentations and prayer and holy ghosts. For a few days, the yellow subway warning line was respected. People shuddered when a shoe was found in the East River, the shoe matched the pair Jonny was wearing that day. A pair of blue and white Air Jordans. But they were the wrong size. Some other kid.
I wish I remembered exactly how it went down. The police asked me for details. Had I seen where he went? Had I seen what happened? Why were we chasing the man into the tunnel? I saw Jonny’s mother at the police station. She gave me a grim smile. I couldn’t tell the police the why part. We just were, I said. That’s usually the answer, isn’t it? We just are.
My parents decided to hold me out off school the rest of the month. They figured it was best I start my summer vacation early.
Sometimes I remember hearing Jonny scream. Sometimes I remember him disappearing into the light of an oncoming train. If I think about it too much, I confuse memory and speculation. Maybe the man we were chasing took him captive. Maybe the rats got him or it was gators. Maybe he never ran in. Maybe we both did, but only I came out.
The building we lived in was big. A lot of families didn’t let their children out of sight for a while. They clutched them tighter. The little pop-up churches were busier than ever. You could hear wailing and devotions and incantations — the ay dios mios and sangre de Cristos rang out into the street. Mom said to avoid walking by them.
I saw Jonny’s mom a few more times, in the building. The last time she had a suitcase in hand and when she noticed me, she shot me the same grim smile. I thought maybe she hated me and gave me one of those smiles people give their enemies. I didn’t know what to think. I still don’t. No one did. I remember overhearing one of the church women who lived on my floor, the kind that can’t help but open their mouths, tell her Jonny had passed on to a better place. She, his mom, looked ready to explode just then, but she held her tongue. Sometimes all people can do is hold on.
Alexandros Orphanides is a New York City-based writer and teacher of Honduran and Cypriot descent . In addition to his fiction and poetry, he writes on political, social and cultural issues with an emphasis on marginalized communities. His work has appeared in NPR, The Huffington Post, Complex Magazine, In These Times, and TruthOut.