I see an old black comb missing most of its teeth. A recently discarded bottle of Ensure. Something that looks like piece of a Kraft cheese single. A dash of movement, unless the dim light is playing tricks on my eyes. A crumpled copy of today’s Express, a tube of chap stick missing its cap, and a sad torn balloon. Another blur of motion, this time, much closer.
With my eyes closed, all I can hear is the buzzing of a poorly maintained electrical system. As I open them, I see an Orange line navigational pillar; its entire surface marred by incoherent graffiti. The DC Metro is an odd place. Everything is filthy, yet remarkably uncluttered.
I pace up and down the platform, dangerously near the edge. I remember fearing the fall as I child. Now it seems like nothing more than a very large step. I pass dozens of people who are completely absorbed in not paying attention to anything. My eyes are fixed on the dark area below. The tracks are home to all sorts of weird things, including some that are alive.
I’ve seen mice running around down there before. I’m even convinced I once saw a small dog, but it very possibly could have been a large rat. I imagine a world of adventure down near the electrified third rail; a place where the mice have a society, Secret of NIMH style, living off of the offerings of the bipedal gods who come and go in the world above.
It’s probably a lot grosser than that down there. It is hard to tell if it is black just because of the low light, or because it is covered in an unbroken layer of grime. As I approach the end of the platform, I stop to look down the empty tunnel. I can see a light about 200 yards away, but have no idea what it is illuminating or why. I have to fight the urge to push the “No Trespassing” gate open, just to explore the tunnel further.
The electrical buzz continues, but now I can hear the footsteps and conversations of hundreds of people switching trains. They pass each other. No eye contact is made, if it can be helped. As soon as a train pulls up, the station clears. I’m left standing with a handful of people who either missed the last train, or are waiting for something else.
The overhead sign lets me know my train will arrive in 16 minutes. At this hour, the trains are few and far between, the riders less kempt and more exhausted. No one says a word. The mice suddenly feel like great hosts.
The DC Metro is about to go to sleep. As soon as my train pulls out of the station, there won’t be a single person to see what goes on.
Do they turn off the lights?
Do the mice come out to play?