“Dear Daan-san, welcome to New York, my second home. You have good memory. My first visit was 8 December 1980. When John Lennon was killed, I only knew when I arrived in New York on that day, and my acquaintance living in New York took us to the site of the incident in snowy day. My family in New York are pleased to see you, of cource. Actually my first daughter and her husband bought a house in Long Island a few months ago. They will be in touch soon.
Oops. Have to go to conference now.
This is one of those nights big stories entwine. With my heart in my hands, I rush down Jefferson station. Downstairs, the train is waiting for me with doors wide open. Red lights turn on and the sheriff’s already buzzing through the speakers. I’m about to miss it – I run. Downstairs, a Hispanic mother with stroller opens the emergency door for me and a man in a black leather jacket. Out of breath, we make it into the wagon.
Something is wrong. The train doesn’t leave.
A short and dark heavyset man with green eyes keeps his right foot between the doors. His bluejeans are torn. Two doors down there’s another man – white, in shape, shaved – also blocking the doors. Red lights go on, but the two won’t let the train leave.
The man with the snake eyes pulls out his wallet and flashes a badge at me and the man in the leather jacket. He beckons us. The train leaves without us. “ID”, he snaps at us. My heart beats. Not out of fear but excitement. This is about to be interesting. The cop – if that is what he really is – isn’t black nor white. He’s rugged dark. The younger cop shuffles up and everything about him tells he’d rather be somewhere else.
“What is this?”, he asks when I show him my ID.
“I am a Belgian citizen”, I state with an air of diplomacy.
“Give that to me”, snake eyes commands. He inspects both of our IDs over and over again. The station is empty. Minutes pass.
“Sir?”, the man in the leather jacket asks. He’s older, scruffy and hip – in a good way.
Snake eyes doesn’t respond.
“This here is an unlimited card. It means I already payed for this ride. It doesn’t really matter whether I scan it before coming in or not, I’ve already payed for the month.
Bad cop doesn’t react a bit.
“Yes, here’s mine”, and I also flash my unlimited card.
“This is a subway station”, the cop states without looking up, “what does that mean?”
“It means it’s a station where you take trains. When you want to take the train, what do you do?”
“You pay for it. Right? Nothing is free. You think you’re special?”
“No. But that’s exactly the point: I have an unlimited card so I already payed.”
“It doesn’t work that way”, snake eyes continues like a school teacher – much to the disliking of his colleague, “to pay for a train, you swipe your card and money is deducted from your card.”
“Not when it is an unlimited…”, the man tries.
“If you don’t swipe you didn’t pay. Which is a punishable crime.”
It’s silent again. Bad cop keeps on looking at our IDs.
“What’s the penalty for this crime?”, the man asks.
The cop doesn’t look up and doesn’t answer. “I’m going to the other side.” White cop, clearly annoyed by the cockiness of his colleague, turns around and leaves. “Go stand over there”, bad cop commands, pointing at the fence near the exit, “and keep your hands where I can see them.” Is he going to put cuffs on us? “Here”, I ask. The directions weren’t all too clear. The cop smiles in a mean way and shakes his head.
“When you come into the subway, you swipe your card, which deducts money from your card. If you don’t do that, no money is deducted so you didn’t pay for your ride. Which is a punishable crime.”
“What is the penalty for this crime?”, the man with the hat asks.
The cop doesn’t look up and doesn’t answer.
“We do have unlimited cards”, I repeat, waving my metro card, also to no avail.
“I’m gonna go to the other side”, the white cop says, clearly annoyed by the cockiness of his colleague.
“Go stand over there”, the dark cop says, pointing at somewhere near the exit, “and keep your hands where I can see them.” Much like school kids, the man with the beige hat and I saunter to the side of the platform, close to the black bars. “Here?”, I ask. His directions weren’t very clear. The cop smiles and shakes his head in an mocking way.
Silence, again. The next train slides in. I can run, but he’s wearing a gun. Am I exaggerating? I can’t tell. The train leaves. I expect cops in uniforms running down these stairs any minute. Bad cop is shorter than us. Bit obese. The two of us can overpower him. Easily. Bad cop pulls out his phone – samsung with a broken screen. Burn marks. He copies our names on what appears to be google. Is this a joke?
“Can we know what’s going to happen to us?”, I ask.
No answer. I look at my fellow prisoner. He shrugs.
“What is it you’re doing now?”, I ask again.
“Checking if there’s a warrant for your arrest. If there is, I call a car. If you’re clean, I’ll let you guys go. I’m not the fine-type of person.” He’s being conciliatory now. Almost befriending. Still typing, he spots two tall black kids across the platform. Holding a basketball, in sportswear. Teenagers. “Look at those guys”, he grunts with a mean grin, “I can see from here they didn’t pay. Gotta hurry. Gotta get them. Excuse me for a second. You guys are free to go.”
While we see him running up the stairs, the next Manhattan-bound train arrives. Through the window I see the dark cop making for the kids. Another metallic train blocks the view on what happens next. “That wasn’t too bad now was it?”, the scruffy man with the leather jacket says, “those guys could have done to us what they wanted. I hope you’re not carrying weed.”
“No. Are you?”
“Just a bit. I guess we got lucky this time.”
I am on my way to Manhattan, as if nothing happened.