This dirty kid’s calling me Daddy, yanking at my shirt so hard it’s untucked now. I’m not your daddy, I say. I’m no one’s daddy. Other passengers dumb-face at a “Are You Beach Body Ready?” ad, play minesweeper or sleep. Whose kid is this? I shout. You hungry? I hold out a pretzel, fat and steamy. The carriage smells like a bakery. Take it, I say, and shut up.
But the kid whips away, starts tracing some misspelled graffiti knifed into the window. He opens his mouth, starts to sing. I want to shake him, slap him—only beggars and urchins sing on trains—but before I can, the carriage spins and I’m the kid. I’m holding out a cup to a trainful of pretty-smelling deaf-mutes who’ve never toed the margins. My legs are lead, my belly burns with need. I’m starving, and the man with the fine suit is stepping off the train with the pretzel.
The wheels below da-da da-da. When I open my mouth to sing, a hand stings my face. I run to the next carriage. I hold out the cup, open my mouth. My cheek reeks of a man’s knuckles, stale tobacco, cheese and sweat. The trembling voice of a forgotten boy warbles out of me. I sing until my throat bleeds, until I pass out. When I wake, my cup is empty, my face pressed against graffiti.
I run a thumb around F then U then K. F then U then K. Fuck the police, I whisper. A man looks up, but you couldn’t pay him to break his well-fed silence. Fuck the police, I say louder, and now the man in the fine suit is back and shaking me, asking me Where’s your father?
The pretzel. I can have it if I disappear, he says. I can have all the food I want if I keep my mouth shut. I reach out, but my hand goes straight through it. Hunger has burned a hole in us. I turn away as the man gives up, gets off the train. I trace FUK the Police over and over as this train rumbles on and I grow again into the man with the fine suit—as starvation morphs to entitlement, and they both feel exactly the same.