I sat down in the only empty seat in the middle of the compartment, dropped my tote bag near my feet and settled down to read the newspaper on the tube ride home.
I had the paper open, directly in front of my face and was reading quite attentively, when I felt a tap on my left shoulder. It was the guy next to me asking in a concerned tone, “Excuse me, is that your bag?”
I was convinced he was referring to my black tote bag on the floor but I folded the paper to have a look anyway. I became mildly anxious when I found that he was referring instead to a white plastic bag, inside which I could see the top of a black shoe box. Beside it, outside the bag, was another blue shoe box.
Since it wasn’t mine, we asked the two women seated across from us and they both said it wasn’t theirs either. One looked calm while the others face betrayed her nervousness. But at that point, we were all in a state of paralysis, unsure what to do next. The train was barreling through the tunnel, the white bag didn't belong to anyone and we were the four closest to it.
I think we may have all gotten off the train at the next stop if the guy next to me, the one who tapped my shoulder to begin with, hadn’t done a brave and stupid thing. He stuck his hand into the white plastic bag and fully opened the partially open black cardboard box. It was empty. Then he did the same with the blue box and thankfully that too was empty. We all heaved a huge collective sigh of relief and in our heads, cursed out the person who had thoughtlessly left the skeletons of their shopping behind.
With the passing of the crisis, I went back to my newspaper. But this time I found myself reading and re-reading whole paragraphs before they made any sense because my mind was terribly jumpy after the earlier jangling of the nerves. Even so, I persevered, trying to focus and read very consciously. But as if one scare wasn’t enough for one evening, I suddenly experienced, what felt like an someone angrily and violently punching my newspaper, making it fall out of my grasp, to lie crumpled on my lap.
I looked up to find a woman trying to squeeze out of the compartment even while apologizing to me, because it was probably her hand or her bag that hit my paper by mistake. But the suddenness of it, compounded with the earlier scare, had caused my heart to shoot straight into my mouth. I was in no mood to be mollified and gave her the coldest narrow eyes and a deep scowl.