East-West Blue Line, Eastbound
He bolts through the automatic gates as soon as they open wide enough, sprinting down the steps, not too fast as to draw attention, but just fast enough to catch the train whose horn he heard signaling it’s loud and much anticipated approach.
Landing on the platform, Thoth saw that not only was the train not arriving yet (and him somehow hearing a horn meant he must’ve been losing his mind), but it wouldn’t even be at the station for another 20 minutes.
Damn, he thought to himself, grimacing at the half lit sign advertising the upcoming train times. It wouldn’t take that long to identify him as the desperate lowlife who had just an hour earlier snatched a yellow suede bag out of a slow moving elderly woman’s hands, her shrill screams for help chasing him as he ran down the street from MLK Boulevard, bursting through the entrance doors of Underground Atlanta, down the escalator, through the tunnel, into the station and through the gates. He was pretty sure a five foot ten tattoo covered white guy with long red locs, hazel eyes discolored with bruises, and a split lip wouldn’t be too hard to spot in this crowd, and quickly raised the hood of his jacket over his throbbing head in an attempt to seem inconspicuous amongst the gathering crowd of riders.
Making the physical pain worse was the guilt he felt for robbing the old woman. He didn’t want the credit cards, or i.d., or anything like that – he just needed the cash, and dropped the purse on the sidewalk as soon as he had what was sought in hand.
He just had to make it home by any means necessary. He hadn’t missed a night at home since his mother, Summer’s, cervical cancer diagnosis last year, and he wasn’t going to start now. No matter if he had a last minute meeting with his boss, Ezriel, or if he had to make a coke run to Buckhead for his cousin Junior, he always, always, made it home by ten to sit with ma, eat a late dinner, and listen to her talk about her day. It was the least he could do, he figured, as a former juvenile delinquent son to a mother in the advanced stages of losing her life at far too early an age to fathom. That, and the quick and large amounts of cash earned – to use the term loosely – through the lifting of jewelry, art, and other precious valuables with nimble fingers from the palatial mansions of some of the wealthiest areas of Atlanta.
He always took at least forty percent of his commission and stuffed the rubber band wrapped bills in her purse while she was distracted with watering her plants, or fixing him a plate of food. She never mentioned the money or questioned where it came from, but every night when he would show up, she would have a new ceramic dog ornament, or some new houseplant, cheap stuff. Which meant she wasn’t spending any of it. And what she was doing with it, he had no idea.
But right now he had to focus on getting his night back on track. The past two hours had gone horribly wrong. Like most unsuspected ill fated nights, circumstances started out like any other. He’d left Ezra’s condo just after sunset, the glaring moon already looking down on him, providing more visibility than even the street lamps. He walked briskly through cool evening winds, heading from the art gallery dotted Castleberry district towards the Garnett train station.
Distracted by the last minute search for his fare card, he didn’t take notice of the six figures, clothed in all black (faces included, courtesy of ski masks), approaching him from all directions. By the time he lifted his head it was too late, and two bodies, one tall and one small, were rushing at him with fists balled. Thoth made a swift right move and swung his left arm around to make forceful contact with the eye of the taller of the two, leaving the at least five foot eleven masked figure stumbling back into his partner. Suddenly, a muscular arm wrapped around his neck, pulling him down to the ground, and allowing two more from the group full range to offer a rain of blows and kicks to his face and body. His life experiences having trained him to never travel unprotected, Thoth managed to reach his arm underneath to the back of his sweater to grab the nine he always carried in that spot. Pulling it out and around, the assailant holding him by the neck caught a glimpse of moonlight bouncing off shiny steel and quickly let go, letting Thoth’s body hit the ground.
Also just taking notice of the cold metal in his hand, the others backed up, giving Thoth a chance to stand up and aim at the now apprehensive targets, seemingly frozen in fear, or maybe just adrenaline fueled anticipation.
From what Thoth could tell, each masked man must’ve been aged anywhere from fifteen to early twenties. Being that each was covered, it wasn’t anything physical that led him to come to that conclusion. It’s just that, the way he figured, it would be much easier to talk six young men to attack someone without firepower in hand. Someone older, or more experienced, would have known to be carrrying.
He saw how wrong his assumption was, when he at that moment felt the press of a barrel against the side of head, directly above his right ear.
One of the taller figures stepped forward cautiously, hands up and palms out. “Look man,” he tried to reason, in a raspy, not at all youthful voice. “We don’t want to come to blows. Just give us the money.”
Thoth’s mind instantly went to the fifty five hundred dollars cash in his front jacket pocket, ill gotten gains from a generations old china dishware set, taken to Ezriel and boosted at maximum value.
“My right jacket pocket,” Thoth growled, now just ready for this whole shoddy robbery to be over with already. The marauder currently holding his cranium hostage swiftly jutted his hand into Thoth’s front jacket pocket, grabbed the cash, and blended back into the shadows of night with his fellow brothers of mayhem following his cue, all taking off in the different directions from which they emerged.
And Thoth was now left bruised, broke, and wandering the streets of Downtown Atlanta, wrapping his mind around a new scheme to get home.
Pacing back and forth, keeping to the far end of the platform with his hood raised to keep his anonymity intact amongst the steadily growing crowd of riders, a growing cloud of thoughts was gathering in Thoth’s already scattered mind. How did the attackers know about the money in his pocket? If they were sent by someone why send six bodies? But, of course they were sent; how else would they have known to approach him at the location that they did? Almost as if he was being watched. Who could be watching him walk from Ezriel’s loft to the station?
He shook his head, seemingly trying to shake loose all of the non-answers filling his psyche, and unattaching himself from the playback of the last few hours at the same time. Sticking his hands deep into the pockets of his scuffed and torn sweatpants brings the realization that somehow, throughout the melee, he managed not to lose his phone. One text from Junior: Hey cuz you coming this way? He didn’t even have the patience to respond; he would just deal with Junior later.
Using his phone to keep himself distracted with social media and have an excuse to keep his head down, out of the corner of his eye, a swath of light, billowy, bright yellow fabric caught his eyes, not only his mom’s favorite color, but fanciful and eye catching enough to prompt him to look up. Slowly raising his head, he sees that the animated, sunny piece of fabric is part of the hem of a long flowy dress, topped off with a denim jacket, and worn by a woman with the most beautiful face Thoth had ever seen in his 33 years.
Almond shaped chocolate brown eyes in a perfect oval face of smooth bronze skin. She was looking down at her phone, and smiling the most gorgeous pink lip-sticked smile, a smile that incited Thoth to stare without him realizing it. Shiny black curls pulled into that top bun hairstyle all the girls wore these days. But on her, it looked more like a regal crown.
Feeling his stare, she jerked her eyes towards him and did a double take; the first look annoyed, the second- confused? Surprised? He couldn’t tell. It was enough to make him look away and pretend he was really surveying the station atmosphere, and not her.
She looked back down at her phone, and turned her five-foot-six frame in the opposite direction, leaving Thoth to have the back of her head as his new view. But he didn’t care about what could be perceived as rudeness. He had to talk to her. Something, anything. Quick, Thoth. Think! He admonished himself in his head, about how he could concoct a plan in thirty seconds to shuffle valuables unseen and unheard out of at least five houses a night, but somehow had forgotten how to talk to a woman.
Maybe because there were no words. Still gazing at the back of her head, then the side of her face, all he could hear was music. Songs running circles in his mind, first a cluster of indecipherable notes, then singular lyrics, slowly forming into full pieces. Prince, Adore. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hard To Concentrate. Justin Bieber, Baby. Wait. Justin Bieber? He chuckled and shook his head. I must be lovestruck. But what the hell do I say to her? He raised his hands to his throbbing and bruised face, trying to assess how bad the damage was without use of a mirror. That’s it! I’ll ask if she has a compact mirror or something I can use, women always have those in their purses.
Walking towards her, all the courage he had left from the night seeped out of him, turning his legs into lead weights and slowing his pace. By the time he reached her, he couldn’t believe his hands were actually shaking.
He straightened his stance, pulled down the hood of his jacket, and cleared his throat. “Um, excuse me, miss?”
She had in earphones, so she was either ignoring him, or she really couldn’t hear him, because Thoth got no response.
He decided to go for broke and be more aggresive. “Excuse me, miss?” he repeated, louder this time and following with a light tapping on her shoulder.
She angrily lifted her head up and around, giving him a glare that could spark a fire. “Don’t you know it’s rude to touch people you don’t know?” she snapped, inching away.
“Look,” he protested. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to- I wasn’t trying to-” He stopped and sighed. It occured to him just at this moment that he really didn’t have the energy to debate some woman over a mistake in judgement, no matter how beautiful. But he also got jumped in a six to one fight, robbed, and almost got his head blown off, so he also wasn’t in the mood to take anybody else’s shit, again, no matter how beautiful.
“I was just gonna ask if you had a mirror I could use,” he fumed angrily back. “Not everybody is interested in your damn personal space like you think.”
At that very moment, a horn blasted into his ears, signifying the arrival of the train, and putting an end to this mini debate over ego.
The beautiful, irritated girl didn’t say another word, turning to walk and get onto a train car as far away from him as possible.
Thoth boarded, wishing she had chosen his car, so he would have had the chance to apologize…