by Montana Grae
At nine p.m. on the F train, three boys in jeans and hoodies breakdanced. The tallest of them manned the miniature speakers, while the other two convulsed about the subway car in sync with the tinny pulses of static. As the other passengers sat with heads tilted down at a forty-five degree angle, stares empty, bodies unmoving but for scrolling thumbs, the boys filled the little room with flailing limbs. They filled the air with claps and shouts. Like tiny firecrackers that sparked and popped, filling the place with smoke in their wake.
The boys were young. The smallest had chocolate eyes and cherubic cheeks that betrayed him under his beanie—the kind that remained insistently innocent; the kind you could imagine earned him pinches and coos, no matter how adeptly he imitated the cocky swagger and mouthy attitude of the big boys on the block. The middle boy looked only a little older, but those extra months and days had chiseled away at the softness in his face and rolled down an impassive grate over the windows of his eyes. He approached his breaking seriously, focusing on each trick with total concentration, while the small one whirled without a plan, and the tall one watched and clapped.
We kept our heads down, studiously staring at our screens as the boys pinged and panged about, spinning on heads, swinging on bars, twisting limbs around in profound feats of movement. They danced with the fury of an exorcism, like the devil himself was hot on their heels, shooting bullets at their feet. Like an invisible puppet-master was pulling at their limbs, jerking them to and fro, yanking them into the air like ragdolls. Like robots on the fritz, spitting springs and sparking and turning in frantic circles in an epic electrical meltdown.
And we lifted our heads and watched them. One by one—the exhausted men schlepping home in shabby suits, the equally-exhausted nurses just about to begin twenty-four-hour shifts, the nervous East Village girls tugging on hems, the bespectacled Brooklyn guys fidgeting with the straps of leather messenger bags. We couldn’t help it. They tore through our space like miniature meteors, ripping apart the stillness, kicking through the collective atmosphere of solitude.
And the tall boy watched too. He, who was on the verge of not-a-boy anymore, too old to dance all crazy like that. He, who was tasked with the serious duties of money collecting and clapping out the beat from those busted up speakers. He, who’d already learned how to disappear inside himself like the rest of us. He watched his friends dance and his face morphed into the face of a kid who’s just walked into the Big Top for the very first time. We could see it, reflecting off the glow on his face—that feeling you got when you were little and confronted with a spectacle so huge, so much bigger than anything you’d yet imagined, it straight-up rocked your world. And your heart started pumping and your mind started racing, and elation filled up every empty space left by those little disappointments you’d already begun to accumulate—because you realized that this thing was really happening. And you wanted to scream and cry because now you knew that people rode elephants and ate frothy pink pieces of air and glittered as they strode across the sky, and that meant real life could be—would be—better than your wildest dreams.
And as the tall boy’s foot tapped, our feet began to tap too. We watched the dancers intently, all of us wondering how it must feel to hurl about like that—to fill space with your body and noise and aliveness, without apology. To dance the devil out and defy him with the awe he stole, all those years ago. And we all clapped along, and helped the boys keep the beat.
Montana Grae is a writer living in Brooklyn. (Yes, that’s her real name, and no, she doesn’t know why her parents named her that.) A copywriter by day, her prolific career includes countless odes to shoes, beauty products, and beverages. When she’s not spinning tales about consumer goods, you can find her pursuing a dilettantish spate of hobbies including silversmithery, kickboxing, and mixology—or more regularly running, reading, and observing bystanders in search of fodder for her next fiction piece. More of her words can be found at http://montanagrae.wordpress.com.