Chapter 6: The Subway

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Agata sat with Turtle on the N train as it ratcheted out of the tunnel and over the East River into Brooklyn. The train was almost empty, so they both got seats, Agata by the window and Turtle next to her.

He had led her to his regular subway stop and paid for her ticket. Now that they were far from the door in the rock, Agata was noticeably more relaxed.

She was looking out at the city, a small smile on her lips. The rails clattered below them, and somewhere, in the back of the train car, a woman was loudly reading from some kind of political book. She had gotten on at Canal Street and was now reaching a fever pitch, talking about the economy and jobs and the Bronx Zoo.

"Be quiet, already!" someone yelled from across the train, and the woman, her face reddening, went quiet.

"Is that the Statue of Liberty?" Agata asked, pointing to a small green spot on the horizon that was slowly becoming clearer as they came out of the tunnel.

Turtle nodded. "Yep. It's green, which is funny because it used to be golden. The air changed it, basically. We're on the Manhattan Bridge. That's the Brooklyn Bridge, there."

The Brooklyn Bridge looked striking in the afternoon, all spires and cables and dark stone. The styling, Turtle noted, was very similar to the Mytro stations he had seen. Maybe they were made at the same time? The bridge had two large pilings and a span held up by delicate-looking steel ropes, spun, his grandmother had told him, somewhere in Pennsylvania by a man who had become an expert at braiding metal.

"It's a very beautiful city," said Agata. "Barcelona is beautiful, too, but not in the same way. Barcelona is older, definitely."

"I guess New York is pretty. Plenty of people like it, but I haven't really been anywhere else. Why did you come here?" asked Turtle. "I'd never been to New York," she said. "This is my first time on the Mytro. My uncle Ernesto said he had a friend here, so I came." 

"Who is the friend?"

"I will have to check my notebook. A man named Kincaid, I believe. I knew him when I was very small. Uncle Ernesto said if we were separated, I was to come here and find his friend. He would help me."

"Kincaid? And he lives in New York?"

"Yes," he said.

The hair on the back of Turtle's neck suddenly prickled.

"This is totally weird," said Turtle, "but I think I may know the Kincaid family."

"It's a small land," she said, smiling. "Is that right?"

"Small world," he corrected her, but she was already looking out the window, deep in thought.

Agata and Turtle sat quietly for a bit. Turtle thought about the subway they were riding and how it existed—for want of a better word—and how it came to be. And how different it was from the Mytro, the thing that—for want of a better word—did not exist.

"I'm tired of invisible trains," said Agata. "Tell me about New York."

Turtle had read a lot about the subway. He cleared his throat and began to tell Agata about a subterranean world that actually did exist, that did have real tunnels and stations. He told her about the New York subway.

He wasn't sure if Barcelona had a subway (she assured him it did), and so he began telling her what he knew. He told Agata that builders began the first New York line in about 1870 when bankers built a pneumatic tunnel that connected city hall in downtown Manhattan with Murray Street.

"Where's that?" asked Agata. Turtle held up his right hand, his forefingers pointed toward the floor, and pointed to the nail of his middle finger.

"Imagine Manhattan looks like my arm. Up by my elbow is Harlem and Yonkers and down here, by my thumb, is what they call Alphabet City. Down at the tip is downtown. Right where I'm pointing is about where city hall is."

"Downtown is where the towers were?"

Turtle nodded. She seemed to shiver at the thought of the World Trade Center.

"The first tunnel was really short," said Turtle. "It was about 300 feet long, and it was open for only about three years. Way back then most of the city was at the tip of the island and maybe a little bit across the river in Brooklyn. The river was really dangerous, and they had people who would take you by boat over from Brooklyn— where they had farms, way back then—to Manhattan. They had to build a bridge because there were so many boats on the water that lots of people were getting knocked overboard. They built the subway so people wouldn't get smashed under all the horses and carriages that ran through the city back then."

From this tiny seed the subway system grew to a massive 656 miles long with 468 stations ranging from northern Manhattan and the Bronx down to Coney Island. Turtle often sat in his room looking at the subway map and plotting out the fastest and simplest ways to get from his house to distant stations. He had heard that once a kid had ridden all the lines on the subway in a few weeks, riding it through the night and stopping in every single station. His grandmother, who usually encouraged and supported his interests and hobbies, had forbidden him from trying the same trip.

The subways were clean and well lit, although his grandmother told him of times when the trains were covered in graffiti and smelled like a sewer. Now the trains eased into the station, the doors opened, and the announcements played—"Doors closing. Please stand clear of the closing doors"—and the train buzzed off into the darkness with an electric hum.

He was finished by the time they came to 36th Street in Brooklyn, about ten minutes later. "You told me about your trains, so let me tell you about mine," said Agata.

Agata began to speak, her voice low and quiet over the rattle-clack of the wheels on the steel rails. She was a careful storyteller, and she tried to be as thorough as possible. When Turtle began to look confused, she'd back up and start again. He loved to listen to her.

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