“Next Stop” by Victor Wang9 min read

1 comment

Illustration by Anderson Lee

As my thumb hits “decline,” my body is lifted forward by the crowd. From the corner of  Young and Sheppard, we squeeze into the narrow subway tunnels below. 

The stairs leading underground teems with suit jackets and briefcases, the crowd flowing  like a tide. I make sure to stick closely behind the grey suit that towers in front of me. The smell  of their cologne is dark, a mixture of one part mystery and two parts forest pine that coats my  throat. I want to cough. 

I head down the complex system of escalators and tubes and signs. The billboard that  flashes by my head tells me to donate to an important cause, but I don’t remember the number to  call. My shoes quickly tap down the escalator, its default mechanical speed insufficient for the  crowd. 

I hear a subway approaching as my feet land on the platform. I am surrounded by more  suits and briefcases. The tight space takes away my breath, and I stand firm like a statue as to not  disturb the platform’s delicate stillness. My eyes look down at my shoes, aimlessly examining  my dirty laces. The seconds pass like hours. Slowly, I lift my head and scan the crowd nervously.  My eyes land on an old lady, who stands out amongst the crowd, and whose wrinkled eyes stare  attentively into the dark tunnel. She searches through the abyss for the incoming train, a fleeting hopefulness in her gaze as if the subway car might never come. Her lips are pale and sit below  her sunken nose. My eyes shift upwards to reveal a thick winter hat that sits loosely on her head.  To my surprise, she also wears a purple winter jacket, terribly unwarranted for the warm weather  outside these tunnels. In her hands, she grasps tightly onto a box of oranges. A green net wraps  around the container to hold the oranges in place. As wind begins to rush through the tunnel, the  old lady seemingly begins to float away, without a net to hold her. Just in time, the subway car  sputters to a halt, the wind stops, and the crowd squeezes through the closing doors. 

I rush towards a seat that has opened in front of me, and grey suit nearly beats me to the  empty spot. Satisfied, I pull out my earbuds from my pockets, and I lean back into the cold  plastic seat. I pick an upbeat song and pretend that I’m the protagonist of my own Korean drama,  while grey and Tom Ford cologne washes over my senses. 

First stop, ⼀ 

I look to the side to see the old lady from before. She stands pinned against the back door,  her tiny frame unable to fully claim its spot in the compact subway car. If this was a can of tuna,  she would be disintegrating into the thick oil. I want to offer my seat, and I begin to move my  body, but hesitate because my favourite song is about to play. It is the song that my friends and I  listen to when we want to forget the day before and ruin the day after. Last weekend, we listened  to the song on repeat until the following afternoon, just long enough for me to miss family  Sunday dim sum. The subway car hits an unusual bump that nearly sends my body flying upwards — the old lady flies a bit higher. I pause the music with a loud grunt. I enjoy the seat for  one second longer before standing up. 

I make brief eye contact with grey suit, who wears similar earphones to mine. I imagine  that their music is loud, blocking out the mundane and eerie sounds of dark tunnels and  screeching wheels. Grey suit ignores the subway announcements, because they have memorized  their stop by heart, and they know exactly what delays might come. They sit with their backs  contoured against the seat’s curved plastic backing, shaping their silhouette into a slump. They  clutch their briefcase with an uninspiring grip. The ads above their head gives a contact to call  for an all-inclusive trip to some tropical location, but grey suit does not look up long enough to  remember the number. 

“Would you like to sit?” I gesture to the old woman. She smiles at me, but she remains in  her spot. From closer inspection, I see that her fingers are white from gripping the box of oranges  so tightly, as if she is protecting lost treasure. Feeling awkward from her response, I try to return  to my seat, only to find that grey suit has already taken my place. Just as my body threatens to  scream and lash out, I feel the subway car begin to slow its pace and prepare for its eight second  rest at the next station. The announcement sounds to remind the crowd of where the car is headed  on its repetitive, rigid journey. The crowd allows their briefcases to lead the way — out the gates,  up the escalators, through the doors, down the streets. 

Second stop,

The old lady mumbles underneath her breath in unison with the subway announcer. For a  second, she loosens her hold on the oranges, and one sphere nearly falls to the ground. Grey suit  remains in my seat, and I find myself now standing even closer to the old lady. Her hat is not so  warm after all, the yarn threatening to fall apart — it looks homemade. The purple winter jacket  also looks worn at a closer distance, sporting a shiny exterior that struggles to hold its glisten,  like a dying star. I see her arms begin to tremble as if the weight of the orange box has finally  begun to take its toll on her tiny frame, right as we cross between Bayview and Bessarion.  Before I can offer my assistance, the subway car slows down once more, and the crowd shuffles  its way out the sliding doors. 

Her body is moved around by the wave of suits and briefcases, like a grain of sand in a  violent ocean. I see her try to readjust her stance, but her legs betray her and she begins to topple  over. The yellow pole in the centre of the subway car saves her, but a lonely orange sphere flies  out the box in the process. It rolls onto the ground, picking up dust and pebbles along the way.  The space around me clears for a moment, and I lean over to pick up the orange. I hand the  orange over to the old lady, who looks panicked for the first time since we’ve met. She begins to  speak, but her words are silenced by the opposing subway car’s dramatic entrance into the  station. She simply nods at me. She carefully places the orange back into the box, just in time to  catch the next announcement.

She begins to relax her frown as the subway car speeds towards its next stop. I am  surprised to see that she is now looking my way. I look back at her with a few short glances, and  I notice that she looks a lot like my mom, maybe a few inches shorter. They definitely share the  same demeanour, one of incredible caution. In fact, she holds onto the box of oranges with what  my mom would call “mother strength” — strong enough to never let go, but gentle as to not  crush the oranges in the process. For the first time, I wonder where she is headed with her heavy  box, why she would choose to drown in the rush hour subway crowd. I take a deep breath and  speak over the lump in my throat, careful not to startle the old lady: 

“Hello, umm, those oranges look really heavy. Do you need help carrying them?” 

She is startled by my voice, but returns a smile. I open my mouth to speak again, but I  hesitate and wonder if I have made things too awkward. She manages to speak first: 


She smiles as her sentence ends. I want to tell her that I don’t speak her language, but her  shifting arms interrupts my thought. With one hand holding the box of oranges, the old lady  reaches into her pocket to reveal a small printed photo. She turns the photo and shows me. I see a  younger version of the old lady wearing the same purple winter jacket and the same thick winter  hat, though they look much newer than they do now. Beside the old lady is a young man sporting  a similar winter jacket and hat, which are both blue and just as new. Their outfit looks appropriate for the cold, snowy weather in the photo’s background. I nod at her, and she carefully  lowers the photo back into her pocket. I notice a tear streaking down her cheek, quickly  evaporating in the subway’s chilly air. 


She points at the young man in the photo. I begin to open my mouth to ask her questions  about the photo, but the subway car again screeches to a stop. 

Last stop, 三 

As the doors open and one crowd replaces another, grey suit gets up from the seat and  turns towards the door, bumping into the old lady. Her frame threatens to topple over once more,  but this time I am able to catch her. The sudden change in momentum sends an orange toppling  to the ground, and grey suit’s shoes step down on the orange with force. The orange crushes to a  pulp. Grey suit moves away with the crowd before I am able to say anything. My fingers curl  into my palms, and my fingernails dig into my skin. I hate grey suit. 

“I bet it was on purpose!” I shout suddenly, not intending for it to be heard aloud. 没事

She looks at me with a warm smile, and even though I still don’t understand her words,  my heart somehow understands their kind, patient meaning. 


Before the doors can close, the old lady makes her way out of the subway car. I rush after  her, barely avoiding the jaws of the sliding doors. By the time I catch my senses, I cannot see the  old lady and her purple winter jacket anymore. But I know she is somewhere in the crowd of  grey suits, still tightly gripping onto her box of oranges. 

The crowd leads me to the surface. I look right to see an IKEA, a Canadian Tire, and  North York General Hospital. I think about finding the old lady. Instead, I pull out my phone. 

妈妈. No—umm 没事. Do you want to get dinner tonight? I’ve really been craving  some dim sum.”


Victor Wang is a Chinese-Canadian, Montreal-based writer, and an undergraduate student at McGill University in Montreal. He was a culture and sports reporter for the McGill Tribune, and he received the 2019 Pierre Elliot Trudeau High School Writer’s Craft Award. His poetry was recognized in consecutive years from 2016 to 2018 at the Ontario Student Leadership Conference. Victor strives to write poetry and stories that unapologetically project the voices and experiences of people of colour in Canada. In his free time, Victor is also a professional shower-singer, an aspiring songwriter, and a member of Effusion A Capella. 

1 comment

J. Wang 21 June, 2023 - 11:50 am

I like the phrase “mother strength” which may indicate the power that can overcome difficulties and inspire you. Like this short touching story.


Leave a Comment