Recently, on the subway, a little old man walked into our crowded rush hour subway car. He must have been in his nineties, and he was walking very slowly, leaning on his cane and balancing carefully with each step. I stood up to give him my seat. He thanked me in a thick Russian Jewish accent, the kind you don’t hear so much anymore, and then asked me how far it was to Grand Central Station.
I explained to him that it was three stops. I continued to stand by, hovering over him worriedly, wondering how he was going to make it out the door at Grand Central during rush hour without getting knocked over. As we pulled into 33rd Street I told him it was the next stop after this one. He slowly and carefully pulled himself up out of his seat, so he’d have plenty of time to make his move, and I helped him up, holding him firmly by one arm to steady him until he was fully on his feet.
As it happened, a woman got on at 33rd Street, a large black woman probably in her mid forties. She saw this little old man standing there precariously with his cane, and she told him, somewhat concerned, that he shouldn’t get up so soon, he should wait until it was closer to his stop. I told her that I was looking out for him. She said “Oh, are you with him?” And I replied “No, I’m just looking out for him.” We smiled at each other, and she moved on into the car.
A few moments later, still smiling, she turned back toward me and said “I’ll fight you for him.” I laughed and said “Well, we can share, right?” Just then the subway pulled into Grand Central. The woman and I both watched with trepidation as the little old man slowly made his way out of the subway car and onto the platform. While the doors were still open, I saw him ask a young woman in her twenties how to get to the main concourse of Grand Central.
I’m pretty sure the young woman had been planning on boarding our subway car. But instead, sizing up the situation, she said to the old man “I’ll take you there.” As the subway doors closed, I could see her start to walk with him toward the stairs leading up and out of the subway, as he slowly and carefully made his way to the next part of his journey.