J-Term Diary: Commuting in the Philippines

I ride the train to work every day. I’ve always heard that this train is an awful way to travel. But the traffic is so bad. 25 minutes on the train compared to 90 minutes in traffic. How bad could it be?  When I tell people I commute on the train, they say “Wow,” or “I’m sorry,” or “And you survived!” I understand now.

When I enter the train station, there’s a huge mob of people waiting to get on. Instead of a line, we’ve decided to be an amorphous blob. When the train comes—an empty train—everyone rushes madly for the door because they want to get a seat. Fearing that there won’t be room, those in the back push indiscriminately, so that those in the front are squished face-first into the door. It hasn’t opened yet.

Those at the front miscalculated. Now that they are stuck onto the door, they are wiped to the side as the door opens. Like splattered bugs on a windshield. Those in the second row were the smartest of all, and their reward is all the seats. Survival of the fittest is the rule in this world. Old women and children be damned.

In 30 terrifying seconds, we’re all packed in. The scramble to enter was endless waves of pushes and shoves. I can feel those behind me digging into my back, trying to push me into spaces that don’t exist, but what’s most uncomfortable is the realization that I’m pushing too. My arms and legs move unconsciously, crumpling people’s bodies like pieces of paper. I’m smiling.

The doors close, and I realize that the idea of me, the feeling of being something individual and distinct, is gone. I’m only an appendage of a larger, grotesque organism, writhing in pain. My hand is inside someone’s butt. Someone else’s hand, I assume, is inside my own butt. I no longer feel alone.

Two stops later, and the person in front of me—the person whose butt has been occupied by my hand—keeps wiggling and pushing backward, as if there were somewhere for me to go. But he keeps moving backward, my hand moving further and further inside him. I want to scream. “I HAVE NO PLACE TO GO! WHY DO YOU INSIST ON THIS COLONOSCOPY?!?!” But I can’t find my voice. I can feel my consciousness being slowly scraped away from the inside out.

The only thought that gives me peace is that I am just a speck in this miserable universe and his butt is just an infinitesimal hole. In or out. It makes no difference. My life is similarly insignificant and will soon be over. Soon, I will never relive this memory, or this feeling, ever again.

It’s the end of the day. Work is over. Time to take the train.

Robbie Gustafson is a 2L.