24th and Mission

Dan Benbow

It all started when I heard a loud thump while waiting for a nighttime BART train.

I followed my ears to the source of the sound, where I discovered a Latino in his 60s sprawled out, prone, parallel to the bottom of the stairs, with his eyes open.

My first thought was that he was drunk but he gave off no stink of liquor and had a dignified appearance: trim and well-preserved, clean shaven, shiny brown dress shoes, a short-sleeve, open-collared linen shirt tucked into cream-colored, creased slacks.

As someone called 911 and notified the BART station employee, a group of riders stood around the man, concerned. An angelic, nurturing twenty-something woman hunched over him asking questions in English (“Are you ok? Sir? Are you ok?”) while her boyfriend asked the same questions in Spanish in the pauses, all of us hanging on a reply that didn’t come as he stared up at us vacantly, as if in shock, blinking every so often. Setting the small crowd at ease, the woman told us he was alright. Was she a nurse? Pre-med? Something soothing in her manner told us to believe her.

Long minutes passed. To our relief, the man came around a little and offered a few words en Español. We noticed that he had a quarter-sized, blood red circle on the top of his mostly bald head. Had he sustained a concussion? He seemed less than fully present.

As we looked on patiently, the man indicated that he wanted to sit up. Just behind him on the stairs, cheeks to heels, I reached a right hand over to his strong, worn palm, pulling him up while the woman lifted from underneath. Before we got the man all the way up he let go of my grasp and indicated that he wanted to move himself.

Sliding around on the tile, he propped his head up on the first stair and began a conversation in Spanish with the BART employee. Crisis averted, everyone else moved away to the train platforms on either side with still an eye on the man, just in case. As if the universe was telling me my work was done here, the train roared in a moment later, wind tunnel effect blowing my hair back.

Staring through the window as the train pulled away, I saw two paramedics poised over the man, restoring normalcy.