I Keep Seeing The Same Faces on the NYC Subway

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Scenes from NYC provides a sensory experience—a collection of vivid imagery, storytelling, and first-hand accounts of the bizarre and brilliant.

 

It took me a year to start seeing patterns in New York City. Once the sensation finally struck me, it arrived with an uncanny tingling in the bottom of my stomach. I was underground.

Suddenly, faces became familiar, double-taking as they passed. Each one left me with the biting suspicion that I knew them from somewhere, but I couldn’t quite figure out where. At first, I’d dismiss it as superfluous—déjà vu, or something. But I remember the first time I knew it was something else entirely.

I stood on the 6 train arms crossed and head down, glancing at the time on my phone. The doors opened and a girl walked on. She drew my attention instantly. I thought I must know her from somewhere; was it college? Her face had this quality, as if her presence were similar to somebody I’d known. The way she wore her hair—in a braid to one side and wrapped in a green bow–looked the same way I remembered.

I followed her with my eyes when she got off at Astor Place; she disappeared down a white tiled hallway. Maybe I saw her on the train before and forgotten. The feeling stuck with me—the way she combed her hair back neatly with her right hand. It was almost like watching a memory.

Days later in Union Square, the funny feeling returned. I walked through the wide-open center, the warm spring air pushed between hordes of people. A man walked by with a brown briefcase that I’d seen before. He wore thick-rimmed glasses and had a full black beard. I knew him. Who was that?

The same day on the subway platform, a young girl walked by carrying a green floral weekend bag over her shoulder. She used to work in my building, I thought. What was her name? Something strange and unique. Her vacant brown eyes looked through me.

And on the train, I saw a boy in an oxford shirt two sizes too large. He held a camera case and a portfolio folder. I recognized the way he blinked—an eyelid closed slightly before the other. I interviewed him at a my old job; his mother worked at a record label and he loved music. We didn’t hire him.

Am I going insane?

We can't be sure...

That night, I met up with my friend Olivia. We leaned against a wooden table by the open window of a candlelit bar below Houston Street—I can’t recall the name of it. They all look that way.

“Do you think I’m going insane?” I asked. Condensation dripped down her beer as she drank.

“We can’t be sure—weren’t you insane already?” she said. I smirked while she looked down at her phone, the white light glowing on her face. A breeze crept through the window.

“Is it possible that I follow the same daily routines as certain people?” I said. She took another moment to look up.

“Um. Possibly. I guess I recognize people sometimes if I’ve met them before or something. Maybe you have apophenia,” she said.

“What’s that?” I said.

“It’s… perceiving patterns in meaningless data,” she replied.

“Can’t we have a conversation without you checking your phone constantly?” I asked. Olivia rolled her eyes and finished her drink, striking her pint glass down with a thud.

“I was reading this quote from a man in the park who feeds pigeons for a living,” she said. “It was interesting. See?” She showed me a photo of a man with a white ponytail, shirtless on a bench.

“Hm, that’s interesting I guess.” I said.

“Ready to go?” she batted her eyelashes.

We walked down a cobblestone street lined with flowering trees—white petals slowly fluttered downward, collecting in piles along the sidewalk. I could see it was time to go home by the way her heels stumbled.

I didn’t tell Olivia, but I felt the same unsettling way about the man whose picture she showed me. I’d seen him before in Washington Square Park last summer, after a job interview.

Who was that?

I know her.

It happened at 51st St. a few days after. It was so strange, but a figure kept appearing in the corner of my eye. An outline of a man. I felt the same déjà vu, yet the figure always ambled away down a crowded hallway or disappeared on the street. Was it the man with the black beard and glasses?

As I arrived at street level in Union Square Park, I saw a woman I knew. She walked toward me with her headphones in and I froze. Was she an ex-girlfriend?

I squinted at her, trying to put my finger on it, but she continued unfazed. This was so bizarre, I thought. I felt compelled to investigate.

So I followed her. I kept a distance of about one-third of a block, stopping to lean against a building whenever she waited for traffic. The way she tucked loose strands of hair behind her ear was uncanny. I continued to move closer to her.

She wore a backpack—where was she going? Maybe she was in school, I thought. My pulse quickened as I drew closer to her, now walking deliberately behind her. If she turned around or glanced backward, I would be had. She would know that I had followed her all this way.

I was within five feet now. My footsteps mimicked hers, careful not to walk too quickly. I felt the urge to nudge her shoulder, though I wasn’t sure what to say. I fixated on the back of her head. My breathing quickened. I extended my hand and reached toward her…

Suddenly, a biker whizzed by my extended arm. He barreled through a red light and nearly crashed into me. I stumbled backwards, catching myself before I hit the ground. The biker swerved and rung a bell repeatedly, cursing loudly as he continued down the street.

When I looked up, she was gone.

 

Feature photo: "The Subway" by George Tooker (1950)
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