Agata sat with Turtle on the N train as it ratcheted out of the tunnel and over the East River, into Brooklyn. The train was nearly full, although it would soon be rush hour and the entire system would be packed. Now, luckily, they both got seats, Agata by the window and Turtle next to her.
He had led her to his regular subway stop and paid for her ticket. Now that they were far from the door in the rock, Agata was noticeably more relaxed.
She was looking out at the city, a small smile on her lips. The rails clattered below them and somewhere, in the back of the train car, a woman was loudly reading from some kind of political book she had with her. She had gotten on at Canal Street and was now reaching a fever pitch, talking about the economy and jobs and the Bronx zoo. “Be quiet, already,” someone yelled from across the train and the woman, her face reddening, nevertheless went quiet.
“Is that the Statue of Liberty?” she asked, pointing to a small speck on the horizon that was slowly becoming clearer as they came out of the tunnel.
Turtle nodded. “That is. It’s green, which is funny because it used to be golden. It rusted, basically. We’re on the Manhattan Bridge. That’s the Brooklyn Bridge, there.”
The Brooklyn Bridge looked striking in the afternoon, all spires and cables and dark stone. The styling, Turtle noted, was very similar to the Mytro stations he had seen. Perhaps they were made at the same time? The bridge had two large pilings and a span held up by delicate looking steel ropes spun, his grandmother had hold him, somewhere in Pennsylvania by a man who had become an expert at braiding metal.
“It’s a very beautiful city,” said Agata. “Barcelona is beautiful, too, but not in the same way. Barcelona is flatter, definitely.”
“I guess New York is pretty. Plenty of people like it, but I haven’t really been anywhere else. Why did you come here?” asked Turtle.
“I’d never been to New York,” she said. “This is my first time on the Mytro. It was the only place I thought to go. My Uncle Ernesto said he had a friend here, so I came.”
“I will have to check my notebook. A man named Kincaid, I believe. I knew him when I was very small. He said if we were separated I was to come here and find his friend. He would help me.”
“Kincaid? And he lives in New York?”
“Yes,” he said.
The hair on the back of his neck suddenly prickled. Kincaid? Could it be the twins’ uncle? They had said they learned about the Mytro from him.
“This is totally weird,” said Turtle. “But I think I may know the Kincaid family.”
“It’s a small land,” she said, smiling.
“Small world,” he corrected her, but she was already looking out the window, deep in thought.
Agata and Turtle sat quietly for a bit. Turtle thought about the subway they were riding, how it, for want of a better word, existed, and how it came to be. And how unlike it was from the Mytro, the thing that, for want of a better word, did not exist.
“I’m tired of invisible trains,” said Agata. “Tell me about New York.”
Turtle had read a lot about the subway. He cleared his throat and began to tell Agata about a subterranean world that did exist, that did have real tunnels and stations. He told her about the New York subway.
He wasn’t sure if Barcelona had a subway (she assured him it did) and so he began telling her what he knew. He told Agata that builders began the first New York line in about 1870 when Alfred Ely Beach built a unique pneumatic tunnel that connected City Hall in Downtown Manhattan with Murray Street.
“Where’s that?” asked Agata. Turtle held his right hand, his forefingers pointed towards the floor, and pointed to the nail of his middle finger.
“Imagine Manhattan looks like my arm. Up by my elbow is Harlem and Yonkers and down here, by my thumb, is what they used to call Alphabet city. Down at the tip is downtown. Right where I’m pointing is about where City Hall is.”
“Downtown is where the towers were?”
Turtle nodded. She seemed to shiver at the thought of the World Trade Center.
“The first tunnel as a really small,” said Turtle. “It was about 300 feet long, and it was open for only about three years. Way back then most of the city was at the tip of the island and maybe a little bit across the river in Brooklyn. The river was really dangerous and they had people who would take you by boat over from Brooklyn, where they had farms, way back then, to Manhattan. They had to build a bridge because the boats on the water were so dense that lots of people were getting knocked overboard. They built the subway so people wouldn’t get smashed under all the horses and carriages that ran through the city, back then.”
From this tiny seed the subway system grew to a massive 656 miles long with 468 stations ranging from northern Manhattan and the Bronx down to Coney Island. Turtle often sat in his room looking at the subway map and plotting out the fastest and simplest ways to get from his house to distant stations. He had heard that once a kid had ridden all of the lines on the subway in few weeks, riding it through the night and stopping in every single station. His grandmother, while encouraging in her support of his interests and hobbies, had forbid him from trying the same trip.
The subways were clean and well lit although his grandmother told him of times when the trains were covered in graffiti and smelled like a sewer. Now the trains eased into the station, the doors opened and the announcements played – “Doors closing. Please stand clear of the closing doors” – and the train buzzed off into the darkness with an electric hum. Before, back in the seventies, the trains were wildly dangerous. A blind man who navigated the subway without a cane once told him that they had installed steel plates by the doors to prevent chain snatchers. It still smelled like a sewer, he had said, but it smelled less like a sewer that a million people were using all at once and more like a place where you had a few accidents.
He was finished by the time they came to 36th street in Brooklyn, about ten minutes later. “You told me about your trains, let me tell you about mine,” said Agata.
Agata began to speak, her voice low and quiet over the rattle-clack of the wheels on the steel rails. She was a careful storyteller and she tried to be as thorough as possible. When Turtle began to look confused she’d back up and start again. He loved to listen to her speak.
As they rode deep under the city, Turtle learned the story of the Mytro.