A whine rose in Loo's ears from BART trains pulling into the opposite side of the platform. In front of her was a woman with a clear pink umbrella. The plastic resembled a womb. The woman inside it was silent waiting in the crowd for the train. Soon the whine came again like thirty electric wheelchairs racing past. Loo wondered if everyone on board was debilitated in some way. The train stopped, the doors opened. Loo and the others were careful not to touch anything as they entered and sat. No one talked. Albert sat next to her. Eric was across the aisle. His tattoos had the attention of the woman now shaking off her closed umbrella. She’s pretty, Loo thought. The tiny blonde woman wore a black polka-dot dress. The white skin on her sides was exposed. Was she cold? Her eyes were wide as she examined Eric, who himself was anxious. He was watching a man three rows up. Everyone heard his African accent. Loo could see the yellow in his eyes. No blood. No coughing. Was that rain on his face and neck or was he sweating? The man spoke to a child. Told the little girl to leave her coat on, to sit quietly. The man wiped waterdrops from his forehead as the train whined. Cars tugged against cars, rattled against the electrified tracks. The train pulled into another station and Loo's eyes made contact with a BART officer. Used to be those were the people riders feared. No one wanted to be another Oscar Grant shot in the back in Fruitvale, Richmond, Montgomery Street or any other station. No one wanted to be caught by the drug- and- bomb-sniffing dogs. No one wanted to be pushed onto the tracks, crushed by a train or electrocuted. Loo watched the man with the African accent. Did he have a fever? Did his child? Why wasn't the train pulling out? Albert's eyes had that disgusted surprised look. Were they all going to be quarantined? Loo knew what happened at the hospital. Half the time those who were quarantined caught a deadly fever from one of the infected staff or from someone quarantined who actually had the disease. She thought about running. Could she make it to the door, pry it open and get away? She waited for what they all truly feared, those men in the Stage 4 Hazmat suits to step on board, to start fumigating everyone and everything. To drag Loo off to some cavernous yellow room, florescent lights dying and flickering and clothes stripped off, everyone who had just been on the train, scrubbed with painful brushes dipped in a chlorine solution, burning eyes and skin, scraping backs, raping them all together beneath a chemical shower with thick bristles between their legs cutting into thighs.
Everyone was watching the African man. His daughter was completely unaware. She was singing a song in her head. Her hands opened and closed in the air like little butterflies kissing. "I don't have a fever," the man said. "It's been raining, you know?" And then his child sneezed and everyone groaned. Several people left the railcar. "Allergies," he said. "She always does this." Someone asked, Is she ill? It was a concerned voice, a nurturing sound. Oh, no, he reassured her. She hadn't been in contact with those people. “In fact, we are Ugandan. We have our own way of keeping out the disease.” The child sneezed again, leaned on her father.
Albert was watching for the men in the bubble suits to come. Everyone was. Any moment now, Loo thought. People were putting on respirators, rubber gloves, scarves over faces. They were passing extras around. Loo buried her nose and mouth in her coat.
"She is not sick. We are not sick," the man pleaded.
"I want to get off the train," Albert said. He was holding his copy of Narcopolis tight.
Loo tried to hold Albert's hand but he wouldn't let her.
"I don't want to touch anything," he said as if she'd suddenly become the black man with the accent. As if she were the man's child sneezing and bleeding, virus shooting from her pores like artesian wells beneath the subcutaneous layers of skin where infections lurked to breed and expand, to cover the Earth with their wriggling viral molecules.
What are we doing? Loo wanted to scream. Instead she pulled out her journal and started drawing...