I’m on the subway and–though I’m ashamed to admit it–I’m afraid the woman next to me has swine flu. Since she sat down two stops ago, she’s been wheezing, each breath rasping with a sound like ripping fabric. Periodically she sneezes, sending tiny particles of spit into the air.
I inch away on the hard plastic seat until I can’t go any further. Now I’m intruding on the space of the man on my other side, who eyes me with alarm.
Like me, he’s probably thinking that every surface around us is coated in germs–after all, yesterday Vice President Joe Biden warned his family to avoid enclosed spaces because the risk of swine flu, also known as the H1N1 virus. “I would not be, at this point, if they had another way of transportation, suggesting they ride the subway,” Biden said.
It’s true that if I could afford a car, I wouldn’t be here, inhaling the tired, possibly polluted breath of strangers. I’ve taken public transportation every day for years, but now that phrases like “pandemic potential” have been tossed around, things seem different. As I go down the steps into the warm, damp subterranean air, I want to hold my breath.