The day that I almost died, I knew that something was off. As I left my apartment that evening, I felt a stirring in the air. Though I was running late for my dinner appointment, a taxi was out of the question. Along my alleyway, vehicles were backed up with no end in sight. People crammed into cars, trucks, taxis, anything with wheels that would provide them with sanctuary. It seemed that everyone was trying to escape. From what, I had no idea. But something was off. As I walked along, I saw that the sea of cars covering Third Ring Road extended for miles. I knew that getting into a taxi would be no different than sitting and awaiting a deadly fate. So I choose, what I thought in the moment, the lesser of two evils: taking the subway.
Little did I know that I was in fact walking into a deathtrap, that I would soon regret my choice, and that I would face horrors beyond anything I’d ever imagined. At the entrance of the subway station, a crowd of people huddled together, like lifeless zombies, and I pushed to get through them. After struggling through layers and layers of people, I finally reached the escalator, and began my descent. Though I live in a city of 19.6 million, it seemed that there were more people than usual gathered around the station, but I shrugged it off as I rushed to dinner.
As I reached Guomao station and got off to transfer, I began to walk slower and slower, but didn’t notice because I was lost in my thoughts. When I finally looked around me, I was taken aback to find that I had what seemed like a human wall surrounding me closely. Except it wasn’t just a wall, but a sea of people, and they were not out to protect me, but themselves. Nobody made eye contact; their faces were focused forward, and forward they marched. A bottleneck is not adequate to describe what I was walking into. Rather, it was like the entire city was being evacuated, and the only way out was the path I was walking. I felt panic floating right beneath the surface, threatening to explode and destroy those of us not strong enough to withstand it.
The long tunnel to Line 1, which usually funnels a steady stream of people, was like a holding cell for the hundreds, thousands of people who plodded on, step by step. The heat from all the people rose upwards, sideways, and every which way, surrounding me as I struggled for breath. I wanted to run, but was deterred by the human blockade enclosing me. As I neared the front of the tunnel, a couple pushed against the crowd, heading back in the direction we were coming from. Whatever they saw, they didn’t want a closer look. I gritted my teeth and pushed on.
I stepped onto the escalator, rising upwards, and saw masses of people, most of them running down the stairs to get on the next train and get the hell out of that station. I had been fortunate that I was transferring stations, and not entering from Guomao, as a barrier had been set up to prevent additional passengers from coming into the station. Hundreds of other near-panicked people were crammed back to back behind the barrier, the entry turnstiles in sight but just out of reach. Tempers rose, as panic blended into fear, and people began yelling at subway workers to let them in. For the sake of those already inside, I prayed that the workers wouldn’t comply.
The lines to get on the subway were no less swarming than the tunnel I had just survived. It was like we were running away from something, and deliverance came in the form of a subway train. The first train pulled up, and with one helpless glance, I knew I wouldn’t be on it. As the doors opened, almost in slow motion, the passengers inside began the fight to get out. With passengers on my side pushing to get onto the train, passengers coming out fought to avoid a stampede. Their greatest goal was to remain standing. If they fell to the ground, there was no telling what they would look like after hoards of shoes marred their bodies. Though there was an arrow on the ground, indicating that passengers should be allowed off before others got on, the arrow disappeared under the scrambling bodies shoving themselves into the subway train.
As the next train arrived, I braced myself. I held on to the little humanity that I had left and restrained myself from pushing against the arriving passengers. I saw one man, the last one to get off, flail his arms, almost swimming against the human current, a look of desperation in his face, a fear of what would happen if he didn’t keep driving himself forward. I looked back to see him barely escape, just as I was being pushed in from behind. Whether or not I got on that train was not up to me, but the people behind me. I felt myself being lifted from the ground, an almost superhuman force that levitated and then rammed me into the bodies inside. I pushed against the door, trying desperately not to fall out. The doors closed but hit my arms, and reopened. They closed again, and this time I was able to hold myself in, and finally let myself press against them as I watched the faces of those left behind staring at me through the glass.
I didn’t feel safe until we reached Yonganli, the next stop, where I saw through the glass that the crowds had disappeared. Whatever mass panic was building, it stayed at Guomao. What exactly were we running from? What had pushed us to the brink of near self-destruction? Some who survived will tell you that on that day, they were running from the rain. Though they may claim that it was the most intense rainfall anyone had seen in nearly a decade, I believe that the rain merely drove us inside Guomao station, and the struggle to escape was what nearly destroyed us. It was the epitome of every man for himself, and the panic that had been floating near the surface was the warning of what we were capable of doing to survive. Not against nature, but against one another.
Although that evening was not long ago (last night), I often think back on that day, and wonder what would’ve happened if I hadn’t gotten on that train. Was I capable of doing unimaginable things to survive? Would I have even recognized myself in my malevolence? Then, I remember seeing the emptier Yonganli station, free of violence, full of hope. By the time I exited the Andingmen subway station, the rain had stopped, and although it was too late in the evening for sun, the clear sky brought promises of a new day.