He beckons with what appears to be a friendly smile. I am suddenly apprehensive, wondering if the decision has not been a ghastly mistake. Such always happens when I get this far...the plague of misgivings. A tiny nagging voice from within warns me that I will regret this foolhardy action, assuming, of course, that I live to rue the day. Up until now, I've never failed to prove it wrong. Hopefully, this time will be no different.

Upon a second glance, I realize that the young man's smile is really no smile at all and there is certainly nothing friendly about it. It's a glib evil smirk accompanied by a sadistic glint in the narrowed eyes. He beckons again.

Teetering unsteadily on the verge of panic, I hesitate and consider retracing my steps, but all is most definitely lost. The impatient and restless crowd closes in from every side and there is no alternative other than to go forward. The youth, for he surely cannot be much older than about sixteen, offers one hand in assistance while the other seizes my purse. Everything I own of value nestles inside...the priorities of my entire life packed into one oversized, overstuffed, black canvas tote.

I reach for the items which I always carry when I travel these perilous routes...they are my lifeline to sanity and my link to composure. He shakes his head. "Sorry, you can't take anything with you." I'm horrified, but attempt to remain calm. I trust he understands that I'll want the bag, contents intact, returned when I get back. "IF you get back," advises the inner Doubting Thomas.

I adopt an attitude of exaggerated confidence, hoping the obliging teenager will be deceived and that my feigned air of self-assurance will also hoodwink those around me. Heaven forbid that I should be presumed a "Nervous Nelly!" With a smidgen of luck, I may even fool myself! To my delight, or maybe delirium, I realize the ruse actually seems to be working.

The ordeal begins with a subdued jerk and a vague rumbling somewhere far below. The carefree and illogical half of my brain, tricked into believing there is nothing to fear, is lulled by a false sense of security. On the other hand, the practical half which is nowhere near as gullible, knows better and anxiously anticipates the onslaught.

There are low murmurs and muffled mutterings everywhere, but I refuse to turn and look. My eyes are fixed tenaciously upon the floor and will remain that way until, unable to take it any more, they squeeze themselves blessedly tight and draw a veil across the terror.

I hear shrill screaming and petrified shrieks...most of which hover on the fringe of hysteria. I'm really not surprised since the reaction is invariably the same. Not a whimper escapes MY lips though. I am made of sterner stuff. I gasp with short, quick breaths...snatching oxygen when and where I can. I ponder on the possibility of a fleeting glimpse and then decide against it. Discretion is the better part of valor and, for my own sake, it's wise that I continue in blissful ignorance. After all, what you don't know can't hurt you...can it?

My teeth rattle like ivory dice in a plastic cup and my sense of direction, never a reliable source of reference even when NOT under pressure, is scattered to the wind.

"Purple haze all around, don't know if I'm coming up or down," Jimi croons in my ear...or, at least, he would if I hadn't been forced to leave my trusty Walkman and "Are You Experienced" cassette behind in the confiscated bag. I cling desperately to the one tiny scrap of rational knowledge that consistently sees me through. Nothing lasts forever! I endure...I persist...I will live to fight another day!

With a grinding jolt and the whisper of a mechanically contrived sigh, it is over. A cursory examination reveals that I have emerged whole and everything is still in its rightful place. Not that I ever had any qualms on that score, of course. I am, after all, a seasoned survivor!

I retrieve my purse, which has been thrown carelessly to one side. Apparently, the helpful young man has no time to congratulate me on my triumphant arrival. He is far too busy leading a fresh flock of uninitiated lambs to the slaughter.

The gang cluster round...a pack of sniveling cowards, a bunch of chicken-hearted wimps. "Well?" they ask, eager for every intimate detail of the episode, even though it will be second-hand. I toss my head. "Nothing to it!" I scoff. "Piece of cake!" Then, I wonder why I felt obliged to mention food. Each of my companions is brimming with admiration and in awe of my unwavering nerve. "Now that's what I call spunk," some of them say.

Casually, I blow it off with a nonchalant shrug. "The roller coaster has yet to be built that I can't ride with my eyes shut!" I tell them arrogantly...and ain't THAT the God's honest truth!

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