"A Cruel Twist of Fate" by Keira Hadlich
James Bowery didn’t believe in Fate, or God, or any other mystical force that theoretically controlled the universe. No, James Bowery was a math guy through and through. He woke up, walked to school, taught highschoolers and then took the subway home. Everyday. That was his life.
June Jackson loved everything about the way she lived. She was the woman who would wake up every morning at exactly 5:30, go on a four mile run and then go home and do an hour of yoga. She worked at a community center helping homeless people get their life back together. She had a feminist husband who was the CEO of a reusable plastics company and a dog who occasionally disappeared. She was kind. She was just. And she loved to talk. The last character in this story is a nobody. And like all nobodies, his backstory is not important.
It was a Friday, and an unusually gloomy one for James Bowery. Often, his students were mostly awake, but today, for some inexplicable reason, when he’d turn back to look at his students, half of them were asleep. He’d ended the lesson instantly and decided–although not out of the goodness of his heart–to let his students out 30 minutes early. It was for this exact reason that James found himself walking into the subway station 30 minutes earlier than usual.
June Jackson was late. For some inexplicable reason that morning she’d woken up at 6:00 instead of 5:30. Today was the first day that had ever happened and she cried as she replaced 1826 days with 0 days on her streak counter. Because of this, she had missed her daily taxi ride and was forced to use the subway, handing out bags of goodies to the homeless on her way. It was for this exact reason that June found herself walking into the subway station 30 minutes later than usual.
And the nobody–Joey was his name–was there sightseeing; so he was neither late nor early, but rather, as it would turn out, right on time.
James always got onto the first subway car through the first entrance and sat in the second seat. He’d started 5 years ago when, in a spur of spontaneity, he boarded the first car instead of the second. That seemingly inconsequential decision made his heart race and his adrenaline spike. For the first time in years he’d done something new. And so, for the next 1826 days he’d boarded the first car instead of the second. With that knowledge, it will not surprise you when I say he was furious to find a young woman sitting in his seat. “That is my seat miss.” He told her, drawing out his ‘s’ like a snake. The woman looked up at him in surprise, “I wasn’t aware they assigned seats on subways.” James had been shocked at the reproach and, because of his unremarkable social life and limited knowledge of human interactions, had fled to the other side of the subway car where he sat and, for lack of a better word, pouted.
June picked her seat randomly. To her, there was no order in the subway, only chaos. It was one of the many reasons why she didn’t use it. She was sitting there, updating her interactive website when an older man walked up to her and frowned. He’d told her that was his seat and she had refused to move. So, he’d chosen the spot directly across from her and fumed. She ignored him for the rest of the train ride until suddenly a voice called out from across the way. “What is your name?” The old man asked her. As a general rule, June did not give her name away to strangers, especially on subway cars, especially to old men. But for some reason, today, she did. “My name is June Jackson.” She’d answered, and then added ‘old men harassing me and asking for my name’ to the long list of reasons why she didn’t ride the subway.
Joey, who had nearly sat in James’s spot today and instead decided to take the seat just to the right, watched this interaction with mild curiosity. New Yorkers were normally quiet on the subways so this conversation had been a pleasant novelty. Despite the scene caused and name gained, he’d kept silent because as we know, Joey was a nobody, and nobodys’ are never compelled to say anything.
When the car stopped, James Bowery watched the young woman rise from her seat, and, with a newfound courage to make a life changing decision, had stood up as well. She barely spared him a second glance before he lost her in the sea of people. When he made it out of the station, he made another surprising choice and instead of turning right towards home, he turned left. After he arrived at the hospital, he asked for a birth certificate with the name June Jackson. The woman at the front desk had come back moments later with four options, apologizing because they had no certificate with that name. James Bowery looked over the four options she’d brought him, and for the first time in 5 years, he smiled.
June Jackson was convinced the older man was a murderer. Her only reasoning for this was: when she rose to get off the subway car, he did too. There was also the fact that she’d stolen his seat, but because she had no knowledge of the seat's significance, this did not cross her mind. As far as she knew, an old man had asked for her name and was now following her. So you will understand her rush to disappear when she stepped out of the subway car and lost herself amongst the crowd. It was not until she made it to her apartment did her suspicion drop. He had not followed her. He was not a murderer.
Joey had decided he was hungry enough to buy the suspicious looking one-slice-pizza that was being sold on the street corner outside of the subway station. But of course, that is not important.
James Bowery was shaking when he knocked on the apartment door numbered 121. It occurred to him, seconds before the door opened, that his classroom number was also 121 and he found himself smiling. When the woman from yesterday–June–opened the door, she took one look at him and slammed the door shut, screaming, “I will call the cops if you don’t leave right now.” Out of all the scenarios James had thought out on his subway ride over, he could have never imagined this, but, for the first time in his life, he recovered quickly. “Does a woman by the name of June Bowery live here?” He called through the door. By this time, his head was spinning, you see he had forgotten to take his blood pressure pills and was prone to fainting without them. So it will not come as a surprise to you when he mumbled, “I think I might be your father,” and then fainted, right there on her doorstep.
June Jackson was cooking eggs for her avocado toast Saturday morning when a knock sounded on the door. She had thought nothing of it, having temporarily forgotten about the old man from yesterday, who was in her mind, still a possible murderer. So you will excuse her reaction to his appearance, for she was an avid true crimes listener and had deep fear of stalkers. Like any sensible young lady, she’d closed the door and threatened to call the cops. But then he said her name, her real name, and she threw open the door, only to find he had collapsed. She’d screamed again, fearing the worst, but it seemed her scream had awakened him and he shot upright, gasping. “Are you my father?” June asked him, bewildered. All James could do was nod, and June who was quick to forget and quicker to forgive, began to cry as she embraced him.
For some reason, Joey had been invited to the celebration party. Everyone in attendance was mystified by him–a nobody in a sea of somebodies–but they were all too nervous to comment, instead giving him polite nods everytime he passed. Eventually, James Bowery–having heard of this mysterious man–approached him and asked him his name. “Fate.” Joey replied with a crooked smile. James Bowery, who had not seen nor cared about Joey on the subway the day before, had laughed himself hoarse. “Fate! He calls himself Fate!” He’d cried to anyone who would listen. Which, as it turns out, was only his daughter, June. She would never admit this, but she had noticed Joey in the subway car. His book, one with no title and no author, had been resting on the seat next to him. He picked it up when he saw her come in, and she’d thanked him with a nod of her head before settling in next to him. Without his simple kindness, she would have never met her father, and with this knowledge, she embraced him.
Maybe being a nobody isn’t as bad as it sounds, because as you’ve seen with this story, a nobody has the power to change lives. You see, Joey was still a nobody in the end, despite his self-renaming (which he’d insisted I include despite my disapproval). After the party, Joey was seen boarding a plane back to wherever he’d come from, and he was never seen nor heard from again.