I’m sat watching a shirtless man, branded haphazardly with an oddly unsettling combination of nasty looking scars and poorly done prison-esque tattoos, lowering his bicep onto a pile of broken glass. The metro is whizzing me from one station to the next as fast as my own mind is whirring through the potential reasons for this bizarre performance.
The next stop is my destination and when I stand up to get off, beelining to the door he’s not headed towards, I’m hyper aware of my white knuckles and heartbeat hammering in my chest.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen men on the women’s and children’s section of the metro platform before. After all, there was nothing new about men flouting their rules and taking up seats on carriages reserved for the majority who are treated like the minority. But I hadn’t seen such a large group of vest-wearing men hanging about before. As they hung out, I hung back.
Eventually the train lurched into the station and the female carriages were all but vacated. I hurry to get on, just as four of the men break away from the group and do the same. Probably going to put on some kind of show, I think to myself as two position themselves in the blank space in front of me and two in the unchartered territory out of my view.
That’s when they lay out a t-shirt filled with broken glass before announcing we need money in heavily-accented English. Well, I’ve never laboured under the impression that I blend into the crowd I suppose.
For some reason (perhaps the intimidating men directing demands for money at me and playing with broken shards of glass, I can’t be sure), I feel a rising panic grip me as tightly as I’m now gripping my rucksack. Why is no one else concerned about what’s going on?
My mind runs away with me as I picture myself threatened, or slashed, with an errant shard of glass as my phone and purse are prised from my unyielding grip for the second time in Mexico.
That’s not what happens though. We get off. We go our separate ways. A phone call to a friend confirms they were performing a circus act for money. A feat of endurance, if you will. All I can think is that I was the one performing the feat of endurance; an impressively extended effort to not let the weird, ever-present horror of Mexico City overwhelm me more often.