Note: One of the finalists of the 2012 NatGeo / Matador NEXT GREAT STORYTELLER contest, Alice Driver recounts an improbable moment in Mexico City.

ONE MORNING HE UNZIPPED his black backpack and scattered its contents on the floor of the metro car. The shards of glass sparkled like fake diamonds under the harsh florescent lights as he stripped off his shirt and threw himself onto the floor. The chaparrito, short and muscular, began to roll vigorously over the glass, pressing his flesh into the shards. He stood up, bowed, and, with a back blooming tiny roses of blood, proceeded to ask for money.

When the early morning crowd didn’t rain coins upon him, he became angry, picked up a piece of glass, and pressed it to his muscular arm. Would the threat of more blood make money flow?

A workman, hands worn and rough as sandpaper, fingered a plastic bag filled with barbed wire. He dozed on the metro as I eyed his bag, watching how each jolt of the metro car caused the barbed wire to penetrate the plastic, leaving passengers vulnerable.

A woman with long, curling fake nails emblazoned with metallic rhinestone flowers attempted to take her phone out of her purse. She grasped at the phone with those nails and grasped again, but had no success.

High school girls crowded around me and stretched their dark lashes across the edge of a spoon over and over again. The end result: lashes with fierce curl. They put the spoons back in their purses, and were quickly expelled from the overflowing metro car.

Train. Photo by: Alice Driver

Two men with woven bags full of cheese from Oaxaca entered giggling like schoolboys and, unable to keep their balance, fell to the floor. Mezcal was at the heart of their conversation. They stood up and looked at me, their heads the height of my breasts, and slowly, with great deliberation, licked their lips.

I plowed a path through the heat of bodies to escape. At the next stop, a portly middle-aged man entered the car and began advertising his wares: pens in the shape of syringes. He had to compete with the blind man singing corridos, the guy with a tattoo of a rose on his neck selling pop CDs, and the five-year-old selling pineapple and tangerine gum.

It was rush hour, and a sea of people ebbed and flowed. An old lady got caught in the rip tide and dragged to the floor. The press of bodies left me drenched in sweat and dreaming of ice, Antarctica, polar bears, paletas.

Life went on: girls plucked their eyebrows clean and painted on new ones in perfect arcs, men leafed through soccer magazines filled with pictures of naked women, and babies slept as if the heat and hum of the metro were a lullaby. Just when I thought I could take no more, the metro car stopped. The lights went out.

The whirring fan blades went silent. For ten hard, hot minutes I blinked and sweated and felt my body melt into the crowd. We were a single entity, a mass of humanity. When the lights came on and the doors opened, we flowed out into Mexico City as one.