Sometimes riders show up whose suffering is beyond what one should have to bear. For instance:
A garbled human exclamation pierces the train behind me, loud enough to make me jump. A moment later, it happens again. It is unhappy. The sound repeats and repeats. It is like coughing and talking at the same time, and doing both badly. I turn to see. The vocalizations are coming from a person in a wheelchair. I can only see the back of his balding head. No one is acknowledging him.
Tourette's maybe? Choking?
As the man continues in this way, I get up and walk to a seat past him from where I can see if he actually needs help. He is wearing only light clothes, though the temperature is close to freezing. The clothes are old and dirty. He is shivering violently and coughing. He is a portrait of misery.
There is a big sleeping bag on the seat behind him, which slips to the floor and alarms him. He yells what sounds like "Please help me."
I jump up to put the bag back on the seat but a woman who is sitting closer to the man beats me to it.
At least, I think, he's not being ignored. I sit and resume my role of secret gawker.
A minute later he's calling out. "Otter! Otter!"
Sitting between the man and me are a woman and two men who've been talking with one another and are also carrying sleeping bags. The woman turns to the man in the wheelchair and says "You need water?"
He shakes his head "Yes." I have none. There's some head shaking from a few other passengers. But the woman offers him her paper cup of coffee, which he takes. "Thank you," he says distinctly, and he visibly relaxes.
His shivering lessens. After a moment he says, pretty clearly, "Green Line?"
The woman says, "No, this is the Blue Line. You'll have to get out and go back to the Rose Garden to catch the Green Line."
When he doesn't get out at the next stop, she reminds him that he's got to get off the train and go back the other way.
He nods and says, "Too cold."
She says, "That's all right, baby, you'll get there."