The Short Humour Site

Home : Writers' Showcase : Submission Guidelines : A Man of a Few More Words : Links

Writers' Showcase

Sartre on the Subway
by Clarise Samuels

The stranger bumped into her on the subway as he was making his way down the crowded aisle where it was standing room only. He did not say excuse me.

She glared at him. He ignored her.

“You know, it would be nice if you at least said excuse me.”

He looked around as if he were hearing voices. “You talkin’ to me?”

“Yes, but this isn’t Hollywood, and Robert De Niro you’re not.”

“Ah, yes, very true,” the stranger admitted now looking at her with one eye cocked. “What’s the point of being polite? We live in a barbaric world, and such social niceties are largely ignored and unappreciated. Had I said excuse me, you would have grunted and moved on.”

“Well,” she countered, “I think small acts of courtesy are the least we can do in this barbaric world. Civilization begins by saying excuse me after you’ve practically knocked someone down on their rear end in the subway!”

“Now, now,” he replied in a patronizing tone. “You’re exaggerating. You merely staggered a few steps, and you never came close to hitting the ground. I would have helped you get up.”

“That’s mighty kind of you,” she answered cynically.

“You see, you don’t really think it’s kind,” he noted. “You’re just being sarcastic. Had I been gallant and noble, you would have laughed in my face. Besides, no one ever apologized to me.”

“No one ever apologized to you for what?” she inquired.

“For having thrown me into a meaningless world where my existence is absurd, unless I choose to give it meaning by making responsible decisions like saying excuse me on the subway. You have criticized my decision not to say excuse me, and you are threatening my values and my freedom.”

“I am?”

“Yes, you have shattered my freedom by gazing upon me with that look of disapproval, and I have temporarily lost my Self because I have been transformed into the object of your critical gaze.”

“What are you going to do about it?” she wanted to know.

“Merely stare back at you and transform you into the object of my critical gaze. Then I will get my Self back, and you will lose your Self instead.”

“Not really,” she replied. “You would be acting in bad faith.”

“And aren’t you?” he asked with interest.

“Of course not. I am not the one denying my responsibility in this situation. You have the freedom to run away from saying excuse me, and you are, indeed, running away,” she pointed out.

“Actually, I am standing right here,” he disputed.

“Yes, but only because we are in transit. As soon as the train stops, you will run away.” The train stopped, and he began to shove past other passengers to head for the open doors.

“By the way, what’s your name?” she called after him.

He looked over his shoulder and smiled at her. “Jean-Paul Sartre,” he replied.

After all, he had the freedom to lie.