I came across the oddest tableau at the Wheaton Metro station the other day: A loose semicircle of 15 to 20 people standing silently 10 to 15 feet from the fare gates, facing the same direction.

My first thoughts were dire: Had there been an accident? Was the Red Line shut down? Were the farecard machines broken?

The only other time I’ve come across a group of people standing in such a peculiar way was when I walked in on an armed robbery at a drugstore.

At Wheaton, clearly there was no robber. Rather, there seemed to be some sort of invisible force repelling the people from the gates. They looked as though they were taking part in a strange ceremony.

I studied them for something to explain this phenomenon. They looked like run-of-the-mill Metro riders.

No one seemed concerned.

Well, no one except me.

So I asked the person closest to me: “What’s going on?”

The person did not answer.

Even weirder.

Finally, someone farther to my left broke the silence and solved the mystery.

“We’re waiting until 9:30,” he said. “That’s when the rush-hour fare ends.”

And sure enough, about 15 seconds later, the clock on the station display screen changed to 9:30, and the semicircle morphed into lines at the gates.

Susan R. Paisner,  Silver Spring