The Bent Old Man
Around 8pm on the night of Thanksgiving, a very gorgeous night––full moon and all––I went for a purposeful two-hour walk in very good mood. It was a curious feeling, spying into warm lit homes and hearing conversations slipping through curtained windows, and bursting out, every now and then, choruses of rich laughter. I spotted a couple hidden in the shadows, in front of a garage, trying to swallow each other alive and that took my mind off him. He was doubled over wobbling softly on when I first saw him. I felt fear and could not explain why. It felt strange that he could walk in that manner. How could he see where he was going. Surely it hurt him to walk in that manner. What brings one to that state? Would not a walking stick be of some help? He was an old man in jackets that seemed too warm for the night. He was going the opposite way and I had to walk past him. I felt such fear when he drew nearer. That instant when I walked by him I was only conscious of him and my over-hyped imagination. It took everything in me to not look back as I walked on. My thoughts were of him until I was nudged out of them by the couple in front of the garage.
On my way back home, I walked the same path and found him again standing next to a light pole, holding on to it, panting. It had been almost an hour since I had walked by him and he had not advanced much from where I last saw him. What if he is homeless? What if he did not have anywhere to go. I felt alarmed. I did not offer help. I did not think I could help him. Besides I was too chicken to get any close to him. In fact I wanted to be away from him. His form frightened me. For it seemed so strange, and abnormal on the lonely softly lit sidewalk. Never you mind that my dear grandmother is in a similar form these days. But she uses her walking stick! Nor that I have come across so many old people in that manner. I suppose it was not him that I feared. It was what he represented on that beautiful night. Old and alone on a night when the theme called for being with others. Bent over without even a cane to support him. And not knowing if he had a home to go to. It was like walking into a nightmare. I, too, was alone. It was just the two of us on that path. Is that me in some years to come? Will I still be feeling happy in my alone-ness then? Glad to go on very long walks on family-themed holidays, spying in on happy traditions without feeling any envy? Is he happy too? Does his seemingly sad form signify that same state of mind? Does it mean anything that he can walk, even in that way? Did he, too, choose to be on that path?
Two weeks later I was at my little part-time job when he came over to me. He wanted help to find an elastic belt. I showed him where the belts were. But I did not go to help him find one. I was so surprised to see him again and could not think. After some time I saw him leaving and went to ask if he found what he was looking for. No, he tells me, then thanks me and totters on. Some days later I found some of the belts he had been looking for. And I stood there looking at them and thinking of him and me on that full moon night, on that softly lit path, walking away from each other between rows of houses containing intimate groups of people in their own interpretations of thanksgiving. What was he thinking? How was he feeling?
The “Black” Woman
She lives on the 14th floor! When first I encountered her, I could not help but stare. She wore a tight black top, tight black leather skirt, black tights, black leather knee boots, and her raven black hair matched her black bag. Her pale skin glowed death-like in her pool of black. But her lips were bright red. It was fall. I could not envision her as a retail sales girl. You know, like when you walk into a cosmetic shop and are greeted by the scary swarm in black? At least, this is what happens in the movies. Her style looked more like a choice And not a trend, like goth or anything of the sort. It seemed “her.” I can’t really explain it. And once I became aware of her, I started to see her often. Did she just move into the neighborhood? Had she always been there and I somehow missed her? Then I would see her going to work. I assumed it was to work she was heading because of the early hours. And sometimes I saw her walking with a particular man, her husband? Boyfriend? She looks at him as one does another who means something intimate. When it got cold, a dull black patent leather bomber jacket materialized into her outfits. She is never in pants when I see her, always the body-con skirts and dresses. But the bright redness of her lips alters, sometimes it’s replaced by vermillion, sometimes rose. She looks Slav. I think she is Russian. She is about five inches taller than me, but then she is always wearing heels––platforms, often, alternating between 3 to 5 inches. So maybe she is my height. There is something interesting about her and it seeps through the way she carries herself––at once aware and unaware: captivating. The way she wears her black, it is difficult to imagine her in anything else. How does one wear the same color everyday? When she stepped onto the elevator that carried me––this was about two weeks ago––was when she pushed the button for the 14th floor. It felt odd. I sort of “know” her and I could tell she was not even seeing me. I got out first and wished her a nice day, her “thank you” sounded Slavic. Maybe she is Russian. A few minutes before she ended up on the elevator with me, I had been on my way home and in front of the apartment building my attention was lost to a skinny little girl in red: red sneakers, red skinny jeans, red bomber jacket, a red backpack, and a red hat. She was about to climb into one of those yellow school buses, but right before she did so, she looked back. I followed her eyes to observe “the ‘black’ woman,” smiling and nodding encouragingly at the little girl. She then climbed onto the bus, the door closing behind her. Ha! I thought, the “black” woman has a “red” daughter!
Shake and Fries at Madison Square Park
It was around lunch-time and I had a small milkshake and my very first French fries on the table in front of me, as I sat waiting for a friend under the leafy tall trees that shaded the eating area of the Shake Shack at Madison Square Park. I was trying to read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, drink a milkshake and munched on crisp fries. The fries weren’t as good as the ones I had begged off of friends in the past. The lively summer atmosphere being distractive, I closed the book and started looking about me with interest. I noticed almost everyone sat with someone else. A man walked to my table, grabbed the extra chair in front of me, and as he made to walk away with it asked, “Do you need this chair?” I replied that I did and he gave me a suspicious look, put the chair back and walked away. I started wondering about the conversations around me. Earlier in the queue to buy my lunch, I had been trying not to stare at a super skinny girl in a super short dress when another girl behind me said to her friend, “That girl’s dress is short!” I didn’t look back. Not immediately. And not directly when I did. This same girl who had voiced out my thoughts was now sitting about a yard to my right, quickly eating a burger with her friend. From their conversation I deduced they were on their lunch break from work, and didn’t have a lot of time left. The super skinny girl was to my left, whispering to her own friend.
The clear winking light bulbs threading above took me back to my last year in college when I had made the park my subject for my final photography class. I took several shots of similar bulbs at the Shack. I wondered if any of the ones above were present when I did my shots. I thought of that class, the people I had met, and some of the conversations we had. How important it all felt then. How exciting it was to walk into that class. I wondered about my photography professor. I never could form a solid notion of him. I liked him all the same, although, I was very confused in his class and learned everything outside of it. He was polite and looked somewhat like Alan Rickman. This thought reminded me that the last time I was in the park with another friend, there had been an interesting looking man sitting across from us reading Harry Potter!
So many times I have been in this park with so many different people. It started during my freshman year. With the first two friends I made through a pre-college maths class, I sat in the park with them waiting for our classes to begun; these classes were about 2 -3 hours apart. It felt strange thinking of a past in a place I presently occupied. Knowing now things I once could not fantom: like how our freshman year would end, when I will graduate, and what would become of me in the few years after college. I heard the water splashing in the fountain and that drew up another memory of a meeting with a poetry professor, one chilly morning in January, on one of the benches near the water to discuss my writing and seek advice on applying to an MFA program. I also remembered sitting about two yards from where I sat, with my pledge sisters for a sorority that I had ended up dropping out of. I recalled an evening not so long ago with an ex-boyfriend and his friends. It was cold, and I felt we were out of our minds to be eating in the open.
I spotted the friend I was waiting for. She was standing next to the beginning of the queue–where I had noticed the girl in the super short dress–looking around. Her hair was shorter than the last time I saw her. She looked a little different too but I couldn’t say how. I stood up and started waving. She didn’t see me so I rung her phone and directed her to where I was standing and waving. When she started walking in my direction, I hanged up wondering about the new memories I was about to add to the old ones.