Fiction: A Mid-Afternoon Walk
He said something to me. Why would he say that? I was just walking by. I never saw him before, how could I?
I kept walking, around the corner, into the sunshine running straight towards me on the dirty sidewalk scattered with people. To my left stood Rockefeller Center. And to my right, the door of the hotel I was staying in for my short trip to the city. The day was hot. I could feel a quiver of sweat leak down the center of my back and get absorbed into the lower section of my t-shirt. Through my dark sunglasses the city came alive with music and smells and chatter. This was different than home. Back there, noise is drowned under the breaking sounds of the ocean and the harried plight of the seagull fawning over felled french fries on the boardwalk. People come and go back home. Its shores are booming during the warm months and stale during the winter. My moods, not coincidentally, coincide with the coming and going of seasons there. Bright and happy during the summer, bleak and suppressed during the winter. Adjectives which adequately described both my inner and outer worlds. But here, you can get lost on a familiar street. And mistake an unfamiliar face with a familiar one.
But why would he say that? Was he directing it towards me? I thought it sounded that way.
I reached out and placed my hand on the warm steel handle leading inside the hotel. Staring at the tinted glass I could see my reflection. Tight, shaved black hair, a black t-shirt, dark sunglasses, lines carved into my face from squinting, both from the sun and my refusal to wear proper eye glasses. I knew this face. Instead of entering I let my hand drop to my side and decided to keep walking. Down the street I could see a food cart or two, peddling falafel and fruit smoothing under the shade of barren trees cracking through the concrete- a reminder of what this area once was.
I walked up to the closest cart and looked at the menu. Though the tiny glass window, a man shoved his face forward to take my order.
“What would you like?” He asked. He was sweating, standing over the hot burner. He wore a white t-shirt, yellowed by perspiration and spices. His hairy arms were decorated with a golden watch on one wrist and his neck followed the decor, holding a golden cross. His face burned red, and his wearing brown eyes had lost the spark of excitation, falling prey to the power of routine and waiting. “One falafel salad please. No white sauce, just red.” He smiled, “Of course.” As he prepared my meal I lazily walked around the tiny park where he was stationed. The fountain in the center was peppered by people congregating to consume their food. Pigeons followed their lead, waiting for any scrapping they had to offer. I stopped and stared, looking up at the towering buildings surrounding this oasis. With a simple wave of the arm, I was beckoned back to grab my prepared meal. Handing him cash I took the Styrofoam container and happily sat along the fountain with the rest. The salad tasted spicy and the falafel was actually not dry. Hard to find it that way back home. The food tasted good, but it failed to keep my mind from wandering into the recent past.
He said to me, “You're not who you think you are.” I was just walking by. Why did he have to say anything to me at all? And what did that even mean? He doesn't know me. He doesn't know how I think about myself. As I was walking by I turned and looked down at him, hunched over his phone. He was an older man, probably in his late 60's, with balding, white hair, and long whiskers running away from his face. I didn't stop. I didn't want to talk to him. I just wanted to keep walking. The sun slowly shifted behind a tall building filled with windows. The park took on a darker shade. Time kept moving. I slowly closed the lid on my salad and peered across the street. The people looked like moving blurs of color and noise. Cars ran by. Buses halted with the squealing of brakes and took off again leaving behind a black puff of diesel smoke and passengers.
Why was this bothering me? Was it true? I'm not who you think I am. Am I somehow worse that I think? Was he right? And if so, how did he know that?
I sat down in thought and couldn't help but remember when I was young. I used to lie underneath this tree, perched on a small hill. It wasn't a big tree. Nor was it particularly unique. In fact, it would be hard to describe it if I were to try and make it sound memorable. Except the branches broke off into numerous directions holding only a few leaves each. Within them held the sound of the wind, gently putting them in motion, bumping into each other. The noise it produced put me into a trance. I could lie under brown brittle branches in the short grass for hours staring into the sky. The clouds would slowly pass by and I would see they too were in motion, heading to some distant unknown point in the blue background. I could feel the world moving, spinning and shaking, and dancing. Everything was doing something. With no effort this particular spot would run me through rivers and mountains and jungles and deserts. I could feel them all in my mind as I became a wearied traveler, broken and beaten but alive- full of precious memories and stories to whisper. I would meet people from across the globe, collect artifacts both material and non. Sometimes even, I would climb branches, sit on the bark and pretend they were sails on a ship living in another time and in another place. This tree was my vehicle. It held me in the purified womb of imagination. Often times, I wonder if it was the source of it. Foolish me. It now resided there too. Making a home alongside my other musings if they too ever cross the projector of my mind. But even now, I wonder if it exists still exists, holding the keys, waiting for my return.
Shaking my head I moved to get up. He was on my mind. The judgmental elderly man. He had taken one look at me and levied his claim. Searched through my musings and decided there wasn't enough. I wanted to talk to him. I needed to talk to him. And I knew where to find him. “Excuse me,” she said. I looked across from me and saw an elderly woman with long gray hair coiled into a single braid peaking out behind her left arm. She had silent blue eyes, peaceful and loving.
“Do you know what time it is? I am afraid I might be late.” “Yes of course, it's 3:32,” I replied looking at my phone. “Oh that's fine. I can stay a little while,” she smiled at me. Her gentle demeanor gave me the impression she had been a caretaker at point point in her life. She was nurturing in her expressions and willing to remain open to those around her. “Tell me, if you don't mind me asking, what were you thinking about just a moment ago?” I laughed lightly and said, “Oh yeah, just an old memory.” “Are you ok? You looked awfully sad there for a moment.”
“Yeah, I'm ok. Just a little sunken. I guess that would be the word for it. A little while ago I was walking here and for no reason whatsoever this man, sitting on a bench tells me, 'You're not who you think you are,' can you believe that? How does he know anything about me?"
“Must have been written on your face,” she replied seriously. “What do you mean?” “Well, I just knew you were sad, sitting across from me, but I don't know anything about you. What is different about that?”
“Oh. I don't know. But it was rude. And it ruined my afternoon.” “Unconsciously I placed my lunch down next to her, uncrossed my arms and let my shoulders shrink towards the pockets of my pants. “Why did it ruin your afternoon?” “Because I was thinking about it the entire time!”
“Why were you thinking about it the entire time?”
“Because, well, because it's probably true,” I exhaled heavily. She smiled. And fixed her long, colorful dress, pushing it until it fell over her knees. The wind shifted through the park and pushed a few gray strands of hair revealing her ears. They were decorated with colorful ornaments fashioned into the shape of feathers. They too danced in the wind along with her hair. I couldn't help but notice the lines growing in her skin. Around her mouth they were pronounced, but not ugly. I could only surmise they were created under the consequences of many smiles and many shed tears. “Why does this make you sad?” “Why wouldn't it?”
“Because it doesn't have to be negative, you're only receiving it that way.”
“Sounds pretty damn negative to me.” “He said, 'You're not who you think you are. Right? You are not who you think you are. What does that imply? Maybe, you are possibly not living up to your potential. Something everyone inherently has. As well as inherently knows they're not living up to. You see. You're not who you think you are, because you are so much more.” “I guess I didn't think of it that way.” “Yes, the mind can often take you to dark places, if you allow it. But realize this,” she shrugged.
“In actuality what you are is untapped. Untrained. Undisciplined. And unfocused. You see? Now you know why you aren't who you think you are. Because you do not know who you wish to be.” “But then, how do I do that?” “Do what?” “Become those things.” “See it through.” “What?” “Whatever it is. Whatever you want to do. Wherever you want to go. Whoever you want to meet. Use your imagination and create the person you wish to be in your mind first. And then, see it through. But give it everything. You'll gain those attributes along the way. Promise.” She said this with a smile that pushed me closer to her orbit of energy. “You know, I've lived in the city my whole life. And just now, I realized, I don't really want to anymore.”
“What are you going to do?” I replied smiling. “I think I'll move I suppose. Some place new. Some place south.” “I couldn't help but laugh quite loudly. “Oh, that's funny?” She replied, a smile stretching along her face. “No, not at all.” “Oh you be quiet. And tell me what time it is again.” “It's 3:47. Are you going to be late now? I didn't mean to keep you here.” “No, no, not anymore,” she said waving her hand passively. “I just want you to know...don't feel bad. You needed him, you know? Just like you needed me. And I, needed you. But, come, sit here with me for a while.” I saw down next to her. Silently, she tilted her head upwards and allowed the sun to reach her closed eyelids before it slid behind another building. I followed the direction of her eyes, through the trees, past the buildings and into the sky. And right then I couldn't help but wonder where she might go. And where I might go, as well.