It was on a Tuesday...
There was a man on the subway, he looked a little out of place, looking up and around. I could see him taking in the signs. He smiled at a mother cooing at her child and tilted to the right a bit when performers came on board. He's never been to New York. I could tell. Neu, new, not so much anymore, "New York" I said, and he gave a little nod. I got out at 42nd Street and the curious man followed me. Up the stairs and up another flight, his gaze was somber. He made me think of that song by Brian Eno, "Sombre Reptiles." So, I took a step aside and let the crowd filter by. Sure enough he came to stand beside me. "Neu" was really all I knew to say in German. I handed him the buds from which the music flowered in my personal soundtrack. He nodded again and after sixty seconds, I reclaimed my aural pacifiers and we continued through the humid corridor. We walked through the turnstile at last, it seemed like many minutes but it was probably only seven.
His shoes were not suited for the snow but his steps were surer than I would have guessed. We pulled our scarves a little higher and headed into Times Square. There were buskers here and falafel carts on the corner. There were Arab men selling hot dogs and pretzels and many tourists staring up with tiny little cameras pointed at buildings large and twinkling. We stopped at a light, close by an African selling counterfeit bags on a blanket. We walked down the pedestrian area, heading towards the screens. I pointed to a man covered in jackets, sleeping in a hidden doorway. He nodded and we kept on walking. We passed a tax preparation service and turned left at the bondsman. Envios your money to anywhere in Latin America, said the sign. I was mute but I could point. He was silent and his eyes moved with no hint of fear. A curious character, was this man in a dark wool coat. They didn't make them like that anymore, finish details stitched by hand.
As we arrived to the screens I bought us some nuts and we stood just between the military recruitment booth and the animation conglomerate store. Princesses and puppies and pandas and mice all moved or swayed as to invite us inside. I thought it was maybe a bit much, so I pulled out my portable mobile device and called a friend. I told her what to say and she spoke to him in German. After a few minutes they were done and he handed me back the phone, receiver down. Awkwardly I flipped it around and asked my friend what had they clarified? Was he lost? Was he a ghost? What was going on? She said he was a writer and from what they had managed to discuss, he wasn't sure at all why he was here. He asked if he was dreaming and if he was close to Prague. She confirmed that he was not. Anxiously he looked around. I put up my hand, asking for more patience. My friend was on the train and just as she would explain a little more, the connection was lost. Oh well. At least he knows he's not totally lost.
A child came up to us selling drugstore candy from a box. He said it was for school but I knew it was a scam. We bought a pack of peanut covered something and slowly we moved along. I let him lead the way, past the temporary police station and past the barricades that meant little to me, but which I could tell only incited his nervous notions. I took his hand and looked in his eyes. I said, "It's not as bad as it seems. Trust me, we still have freedom." My words meant nothing but taking his hand had done something. I could tell he was made of skin and flesh but as much as my fingers found his, there was thinness to his shell and I felt a little zap, something between us passed. I thought for a second that maye now I would have a special gift, perhaps I would speak in tongues or I would smile in some new way. Instead I just kept leading him around, like a mother with steps as heavy as sympathy.
We walked to the park, heading north and entering on the west side. I thought I might take him downtown or show him Brooklyn. I'd show him the synagogues and the churches, there were still some left. I thought I could show him the pockets of freedom that was the byproduct of poverty and halted development. But I was sure that if we got on the train again, I would lose him. Greedy for this creature I texted my next appointment and cancelled. He stared at me with reproach, so I set it all to silent and moved along the streets. Could it be true that I was distracted even in this magical moment? I guessed it was, but still I couldn't actually bring myself to turn it off. I stopped and stared into his gaze. "I am not a robot. I'm real." I said. He looked confused by my proclamation and I felt sad for my very need to make it. Finally, deep into the center of the park we meandered from path to path. Under small bridges and along footpaths we laughed at uneven steps and brick under our feet. It was slippery and in some places it was steep. I almost fell but the writer, he gallantly caught me. He looked at my shoes and shook his head. Well, it's not as if I'd thought I'd be walking the park this evening. I hadn't planned for this, but then again, I doubt he had either. We continued on to the area of the carousel and over to the east where the sculpture stood of Alice in her wonderland. The street and building lights reflected our shadows as walked it in a circle, twice clockwise and one in counter, like an old dance we went round and round together and then separated again until we met again in the middle.
We followed the tree line out and we emerged at 5th Avenue. We passed a stored with a glass entrance and what looked like a temple dedicated to fruit. An illuminated apple was at the core. Security men stood at the entrance and again, the seriousness returned to the writer's brow. Past the expensive stores and down the wide avenue we walked finally south. To our right a statue of Atlas was holding up the world and skaters were circling in a manufactured pond. A fat girl was crying and her mother's stout fingers pushed away her tears. We waited, furtively enjoying her plump return to her endeavor. Between us we silently cheered her small triumph. Continuing we arrived at the library, again at 42nd street. Here, it was a bit more silent and there were stone lions poised like sentries. Protecting books seemed to be the providence of mythic creatures and according to the news, these creatures had just faded into oblivion. Needless to say, they were replicating them in Norway and somewhere in Asia. I kept this to myself. Language barriers can be merciful. I took his hand one last time and led him to perch at the top of the steps, in front of the grand doors that I had a feeling he would easily seep through. I took his hand again and kissed the top of his palm, for I knew these hands had scratched hard at paper to give us his vision. Then I stepped up and equal to his eyes I kissed each one, left, right and in the middle. I turned to my right and made a little circle. By the time I'd turned to meet his gaze again he was gone. Like a child I jumped on tip toe down the steps. A homeless man looked up as I crossed the corner and asked how I was doing. I smiled and said I was just fine. "Alright, alright" he sang and I stepped some more echoing. "Alright, alright, neu, neu. Thank you Mr. Kafka."