They say the things we search for are rarely out of sight.
I left it all behind. Not that there was much remaining. Ava, the woman of my dreams, broke everything off and started a new life, with a new man, in a new place far away. With nothing left, I moved too, into a building directly across from hers. The building was unfinished, half of the structure exposed a concrete skeleton underneath. Inside the apartment was completely bare too, no appliances, no windows, no bed, but those things could wait. The apartment was perfectly placed on the 23rd floor, directly across from Ava’s.
She kept her blinds shut and on my first night a storm passed, flooding the apartment in a shallow pool of rain. I couldn’t see anything except the yellow light bleeding from the edges of her window. It had been long since we last saw each other and I could feel our memories slipping. But I tried to hold onto the few that were dear. The image of her precious face. Our kiss underneath the dimly lit street lamp. That was when I first noticed freckles sprinkled over the bridge of her nose and the lonely black dot stranded in her sea-green eyes.
The building was hosting a party that night and after struggling to sleep on wet concrete, where curtains of heavy rain would replenish any water that had previously drained, I went down to the 11th floor where the party was being held.
Inside the lights were dim with chandeliers dangling about. Dark velvet walls. A woman softly singing in a foreign language. They poured me a glass of red wine that dissolved into the pores of my mouth. After several glasses I sat next to a woman who had been looking in my direction. She must have been a dancer. Her spine was completely erect and poised with perfect posture. She wore a short dress and her legs were crushed together revealing a certain musculature.
She dangled a glass by two fingers with her other hand, ringless, placed on her bare thigh.
“Are you looking for something?” she asked.
“Not exactly. What about you?”
Her eyelids appeared heavy.
“No.” she said.
On her wrist there was a thin red bracelet with a dangling green buddha made of jade.
I didn’t notice but my pants and shoes left a trail of water along the ground. She noticed and seemed bothered, as if I was wasting her time. She stood up and walked towards a man that had just arrived. As she walked her legs stabbed the floor with each step contracting her well defined calves. The man whispered something in her ear and grabbed her by the waist as they left.
I saw Ava buying groceries. I didn’t expect to see her to be there but when she saw me she didn’t hesitate to say hello.
“Hey!” She said, now standing directly in front of me.
I was holding a bottle of milk in one hand and a bottle of rum in the other.
“Oh, hi Ava. I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“What a coincidence, huh? Do you live here now?”
“Oh no, I don’t, I’m here scouting locations for my next movie.”
“That’s amazing. I’m happy you’re holding onto your dreams.”
“I love you.” I said in my head, biting my tongue before it came out. She looked more beautiful than I ever remembered. I could finally see her clearly. Her eyes, smile, lips, everything was so lively and present.
“You know, my husband works in the industry too. Maybe you guys will run into each other one day.”
I could feel my face turn crooked.
“That’s amazing, Ava, but I have to go. I’m sort of in a rush. It was nice seeing you again.”
“You too, maybe we will be together in another life.”
I wasn’t sure if she said that but I was in a hurry to leave. I could feel my throat closing and it became increasingly difficult to breathe. When I was a child, I thought there was a ghost that wanted to kill me. The ghost would wrap its hands around my throat and squeeze tight until no air could pass.
The automatic sliding doors opened and I was awakened to a city in broad daylight. The cool breeze rushed through me and filled my lungs. How long has it been?
In the distance there was a cloud of marathon runners running repeatedly around a single block. They wore red tank tops with large numbers stapled to their chests. There were people and cars, people on bikes, all weaving through each other, and what appeared as chaotic was actually quite elegant. I saw the whole, all of the parts interacting, as a murmuration of birds creating amorphous shapes in the sky. On top of a towering glass building there was a digital ad playing of a green buddha bounce house, with children jumping joyously inside.
A sharp yellow taxi pulled up to the curb.
“Need a ride?”
I got inside and looked around to see if Ava was near.
“Where you headed?” the driver asked.
“Silver street, I think.”
“You ok? You look like you saw a ghost or something.”
“Yeah I’m fine. Just need some rest, that’s all.”
“I feel you, man. You’re my last ride for the day. You know, time moves differently when everyone else is asleep.”
I could feel my throat open back up as he drove off.
On his dashboard there was a bobble head, a green buddha like the ones I’d been seeing.
“What’s that thing?”, gesturing at the bobble head.
“That? Some guy gave it to me last night. Funny, you’re the first person to ask.”
“Does it mean anything?”
“I’m not sure but I like it anyway.”
This was the first time I saw the city during the day. It felt like a city made up of smaller cities, where each street looked reminiscent of the last. Eventually things became indistinguishable.
We arrived at my building. In daylight I could see the tenants living in the half-finished section. Their ghoulish faces and freshly shaved skulls poking out, smoking cigarettes, with dark circles underneath their sunken eyes.
“Here we are.” the driver said.
“Thanks, what’s your name?”
As I was stepping outside he pulled down the passenger window and said,
“Take care of yourself.” while the green buddha’s head bobbled.
Bruce drove off disappearing into the sea of traffic.
Ava’s apartment lights hadn’t turned on since our encounter at the grocery store. Her blinds remained unmoved. There were no signs of life. A storm would roll in from a distant ocean every night, flooding the apartment and giving me no choice but to go down to the lounge.
Always the same faces there, the same woman softly singing in a foreign tongue. The same waiters. The same everything. I’d talk to the same people as if we’d never met. Each time they would introduce themselves under a different name, tell a different story. Tom became Jorge, then Alexander, then Jonas, each of them with a different background and different dreams. The dancer with sculpted legs was greeted by a new man each night, whispering into her ear and grabbing her waist as if it were all planned.
I got sick of it and went to the elevator. As the door was closing an older asian lady stopped the door with her hand and came inside. I pressed the 23rd floor, to get back home, and couldn't tell if the elevator was moving up or down, if it was moving at all. I kept pressing the 23rd button and nothing happened.
Against the woman's chest there was a jade buddha, attached to a golden necklace. She noticed me looking and looked up at me, smiling with her eyes barely open.
I continued to press the button.
"It's not working." I said.
She smiled, not concerned at all.
The elevator light was dim and surrounded by mirrors.
"Are you going somewhere?" she asked in an accent.
"Home." I replied.
I kept pressing the button hoping it would suddenly work.
"Well I guess we're just stuck here." I said.
She laughed, still unbothered by the whole event.
Nothing was said, the elevator was still.
"What's that on your necklace? The green buddha?"
She didn't say anything. She looked at me smiled, nodded, and then reached for the panel of numbers pressing the 11th floor.
The metal doors slid open and everything looked different. What was previously a hazy lounge was now an open room with rice paper against the windows, diffusing the sun into a soft light. The floor was a red carpet with yellow stars sparsely sprinkled around. There were people seated on pillows. People who looked vaguely familiar with the same green buddha bracelets.
A singing metal bowl guided them through a breathing meditation. The sound of deep inhalations and exhalations.
"Come." she said.
There was a wooden shelf filled with papers and burning incense. She kissed her finger and tapped the crown of a large jade stone buddha.
"Here." she handed me a piece of paper and a pen.
On the paper there was a single question:
"What are you looking for?"
I felt compelled to say Ava. Or Love, or the other things I’d originally come here for. But I let it all wash away, lulled by the rhythmic rise and fall of their breaths.
What was I looking for?
I quickly wrote down what came to mind and folded the paper.
She smiled, nodded, and placed it into one of the open shelves.
I took a seat and felt my lungs open, my mind wash away. The exhalations of my worry, my fears, my love, my thoughts, everything dissolved until a black curtain swept over my eyes and I was no longer. I'd finally fallen into a deep sleep.