The air was acrid, sullied by the smog from the city. He turned around and did a quick sweep over the entire apartment. It had been just 24 hours since they moved in to their tiny New York apartment. It had taken Barney and Sundrah months to find anything suitable and even then the tiny room wasn't much bigger than the pig pen back home.
Sure he grew up in modest beginnings on a farm out in the countryside. But at least, he wrinkled his nose up in disdain, the place had character and a rhythm. You knew exactly when to wake up when the handsome cock perched on top of the barn and unleashed his squawk of an alarm. Thereafter the day's pace was set with each task that needed to be done throughout the day. And you worked, some might even say toiled, under the sun until nightfall.
He opened a small box and pulled out a whimsical painting of an old barn on top of a rolling hill amidst rose gold rays of a setting sun. He placed it on top of the chipping mantelpiece. It would be the very first piece from home to be placed down. He traced his hands over the amateur brushstrokes. It was a fine but clumsy work from his fifteen-year-old self, one he did when he was just coming to accept life as a farm boy.
After a heavy sigh, he took another picture out, a recent snapshot of his arms around a brunette with a smile comparable to dawn. His heart warmed, melting away any disdain and melancholy, replacing it only with tenderness.
He suddenly remembered exactly why he moved.
Sundrah came up from behind, locking her arms around his waist and planted a kiss on Barney's cheek. She looked about the room and an easiness settled over her. It had taken her twenty years of her life, but she'd finally done it. She had made it out of that tiny town full of nothing but gossip, and the kind of people who lived for it.
Now, she was exactly where she belonged. She went over to the narrow window, opened it, and inhaled deeply. A mixture of gas fumes and the neighbor's rancid trash punched her in the senses, causing her to nearly trip over her feet. Sure, it was vile but it also smelt to Sundrah of innovation and progress.
She fixated her attention on the skyscrapers in the distance. Soon night would come and instead of the dark nothingness that accompanied her country house, the city would beat with life as neon purples and vivid blue lights emanated from every corner. There were endless people to chat with, infinite pathways. Happiness was easier here. All you needed was simple happenstance.
The adrenaline rushed through her veins as she rummaged through her bags. She was going to feel alive tonight, no matter if it was the first day or not. There was nothing that was going to come between her and the new adventure unfolding at that very moment. With shaky hands, she pulled out a midnight blue dress and rushed into the bedroom.
Barney raised an eyebrow, knowing fully well he was going to be dragged along to whatever romp Sundrah wanted to go on. But he said nothing about it. The state of nothing had become his usual stance; his indecisiveness usually aggravated Sundrah. He knew he was going to be in for a long night. The drive had been exhausting in midst of ungodly traffic and hunger. If he had known he'd be stuck on the same street for an hour, he'd have gotten out and ran to one of the many Popeyes.
Of course, it was nothing comparable to his mother's fried chicken. It was made from their very own chickens that fed solely on farm greens and sweet Gala apples. The mixture of thirty spices was a heavily guarded family secret. Superbly crunchy and complex in flavor, it was one of the best things he'd ever had. If people thought fast food chicken could be good, he pitied them for not having been his mother's child.
His stomach suddenly growled loud enough for a now re-imagined Sundrah to notice. He took her in and howled.
"Shut up," she laughed, "Come on, let's go explore and get you some food,"
They held hands, his palm radiating a warm love as he proudly walked alongside his hot girlfriend. As out of place he felt, at least the city guys couldn't say he didn't have game.
They walked down cracked pavements to a brightly lit row of restaurants.
"Should we try Maggie's Soulfood?" she said, pointing to a small restaurant packed with people.
"No, I think i'd like to go there," he said, pointing to the red and orange building in front of him. When she saw where he meant, her eyebrows knotted in confusion.
"But you hate Popeye's,"
"I hate all restaurant chicken, but at least their flavor is consistent," She shook her head as they stepped inside.
He wondered what his mother was up to as he bit down on a crunchy leg.
Sundrah wiped bits of chicken skin clinging around his mouth. She knew Barney was less enthusiastic about the move than she was. He was an Earth child, born from pure air, untouched waters, and emerald green fields. He loved nothing more than to work on the farm for days. A city like New York was not where he belonged. And yet, when she told him of her plans to leave, of wanting to separate for a while to think things over, he wouldn't have it.
"Bleh, so bland," he said, pinching a nugget between his fingers as he spit some into a napkin.
She chewed on a nugget with little appetite. She didn't tell him, but she had complicated feelings over the matter. She was grateful he loved her enough to want to follow her, but it was hard dealing with his morose behavior.
"Ugh. Oh no. Stomach. Bathroom. Got to go," said Barney as he shot up from the bench.
Sundrah sighed, twirling a half eaten drumstick on its ends. Tonight was supposed to have been magical, instead there she was at a Popeye's with a boyfriend who couldn't see the light. From behind her, a table full of young men crowded around boxes upon boxes of chicken.
One of them was an exotic golden-haired man. He immediately caught her eye with his unique look and, noticing her stare, he looked down and smiled knowingly. His dazzling smile hit her in the pit of her stomach. There it was, that magical happenstance, except it was happening at the worst possible time.
The man said a quick word to his buddies and sauntered over, his every move like that of a model's. As if on cue, Barney walked out of the bathroom, his hand covering his stomach with a pained expression. She watched in wide-eyed horror as they bumped into each other.
"Oh sorry man," said the man in a deep baritone.
"No problem," said Barney good-naturedly and slid into his seat. The man paused, took a step back, and gave her a raised eyebrow.
"You guys are together?" he said. Barney stared at him, taking in then how tall his limbs were and how broad his shoulders.
"Yeah, we are,"
"Ookay, dodged that one then," he said before walking back to his table.
Barney took a moment for it all to sink in before he turned to stare into Sundrah's sheepish face. It all came crashing down on him.
"I fucking hate this place," he said.
I'm going to make it here, she thought.
New York City,
where the lights shine
and the nights are pretty
careful now, watch your tail
lest you fall and hit the pail
don't fret if you forget
you can always go home and trade
that Popeye's for some Mom's homemade