Contemporary Fiction People of Color

The man sat slumped over, his head in his hands. Is he tired, overworked, angry? I wonder what he is thinking. Does something trouble him? Is he on his way to work, or perhaps he has no job and just received another rejection, no career, no life really.

But I would never know the answers to my questions, because in a flash the man was gone and I am immediately left looking into someone else’s eyes. A girl with wild hair, pleated skirt, backpack a lot of bright makeup. Who is she? Where is the train taking her today? High school? College? What classes does she like? Who are her friends? Is she happy every day, or does she hide her true self behind the eye shadow and pink stripes in her hair?

But she is gone now as well. I can barely make out the myriad of faces, the expressions are lost but still I think about them. I only get a glimpse as the trains whiz by each other, but I always wonder about the people I see outside my window. I ask myself where have they come from, where they’re headed, what worries them, what brings them joy.

Does anyone wonder that about me, when I pull the train into the station, poke my head out, turn from side to side, take a breath and say “Stand clear of the closing doors please. Next stop Brooklyn Bridge, City Hall”? When they ask me where the escalator is or if this train is local, I smile when I respond, make eye contact, but do they see me? Do they care about my life, my world, my every day as I do about theirs?

I am Jim Baker, 54 years old, widowed, childless. If they looked into my eyes, they would see that I am nowhere, just a rat caught in the maze of the subway system, going everywhere seeing thousands and yet never leaving. At the end of every dreary day, I am back to my stop, 161st Street Yankee Stadium, where I say goodbye to the few friends I’ve made over the years and descend the steps to walk the few blocks to my 4th floor walk-up. 

When there’s a game it’s loud in the apartment and if I crane my neck in such a way when I’m sitting on the fire escape having my nightly cigar, I can see flashes of crowds and the cheering makes the night not seem so alone.

I wonder about them too just as I wonder about the straphangers I see each day. Most people that come to the Yankee games aren’t from the Bronx; they come in from Manhattan, Jersey, upstate, the places with skyscrapers, or suburbs, good schools with clean hallways, housekeepers, and nannies. These people are like aliens that have descended from their spaceship to temporarily inhabit my inner-city world just like gentrification caused an intrusive lightening and commercialization of our streets. There are many nice apartments being built, new stores and shops. But I can’t afford the rents, nor do I see the need for the $6 coffee concoctions.

But my city has the certain charm only those of us from here can see. The guys in the bodega, the same ones that have worked there since God knows when, the quarter water with the bacon egg and cheese, the dollar slices, the sopa de pollo, the Presidentes, Coronas and the Icee ladies. There's that museum on the Grand Concourse that tells stories and shares the artwork of our black and brown communities, the street fairs, the music, the kids dancing for tips or selling candy for school.

My wife and I never had children even though we tried for many years, but it was not in the cards for us. Our life had been a sweet one; she was the sunshine of everyday and then the dreaded cancer took her slowly, and she was gone. It hadn’t been enough time, with her it couldn’t have ever been enough.

Now I spend my days working, watching, waiting. Waiting for what? What else is there to life than being a spectator, trying to figure out if others are in as much pain as I am, if their despair matches the color of my own soul. 

Life looks different when the love is gone. Yet I am tired of looking out my windows, the bedroom window, the train window and wondering about others when the window looking into myself is one I haven’t yet peered into; perhaps I’m afraid of what I’ll see.

We used to talk about the beach. My sweet Greta. Retiring on the sand with cocktails and sunsets. She is clearer to me when I envision what we could have had rather than remembering the end, the sickness, her pain, my agony. 

I want to be close to her, to feel her somewhere inside that’s no longer these four walls, this city I’ve loved, the life I’ve known. The connection to it is gone, without her, so much is.

I made the decision without really realizing I had made it. I just began making calls and writing emails and packing bags. A few weeks later the apartment was gone, the car was sold, the job that had been mine for 30 years, the friends I'd made, all the memories, were now in my internal rear view. My home, my work, my past was a place that no longer felt was mine, not without her. 

I sat in the comfortable sleeper sofa on the Amtrak to Virginia Beach, I watched the trees, the clouds, the land pass me by. The scene outside my window was now full of peace and the only thoughts I had were of myself, of what awaited me, what my future would be, and that I'd somehow soon be closer to her.

The waters would be clearer, the drinks sweeter, the mood lighter, because I’d be exactly where she would’ve wanted, not living through others but for myself. I look outside my train window now and only meet the gaze of a new life. 

October 20, 2022 15:16

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