There’s still people out. More than she would’ve expected considering the city is on lockdown. Essential workers, the only ones allowed out for any length of time. Everyone else, supposedly only for grocery shopping or a quick walk around the block.
No loitering. No getting closer than 6 feet to another human. No exceptions. A near-impossible order in a city of millions. But after being trapped inside for weeks, it was becoming a question of what’s more important, sanity or sheltering in place? For now, a quick jaunt to her favorite park and back. She needs to soak in the city a bit to regain her strength.
It’s a Tuesday morning. And she finally gets to do this. Just sit in a café and write and sip a cappuccino with chocolate sprinkled on top. How many times she’s walked by her own favorite café on her way to work…longing for a time when she could be so carefree as to just stop, sit, sip, and write. Now here she is. Still a bit tired from the nights of work…a different kind of work…she takes it in. Trying to squeeze out as much joy as possible.
Part of her longs for the sleeping man back at the flat. But the nights are for him and his art. The mornings, maybe, can be for hers. She could get used to this. Bopping around from place to place, city to city. Soaking in the nightlife as he shares his talents and his voice with all those who will listen. Her, waking up early to make time to find her own voice. If you have a story inside, you must get it out. She read that recently; some famous dude said it. But it sounds right.
It’s dark. The bright sunlight is sneaking in the windows behind the bar. It hits off the wine glasses parked in the window and sparkles. Glitter and glamour are in the DNA of this place.
It’s soft and tranquil. The couches are comfy. I feel glamourous just being here for a moment. Observing. Once again, I wonder who notices the girl in the corner — sitting quietly, drinking her bubbles. Feeling fabulous.
Sunflowers in red vases top the marble mantle. Fake. Which seems odd, but I guess fake is welcome here. The mantle itself adds a grandeur that can’t be fabricated.
The buzz of the city wasn’t as loud as the quiet out here in the country. Between the birds outside her window, always chirping, and the farm animals doing who knows what across the way, she couldn’t sleep. She longed for her old bed, now safely tucked in a 5′ x 5′ storage cell. With no spot left to call her own, her bags stayed packed and her life, on hold.
It’d been weeks since she even heard a siren. She missed the current of excitement, always on…in the air, the floorboards, the sidewalks. But it is calmer here, more relaxing. With less to do, she had more time for herself. More time to figure out the next step. New adventures will be had, of that she was sure. And she looked forward, not back.
She sat under the Oaks in Union Square, pondering the direction her night would take. It was the last one. Her last night as a resident. It was as if she looked back at a dream seven, no 27, years in the making. Her dream of surviving and thriving in the Big Apple. A city that showed no mercy to the weary. A city that swallowed tourists and spat them back out. A city she would always love.
Thoughts of sadness, loneliness and regret started to consume her. She was at risk of spiraling down, of spending the evening wallowing in self-pity and sorrow.
Then the acorns started to fall. One by one they bounced off her head to the pavement below. She looked around…no one else seemed afflicted, nor to even notice what befell her. Sitting atop the bench now posed a hazard. Beware of falling acorns…don’t look up, you’ll get one in the eye.
It was all she needed…she snapped out of it. A smile crept in. Then she was off.
After procuring the spot — a four-seater facing the window — she sits solitary, nibbling a croissant that fails to satisfy. Despite it, she feels relaxed; refreshed; even excited for where the day will take her. One iced coffee quickly downed, she orders another. With time to kill she takes notes, skims a pamphlet and pauses to relish this simple moment to herself. Her gaze wanders outside.
An unlucky barista mans the sidewalk cart filled with gelato, ice-cold beverages and a carafe that advertises watered down Crystal Light as “Homemade Lemonade.” The owner steps outside for a smoke. He points, says something to the fresh-faced barista, and soon the young man squirts and squeegees the plastic counter top until any fingerprints are gone.
Most passersby continue on, not giving the small café cart a second glance. A few, however, stop for a treat and some relief from the heat. She observes it all silently from behind the glass, unnoticed.
The couple, with antique bike in tow, choose a can of Coke. The girl stands smiling, a wreath of bright-pink daisies rests atop her mane. The boy orders. His loose sleeveless tank looks as if it could use a wash — hair peeks out from all sides. The two struggle at the straw wrapper, then wave a friendly goodbye to the barista.
He stands and waits patiently behind the counter. She can tell he, too, is a seasoned observer.
Ms. Sourpuss steps up. She nods to the water bin and inquires, “how much?” Exaggerated distaste flashes across her face as she walks away.
A family of four — Italian — stops. Each one grabs at something different. For a second she thinks she’s been caught spying, but no. The daughter simply checks her own reflection, bumps her ponytail and then looks away satisfied. Mom requests a cup of ice for her orange-flavored San Pellegrino and lets her husband pay for their loot.
She wasn’t fooled…it’s not the city that never sleeps. It’s just a city where at least someone is always up. In reality it seems as though most people sleep days away, leaving nights for pitter-pattering. And that hardly counts as never sleeping, if you ask her.
The city does have a quiet place, however. In summer, as the sunlight first hints arrival from beyond the East River, that’s when you’ll find it…the quiet place. In winter, there’s no time to wait for the sun, but the hour remains the same.
An occasional errand or obligation makes her part of it. A secret club of New Yorkers start their days here. Nudging the city awake, some are still half asleep as they wash windows, bake delectables, and walk dogs of all sizes…all the while enjoying a little peace — because even one hour more and the real buzzing begins.
An outsider might witness this place and mistake it for full speed, or at least close to it. But locals know better — she knows better. The only one pausing to observe, she tiptoes on freshly rinsed sidewalks and breathes in morning air not yet polluted by cigarette smoke. A mere two or three customers await cups at Starbucks (soon enough the line will end out the door).
To her the streets are empty. She almost tingles with excitement at the rare scene surrounding her. No one else seems to recognize it. Perhaps they’re all used to it now. Not knowing any better, they start each day like the one before…with blinders on. Blinders that lead them to their destinations without bumping into, tripping on or even witnessing anything. It’s easy to forget the wonder of the mundane and the wonder of what surrounds us always. No two mornings are ever exactly the same in reality, but as memories, days blend together.
Maybe she’ll find this quiet place again someday. In the meantime, she’ll take her own blinders off.