Across from me, a youth in dark blue glasses and a woolly hat, his hands in his pockets. He lazes back against the bench as only the young do. By his feet rests a backpack.
The street sweeper pulls along a gray bucket. She wears dark blue gloves, against the cold and the dirt this time of year. Using an old-fashioned broom she sweeps the leaves from behind the benches, with what one might call practiced skill, with a patience born of knowing that no matter how many times she does so, there will always be more leaves tomorrow.
‘It’s cold,’ the boy exclaims.
‘It’s cold?’ his father replies. ‘It is cold, yeah.’
He mumbles something else as they are gone.
A squirrel darts across the way.
A sparrow hops, cautious, lest it be crushed.
I glance at my watch. The foot traffic increases.
A child in a blue jacket, painted like the night sky, a bright orange ‘waist coat’ over it (did she pick her own outfit?) is reprimanded by her mother, and lets out a wail. It lasts for a few seconds. Her mother turns to face her; seeing the mood her mother is in, the child is quiet instantly.
A man walks by with seven dogs on leashes – assorted sizes, breeds, and colours. The only other thing you need to know about this man is that he wears a ‘fanny pack’.
In the distance there are sirens, but that is always the case.
The bushes behind me rustle. A squirrel waits, then hops away, disappointed, already targeting another occupied bench. I glance at my watch.
The only thing more colourful than the kid’s headphones are his trainers, is his backpack.
I am happy it is not colder, or I would have stayed in the ihop longer. Not that it’s a horrible place, but after a while they begin to look at you.
I’m walking into the square, looking for a place to sit, to kill time.
‘Chess player? Chess game?’ the old man asks. gesturing to the board. One of those inset in a stone table, like you see in films.
‘No thank you,’ I reply, even though I play and have plenty of time. It’s the big city question in my brain, what’s the catch?, combined with natural shyness.
Perhaps the man just wants someone to talk to. Perhaps I will be him, one day. Even as I sit and write this, I still have time, to go back, to play a while. Talk a while. But I won’t.
The sun is out. To my right a woman sits in front of a pram. Staring, fixated. She can’t take her eyes off it. Her phone, that is. I put on my sunglasses.
To my left, a couple speaks quietly. They’re a good-looking couple. There are sirens in the distance, but what else is new? She is blonde, long hair, dark sunglasses; his hair is dark, thick now but not so much as it was. They both wear dark colours, except for white shoes. From where I am, they seem to speak in grunts.
I look at my phone, to hell with the roaming costs. When I look back, she is lying across his chest, his arm around her, face closed against the sun. Like an oil painting, pretty but uncomfortable. A nugget of green sparkles on a finger. When I look back once more the sunglasses are back, the stance of quiet coldness has resumed. Her fingernails are painted black, or dark blue.
I think again, about going to play chess. My stomach heaves. Still a while to go before lunch. The couple beside me get up and walk away. I hear them talking in a language I don’t understand.
The thing I like about New York is you can wear sunglasses all year round.
As I leave the park men talk loudly, curse, wave their arms. Discuss beatings as if they were currency, but in this case the giver profits. A man offers smoke in a low voice. I shake my head and keep walking. Not in NYC, I think. People lean towards me as I walk. People say bless you without breaking stride.
Cities should be a little bit grimy. There are a lot more crazy people here, and here, if you fall, you’re on your own.