A cigarette butt lies next to my foot, still emitting a trace of smoke. Nearby on the dusty asphalt a pigeon waddles self-consciously, bobbing its head as if pecking the air for some invisible food. A squirrel churrs a threat to his brother, challenging him to romp.
The walkway before me never becomes silent. A buzz of voices blends with the city soundscape of cars driving and trucks backing, swingsets squealing and sparrows chirping. A toddler, holding tightly to his sister’s stroller, yells “Achtung! Achtung! Achtung!” at a squirrel that crosses two inches from his foot. His mother comforts him, in German. A man sits down on the bench across from me, eyelids dropping on his creased red face as he stirs his cup of coffee.
The bench I sit on is green, painted over years of dents and names scratched in wood. My backpack sits to my left with its main zipper opened just wide enough for me to extract my notebook and pen. At my right is my suitcase. Its pockets are crammed full like the subway this morning, barely room left to breathe, creaking and complaining of the overburdening load.
The subway. A couple of hours ago it brought me here, and soon, I will hike the blocks back to the station, shoulder chafing from the suitcase, and it will bring me to the train station. I’m going home today.
At home, the mountain overshadows our farm in the same way that the thirty-story apartment building a block north overshadows this park. They both recede as they rise, shadowed places standing out against sunlit sides, seeming to hold themselves back from too much involvement with their surroundings. This building stands behind a wall of brick rowhouses like the low hill of alfalfa fields blocks a view of the lower reaches of the mountain.
The rowhouses’ potentially beautiful façade is marred by rusty air-conditioner units and a high trim of metalwork, corroded to a bright green, contrasting with the clean brick and the white window frames. Trees obscure my vision slightly, holding onto their last few dirty-brown leaves. A puff of air, cool enough to make you shiver but too warm for a jacket, rustles them.
Strains of harmonica waft from the park bench opposite me. A street musician of sorts has opened for business, a blue-green flowerpot at his feet. His nearly empty bag is next to him on the bench, surrounded by his array of harmonicas. A contented Labrador Retriever disinterestedly glances toward him, not missing of beat of his lazy gait. “Swing low, sweet chariot…” The man plays each line of music, then sings it. “Coming for to carry me home…”
Two benches to his left, a couple of students eat their lunch. One feeds pigeons that strut in a semicircle around his feet. A sudden crash from a nearby construction site sends every pigeon in the park into flight. Their wings create more noise than the blast that scared them.
A lady sits down next to me, lighting up a cigarette. The noxious gray fumes begin to flow from its burning tip. I think it’s time to leave.