Monday, April 30, 2012

Dirty Girl on the Dirty Ground

A loud electronic beep rings in my ears. I try to open my eyes and keep them open, but it's very difficult. My lids are heavy like the rolldown gates of the city center fruit shop in the early hours of the morning, except there are no tired brown-skinned arms to force them open. I try harder though because I can see the shoes of people passing by through winks of darkness, and the slim recognition of cheap sneakers tells me that I must be in some American city. I feel the familiar rumbling and trembling of the dirty concrete beneath my cheek followed by the loud heartbeats of a train that's gaining speed.

I half want to lose the battle against exhaustion, pretend like I don't have to deal with whichever world is out there and just plunge back into sleep, but that's the thing about reality, once you get a glimpse of it it's impossible to ignore. 

Reality. I've always hated that word. It sounds too much like responsibility.

The silence left behind is a sign that the train is gone and it's time to get up. I groggily push the floor back into horizontal position and look around the now half-empty subway station, avoiding the rude stares of the remaining commuters as I try to deduce my whereabouts. I feel around and realize I'm wearing someone's oversized coat, and try to locate my hands through the long green sleeves. As I get up on my feet I stumble upon a soft object, hear a jingling sound and look down to see a black hat filled with dollars and quarters. Smiling with irony I pocket the money and shrug, thinking- hey, I might need it later. I walk down the station in search for a sign but there's almost no need, I can already tell by the people and the dusty smell that this is a subway somewhere in the Bronx. 

As I walk I begin to feel an intense headache and the taste of whiskey in my mouth. It must have been a fun night, but I can't remember a thing. My smiling watch signals 6 in the morning. A lonely flute starts grieving from the other side of the station and it reminds me of the muffled sound of someone crying, but I can't remember who. There's a lanky white old man who's playing the melancholy tune, and I wonder why he's playing in an almost empty station. Walking past the movie posters I look up at the wall and read "149th Street." I start wiping my cheek with the inside of my coat sleeve but even if the grime comes off the disgusting feeling of filth on my skin won't go away so easily. At least I still smell of perfume. Man, I really need a shower. A groan from the darkness announces the coming of another train. 

Well, here we go again. I sigh, put on a rueful smile and the little black hat just for kicks and make my way inside the train. Now that people can see my heels I hope they confuse me with an avant-garde runway model or a quirky artist and not with a homeless person. The doors close with a loud beep as I find a seat next to a really fat Puerto Rican man displaying his flag in almost every piece of clothing he's wearing. As I squeeze between him and dignified old black lady I run down the list of New York contacts in my smartphone and think about whose place I could crash in today. 

I missed you, New York.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Hello, Alice.

I can hear someone crying in the next room.

It is a very uncomfortable situation to have to listen to someone crying and not be able to find out why or make them stop. I was stuck in a particularly difficult problem with the code I was working on when I first heard it. At first there was that distracting buzz in the back of my mind that ripped me away from what I was doing, then there's the recognition of the sound of sobbing, and finally my ears search for the source of the whimpering and locate the room- this time it's the one above me.

There is an unwritten rule in this dorm that we all follow. It's very simple- don't butt in. I can count the words I've spoken to the girls in this dorm with my left hand. Instead of speaking we simply smile, nod, or ignore each other as we pass by on the stairs or the hallway. Most girls here are juniors or seniors in college who picked singles for a reason- we want privacy. There are no parties, no groups of obnoxious students sitting in the common room and laughing at Youtube videos, and no need to awkwardly explain to roommates that they are being sexiled because of a visiting boyfriend. There is really no need for me to concern myself about a neighbor crying. Except I can't concentrate. If I took ten minutes away from my work I could go upstairs and comfort her, but social norms in this dorm won't allow me to knock on her door and ask why she's slobbering.

Nope. There's nothing for me to do except to shut her out of my mind.

My eyes are back to the computer and I look intently at the code, trying to find the problem. The whimpering turns into murmurs and then back to more whining and sobbing. She's probably crying in the phone to someone. I wish I had my head phones so I could at least escape that horrid sound, but I lost them this morning. My eyes could burn a hole in the screen, but it's no use, there's something enchanting about the sound of her suffering. It's like an imbedded chip that activates in my brain and makes my muscles tense, pushing me to do something. I can't do anything though, except listen.

Slowly, my brain is lulled into silence. My mind wonders again into that world I've tried so hard to forget for the past three months. That world of empty subway trains and streets flooded with Asian eyes. That world of blue lakes and white sheets, wet autumn leaves on pebbled streets, loud music and soft moans, and the background chatter of a coffe house. The receding sound of someone crying is the only signal that I'm leaving this room, that I'm falling down again. Down, down into the rabbit hole.

"Hello, Alice," I hear a familiar voice say from the bottom of darkness. "It's been a while."