I never leave the apartment without a book. Reading is my only line of defense in warding off crazies. I don’t like strangers. I don’t like to talk to people I don’t know, especially not in this city. My roommates make fun of me; it’s easier they say to put headphones on, but I need to hear what’s going on around me and I need something to do with my eyes. I wonder daily if I should have just stayed in Texas, in the suburbs of Houston, where I had space. I didn’t have to mask my eyes and pretend.
Texas tastes like my mama’s homemade dinners, sounds like the laughter of Leila, my best friend, vibrates with the sound of my grandma’s singing first thing in the morning cup of tea in hand and it’s overcast with shadows. It’s the place I lost my father.
Now I’m here, two months in. I made my choices, quitting my job, packing my belongings in my Ford Explorer, cajoling Monica, my sister, to help me drive cross country to New York, where I sold my Ford, found an apartment, a job, and just like that, took on a new life, in a new city. New York. Few regrets, at least on a good day.
I watch from my periphery as an older gentleman takes a seat on the bench next to me. He murmurs to himself in creamy Spanish. I give him a sideways inspection to make sure he isn’t crazy. I’m struck by his colors, the vibrant purple of his coat, the rich red of his pants, bold statements to the world. Compelled, my gaze lingers. Soggy bags form a crescent beneath his eyes; gray tufts of beard surround his mouth like irregular snow drifts. Curiosity satisfied, I continue performing my role as a serious and intense bibliophile.
But I can’t read. I can’t perform. I’m distracted by the man seated to my left, by the way his frame towers over mine, leaning towards me as if reading over my shoulder. I begin to lean to the right creating more space between us. He wants to speak to me. I can feel it. He clears his throat in soft grunts. I narrow my eyes but they remain glued to the page.
“Is it religious, your book?” he finally asks.
I pretend not to hear and continue staring at the page.
“Your book. Is it religious?” his voice rises to emphasize his question.
I avoid eye contact and flash the cover.
“Spiritual,” I manage abruptly.
His stare makes my skin tingle. My performance continues. He does not falter.
“That’s a good book.”
I continue looking at my page and do not respond.
Orleich is both an anthropologist and a shaman.” He speaks with staccato conviction.
My brows furrow.
“She presents a complete picture, a clear roadmap. We once led a workshop together,” he continues.
My grip is fierce on the pages. I’m flustered, he knows the author?
“You know the author?” Horrified, I hear the question tumble, un-guarded, from my lips.
“Put the book down,” he responds, dropping the endings of his words.
I break character, stop performing and obey. The book is in my lap and I am staring into the brown eyes of a stranger.
Peering at his palms he asks me to cup my hands together. I mirror his gesture.
“What do you see?”
I consider my answer. I know it’s a test. I don’t want to fail, like I’ve failed at understanding the pages of my book. I stare into my palms and crinkle my nose. My glasses slip from my bridge, the burgundy frames blur my line of vision. I try to concentrate.
copyright 2013 sojourner walker, all rights reserved