“At least we can light a candle for hope, and try once again for a better world.”
By Lin Etheridge
New York’s wind was cold and brash in March. The littered streets were a breeding place for tiny cyclones of dirt and soot, and the air harsh and stinging.
People scurried wordlessly, hurrying like frightened, slit-eyed moles on the messy sidewalks in a silent desperation.
They clutched at their pocketbooks and briefcases tightly, knowing that if they dropped anything the contents would be scattered with the litter to be trampled senseless by human feet into oblivion.
A young woman, about twenty-two years old entered the mob cautiously from Grand Central and over to the side at Lexington.
The wind toyed with her hair as if it were taffy, pulling its lacquered stiffness from all sides, revealing a marred complexion and deep set green eyes. She was remembering at that moment what someone has said about her face. It was like a desert, plain and sandy-colored but for her eyes, which were a forest, a virtual oasis.
She smiled at the thought as she clutched at her hair, self-consciously, pushing it back into place so that the skin on her cheeks was covered and started walking, in step, with the others.
She kept her eyes straight ahead of her but was very much conscious of the quick glances she was getting from people, especially the men.
She supposed they found the forest of her eyes alluring for a few seconds. She hated her eyes for that reason, wishing at times that they turn colorless and unnoticed, at times hoping her face too gain enough beauty so the notice would last. She hated the neither here nor there state, the in-between suspense, the frustration of feeling the fleeting look of attention that turned off almost instantly.
This was her shelter from the cruel world and she hadn’t left it so long that even the forces of maturity had failed to pry her out of the clutches of this sense of inadequacy. She did not imagine anyone wishing to know and understand her.
Yet Christy enjoyed life anyway, at a chilly, abstract level. The looks from the men bothered her, but she could look too, and make up stories about the rather unusual looking people that she saw. There was no pressure on her to try and match the stares she got, as the communication level had touched the nadir and dipped into a bottomless pit that didn’t even evoke echoes.
Feeling a little giddy with a sense of intellectual freedom, there was less time for her to feel out of place, as she often did at certain quiet party scenes (though one she treasured), with different types of games, motivations.
Her body was elegant as she proceeded within the crowd. The sun was faint through the clouds, she had let her hair blow free, it revealed cheeks that looked frosted and healthy, and she felt a surge of security. She had reached Madison, when a taxi pulled up beside her, and a man in a gray coat got out and looked directly at her.
“Why, Christy, is that you? ” The man paid the driver and walked in long strides over to her. He held her eyes with his own, and his hair changed color in the light sun.
Christy became tense inside, and held her hair close to her head again. She had not figured that in all of New York she would meet up with an old acquaintance.
“Hey, you still have your forest eyes,” He stepped close to her and regarded her intensely.
“I really haven’t seen you in a long time.” Christy said this quite emphatically, and then realized how absurd she must have sounded. He didn’t seem to notice.
“Yeah, I’d say it’s been at least five years.” And he smiled playfully at her.
“At least,” she said back, a little sarcastically.
“We must never live in the past, Christy, my dear. And so, let’s go and have coffee somewhere before the past eats us up.” They both laughed as the tension between them lessened. Matthew hailed a taxi and they got in.
“So,” said Christy, “what are you doing now?” She looked at him as he settled back in the seat.
“Well,” he answered, “I’m twenty-four years old, a man-child lost in a senseless century, still wondering around just like I always have.” He touched her arm lightly, and she looked at him.
“I’m still a dreamer, also,” she told him.
“I figured you would be. God, Christy, you really look good.”
“Thanks. I guess after four years of college, I had to pick something up.”
“You still haven’t learned to be truly happy, though, have you?” Mathew said this almost mockingly.
“You mean there is a technique?” She laughed cynically.
“No, just a realization.” He looked intently out the window, for a few moments.
“I feel like I’ve realized just about everything there is to realize about myself, life and all the other great forces on the earth.” She gazed at the back of the taxi driver’s head, wondering if he had children, or had been in Vietnam, or in the recent, devastating Gulf War.
“Ah, my dear, unusual, Christy, you haven’t changed, have you? You dreamers are all the same, always wondering and thinking about people, yet putting yourself on a pedestal instead of trying to show them that you might be worth getting to know.”
“Why should I try? Who ever tried for me? Maybe I’m uneasy, deep down, about death or something.” She felt some hostility towards him, she was probably either ahead of her time, or too far behind. She enjoyed music and Broadway, though. And she wrote poetry.
“Some people, the lucky ones in my estimation, have to try first and maybe a little harder than some. The truly humane people in this world always had to try first, be tougher than the rest, believe me.”
“So, what the hell do the humane people get,” Christy asked sarcastically.
“A lot of pain and misery for all their trouble.”
“Yeah, which makes them strong, and as long as they don’t give up hope, that strength pays off.”
“Yes, Mathew, I think you are right. At least we can light a candle for hope, and try once again for a better world.”
“True, life is not a game, this dream is very real.”
Christy watched the people from outside the cab. It seemed as though they had been in there for so long. Already, the sky was tinted for dusk.
“Matthew, I’m scared.” Christy glanced at him.
“So was I,” he said as the cab started up. They weren’t sure where they were off too, unsure…
This short story was first published in Meghdutam.com (between 1999 to 2002).
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