Waiting for the city to be alive again. Staring at the clock, sitting at the window, watching only empty things take the place of the crowds. A taxi, is that a taxi? No passengers, though. Oh, another car, but just one. No line at Starbucks, no seats on the train to fight for, no MetroCard to fumble, nowhere to go. It’s been months, more months than I believed would be necessary, more months than I still believe are necessary. But it’s not my call. So, I do my part. I look through protective glass, breathing through fabric-bound features at a city that is just a city. Without people, it’s just a city.
Some days, though, I sit in my sheltered room, antiseptic and alone, more than six feet away from any other breathing thing, and I let myself remember when the city was alive. The smell of the hot dogs and curried kabobs and salted, soft pretzels circling street vendors like spirits seducing pedestrians. Movement, constant movement. Noise, life noises, vibrating against the city’s veil — horns and music and bicycle bells and bus air brakes hissing as if to shush the sounds. All kinds of shoes shuffling, scuffling, striding along Sixth, heading downtown, turning left toward Fifth, and going through to Madison. The vision of crowds at bus stops, food deliveries on bikes, drivers cutting off other drivers, and tourists crushed into the Channel Gardens like flecks of color in a tweed coat. Crowds of people — flesh people, not pixel people, not on video–tight and flowing like muddy water, slow, steady, following the stream to anywhere they want to go. But not anymore.
Will we ever see a crowd again? I mean a daily-life crowd responding to daily life not a crowd responding to injustice, an opinion, not a battle-cry crowd. Just a crowd. Crowds because everyone is going to the same deli, waiting for the same train, running to the same office building, buying tickets for the same game. A crowd late for work, running to pick kids up at school, to meet friends for dinner. Remember? Just daily life.
I don’t even miss anything anymore. I, like many other city veterans, have resigned. We are reassigned. Reassigned to suburbs, our parents’ home, a studio apartment far from our friends. We are fine with that. Fine with that as long as our Wi-Fi lasts.
The city is different. Danger has gone viral. Before, when the city was alive, the dangers were expected dangers. Just regular crimes that the city had learned to live with, that people allowed as the price of residence. It’s different now. The city is irascible. Responses are furious and fierce and fiery. Violence is so creative. Anarchy is so thorough. Arrogance is so blind. Pride is more destructive than all three and is getting us nowhere, not even to the open-air Channel Gardens. The city is quieter now. That’s okay. No one is listening to each other anyway.
No news is good news was never more true. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear. Perception is reality. Even though there are cameras everywhere. No one is watching anyway.
Waiting for the waiting game to close up shop and free the people. Waiting for the people to blend into crowds again. Waiting for the people to blend…period. Waiting for the sound of “Amen” to echo off tall buildings and become muffled by the horns and shouts and footsteps and car radios and bicycle bells again. Still waiting.
Maureen Mancini Amaturo, New York based fashion-beauty writer/columnist, teaches writing, leads the Sound Shore Writers Group, which she founded in 2007, and produces literary events. Her work has appeared in many publications including: The Dark Sire (nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and TDS Fiction Award, 2020), Boned, Every Day Fiction, Coffin Bell Journal, Drunken Pen, Dime Show Review, Flash Non-Fiction Food Anthology (Woodhall Press,) Things That Go Bump (Sez Publishing,) Film Noir Before It Was Cool (Weasel Press), The Re-Written Anthology (Wingless Dreamer,) Points In Case, and Little Old Lady Comedy. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.