As I stood under the streetlights, I shivered. I gathered my coat around me, hiked up my shoulders, and cursed myself for not checking the bus status before paying my fare.
This bus isn’t coming anytime soon, I lamented as I took out my phone to confirm these suspicions. Sure enough, the closest bus was 10 stops away AND heading in the opposite direction. I should just walk, I thought as I sensed him emerge beside me.
“I checked the app and there’s no bus coming for awhile. I think I’ll just walk,” the strange man said to no one. No, to me.
For some reason I didn’t hesitate to turn to him and say, “I was just thinking the same thing. Where ya headed?” He told me his cross streets and I confirmed my nearby address. Then he asked, “You want to walk together? I’m not a kook.”
How could I refuse?
I was far from comfortable on our 20-minute journey. Actually, that is a lie. My spirit was completely at ease. It was my mind that scolded me for trekking through the shrouded city blocks with a stranger.
I looked to quiet my alarm by taking stock of him. He had a balding head and a stuttered stride; characteristics which confirmed my ability to escape if indeed he was a kook.
At this point he said, “I’m ok walking. This bag just has so much stuff in it, it makes it hard to get around.”
Now, the mind reading thing I wasn’t so sure I could beat.
Along the way, he did most of the talking. He started with stories of his childhood in our shared motherland of rural upstate NY. I listened in awe as he reflected back to me with amazing clarity his (my?) deeply rooted conflicts which stemmed from growing up in a place which simultaneously held so much beauty and so much ugliness.
He then told me how he too came to this magnificent city in order to experience the magic which had been pulling him South since his youth. At this point, my fear was non-existent. Instead, I was pretty sure I had found my soul brother.
Then our stories diverged. He had spent the past 30+ years in the city practicing law, but it wasn’t this difference which stood out. What did was when he told me he’d recently put it all on the line to pursue his creative side.
As he described his passions of acting and singing jazz, I could sense the joy well up in him. I also could not deny the disappointment which sprouted inside of me.
His stories continued until we finally arrived in front of his building. By now a sleeping giant in me had awoken, and there was something it had to know. As we bid adieu, I scraped my foot on the ground then raised my eyes to him and said, “Before you go, can I ask you something personal, Leo?”
“Do you love singing?”
His stoop straightened, his face brightened, and then he shouted jubilantly, “Of course! It’s my life! I can’t imagine living without it!”
For the second time that night, my suspicions were confirmed.
I watched him walk into his building, then stood alone in the silent cold for a moment. All of the sudden I felt a shiver come over me, and I went into flight mode.
I ran home and sprinted the 4 flights of stairs to my door. I shook as I haphazardly made my way into my apartment, slammed the door shut, and threw the dead bolt into place. Take that, strange man!
Eventually I calmed down and reassured myself of my safety. Though in truth, even though I never saw him again, somehow the fear I felt that night never left me.
Telling you this now, I guess it makes sense. After all it wasn’t my physical safety that was in jeopardy that night, was it?