December 29, 2009
Dark, heavy rainclouds grumble in the distance, their waves challenged by the squealing and whining of far off New York. He is alone on the street corner, leaning up against a grimy brick wall, a poisonous addiction in hand, tip glowing red. Sappy sweet country music drifts out of the bar across the street, accompanied by raucous laughter and too loud talk. He quietly watches a young woman sitting in the exact middle of a bench; pool of flickering golden light cast by an ancient street lamp; waiting for the late bus. He can’t see, but tears run in cold rivulets down her stony face. Her slender hands clutch at a handbag in her lap.
The door to the bar opens, three burly men tumble out in a tangle of arms and legs and empty cans. Their laughter suggests over indulgence of drink. He looks sharply in their direction. She barely glances, and stiffens. They notice her glance. Cat calls and whistling ensue. They blunder in her direction. The man pushes himself away from the grimy wall, eyes measuring the distance between him and the other side of the street. She ignores them starkly. They begin to circle their prey, cooing softly and laughing to one another. She stands. A muttered “stay away from me.” escapes her, but that only makes them laugh harder, their syrupy words tainted with threat. They begin to close in, their breath grazing like razors on stone. She pushes one roughly away. Stepping out of the shadows, our hero strides forth. A drunkard grabs the woman’s arm, twists, and a sharp cry of pain rings out. The man steps coolly up onto the curb; the drunkard’s friends fall quiet as they take in the deathly hush on his face. The drunk turns slowly, woman’s thin arm clutched in a beefy fist. “What do you think you’re doing?” he slurs; breath a putrid cloud. The man does not answer, instead he takes a long deliberate drag of his cigarette; his eyes never waver from those of the bloodshot bar goers. The woman is silent; terror shines in broken eyes, an animal fear. Slowly, the man removes the burning stub from his lips, reaches out, and snubs it down on the offender’s lapel. Shocked he stares down at his jacket openmouthed. That astonishment soon turns to snarling, mindless fury. He drops her arm, taking a hard right hook instead. The other man ducks, and the fist sails neatly past. Unbalanced, he stumbles down off the curb, feet bumbling. The man with the cigarette is fast, he grabs the drunks arm, twisting it behind his back and disableing him. He cries out. Cigarette Man hisses low and fast in his ear, “Do not ever, touch anyone like you just did, you filth. If you ever do, I’ll know. I’ll know, and you will pay dearly, my friend.” The drunk whimpers. He releases him, shoving him forward onto the wet street. The trio runs, or a facsimile there of, off into the alleys and foul begotten places; shouting defeated curses. They ran, rats in a city seething with vermin.
He turns to the woman now. “Are you OK?” She nods carefully, not saying a word. She rubs her wrist. Her lie is as clear as the dark purple bruises already showing angry blotches on her ivory skin. She sits slowly back down. He too sits. Nothing is said for awhile. The street lamp flickers. But in a hushed whisper, she speaks. “Thank you.” She does not look at him, just down at her hands, twisted in her lap. “You’re welcome.” He says softly. The bus rolls up chugging to a hissing stop, the door opens and an exhausted bus driver looks out; unaware of what just happened on the nondescript street corner. The woman stands. Turns to the man and looks at him. “Thank you.” she says again. Her eyes plead strangely, with a burning intensity, seeming to translate something that cannot be said through spoken word. He stands bidding her farewell with a polite and infuriatingly reserved nod. She steps up the dirty bus stairs, pays the driver. He watches through the gritty windows, she walks back all the way to the very last seat, and as the mammoth vehicle pulls away, belching poison into the struggling atmosphere, she looks back at the young man, her sad eyes locked on his. Despite the grimy window. Despite the fouled air. Despite the horrors and filthy people. Their gaze does not break till the bus crests a hill, and pulls the young woman out of sight. On a night like any other, a life was saved, a man fell in love, and the world traipses onward, oblivious.

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