The City Bird This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   Heads turned when he walked, but it didn't bother him. Usually he smiled back warmly and politely. For the most part, he liked the attention he attracted, even if he did look out of place. He enjoyed looking into people's eyes. He could always see another world in eyes, even in the blankest of stares. He was a man who was hardly ever fazed. The world was his pie. He could swallow the most jagged slice of life with ease. And yet many a man of higher stature had looked down upon him, believing that he too, was ashamed of himself. But men have not always been right. And they were always wrong when they looked upon Hubert Jeffries, an unlicensed, homeless street vendor of diecast metal cars, and the proudest man in New York.

Walking along Second Avenue early in the morning was something the street vendor loved to do. The sun was just coming up, and the way it glistened off the high-rise apartment towers made the vendor strangely warm inside. It was a feeling that could hardly be likened to anything, except perhaps the oatmeal served in the shelter when Big Momma Rae was around. Rae was a large woman, and so much like Hubert that people had often thought of the two as mother and son. She was a fixture at the shelter, always there and always smiling. Hubert could still hear her shouting, "Don't know why I work for you bums. I could have had millions." He could hear her let out that tremendous laugh that seemed to shake the old building. He could hear all his old friends yell in return to her proclamation, "That's right, Rae, you be having a million hungry bums, you don't start cooking." He could see Rae's huge mouth open like a pelican, as if attempting a retort, and then close as she turned to walk to the kitchen. And as she glanced back with a nod, he could see that famous smile break in the corner of her mouth and slowly work its way across to the other side, until she eventually burst into tumultuous laughter. He could hear the laugh trail off into the kitchen as Big Momma Rae said under her breath, "Don't know why I work for you bums."

The vendor often likened himself to the pigeons that perched at his corner. They were city animals, comfortable and collected in their habitat. They knew when to sit and watch, and when to fly away and move on. They demanded little respect, and received none in return. They were often mocked and abused, and yet they never lost their composure. Yet when they died, and this was the part that troubled him the most, no one seemed to care.

This morning he had chosen for his favorite selling spot, the corner of Lexington and 54th. It was a good-looking corner, as corners go, and it had several worn out newspaper machines. He hoped that a politician's death, or perhaps a plane crash graced the cover of this morning's paper. Although he hated to do business this way, he often made the best profit with a good tragedy.

By the time the young vendor reached the corner, the normal pedestrian traffic had already begun. His reading had never been that good, so he assessed the weight of the previous day's events by the expressions of the people who spent a quarter at the machine. As they read, he read their eyes; as their door to the world was opened, so was his. On this morning, the eyes of the readers jumped about, scanning the page at first, and then slowing to a fixed, silent stare. Some stopped reading, and abruptly put the papers under their arm, while others looked up or nodded their heads questioningly to the sky. And when they were done, they went on their way. The vendor could tell that on this morning all was not harmonious in the world.

"Damn shame, ain't it!" said the vendor, knowingly, to an older man in a faded seersucker suit. The man, who was taking his time reading at the side of the machines, pretended not to hear, and moved on quickly at the sound of the young vendor's voice. However, the vendor hardly noticed the old man's non-reply since it was the type of disrespect he had grown accustomed to. He was curious to discover what dismal event had taken place, but it was getting late and Hubert knew that if he were to get any customers, he must set up shop right away. He pulled from his bag a rickety wooden table, and covered it with a brown and black napkin he had taken from a Chinese restaurant. And then from his bag he pulled his prize possessions.

Each one was a gleaming beauty. Each had its own personality, and sparkled triumphantly for all to see. From the smallest to the largest, each diecast metal car was unthinkable to part with, but the vendor, being the businessman he was, knew in essence that he would be losing a part of his family in order to buy his next pair of shoes. The Porsche was the smallest, being only three inches in length, yet every detail was absolutely perfect. The Rolls Royce stood regally. It seemed to beam above the others, as if it knew that its mother, a hundred times bigger, whose likeness it bore, was the queen of the roads. For all their beauty, the quality of their future was in doubt. But Hubert could tolerate that because he knew that his future was just as uncertain.

There is a street vendor in New York named Hubert Jeffries. He sells his cars on the street. It is his business address as well as his personal residence. He deals his pride and joy to all those who will buy. He reads their minds and learns of the world without ever reading or speaking a word. He is a man who has lost his home, but not his dignity. He is not bitter with those who scorn and pity him, for he knows something they do not. The sun will rise every morning, and when she sparkles her majestic rays over the steel city, she will save a ray for him, the proudest man in New York. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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