It’s good to get out of the building for a few minutes, even if it’s just to walk for a couple blocks through a bleak urban landscape lined with chop-shops, pigeon shit, and abandoned baby carriages. And it usually only takes a light dusting of solar radiation to start to awaken something resembling sentience in me after a long day in those musty halls. But today, as I walked back to the building from lunch, I felt dulled, like a cloud was passing over my perceptions.
Ahead, there was the grainy image of a sidewalk. Cars zipped past on the side. A gray atmosphere above. But there was no ME amidst it all. To protect the embers of my spirit, my senses had recoiled from the daily, frigid breath of abuse. And now the Self had curled into a hibernating shell. “I” was nowhere to be found, and the world was reduced to an old movie, flickering for an empty theater.
The tide of responsibility was pulling me back to the building now, the world still just images and sound, splashing against my hull. Shady figures were draped along the railings of the front steps. They fell intensely silent as I approached. Their day wasn’t over, but leave when they please, and then hang around to heckle.
As I walked past I heard them saying “This nigga right here.. murmur, murmur…”
They were talking about me. But you have to be confident, keep a steady eye, or you’ve lost. Repress all emotion, except anger. Anger stills the eyes.
You’re nothing, I meditated as I walked past them, trying not to falter. I pity you. And if you fuckin touch me I’ll break your eye socket. And the ember inside me dimmed even further.
After work, as I waited on the subway platform, I spied one of my very sweetest students standing a bit ahead of me. Maybe she just seems sweet because she’s fresh from the Dominican Republic and can’t speak English yet, but I feel it’s more than that. She is polite and gentle, almost maternal. I imagine she has left her mom back in the D.R. to live with her dad because he needs someone to cook and clean for him. I respect her. I imagine she’s more mature than I am, in many ways. Then I see a policeman approaching her and starting to lead her back towards the entrance. Oh no.
I walk to them. I can see her widened eyes and she says to me desperately, “Meester!.. my card left… no money…”
Damn, she must have been caught jumping the turnstile. I call out to the policeman, “Officer..” He ignores me and continues walking. “Excuse me, officer!” I was walking along beside him now. He barely moved his eyes toward me. But now my train was screeching into the station. Shit. I have to do this quickly. But talking a cop out of an arrest can’t be done quickly. I probably can’t do anything anyway, I thought to myself. “Officer!” I’m rushing now as the subway doors are already opening behind me. “I’m her teacher. Is there anything I can do?”
“Not really,” he says without slowing his stride.
The doors are closing.
I lunge my foot out backwards, just catching the shutting doors. “There’s nothing I can do Xaviera,” I blurt out apologetically. I shrug my shoulders and slip backwards into the train. Her big eyes follow me over her shoulder as the train jolts forward.
Jesus. What did I just do?
And for the second time that day I realize I’m disappearing. Pistol would have done more, if only to let her know that her teacher cares about her, that he is there to protect her in this strange and hostile place. But Pistol was nowhere to be found.
The next day, I confided in Dave about what happened and how guilty I felt.
“Ooooh, harsh.” He smiled, “It’s kind of like a Seinfeld episode.”
“Listen, if it’s any consolation – and it won’t be – it’s exactly what I would have done. I’m catchin’ that train no matter what.”
When I saw Xaviera, I apologized for not doing more, but she dismissed my apologies as absurd. It wasn’t a big deal, she said. Just a fine to be paid.
A small flame jumped from the ember.