Even on an uneventful trip to New York City, I’ve always had one moment, at least one, that was magical. Take my last trip to New York. After a relentless winter with little sunlight, I thought that a trip to the city, on a relatively sunny day, would be a welcome change. Hopeful for a fun-filled trip, I woke up at six a.m. and prepared myself for an eight o’clock bus ride. As I drove to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station, the sun was already bright, heating the city and melting snow. After boarding the bus, I fell asleep immediately, so the ride to New York seemed to happen in a matter of minutes. I woke up as the bus entered Manhattan.
Exiting the bus and stepping onto the sidewalk, I again had a familiar sense of hope, a certain sense of excitement and feeling of unity with others that only New York City gave me. Crowds of people walked by me, and as my eyes went back and forth, taking in everything around me, excitement started to well up in me.
I decided that I’d walk to Strand Book Store in Union Square. Though Strand was a couple of miles away, I’d come to the city intending to walk as much as possible. Walking had become a favorite past-time when I lived in the area five years ago. Though married at the time, I still did a lot of walking alone. I could easily walk ten to twenty miles a day.
Working in Brooklyn and running back and forth from work and home, I weighed a lot less at the time though I was still too heavy for my ex-husband’s taste. Becoming momentarily distracted, I wondered what he would say, if he saw me now. Whenever I visited the area though, I prayed that I’d never run into him, his critical eyes, and his new, perfectly-proportioned wife.
While moving towards the bookstore, the negative things he used to say started to flood my brain. Though his opinion of me shouldn’t have bothered me, especially after so many years, the memory of his words still stung. I blocked out those thoughts and focused on the things around me.
I walked down from 33rd to 23rd, seeing only a small number of stores and wondering how I had not yet seen a Starbucks or any store for that matter?
“Must be the apocalypse,” I thought to myself.
I realized that this was the part of Eleventh that often remained quiet. I walked down to Ninth Avenue. Crowds of people emerged and seeing them reminded me that I loved observing the variety of ways in which New Yorkers dressed. A woman crossed my path as if I wasn’t there. Instead of being irritated, I admired her outfit which consisted of a green dress, leggings, knee-high boots, and a tan, suede jacket.
After an hour of walking and people-watching, I arrived at Strand Book Store. Instead of going in immediately, I went to a street vendor and brought a rice and chicken dish with tzatziki sauce. Sitting in Union Square, I enjoyed my meal. Chess players sat nearby on benches and concentrated completely on their games while dancers swept past in choreographed movements.
Finishing my food, I went into the bookstore. Books of different colors, shapes, and sizes covered every visible surface. I searched for books related to poetry, literature, and publishing. On that trip, I ended up buying an illustrated anthology of Edgar Allan Poe’s writing.
Knowing that I had to meet my friend Sarah soon, I left Strand and took a subway to Brooklyn. After meeting each other near the subway, we found a Chinese restaurant to sit in and spent a couple of hours catching up. We found a seat towards the back of the restaurant. We made ourselves comfortable in a booth, which was made of darkly stained wood. Red streamers hung all around us. A waitress, who didn’t speak much English, put a teapot and teacups in front of us. She took our order and then started speaking to another waiter in Chinese.
Sarah was excited about her upcoming wedding and wanted to go shopping for jewelry and clothing in Jackson Heights, a part of Queens where South Asian vendors sold a variety of wares. As a perpetual tomboy, I disliked the idea of shopping for jewelry all day, but I agreed to go with her because she seemed so happy, and despite the fact that I was now cynical about romantic relationships and marriages, I forced myself to be optimistic for her.
“Jackson Heights will be so much fun,” Sarah said.
“Yes, it will be great. Shopping will be fun, and I can’t wait till the wedding,” I said.
When we arrived in Queens, New York City suddenly became incomparably beautiful again. As we came out of the subway in Jackson Heights, I noticed the storefronts and streets were bright with reds, blues, and yellows. Sarah took me into the jewelry shops, one by one, and the presence of gold, lining every wall of these shops overwhelmed me again. Becoming more interested in the activity than I thought I would be, I started showing Sarah the pieces of jewelry that I liked the best.
Sarah joked saying, “look at you! You love this stuff too, don’t you?”
In one of the jewelry stores we visited, Sarah tried on a diamond ring, and I could see her imaging everything that it meant. When learning the price of the ring, she put it down, saying,
“He’s been waiting to buy me a ring, but this one is too expensive.”
“The rule is that the price of the ring should equal three month’s of the man’s salary,” I said.
“I don’t care about the rule. I don’t want him to feel pressured about this. He can get me something more modest,” Sarah said.
Again, her optimism caught me off guard. She really loved him. She never thought of anything but trusting him. It scared me to see how trusting Sarah was. I couldn’t help telling her to be cautious in relationships, but stopped there though I wanted to tell her more.
In that mercurial city where everything could change in an instant, I wanted to tell her that there was no such thing as forever, that another person loving you could end as quickly as a proverbial New York minute, and that there was no such thing as true love and soul mates.
Except….except for her, there was such a thing as true love. It existed in her heart, in that very moment, in a city of eight million. Loving someone forever was all that she knew, so I kept quiet, looking at the decorations around us and letting her bask in the magic of the moment.
Ayesha F. Hamid is the founder and editor in chief at The City Key. Ayesha has an MFA in Creative Writing and MA in Publishing from Rosemont College and an MA in Sociology from Brooklyn College. Her poetry and prose has appeared in Big Easy Review Philly Flash Inferno and Rathalla Review. Ayesha is a lover of cities, big and small.