Saturday, January 1, 2011

Blues for 42nd Street - Saxophone

He was dark, normally I wouldn’t have looked twice at someone as dark as him, even though I hate “light-skinned” men. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that they always thought they were better than me, because they had “good” hair or European features.

Anyway, there was something about him that caught and captivated my attention, and it wasn’t just his fine looking body either – maybe it was his eyes. I’d seen those eyes before, it really was the strangest feeling, looking into those eyes was like looking into my own soul. I know it sounds crazy, but I could see my destiny in those eyes.

As I sat across from him in the subway car, surreptitiously looking at him over the edge of my book “Strong Sisters and Even Stronger Black Men” I could see that he was clean-shaven with a trim hair cut, full lips sat below a medium-sized nose with slightly flared nostrils. I was mortified when he caught me checking him out, was that a shadow of a smile that played across his lips – yes it was. My heart suddenly started beating uncontrollably and I fought the urge to squirm in my seat. I looked away and tried to concentrate on my book, but not before a quick glance at his ring finger, which was empty with no tell-tale pale band of skin.

The train pulled into 59th street and I could see movement as he stood up to leave, instead of turning to his left or right, he stepped across the aisle separating us and held out a piece of paper, waving it under my nose! I could only smile sheepishly as I took it from him. In an instant he was gone. Oh my lord, there was a telephone number and a name – Brian.

For a whole week I fantasized and toyed with the idea of calling him, which then culminated in a powerful dream. On waking I realized I’d had an orgasm while sleeping – well that was a first! I really had to do something and so, in a fit of bravado called the number.

His voice matched his looks – smooth. When I told him who was calling, I could hear the smile in his voice as he said that he had almost given up on me ever calling. That first time, we talked for over an hour. It was unbelievable that this man had almost slipped from my grasp. When asked why he’d given me his number, he replied that he’d been intrigued by the book I’d been reading “Strong Sisters and Even Stronger Black Men and wanted to know if I was strong enough to know my own mind and take up the gauntlet he’d thrown down when he’d given me his number. I felt the laughter bubbling up from the pit of my stomach – wow a man with a sense of adventure – this really was too good to be true.

We arranged to meet the following week at the public library on 42nd Street. I was on tenterhooks for the next few days … ‘I really shouldn’t get my hopes up – you’ve been hurt and disappointed so many times before – perhaps this is just another one of those times’. I’ve never known days to go by so slowly, it was as though the butterflies in my stomach were gong to spin their cocoons, hatch and carry me away on gossamer wings – that’s how slowly time moved. The day finally arrived and with it my period – damn, definitely guaranteed to put me in a bad mood, I swallowed two Advil and hoped that my evil step sister had taken a holiday.

I purposefully arrived late – after all, I didn’t want him thinking I was desperate. There he was, sitting on the steps reading a book. As I cautiously approached, he glanced up and saw me. A broad smile split his face; he was casually dressed with funky shoes, square-toed with a buckle across the front – strong looking puritan shoes.

We fell into easy conversation as we drifted to a small bistro near the subway. He ordered pan-blackened snapper and I ordered pasta – after all I didn’t want this man to think that all I could think about was food by ordering what I really wanted, the 10” steaks. We talked non-stop, or rather, he talked and I listened more. I learned he taught children suffering with ADHD, had just completed his PhD in psychology and lived in New York for the past 8 years arriving from Ghana as an exchange student. I told him that I was originally from London, but had decided to join my parents who were getting older and finding it more and more difficult to cope with the stresses of everyday life. Actually, my life in London had fallen into something of a rut and when I was downsized after eight years of working for a prominent law firm, I decided this was the best time to make that move. What I didn’t tell him was that I was running from a harrowing life-long love affair with an absolute bastard.

The time seemed to fly by and it seemed only minutes had elapsed before we found ourselves walking back to the subway and saying goodbye. He took my hand and gazed deep into my eyes as he said “I had a really great evening and I’d love to see you again”. My heart did that stupid fluttering thing that I hate so much, as that little voice whispered in my ear ‘don’t start that shit again – you’ve just met the guy’. “Sure I replied, I’ll give you a call”, ‘keep it light – no pressure – you don’t want him thinking that you’re a total nut job. I walked down into the subway thinking that he would turn on his heels, but he seemed reluctant to let go of my hand and the next thing I knew he was following me into the subterranean depth. Three or four trains passed us as we stayed deep in conversation, I really didn’t want this night to end. I was somewhat cautious of my inexplicably elation, this man seemed just too good to be true.

Finally, I decided to call a halt and told him that I was gonna jump on the next train which is precisely what I did. I watched him while he blew me kisses as the subway car door closed. I sat on the cold bench, with the other late night travelers, but the memory of that evening kept me warm the entire ride back to the Bronx. I’m sure I must have looked like an idiot, with that perpetual grin on my face. I couldn’t help myself, I felt damn good.

‘Hey Dana, you’re in a good mood these days’, my colleagues at work seemed to sense the change that had come over me since meeting Brian. I smiled a whole lot more, took more care with my appearance and just had a more positive outlook on life. I couldn’t help fantasizing about this new friendship and before I knew what was going on in that perverted mind of mine, Brian and I were happily married. I held off calling him for a few days, but the temptation grew stronger and stronger. Fighting the urge to call was useless, the more I resisted, the greater the urge to pick up the phone – just like a mosquito bite, the more I scratched; the more it itched.

When I finally rang, it was as though he’d been expecting my call. I could hear instrumental music playing in the background, what sounded like smooth jazz, with a saxophone solo wailing plaintively, a feeling of sadness pervaded my mood so much so that my next words reflected the longing I heard in the music. “Brian?”. “Hi Dana, I missed your call – how have you been, would you like to meet tonight, I’ve been thinking so much about you – please say you’ll see me”. His words came out in a breathless rush and my resolve to play it cool, slipped away, much like the music that was ending and I agreed to meet him. I’d missed him too. I know it sounded ridiculous, but I felt like I had met this man before. There was no way to explain the comfort I felt when in his presence, the easy conversation, there was nothing forced or awkward about us being together. We met at the Barnes & Noble at 14th Street, his suggestion and again I was struck by our commonalities. I loved reading and all things literary. He told me about a book he wanted to purchase, “Waiting in Vain” by Colin Channer. “Oh my gosh, reading that was an epiphany for me”. I started ranting about how great the book was and how refreshing it was for me to find a male writer who didn’t feel ashamed to display his sensitivity and who seemed so in tune with his female characters. I heard myself prattling on and decided to cool it, after all, I didn’t want to put him off buying the book. The fact that he wanted to buy this particular book, revealed a lot about his character. I asked him what had influenced him in deciding on that book and he responded that a girlfriend had recommended it. He must have seen the crestfallen look on my face because there was a twinkle in his eye as he winked at me and said, “oh don’t worry, not that kind of girlfriend”, someone I knew from college days. I suppose the whole store must have heard my breath expel as though I’d been punched hard in the stomach. “Whew, that’s a relief, I thought you were looking for another candidate for your harem”. “Don’t worry, it’s not like that at all, in fact to answer the question you haven’t dared to ask me yet - no I’m not in a relationship with anyone. I find your typical woman a bit boring”. “Oh, how’s that?” I was intrigued, what revelation was he about to disclose. “Well for starters, they don’t have much of a sense of humor, they’re just concerned with the type of job a man has, what kind of car he drives, they don’t want do things out of the ordinary – I mean how many women wouldn’t mind going to Barnes & Noble for a date?”. I felt a warm glow, this was exactly the reason I wasn’t in a relationship myself. I didn’t want an ordinary man. I wanted someone who wasn’t afraid to experience life, to grab the kite by the tail and hang on for dear life, being brave enough to even steer headlong into the wind and let nature take its course in determining their destiny. “Well Brian, since you already know me so well – how long ago was your last relationship and why did it end?” Talk about grabbing the bull by the horns, I didn’t mean to put him on the spot, but of course my curiosity got the better of me and since he had opened that particular can of worms…..

“She was from Ghana, but she was too traditional and boring. My family had expected us to marry, unfortunately, all I could see was my life stretched before me, every day being the same – she had no idea about living this adventure called life, all she worried about was mortgages, how many children we would have and the size of our house – urrgggh” he grimaced and then his mood lightened as he linked his arm into mine and pulled me to the cashier to pay for his purchase.

As we stepped out into the street, a light rain had started falling, the street lights reflected in the slick streets and the cars swished by, urgently transporting their passengers to unknown destinations. Brian said, “Okay Dana – what would you like to do now, it’s still early”. “Well, I’ve got a pretty hectic day tomorrow, there’s an exhibition at the MOMA that I’ve been wanting to see for a while, why don’t we do that?” He seemed okay with my suggestion and we jumped on an uptown train. The exhibition was surprisingly sparsely attended. I guess the rain was instrumental in keeping the crowds away, that meant we could take our time looking at the exhibits which this time was a collection of collages from orphaned children in Belfast. The imagery was savage, lots of blood, weapons of destruction, bombed out sites, dismembered bodies, shuddering, I realized for those children, this was their reality. I could sense the mood between us darkening, so I brightly intoned that perhaps this hadn’t been a good idea, but the review I read raved that this was the happening exhibit in town. It was getting late and Brian could sense my edginess, I really had to make tracks to leave. He was the one who suggested that he escort me home – I really wasn’t prepared for that, but I didn’t want to seem ungracious by refusing his offer. We stepped back into the subway and both lapsed into reflective silence. I wonder whether he was thinking about what the next few hours would bring.

Before I knew it, the train was rumbling into my station in the Bronx. Getting off the train and walking the short distance to my home, I wondered what he thought of my neighborhood, which I seemed to be seeing through new eyes. Why hadn’t I noticed the graffiti and litter-strewn streets and the hard edge to the faces that stared at us as we made our way to my building. “Well, this is me, umm, would you like to come in for a quick drink, and I mean a quick drink I really have to get a relatively early night tonight”. I was surprised and disappointed as he turned me down, but there was a shadow of a smile playing behind those soulful eyes of his. Was he toying with me? He turned to leave and I called after him, “but can you find your way back to the subway?”. “I’ll do my best”. “Look Brian, this can be a pretty rough neighborhood, why don’t you come in and I’ll call you a cab – I promise I won’t eat you”. He grinned widely, flashing even white teeth and said “Oh shame, and I was looking forward to that”. I realized that he had been teasing me all along, he didn’t want to leave any more than I wanted him to, so he was trying to use psychological warfare against me – well, if that’s the way he wanted to do things – all I had to say as ‘let the games being’.

I stepped into my apartment, for once pleased that I had the presence of mind to tidy up before meeting him. He headed straight for my bookshelf, crammed with books of all shapes, sizes and reading matter. “Oh you read Sister Souljah’s ‘The Coldest Winter’, what did you think about it?” “To be honest, I was really disappointed, I loved her autobiography and I thought her first novel would have been something along those lines, when in reality, it was just another gansta rap novella”. He suddenly burst out laughing, “You know, that’s exactly what I thought, it’s as though you took the words right out of my mouth”. He picked up my copy of the “Vagina Monologues” and sat on the sofa. I went into the kitchen “Well let me make that coffee, I guess you still want one – right?”., “um, yes please – milk and 2 sugars”. I brought his coffee and sat down next to him, he was still engrossed in the book. “You can borrow it if you like, it’s a very interesting read”. We both reached for his coffee cup and as our hands touched, I swear there was a sharp crack as the electricity flowed between us. I snatched my hand away as though I’d been burned by a red hot poker, “sh…t, I’ve heard about electrifying women, but you’re something else”. I chose to ignore that remark, I didn’t like the way things were shaping up – this was just too soon. All my old Victorian principles started swimming to the surface, ‘no you can’t sleep with him so don’t even think about going there’, what kind of woman will he think you are if you drop your drawers just because he bats his eyes at you.’

“Brian, I want to be honest with you, I haven’t known you that long, but you have some strange effect on me, I mean, well, um, what I’m trying to say is that I think I like you a lot and I could get to like you a lot more, but I don’t want to rush things, so can we just take things slow”. “Dana, anything you say, I’m not going to push you into doing something you won’t feel comfortable with, but I really do like you, first and foremost I want to be your friend – is that okay with you?” “Sure Brian, no problem, I just wanted to get that out in the open because I think you know there is something between us – I get the weirdest feeling that somehow we’ve met before….” There was an uncomfortable silence, punctuated by the telephone ringing. It was my mother, “Oh hi mum, how are you and dad, is everything okay. Look mum, can I call you right back, I’m just saying goodnight to a friend’. Luckily, Brian took the cue, gulped down the rest of his coffee and stood up to leave. I walked him to the door, explaining that there was a taxi stand at the corner. He asked if he could borrow the book, “just so that I have an excuse to see you again – not that I need an excuse Dana. I find you so different, it’s really refreshing. Till we meet again – goodnight” and with that he was gone.

I couldn’t call my mother right away, I had to analyze the evening that had just passed. Did I behave too impetuously? did I scare him off with my declaration of connectivity? I didn’t think so, I mean he said that he wanted to see me again, didn’t he? My head was spinning – I really couldn’t be bothered with this second guessing, I resolved to just take things one step at a time and see where I was led. Blast, I almost forgot to call my mother, she would worry if I didn’t return her call, so I picked up the receiver “Hi mum, sorry about that but I was just saying goodnight to a friend’, “Man or woman”. That was a typical response from her, my mother was the nosiest women I knew, I realize she only had my best interests at heart, but our only arguments were about when I would find a man, settle down and get married. I must have told her my mantra a thousand times, ‘I’d rather be single and happy than married and unhappy’. She still didn’t get it, as far as she was concerned, the men out there must be deaf dumb and blind, not to want to snap up her precious daughter. “Look mum, I’m gonna tell you this once, it was a man I met recently, we’re not dating or anything seriously, but he seems pretty nice, don’t ask me any more questions okay?” I knew it was futile to add that stipulation, but I threw it in for good measure anyway.

We chatted amiably about her next door neighbors, who’d recently moved in replacing her longtime friends. I listened to my mother’s complaints that they were noisy, had lots of company late at night and that they didn’t say hello to her when they passed in the street. She mentioned that my father, had started forgetting things and I mused to myself whether this was the start of Alzheimer’s. He was my mother’s bedrock and I worried more about how she would cope if anything happened to him. Then again, this was the main reason for my migration to the US, to take care of my parents as they got older. I said a silent prayer that my fears would not be realized for some time yet. “Look mum, it’s getting late and I really promised myself an early night, I’ll come over and see you tomorrow evening. “Is there anything you need"? "No baby, just bring your sweet self – and I know you told me not to ask, but good luck with your new friend, would you like to bring him over too?” “No mum."

The incessant buzzing permeated my subconscious mind as I snuggled deeper into the bed and pulled the comforter taut around my head. There was a muffled voice distantly calling my name, ‘Dana, Dana, it’s time for your medication – can you sit up love?” My befuddled brain started focusing and the first thing that came into focus was the bookshelf opposite the narrow cot. Jumping off the shelves was the title of the book “The Vagina Monologues”, my heart leaped and then plummeted in disappointment as I slowly and reluctantly got my bearings, looking into the face of the plump florid face of Nurse Grimes holding the tray with the Haldol, my medication of choice to combat the drastic manic depression episodes. A single tear slid silently down my face as realization hit me like a ton of bricks and Brian’s features – once so vivid, dissolved upon waking.