The End of May - Chapter 1- The Unexpected
I was about to enter an unfamiliar city––not just to visit, but to live there...the “Big Apple,” New York City. I felt like I knew all about it though––from all of the movies I’d seen about the notorious city. The place that never sleeps. While readjusting myself on the seat, I accidentally slipped my fingers into a crevice beside me. My attention was drawn immediately to a piece of folded paper between the seats. Curiously, I picked it out and read, “You are amazing, and your dreams will come true.” On the opposite side, had I been paying attention, I would’ve read, “Liam 212-555-1440,” but I was too distracted at the moment and didn’t even notice the writing on the back. I decided to hold onto it as a good luck token––a memento of being in NYC for the first time in my life.
Errrkkk!! HONK!!! The cab driver slammed on his brakes as we exited the tunnel. “Come on! What the hell are you doing?” shouted Sayeed. He leaned slightly to his left with his elbow partially hanging outside the windowsill of the cab and then muttered indistinct words under his breath, grunting. Surprised by the sudden stopping of the vehicle, I subconsciously let go of the piece of paper and it fell forward into my bag on the floor. With the look of frustration and discontent on my face, I picked up the bag and asked,
“How much longer till we’re there?”
“We should be there in about half an hour. Sorry about stopping so suddenly.”
“That’s fine,” I responded with a half-satisfied look on my face.
“It’s your first time here. I can tell,” said Sayeed.
I smirked, and while we both used the rearview mirror to make eye contact, the tone of my voice was slightly heightened with a hint of a chuckle.
“Oh God, is it that obvious?” I asked, surprised.
“I’m almost five minutes into New York City, and I’m already an easy target!”
I looked out the half-opened window to my right and laughed, sitting back to continue my conversation with him. He was dressed in a short-sleeved button-up shirt, horn-rimmed-yet-somehow-still-stylish 60’s era prescription glasses, and had hair like blackened slinkies.
“Welcome to New York City!”
“Wait, I don’t mean to be stereotypical, but you don’t have an Indian accent,” I said as I tried to inquire while making conversation.
“Nope,” he stated in proud response to my observation.
“My parents moved to New York from India when I was young. They wanted me to thrive and have an equal opportunity like everyone else––without the judgment. People still stereotype, regardless, though. Hell, I like my heritage; being different is what makes you stand out in a place like this with so much competition around. Holding on to who you are and being yourself in the process is most important, as I believe. You see? You’ll always remember your first cab ride into NYC with an Indian guy without an accent! I stand out, and you’ll always remember me at this place and time. Ha-ha!”
We both laughed. I felt humbled as I listened to such pensive advice. I exhaled with a hopeful heart and a sudden burst of joy in my eyes as we crossed into the city. Not only was it filled with so much to see, but there was also an unfathomable amount of opportunity waiting for me and oh so much to do!
As our conversation merged into the noise of the city, we coasted from one traffic light to another. All of the wonder and magnificence had risen exponentially in my mind, and all I could think about were the many opportunities that lied ahead for me. I was only one of millions who dreamed of living the “New York life,” except here I was about to live it. Now, I’m not saying I would do anything for a job opportunity; there are many things that people would swear up and down they’d never do, but when push comes to shove, they find themselves exploiting themselves in ways they never even imagined. It’s one thing to be driven, but it’s something else to be driven and desperate, careless, and irresponsible––that’s when people start making all the bad decisions. The worst thing about it is somehow being comfortable with these ‘bad’ decisions and accepting later on, but I knew better. I didn’t grow up that way. I was raised to be a self-respecting woman with values and morals. I took heed to my parent’s advice and carried it with me, as close as my heartbeat, wherever I went.
Deep down inside, what I really wanted was a relationship modeled after my parents who'd had been together for 31 years and counting. I found myself lucky to have such people to set such a great example for me, but I was willing to put that aside for the moment. I was battling something from within; like everyone else in this world we all have our secrets. Only ever telling one person, I kept mine close and carried it with me; never leaving my side with the loyalty of a dog to its owner.
I was so excited to be in New York, thinking of everything the city had to offer, and I could hardly contain myself. “Oh my God! What is that going on there?” I asked Sayeed in excitement. There wasn’t an event or anything going on. There just seemed to be a ton of people around on the street to my right; I had never seen so many people in one place. “What’s what?” he asked as he quickly scanned the area while driving. Sayeed tried to keep his eyes on the road while continuing at an average speed into the SOHO (South of Houston Street) area of Manhattan.
“Oh, that! That’s New York,” he replied with a chuckle in his voice.
“Can we stop?”
“Uhh, sure we can, but I can only wait for about five minutes or so before we have to get going.”
A ridiculous cluster of pedestrians was on the northeast and southeast corners of Spring Street and Broadway where they had the green light. Having never seen such a ridiculous amount of people claim the streets on such a bright and beautiful day; I was astonished. Feeling such contagious energy all around excited me greatly. My free-spirited mind saw freedom and adventure in every direction. In such a setting, I wanted nothing more than to be a part of that crowd.
“Hey, I only have five minutes, and that’s all I can give unless you want me to keep the meter running. Parking is pretty much impossible to find here,” he kindly stated. With my head tilted and eyebrows tucked closely together, I pouted a little. Forcing my bottom lip to protrude, I stared at Sayeed for a few seconds hoping that he’d say “yes.”
What did you expect? Did you really expect a man to say “no” to a young, beautiful stranger? Absolutely not! Sayeed looked at me in the rearview mirror while I glanced out the window to my right. I could tell he was considering my request. He then pulled into a nearby parking spot, which was nearly impossible to find on such a busy afternoon in SOHO. Anyone who has been to NYC knows how horrible it is to find street parking at any time––especially during the peak hours.
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! You see! It was meant to be!” I replied with gratefulness.
Sayeed parallel parked in the illegal makeshift spot he just found. He flipped the “off duty” button of his cab to avoid being bothered for a ride and turned the vehicle off. I grinned, quickly opened the door, and ran off hastily into the crowd with my bag as if I had to make an emergency pit stop at a restroom. Able to bend the rules for a little while, Sayeed was sweet and did what any respectable guy on this earth would do for a pretty woman. He exited the cab, walked around the back and leaned on the back of the cab facing the street with his arms folded. I quickly looked back, and he smirked a little as I faded into the crowd, hearing my flip-flops Clack! Clack! Clack! with every step forward. Walking through the crowd, I could see a full row of food, trinkets, and other oddities for purchase all lined up next to each other on either side––stretching for several blocks ahead.
People were all around browsing, buying, and eating. The aroma of a myriad of exotic foods filled the air with the succinct bursts of the calm spring wind traversing from one street to another. It’s as if they were riding on a leaf, somehow waiting to dispense their delicious fragrance from behind me, over my shoulders, through my hair, gently hugging my nose. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and enjoyed the splendor for a moment. This place...it felt like home to me. It was where I wanted to be. Manhattan was where I felt I belonged. Instant comfort in a place I knew so little about encompassed me for a second or two. I opened my eyes and continued to walk down the pedestrian-filled street where I saw smiles on people’s faces and ice cream dripping from children’s chins as gravity intervened. I allowed myself to become temporarily lost in the scene––hamburgers, hot dogs, and the aroma of local brick and mortar restaurants were being cooked and sold. While looking around, a certain item caught my eye. I felt drawn to it and its polished luster. It was sparkly, glamorous, and enchanting. Although it hung beside others––this particular one caught my intrigue. As I walked over to it, I couldn’t help but stare from a distance. People walked in all directions while I was mesmerized by its beauty. A Vietnamese vendor saw I was approaching and yelled out, “Everything on sale!” in a thick oriental accent. Zoned into what I saw, my fixation was as if nothing else existed, and there was neither measure nor any concept of time within that moment.
My eyes glistened and my pupils dilated like a camera’s shutter retracting from the middle of the lens when focusing. The loud music and the background ambiance of cars faded quickly. The crowds of people chattering, laughing, and other ambient noises started to dissipate as well, yet meshed and encompassed me as if I were walking under a lattice of thick vines, entangled with plants. As I moved towards the vendor’s store, I remembered feeling the hair on my arms beginning to rise, and my heartbeat rapidly increasing. I was about to open my mouth to say something when the vendor shouted, “It’s very beautiful! Forty dollars for you, because you seem like a nice girl.”
I extended my right hand with my palm facing the sky. My index finger was the first to touch this heart-shaped locket that was dangling from the ceiling of the vendor’s stand. Handcrafted to perfection, it summoned and claimed my undivided attention. Made for a princess, it had a distinguished beauty to it. It looked like diamonds were embedded around the outer rim of the heart. A luster of silver engulfed this beautiful piece where faintly engraved in Italian, it read,
“Per la donna più bella che abbia mai conosciuto. Ti amo con tutto il mio cuore.”
In English it means, “To the most beautiful woman I have ever known. I love you with all my heart. –Alessandro.”
I tried to open the locket, but had no such luck. It almost seemed like it was welded shut. I asked the vendor for her help, and she said, “This is very beautiful. It will look very good on you! Here, let me try.”
She struggled in her attempt to open the locket. A bit confused, she pursed her lips and bit down slightly as she tried to pry the locket open with her fingernails. The eagerness and thrill to see the contents must have shown on my face as I watched her do all that she could to fulfill my wish. Without knowing it, I soon realized I was so engrossed in what she was doing that I was mirroring her facial expressions. I quickly snapped out of it. “Here, I’ll try again,” I offered with an extended hand. She handed it to me. Unsuccessful in my previous attempt, I decided to give it one last try with my fingers crunched and clustered together with the locket held in proximity to my chest. I had given up.
“Hmm… I dunno, but I want it,” I told her.
“You want…ok. I give it to you for twenty dolla’.” she said. I interrupted her and said, “No, I’ll pay full price. It’s beautiful and worth it anyway.”
With my head tilted downward staring, touching, and admiring the locket, I didn’t bother to look up as I reached into my purse, which was hanging over my right shoulder. With the other handle sliding off of my shoulder onto my elbow, I loosened the opening of the bag and fished around for my wallet for some cash. After the exchange was made, I walked over to the small hand mirror hanging to my left and held each end of the clasp. I tilted my head slightly so that my long, dark, wavy hair was out of the way. As I connected the two ends, I allowed the weighted locket to rest on my chest, between my collarbones. What seemed like forever only took a few minutes, and I looked back into the street from where I came to see if Sayeed had still been there waiting for me. Eager and wanting to stick around, I reluctantly headed back toward him. With the many people walking back and forth in front of me, I had to weave between them to get back to where he was.
Pickpockets seized opportunities in crowds like that, but I was no dummy. I heard stories of how people were mugged in broad daylight, so I held my bag closely. Now, I’m not saying that you’ll ever be held at gunpoint in the middle of a crowded Manhattan, and it’s not my intent to scare you, but you have to remember I’m a woman who believes that anything is possible while still hoping for the best. Being so new to a place like this, the only person I was building a relationship with and trusting was Sayeed…who happened to be standing in exactly the same spot I left him. But my smile soon turned into a frown as he began arguing with a police officer right in front of his car.
All I heard was the faint muttering between the two from where I was standing. And in observance of what I saw, Sayeed didn’t look too happy. He talked expressively with his hands, and I approached timidly, not sure as to what was about to unfold.
“What happened?” I asked as I approached.
“I almost got a ticket,” he replied with a monotone voice.
“Oh my God. I’m very sorry,” I said sorrowfully.
“No, it’s not your fault. These damn cops look for any reason to give someone a hard time. They’re bored and have nothing better to do I guess.”
I don’t know why, but I chuckled and proceeded to the rear passenger door. Sayeed, standing at the front passenger side, had his mouth full with a half-chewed bite of a turkey sandwich stuffed in his right cheek.
“You ready?” I asked. He paused for a moment as he made room in his mouth to answer before swallowing and said, “Yeah. Let’s go.” Being the gentleman he was, Sayeed opened the rear passenger side door for me, and I slid right in. He closed the door, walked around the back of the cab and into the driver seat. Slam! He shut the door, started the car, and it and began to slowly accelerate. I sat quietly in the back seat and continued gazing out the window. Sayeed looked into the rearview mirror and said, “I see you have a new necklace. It’s nice!”
Impressed that he noticed, I smiled; appreciating the compliment and replied, “Yeah, I just bought it, and somehow I think I’m in love with it already.” Lifting the necklace off of my chest, I used my thumb and pointer finger to rub it as if it were Aladdin’s lamp. Meanwhile, I continued to look out the window with a hopeful, yet positive expression on my face. This is going to be a great summer for me, I thought to myself.
It was hot outside, the air conditioner was on, and Sayeed and I continued our ride through the city. Most of the cab’s journey consisted of red lights and cars cutting us off, but I didn’t mind at all. You’re in a zone when you’re on the streets of the city for the first time, and all you can do is observe the melting pot of people before you. I watched people of all races and fashions in the element of their daily lives. Bikers, lawyers, geeks, freaks, and the homeless all alike have a common goal: to live another day. The potholes drove me crazy, but a first-timer never gets away without experiencing a little New York City grime and hustle.
While stopped at a long red light, I noticed a food vendor shouting an announcement of his daily specials. I rolled down my window and immediately, the aroma from the honey-roasted peanuts and hot dogs quickly rushed into the car. I quickly looked for money in my bag and stuck my hand out of the window; eager to exchange a couple dollars for my first ever, “New York’s finest” hot dog. Kept simple with only a single stripe of ketchup and mustard on it, the hot dog looked tantalizing and I just had to take a bite before it even fully left the vendor’s outstretched hand.
“Mmm! Wow. Now this is a hotdog!” I boldly stated.
Sayeed looked back at me in the rearview mirror and said, “You bet it is! This place doesn’t know the meaning of sleep and if you ever want to get something to eat, at say…4 am, you can!” New York has everything you could wish for and want. We kept driving from downtown into midtown Manhattan right into the epicenter of the city’s beauty; Central Park. “We’re here,” Sayeed said. My overwhelming excitement transformed into sheer joy as we pulled up beside the curb. I exited the cab and immediately looked upwards to see the building in which I was going to live. I stood there with my bag in my right hand as my left hand shielded my eyes from the sun. I suddenly heard an enthusiastic voice with a Long Island accent say, “Hello Ms. Burke! My name is Jerome, but everyone calls me Jerry. Welcome to your new home, Central Park East!” I looked quizzically into the direction of the voice–perplexed because I didn’t know anyone in New York.
It was the doorman, Jerome. Jerome Santiago was a clean-cut Hispanic man in his mid 50’s with distinguished features. It was his job to know every resident of Central Park East. In the ten years he’d been working in the building, he became a well-respected man and knew how to make people feel comfortable in conversation. He always wore a smile (not because it was his job to do so) because he believed that every life has a purpose. He cherished every moment as if it were his last. Jerome was friendly enough, but make no mistake; he didn’t seem like the type of man that could be easily pushed around. He extended his right hand to shake mine. “Welcome home,” he stated with a smile, as we continued to shake hands. I smiled back and thanked him for the warmth of his hospitality. His demeanor reminded me of my father and I knew right at that instant I would feel right at home at Central Park East.
Sayeed popped the trunk open. A bellowing “THUNK” emerged followed by a creaking noise from the rusty hinges inside. Sayeed exited the car to help me with my luggage, slamming the door with his extended right arm, taking a long stride toward the rear of the car. He opened the trunk with an "Eeek" as Jerry, the doorman, walked towards the trunk of the car to help remove the luggage.
With my luggage stacked, I waved goodbye to Sayeed and followed Jerry into the lobby. He had wished me good luck and continued on with his day. Everything in that immaculately decorated room looked brand new––even the floors were clean enough to eat off of.
While scanning the lobby, I noticed an older woman wearing a sun hat, oversized sunglasses, gaudy jewelry, and a long, white spring dress walking passed me in the opposite direction, exiting the lobby. She was the epitome of a pompous, wealthy individual. She walked with her neck held high, nose in the air, bag in one arm, and a stick up where the sun would never reach. Her stereotypical attire even came complete with a teacup Yorkshire Terrier carried in a purse in the crook of her shoulder. Jerry, leading the way, greeted the woman.
“Good evening Mrs. Parsons. How are you today?”
“Good evening, Jerry. I’m just going out for a few hours. I’ll be back a little later,” Mrs. Parsons replied cordially.
“Okay. Have a good one, Mrs. Parsons.”
Jerry looked at me, mouthed a few words, and rolled his eyes; smiling as she walked away. I continued following Jerry to the elevator and took another good look at Mrs. Parsons. Turning my head to my left, I then turned completely around, walking backward for a little, observed her and then turned back around and continued walking to the elevator.
“That’s Mrs. Parsons. She lives right below you, and she’s a nice lady. She can be a little…“dramatic” sometimes, but she keeps to herself,” said Jerome. He allowed me to enter the elevator first before following with my bags asking, “Penthouse, correct?”
“Mm-hmm,” I replied while nodding my head succinctly.
The elevator’s ring had a short and distinct echo that quickly faded as the elevator door shut. Jerry pressed the ‘PH’ button and inserted the key next to it, turning it to the left. A low whirring sound began as the elevator moved up past every floor, trapping the sweet smell of cherry blossoms, inside. I exited first. Jerry followed with my luggage and handed me my keys. The dangling keys stopped making noise as I clasped them with my hand. “Here you are, Ms. Burke. Home sweet home,” said Jerry. I stepped into a gorgeous place with cherry hardwood floors, granite countertops, and pristinely white curtains drawn apart from magnificently vast windowpanes.
It was somewhat furnished, but felt a little airy and needed some decorating; however, what captured my attention the most was the immense vantage point. “Oh, my God! This view is absolutely stunning!” Without hesitation, I dropped my things where I stood and dashed to the view overlooking Central Park. Placing my right hand over my heart, I exhaled before its splendor. With my shoulders relaxed, I leaned against the left side of the wall, staring out of the large-scale window, which stretched the entire length of the wall. I slowly walked out to the terrace, sighed, and stated, “This is beyond beautiful.” The day was coming to a close, even at only 5 o’clock in the evening. It looked like the sun was making its way over to the western hemisphere of the world, getting ready to tuck itself in behind the clouds for the night. Its warmth and the array of colors it scattered across the earth were immensely radiant and jaw-dropping. I couldn’t believe I was so lucky to have gotten a place like that. My apartment building was facing West, and the warmth of the sun claimed every inch of my face, as I gazed out over Central Park. I took a deep contented breath with the satisfaction of being in my new place––my home.
“You got the best view in the building, I think,” said Jerry. My excitement made him laugh, and I walked around the rest of the apartment to look around while he set my luggage down a few feet from the door.
“I’m definitely home…and thank you for everything, Jerome! Here, let me give you something.”
I quickly walked over to give him a tip, but he respectfully declined with a smile. By the time I had gotten halfway to my bag, Jerome had said, “No, no. That’s quite alright, Ms. Burke. I’m just doing my job. If there’s anything, you need…anything at all, just give us a shout, okay? Here’s our number.” He handed me the building’s business card and turned around and exited.
“Thank you, again, Jerome.”
“I’ll see ya lata,” he said as he closed the door behind himself with a smile. I guess if you were at a hotel, and you received service like this it would be appropriate to tip the doorman or bellhop, of course. But in a condo building like this, I didn’t have to tip. He didn’t take offense to it. He knew who I was and I didn’t know any better, but he appreciated and admired my kindness, regardless.
It had always been my dream to live in a place like that and finally, that dream had become a reality. In Manhattan, location is everything. The panoramic view overlooking Central Park should be the eighth wonder of the world; if you ever get a chance to see it, please do so. Put it on your bucket list! The trees had already been adorned with the colors of the season and birds soared through the air. I walked away from the elevator and over to my luggage. Within an hour or so I was halfway unpacked, and some of my clothes were folded nicely into the drawers. Blouses and dresses were hung in my spacious walk-in closet and my abundance of shoes had no end. While tediously putting my many shoes away, I decided to take a bath. After walking into the bathroom, I let the water run for a little in the meantime and allowed the tub to be filled three-quarters of the way. The water was nice and hot, and it was exactly what I needed to relax my mind and body after such a busy day. Some of my things were laid out on the queen-size bed, fully adorned with the most pristine Egyptian cotton.
I began removing my clothes, unbuttoning my jeans first. Standing at a height of five feet nine inches, I’m of a slim build with a silver belly ring to show off. My black-laced underwear was from the Victoria's Secret spring catalog, which I loved because it hugged my figure and hips so perfectly. With no visible tattoos, I was toned like an athlete with a slim waist. My skin was the epitome of silky and my eyes were light brown. My most attractive feature, being my supple lips was dressed with a light and subtle red lipstick. With my recently painted red nails, I struggled a little to unbutton my shirt, simultaneously kicking off the end of my jeans.
The soft cashmere amber scented candles in the bathroom drew me in with their tantalizingly warm aroma. Their flames flickered about in an oddly-comforting, yet beautiful way. The spa-like ambiance was exactly what I needed after my long, hectic day. I slowly entered the tub one leg at a time, allowing my body to get used to the hot and steamy water. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and let out a sigh of relief as the air around me moistened my skin.
With soft music playing in the background, I indulged in the serenity and relished in the moment. I felt happy, tense, excited, worried, and accomplished all at once. Just a hot bath was all I needed to melt away all negativity and doubts. I closed my eyes to enjoy the absolute peace I was experiencing and to be honest, I was a little more tired than I thought. Little by little I began to doze off, laying there in the tub. The heaviness of my eyes took hold of me and the more I fought it, the more it consumed me. Suddenly, there I was underwater in a lake with weeds and murky water around me. I was cold––no, I was freezing. As confusion confronted me, and my first instinct was to move my hands and feet to swim to the surface. Running out of air, I could see and feel absolute loneliness. I was going to drown in that lake all alone. There was no one to help me. Right as I was to succumb to a lack of oxygen, I looked up to see the sun through the ripples of water moving about roughly on the surface. There was hope. To my surprise, someone grabbed my right leg right before the crown of my head could feel the warmth of the sun. I looked down to see a woman with dark hair grasping onto my ankle as if her hand were vice grips. I gasped and accidentally swallowed more water. As my lungs filled with water, I became more frantic than ever, knowing I could possibly never reach the surface alive. Fighting for air, I opened my eyes and spat out the water that was in my mouth as I sat up in the tub.Oh, my God, I fell asleep. I can’t believe I just fell asleep in here!With my heart beating rapidly out of my chest, my eyes widened at the implied sound of a male’s voice coming from inside my penthouse.