The day has been imbued with the quietly jubilant aura following tempestuous storms. Eight pm and 79th and Broadway has become a luminous path connecting Riverside glimmering at one end, with Central Park's crowning glory at the other. Tall men in, wearing khakis, broad smiles and the luster of Saturday night fever pour out of the central synagogue. In the big grocery store the young hijab-clad woman deftly organizes my groceries' delivery. All of the microcosm of the Upper West passes me by, ambling, power-walking, dog-walking, romancing, vibrant and alive with the New York variety of intensity existing nowhere else in the world. For the first time this long year, I feel the beginning of happiness, a sense of things finally, hopefully starting to come together... maybe all the hardships, cost, efforts, losses will not eventually prove to have been in vain.
Walking up to my second floor apartment, the realization I have no money on me to tip the delivery boy sends me back around the corner to the local pharmacy in which there is an ATM. In retrospect, this was one of those moments auguring events of personal momentousness.
Yet what happens five minutes later, two brownstones away from home, bears no warning. A whizzing sound. Half-turning I barely have time to register the dreadlocked emaciated cyclist racing down the pavement frenziedly. Stepping aside, I am momentarily dumbfounded as the cyclist, wearing an awful expression of deliberateness changes course, hitting me. Falling on the curb, I put my hands forward to protect my iPhone. There are two blows, hard, on my thighs and back. Thankfully, I think, my face is averted. "Blond skinny ho! You think you pretty?" I hear the voice but am rendered incapable of making the connection of what is happening now, to me.
And then it stops. My attacker races away as three dog-walkers in shorts and baseball caps, run to me, their eyes mourning the loss of their signature American optimism. From the opposite pavement, a middle-aged squat Latino construction worker scuttles towards me in concern, abandoning his planks; one lean man in his early '30s wearing a kippah and a backpack, and clutching the new James Salter novel in one hand, and an EU passport and a map of New York in the other, also hastens to my side. Being stereotyped leads you to seek refuge and solace in stereotypes you belong to: the irony of this is not lost on me as I fall into this young man's open hands as he helps me up. "Why?" I ask twice. There is a pained silence.
In the few minutes it takes to surmise that I probably have suffered no wound that a first aid kit, pain reliever cream, and time will not heal, I become surrounded by well-meaning people who try to comfort and help me, their faces tinged with a shadow of collective responsibility, of having somehow let me down.
Next to me, a Katie Couric doppelganger is urging me to use her iPhone on which she has already tapped the police precinct's number. "It'll help you too, it will be cathartic," she insists. "Cathartic"; the use of this word that we Greeks use only in the aftermath of nemesis, brings an onslaught of tears to my eyes.
Yet I do not call the police, afraid this may lead to a Kafka-esque whirlwind of bureaucratic impediments to the issuing of my new visa. And clutching my new iPhone bought on a pre-paid program, I am reminded that since its purchase I have been receiving calls from men laboring under the impression they are calling the number's former owner, a young, blond European woman who apparently has been sucked into New York's dark side. And now with the revelation that our phone data is no longer our own, good luck trying to explain this away if I came under police scrutiny! I am no longer myself, but one more bewildered Alien willing to look away and keep quiet, in the hope of belonging.
Unlocking the front door, my eyes latch upon a sticker outside the neighboring house presents itself to me like an answer: "9/11 We remember." On the first floor I hobble into a small drama; the tenants of three apartments are shouting excitedly, fearfully. "An African-American man was wandering tour corridors carrying a white plastic bag" one particularly enraged woman yells. "I grabbed my husband's golf club and opening the door let him know I was calling the police. He fled."
I realize that must have been the delivery boy from the grocery store whom somebody apparently let in, and who had been dutifully trying to find my apartment. Twenty minutes later after convoluted explanations, swabbing my wounds, resigned to the fact I will have no groceries tonight and will from now on be regarded suspiciously by my neighbors as a high-risk Jezebel, the comedic quality of my condition hits me. It is all quite mad in that New York kind of way, I smile faintly, surging ahead into the first stage of really belonging.