From Concrete to Shadows: Winter Evening in the City (Written Feb. 2005)

The world is cold.

The air is cold.

The buildings that skirt the shopping center, though bright and warm indoors, are cold brick and stone that stand silent against the bustle of the parking lot before them. The parking lot, a black void with painted boundaries where mindless droids of metal and steel are left temporarily forgotten. The bench on which I sit is also cold; it green-painted ice, slicing through my denim pants to get at the warmth I have stored inside–to eradicate it. I am warmth; I am a human body amidst a modern city shrouded in January dreariness. Faces float among the sea of cars in the parking lot as their legs carry them through the waves of moving traffic. They are people spiting the cold to shop the clearance racks. Bundled bodies walk with haste toward the light, toward the warmth, toward the capitalism that has drawn them from their comfortable homes.

A woman and child, most likely mother and daughter, emerge from the glass-double doors carrying a bag in each hand. The woman blends into the cold-gray sky above us. She wears dark clothing–gray and charcoal, her chestnut hair hidden beneath a winter cap that is a near identical match in color to the sidewalk beneath my feet. She holds a cell phone pressed against her ear, and she seems to be discussing something of importance with the disembodied voice that shares the line. She does not notice the little girl next to her; she does not notice the small hand that is tugging on her purse strap. Maybe she does notice. Maybe she is simply choosing not acknowledge the child. By comparison, the girl seems a tropical island standing next to her metropolitan mother of stone who does not smile. With her long-blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail revealing an elfin face and blue eyes with long eyelashes, the child seems oddly out of place in this chilly locale with its muted heartbeat. She wears a bright yellow sweater to keep herself warm. Her sneakers, pink and white, are equipped with red lights in the heels that flash with each small step. Mother and child continue walking together across the asphalt void to their own temporarily forgotten droid, however the girl lags behind as she has given up trying to gain the attention of the woman who never even looks back to check that she is still there.

People come and go. They walk by and smile, or they just walk by. Some chat on cell phones, some to each other, some on cell phones instead of to each other. When people approach the store doors, I notice, more women than men have been opening or holding the door open for another person. Chivalry isn’t dead–it just crossed the gender boundary. A young couple shuffled by with their fingers interlaced. High-school sweethearts I suspect; they couldn’t be much older than that. Did they even see me? Do I exist int heir world, or is it just the two of them–alone in love. Both of them were adorned in Abercrombie and Old Navy from head to foot, and I wondered what brought them to the shopping center. No bags. Were they even shopping? I had heard the young man proclaim, “Will Ferrell was awesome in that movie!” The girl giggled and snuggled closer. She had started to say something as they walked further away, but her words were lost to me then as they were picked up by the wind and carried over the roof of the building behind me. It had grown colder. The sun would set soon, I realized as I looked down at my watch to see the small hand approaching the five.

A kid stopped and asked me for a cigarette. I had lit one to keep my mind off of the wind chill.

“How old are you?” I asked him, trying to sound like an authoritative adult simply because I was older. He didn’t want to answer, and that was probably because he looked to be about twelve years old.

“Sixteen.” Still underage. I only one left anyway.

“Right–well, I don’t have a spare anyway. Sorry kid.” He grumbled and left–probably more disgruntled with the world than he was before and wanting a cigarette all the more for it. I watched him go, bent and pulled in against the cold. He wore a huge bulky sweatshirt. It was black with Viva La Bam written on the back in white, and it had a hood which at that moment he pulled up to cover his head. Maybe I should’ve given him the cigarette in exchange for wearing the sweatshirt for a few minutes. Damn it was cold.

I was nearly to the point of tossing my last cigarette butt when the moon began to rise on the tail of the retreating sun. Either the moon had just been full or would be soon. In any case, it began to rise now before the sun had completely gone. A short, pudgy woman had made her way to her car and was preparing to back up, while another woman waited patiently for the free space. That was nothing new, happens all the time. Before the second lady could pull into the spot, however, some young guy in a Dodge Ram barreled around the corner at a breakneck speed and zoomed into the parking space ahead of her. She sat still, stunned no doubt, and probably angry. He, on the other hand, hopped out of his truck and walked toward the doors with a bouncy step and a whistle. Was he oblivious or just inconsiderate? I almost wanted to ask him.

I have noticed a lot of disregard by people for others. It’s as though they walk past each other in this parking lot, on this sidewalk, and more than likely within this store and never even look one another in the eye. People generally do not speak to on another, and in some cases they even choose to ignore the very people they are with, with the exception of the young couple. I sat on this green bench for the larger part of an hour, and I wonder how many people could even tell someone later that I was there. Could they see me? Could they see past the end of their nose? The time has come to leave, just as the sun has finally done…because it is cold.

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