Lost in New York
After a disorienting two-month stint in New York I arrive home in London, where everything feels sickeningly normal. The acute silence in my bedroom; the downstairs wallpaper with its ingrained rice. Why would it be any different? I dump my bags and offer my parents a scant summary of my trip before drifting upstairs into a feverish sleep fraught by jetlag and images of spinning lights. I remember that the US election is tomorrow and pretty soon I am feeling my armrests, sitting next to Obama on the plane. He holds a frown, wary of me staring. I tell him it’s OK, he’ll probably win, to which he replies - with Godlike authority - ‘There is hope.’ Just then a rising rushing sound builds in my ears and when I look down a hole has opened below and I am falling, hurtling through the stratosphere above Manhattan, terrified of being impaled to the antenna of some merciless skyscraper. I urge myself towards the Empire State building and to my luck I land in one piece on the observation deck. Phew.
Relief subsides as a muggy storm begins to brew, while hundreds of tourists walk in circles indiscriminately clicking and flashing their cameras. When they start bumping into each other I realise they are all blind; unable to see and yet determined to capture the moment, the moment, the moment I arrive in my office on Third Avenue the secretary grabs my arm and hisses, ‘Not only are you late, Zak, but we’ve got a meeting, Zak, did you know that?’
I am dragged into the room where everyone is sat perfectly still around a long glass table. As I take my seat the chair scrapes so loudly everyone drops their pens with a sharp intake of breath. My boss turns to me with a smile and claps me on the back as if to say its OK, then leans in whispering, ‘Have you no shame?’ Of course, they‘re all watching FOX news on the TV, where people are leaping out of windows, plummeting to their death (a headline scrolls: ‘Wall Street Suicide Epidemic’). Somehow I fear it’s all my fault and that I should say something funny to make it better. I say: ‘Oi guys, I believe in change! Hah!’
My co-workers all exchange horrified open-mouthed looks, but before anyone can react I fling the door open and rush down the corridor through the fire escape down sixteen flights of stairs up the street into Grand Central Station and stop dead in the centre beneath its vast, lofty, domed ceiling. I gaze up in pure wonder as the star constellations flash, dart and disappear as though reorganising the cosmos, while over the PA a voice repeats, “an astronomical foray into the unknown.”
The words echo through my mind and suddenly everything feels so alien; I am gripped by the belief that any person I talk to will not hear or understand me. I grab commuters by their shoulder, saying ‘hello’, but they all break free and continue walking ahead until one man with a toothy grin says ‘follow me.’ Naturally I follow him down to a dank gloomy subway platform where he promptly disappears and I am surrounded by a circle of homeless men and women who all snarl at me.
‘You said you believe in change,’ croaks a hunch-backed female with empty bags lining her arms, ‘Well we need change, but I don’t see you givin’ us none!’
Some wretched thing on the floor is clutching my leg, biting my ankles, so I kick him off and run down the platform, praying that they will not follow. At the other end a man with clumpy white hair and cloudy eyes pulls down his pants, squats over the edge and takes a shit onto the tracks. I groan in disgust, yelling, ‘have you no shame?’
The man looks up slowly with his unseeing eyes and says, ‘Do I look like I care what you think?’ at which point the A train missiles out of the tunnel and knocks him onto the tracks, obliterating limbs and body. Inevitably, the subway dwellers are drifting towards me, so I jump onto the carriage only to be whisked away at criminal velocity, in which direction I have no idea.
An astronomical foray into the unknown.