You’d think that people living in big cities would share something. You’d think that there would be a solidarity borne of common struggle, that people would pass each other in the street with a knowingness in their eyes, a nod if not a smile.
Here we are, in this crazy thing. It’s going, it’s gone, there’s nothing we can do about it now.
Like being strapped into a cart about to go over a cliff, harnessed in at the neck and waist, and reaching over to squeeze the hand of the stranger sitting next to you.
But it wasn’t. The stranger, surprised and affronted by the touch, looked at you with fear in his eyes. That was, unless you happened to be a cute young girl. If you were a cute young girl, the look softened, the hand ceded to the grip.
This was a thought that Gerald often had, in fact a surmise at which many of his thinkings arrived. If you lived in a city, the thing to be was a young woman. Doors were held for you, food and drink appeared in your hands. The world was excitable and open to you.
It’s not as if Gerald had a pair of lacy underwear hiding in a drawer at home. He just thought that if he had to do it all over, given the choice, he would be a cute young girl.
He owned a building in the city. It was a modest building, four stories tall, of a rectangular, unimposing design, but he kept it in perfect condition, clean and always with a fresh coat of pleasant-coloured paint. He had worked hard to have this building as security in his old age, and no one had given him anything and it had not been easy.
Today, he was sitting in a plastic chair just outside the door of his building. It was a sunny day, and he was waiting for a prospective tenant to come see an apartment on the third floor.
A young woman lived on the top floor of the building with her boyfriend. This was not a cute young girl. This was a beautiful girl, of the sort of overwhelming beauty that is seen only rarely over the course of a lifetime. She had light, light blue eyes. She was tall but very fragile, like a long, thin rod of glass.
Today, this woman was screaming at her boyfriend. She was screaming and crying and hiccupping. She had a thick layer of shame in her voice, and a ragged edge of desperation and fury. Gerald hoped that she would stop before the prospective tenant was supposed to arrive, so that he would not have to knock at her door and ask her to be quieter.
He thought of all the things he had done for such girls in his life, all the tricks he had pulled to make young girls pay attention to him. I would not go back, he thought. Provided one must live in the city, provided one has to be a man. It’s better to be old.