The night is as dark as the cracks in the sidewalk beneath my torn sneakers. I am going somewhere.  Somehow, even a busy turnpike can find the courage to be silent on a night like this. Maybe it’s the modest hum of my heart’s string section, or the electric murmur of the power lines above that lull me into this blissful state of consciousness: equal parts rainy funeral and first day of summer.

Behind me, the city’s lights bleed through fog, asking me questions I never want to answer. So I continue walking, step over sure-footed step, until an elderly black woman crosses my path. Fate locks our eyes and throws away the key. Only hindsight will offer me a glimpse of the raggedy blankets that twist around her body. But in the present moment, I can only see her eyes shooting through the night: walls of wet paint encased in a stern glare of milky suspicion and oily sorrow. I have never seen this woman, but she knows me from the inside out, and has walked enough silent turnpikes to distrust a stranger so inherently depraved.

Her unrelenting suspicion pushes me off the concrete; my shoes sink into a thin gloss of mud. I know better than to share her sidewalk. It’s the only thing she owns.

An hour passes, and I’m lying on a hotel bed, looking at the empty, white ceiling stained from cigarette smoke. I’m both warm and safe, and she’s neither. And I can’t help but feel a little guilty, watching the world from within my nest of human technology. Not everyone was given the chance I was given.

No, she’s probably still out there walking, step over hesitant step, living perpetually in her footprints. She is going nowhere. It begins to rain, a drop at a time, and I wonder what the city lights speak to her. And if they have anything to say at all, I wonder if she even remembers how to listen.

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