After the Spaniards, the most numerous readers of my blog are from USA. For this reason, I would like to write this post in English. This is the second part of my short story A night in New York, which I started in a previous post. With my best wishes to my North-American readers.
A NIGHT IN NEW YORK (part 2 of 3)
There were in the place where he was left some men lying on cardboards, protecting themselves against the house walls and wrapped in blankets. Almost all of them were asleep. One of them, however, with a relatively trimmed beard and very long hair was sitting on the sidewalk with a big bottle of milk on the floor and, almost automatically, you walked towards him. When he saw you he could not avoid a movement of amazement and spontaneous precaution. Then he looked upon you more in detail and talked to you: “What are you looking for here, brother?”.
¾ I am not looking for anything. And you, what are you looking for?¾, you answered with a hint of irritation.
The bum drank a long sip of his bottle and his eyes tried again to fix the newcomer. He offered him to drink but the man in blue coat refused politely.
¾ You are not from here, I am ¾said he finally, answering in a certain way his question¾. Not always I have been here, but I have been for some years already and I know many things. I know that, from time to time, someone like you comes to this street, any night that surely is not just one more for him. They are not many but there are some; you must know that you are not the first one. They never come back ¾the bum stared at him¾. You are not poor, but something happens to you that is worse and more ineludible than poverty and that can easily occur without being poor, because wealth protects men only in a very deficient manner and only in case of minor calamities. You come here because you confusedly look for something, which is not easy to get, even here on the Bowery. This is miserable place but most of the times it is quiet and even peaceful. I do not know if you get me.
The man in blue coat felt obliged to concentrate his attention in the figure of the vagabond, surprised by his words and with the unpleasant feeling that he had understood too fast and too easily what had brought him there. The hobo seemed to be more or less of his same age and spoke English with a very slight accent, almost imperceptible.
¾ I understand you very well ¾answered humbly the engineer¾, and I see that you are a little philosopher and perhaps a little foreteller. Have you always been that way or is it something that develops while living on the Bowery? And you were not born in New York, where are you from?
¾ In truth, now I could only say that I am American, although I was born in a country probably not far from yours or perhaps in yours ¾answered nonchalantly the bum¾. But I chose to remain here. I will tell you that on the Bowery there are all kinds of types and one arrives here by many different ways. Human beings are extraordinarily vulnerable; I mean, there are many misfortunes, which they are continuously exposed to. One day misfortune bites you deep in the heart, grasps you really firm and you get convinced that it will never leave you off. And everything that looked solid and stable collapses in a few minutes. At the beginning, not even oneself can explain what is going on. Here there are thousands of stories. Only the recently stricken sometime tell their story. Later you learn that it is not worthwhile. Not because people do not try to listen and understand but because it is not easy to explain them, probably because one self does not comprehend the thing wholly. I am not going to tell you anything. Nor are you in condition to listen. Now you must try to solve your problem.
¾ My problem is already solved and all I need is some determination or help.
¾ The really important problems are never totally solved. On the other hand, you will not find here that kind of help. In the worst case, you only can get robbed and beaten just enough so they can steal your money if you try to resist. Even that is not easy or warranted, although some time it may happen. No, you will have to be the one to take any decision. Think it over, brother.
That very morning, in a luxurious and aseptic ambiance, an Indian physician, a famous specialist, in one of the most prestigious hospitals of New York, had urged you in the same sense. Interestingly, the message reached you now infinitely closer and warmer, more naked, more urgent and unrejectable. “I will think it over”, you answered, convinced by the tramp’s reasons, “but I assure you that it has been a long time that I have been dwelling on that. I truly think that you are right and I am not going to solve my problems among you. Can I do something for you?”.
¾ If things are as I believe, I guess that it will cost you nothing to give me fifty dollars. If it is so, please give them to me. Not every night someone like you comes to this place. Perhaps this extravagancy comes more easily to a foreigner. But if you give me the money, then you are entitled to tell me your story and I have the duty to listen to it. There are rules. Something very similar do some special doctors who treat people not completely sane; that is, all kind of people: you, everyone, and I. Besides, perhaps your story is somehow different. The vast majority is composed of variants of a few scripts that repeat themselves once and again. But as you are, after all, a foreigner, it may be that you bring something new. What intrigues me is why you have decided to solve your problem precisely here, in New York.
¾ Because I was very happy here many years ago, had many friends and never I felt as a foreigner. We were quite diverse people, some born here and some not, but all fascinated by the city without any restraint or measure. We knew it very well, not only its urban immensity and its multiple reality but also its history, from the initial foundation. We were proud of that and had promised, more or less seriously, not to accept in our group anyone who did not know without hesitation, which one was the wooden leg of Peter Stuyvesant or the name of the channel, which limits the northern part of Manhattan Island. By the way, Peter Stuyvesant lost his own leg, the one of flesh and bone, due to a canon ball wound while fighting against the Spaniards in Saint Martin Island.
¾ The wooden leg was the right one and is was so covered and embellished by silver pieces that many spoke of his silver leg. He himself said that it was his good leg and worthier than all his other extremities put together. You know that he died not far from here; on the piece of land he had bought close to a path used probably by the native Indians, where he lived happily his last years with his wife and two children. This area took the name of the Dutch word for farm (bouwerie). He is buried in the nearby St. Mark church. And Manhattan is limited on the North side by the Suiten Duyvil Creek. I tell you all that to pass tour test and by doing so you can accept me tonight as a confident.
¾ And he was in good terms with the English colonel, Richard Nicolls, to whom he had surrendered the city, in 1664. In the message that the latter sent to Massachussets informing about the victory he already named the city as New York, to honor the Duke of York, to whom his brother Charles II of England had left all the rights upon the English colonies in America. It was an interesting period of time, different and relatively distant for what it is this land’s history. There also was an ephemeral Swedish establishment in Delaware valley and, decades before, Henry Hudson explored the river, which subsequently bore his name, searching, although it may now seem incredible to us, the longed for northwestern pass from the Atlantic Ocean to China.
¾ But apart from this normal longing for your youth, what happens to you now?
¾ What happens is something very simple that, at the end, happens to everyone except to a few who have the fortune of not being aware because everything occurs in a flash, without warnings: I have a serious disease of which I will probably die. You know now the essentials and it does not matter much whether it is the lung or the pancreas that kills you. Finally, it is the same thing.
¾ ¡Ah, in no way, there are differences! The pancreas is a great bastard; I tell you that have already had two bouts of pancreatitis. It really is a very moody organ. And lacking the due respect for innocent people because it seems that these pancreatitis occur to those who abuse alcohol and I have only drunk milk all my life. And besides, for the layman it is not even clear what it is good for. On the other hand, lungs have their mission. How could we smoke if we did not have lungs? ¾finished the tramp with a great laughter¾. Well, in fact I never smoked too much and now it is twenty years that I quitted.
¾ My pancreas has been respectful to me so far. My problems do not come from there.
¾ Yeah… I am sorry pal. Most of the times the problems that anguish us have to do with disease and death; a few other, every time less, with love, and very few with wealth. I have been able to realize, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the loss of power is more unbearable than that of wealth. Coming back to your case, what I always ask myself in these cases is: what is the hurry? Is it so terrible to wait whatever time is needed? Have you severe pain or discomfort?
¾ No, not for the time being. And it is not because of the waiting either. In my case, I sincerely think that is something of an esthetic nature, as a kind of biographical reconsideration. I would like to die with the image of this city in my eyes. It would be an elegant way to pay an old debt that I have with New York, because it was propitious to me and I left it.
¾ The things that we believe to have left behind are those that accompany us more continuously. In respect to the city, it is going to be here for centuries and nothing or nobody will be able to destroy it, do you hear me? Because it has been built by men from all over the world who believed themselves to be something more than men. This is what tells you this American bum ¾continued now with irrepressible pride¾. And you will always have time to repeat this nocturnal tour, coming to the Bowery or wherever your fantasy or whims may carry you.
The man in blue coat remained silent, with his look lost in some place or time well far away. Finally, he continued:
¾ You are probably right in everything. I think I would better go now, because I still have to see what I am going to do. I will give you the money ¾said the engineer, taking a disordered bunch of bills mixed with some papers out of an inner pocket of his coat¾.
¾ Wait, I will make some light ¾said the hobo, lighting a lantern. The man put some order in his papers, found two 50-dollar bills and gave him one¾. Do you want something more? ¾ he asked him with the other 50-dollar bill in his hand.
¾No, it is enough. Thanks.
The engineer turned then his head to the left, disturbed by a light noise of steps, and found close to them another bum of high stature and with his face almost hidden by an enormous scarf wrapped many times around his neck. He had likely observed the scene and had come closer to ask for money. “Please, give something to me too”, said he with a voice not exempt of sweetness. The man in the blue coat looked at the first tramp, who seemed to make a sign of acquiescence, and gave the other bill to the newcomer, who then left immediately as if he were afraid of a sudden change of heart. There remained again the two men alone.
¾ He is a good man. I know him only two passions: alcohol and, when he is not drunk, cleanliness. Being sober, he is all the time cleaning up his room in the flophouse.
The tramp looked again at the engineer and recommended: “Do not be in a hurry, wait. Some 10-15 % possibilities of cure is something worthy to wait for and justifies an attempt to fight”.
The man did not remember having mentioned at any time these details and asked himself how the bum could know the exact percentages that the doctor had mentioned this very morning. “How do you know these figures, these percentages?”, he inquired in wonder.
¾ Do not think that I am a clairvoyant because of that. I go to doctors too and in this city they practice a modern and scientific medicine and people die very well investigated. Now all doctors, even those who take care of us, the poor, are always talking of percentages. If someone is thinking of what you are thinking tonight it is because they did not give him too a great hope. But no reasonable “doc” ¾they are very careful at that¾ would advance a too tiny percentage, less than 10 %. Given that, besides, there is always an associated degree of uncertainty, an error presumption, 10-15 % seemed to me a quite likely option. But I tell you that I am not a foreteller. Nevertheless, I will make a very specific prediction. I think that today, at the end, you will decide to wait and this night you will end up sleeping in your room at the Waldorf.
This time the man in the blue coat could not overcome his astonishment. “Who are you? How do you know that I am lodging at the Waldorf?”.
The bum broke into a loud laughter. “How do I know? Well, only because I have seen your client card among the bills that you showed before. You have some disorder there, although I understand that tonight is not just any night for you”.