By Elliott Charles Shapiro
It was summertime. I was coming home from work. I got out of the subway at 103rd and walked to West End. I started down the block towards Riverside. My building was at the end of the block. It was a beautiful evening . I stopped midway down the block, put my briefcase on a brownstone railing, looked towards the western sky, and took in the sun, the trees, and the river.
As I stood there I noticed a woman leave my building. She headed up the block towards me. She got closer, I didn’t recognize her. Since I knew most of the people in the building I assumed she was a stranger. She was pulling a suitcase on wheels and was looking down as she came up the hill. She was dressed in a suit, the way people used to look when they got on a plane. I figured she was a tourist, had visited someone in the building, and was on her way back to wherever she came from.
She was about 15 feet away when a small bag perched on the valise fell to the ground. She stopped, picked it up, put it back on the valise, and continued on. Just as she got alongside of me the bag fell off again. She bent down, picked it up again, and put it back on the valise. Her face was quite pensive. She was close. Our eyes met as she straightened up.
“That’s an errant piece of luggage, you’ve got there,” I said.
She didn’t smile and she didn’t say anything. She had a sad face. It was an awkward moment. I reached for something to say.
“You’re a tourist, aren’t you?”
She quickly looked at me. Her eyes lit up, everything about her changed.
“How did you know?” She said each word slowly and with emphasis.
My first thought was that she was playing with me. It was like she was saying, ‘Well, look at you, you see me walking up the street, dragging a valise, dressed like I’m going to the airport, and you deduce that I’m a tourist. Aren’t you a clever fellow?’
But, just as I flashed that thought, she added,
“Everyone gets my sun sign. But, no one, ever gets that my moon is in Taurus…and that’s who I really am.”
She was joyful and puzzled at the same time.
“How did you ever know that? I’m into astrology, and I know a fair amount, but…you, you really know. Are you a teacher, are you famous?”
She was looking at me like I might be her next astrology guru.
Look, I was from the 60’s. Like everyone else, I’d picked up a few bits of astrology along the way. You could learn a lot from album covers. I knew about sun signs and moon signs.
She started running through books she’d read, lectures she attended, and teachers she studied with.
“Who have you studied with and which books do you like, what should I read?”
In fact, the only reading on astrology that I’d done was an occasional glimpse of the Sagittarian entry in the Daily News.
“You, must be doing this for a long time. You really got me. People just don’t know. Even astrologers. Taurus is who I am. I’m not my sun sign. But, they all think I am.”
She’s was on a roll and I stood there and listened. You know, politely waiting for a break, to let her know that she heard me wrong. That I said, “tourist”, not Taurus. But, I gotta tell you. She was in her late 30’s, quite attractive, and was looking at me like I might be ‘The Guy’. Of course, it was on my mind. And of course, I’d have to explain that all my astrology books were ‘temporarily’ in storage. But, I just stood and listened.
And then she paused.
Curiously, at that moment, I had no desire to feed into the astrology business. So, to change the subject, I said,
“Are you here visiting someone?”
Her countenance changed again. It was fast and it was hard. I saw sadness cover her. She waited, took a breath, and then said quietly,
“My mother died last week. I came here to take care of her. Everything’s done now. I’m going home. ”
The way she said it, the way she looked when she said it, just those few words, but I sensed the great love that had been between them.
She took another breath, looked up at me, and lit up again, and said,
“But, tell me, tell me all about your training and who you’ve worked with?”
It really hit me. I had to make a very fast decision .
She had misunderstood a single word and had incorrectly believed that she had been deeply ‘seen’ by another person. Her resultant joy was palpable and it lifted her grief. Perhaps it would endure. But, it wasn’t the truth.
There were two roads to be taken, but only one could be chosen.
I was thinking of my own deceased mother when I made my decision and I said to her,
“My sympathy upon the loss of your mother, I hope her love for you will sustain you in the years to come.”
“But, I’m sorry, I’ve got to go. Please take care and please have a safe trip back home. ”
Our eyes met. I turned and walked down the block to my building. As I entered I looked back. She was still standing there. We held our gaze a few seconds, and then she reached down, took her valise in hand, turned, and walked up the block to West End.