Vans by Diogo Potes
In the summer of ‘94 I was walking along 42nd Street (or 41st?), headed to Grand Central. The amount of tourists increased as I zigzagged north and east, and I weaved my way around them. They poked along, blocking the way for those of us in a hurry.
The day was sunny and beautiful, so I didn’t really mind. I passed a jewelry store on the corner, with gold lettering and gold-colored trim and came up against a late-middle-aged crowd of that was waiting for the walk sign. They all wore the tourist’s uniform of brightly colored short-sleeve shirts, embarrassing shorts and brand-new tennis shoes with white socks. Their clothes annoyed me, since I doubted any of them would look so silly back home.
That’s when I heard the woman screaming.
At this particular corner there was some scaffolding up, and a few of the tourists had stepped into the gutter to sidestep its dingy blue columns. A woman with auburn hair, wearing a white shirt and navy shorts, was shouting and screaming hysterically at the back of a southbound MTA bus. The walk sign lit up, but the crowd didn’t move the way it normally does, it was stuck to the sidewalk all around the auburn-haired woman.
Her white canvas shoes looked too delicate for a city dweller, and sure enough the right one was ripped in half. The front half of her foot seemed to be gone with it, or mangled beyond recognition by the weight of the bus and what must have been a quick slide or spin of the tire. It was hard to tell what was left, the blood was flowing so fast.
Her eyes were almost glazed as she stood screaming at the bus. The bus, for its part, lumbered along, like some mindless beast that had pushed her aside without knowing she was there. Yet she screamed as if it would stop, come back, and return her foot to her. Her tour group all seemed to have the groggy look of people waking from a long nap, interrupted by their friend’s horror.
I crossed the street while those nearest to her converged on her in cautious slow motion.
I wondered where she was from. Ohio, maybe, I thought. Or perhaps central Pennsylvania. She probably was leading the rest of the group to Grand Central Station, to see the soaring spaces and be surprised by the art exhibit that was there that month. She may have had tickets to a Broadway show that night. In fact, for some reason I feel confident that she did.
But I imagine she was in a hospital room that night instead, sedated, hating New York, the big city, that horrible place with the bus that took her foot. Healing and learning to balance would take time before it could even start. She wouldn’t get her prosthetic foot, her souvenir of the big awful place, for a while yet.
I suppose she’s wearing it now.