Here's a video of me reading this chapter:
He was as beautiful as always.
I could not help but take a moment to admire his appearance once again. I had been visiting him for quite some time now, and with each visit, I discovered something new about him. Whether it was the smooth curve of his face that complemented his overall physique, or his towering height that made him stand out among everyone else. That was why I made the effort to come to this park at the crack of dawn just to see him. He was always there in Romare Bearden Park, minding his own business. He occupied the same spot every time: a small circle next to the gardens, surrounded by benches. He sat in the middle of the circle, surrounded by a patch of grass. I always found him sitting there alone, looking around, perhaps lost in thought or enjoying the scenery. Without fail, he was always there regardless of the weather. I once saw him sitting there when I passed by at 2 a.m.
I admired his aesthetic. He had a bright complexion that was almost flawless. His body was perfectly proportioned, with nothing that seemed out of place. I also loved his choice of clothing. I had only ever seen him wearing silver garments with swirling streaks down the middle. His clothes had such a sheen that I could see my reflection in them. It was not a clear reflection like a mirror. Because of the streaks and his seated position, my image became distorted, making my head appear squashed, my torso elongated, my face blending into the colors of his clothes. I wondered if that was how he saw me, fragmented and flawed. It would not be the first time, I supposed.
Strangely, despite him always being at the park, no one seemed to notice him as they passed by. They might give him a passing glance, but they would move on with their day. I thought it was unfair. He presented himself so well, and people should take the time to appreciate it. He never responded to anyone, however. He maintained the same stoic expression throughout the day. I could never tell whether it stemmed from sadness, anger, or a combination of both. I had intended to ask him about it, but I was afraid of receiving the same cold stare. I had been talking to him ever since I moved to this area. It started as a simple courtesy, but it gradually became a form of therapy for me. I poured my heart out to him, sharing my secrets, passions, and frustrations, and he would look back at me with the same indifferent expression. Maybe he was listening. Maybe he was searching for the right words to say. Or maybe I was just annoying him. Regardless, having someone to vent to brought me some solace. At this point, I would welcome anyone's company. I was sure he felt the same way.
I was supposed to be on my way, but I could not resist passing by him one more time. This might be my final encounter with him. And as always, there he was, in the same spot, with the same frozen expression on his face. And as always, I approached him. This time, it was going to be different. I wanted him to understand how I felt. It might be painful, but it needed to be done. I wanted to leave a lasting impression on him, and even if he did not respond, it would bring me some peace of mind. I looked up at him. His gaze seemed to pass right through me, but it did not matter. I cleared my throat...
A statue? I thought she was yelling at someone with how loud she was.
She wasn’t speaking English, either. Italian, I think? I wasn’t good with foreign languages, even though I read a lot. Well, this wasn’t something that happened often here. This park was usually quiet and the perfect place to read. But now I have Italian screaming in my ears. I couldn't help but watch, strangely enough. The book I was reading was getting boring anyway, and this was much more entertaining than studying business administration.
She stood directly in front of the spiraled statue, her eyes fixed ahead, undistracted. She spoke with grandeur, every syllable flowing out of her mouth like a torrent. It was just the two of us, her, and that strange statue, engaged in this speech. I never paid much attention to that statue until now. It was just a tall, cyclone-like spiral reaching upward. Honestly, I always thought it was kind of ugly. Why was she directing all of this at that particular junk? There was a fountain behind us that was much prettier and more deserving of praise.
I started paying attention to what she was actually saying. It was impressive. Her words and performance moved me. "Moved" doesn't fully describe it. Hearing such passion was refreshing. I've been trapped in my own thoughts for so long that I had forgotten what it was like to hear another person's voice. Hearing words instead of reading them on a page was exactly what I needed.
The more I watched, the more it felt like I was witnessing a defining moment in this person's life. I didn't know what she was saying, yet I could feel her determination. She moved her entire body as if dancing for the statue. Her olive-toned hands waved and she twisted around with rigid motions, fists raised high, hips locked. Her silky black hair swayed and bounced with each movement. Even from a distance, I could see the excitement in her brown eyes as words poured out from her heart. I wish I knew what she was saying. It would make anyone pay attention.
She clasped her hands together, looking up at the sky as she continued. Her speech took on a musical quality with a certain rhythm as if she had carefully chosen each word beforehand. There was no way that could’ve been planned. Her voice sounded so natural, without a hint of recitation. And with a series of short interjections, she concluded. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and ran a hand through her hair.
It took a lot for me not to applaud. No. That would be awkward. Almost painful. It was silent now, which seemed odd. Almost eerie. The girl with black hair still stood there, checking the time on her phone as if she was about to leave. I couldn’t just leave it at that, could I? Whatever she said had captivated me, and I had to let her know. Maybe it would make her day. But I knew I had to be careful. I doubt she noticed that I was listening. She might think I was a huge creep, and that was the last thing I wanted to come across as. I sighed. I hated it when I knew deep down what I wanted to do but still ended up being indecisive. My parents called it thinking with your brain instead of your heart. How fitting.
I put my book in my messenger bag and walked up to her. Normally, the mere thought of doing this would make me cringe, but this felt right. She deserved recognition for such a fantastic performance. My heart raced with each step I took.
I should not have acted surprised, but his suddenness caught me off guard.
I stood there with my back turned to whoever spoke to me, contemplating how I would justify what I was doing. I expected people to think I was insane for doing this, but for some reason, I did not anticipate someone approaching me about it. I figured people would stare, shrug their shoulders, and move on. People treated the statue the same way, but I could not blend into the background. In moments like this, disappearing would be great.
I jerked my body around. He appeared to be my age. He was not dressed to impress, that was for sure. He wore a plain, dark hoodie that matched the circles under his eyes. He carried a messenger bag that sagged heavily on his shoulder. I was surprised he could stand with its weight. He reminded me of the types I used to meet at my old college: sleep-deprived and studious. He scratched the light blonde stubble on his whitish-pink face, briefly looking away before returning his gaze to me. Was he nervous? The way he approached me suggested concern.
"I had no idea what you just said, but that was one of the most beautiful things I've ever heard," he said, speaking in short bursts as if he had a million and a half things to tell me at once. I could not help but flash a quick, small smile. It was the first time anyone had complimented my speaking skills. To be fair, I had never done this in public. I figured I should break it to him. He was honest with me, so I should be honest with him.
"Thank you," I replied in perfect English. "But honestly, I have no idea what I just said."
He blinked. I wanted to burst out laughing but held it in. God, I love good comedic timing.
"I actually don't speak Italian. Funny, right?"
The puzzled look on his face was priceless. I wished I had taken a picture of it. It seemed like his world was crumbling around him like he did not know what to believe anymore.
"But the way you said all of that sounded like you've been speaking it your whole life," he said.
He was right. I knew that passage better than my phone number. I had even dreamed about it. Whatever it was, it haunted me and probably would for the rest of my life.
"Thank you. Honestly, I wish I knew what it all meant. It is pretty romantic and all. But no one in my family speaks Italian. I know it is from an opera."
I shrugged. He must have thought I was either insane or just messing with him. It definitely was not the latter. There were many things about my life that I had not figured out, like how was I going to keep wasting time today. What was there to do around here that would go unnoticed? Something that would consume most of my time…
"It is a pretty long story, and I have to get going. There is, uh, a museum I wanted to visit."
"Which one?" he asked.
Damn. I had not thought that through. What museums were around here anyway? Wait! I remembered someone recommending one to me a long time ago. What was the name? It started with a "B."
"I think it is pronounced the Bet-sh-ler?".
"'Bet-kler,'" he corrected.
"Ah, okay. I have never been. I was just killing time here."
A pretty strange way to kill time, but who was I to judge?
Okay, step 1 was done. On to step 2: say, "Nice to meet you," and leave. Easy. But then, an idea popped into my head—a crazy one. Something I hadn't considered doing today. My brain took a backseat, and now it was my heart's turn to speak. It was so excited that it leaped. I had to remind myself that the worst she could say was "No." But I hoped she wouldn't.
"I could go with you if you want," I said.
She turned her gaze towards me. Her smile faded, and her expression became genuine—her eyes widened, and her mouth slightly opened. I knew it. I came off too strong. Panic set in. I needed to find a way to play it off cooler.
"I haven't been to that museum in a while. Besides, I'm heading in that direction myself. I have some books to return," I added, gesturing to my shoulder bag.
This looked bad. I had gone off the deep end. I didn't know what I was saying at this point. I should’ve just left and saved us both from embarrassment. I couldn't look at her face for more than a millisecond. Nope, this was a terrible idea. I was about to say, "Forget it," and move on when she interrupted me:
"Oh. I guess it would be nice to go with someone. I get bored going to places alone anyway."
I looked up at her to make sure that had happened. She seemed serious as could be. I half-expected her to burst into laughter and mock me for asking such a stupid question.
"You said you have been there before, right? I actually do not know where it is," she added.
"It's not far at all," I reassured her.
"Good, you can guide me then. What is your name?"
I was so shocked that it took me a moment to register her question.
"Howl," I said, feeling a sense of relief.
She looked me up and down, as I expected.
"Is... that really—"
"Nah," I replied. "It's what I prefer to be called. Been trying to reinvent myself lately."
"I like that. Reinventing yourself. Well, since you know the way, shall we?"
My breathing returned to normal. I guess I could be myself now, whatever that meant.
"Well, I'd like to know the name of the person I'm accompanying first," I said, offering a slight smile.
Well, that was a bit rude.
I cringed hard inside. Note to self: don't try to be funny. I should’ve just asked for her name without all the sarcasm. I thought she would chuckle at my snarkiness, but instead, she looked taken aback, wrinkling her eyebrows at me. Apologizing right now would only make things more awkward. I needed to get better at this kind of stuff, but I guess the only way to improve was through practice.
"Ella," she said.