Strange looking birds
I was at a thrift store on the Upper West Side when I saw a set of two framed, unsigned drawings of birds.
The drawings were clearly the work of the same artist. They were strange-looking birds with large, wide-open charcoal eyes.
I liked one, not the other. The one I liked was of a single bird that resembled an emu staring to the side.
The other drawing was of two birds that looked like dodos. They had similar facial expressions and looked forward, as if to stare at the viewer. I just couldn’t see that drawing hanging on my wall and looking at it every day.
Since they were clearly from the same artist, I thought it was funny to break up the set, so I didn’t.
When I stopped back into the store a few days later, I was surprised to see that the drawing I liked was still there, but the other one was gone. Someone else must have seen them, liked the drawing, I didn’t and wasn’t worried about breaking up the set.
I immediately bought the drawing that remained.
5 words; 4 coins
In 1964, when I was 8, I ventured out of my family’s apartment in Riverdale almost every day at my mother’s request.
Down the elevator and past the stairwell door, where the milk machine and cigarette machine lurked side by side in the dark, then through the lobby and out.
Right, then left, then two blocks and right to Mother’s Bakery.
Five words and four coins: Seedless rye bread, sliced. A quarter, a dime, two cents.
My mother said she couldn’t send my brother because he would eat half the bread on the way home. With me only the two heels were missing.
— Gerri Ginsburg
I walked slowly through Stuy Town, completely immersed in my phone as I prepared for a job interview.
I was so absorbed in what I was doing that I almost bumped into an older man walking. He looked at me with a hint of disapproval.
“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I have an interview tomorrow for my dream job and all I can do is prepare.”
He went on and resumed his brisk stride. Then he turned his head over his shoulder. He had a smile on his face.
“Put me on as a reference,” he said. “Good luck!”
— Melissa Ertli
West Fourth Street Courts
As courtesies go, it was disastrous. Then I stumbled through the streets feeling like everything was against me.
After giving me many hints over the years, I thought, the city clearly told me once and for all to get out. Maybe it was finally time to listen.
At one point I walked to the West Fourth Street basketball courts. While I was watching the game, a well-dressed man with a bag approached me.
“People take you for granted,” he said unsolicited. “You give and you give, and you get nothing in return. But you are a good person and…”
I don’t exactly remember the rest of what he said, because I tried very hard not to burst into tears.
He pulled out a notepad and asked me to think about—but not tell him—the answers to a number of questions: my favorite number, my wife’s name, her age, my favorite color, my nemesis’ first name.
He then made a neat list of all my answers. I’m no hero when it comes to magic tricks, but this man was a certifiable wizard.
He assured me that my life would be fine and that I would get my dream job later that month. Then he wrote down three numbers: suggested donations.
I told him I didn’t have that much money.
“There’s an ATM nearby,” he said.
— Mark Hsu
Broom and dustpan
I stepped out of the apartment building I had just moved into. It was an early September morning and a light rain was falling.
My train was coming soon, and it wasn’t raining, so I decided not to go back upstairs for an umbrella and instead went to the station.
I passed a man who was sweeping. He had a broom in one hand and a dustpan in the other.
“Hey, miss,” he said, so softly I almost didn’t hear him. I thought he might be talking to me, but as someone who has had a lot of bad interactions with strangers on the street, I thought it seemed best to walk on.
“Miss,” he said again.
I wondered if I might have dropped something. Before I could check my pockets, I heard him again, this time a little louder.
I turned. The broom in his hand had been replaced by a clear plastic poncho. He was wearing a yellow hooded one. Water drops streamed down the front.
“Before the rain,” he said, extending his hand.
— Aiza Shahid-Qureshi
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Illustrations by Agnes Lee