City Kitty

There is a rat in the middle of the street.  It is less of a rat and more of a suggestion of the shape of a rat. I don’t know what has happened to the internal structure of bone and guts that used to make it three dimensional, nor do I care.  I cross the street, walk into the deli and pick up my dinner. On the way home, I cross the street and step over the rat shape suggestion while eating a French fry. It is at this point that realization dawns on me. I have become a city person.

When we purchased our city condo, we did not plan on a major renovation of the kitchen.  The plan was to put a few coats of paint on the walls and spruce up the hardware.  In other words we would put some lipstick on it and be done with it.  But then the home inspection took place.

“Yep, you got yourselves some city kitties,”  the inspector said pointing a flashlight in the area under the sink.

“There are cats under the sink?” I asked while stooping down to catch a glimpse of cute little kittens.

“Eh, no, but there are rats, mice, what have you,”  the inspector said unfazed.  I jumped back.  Disgust and terror were etched into my face.  We closed on our condo at 10 am on a Friday morning; by Friday evening we had ripped out most of the kitchen revealing a hole in the wall.  It was not a cute little cartoon mouse hole with a door, but a jagged gaping cavern big enough for a rat caravan to drive through, whooping and hollering with their sharp yellow teeth and beady red eyes.  We sealed every opening meticulously and replaced all cabinetry, countertops, appliances and flooring.  Any surface that might have been a dance floor for nasty little tap-dancing rat feet was dumped.

But the rats still live outside of our condo. It is one of the things you learn to accept as a city person.  You seal off your kitchen and then you seal off yourself.

When I walk down the street I stare into the middle distance effectively eliminating eye contact.  When approached by strangers asking for directions, my first assumption is that they are crazed religious zealots that will try to usher me into a nondescript white van.  My second assumption is that they are crazed religious politicians looking for sex.

I have learned to ignore the soft spoken homeless man who asks me for change every morning. When I enter an elevator alone, I press the “door close” button quickly ten times with the hopes that the door will close before the woman shouting “wait” is able to enter. When a car does not stop as I cross the street I bark like a territorial dog “It’s a crosswalk, you asshole!”

I think about this and weigh the pros and cons of city life in my mind as I walk a block to have my hair cut.  Sophia greets me warmly and says “We do it short?”

“Yes, buzz the sides and scissors on top,”  I answer her.  She is a middle aged Moroccan woman with dark curly hair and deep brown soulful eyes.  I close my eyes, prepared to shut myself off. The phone rings and she apologizes to answer.  The conversation is short, but she seems worried.

“All is well with your family?” I ask.

“My son, he is young and foolish.  He is in hospital in Atlanta, because he do stupid thing.  He jump off fence and break his leg.” She frets and I can see the worry in her eyes.  “So far from home. You are from the south, I know people there are kind like you,”  she phrases this as more of a question.
“Yes, people are very kind there; he will be well taken care of,”  I reply and her eyes lose some of the worry.  We pass the rest of the time as she cuts my hair speaking of her home in Morocco, of her native languages of Arabic and French.
“You and your friend must stay in my home if ever you go to Morocco.  Is very nice, you will like it,” She says.
"And you must stay in our home in Maine,”  I reply.
When I leave, I switch to my rusty French.  “Merci, Madame, bonne soirée.”
 “Et vous aussi,”  she says, surprised by the gesture.
As I walk down the sidewalk, the T screeches around the corner. I know that I will never go to Morocco and Sophia will never visit me in Maine.  But, it doesn’t matter.  I’m back where I need to be.

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