I don’t have to listen, but I do. Most people think I don’t listen or don’t hear anything but I hear all sorts of shit they probably don’t want me to hear. They don’t care that I’m around, she’s dumb is the constant refrain I hear from them. Since the top of my chemically bleach-blonde hair barely tickles their noses I get the feeling they look over my head most of the time. Well, lack of watchfulness for the mute kid is their issue, and I don’t mind it when I nick twenty dollars they planned to use for lunch and use it for a Broadway show.
I remember the first show I ever went to. I had never been to the city before. The buildings, I was told, were like trees growing; the whole city was going to be like a forest in constant motion, getting bigger; there was always construction growing the city. I was so excited. I talked so much in the car on the way to the city that my mom and pops turned up the music just to drown me out. That was o.k. though because I thoroughly enjoy Beethoven. It was fun to see how I could talk with music, see if I could create lyrics for a string song. When we arrived, I stepped out of the car and was instantly assaulted by a grating sound of metal, honking horns, yellow taxis and grey, grey everywhere climbing higher than trees and stock still. The flashing movements on every side gave me a headache on the left side of my head and moved so fast that my eyes were stuck wide open trying to see everything. I felt mama’s hand pull mine and the next thing I knew I was pushed through a river of people until we reached a stagnant pool of persons in front and behind us as we stood in line for our tickets.
When we reached the ticket booth I couldn’t hear a thing. There was a loud obnoxious buzz in my ears and when pops asked which show I wanted, I just pointed to The Lion King. I didn’t hear what pops said but I watched the man in the cage hand over the strips of paper that had the play written in bold letters across the top. It wasn’t until the lights dimmed in the huge theatre that the buzzing went away from my ears and I could hear. I was so astounded that when mama asked me how I liked the show I just nodded, speechless. That night, I fell in love with Broadway, and New York City. At 8 years old, I was educated in New York City art and I never wanted to leave it.
When I grew up, I went to the city alone to watch Broadway shows and catch Alvin Ailey dance performances. The favorite part of my time in the city was waiting on lines. I like lines, especially New York City lines. Nobody looks at you there and no one expects you to say anything, just grunt and nod. If you dare smile, people will either skitter away or think you are challenging them to something. Then you want to skitter. They don’t need eye contact either, which is perfectly fine with me. They have this look, all hunched over like boulders, even if it is sunny. They look so sad while they wait for tickets. Perhaps they are not used to lines, but then again, they live in New York City. I stand in lines a lot, but mostly for Broadway shows. I grunt and point, this show or that show at this time. The ticket seller grumbles back and passes me the ticket. I am always the first; and since I was old enough to be let out of the house alone, I live on the steps that are part of the ticket booth on Time Square.
One afternoon I was napping, two hours before ticket sale and the Pointy-Nosed cop came by and told me I had to leave. Couldn’t he see that I was napping? I did not budge. Poking my side with his pointy-toed boot he told me to move along. When I refused again, he tugged me up and looked me in the eyes. My eyes are crossed with tiredness, I can tell ‘cause I have a headache on the left side of my head, the cops flashlight didn’t help either. But I have no funny things running through my blood and no money for those either; my cardboard sign reads “Money for Art” and that is exactly what I get high off of. I was certainly not high then, that cop was no work of art as he chivied me away and tossed me a metro card before pointing in the direction of the shelter. I shoved his hand away as if he had punched me and scampered out of his line of sight. I swear I heard a jauntily whistled tune as I turned the corner.
I wandered around the city for a while before going to the subway. In the station I saw the music player playing his guitar as he often does. I watch him a lot. Standing in the station I like to hear how his music bounces and echoes off the walls. I stand there, pretending to watch the people grow and shrink as they get on and off the subway, all the while listening to the Music Man. I was there for three songs when I heard the Music Man start to talk to a friend who often visited him. He talked loudly to be heard over the noise of the swarm of people going in and out. It’s that mute girl again, she’s always hanging around, he said. What’s the matter, the other one replied. An audience is an audience. Not this one, the Music Man countered with a laugh, she just sits here and scares away anyone who would give me money. I asked her to leave once but I don’t even think she heard me. How can she appreciate music when she can’t even hear it? It was a long day with her just staring at me with her freaky eyes and that wacked out hair. I only got a dollar that day.
I smiled at that. The Music Man never knew I stole some of his money, but he never shooed me away again so perhaps he suspected. He kept up is yak yak yakking and didn’t play anymore music. I left him to talk bad things about me not in front of my face.
That afternoon I had the best sleep ever. I didn’t go to the shelter, that would of been silly. Those people have troubles and they push me around; they don’t like people who won’t trade word games with them or help them with the crosswords. When I refuse to play they call me a dumb mute with frizzed hair. So I rode the subway, the ca-thunk ca-thunk of the metal wheels rocking me to sleep better than any cradle, better than the incessant yakking from the city streets of the city that never sleeps. I rode the subway to the end of the line and back before hopping off at Time Square again, my destination: the ticket booth.
When I finally got out of the station it was getting dark, earlier than it usually does in the fall. But it wasn’t really dark, the light just changed. The hot shiny light of the afternoon was replaced with blinking green, purple and racing red and blue. The light colors of the city darkened and the little kids disappeared. When I arrived at my line there was someone in my place. These little fancy kids had their shoulder packs and fancy cameras snapping photos in silly poses, little food and non-legal drinks for their age swinging from their hands; and I got the boot for loitering just before! They couldn’t have come long after I left, judging by their garbage strewn like snow around them.
I approached them silently. Unfortunately they took an interest in me and looked me in the eye. They hoped I’d skitter, but I wouldn’t, they stole my line. I just stood in front of them, in my proper place. Hey kid, they’d shouted, taking loud swigs of their cranberry juice that left their breath smelling like vodka. Kid, your cuttin’, there’s no cuttin’ here or I’ll call the cops. He was the biggest of the bunch. He stood, towering over me and swayed like a tree. He and his friends, like buffalo, snuffled in agreement. But I knew, I knew better. These large goofs wouldn’t call the cops. They were inebriated.
So I stood in front and did not move. Oh, did that make them angry. They raged and grew red in the face. They looked like tomatoes in a garden of concrete. They talked at me, they yelled at me, called me names and asked me questions. Are you dumb? I didn’t reply. The tall tree guffawed and said “That’s it, she’s dumb,” and the buffalos snuffled in reply again. They picked me up and put me to the side.
I sat in defeat next to my line. The tree-like boy bent over and opened the pack and grabbed another drink, then left the bottle on the sidewalk. They talked of drinking and the bottle of “vodka” sitting like acid on the sidewalk. They act all tough talking about it out loud, but they don’t have to worry, the only one to hear is me, and they already put me out of their mind. They are not from New York City I see. They are jumpy in the city, their hands shake and they leave their alcohol in the open. I climbed the stairs that are part of the spine of the ticket booth and took a glimpse at the serpent of city before I looked down on the heads of the people who stole my line. Then, I slipped.
I looked at the garish red of the steps, and saw pebbles there. I scooped up a handful of the stones. They were pretty, all adorned with mica and glittering in the fake light. I played with them. The horns honked and the signs flashed many colors through my head that I thought I was looking at the wall of chocolate in the M & M store. I was buzzing with anger and the flashing busyness of the city made my headache come back. I looked at my line again. A few feet to the left of it, the Pointy-Nosed officer walked.
The ticket booth opened and the tree kid stood up to purchase tickets, the buffalos at his shoulders. I threw my stones at their heads, served them right! How Tree-Boy howled and when he looked up he saw exactly who it was. Raising a hand he yelled rude remarks and banged the booth with his fists. My friend in the box office was surely not happy. I smiled as I saw Pointy-Nose start to walk over. He looked up at me and shook his head. Tree Boy continued to shout. But simply stoning them wouldn’t make up for the fact that they had stolen my place.
When Pointy-Nose looked at me with his scowl face I pointed to the bottle at Tree Boy’s feet. He just looked at me in confusion. Dumb kid is all he thought of me, I saw it written all over his face. I stamped my foot in frustration; since they talk can they not hear or see? I saw the three line-stealers grinning at me as I shouted to myself, look at the dratted ground! How could he not look? I am sure my face was as red as a tomato now. I was so furious they stole my line I opened my mouth and screeched in frustration! Why wouldn’t he look! I think I took him, and everyone who knew me at the ticket stand by surprise. He jumped and looked where I pointed.
I didn’t wait to hear Tree Boy’s argument about the drink so obviously displayed at his feet. I skittered my own way down the steps. Once I was back on solid ground no one noticed me besides perhaps my hair. I quickly dodged behind Tree Boy. I had only ever stolen money, but tickets are easy enough, especially if they are carelessly shoved in the back pocket of someone arguing with the cops. I used my thumb and forefinger to pinch the ticket under Tree Boy and Pointy-Nose cop’s very eyes.
And, with that, I ran all the way to the show. It was like my first show all over again. The spectacle was as loud as a city, but also as quiet as a forest in the rain. Best of all it was a new world for me to explore, no matter if I slept in a bed or on the steps of a ticket booth.
The headache on the left side of my head disappeared after the show. It helped that there was no cop to shine a light into my eyes. I walked down the street looking at who I would borrow money from to buy dinner. In front of me there was a likely looking candidate, her large purse swung carelessly over her shoulder and camera slung around her neck. A tourist, perfect. Tiptoeing up to that large purse I snuck my hand in. Tourists always have cash, not all in their wallets but some hidden in little side pockets for emergencies. This roadway was so crowded no one noticed as I unzipped the little side pocket. Ten was fine; I didn’t need to be greedy.
After my dinner I sat on the steps of the Time Square ticket booth. Something poked me in the side. In my inside pocket I found the money that I was going to use for my ticket that night. The wind blew and I felt the nip of winter on my elbow where my coat had worn through. On the street the vendors shouted closing up! They were headed back to whatever warm bed they had. As I huddled up I saw a ragged man selling random clothes. I ran to him and nabbed a bright purple coat before he packed it away and tossed him money. He just grinned but did not look me in the eye.
I twirled in my new coat on my way back to my steps. The scent of warm sugar drew me off course of my sleeping space. Only when I held a warm funnel cake wrapped in paper in my hand did I finally make it back to my steps. I watched the art of the city as it moved in the light of night life. The city may not have been a forest, but perhaps it was a stream flowing.