I am that thought behind all the other thoughts. Trailing at the heels of the other thinking. There is no need to disguise myself; I am a frail silhouette behind the other reflections. I belong to Angeli and I have never betrayed her. Angeli has never even said me aloud, not even to herself, despite my being only four words long. But I persist. Sometimes Angeli wonders if I will spill out of her, like the spittle of excitement, but I stay close behind all her deliberations. She fears that something unexpected will happen and the gravity of her conscious thinking will drop me right in the middle of a conversation. She worries too much about me.
I was formed four years after the day Angeli went to see this doctor. Maria-no-Saint, her closest friend then, tried to lighten the mood as they waited at a diner across the street from the doctor’s building for Angeli’s appointment.
“Can’t believe the building really does look like a Baby Chop Shop,” Maria-no-Saint popped her gum.
I don’t know if Angeli frowned; I didn’t exist then.
“I would think it would look better than an underground parking garage given how much they make doing—” Maria-no-Saint’s phone rang.
I only know this because Angeli always remembers that moment. The rest of her memories before I was born consist of finishing her Ph.D. in Microbiology and her life before that day.
Four years later, she is in Swaziland for a research project generously funded through the federal National Institute of Health grant. Her period is late. She speculates about the night, four weeks ago, when she struck a conversation with a man who sat next to her from JFK to Heathrow. She can’t remember his last name, just his thick glasses. “How do you think a blind person would describe you?” is what he had asked her. They talked for seven hours. It wasn’t love; it wasn’t even lust was her thought right before yours truly arrived. I don’t know why some night with a stranger in a hotel near Heathrow took her back four years ago to that afternoon with her friend. I don’t know how thoughts work; after all, I am just one of many in one lifetime. Her menstruation cycle began a week later and that’s the first and last time I remember her crying over me.
Despite my allegiance to stay confined within Angeli’s mind here is the story about the one time I almost slipped. I am not regulated by how much Angeli drinks; it wasn’t the alcohol talking. It was because of the woman who helped Angeli find her way back to her apartment. I am pretty sure that woman was psychic because that’s the closest I have come to another knowing I move inside Angeli’s consciousness.
It happened like this. Some years after Swaziland, while out at some bar in Williamsburg with her so called World Health Organization friends, she thought every thought but me: getting a haircut, the new pastry shop, job search, $200 on her credit card for jeans she didn’t need, gelato, palm trees, the graffiti sign near the subway station (“Filthy New York” was the actual thought). The human mind is capable of considering many useless thoughts simultaneously. I would like to think I persist because I matter and I am not just another random configuration.
After Angeli left the bar, the cab driver pulled over on 12th and 5th Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, three avenues west of where she lives. Her backpack fell out as she opened the door and then she vomited, one leg still in the cab. Some of it expelled in her hair. I knew this wasn’t about me; how could it be? she hadn’t cared where I had been floating all night. A woman stopped by to help her.
“Are you okay?” the woman squatted on the floor next to Angeli.
“She needs to pay. Pay now,” the Bangladeshi cab driver didn’t even bother to look in their direction.
Angeli collapsed on the street.
“Are you okay?” the woman looked at her and then spoke to the cab driver. The woman went through Angeli’s bag to find her wallet and handed the driver a credit card.
“You are so drunk that you don’t even know you don’t live on this avenue. Where are your friends?” the woman was judgmental and wanted Angeli to know it.
The woman pulled Angeli up, like lifting a stubborn child from the ground. She placed Angeli’s backpack on herself and locked her right arm through Angeli’s elbow so most of Angeli’s weight was now on the woman.
They hadn’t walked but four steps when Angeli sat back down.
“Get up!” the woman was harsh.
“I am so sorry. I am so so so sorry,” Angeli began crying, crying from a place only women know.
The walk wasn’t long but the woman was right. Angeli was in no state to walk three Park Slope avenues by herself.
“I don’t feel sorry for you,” the woman said.
Angeli’s thoughts are swirling: Carrying a basket of oranges on my head hairpin turns my thinking into equilibrium. In the quiet morning I like to cut through words and it’s not easy to decipher which are made-up, which the logos of meaning. Grass beneath where all strong feet run madly: old newspaper pieces and trash-making, gunpowder like love leaves a faint smell on the terrain.
And I am hoping that all this muddled thinking leads to me. Angeli is drunk and I am desperate to exist and this woman knows something. She is a stranger helping Angeli, yet she is mad, the kind of angry women get when they see their reflection in another woman. I think she knows Angeli regrets.
But I don’t think I am a mistake. I happened. She had to do it.
Annie Q. Syed is a writer who also teaches full time to inspire students to read and write. She has called many places “home” and currently resides in New Mexico. Her stories, Collection of Auguries, were published in 2013. You can find her at anniesyed.com or at @so_you_know.
Image: Cherry Laithang