At times it felt like winter might finally be melting off.
But there was still a chill - still a cool brisk breeze that whipped through the galleys of skyscraper and subway, through the city-street. That still sprinted beneath the traffic lights and swung around the lampposts; still ran through the stop signs and booked down the sidewalk, as if it were late. That still boxed that old beat down the Lower East Side; still skipped stones into the East River’s belly, taunting waves that lapped back like they were ready to fight.
It – that air – it was wild. Relentless. Like a feral thing. Like some on-his-own street kid – no family, no home – just two feet, some trouble, and a backpack hung low. Heavy. That hit the brick with a thud. Even when the snow snaked away, and the calendar pages came off, it – he – still stuck to the streets. Still chilled on the corner. Still made mothers keep their kids inside, and girls look out their curtained windows longingly on wasted Friday nights, and grown men become wiry and restless and ready to move. Fingers still hid in the folds of hands. Hands still tucked into the safety of sleeves. Turtlenecks stayed up and pant-legs stayed down and lips still licked and chapped and brred the hours on through. A menace to Manhattan, that cool crass air was still playing asphalt antagonist through the last days to May.
But somewhere along his months-long run of winter-wild, during his bedlam and brouhaha and bravado across the boroughs, he picked up something new. Who knows where he found it, or when, but that chilly, brisk wind must’ve stopped for a breath, on the corner of Some Avenue and Somethingth Street when he looked down and saw it. Just sitting there. Plain as day. It being a little sun.
And like a schoolyard ball, he picked it up. He didn’t know why, or what compelled him, but he tucked it under his arm and took it with him. And off he went. From time to time he’d find some old lady’s stoop or some shade-shadowed curb beneath some young lean-to tree and down he’d sit. Sure that the block was clear, that no eyes could catch his awe, he’d unzip his backpack and pull out that ball of sun, like a secret. He’d spin it on his finger: around, around, around. He’d feel its pebbly touch groove into his fingertip. Feel its burn rousing goose bumps on his arm. He’d watch it and think of a Saturday morning when maybe he’d finally take it out. It stirred something inside him, as it spun and spun and spun. Something warm. Something good. But two hands on the ball and – grasp – back into his bag it went, zipped away, gone. Like he was. Back roving the crooked, craggy city streets. Not yet, he thought. Not yet.
Though even if he tried to not let on – even if he tried – there was something going on. Something stirring. Something real, something raw, something undeniably new. A certain bounce to his step; just the slightest of change to his stride. Maybe an extra quarter inch. He looked a little younger, moved a little quicker. Seemed fitter, seemed ready. But ready for what? Who could say. Certainly not him. But something. Whatever that might be.
Maybe for when that quixotic Saturday morning finally arrived – maybe this Saturday, maybe next – when the last of the winter gray finally took the hint (Go on…scram…get out!) and rolled on off the island and down the Lincoln Tunnel and out and up to 95 – heading north and away – when maybe, finally, he’d have a moment to feel freed.
Maybe that morning the chill breeze would chose to wake up early. Maybe that morning, he’d know.
And maybe that morning, as the city still dozed at daybreak – all cozy under their cotton, hair over their face, not knowing that all was about to change – he’d take to the soft sunbreak-hour street and head to the court alone. No looking over his shoulder; no watching his back. And he’d take that ball with him – that secret, that sun. And he’d swing his bag toward the benches and throw off his sweatshirt to the side of the paint and from underneath his arm he’d hold that ball up, like the times he did before. He’d be reminded of a million summers past: of the sweet stick of Softee cones on young chins and cheeks, of the cool tickle fizz of just-cracked sodas on noses and top lips, of the electric search of wagging fingers for warm-pressed held-hands, of the stomach somersaults of dewy glance exchanges in summer’s evening sweat. He’d hold that ball up with its million moments and expectations and yet-to-be-seen dreams and succeeding realizations of spring and summer and ahead, all that countless time. And then he’d let it drop.
Drop. The ball would drop. It would fall to the blacktop and hit hard, with a thwack, a beat. Like a great writer once said, like a fingernail flicked hard against a snare drum. But then it would bounce. It would spring back up into a new, now-warm air. The chill? Gone. Finally. Melted off. Birds would scare up from their branch posts as one, a book-shaking sound that would break the so-far silence of the day, and light would burn through the chain-link fence, pouring out its first long-leaky shadows as the ball slowly fell back down.
And then he’d take it and run. He’d dribble, dribble, dribble. Bounce, bounce. Beat, BEAT – like a pulse. His sneakers would push forward and then lift off the free-throw line and into the air he’d jump. Sky would fill the void between feet and ground. Fingers would free the ball, at last, and it would fly towards the hoop like it was meant to all its life. Then suddenly: swish. Flush. String music. And he’d do a little dance.
And just like that, the too-cool breeze would shed his worn, wintry attitude and find some spring in his step. No longer running free of purpose. No longer troubled or lost, but found: direction and rhythm and pulse. A new beat to follow. One towards summer. One towards home. And there he is. There’s spring. We’ve been waiting for you.