The Purpose of a Heart

She was a blond thing, older than me and dressed in business suit, crystal tears adorning her eyes as she studied the screen of her phone, her shoulders hunched over and shaking silently. It’s an odd thing, seeing someone crying in the daylight. You think of crying as something people do only in dark corners, in the privacy of their homes– or in Manhattan, in the privacy of their overpriced rented apartments. Dark corners are easy to find here, given how skimpy the landlords get with their windows.

The other people waiting at the crosswalk pretended not to see, but I just stared, something about her grief tugging my heartstrings irrevocably towards her. And with the summer sun beating down on all of us, I heard these words as if they were the only words in the English language: ask her if she is okay.

I looked around and nobody had spoken. Again: ask her if she is okay.

The little blinking sign indicated that it was okay for us to cross the West Side highway, and for the twenty seconds that it continued blinking, those words were steadily pounding away in my head. Ask her if she is okay. Ask her if she wants to talk.

I tried to argue with the voice. She’s a complete stranger. What will she think? She’s behind me now. How do I slow down and accost her?

The words just plugged insistently away.

Then she veered left, toward the Goldman Sachs building and I continued on towards the library. The world didn’t end. She’s probably okay, I argued.

Whoever says bankers don’t bleed? She didn’t look okay. She really did not look okay, the stranger whose life I walked beside for twenty seconds but did not cross.

I stopped and tried to surreptitiously watch her walk away, certain my heart was breaking, this new mantra pounding away: I should have asked. I should have asked. 

What are heartstrings for anyway, if not to be tugged?

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