Audrey Kerns

Alex and I usually walk to and from my work every night at the same time. 5P.M., no later, or else I would be late. The light just barely shined through the trees as we walked from 97th street to the docks where we fed the ducks. The city air was thick and smelled of car exhaust and different mixtures of food trucks and pretzel stands. The noise of the cars honking never seemed to stop.

 Alex hadn’t been the same. He kicks his usual pebbles around while dragging his feet along the sidewalk. His head was down and he was quiet. He usually sparked up conversations about the latest news story, or the whereabouts of his dad, but today, he left the talking to me. We continued to walk the endless sidewalks of NYC until reaching the grass of Central Park. 

“Anything new about your dad?” I asked.

“Oh… uh… no…” He said hesitantly.

“What’s up…? Is everything okay?” I questioned. 

“Oh… yea… I’m all good. I’m just uh… tired.” He said.

I could tell he was trying to tell me something, he just didn’t know how to. Maybe if I could just push him a little, guide him. 

“You sure? You know you can tell me anything, right? I’m always going to be here for you.” I said, in hopes of getting his secret out of him.

“Yea…” He says.

“Anyways. Did you see the news story about that lady on the metro? She has got to be out of her mind! I wonder what went through her mind to do something like that. I can’t believe it man, the crazy things that happ-” I was stopped abruptly. 

“No, sorry, I didn’t see that one… I haven’t watched the news in a while…” He said.

“Oh…” I responded.

“Yea… I’ve been laying low. I think people are after me…” He whispered to me.

“You’re just being paranoid, Alex.” I laugh it off. 

“I’m not sure I am. After I dropped you off at work, Friday, I saw something I don’t think I should’ve seen…” He says, making sure to keep his voice at a low tone.

“Well… what’d you see?” I ask.

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore!” He exclaimed. 

“Oh… okay.” I said awkwardly.

We continued walking as we were before the conversation that ended abruptly. Alex was still searching for pebbles to kick along as we walked. We were slowly nearing the dock that sat on the reservoir. There were never any people on the old dock. Maybe it was its run down, creaky look that drove them all away. It was missing half of the boards that made it safe to walk on, but we didn’t care. This was the place we had been coming to since we were children. Our parents would work till 8PM. so we had a lot of time to wander the streets.

As we approached the dock, bread in hand, Alex opened his mouth as if the words were choking him and he was trying to gasp for air. Nothing came out. Instead he just closed his mouth and threw the bread into the water. We sat there, watching the ducks that skimmed the water, eat the bread we had brought for them. 

“So… have you applied to any colleges yet…?” I asked, trying to break the awkward silence that seemed like it was endless.

“No. Like I said, I’m laying low.” He said, with an annoyed tone.

“Oh… yea.” I said quietly.

“Well uh… are you going to soon?” I asked.

“I’m not sure. I’m just trying to take it day by day. Just trying to make it out alive.” He said.

“Did you see people that night…?” I asked. I figured this question would be ignored.

“Yea.” He replied.

“Do you think they saw you back? Are they after you…?” I asked in a worried tone. I noticed I had started holding my breath between sentences, waiting for his responses.

“I’m not sure, okay!” He snapped back.

“Sorry.” I apologize even though I didn’t understand why this made him upset. It wasn’t a difficult question, I was willing to help him through this, if he had let me, of course. 

“It’s fine, I just don’t want to talk about it.” He said, still with his head facing towards the ground and his hood concealing his identity. 

We were now walking along the Great Lawn, near the small lake that was positioned near 79th street. The grass was loud, but the silence was louder. We hadn’t said a word to each other in five minutes.

I could see the convenience store in which I’ve spent eight hours every night since I was 14. It has always been the same. Every day after Alex got out of school, he would stop at home, grab a bite to eat then he would walk me to work. The route had never changed. The only thing that changed was us. We had never walked in silence before. Never. 

“Um… do you want to maybe talk to the police about what you saw…?” I asked him in hopes of getting a yes. I didn’t even want to know what happened myself, I just wanted him to feel safe. 

“Oh my gosh! Why can’t you just drop it?! I saw a man in the alley, he was stuffing a long trash bag, which I can only assume had someone inside of it, into a dumpster! He looked up from what he was doing, and made eye contact with me! The only thing I thought to do was run! I ran and I ran until that alleyway was 20 blocks behind me! I had hoped that I had left that scene in my past, and that I would stop thinking about it, but I can’t. He saw me. He could know who I am, where I live even! What if he comes after me, or even my Mom?! I just need to lay low, and wait until this man forgets that I saw him. Till this man forgets that I know his big secret. I just want to be safe again. I want to walk the streets of NYC like we used to when we were children. Not a care in the world. I want to go back to the food trucks and the pretzel stands. I don’t want to walk with my head down and my hood up. I want to see the NYC sunset, I want to look up at the treetops without worrying that my face would be seen! I want to live again! I just want to live again…”

We had come to a stopping point. The convenience store was now just across the street. The familiar roads with the unfamiliar faces circled around us. The city we once knew was nowhere to be found. We knew the roads, the cracks in the sidewalks, the alleyways and the buildings, but every time we passed a person, it was like taking a glimpse into a new life. I now understood why Alex walked with his head down. I now understood why Alex had kept this from me. He didn’t want me to live in the fear that he lives in currently. He wanted me to keep seeing the sunsets and the treetops. He wanted me to still see good in strangers.

We had now reached the welcome mat of the convenience store. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Alex. I wasn’t sure if this was the last goodbye for a while. Would he go into hiding? Would this eat him alive, like it has already started to? 

“I would go to the police station with you if you’d let me…” I said quietly.

“No. I’m fine, I’m just going to go back home and wait it out.”

“Oh… alright. Text me, ok? I want to know that you are okay, and that you made it home safely. I need to know that you are okay.” I say.

“Okay.” He replies with a sigh.

Later that night, I was on break and I checked my phone. It had been four hours since I had last seen Alex. Four hours was plenty of time to get from the convenience store, to his house. Where was he…? I had hoped that he had just fallen asleep before texting me that he got home, or that he had just met up with some friends.

I wouldn’t hear from Alex for the next month. I walk to and from work by myself. I no longer fed the ducks at the dock that sat on the reservoir. Alex’s mom no longer talked to me at the shop. She couldn’t even keep eye contact with me. Whenever I mentioned Alex’s name, she would avoid the conversation and make a hasty exit. Me and Alex never spoke again.