The buzzer for 2R is broken – please leave delivery inside the door. Contrary to what somebody told you yesterday, there are tenants in 2R – one especially who would have loved to have slept on a mattress last night.
I crammed the note between the old brick wall and the broken buzzer and made my way down the now-familiar street to get coffee at a café that I had been referred to by seasoned locals. They’d been here since August, anyway. The rectangular olive-green sign beckoned me onward, steel and hard with flashing bulbs that made it look like an old and woefully lost Vegas sign. I ordered an almond croissant and a cappuccino and took a seat at a small, round marble table. I found myself flanked by hipsters, the luminescent glow of chalky white Apples and the click-click-click of their modern keyboards surrounding me. Extremely conscious of being the only person in the large café without a laptop, I grabbed my cappuccino and croissant, settled into the hard wire stool and opened the book that I had brought, The Hours – a favourite whose staccato syntax and city setting fit in seamlessly with my new life here.
The morning passed by in an almondy haze, the overcast skies reminding me wistfully of the London weather that I do not particularly miss, but also of the elegant city that I assuredly do. Wanting to walk around for a bit, I gathered up my things and departed, making my way down Wyckoff, to downtown Bushwick. The now-familiar sights and smells and people and shops greet me as I make my way through the quickly developing part of Brooklyn, bathed in kooky graffiti, minimalist cafés and wannabe dive bars. My boots click and it finally starts to settle in that I live here – I, by default of my choice of residence, am a part of the wannabe hipster movement: the cappuccino-drinking, fake-glasses-wearing, I’m-so-poor-but-still-spending-six-dollars-on-a-smoothie movement that I have come to know and laugh at – with safety and legitimacy from across the country. But now I am here and am unmistakably a part of it.
I have been in New York now for five days and have spent those five days cleaning my new apartment, waiting for packages to arrive, waiting on utility companies’ appointments, wandering about the neighbourhood, familiarising myself with my surroundings – but I have not yet been to Manhattan, that beautiful, tantalising, intimidating piece of land. I wonder to myself why that is. Though rationalisations ranging from duty to busy wander through my head, in the end, the only word that seems to hold up is one: fear.
Not fear of harm or safety, but a more psychological fear, the one that crawls around deeply in all of us – the one that is dark and tar-stained, whispering all of our most intimate worries into our brains as though they were unequivocal truths: you’re not cut out for this place, you made the wrong decision to come here, you’ll never make it here, you’ll never find a job, you aren’t talented enough to be here… On and on it whispers – it falls asleep with me at night and wakes up with me in the morning. His name is Doubt and he can be a real buzz kill.
And so, with Doubt slowly staking claims to ever-growing parts of my mind, I have believed him, obediently staying in my neighbourhood, refusing to challenge his proclaimed truths. Forever worried that he might be right, I’ve left his whispers unchallenged – if he was right, if I made the wrong choice, going into Manhattan would unequivocally cement these whispers, releasing them from the slithering aura of Doubt to the pages of the even more dreaded unchanging book of Fact.
But what if he was wrong? Was the gamble too high-risk to make?
I stopped walking, positioned squarely in front of the descending stairs of the L train. The word stares at me, challenging me, beckoning me.
Manhattan, it reads, white script dirtied with age, crumbling, peeling a bit off of the sign.
Manhattan, it calls, glowing, almost knowingly stark, boldly white against the dark forest green of the sign’s background.
Manhattan, it pulls, drawing me downward to its tracks, littered with plastic bags and candy bar wrappers.
Manhattan, the static female voice says as the train rumbles to a stop at the platform.
“Manhattan,” I whisper, stepping onto the train, smirking boldly at the lost figure of Doubt left on the platform, scratching his head and looking around.
Manhattan, I think, taking my seat on the train and wobbling contentedly, fashionably, familiarly with the metro as it stops and stutters and rushes onward.
“Manhaaaaaaaaaaattan!” A man sings as I reach the top of the stairs and tumble into Union Square, alive with people and wind and sounds.
A gust of wind pushes me forward, quickly, urgently, impatiently, as if to say, Go on and explore! What the hell took you so long?