It was a wintry day. Times Square was lunch-crowded, people running across the streets, scurrying to and from their jobs, careers, lives. I worked a few blocks away, but I walked to the best pizza place I knew, just on the other side of Ninth Avenue, away from the madness.
Everyone was in their own private worlds, even me. I wore my iPod, and I couldn’t hear the mayhem that was the center of New York City at the busiest time of the day. My heart beat to the song only I could hear. Was it in my music player or my head?
It didn’t matter.
There was a small, bird-boned woman walking in front of me. The street was treacherously covered with frost, the curbs piled high with ugly snow and ice, soot and grime making it gray and slushy. Her shoes were extremely stylish.
“That’s really not a good pair of shoes for the winter.” I thought.
She seemed to be in more of rush than the other ants that dashed around. Where I took care to step over the holes and craters left by ice, salt, and heavy snow plows, she walked right through them, her slight weight supported by the thin film of ice.
“She must work at some magazine.” I looked at her dress and recognized it as something expensive and hardly the sort of thing a secretary would wear, or a store clerk, or even a low-level editor. She had the air of an executive, and because we were near the Condé Nast building, I imagined that she was a bigwig there. Her head was held high, and she didn’t even give the pitted roadway a glance, as if she had walked there so many times her feet ran on instinct.
She stepped on one particularly gray lump, and the heel of her impossibly high heeled shoe cracked through the surface. Her arms flew out from her sides and she fell sideways to the asphalt, her Louis Vuitton bag skittering into the gutter ten feet in front of us.
I looked down at her, splayed out in the middle of the street, shoes ruined, dress torn. She looked like a mouse.
“She should squeak.” I thought.
The people around her barely gave her a second look before their faces fogged up and they went back to their alone spaces in the middle of the crowd we were in. They walked past.
I bent over. “Miss? Are you alright?” I took her by the shoulders and lifted her up.
“I could carry her.” I thought. “She is so small.”
For an instance her eyes met mine. She wasn’t the high-powered executive running out to a lunch. She wasn’t the powerful editor on her way to a meeting. She was just some little woman in a torn dress and broken shoes.
I helped her to the curb and picked up her now-stained bag and handed it to her.
“You’re very strong.” She said.
That surprised me. I wasn’t strong. At all. I kept looking at her.
“I just work over there. I’ll be fine.” She broke our gaze and dusted herself off. She did not say thank you.
“Alright. Be careful.”
I walked away and melted back into the crowd. But I never forgot that one person thought I was strong.