The Whoosh

(A new unpublished essay, posted just for this website.)

I had been standing on the corner of Huron and Michigan Avenue waiting for the light to change from red to green. There was quite a mob of us, some already loaded down with bags from upscale boutiques or department stores or with the world famous caramel corn from the shop right around the corner. No one seemed to think it was odd to be eating caramel corn at 11:00 in the morning. The place had a line from the moment they opened, no matter if it was one hundred degrees or a blizzard.

I had snaked my way to the front of the crowd, ready to launch across Michigan Avenue as soon as the light turned green. I have always been like this. In a hurry to get from one thing to the next. I have no patience for dawdlers and also old people who slog along like they have all the time in the world.

The light turned green. I put my right foot out and leaned ever-so-slightly forward, at the ready. I must have been distracted by something because I didn’t go into my full launch mode right away.

And then.
An arm straight out in front of my chest, anchoring me solidly in place. I didn’t know it was an arm at first, and even later I wondered if it had been an actual arm. But what else could it have been? I felt the whoosh of the bus barreling by, a city bus. A bus that had run the red light. And in my mind’s eye, I heard the sickening thud/crunch of something, of a sound that didn’t register right away. The body of a woman who would have been me.

Our little corner grouping seemed frozen in place at first, like a frozen tableau in a diorama. I could still feel the wind – I can only explain it as a whoosh – of the bus as it had careened by. And it dawned on me that the arm I had felt across my body had been the arm of a person, a stranger who had somehow realized that I was about to step off the curb into the path of the bus, and who had prevented me from doing so.

I looked to my left, where the arm had come from, but in that area there was just a young mother with a baby in a stroller, holding the hand of a toddler. Some people were still eating their caramel corn, as if they hadn’t registered what had happened. As if their brains hadn’t caught up to their mouths, and they were on automatic pilot, just shoving it in like there wasn’t a dead body on the street. My dead body.

I became sort of frantic inside then, and kind of disoriented, thinking that I should find the person who had put their arm out and kept me from stepping off the curb.

Because if he hadn’t (I felt sure, for some reason, that it was a he), I would have been a woman whose body was splayed on the street, the contents of her purse scattered all around her. All that would be left of my life: a cell phone, lipstick, a wallet, a hairbrush, a pack of gum, a checkbook. Those still there gathered there would have picked these things up, and placed them near me, as if I might need them. In a small pile near my purse, where it seemed to be so very little.

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