An Elegant Woman

As I stood at the stoplight on 86th and 3rd, the rain poured down on my head. I cursed the New York weather, longing for my California sunshine, and cursed myself too, for forgetting the umbrella. In my sweatpants and tennis shoes I had just finished a 5 mile run at my gym, headed home to watch the World Cup Game, France-Germany. As I showered my little world with curses and cruelties, the rain suddenly stopped and a pleasant floral aroma engulfed me. Suddenly a tinkling, accented voice spoke to me. Her: “Here, stand under my umbrella.” She wore a lovely royal blue dress with no sleeves, synched at the waste, that fell to her knees. She had on matching pointed-toe pumps and a glittering wristwatch. She was tall, in that way that many Russian women are, and had the features that only slavic women possess. Her hair was loose around her neck, dirty blonde with a strawberry tinge. Me: “Erm, thank you! I completely forgot my umbrella.” Her: “Yes, I understand. I help all my girls when I can. Here in New York, men are not so elegant so I have to do the work of men.” I smile and laugh, never identifying so much with someone more than in that moment. What she says is heartbreakingly true. It is only in the movies that you’ll find a woman caught in the rain, only to be saved by the umbrella of a humble stranger. Me: “You’re so right. Where are you from?” (as if I did not know) Her: “Russia.” Me: “Ah, and so you’re in New York for Holiday or work or…?” Not that it was any of my business. Social anxiety is the stalker of all my interactions with strangers, drawing out questions that ask too much. The traffic light changed, allowing us to walk, and so we surged forward at an even pace with the sea of New Yorkers around us. Since every New Yorker keeps that same, busy pace of foot, we managed under the umbrella easily. Her: “I live here now. I am divorced from my husband in Russia, so now I am here and…” She shook her head, her words dissipating into the moist air. It was as if she would go on with some story, but she didn’t. She just shook her head. “Anyway, this New York is nice. There is so much to do. But there is no elegance here.” I smiled sympathetically and thought for a second. Her words are thoughts I shared, but I don’t think I ever said them out loud. In New York, you don’t dare suggest that men should hold out umbrellas for stranded women. You’d be old fashioned. Leave it to an outsider looking in to pin the tail on the donkey and not be afraid to say it. There is no elegance in New York. It all disappeared, but no one knows exactly when. I suddenly felt all too rugged in my sweat pants to be standing next to this kind woman, under her umbrella. I thanked her and ran down a side street, the pleasant floral aroma chasing me down 83rd. At least in New York City there exists one elegant woman, I thought.

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