May 4th 2020

"I am here, too"

At 3 am, I hear, through my sleep, the sound of an empty bottle rolling across the courtyard outside my bedroom window. There is no wind and no good explanation for the sound.

Sitting up in my bed, I stare through the glass and into a foggy image of the outside world. Privacy film: a standard on the ground floor. At the very bottom edge of the window, there is a sliver where the film did not roll out evenly and it is clear and unobscured. Treating this space like a keyhole, I press an eye against it.

The courtyard is not much of a courtyard. It is a yard that encompasses no court - a square patch of concrete no more than thirty feet wide and deep. Only an apartment listing would call it a courtyard, which it had. The space is flanked by achy brownstones and a yellow picket fence that, like a set of gapped teeth, barely divides it from the neighbor’s. 

A single light, mounted to the wall above my window, illuminates the yard and its contents, which tonight include a man, standing idly, in the back right corner. He is facing the wall, wearing a black jacket, shaking his hands like he is preparing for a race, or holding something very hot.

He is not supposed to be there. His pants look like workmen’s wear. His hair is smooth and black. His jacket is a square of benign fabric. He is totally unremarkable, apart from him being where he should not be. But here he is.

I open the window and tell him to leave. That, if he keeps standing there, I’ll call the police. He turns toward me like a plant moving to face the sun and we make eye contact like two people in passing. His face, too, is  unremarkable.

I close the window. I do not call the police, as I said I would. Eventually - I can’t say how long it takes - he leaves. I hear his footsteps in the hallway, then at the entrance to the building, then there is the swing of a door, and then nothing.

I peer out the window once more. The yard is empty and nothing moves. The man is gone, but I doubt he has gone somewhere he should be. I don’t expect that exists for him. I expect he is someone without a place they are meant to be. A person like that could only ever be where they are not meant. Maybe, then, this barely-courtyard was the perfect place for him. But I am here, too.

In the morning, I ask the landlord to change the combination on the door to the courtyard. If the man ever did return, he surely would not be able to enter. Even so, I will leave my window locked - even in the summers following.
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