She walked slowly, carelessly. There was no need to hurry. She had walked down this street endless times, in her childhood, in her youth, and now as an adult. Signs on the buildings had changed. What had once been a Thai restaurant was now a clinic. What had once been the “ghetto” McDonald’s was now a gas station. Some buildings had been torn down; others had been built up. But the street kept its same general face, its same general attitude. She knew that beneath her feet, the ground still knew it was her walking on it, like she had for years and years before.
She came to the corner of her most familiar street the second the lights changed. Stop. Go. A red palm held up and a white figure with legs extended. She stood at the corner where she had stood a thousand times and looked out at her choices.
She looked west towards the start of the freeways that led the way out of the city. She hardly ever went that way – only when she was forced to – and she was not going to go there now.
She looked south down a street on which she rarely found inspiration or pleasure. Office building after office building and bad restaurants lined that way.
She looked back north, from which she had just come. For all the enjoyment and friends she did find there, it was where she had just been. It was time to choose something else.
She looked east. East towards the sunrise. East towards the busiest street in town. East towards her favorite museum and the famous park that saw festivals all through the summer and fall. East towards the helpful hospital and doctor. East towards some of her strongest memories of love. East towards the water.
These were her choices: uninspired reality, all that was familiar and recent, complete withdrawal, and … the endless water more full of meaning than anything else.
She looked up at the lights of the crosswalk, each still holding out its directing symbol. She had been obedient to directions all her life. She had been obedient and had gone south when practicality and reason required it. She had been obedient and had gone north to find friendships and calm, clean living. She had been obedient and had gone west, out and away from the city when it had been absolutely necessary. She had been obedient, most of all, every time she went east to be fully alive and embrace the air in her lungs.
All her life she had been obedient, and now these little lights were telling her to stop, to go, to be a good girl and wait her turn.
There was one way she hadn’t been down before, the way down disobedience.
She looked up again and saw the red and white symbols taller, wider, brighter than before. They were firm in their direction of her movement, as firm as the concrete ground beneath her that she knew would hold her up and never run out, no matter which way she chose. And so she did.
She looked up at the lights and turned east, not towards the sunrise or the park or the water, not towards the white figure telling her to go, but towards the speeding wheels and shiny metal of unrelenting city traffic.
She felt a force she had never felt before knock the air out of her lungs. She heard a loud, metallic crunch that drowned out all other city sounds. Then all was silent and still.
She had never been down this way before.
(Song: “Ship to Wreck,” by Florence + The Machine.)