Monroe and Archer

 

At the crosswalk on Monroe and Archer, I wait for the signal change. Cars stampede by. My breath is hot against my scarf. To avoid eye contact, I watch across the street on my right. A kid in corduroys leans against a dry-cleaning entrance, looks up and down the street, pulls out his ear buds. He stops a pair of guys in pea coats, smoking. I witness no familiar greeting and judge them as strangers. On mute, I watch them. Hands gesture; mouths open and close. The kid rubs the back of his neck. One of the guys hands him something small. They form a huddle of hunched shoulders, and I picture old women gossipers twisting their aprons. There is the slightest flash of orange, and then cupped hands, I can’t tell whose, covers it from view. The wind licks at their backs, fingers their hair, as they coax and coddle the flame once, twice. The kid pulls back, sucks on his cigarette, the cherry glowing defiantly now in the cold. I note the nod of thanks before the two guys continue walking south. Corduroys checks a text, flicks the ash, and the light signals my right of way. I hurry along with the crowd into the crosswalk. No one stops me.