Thursday, October 12, 2006

Essay: Ain’t It Beautiful (This Nightly Scream)

An excerpt from an essay, Ain’t It Beautiful (This Nightly Scream), by the wanderer:

With each breath, the scream descends by octaves until it’s little more than a throaty moan, then rises again. I see no one. A cop car creeps by at the other end of the park, but its occupant either cannot hear what goes on outside or feigns oblivion.

Further into the park, my eyes scan the darkness. Just outside the orange splotches of the streetlights that line the path in front of me, I see the outline of a man cowering in a patch of darkness. He is on his knees. Both his hands clasp the iron rods of a low fence that marks the end of the park. He screams and he screams, and for a moment my steps miss a beat. Even though I should know better, I slow down after all, then stop right in front of him. He raises his head in agony, rattles the fence with his shaking arms, and even in the shadows I can see the white of his wide open eyes, the white of his bared teeth. He does not, I think, see me.

I can hear now what he is screaming. “Please, no. Oh please, please. No.”

As I look down at the man, in my head I hear a whisper that I have heard many times since I moved to this area, louder each time. I shut it out. I need to think.

This area of Hyde Park is quite handsome during the day with its old trees now turning autumnally yellow and red, its elegant brownstones, its elaborate townhouses. But at night, the ghetto just to the north spills over into the nicer university district, and the haggard wander the streets asking for money, for cigarettes, sometimes barely conscious at all, mumbling through rotten teeth and matted hair. Sometimes AIDS has eaten their bodies to skeletons. Sometimes they just sway, blank-eyed, sweating in the throes of a tired high. If they can no longer ask for money, they curse silently or just stare. I step over collapsed bodies often in the doorway to my apartment building when I walk home from a late night at the library.

The whisper, a snippet of words that wafts forth from somewhere in my memory, started nagging me during the first few days that I came to Hyde Park, but I’ve only been hearing what it says since last week.

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