The Upper West Side Prophet

103rd and Broadway. Another day crawls into dusk as the sun slowly wades into the Hudson River, the sky turning faded postcard colors. Men and women, black and white, young and old look straight ahead or at each other. They hurry past each other towards more important things, glancing briefly through the avenues to check for oncoming cars, a few noting the sunset in the distance. The humid summer air is thick with sweat and noise, and many choose the air-conditioned, congested subway instead of the slightly less congested sidewalk. Besides the screeching of tires, the clapping of feet on pavement, and the murmurs of small talk, it is quiet. But, piercing the peaceful chaos is a raspy cry:

“Halleloooooyah, Halleloooooyah!”

101st and Broadway. Bags sway and bodies swivel as New York looks around wildly for answers. Out of a grayed linoleum lobby steps a dark-skinned man, layered with wrinkles, two bold scars donning his cheek. He carries a tiny black book with gold hued pages, which he tucks securely under his armpit. He shuffles along the street at a glacial pace, staring strangers in their eyes until long after they look away. He wears a black overcoat that tumbles over his lanky knees and walks with a slight limp, as if he’s always about to lean over and tell someone a secret. His shoes are brown and have recently been polished. When he yells he looks toward the darkening sky and his neck ripples with taut cords of vein.

“Gloreeeey, Gloreeeey, He lahves you.”

98th and Broadway. When people see him coming, they count the cracks in the pavement or gaze blankly into passing windows. Others scan desperately for faces in the windows of half empty coffee shops and diners, hoping for sympathetic eye contact. Those inside hear him long before they see him. They pick up their heads and watch until the man, screaming to the heavens, disappears from their line of sight. They watch but continue their conversation, text, chapter – slightly irked that his coarse voice, made faint by thin walls of glass or brick, is still audible. Back on the street, his neighbors on the sidewalk quicken their pace as he nears, hearts beating vigorously. Those who live along Broadway recognize him and either groan or smile, depending where on his route they live. Everyone’s ears ring with his rhythmic repetition. Relief is palpable when he passes.

“Halleloooooyah, Halleloooooyah!”

96th and Broadway. He waits at the crosswalk with everybody else, yelling and yelling until his words start to become mush. Across the street a mother slaps her child’s arm down, his index finger already outstretched in judgment. The light changes and the crowds on both sides of the street accelerate toward one another, clumping briefly in the middle, before racing past. The yelling man takes a long time to make it across, his voice echoing down the side street to Amsterdam and up the sides of buildings; his scratchy tones slice through the impending night like bullets. Three teenagers laugh at him as he hobbles by. When they are behind him they shout and make obscene gestures. He does not notice or simply does not care. He marches on, eyes up, vocal cords strained.

“Halleloooooyah, Halleloooooyah!”

93rd and Broadway. By the time he steps onto the curb, the streetlamps and surrounding apartments defiantly light up the sidewalk: rows upon rows of buildings, columns upon columns of windows checker boarded yellow and black. In the yellows, people hear hoarse shouts coming from the street below. Impatiently, they search for him outside of opened windows, irritated that he’s out this late again. Globules of saliva spew from his mouth and, illuminated briefly by the city, land silently at his feet. His feet hug the ground and scrape along the sidewalk like sandpaper. He holds the book out now, arms outstretched, waving it out in front of him like a steering wheel. His words start to drop consonants and vowels, and soon there is no sound and he is just opening his mouth. Black book tucked back under his armpit, he shuffles down the street, his mouth open wide, the city his audience.

“Halleloooooyah, Halleloooooyah!”

Gabriel Hurwitz, Age 17, Grade 12, Stuyvesant High School, Silver Key

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