“Yes, I was there just after it happened.”
“Were you in any kind of danger?”
The elder man on the edge of the pew sees through me and turns away. He takes my kindness for flirtation. The girl in between us – she’s the one who invited me to come sit here – is easily seduced by the tale. “So there were two explosions?”
“Yes, exactly. But no one got killed.”
That isn’t true. The fire is still blazing too high for anything to be known for sure. In fact, while Saint Thomas Church’s men and boys choir intone the passion of the Christ, the dead bodies of two young men are lying uncovered by the rubble. A landlady is being consoled by her attorney. I can’t stop gazing at the reredos, dozens of figures ascending to the sky in art deco.
These wooden pews are cramped an uncomfortable. The girl – fair skin, long black hair – pushes her knees against mine. She smiles back. She gently pushes the libretto into my hands and with a simper, points to the lines being sung. We take turns in holding the libretto. Bach’s arias are drowned out by the holler of rain on the church roof.
“It sounds like you know a lot about Bach”, she says.
“Not too much. But this is my favorite piece. It has an aria where the violin dances around the contralto. Are you into classical music?”
“I dance to music. Any kind of music. I draw to music. It can be poetry as well. Write me something and I will dance to it.”
“I try to reveal the music’s deeper meaning. It’s part of my education.”
“What are you studying for?”
“I’m going to be a priestess. Hopefully.”
“Do you want to go outside?”
The girl is two meters tall and embarrassed to stand up. I pretend it doesn’t matter. “You should come to Colorado, I’ll show you around. You can stay with me.”
“Why should I come there?”
“The mountains are beautiful. We’re on the top of the world. Fresh air. Plus, you can make some money writing over there. Ever heard of the green rush? It’s like the gold rush, only people are running for the weed nowadays. Denver is expected to double in size by the end of the year because of weed legalization.” As is customary for priestesses, she’s wearing a long white dress.
This is the first night of spring. Warm air is blowing into fifth. Blue steam flies over lit skyscrapers. “Ah. I’ve always loved coming here”, the priestess says, “but I have to leave before it really gets to me.”
“What do you mean?”
“You cannot really get your head around it. There’s no place on earth that takes you further from what it means to be human. At the same time, no place on earth tells you more about what it means to be human.” I follow without a word, she dances over the lit sidewalk. Her long hair bounces. We buy a small bottle of water at the only stand.
“So you told me you wanted to become a priestess.”
“A-ha. When I make it to the end of my spiritual training.”
“What kind of church do you belong to?”
“Founded in the twenties in Germany, women have been allowed to be priests from the beginning. Because of persecution it got a second life in the States.” She stops dancing in front of a black marble fountain. “Almost romantic, isn’t it?”, she smiles.
“Look, that’s my niece”, she points at a plush giraffe in a shop window.
“It’s not that b…”, I bite my tongue.
“No it is. Last year I took a bunch of children to the zoo and they believed me. So it has to be true.”
Second act. “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” is sung by a man and therefor loses its eroticism. Mindful as we are, we help each other keeping track of the lines. “Well it was sure nice to meet you”, she says after the applause and she turns.
“Wait. Can I know your name?”
“Olive Oyl.” For those who don’t know: that’s the name of Popeye’s girlfriend. But she’s serious. “Yours?”
“Well. Later alligator” and she faintly shrugs. “Come to Denver. It’s stunning.”
I cross fifth to Lexington. In the subway hall, a quartet is playing Vivaldi. Two musicians on one side of the tracks, two on the other. The wagon doors open and reveal a black homeless woman, face down in a puddle of vomit.