I am only as far as the corner of Union Square when my right ankle does its familiar—and sometimes perilous—shimmy, buckle, wobble and my mind does its, “Oh, God, please, not now, not on concrete, not in this city of the sophisticated and callous.”
God didn’t answer, so I began to topple. As I descended, I visualized New Yorkers stepping over me without a backward glance, a stiletto heel spearing me, a steel toe bruising me and onlookers doing just that—just looking on. When I crash-landed, my right knee drilled into concrete and I went dumb with pain.
A few feet away stood three T-shirted, gold-necklaced men enjoying their leisure. “Do you need an ambulance?” one asks as the other two look on in alarm.
“No, thank you,” I say, wincing through each word and cradling my kneecap. Three strong arms reach out to pull me up. “No, I can’t, not just yet,” I say, appalled at the thought of ever having to walk again.
I remain splayed out in a heap between the trio on my left, and a Sabrett cart to my right, my three-tiered denim skirt fanning out around me. The billows make me think of Scarlett O’Hara’s hoops and crinolines that encircled her one blazing afternoon as she sat surrounded by beaus at a barbecue at Twelve Oaks Plantation. Of course, we look nothing alike; the closest thing to a sunbonnet or majestic oak to shield me from the sun is the Sabrett cart’s vinyl umbrella, but its shade falls just short of me.
And, instead of being daintily poised on a lawn chair, I am sprawled over a public sidewalk. Just as different as I am from Scarlett, so were our men. My four guys were not Southern gentlemen, but they answered to a code of chivalry even more lofty: New York City Assistance For Those In Need.
“What was it?” one of the trio asks. “Was the pavement uneven?” He scans the sidewalk for the culprit hole or loose stone. His tone of voice does not lie, he cares.
“No, it wasn’t the pavement,” I say. “It was just my bad ankle.” They shake their heads in sympathy.
“You going to be OK?” the Sabrett man asks, peering over his cart.
I nod, yes.
The three men and the Sabrett man go back to their business, but they continue to check me every few minutes.
“Are you sure you don’t want me to call an ambulance?” another voice asks. “St. Vincent’s isn’t far.”
Again, I decline, and continue massaging my kneecap, which is by now a pincushion for lightning rods of pain. Cushion, of course, is a misnomer. As I nurse it, the kind inquiries of the four men lob overhead for the 15 minutes it takes me to feel I can begin to get up. Finally, I accept their hands, and the trio pulls me to my feet. Before releasing me, they look me over to see if I am ready to be on my own. From under his umbrella, the Sabrett man also gives me his once-over. Their scrutiny tells me that if I do not pass their tests, I am going straight to St. Vincent’s. I pass and we say good-bye. I thank them again and again, but they wave off any suggestion of a good deed.
A call home to my family in Westchester does not produce a driver, so I take a cab to Grand Central. Getting in is murderous. (The next day’s X-rays will diagnose a shattered kneecap.) After paying the driver, I begin inching out of the car, my hands scaling the window and doorframe that I finally grab to hoist me up and out. I am surprised, shocked really, that the driver does not zoom off in pursuit of his next fare. Instead, he idles for the snail-paced time it takes me to bump around his car and follows my progress through his rearview mirror.
I hobble down to Track 110, where a blast of subterranean heat prompts me to buy a bottle of water. “What’s the matter?” the vendor asks, seeing me limp. I tell him. He contorts his face in sympathy and then recovers.
“Hey, wait a minute. You need a bag of ice, too. Just wait a minute, I’ll fix you up.” He goes right to work behind the counter. When he looks up, he’s smiling broadly. In my right hand he places a plastic cup of ice, and in my left, a bottle of Poland Spring. Through my fingers he threads the bag of brimming ice for my knee. I thank him, and studying his face, I realize that his pride in helping me is as intense as if he had just completed his first successful arthroscopic surgery. We both act as though he has.
I could never have made the trip home without my New York City Men. When I did get home, however, there was no more royal treatment. The family raised eyebrows and heaved heavy sighs whenever I made the slightest peep about needing something out of my reach.
The next morning, when the pain really kicked in, my humble request for coffee sent them scattering. But I knew somewhere there were a few good men who had my best interest at heart.
Kiki Maria adjuncts at Manhattanville College & Pace Unversity.
She holds a MFA in creative writing from The New School.