Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Crossing a Crosswalk in the Rain

Ben had been running, and it was time to turn around and go home. He knew it was time for two reasons: first, he was tired, and second, he was drenched. He wasn't drenched with sweat, however (at least, hopefully he didn't sweat that much); he was drenched because it had been pouring down rain ever since he left his house. Ben wasn't very cold though--his own movements had kept him warm, but he knew he didn't want to stay out in the rain much longer, as exhilarating and liberating as running in the rain might be.

So he turned around and ran the other direction.

There were no other faces in the rain that day. Ben was the only person on the sidewalk, probably thanks to the downpour, and the only other traces of human beings were the cars, trucks, vans, and suburbans that came constantly up and down the 4-lane road. There was a variety of them, just like there would be in any other city. Their headlights illuminated the drops of water that fell from the sky, drops that were otherwise invisible unless you looked at the ground and saw their points of impact on the wet surfaces. But there were no faces. Ben tried to look through the windows of the passing cars. He wanted to catch a glimpse of another human being, another face. But he couldn't see anything, or anyone, inside.

Ben knew he would need to cross the street in order to return home, but there were too many vehicles and no room or place for him to cross. Like a wall. He couldn't just run across the road. If he did, his actions would cause some of these vehicles to slam on their brakes which would then get them rear-ended by the vehicles that drove behind them. It wouldn't be a pretty sight, even if he didn't get hit. No, he wouldn't--couldn't--just run across the road, even though that's what he had done on his way down. It didn't make sense; it wasn't logical. Besides, there was a crosswalk up ahead. It wasn't far, and he would get there soon enough. He would cross at the crosswalk.

Ben kept running. Rain landed on his cheeks and in his eyes when the wind blew, so sometimes he had to squint to see where he was stepping. Earlier, the rain would mix with his sweat and with the gel that he hadn't washed out of his hair before he went running. Then the rain-gel-sweat would drip into his eyes and sting. But now there wasn't really any gel left. Just water and sweat.

Ben was getting closer to the crosswalk.

There sure were a lot of cars. Endless, they seemed. Ben wondered why there were so many and where they were headed. He also wondered about the people, those faces that he couldn't see but that he knew were still inside these vehicles, somewhere. He thought about how each face, each person was headed in a specific direction and towards a specific destination. Each also had a reason for being in his or her car at that particular time, and each had some idea of where he or she was going. Where exactly were they all going? What was on their agenda? How long would these cars stay on the same road together, and when would they part company without ever actually meeting, without ever actually seeing the face behind those other windshields?

Ben approached the crosswalk and slowed, letting his shoes slap against the sidewalk in a small puddle. It was one of those crosswalks that is not at an intersection, but that still has a button for pedestrians to push so they can safely cross. Unless the system is malfunctioning, the traffic light above the crosswalk is always green unless a pedestrian pushes the crosswalk button. Then it would turn red and stop traffic.

Ben was the only one around and wanted to cross the street. He pushed the button. It was one of those buttons that isn't really a button but a slab of metal that you don't really push--when your finger touches the metal, a little red light blinks and you hear a two short tones, a higher one followed by one that is less high. As is typical with these kind of crosswalks when they haven't had a pedestrian in a while, the stoplights turn yellow and then red almost immediately. Those lights had to turn red in order for the pedestrian light to turn green. The masses had to stop so that the individual could cross.

Ben watched the stoplight change color. And as it turned to red, Ben saw the consequences of his act. It was a chain reaction. At first, a car in one lane kept driving, even though the light was red. But the other vehicles stopped at the red light. Then the vehicles behind them stopped, and so on, down as far as Ben could see in the rain. He looked through the windshield of the car in front and thought he saw the outline of a face that was distorted by the wet windshield. The wipers passed in front of the outline, yet the image didn't get any clearer to Ben.

But the cars on both sides of the road had stopped--all of them. Or rather, he had stopped themIt didn't matter what their destination was, why they were on the road, or even how late they were. They were not moving. It was almost as if Ben had stopped time and parted a sea of rubber, fiberglass, plastic, aluminum, and steel. But he wasn't crossing on dry ground.

One small act of raising an arm and touching a metal pole to some degree changed this corner of the world--not just for Ben, but for every face in every vehicles, those faces that sat there waiting for a lone, soaking pedestrian to cross the street so he could go home.

Only then could they continue their journey to their respective destinations.

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