It was a nippy morning in early spring, and Manhattan was slowly stretching and yawning under the the thin rays of anaemic sunshine. Clearer skies were shifting in over Brooklyn Bridge, and infant buds were beginning to pop on the trees in the Upper West Side. The whole world, it seemed, was taking a deep, cleansing breath. Ravan was hardly taking any of it in as he advanced up Fifth Avenue towards West 53rd Street, walking in rhythm to the 500 Days of Summer soundtrack playing on his iPod. He was in a hurry to get to his favourite place in all of New York.
He loved to sit by a tiny window next to the stairs, overlooking the main lobby, where he could stay for hours with his laptop on perched on his knees and observe the people below as he occasionally tapped at the keyboard – catching up with work, but mostly daydreaming. Looking down from his hideout, he felt as if he were behind a secret mirror glass, seeing without being seen, tracing the steps of the many strangers touring the galleries below and admiring the artworks. Had any one of them, just one, ever thought of looking up, his secret would be disclosed. But no one ever bothered, and he remained alone with his fascination of the space around him. The walls, the windows, the air. This was a place where he could breathe easily. He loved the MoMA.
Today, he took a few hours off from his contemplations at the top of the temple of modern art to tour the new Ed Hopper installation. He ambled around unhurriedly, studying the different paintings, starting a dialogue with each one in his mind. Questioning, polemicising, and finally – but never without a struggle – succumbing to humble agreement. At one point, he stopped to admire one of the paintings a bit longer, though for no particular reason. He was daydreaming again. After an eternity of moments, someone else’s presence became known close behind him, near his left shoulder. Suddenly, Ravan was back home in Gibraltar: the warm sea wind was stroking his face and a million grains of sand were chipping at his skin. He touched his stomach for fear that the butterflies flitting wildly inside it would burst out and suffocate him.
‘Hopper is very nice, isn’t he?’ said a soft voice behind him.
Ravan turned round, and met a pair of warm blue eyes looking straight back into his.
His face relaxed into a genial smile. ‘I like you, too,’ he answered the young man standing opposite him. Two hours later, they were still chatting over cappuccinos at the museum café.
This story was inspired by a book I finished recently, Eric Berne’s Games People Play (New York, 1964). It deals with the games people play with each other when they’re either too afraid or too tactful to be honest and, towards the end, recounted the story of an encounter which came about when games were given up, in a gallery. The setting immediately made me think of a friend of mine (who enjoys galleries immensely), and the freshness of the situation made me think that the story would best be set in early spring.