Marcela Kogan and Jennifer Fendya

Jennifer Fendya
Inspiration piece

By Marcela Kogan
I spend most of my days alone peering out people’s legs from the wrought-iron window of my daylight basement room.  The room, which faces the sidewalk of Q Street in Dupont Circle, Washington D.C., smells musty and the floor is uneven. My closet consists of a rod stretching across two walls outside my room, blocking the downstairs entrance of this 3-floor Victorian brownstone that I share with three roommates, all college graduates like me.
I wasn’t always a recluse. I often visited the National Gallery of Art, hiked in national park trails, gone to rock concerts, and eaten at ethnic restaurants. But then I got laid off from my job as a newsletter writer for a low-income housing organization. After browsing through the newspaper want ads for months to no avail, I gave up.
I could not see a future for myself.
I stopped meeting friends for happy hour, cancelled my gym membership. Looking out the window became my favorite pastime. I saw people’s legs and imaged what they looked like, where they were going. I told myself stories about their life.
This morning, for instance, is typical of most. I am slouched on my bed (can’t fit a chair in the room) facing the window and hear two people talking in quiet, intimate tones, finishing each other’s sentences. They sauntered by my window wearing sneakers and loafers. Maybe they’re discussing the weather or sharing their plans for the day. Maybe she is an illustrator and he a writer, and they are out on a morning stroll before settling down to collaborate on a book project.
Will I ever share my life with someone? I look away from the window.
Next, a clip clopping sound outside my window catches my attention and the legs of a woman striding by with pumps comes into view. I imagine she is a professional—a partner at a law firm or CEO of a corporation—with a wedge haircut, skirt suit and button-down shirt. Maybe she is hurrying to catch the metro so she can get to work on time for an important meeting.
I remember colleagues congratulating me on my presentations during staff meetings. Was I competent or did I just fake it?
The room is quiet. I lower my cup of coffee to the floor and put on Joni Mitchell’s album, Court, and Spark in the record player. The needle skates across the surface of the record slipping out of the grooves. I affixed a penny to the needle as an anchor to ground the needle to the vinyl.
A little girl clutching a doll under her arm appears by the window, galloping to keep up with the pace of the adult holding her hand. She is wearing shorts and a Mickey Mouse t-shirt and carrying a backpack. She looks up at the adult, her eyes squinting from the sun, and says something. Maybe she is asking if she could watch tv when she gets home from school or have a play date.
But the person cuts her off. “Hurry or we’ll be late for school.”
The little girl looks down, her small world now smaller, and walks faster to keep up, her legs a blur.
My heart sinks at her careless response, and I feel helpless to change anything.
“Gag me with a spoon,” says a girl, followed by chuckles others, possibly teenagers.  A rush of feet in a wild stampede parade by my window, multiple legs stumbling over each other, ankles twisting. They must be schoolgirls, I imagine them with long hair in ponytails, ripped jeans, and short skirts.
I long for what now seems like long careless days of high school and feel that the best is behind me.
The room is hot because I have no air conditioning. I crank the window open.
I hear the tap, tap, tap of a cane, and see someone wearing blue trousers and Oxford shoes shuffling by. Then a thump and the man plops on the ground. I freeze. Is he hurt? I should go out to help but I feel trapped in my room, afraid of going out.
Can someone else help? I jump to the window and crane my neck listening for footsteps but hear none.
The old man is now struggling to get up, panting. His face is contorted with pain.
My heart pounds against my chest. I bolt out of my room, run up the steps and open the door.
“Are you okay? Should I call an ambulance?”
The old man shakes his head and stretches out his arm so I can help him up. I hesitate at first: His hand looked withered, with age spots and brittle nails. But when I grab hold of him, his hand feels soft and warm, and I do not want to let it go.
“Thank you,” he whispered, gazing into my eyes.
His face looked scruffy, wrinkled, graying with wisps of white hair, but his eyes were bright, with a sparkling expression.
He wobbled past me and continued on his way.
I head back toward the house, but then turn around and survey the sidewalk.  I see a couple walking arm in arm. A teenager riding on his skateboard. A mother pushing a stroller. A homeless person asking for money. An old man holding a little girl’s hand.
I feel a surge of excitement, of life unfolding before me.
A warm breeze brushes against my skin. It’s a perfect day for a walk.
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