Spring had been uncertain. It was already May, and there was an unusual heat swallowing New York City. It was far too early turn on the air conditioner so he decided to go for a walk instead. He reasoned that the air outside of the apartment was less suffocating than the air trapped within. It was an old pre-war apartment, built before the 1930s, and must have housed other immigrants, likely from Europe. This must be true since a synagogue stood two blocks from his house, a relic in the otherwise black and immigrant neighborhood.
He would leave the apartment, and walk along New York Avenue towards Avenue D. The sidewalks were wide and would be busy with the overflow from the former Vanderveer Estate buildings. The wind was hot. It was the kind of wind that didn’t give much relief to the sudden heat. A few days ago, the city hid behind locked windows as the temperature dropped into the forties. A few years ago, they just hid.
He removed his headphones to enjoy the sounds of the street. The muted scene came alive, horns and music and laughter further up the block. The hot wind kept blowing, promoting the revelry. He felt the tickle of being hyper-aware of himself and bit down on his molars. He clutched his phone tightly and reasoned with himself to shake the anxiety that comes with stepping into a different environment. No one can tell that you are anxious. You are the only one aware of the discomfort. With his face fixed, he kept moving.
He passed by single-family houses peppered by green fenced lots. They were always painted green like grass, or money. The wind blew at the fence, pulling at the sign which warned passersby that the empty properties were under surveillance. The Vanderveer projects began mid-block, between Farragut Road and Foster Avenue. At that juncture, he stepped from an old sidewalk to the new sidewalk, which the new management at “Flatbush Gardens Brooklyn Apartments” had constructed. Holdover residents from the Vanderveer Projects sat on the public benches that straddled the walkway of their new home. Behind them, rows of new brown mailboxes that stood prominently with silver keyholes and small silver sheds to protect their mail from inclement weather.
He had been in the old Vanderveer Projects, years ago. Back then, it was common to smell curried beef and saltfish. But that was before they fixed the hallway lights. It was when the elevator smelled like urine and he was afraid to walk the wide stairways. That was before there were crews of horticulturists tending the grass, security patrolling the streets and repairmen fixing broken fixtures. Together, they lent themselves to the air of anticipation in Flatbush.
He made a right on New Kirk Avenue, obliquely opposite to a new 7 story structure that peeped into its surroundings from behind green fencing. The building, beckoned to the north, away from Vanderveer, DREAM in large golden letters. The word etched into the top of the building, high above the neighborhood so that residents from Prospect-Lefferts, Crown Heights, and Prospect Heights could heed its coup d’état. Ahead, a throng of people headed in his direction. The train had recently arrived. With their approach, He began to check his phone, to parley the anxiety. He checked his email, his Facebook and randomly moved his fingers to cover the anxious feelings. Surely, they will think that he looked down at his phone because he had an important message.
He arrived at the corner of Nostrand and Newkirk Avenue, where Haitians were promoting their wares. Behind them was a parked food truck where a Trinidadian cook sold curry, roti, and doubles. A few stores down, next to the T-mobile store, was the best oxtail + rice and peas in Brooklyn. Nostrand Avenue was swamped. The sidewalks were as filled as the street. The accents played in the air, filling the hot wind with music. This is why he did not want headphones. The surprising warmth had drawn people from the sidewalks on the street. They were shopping and selling, under umbrellas and hats. Mothers were hurrying home but kids were loitering. He could hear a quarrel in French Creole, soca music from a passing car and a conversation on speakerphone. This was Flatbush.