Stepping out of Penn station, the skyscrapers return like memories. The sky is blue with forgetting. I arrive in a crowd, in a tributary of haste that slides effortlessly into the great river of passersby that is Manhattan. The urgency of this city can break your heart. I walk up 7th Avenue, scanning the faces of people walking past. I am not looking for anyone I know. Rather, I am searching for the perfect stranger, that one impossible person who is always with us but who cannot be known or spoken to. There is one for everyone. I am sure of it.
Yet everywhere I turn the faces are familiar. Hidden away in each glance there is something - a line of the mouth, a turn of the head - that conjures up the face of someone else. Someone I know. Someone I am trying to escape. My guilt is written clearly in these faces - my part in the great conspiracy of being human - but these are clues that only I can read.
I stand on the corner and wait for the loneliness to come, like a crosstown bus. When it finally arrives, I climb in eagerly. There is plenty of room. I sit there, eyeing my fellow-passengers from the corner of my eye, never daring to speak to them. There are many like me - impatient spirits trying to make their way over to the other side, blind to the colours of feeling that seep into everything, stain everything, even our hands - but each one of us is alone.
I have come to New York looking for the perfect stranger. But how shall I know when I have found him? I cannot recognise him, of course, that is the whole point. If I got to know him at all, even through something as negligible as a handshake (as simple and as faithless as a smile or a shake of the hand; the words come to mind unbidden) then he (or she) wouldn't be a stranger anymore, and I would have to start again. The truth is that they could all be the perfect stranger, or any one of them could be. I may have crossed him a dozen times already, and I wouldn't know.
Or perhaps it is the city itself that is the Stranger. Distant, aloof, unknowable. Perhaps it is the city who I have come looking for, perhaps it is the city who I just miss meeting, every time I turn the corner.
I stop in front of a shop window and there he is. The stranger. Staring back at me from behind the polished surface of the glass. In that instant of non-recognition, I realise I have nothing to say to him. The sky has turned gray now. It is starting to rain. I move on.