Eli Jacqueline studies creative writing for a living and does odd jobs in her spare time. She could be a leader of the free world some day, if she could just find her house keys. Look out for an official blog, coming soon.
This is the very first time he’s been to her building, or even to her side of town. He checked three times that his car is locked, and he walked along the sidewalk with his eyes shifting to look out for thugs. He urgently knocked on her door.
“Nathan! I didn’t think you would really come,” she smiled. She let him inside and closed the door. “You didn’t have any trouble finding the place, did you?”
The first answer Nathan thought of, he did not say. Everyone knew how to get to this side of town because everyone carefully avoided it. There was a joke among the people who lived on the East Side; to get here, all you gotta do is take a left on 8th Street and keep going until you lose all hope and dignity. He just shook his head in response.
“Well, I’ve got manicotti in the kitchen that’s not going to eat itself.” Grace motioned for him to follow her.
Away from any possible threats lurking in the dark streets, Nathan finally noticed her apartment and that it was a stark contrast to outside. It wasn’t anything fancy, but it was bright, cheery and colorful. Objects were arranged in an organized mess. Each wall was painted a different color and none of the furniture matched. The floor was blue! If his mother saw this place, her perfect, coordinated world would explode.
He sat in a rickety chair in the kitchen, which had, not just pink walls, but pink plaid walls. Pots and pans were hanging on display and the counter was cluttered, just like the rest of her apartment. The smell of manicotti filled his nostrils and he remembered why he dared himself to come here.
A very loud bang sounded outside and Nathan jumped. “Did someone just get shot?” he panicked.
“That was a firework, Nathan. It’s the Fourth of July, remember?” Grace laughed.
The two chatted at the kitchen table about anything except the elephant in the room. Until a car alarm (not his, thankfully) started blaring outside and he just had to ask.
“Why do you live here? I’m sure you could afford somewhere nicer; somewhere safer,” he said. He shoved manicotti in his mouth.
“I really can’t, and I don’t want to,” Grace responded. “You East Siders are so ignorant.”
Nathan choked on his fork. “Ignorant? If I was ignorant, I wouldn’t even be dating you in the first place. I’d just find some society girl my mother picked out for me.”
“Oh, lucky me! The rich boy thinks I’m different from the hoodlums he’s heard about in his scary bedtime stories,” Grace scoffed.
“You are! So, I don’t understand why you choose to live here,” Nathan argued.
Grace set down her fork and took a sip of wine. “Let me tell you something. I’ve lived here all my life, and I don’t want to be anywhere else. Yes, there’s drugs and robberies and shootings, but so what? The people I’ve met here have been some of the nicest people I’ve ever come across. I can’t say the same for when you took me to your side of town and I met all of your friends,” she replied.
“Now this is about my friends?” Nathan asked incredulously.
“No. It’s about thinking that one side of town is better than the other. Thinking that one group of people is better than the other. Everyone has to live somewhere, and instead of shaming people about where they live, why don’t you try understanding them?” Grace argued. Her torso moved closer towards him and her eyes shamed him with a single look. “Let me ask you something. If we had met here instead of 5th Avenue, would you still be interested in me? Or would you look at me like I’m just another poor girl you can throw your charity money at without thinking twice about it?”
Nathan’s mouth opened, but no sound came out. And he hated that. He hated her for pointing out the awful truth.
“Look, I’m not saying to go walking the streets at two in the morning, but give people a chance. Who cares if it makes you uncomfortable at first? There’s beauty everywhere, Nathan, even in the bad parts of the earth. You just have to look for it.”
On the drive home, Nathan didn’t see the trash everywhere, the boarded-up windows, or the gang members circling each other in dark allies. He saw children playing underneath the illuminated sky and parents smiling at them from their terraces. He saw homeless people emerge from behind dumpsters to watch the sparks fly. He saw people trying to enjoy life as much as anyone else.