Did you ever think about what it would be like if you were a thirty-seven-year-old man named Richard who lived in Queens and who spent most of his time with his aging terrier? Probably not. Nobody thinks about Richard. Richard thinks about you, though. Richard thinks about everybody.
He likes to sit at his window, the chair pulled right up to the wall so that his legs are caught right beneath the sill, with the cold threatening at his knees. He stares out of the window at the rows of houses and the street leading around a corner until he can’t see it any longer. The odd passerby bustles or ambles or teeters down the block, and Richard watches them go. He can’t stop thinking about people. He looks at the old woman walking her shopping cart down the sidewalk, one deliberate concrete square at a time. He knows that her name is Maria and she is going to pick up some eggplant at the store, because it was Joseph’s favorite meal and so she still makes it every year on his birthday and for one solid moment she can close her eyes and pretend he’s taking a bite too. She can almost hear him curse when the cheese burns his tongue, like it always does, because he is too eager and eats before it cools. The moment when she has to open her eyes and realize that she is alone in her house with too much food for one person crushes her every time. It’s almost worth it for the long minute when she can pretend, once a year.
Richard doesn’t just think about the people he sees on the street. He thinks about everyone. He thinks about the young woman, Anna, who kisses her lover before she gets on the train out of Chicago, and she doesn’t let herself cry for a long time because he doesn’t know she isn’t coming back. Richard thinks about the man who picks up fast food burgers for his kids on the way home and watches them eat, their tiny ferocity, and feels a dull ache that he knows must be love. Richard thinks about the sisters who live on opposite sides of the country and waver, every week during their scheduled catch-up phone call, between the bitter biting slips they let their tongues make for them, and the wistful sound that slides along their words when they talk about their father. Richard thinks about everyone, you see. He just likes to sit at the window, because then he can focus on the people in front of him instead of all the ones far away.
Sometimes there is a group of children on the street. They walk solemnly and hold hands with an adult, who always looks harried. More often, though, they are free of grown-ups and they waft down the street, wandering and scudding with the wind. Their voices wind up to Richard where he sits watching on the second floor, and he breathes in the relief of children. They are so much easier to imagine. The tall one, Richard watches him, his name is Daniel. His curly hair is always flopping in his eyes but he has trouble sitting still for long enough to let his mother trim it. He wants to be the leader of the group, but he knows that Frankie isn’t about to start being quiet, so his voice won’t get heard. He’s resigned to that. He’s still better than Frankie at soccer and hockey too, so when they play in the streets he’s king for a brief beautiful time.
Richard doesn’t really mind that he has to think about everyone. There are some stories he likes among all the mess that is everyone. It is a little calmer to stare out his window at the people scurrying about under the steel sky and listen to their lives, the sound of it muted past the glass. When he puts dinner in the microwave or makes his morning cup of coffee, he is overwhelmed.
There are too many people to think about. He thinks about the baby being born in Switzerland and the twin brothers, in some tropical country he’s never heard of, who race to the tops of trees. He thinks about Lila and Peter and José and Tim and Nicole, Rebecca and Greta and Roger, Max and Hope and Josh and Francisco and all the others whose names and faces and lives and voices build in his head until there’s just a cacophony of people scrambling for his attention and then he takes his dog for a walk and concentrates with all his might on the people he sees going past him. They’re late for work or finally going home, wrapped up in their day and sparing him barely a glance.