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Chasing Colin Low
By Etwaria Singh

Guyana Journal, January 2011

I never knew that Irvington in New Jersey was named after Washington Irving of Rip Van Winkle fame. I grew up on this fantastic tale set in the Catskills during Dutch colonial times and read it in both prose and verse. One eventful evening I went looking for my beloved. I was in a daze of love and yearning when I arrived at Irvington bus terminal. Vasopressin was at work and, of all the men in the world, Colin was the only one that I wanted to see. Google Maps told me that his house was across from the Irvington bus terminal, something he himself had mentioned to me. But in my distraught state I confused Maple with Myrtle.

My midnight misadventure was upon me. When Rip van Winkle encountered Henry Hudson's Dutchman, in his docility and curiosity, he simply followed the Dutchman's instructions. The strangely-dressed sailor asked Rip to help him carry a cask, and Rip did, meekly following the stranger up into the Catskills. Just so did I that night when I was taken for a ride in more ways than one in Washington Irving's town. I felt akin to Rip in my gullibility and inability to control my emotions and to face facts. The story of Rip is a historical burlesque; the story of me chasing Colin Low is a modern day burlesque of a woman who cannot see what is sitting on her nose. Irving's “knickerbocker” writing is set in a neglected period of American history - the forgotten world of the ancient Dutch. This burlesque is set in metropolitan New York where men prey on gullible women. Fortunately for me I was not in the steep Catskills, but in tiny Irvington, a town of three square miles. Because it is flat this town is foot-friendly and makes walking easy. But for me it was a very steep journey. I was trudging uphill into a morass of anguish and darkness. As you well know dear reader, when one is in love and one cannot find the beloved under these circumstances, the agony is unbearable.

I asked the first person I encountered for directions to Myrtle Avenue. The young man directed me to walk back to the intersection of Springfield and Myrtle Avenues. It took me fifteen minutes to walk to 17 Myrtle. It was a Friday night in early June and people were sitting on the stoops and leaning on fences. In a township of almost seventy thousand Black people I stood out. The people at 17 Myrtle explained to me that they had been living there for a long time and did not know the family I was enquiring after.

“Why are you here so late to meet this dude?” a tall man inquired of me.

“I wanted to give him a surprise. I spoke to him while I was on the bus at Newark and asked him to answer his phone because I really needed to speak to him. I thought that I would just go up to his house and ring his doorbell and surprise him.”

“It is not a good idea for a woman to surprise a man,” said another bystander who had been listening to my story. “The woman always ends up getting the surprise. If you just asked him to keep answering his cell, why isn't he answering now?”

Two people took Colin's number and called him. The woman said, “I called him twice. It looks like he turned off his cell phone.”

“That is because he does not want her to find him,” concluded another woman. “Honey, call him and tell him that you're here and you're waiting for him.” I sat on a low concrete fence. My heart burned. My tears flowed.

“I feel really bad for her. He's playing her. He shut off his phone because he is with someone else.” It seemed to make sense to me. I missed a call from him at 11:08 PM. when I was in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I called him when I was at Newark and told him to keep answering his phone. He must have heard the stops being announced in the bus. He would have realized that I was at Newark and that I was coming to his house. That is what common sense told me. But my heart refused to believe that Colin, the man I would cross deserts for, could do that to me. No. He loved me as I loved him. He would never do anything to hurt me. I became desperate to find him.

“I think I made a mistake with the address. Is there another Myrtle Avenue around here?”

“There is a Myrtle Avenue in Newark. This is Irvington.” The tall man looked at me. “Why don't we go have a drink in the bar over there while you wait for him to come get you?”

“Where can I get a taxi?” I asked querulously.

“Right in front of Dunkin Doughnuts,” one of the women answered. “Don't walk by yourself around here honey. This is not a nice place to walk around in so late.”

“17 Myrtle Avenue in Newark. How much?”

“Twelve dollars.”

We arrived at a Myrtle Avenue in Newark but we could not find a number 17. “Mees, no 17 house, Mees.”

“Please look carefully. This is Myrtle. There must be a number 17.” The driver went up, down and around Myrtle Avenue about ten more times to satisfy me. Still no number 17. “Please call your base and let them direct you.”

Listening to him speaking Haitian Creole to his base, I asked, “Does anyone there speak English?”

“No. No Eengles, mees.”

All the while I kept calling Colin and leaving messages for him to come and get me. I kept urging the taxi driver to find the house. “Mees, man no wanne you. Me home you now.” The taxi driver had lost patience with me. Seeing two police cars parked outside Beth Israel Hospital I asked him to pull over. I ran over to the officer. He was leaning down and kissing a woman who sat in her car. I explained my plight to him.

“Honey, let that taxi go. He is just bleeding you,” the freshly kissed woman advised me.

I paid the driver. He sped off in relief.

“So can you help me officer?”

“I'm not a cop. I'm a guard at this hospital.” He explained that the police officers had just brought in a rape case and were busy inside. It was now 1:30 AM. I asked him for a hotel and he advised me to go inside the emergency room and ask reception to call me a taxi. He recommended a hotel in Newark called 109. The receptionist and I called a taxi number for half an hour. I asked her for a telephone directory so that I could get Colin's correct address and home phone number. They had no directory.

I came outside although the security guard had warned me of the danger of being alone outside. Ten minutes passed and a taxi drew up. I asked him to take me to a good hotel. He brought me back to the Irvington Bus Terminal and indicated that the hotel was over to my left.

What could I do? The poor taxi driver spoke no English and I speak no French Creole. This was worse than the time first time I came to the United States. I was supposed to make a short stop in transit through Miami, no more than an hour. As fortune would have it, we were delayed for six hours - from 2:00 to 8:00 AM. I had no cell phone and no banknote smaller than one hundred. My sister was waiting for me at JFK and I needed to inform her about the delay. And how was I supposed to do that without an American quarter and without proficiency in Spanish? Well, the latter problem was easily solved because Spanish is among my foreign languages. The coin was the problem. I walked around Miami International for more than an hour lugging two suitcases and asking Cubans for a quarter with a Castilian accent. I even offered them a hundred dollar bill in exchange. Most of them snuck away from me believing that I was insane or criminal, or both. Finally, a cleaning woman gave me a quarter.

After I paid my driver he sped away in relief. I could not see a hotel. I walked in the direction in which he had pointed. Still no hotel. I walked over to a group of people who were drinking and dancing on the street. A young lady told me to keep going and I would come to the hotel. This seedy hotel is called Gallery and there were some unsavory-looking people standing outside it. The hotel had a main building with an upper storey. Two low wings extended on either side of it. These two low wings were even more ramshackle and squalid than the rest of the town. There were moth holes in the wooden doors though which light streamed as from the ceiling of a disco.

I was desperately tired and heart sore and was willing to stay in this flea bag of a place. Poor Rip had slept through his twenty years of oblivion, remembering nothing of it. I would remember this night of torture for the rest of my life. The hotel sign announced “No Vacancy”. At this point all I wanted was to stay put until Colin could get my voicemail messages and find me.

“Is there another hotel around here?”

The attendant was a South Asian man. He told me to cross the highway and go all the way around to a hotel called America's Best Buy. As I walked across the bridge cars honked at me and slowed down. One came to a stop and I fled across the bridge and into the trees. I came out at a gas station and asked for directions. America's Best Buy hotel did not accept credit cards and I did not have $94 in cash. They called me a taxi which charged fifteen dollars to take me back to the bus terminal right across the highway bridge. The time was 2:15 AM.

ER Singh©
New York, 2010