Strange Place to Live

by Alexei Ogorodov

"Hello! It's a strange place to live, isn't it?" I half heard someone saying.

"I beg you a pardon." I said rather automatically because I wasn't sure whether the question was addressed to me. And frankly, I wasn't used to anyone I didn't know, start talking to me in the street. Personal space, city paranoia and things like that, you know the way it is. So I turned my head to locate this intruder of my privacy and I saw him standing there in front of me.

  A man. Just a man. He was tall, taller than me at least. Six-two or maybe even six-three. White Caucasian. Oval face. Short black hair, blue eyes, a tiny scar on his left cheek. Irish? May be, who knows. About thirty five - forty. Altogether a normal, good looking fellow but still he was a stranger to me and I was still very much in the City frame of mind.

"I just said, isn't it a strange place to live?" The man repeated and smiled.

I didn't answer. Why? I don't know. Perhaps, I am just slow, or perhaps at that moment my mind was filled with all kind of thoughts and his question couldn't penetrate beyond them. I really didn't know.

Anyway, I was there, blankly staring at him and pondering who he was. As I said I never saw him before and I was certain about that. Why did he talk to me? What did he want from me? Why me? Was he a con artist or some other type of criminal? A terrorist? The latter thought made me feel uneasy and I looked around nervously.

No, I didn't think so. First. It was daylight and the street was crowded. Second. I spotted a couple of cops at the corner not even ten steps away. No, it didn't look like he was up to something. That was positive. What was negative then? The negative was that I wasn't accustomed to speak to strangers unless it was absolutely necessary, a question of life and death, an emergency. Now it didn't look like a emergency to me. I grinned involuntarily. Why didn't I ljust eave him there in the street. That's what I would've normally done. Maybe that was what I should have done. But I didn't.

The funny thing was that I didn't notice that I had stopped as the stranger started to talk to me. Now both of us were standing in the middle of a busy street and people had to walk around us as if they were water and we were two islands in their way. Suddenly my attention focused on the moving mass of people rushing by. People, people. So many, so different+ Talking, silent, smiling, grinning, emotionless... Millions of faces, millions of beating hearts, millions thoughts in their heads. The ocean of people. People were everywhere. I felt kind of claustrophobic. Or was it an attack of sociapathy? I felt an urge to be alone, somewhere far away from everyone in this city filled with constant hum of voices and noises, smells and accidental touches... When was the last time I was alone. A year ago? Damn! Was it already a year? Yeah, it was last March when I went to British Colombia to see rivers freeing from the ice. Stop. What was I thinking about?

With these reflections I forgot about the stranger and his question. Was he still around? Yes he was there, waiting. What did he ask me about? Something about strange place to live. And I didn't answer him.

"Sorry," I said and smiled guiltily.

"That's alright." He smiled back "So, what about my question?"

"Your question." I repeated rather mechanically. I didn't think about your question and I felt embarrassed like a school boy who didn't do the homework.

"I don't know, I guess you're right." I said sincerely after a minute of hesitation.

"I knew you were going to say something this." He smiled inoffensively.

"Have a nice day!"

And then he was gone, dissipated in the crowd.

I remained motionless for another minute. I was trying to grasp the entire incident. What was that all about? I rewound these last events in my mind, starting from the moment the fellow appeared. I struggled to figure out what his question was about. What was the message? Was there any message?

I walked a quarter of a mile before it struck me. It was like divine enlightenment. I knew what it was about. I smiled at my discovery and the next thing I did was odd.

"Hello friend! It's a strange place to live, isn't it?"

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