The loud, terrible sirens broke through the silence, interrupting what little sleep I had managed to earn. I glanced at my phone, squinting as I made out the time. “11:52, again!” I groaned.
“Did you hear that, Henry?” My roommate answered with a satisfied snore and turned in his sleep.
I sighed as the sirens faded away into the night, echoing their warning through the long, lonely streets of New York.
Falling asleep again, I wondered how I’d survive the next few days. The morning after, I stepped outside my building and welcomed the New York air. I couldn’t help but smile as I absorbed the NY essence.
Deciding to explore my new home, I walked around Greenwich Village, the unofficial New York University campus, admiring the scenic beauty around me as I made my way to Washington Square Park. Drawing closer, I heard trumpets and drums playing in the park. It was awfully festive for a cool September afternoon; I liked it.
There was a beautiful fountain in the middle of the park and people were sitting around it, admiring the students who were playing the energetic music. More people were sitting under the countless trees, enjoying the weather and each other’s company.
In one part of the park, students were trapping each other in giant soap bubbles, laughing as they popped and sprayed soap everywhere. Perfect was the word on my lips as I looked at the scenes around me.
I bought an ice cream sandwich from a nearby vendor as I left the park to experience the ‘New York’ of New York City (or NYC). I didn’t have to wait long. Soon there were enormous skyscrapers all around me. If I didn’t believe what all the books had described about the city, I had no choice but to agree now.
Walking down Park Avenue, I craned my neck to see the top of each building, failing each time. These structures completely dwarfed the structural prodigies that were scattered all over my native Lahore, structures so revolutionary that they were still incomplete nearly ten years after their inception.
I visited the famed Times Square, wondering what to expect. My eyes widened with disbelief at the sheer amount of people who had flocked the area. Tourists of all ethnicities were dawdling down the overflowing sidewalks. I heard the familiar, “Woh dekho bari building!” My head turned towards the source of the voice. A dark man with a thick black moustache and a black turban was crouching on the already congested path, pointing out this particular skyscraper that stood sandwiched between two larger towers. His wife’s lips contorted to a large O as she gestured to her son to relish this architectural wonder. The man stood up and held his Nikon camera at shoulder’s length, squinting with great concentration as he tried to capture the perfect moment. An American man stepped on his toe as he scurried forward, prompting the man to glare at him and dust off his Nike trainers.
Moving towards the centre of Times Square, the congestion intensified and people began elbowing me as they tried to maneuver through. I remembered why I had never liked accompanying my mother to Liberty Market for her shopping; the only difference here was the lack of those horrible ‘dye fumes’.
A little forward, I witnessed the notorious ‘New York cab driver road rage’ when a desi driver decided to risk his immigration status to beat the traffic light and almost collided with a hapless Chinese tourist. She had her face buried in her phone while she trailed past the crossing, unaware of the life-threatening situation she had put herself in and off the hurl of obscene Urdu curses that had been directed at her. It was almost as if I was back on MM Alam Road.
Observing this range of commotion, I decided that I had seen enough of New York for one day and made my way back to my dorm, thankful that there were fewer people on the streets.
“What a mess,” I mumbled as I trudged home, surprised that no one had stolen my wallet or taken my phone in that forest of people.
The sun was setting on a comparatively empty Fifth Avenue, giving a nice orange hue that contrasted beautifully with the dark frames of the enormous structures that were in front of me.
I stopped and observed this spectacle, amazed at how natural beauty had managed to seep its way into this concrete jungle.
Even a cloudy, windy day in Lahore couldn’t rival this union of polarities, which awed me. “I could get used to this city,” I mused, taking my phone out to post this scenery on Snapchat. Behind me, a dog barked at a child who started to cry. Their noise compounded with the setting sun to create an almost picturesque scene. “Welcome to New York,” I smiled.