I Have Lost My Way, Page 2Gayle Forman
Today, the numbers are going up. Those posts of her in the studio always do well. People are excited about her album. She wonders what will happen when the months go by and there is no album.
Only she knows. At the first meeting with Hayden, he’d told her exactly what would happen.
She opens the comments from this morning’s ersatz post. Love the flowers. Can’t wait 4 the album. She refreshes the page to see if anything else has come in but nothing has, and though she knows it’ll only make her feel worse, she toggles back to the picture of Sabrina’s hand. The cyclists whip by, blowing their awful whistles at her, shouting at her to watch out, but Freya can’t take her eyes off her sister and all that happiness. Can’t escape the sickening sensation that she’s done it all wrong.
I have lost my way, she thinks once more, and understands how true this is. Another cyclist whistles by, and Freya, still staring at the image of her sister’s sapphire ring, jumps back and stumbles, and suddenly she is not just lost but falling, falling off the bridge onto some poor soul below.
* * *
— — —
Around the time Freya is speaking to yet another doctor who cannot help her, Harun is trying to pray.
As the men stream into the mosque, taking their places, on the rugs around Harun and his father, he tries to make his intention known to God. But for the life of him, he can’t. He doesn’t know what his intentions are anymore.
He will make for him a way out, his cousin had texted. But what is Harun’s way out?
I have lost my way, Harun thinks as the prayer begins.
“Allahu Akbar,” he hears his father chant beside him.
And again, the thought: I have lost my way. Harun tries to focus. But he can’t. He can think of nothing but James.
Forgive me, Harun had texted this morning.
Not even a Get the fuck out my life, which was the last thing James had said to him.
There wouldn’t be a response. James never said things he didn’t mean.
When the zuhr concludes, Harun and his father go outside to collect their shoes and exchange pleasantries with the other men. All around, there is talk of Hassan Bahara, who died last week while fueling his car at the gas station.
“It was his heart,” Nasir Janjua tells Abu.
Clucking of tongues ensues. Confessions of high cholesterol levels. Wifely naggings to get more exercise.
“No, no,” Nasir Janjua says. “It was a heart defect, silent until now.”
A defect of the heart. Harun knows a thing or two about those. But unlike Hassan Bahara, his defect isn’t silent. He’s known about it for years.
Abu clasps an arm on Harun’s shoulder. “Everything okay?”
I have lost my way. He imagines telling Abu this.
But that would only break his father’s heart. It was always a choice of whose to break. As for his own, a foregone conclusion. Broken either way. It’s what happens with defective hearts.
“Yeah, Abu, I’m fine,” he says.
“You sure?” he asks. “You don’t often come to mosque.” There’s no reproach in his voice. His older brother Saif started middle school on the day 9/11 happened, and after that he began calling himself Steve and refusing to attend mosque. By the time Harun stopped going, the battle had already been lost. Or won. Depending on how you looked at it.
“I figured since I’m going . . .” he trails off. “Amir goes every day.”
“Yes, your cousin is very devout.” Abu ruffles his hair. “You are a good boy. You have made Ammi very happy.”
It is for the always he’s doing this. To continue the always. To never lose the always.
They reach the intersection of Sip and Westside. Harun turns left, in the opposite direction from his house and Abu’s store.
“I thought no school today,” Abu says, assuming that is where Harun is going.
There’s never school on Thursdays. Thursdays are the invisible day added to the weekly schedule last year. Thursdays are their day to be together in Manhattan, where they can slip through the streets like ghosts.
In winter, they meet at Chelsea Market, waltzing through the restaurants they can’t afford to eat at while James, who wants to be a chef one day, ogles the fresh pasta, the buttery croissants, the sausages drying from the rafters, and describes all the meals he will cook for them one day. When the weather is warm, they meet under a little arched bridge in Central Park.
They have not missed a single Thursday. Not when a blizzard shut down the aboveground trains, not when James was sick with bronchitis and all Harun wanted to do was get him somewhere warm and dry but for the life of him could not imagine where such a place might be. They’d wound up in a Panera, drinking tea, watching YouTube videos, pretending it was their apartment.
“I’m just going to tie up some loose ends,” he tells Abu.
“Don’t be late for dinner,” Abu says. “Your mother has taken the last two days off work to cook. Your brother is coming. With his wife.” His father tries not to frown at the mention of Saif’s wife but is not entirely successful.
“I won’t be late,” Harun says, even though before he left the house, he took his passport and the five hundred dollars cash meant for tomorrow’s trip and tucked them into his pocket. It was a rash, last-minute thing to do, but it opened up the possibility of not getting on that plane, of running away for good, in which case he would be very late for dinner.
I have lost my way.
He hugs his father goodbye, which isn’t something he often does, and he worries that it’ll arouse suspicion, but it doesn’t, because Abu says only: “Be home in time. You know how your mother gets.”
As soon as Abu is safely out of sight, he texts: Going to our place @ park. Meet me there.
At Journal Square, he enters the PATH station. The smell of the tunnels—musty, moldy, redolent of old garages—makes him ache for James.
He takes the train to the terminus at Thirty-Third Street and walks out past the neon signs of the chain clothing stores. In the early days, before they’d learned the secret public spaces in the city, they’d sometimes stopped in one of these shops, trying on all manner of sweaters and trousers neither had any intention of buying, because they could sneak into the same dressing room and, behind those slatted doors, the discarded sweaters at their feet like a camouflage, steal a kiss. Every so often they’d buy something, like the socks Harun is wearing today. They called it rent.
The phone rings in his hand and Harun jumps, hope rushing in like a rising tide, but it’s not James.
“I was thinking it might be nice to buy some of that hand cream for Khala,” Ammi says, even though there’s already a suitcase of gifts for Khala and Khalu, for the cousins, and of course for the prospective families he’d be meeting. “Are you passing by the Hudson?”
Hudson is a mall not far from their house. “Sure,” he tells her, because what is one more lie on the steaming pile of them?
“And some ginger. I want to make you some tea for the plane.”
“They won’t let me bring liquids through security.”
“Well, until security,” Ammi says. “To keep you in good health.”
His throat closes. He is a coward and a liar and a bad son. He hangs up, and a minute later his phone buzzes with a text and he pulls it out, once again full of hope, but it is Amir.
I will see you soon, Inshallah.
Inshallah, he texts back.
He walks into the park, guided by autopilot and hope, to their spot at the bridge. When he sees someone waiting on top, under the cherry tree that, on that last day, they kissed under, his hope surges again. It could be him, he tells himself, even thoug
h the skin is too light and the frame is too small and also it is a woman. If only James were a woman. Ha.
I’m here, he texts.
There is no answer, but that doesn’t stop him from seeing James everywhere. There he is, riding a bike in spandex, though James would be horrified by anyone even picturing him in such a ridiculous getup. There he is pushing a baby in a jogging stroller, though James hates exercise. There he is coming toward him, through the tunnel under the bridge.
None of these people are James, and for that, Harun hates them. He hates everything and everyone in this world. If Allah made the world, why did he make Harun wrong? If Allah is love, then why isn’t James the one walking through the tunnel instead of some white boy?
This is what he’s thinking at the exact moment the girl who is not James falls off the side of the bridge, landing with a loud thud on the boy who is also not James.
* * *
— — —
Around the time Freya is speaking to yet another doctor who cannot help her, and Harun is trying to pray, Nathaniel is emerging onto a crowded Manhattan street with no idea of where he is.
“I have lost my way,” he says as people stream by him. When no one responds, he isn’t that surprised. He’s been invisible for a while.
He’s followed the directions exactly as the sign at the airport told him to. Walked to the edge of the terminal, climbed on the bus bound for Manhattan. But he must’ve fallen asleep, because he awoke to the hiss of the bus’s pneumatic door and everyone else had filed out.
He tries to focus, but he’s disoriented and bleary. The name of the flight he was on, a red-eye, turned out to be literal.
The night before, as the plane sped past the quilt of a country Nathaniel never got to know, around him people snored away wearing sleep masks and neck pillows, taking pills to trick themselves into thinking they were home in bed. But he hadn’t slept in the past two weeks, so there seemed little chance he was going to sleep on the plane. After takeoff, the passenger in front of him tilted his seat back, sending Nathaniel’s knees to his chest. He’d stayed up half the night reading his father’s copy of The Lord of the Rings, and when he could stand that no more, the guidebook he’d stolen from the library. In the dim cabin light, he learned about sights he would not see. The Empire State Building. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Central Park. The Botanical Gardens. He flipped through the index, looking at the piece of paper he’d taken from his father. Their meeting point.
Out in the daylight, Nathaniel blinks and tries to orient himself. Everything is so new and so different. The buildings taller than the tallest trees. The light unrestrained by clouds, the sound so loud he has to close his eyes to be able to process it (there, the thumping bass of reggae music; there, the distant sound of jackhammers; there, voices arguing; there, a baby crying). After so much silence, he has auditory culture shock, if such a thing exists.
He’s jolted back to the moment when someone pushes past him. It’s a rude gesture, a New York gesture, even, but he relishes the human touch. He’s been alone for two weeks, but it might as well be an eternity, and he’ll take what he can get.
Still, when another passerby hisses at him to move it, he does. He retreats out of the flow of traffic, under an awning. From here, he can watch. There are people, more people that he’s ever seen in one place, doing everything fast, from smoking cigarettes to having animated conversations on their cell phones. No one looks at him.
He didn’t really consider this. The people. The city. A rush of regret because he won’t have time to experience it. Now, where is he meant to be going again? The subway, an alphabet soup of letters and numbers. His was easy. The A train. According to the map at the airport, the bus should’ve dropped him off right on the corner where the subway was supposed to be. But he’s not on the corner, but in the middle of a long block. He walks to the nearest corner. The street sign reads: Forty-Second Street. Across the street is a park, a patch of green amid the skyscrapers. Which is nice, unexpected—even the park seems surprised to find itself here—but that doesn’t help him figure out where he is and where he’s supposed to be.
“I have lost my way,” he says to the stream of pedestrians. “Can anyone tell me where the A train is?”
But they keep moving, a million-limbed organism rather than individual people, and then there’s Nathaniel, the amputee.
On the plane, in the guidebook, he’d read that Manhattan was a grid, avenues running north-south, streets east-west, street numbers going higher as you go north, the avenues dividing into east and west with Fifth Avenue running down the middle like a spine. If you were lost, the book said, the landmarks could help you get your bearings: the Twin Towers to the south, the Empire State Building to the north.
The Twin Towers, he knows, are gone. It’s a sort of hubris to put something like that in a book as a landmark, a guidepost, to assume it will always be there.
“One day we’ll go to New York City,” his father had promised him, scratching it onto the list on the inside wall of his closet. “One day we’ll go to Mount Denali,” his father had promised him.
“What about the Shire?” Nathaniel had asked when he was too little to know the difference between places real and imagined.
“Sure,” his dad had promised. “We’ll go there too.”
Yellow taxis pass by, looking like they did in the TV shows he and his father used to occasionally watch in between the documentaries. He could just take a taxi to his final destination. He pulls out his wallet, furtively counting the rest of his cash (the guidebook warned: “Be wary of pickpockets and scam artists”). After emptying out the bank account, there had been enough money for the plane ticket, the bus fare to and from the airport, and about a hundred and twenty bucks left over. Part of him had known that going anywhere, let alone New York City, with so small a cushion was folly. But that was just the point. Remove the net. Eliminate the possibility of backtracking.
Still, after so long being prudent and frugal, he can’t completely shed his old ways. He decides against getting a taxi. He has no idea how much the trip will cost. He smells like country, like a rube, and maybe the driver will rip him off. (“Be wary of pickpockets and scam artists.”) And besides, he doesn’t know how to make a taxi stop. He sees how other people do it, stepping into the street, sticking out a hand, but suspects if he did that, the cars would pass right by.
He pulls out his phone, missing his father so much it aches. He dials the number. Three rings before the call goes to voicemail. “Tell me something good,” his father’s recording says.
“Hey, Dad,” Nathaniel says. “I made it.”
He hangs up the phone, opens the guidebook, and thumbs through for the big map in the middle. He finds Forty-Second Street and draws a line across it until he finds a square block of green, amazed, relieved, ebullient, even, that there’s some representation, some proof, of where he is.
The patch of green is Bryant Park. Sixth Avenue, which runs up the west side of the park, dead-ends at Central Park. Central Park! That was one of the places in the book. To the left of the park he sees the big blue circle for the A train. He could walk there. Why not?
He sets off, feeling the same lightness he’d experienced when he’d made the decision to come here. He passes Fiftieth Street, the signs blaring for Rockefeller Center, more people crossing at a single intersection than in his entire graduating class. He passes Fifty-Fourth Street and sees signs for the Museum of Modern Art, and though he’s not visiting it, he feels like he’s seen some of it. (“One day we’ll see the Mona Lisa,” his father had promised, and though Nathaniel is fairly certain the Mona Lisa is not here, it still feels like he has made a little good on that promise.)
He gets to Central Park faster than he thought. Too fast. He can see that the western edge reaches the big circle where the A train is, but he opens up the map in his book again. The park itself runs to 110th Street
. He can walk there. Or all the way up. On the bus before he’d fallen asleep, he’d caught a glimpse of the looming Manhattan skyline from across the river just before they’d entered the tunnel. It seemed inconceivable that he could breach such a fortress, but here he is. He can afford to take his time. His father will understand.
Entering the park, he’s surprised by how familiar it seems. It’s an entirely different kind of nature from what he grew up in, but it turns out that trees are trees, flowers are flowers, birds are birds, wind is wind.
Overhead, the sun is a little west of high noon. He knows where he is. He knows which way is north. He abandons the main roadway for one of the smaller paths. He might get a little lost, but the sleep has shaken away from him. He feels more awake and alive than he has in days. He knows where he’s going.
The path winds under a small arched bridge, a tunneled portal into the park. He examines the bricks. They’re so old, the keystone binding the two seams is almost invisible. Under the bridge the air is dark and musty. He holds his breath, like he used to when they would drive through tunnels, his father encouraging him in the longer ones (You’re almost there, buddy).
I’m almost there, he tells his father as he steps out of the tunnel. He feels a rush of air that turns out to be Freya falling, but he doesn’t have time to see that, much less comprehend it, because she has landed on top of him and everything has gone black.
THE ORDER OF LOSS
When I was one minute old, I sang my first song. That was the story my father told me. When I was born, I didn’t cry or make a sound, and for a minute, my father said, his heart stopped because he thought there was something wrong with me. All the doctors and nurses swooped in. Then I made a noise, not a baby noise, not a cry or a grunt, but something undeniably musical. “It was a perfect A sharp,” my father told me, sustained for at least a second or two. The medical personnel all started laughing in relief. “You were born singing,” my father told me. “And you haven’t stopped since.”