I met her in the hallway of my building. As I turned the key in the lock of my apartment I heard a rustling, and I turned to see a honey-brown face, freckled and partially covered by glasses that were twice the circumference of her eyes. She blinked and her enormous eyeballs disappeared, then re-appeared. I smiled and said hello, she seemed timidly surprised, so I introduced myself. “I know you, you’ve been here for a couple of years now” she responded “No,” I said, “I just moved in, but you must know my sister, she’s been here for a couple of years.” “Oh, welcome to the building,” we exchanged introductions and pleasantries, she shuffled to her door and I disappeared behind mine. I thought; how lovely it would be to become friends, maybe I’ll take her some soup. Immediately I adopted her as my surrogate grandmother, I selfishly wanted to hear stories of bygone years, and imagined us enjoying tea-time while I soaked up her history.
“Who? Miss Ruby?” was my sister’s response later that evening, “let me tell you about Miss Ruby” she started, and told of a time she had locked herself out of the apartment, and had been forced to stand in the hallway for some forty-odd minutes while our little old neighbor waited for the OK to let my sister in for re-entry by way of kitchen windows and the fire escape. “And then she said no, she didn’t feel safe letting me in. After two years of saying hello and helping her with her groceries,” my sister concluded with disappointment in her voice and a heavy sigh. I had just moved to Harlem and had secretly, personally vowed, to not become a jaded “New Yorker.” I regarded this story as an ominous sign that a bitter suspicion towards humanity might happen whilst I wasn’t paying attention. After that, I hardly ever saw Miss Ruby. I never went over to visit and chat, upon the notion that she would just reject me anyway; I ate all of my soup by myself, many times over the years. One winter afternoon I dragged myself reluctantly downstairs to the laundry room and there she was with her wide smile and big, round eyes. We stood there quietly for a few moments, each busy with our own washing. It was she who broke the silence. Her voice had the quality of Queen Anne’s lace; soft, fragile, comforting, and with a delicate expiring beauty, she said, “I always wondered why that knife is there.” What knife? I followed her gaze and there on the windowsill I had never noticed a flower pot, potted not with a flower but with a knife stabbed into the hard, dry dirt.