Those Who Built the Neighborhood
Jamal exited the city transit hub in the heart of his birthplace. Earlier that month, he was summoned to sit on a jury. It was the only reason he had to return to the place he was raised.
Jamal left the city when he was 25 years old. At that time, he met his wife, started a family and moved to the suburbs. Now in his late 50s, Jamal walked the same sidewalks he once did as a kid, only slower. He made it a habit to arrive places earlier to give him extra time to walk. That day, it brought him to the city in the middle of the morning rush hour.
The construction site roared with sounds coming from every floor. The gray construction wrap covered the open façade of the thirty-storey monolith. It stood nearly twenty storeys above even the closest buildings, and even more than the three-storey homes just across the street.
While busy pedestrians briskly walked and impatiently brushed against him to get past, Jamal admired the out-of-place structure before him.
“My word,” Jamal gasped.
“Sir!” A young man shouted. “Sir, please step back on the sidewalk.”
Jamal turned to see a police officer who was required to direct traffic and pedestrians during construction.
“Sorry, son, I was a bit taken aback by it all.”
“Not from around here, huh?”
“No. Not these days, anyhow. I grew up just down the block on Pavonia, a long time ago.”
“Small world,” said the young cop, “my aunt grew up on Newark Ave!”
“Heh, it is a small world, ain’t it? So, what is this monstrosity gonna be?”
“Apartments – it’s only half complete, pretty cool to see how much this place has changed, yeah?”
When Jamal left for the suburbs, he didn’t care about where the city would be almost 40 years later. Jamal didn’t mind if the house he grew up in was torn down. Jamal wasn’t very sentimental until he heard that young man said the change was “cool.”
Maybe it was the pride he actually had for the place that shaped him that was hidden for so long. What was cool about sticking this obelisk of wealth and noise directly in the middle of a small urban community?
For every bad memory he had from living in the city, he had so many good ones he simply never chose to remember, until that day.
He remembered the people on his block; the Sanchez family, the Woczak sisters, and even the dog who belonged to old Mr. Peterson, who howled every night. Jamal remembered the music coming from porches and how it changed when you walked down the street. He very fondly remembered the enchanting smells of a roasting pig coming from the small yard of the Keohuna family.
Jamal realized that all of those people were gone. None of them lived on those blocks anymore. When the kids became adults they left, and so did the parents. Whether people had left this neighborhood of their own accord or by the hand of Father Time, it wasn’t the neighborhood Jamal once knew anymore.
This tower wasn’t there to destroy the community, the community had already left. Just like Jamal had left to start a new life in the suburbs, people would to travel here to a place entirely different than what Jamal knew it as.
“Cool,” Jamal said, “yeah, it’s pretty cool.”