Every day, twice a day, the woman walked north on my street in front of my house. From my second floor office, I could see her on the sidewalk, taking big strides and swinging two plastic bags from the grocery store. She had an intense, purposeful walk as if she saw the walking as a body-building exercise. Every muscle was involved in this walk, her whole body tensed, arms swinging as if they held weights. Though I couldn’t hear her, I always knew when she was coming toward my house. Sensed it, looked out the window and there she would be.
It would be at the point midway between the beginning and the end of our small city plot of land, a length of maybe 10 of her big steps, that she would jerk her head to the right, look over her shoulder, look at something for just a few seconds and then spin her head back. She never stopped, never broke her stride. The quick turning and looking was calibrated into her walk; it always happened at the same place, at the same interval, and happened no where else on the block.
I know. I watched her.
The neighbor across the street explained it to me. She told me that the walking woman had been the lover of a professor on the next block over, that they had broken up, and the walking woman then began a daily process of walking up and down in front of the house they formerly shared. After many months of this, the professor obtained a restraining order that forbade the walking woman from being on his block. So now she was walking on our block.
Every day, the walking continued. And every day, the quick looking. What is she looking at or looking for? And then I realized. It was the slight crack between two houses across the street; in that crack, she could see a sliver of the house where she had loved her professor. She walked every day, swinging those bags, jerking her head around just at the right second to see that sliver.
Was she hoping his face would be in the window? That he would see her and decide to love her again?
Was there a new woman in the house? Was it the torture of seeing the new woman that she was looking for?
Was she doing penance for some sin? Had she been sentenced in her mind to walk past every day to remind herself of her better life?
It wasn’t as if I could call out to her and ask her to stop and talk with me. Explain what she was doing, maybe confide in me, maybe find another person who, at some point in her life long ago, had been obsessed with a person. There was no camaraderie where walking woman lived.
She was walking alone. I respected that and stood back.