Maruyama Ōkyo, Peacock and Peahen, 1781.
I was settled with my papers, my coffee, and a cheese Danish at a bench on a Manhattan traffic island when someone sat down next to me. I glanced up and recognized a now-familiar face. It was the same elderly man I’d first seen in a local supermarket, berating a clerk; last week, I’d encountered him again on Amsterdam Avenue and attempted to buy him a pineapple. He was ubiquitous—or I was. I gave him a cautious nod of greeting.
“Hello,” he said, smiling warmly. “It’s a beautiful day!”
“Yes,” I agreed. He didn’t seem to recognize me.
We sat in silence for some time; I noticed he was glancing furtively at the front section of the newspaper, so I handed it to him. “I’ve finished, if you’d like it,” I said. “I just want to keep the crossword for later.”
“That’s very kind of you!” he said. “Are you sure? It does look interesting today.”
“Yes, there are some very interesting stories,” I agreed. “I recommend this piece on Russian Internet trolls.”
“Thank you!” he said. “I’ll read it! I was thinking that I would buy my own, and now I don’t have to!”
“It’s my pleasure!” I said.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, miss,” he said. “But may I ask if you are a writer?”
“I am!” I said. “How did you know?”
“You have a very observant air,” he said. “And your glasses make you look bookish! Also I write a bit myself. Do you like the work of Flannery O’Connor?”
“Very much,” I said.
“Me too. I ask because they have a peacock at the bird center right now, and I visited it this morning. And of course, that made me think of Flannery O’Connor’s peacocks.”
“I understand descendants of her flock still roam the grounds of her home in Georgia,” I said. “I’d love to visit the one at the bird center, although I believe they can be quite aggressive.”
“Yes, this one loves to eat plants! Someone visited carrying a house plant she’d just bought, and he attacked it!”
This went on for the better part of an hour. We discussed the neighborhood’s bookstores, the free summer program the Salvation Army runs for seniors, Caitlyn Jenner, and whether chimpanzees could indeed cook, given the chance. He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.
“It’s been lovely talking with such a kind young lady,” he said. “Perhaps I will put you in a story!” And then, at last, I learned his name: Jacob. We were headed to a jovial new stage in our acquaintanceship, I thought, until I told him my name.
“What? Fagin?” he said.
I repeated it.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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