Corridors and corridors, retailers and restaurants, travel agents and dentists, granite and marble, benches and fountains, kiosks and coffee, corridors, corridors, corridors. Corridors, James realizes, are his rabbit hole. With only two directions anything could come from they never raise The Fear in him, even when flooded with people. Here crowds are a comfortable buffer around James, and he likes to people watch, likes to sit on a bench or stand in the centre of a floor and watch the river of people pass him. He imagines what their universes are like, what the confines are, where their walls are built. Over time, in a collective kind of way, James has built a conceptual understanding of the landscapes beyond his own universe in the faces of the underground crowds. He has built it by reading what they must have seen—the contours, slopes, and depressions of the world’s places in the contours, slopes, and depressions of their faces. Their words build landscapes for him too, particularly in the languages foreign to James. In the passing consonants, inflections, and rolls of tongues he hears deserts, slums, Tokyo, fjords, Ireland, water, waves, Ethiopia; cities mixed with forests, cut by waterways.
James is in the PATH at that moment when the office towers flood the pathways to condos and subway stations with people. He stands in the centre of a dense population that moves like a river, observing something in the faces that pass him: a lady in her fifties, blond, has lines on her forehead from a day of furrowing her eyebrows; a man, young, early twenties, has an intimidating look on his face, but one that seems intended for somebody in his memory rather than anyone here; another man is speaking on the phone as if he’s angry, his voice wanting to rise, but his words are kind, are words that don’t want the voice that’s expressing them; and a woman, mid-thirties, beautiful, dressed elegantly, has a look like she’s sick of people noticing, eyes that seem to search for the most distant place possible. James deduces precisely what’s causing every one of these bad moods, the one thing that can bring distance to the face of an entire city—a day of gloom and rain. He walks to a set of escalators and, sure enough, sees crowds descend from the surface with wet shoulders, umbrellas in their hands, and soggy hair sticking to their foreheads. Then James sees something else descend from the rainy surface, but above the heads of the rain soaked crowds.
“The hawk,” James whispers. As soaked from the rain outside as the pedestrians, the hawk dives down towards James and banks around the back of his head. He spins around, keeping his eyes on the mass of feathers, and sees the same pattern of molted red, brown, black, and white he saw at the subway platform.
He follows, hustling through the crowds, catching glimpses of her as he rounds corners in the corridors. After a number of turns and straight stretches he finds himself in a corridor empty of people, one that’s not joined with the main commuter paths. The corridor dips and curves so that James can only see a short distance ahead. Display cases are embedded in the pink granite wall to the left. With each subsequent case—displaying jewelry, then shoes, then watches, then wallets, then bags, then ties—the corridor descends three steps, curves slightly, descends three steps, curves slightly, and so on until the opening to the commuter crowd behind James is out of sight, and the sounds of their footsteps are replaced by silence. In the emptiness James feels he has lost the hawk, so he stops and stares into a case filled with ties, considering which he would wear if he were to ever wear a collared shirt. There’s a sound, an echo of a flap like a blanket thrown flat, and the hawk appears from the direction James came from. It glides down and banks with the corner towards him. As the heavy wings beat out a series of flaps directly in front of James, he gets another perfect view of the molted red, brown, black, and white pattern on top of them, the colours zigzagging through the feathers in the strangest mix of lines.
The hawk flies to where the corridor straightens out and exits into a high traffic walkway bordering a half-moon food court. James follows and joins the walkway, and as the movement of the crowd carries him towards an exit at the opposite end, he sees that the hawk is following the circumference of the half moon space. She’s in a slow glide, flapping only once every few seconds above the heads of people waiting in long lines at the restaurants. Her flight is so slow and silent, and her red and white blends in so well with the lights, tiles, and multi-coloured plastics that make up the landscape, that no one seems to notice. The hawk’s head shifts and her eyes wander around the space looking for the exit, until they look directly at James, just as he reaches the doors. With a few hard flaps the hawk flies over his head at a speed that has him twisting, almost falling, as he attempts to keep his eyes with the blur.
The blur tucks in her wings and bullets through the gap in the doors above the heads of the crowds passing through. James moves through the doors and finds himself in the familiar corridor with the luggage store, bar-lounge, and long fountain, lined with limestone rocks and decorated with fake plants, down the centre. The corridor that mirrors this one on the other side of the bar lounge is clearly the commuter path, because this space is sparsely populated.
He walks slowly, thinking he has lost the hawk again, but after walking a short distance along the fountain he sees her perched on a branch of a fake tree. James just stands for a moment, transfixed by the hawk. She looks at James curiously, opens her beak, and then closes it again. Tentatively, James walks right to the tree, with the hawk perched only just above his head. He looks closely at her, the pattern of red, brown, black, and white in her feathers, the reptilian skin around her talons, the sharpness of the beak at its point, and the yellow and black eyes, which James can actually see himself in.
He slowly reaches his hand towards the hawk. The hawk again opens her beak, so James pauses, but continues when the beak closes. He opens his hand and reaches for the molted feathers, but just as he reaches only a few inches away the hawk opens her beak and lets out a piercing cry. James startles backward, then notices a mother with a toddler close by, and hears the toddler begin to cry. The mother looks at James with a terrified expression. “Oh…I…that wasn’t….” mutters James, but they rush off down the pathway before he can point out the hawk.
James hears a shaking of the entire fake tree and the heavy flap of the hawk’s wings. She flies away, towards the doors, and bullets through to the other side just as an unsuspecting pedestrian walks through them. James pursues, but in the wide corridor of retail spaces on the opposite side of the doors he is confronted by a river of people moving in the opposite direction of the hawk’s flight.
James tries to move against the river of people, but there’s just too many flooding the corridor from escalators and pathways adjoining at the sides. The movement of people is slower at the edges where they merge, but heavy and quick in the centre where James attempts to walk against the current. He’s a boulder slowly rolling down a river during a salmon swim. Then he’s a pillar that does not move, the people separating only just as they reach him, their footsteps echoing quietly, but so numerously they sound like a rain storm.
The hawk is flying above their heads, red and white tail feathers shrinking into the tiny space at the end of the corridor, where the doors are propped open by the steady stream that flows towards James.
Once the hawk disappears from his vision, James lets go and floats with the current to the subway station