She was about seventeen or eighteen years old, with a slightly rounded triangular face, deep-set eyes under a wide brow and a fierce jut of a nose. Her lips, not too thin nor too wide, lay over a small firm chin, and her hair burst out wildly in gold all around the edges of her dark soft hood. She sat on the top stone step of the entryway to the bank, back out of the drizzling rain. The soft lights up over the doorway gave her just enough light to write by. It was midnight in the financial district, and there she sat, within her forest of gold hair, writing in a notebook propped on her knees.
“No, that’s the wrong rhythm!” she exclaimed, crossing something out and writing again. Was it a song, a poem perhaps? Would she get it right? I quietly opened the window a crack so I could hear better if she should speak again.
Head bent over, she wrote on, then suddenly she stood up, and to my dismay it seemed as if she was going to walk away. Then, thank goodness! she just as suddenly sat down again. Once more she was writing, hunched over, tense, and then an old bum stumbled around the corner. He looked at her from out under his squashed, wide-brimmed hat and in a low, rough voice said, “Hey there, miss, you know it’s kind of dangerous to be out by yourself like this.” She tilted up her fearless face to say in a soft tone, “It’s the safest place in the world,” and added, with a hard edge, “especially when you’re left alone.” He graveled, “You don’t happen to have a cigarette, do you?” “No. Now please leave and let me get to work.” He stumbled back the way he had come with “Funny kind of a job.”
After a few minutes she pulled out a pack of cigarettes from a jacket pocket, lit one, and blew a soft gray cloud into the misty air. The rain had almost stopped and she was thinking. I backed away from the glass front door, where I had gone in case there was trouble, and stood at the partly open window. After a few minutes she stood again and in a deeper, clearer voice, which reminded me of a church bell I had heard when but a small child, began to recite.
“Oh rainy clouds so fain of mighty song,
What do you here among these heroes strong?
You’ve hidden moon and all the stars so bright,
But all your little words are nothing quite.
The silent songs that here strike to the sky
Are louder than all storms that fall and die.
These buildings speak, these towers sing,
And in the mind of man they ring and ring
And lift the poet to his home-like height,
Where glows the beauty of their lines of flight!”
She ceased, and flipped the near burnt-up cigarette into the wet street, where it gave a last shout and went out. Then, like the sun blazing through a dark cloud, her gold-fringed head turned slowly with her slender body, and directly facing me she said, with a happy lilt in her voice, “I thought I heard that window open. Thank you for leaving me alone.” I seriously replied, “Thank you, my dear. It’s a wonderful poem. You are welcome here any time.” Her eyes glittered, then she turned, stepped down to the sidewalk, and swung away into the night.
I am the night watchman at the bank. I watch, and I see, and I hear.