The light jazz fades behind me as the sound of rushing air reaches my ears. I've just walked out of the coffee shop, one hand trying to hold onto the plastic cup just a little too hot to handle, the other keeping the door from slamming.
Nothing to see here, just trying to balance all the things I'm carrying as I step out into the bright sun. I'd reach a hand up to shield my eyes but something would have to fall. So I blink, as the sun warms the tops of my eyelids and slowly bright spots flow into vision.
There's still a black spot in the upper right of my periphery. A few moments later its moving, it becomes a leaf high above the top of the tallest building in the shopping center. A dark green leaf, soaring on a wind current barely trembling - though I feel no breeze - and high enough above to be a bird.
I look around me three hundred and sixty degrees : not a tree in sight. I'm in the middle of chrome city, concrete and glass and electric lights. I look up again and the leaf still sits there, defiant on its wave of light, fluttering slightly like an insect wing - I suddenly wonder what butterfly-wing hurricanes have brought it to this place. A speck of nature, intruding like a drop of dye in crystal water.
Fascinated, I watch it spin slowly down, losing altitude slowly but steadily as it falls from side to side like a discarded feather.
I feel a rush of air as the door opens behind me, someone's squeezing past. A few seconds of a trumpet solo reach my ears, but I don't recognize the tune. I hear a snippet of 20 conversations in soft voices and suddently I can't move, hypnotized by the dance of the leaf on the sky.
Closer now, I could almost reach up and touch it. Its a deep dark green, one side glossy and one side dim, with deep veins engraved like roots in shallow earth. Curved and coming to a tip that almost looks sharp. It spins as it moves from left to right, left to right the hypnotists ruddy green light.
Everyone is watching the leaf. I see the man in the pickup truck notice it as he drives by. A child leans out the back window of a red minivan, watching the leaf in excited contemplation as his mother waits at the stoplight. Even the plane overhead seems to slow, and faces inside the coffee shop turn toward the glass, people walk by and I see the pupils of their eyes stretch to see, just a glimpse, just a second of green.
I wonder again where it has come from, and how far, and why the winds would bring it here, where its only fate would be to fall to the roads or sidewalks and get trampled. For a moment I consider this a cruel destiny, then I hear my own voice say in the back of my mind, "It's just a leaf."
Picking up speed now, nose-diving to that gray pavement-death, I wonder if the tree laments the missing leaf. I wonder if someone plucked it from the branch and tossed it into the air, or if it sought adventure and tore itself away. Funny thoughts to have, I laugh to myself.
The leaf hovers two feet above the ground, it swirls in the air in front of me like a cautious moth. I reach out a hand as if to catch it but in that moment it rises again, more swiftly than it fell, as a sudden gust of wind pulls it steadly up, up. It rose into the sky heading back the way it came. Once it is out of sight (did I ever see it at all?) behind the buildings my arms and legs unfreeze. I walk to my car, my spirits strangely lifted, a hope and happiness filling me where before there was none.
For we all may fall or fly, far from where we came - but winds can always change.