I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was supposed to have rained the night before and into the morning, but I couldn’t tell from my apartment. The only windows faced my neighbors’ only windows, and the outer walls of our apartments formed a dingy, square enclosure that opened up to a small patch of sky up at the top. Sharp, angular rays sometimes peered in at mid-day through this little opening, but dawn and dusk came furtively, like disease. Rain wasn’t often discernible because little of it made it down to the bottom floors through the opening high up, though little rivulets trickled down walls when it rained heavily. We never opened our windows or peered to look up at the patch of sky, mostly for fear of what we’d see or worse, smell, down below. I could see empty, crumpled and broken plastic bottles lining my neighbors’ outer window sills; my outer window sill had soiled paper napkins—refuse from higher floors. That day, the pavements were still wet when I walked out onto the main street. The air, too, was wet and cold, as if it was holding on to the memories of the rain.
I stopped to check my phone—9:10 a.m. I was late for work. I had slept in, dreaming familiar dreams—Dad in my hospital room with a caramel-haired puppy in his arms; caramel-haired puppy on my belly; patches of blood forming shapes on the white gauze that covered injured hands with which I stroked caramel-haired Sadie; me hitting my roommate for kicking Sadie; Sadie’s fur glistening on a fragrant fall morning; Sadie growling; Sadie running after Winston Churchill (her ball); the doctor letting me know with a gleam in his eyes and a smile that they had saved Sadie. The dreams were always patchy, and non-sequitur as all dreams are. Some were true. Some weren’t. I never stood up to my roommate for kicking Sadie but I wish every day that I had. Instead I just moved to a much smaller place, which was all I could afford by myself, just so I could keep Sadie with me. And there was no gleam in the doctor’s eye when he told me he couldn’t save Sadie from the injuries she had sustained in the car accident right outside that apartment.
I headed to my usual deli for my usual coffee and breakfast before getting into the subway. Now my eyes had adjusted to the dull, gray morning and I realized everyone was brushing off what looked like yellow grains. On that humid, cloudy morning sand like grains rained from the sky, not in a torrent but quietly like gentle snow. People were walking to the subway, walking to work, listening to music on their headphones, talking on their phones and all the while rubbing off these grains from their arms, their shoulders, clothes and their hair. Pavements, trees, cars, people were all covered with these grains. Before I knew it, my jacket arms and shoulders were completely covered too. The grains were perfectly shaped hexagons, the color and size of loose ocean sand. Each grain fit into the others like cells in a honeycomb, and even glistened faintly under the gray-white light that illuminated the street on that dull morning. I stopped and stared as the grains stuck to my jacket to form one congealed mass, and even tried to pluck a few out to feel them between my fingers. As I lowered my face and brought my arm closer to look at the grains, a lock of my short hair fell forward grazing my cheek very lightly before appearing clearly in front of me. I moved my gaze toward my hair, which was now covered in these minute, glistening beige hexagons. Not an inch of my black hair made it through the thick, opaque, but somehow mildly glistening sheath that covered it. Against my cheek and in my fingers, I felt the smooth, cold, skin-like texture of the grains. I could press each one between my fingers. They felt like soft, miniature cushions.
I must have looked confused. A lady who was passing by said “Don’t worry, just brush it off with your hand. It’ll come off and fall to the ground.” I looked up to see her brushing the stuff off her own clothes and hair.
“Do you know what it is?” I asked her. She walked right past.
I didn’t want to brush them off. I have often wondered if it was just one of those slow days for me, or if there was really something about these grains that made me want to collect them in my hands, like a little girl nervously holding her mother’s precious pearls. People walked by me annoyed, irritated, aghast, or afraid of the profusion of these little hexagons that descended from the skies into our lives. I, on the other hand, stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and watched the few that I’d collected, cupped in my hands like I had once tried to cup the rain in my little five-year-old hands. They seemed loose and separate at first, but drew closer to one another within minutes. The ones closer to the edges of my hands sunk down or moved to the center. Soon a beige leaf-shaped mass filled out the little enclosure between my hands—perfectly flat on top but following the curvature of my hands. An ambulance with a screeching siren whizzed by, a pedestrian cursed a cab driver for almost running him over, a passer-by yelled on his phone “Fuck You bitch!” as he shook his head violently to rid himself of the grains. I stared at this latticework that formed a beige leaf in my hands, and all the familiar sounds and noises that surrounded me suddenly sounded like one coherent monotone that was at once jarringly loud and peacefully quiet. I stood planted in the whirling chaos around me but became delightfully distant as well. I have since wondered if the grains had some hypnotic effect if you stared at them long enough. There was only one wonderful thought in my head that damp morning as I stood on the sidewalk looking, I imagine now, like a sand dune in the shape of a woman:
Were these grains alive? In the same way, as say, plants are?
I shook off my reverie when another harried and annoyed office-goer brushed past me with a “You’ve got too many of these things on you, you might want to brush them off.” I dutifully brushed most of the grains from my clothes but kept the little mound that had formed in my hand and shoved it into my bag. Full-blown panic set in when I realized I was almost an hour late for work. I skipped breakfast and headed for the subway.
More information trickled in.
“Weather men today are baffled by a strange phenomenon that seemingly started early this morning, around 5:00 a.m. Yellow, sand like grains rained all over New York and parts of the northeast. Climate scientists have now confirmed that the composition of these grains does not include water, or any known element found in other forms of precipitation. So far there have been no incidents of harm done due to this strange downpour of grains. People are advised to carry and use umbrellas. For now, schools and offices continue to run per usual. Both the state and federal governments have declined to make any announcements until the results of a more thorough investigation are established.”