What do you think is the “invisible hand” that leads the protagonist/narrator to his ultimate destinations in this chapter?


Response to Open city by Teju Cole, Chapter 4

What do you think is the “invisible hand” that leads the protagonist/narrator to his ultimate destinations in this chapter?


The following day, returning to Sheep Meadow, on a circuitous route to a poetry reading at the Ninety-second Street Y, I noticed the masses of leaves dying off in bright colors, and heard the white-throated sparrows within them calling out and listening. It had rained earlier, and the fragmented, light-filled clouds worked off each other; maples and elms stood with their boughs still. Above a boxwood hedge, the swarm of hovering bees reminded me of certain Yoruba epithets for Olodumare, the supreme deity: he who turns blood into children, who sits in the sky like a cloud of bees. The rain had kept many people from their usual after-work sports, and the park was almost empty. In a cove formed by two large rocks, I went and sat, as though led by an invisible hand, on a pile of gravel. I stretched out and laid my head against one of the rocks, placing my cheek on its damp, rough surface. I must have cut an absurd figure to someone looking on from a distance. The bees over the boxwood lifted as a single cloud and vanished into a tree. After a few minutes, my breath returned to normal and the bellowing in my ribs ceased. I got up slowly, and attempted to clean my clothes, brushing bits of grass and dirt away from my trousers and sweater, rubbing earth stains outof my palms. The sky was now at its last light, and a trickle of blue, seen through the buildings to the west, was all that leaked through. I sensed a shift in the city’sdistant commotion; day’s end: people heading home or beginning the night shift, preparations for dinner in thousands of restaurant kitchens, and the soft yellow lights that were now glimmering from apartment windows. I hurried out of the park, across Fifth Avenue, Madison, Park, then north on Lexington, to the lecture hall where, when once we were settled in our seats, the poet was introduced. He was Polish, dressed in brown and gray clothes, and though he was relatively young, his hair was a brilliant white halo. He approached the lectern to applause, and said: I don’t want to talk about poetry tonight. I want to talk about persecution, if you will permit a poet this license. What can we understand about the roots of persecution, particularly when the target of this persecution is a tribe or race or cultural group? I will begin with a story. His English was fluent, but the thick accent, and the elongated vowels and thickly rolled r’s, gave it a

halting quality, as though he were translating each line in his mind before speaking. He looked up at the full room, looking out at everyone and at no one in particular, and the lights bounced off his glasses, making it appear as though he had a large white patch over each eye. LATER THAT WEEK, AT THE END OF A DIFFICULT DAY AT THE INPATIENT unit, a day on which I was oversensitive to the hospital’s white lights and felt more irritated than usual with the paperwork and small talk, a reprise of the heavy mood, now more sustained, settled on me. Psychiatry training programs are reputed to be less brutal than some other residency programs—and I had found it so—but the work has its own peculiar challenges. At times, psychiatrists feel the absence of the neat solutions surgeons or pathologists enjoy, and it can be wearying to always have to find the mental preparation, the emotional focus, that is necessary for sitting with patients. The only thing, when I thought it all through, that enlivened the long hours I spent on call or in the office was the trust those patients had in me, their helplessness, their hope that I could help them get better. In any case, unlike when I had first begun work in the hospital, I no longer spent much time thinking about patients, usually not until the next appointment, and often, when I was on rounds, I needed the chartto recall even the basics of a particular case. That I thought of M. away from the medical campus was, in that sense, an exception; he was, like V., the rare patient whose problems were not relegated to the back of my mind when I stepped out onto the street. M. was thirty-two, recently divorced, and delusional. On bad weeks, the medication seemed to hardly help at all. A hint of winter was in the air as I began to cross Broadway and was held for a moment in the yellow eyes of the cars hunched in serried ranks at the red light. It was just past five o’clock and night was falling fast. The buildings of the medical complex stood shoulder to shoulder against the charcoal-colored charcoal-colored sky and, all around me, people wore padded jackets and knitted hats. I entered the subway at 168th Street and caught a packed southbound 1 train. So absorbed was I in rehearsing that afternoon’s consultation with M. that, when the train reached 116th Street, I simply watched the doors open, stay open, and close. The car moved on past my stop, and momentarily I tried to figure

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