One by one they arrived. At dawn, their silhouettes stretched down the sidewalk, their grey figures waving back and forth in the brisk sunlight. Some of the figures stood alone, their hoods pulled up over the heads to protect themselves in the cold January air. But most stood with their arms outstretched and their gloved hands entwined with the hands of their children standing next to them. Their rosy faces nearly hidden underneath layers of clothing and covered by hats and scarves, only their breaths in the cold air showed signs of life.
Manhattan was always full of people, but this morning, a Saturday, the crowd that had gathered at 263 W. 38th Street stood in silence, a stark contrast to the bustling traffic around them. The crowd, primarily women and children, stood fidgeting in the cold as the people waited. A man near a building checked his cell phone for the time. A young girl standing by her mother stood with mouth agape at the people; her mother reached down and wiped her nose. A woman with a dark complexion wearing a hijab and a name tag walked through the crowd of people hanging out candles; as she went, the flame from the first candle she had lit followed her as people shared the light.
The girl with the runny nose watched this woman work from the side of the crowd where she stood. She could barely see around the legs of the taller grown-ups who stood around her, but she peered cautiously around her mother’s own legs to see what this woman was doing. She was still walking through the crowd, handing out candles to adults and leaning down to the children she saw and whispering into their ears—children who made up the majority of the crowd that had gathered now. The girl tugged at her mother’s pants. “What is she doing, Omi?” she whispered.
“Hush, Zafirah,” her mother said. “Wait until she gets here.”