The People on the Street

December 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

A man is walking down the street, his lips twitching as he makes eye contact with others.  It is by no means a smile, but at least a polite twitch, showing that he knows the rules, that strangers on the street should acknowledge that there are other strangers on the street going places and doing things and thinking thoughts. He is wearing a very nice beige suit, well pressed.  It is a bit tight on his elbows and this seems to be a nagging annoyance to him and he shakes his arm as he walks, his Rolex bouncing along on his wrist. His brief case is worn, and yellow papers stick out at all ends, covered with deep blue ink. He notices me on the bench; the lips twitch. I smile widely and this throws him and he glances back in surprise, wondering who the girl on the bench is with the red hair. In a second though, he has forgotten-damn this suit, and the arm wiggles.

Then comes the woman, dressed in her Sunday best and smiling widely at everyone she sees. Her teeth are bright white and the people that pass her nearly cover their eyes or pull sunglasses out of their small purses. A blue flower, sparkling with sequins, blossoms in her hair. The dress is of the same shade but flows like water, rippling over her large stomach and tickling the knees of anyone who passes too close. She stands firmly in the middle of the sidewalk, a force of nature and the people keep walking, keep moving, keep thinking, and she is just a woman in blue with a flower in her hair…

A girl stumbles on the sidewalk and her white white skin becomes red red. She’s a pretty girl, young and fresh. Her hair is brown and silky and shiny, coiled tight in a bun. She frets for a minute, bracelets jangling as her hands reach up and claw at the strands of lovely hair, pulling and tearing until the tie comes free and the hair streams down, covering up the red of her cheeks. She glances around, looking like so many lost and pretty girls, looking, I suppose, to see if anyone noticed that trip, that carelessness, that moment when vigilance stole away from her. Her eyes meet mine, girl with red hair, just sitting on the bench, and her eyes surprise me. They are big and wide and child’s eyes, and they seem sorry, sorry for everything, sorry they’ve wronged me, sorry that nothing has worked out as planned. I feel as if she has swallowed me whole in them, but I am not trapped. Rather, I am free. She has freed me, she has seen me, she has seen.. .And then she is darting away, and I am girl with red hair on a bench, and I hear her bracelets jangling but no longer can I see the eyes, and without the eyes she may never have been here at all…

There is a girl with red hair sitting on the bench. Her hair is curly, a careless curliness. It bounces around in the breeze, skimming her shoulders, tracing the outline of her chin. It seems to entertain itself, fluttering around in the breeze, rubbing against her reddened cheeks, a child desperate for play. But the girl is too busy for that sort of nonsense. She is quite busy existing on the bench. She has to focus on breathing, for starts, and seeing too, and then really seeing, which requires much more concentrated effort. A man on his way to work sees her smiling at him, leg bouncing up and down, shoe dangling dangerously from her toes. A woman in blue walking to a church meeting spots the girl on the bench smoothing her skirt and tossing her hair, pulling at the curls, toss, pull. The woman looks away and back again and sees the girl furiously writing in a notebook, and then stops, seemingly distracted by the blue of her dress. And now the pen is off again. The woman smiles, remembering when she was young and spent her Friday mornings sitting on benches and writing in books. A long time ago, though, she thinks to herself as the wind ripples her dress. A young girl is late to class, busy with thoughts about that boy she likes and the parents she misses and the schoolwork she has yet to do. Tears start in her eyes as she pushes down the street, as if working against an unseeable force, and her breath comes in sharp, painful jabs. Her eyes dart along the people on the street, the buildings, the trees, but she sees none of it, she sees the boy and the parents and the schoolwork and her tears…and a girl on a bench. With red hair. Red curly hair. The girl is sitting and watching and her hair is down and she looks quite pretty. Her curls flutter in the wind and…and the girl trips over a brick jutting out of the walk and her face flushes and the boy and the parents and school all rush back and she pulls down her hair to hide the tears. She waits for them to come, concealed behind her wall, seeing nothing anymore. Yet they do not. They will not. Her heart beats. The painful stab of breath reminds her that she is here, standing on a sidewalk in a city far from home. She opens her eyes and sees the girl, the girl with red hair, the girl sitting on the bench, looking right at her. And the girl’s eyes surprise her. They are big and wide and child’s eyes, and they seem sorry, sorry for everything, sorry they’ve wronged her, sorry that nothing has worked out as planned. And then the young girl moves, she walks down the street, she does not look back. 

And I am a girl with red hair watching the people go by and I stand up and walk with them, walk with the people, the people on the street.


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