I’m not entirely certain what this post is about, other than a series of small and unusual events that I am convinced have a broad representation of something. Unfortunately I have yet to discover what the something is.
I was in the mood for people watching so after work I stopped in Sol, found a spot in the sun, and took a seat to watch the movie of tourists, briskly walking city dwellers paying no mind, and the myriad of street performers play. The warmth of the sun allowed me to slip off my scarf- a most welcomed break from the sudden arrival of autumn. As I walked across the plaza eyeing a place to sit, I had noticed the only place with sun that was available was quietly occupied by a bag tied to the rail of the flower bed. I was skeptical (you never know who or what has been in Sol), but decided to sit anyway.
Minutes after contentedly basking in the sun, a man comes into my peripheral and I know he is coming to claim the spot next to me that has just become available. He is older and in the glow of the sunlight his appearance seems presentable. A small blue carry-on trails behind him and he walks slowly and assuredly. While striking me as odd for a man of such an age to be traveling alone and seemingly using Sol as I meeting place, I quickly dismissed the thought. I know he’s reached my side when his figure casts a shadow on me, staking claim to the few precious minutes of sunlight I have secured. I look up, mildly acknowledging him with a half smile so that he’ll sit and return my sunlight to me. He sits and I return to basking, eyes closed.
I notice he’s taken out a small notebook and started writing. I peek over attempting to decipher the language in which he writes. Whether because of the handwriting or because of a language I do not know, I could not read the observations he was making. In my attempt to be nosy, though, I recognized how the details of the man painted a different story than his initial impression. His fingernails here filthy; the seams of his cloths were giving way; his small carry-on was battered not from airport abuse but from traversing the cobblestone streets of an old world. He mumbles something I cannot make out and looks at me as though I am supposed to confirm or deny. I offer another half smile and go back to basking, contemplating his story.
My tranquilized state bursts when I hear the bustle of plastic and a gruff voice ask me if this bag is mine, referring to the bag tied to the post of the flower bed. I shake my head no. His question was a mere formality as he’s so focused on untying the double knot he hasn’t even looked up to see my answer. He continues to mumble as he works until he has finally freed the bag and begins to examine its contents. At this point I find myself unable to not watch all the while contemplating what kind of life it would be to leave belongings tied to a post in a city’s most central tourist spot. From the plastic bag the man pulls out a large black knit bag, which he holds up, assesses, curses, and throws to the ground (the whole three inches) and a thin, oversized grey sweater for which he offers a half smile. He reaches to his carry-on and unzips the bag to put the sweater inside. That’s when I realize the carry-on is (nearly) empty. I wonder if this man has any further possessions than those he currently wears.
I’m lost in the glare of the sun and looking at the carry-on when I hear the harsh sound of heavy footsteps approach. Outlined in light I see a huge furry costume standing at my feet, looking to the man. Apparently the bag had an owner. Angry, angry words are exchanged between the two parties: the costume for the theft of his sweater, the man for the loss of a new possession he clearly wanted. The exchange was over in 15 seconds and resulted in the old man launching the sweater at the costumed man and the furry giant huffing away.
What I found most bizarre of all, however, was that the costumed man didn’t huff away. He literally just walked five steps more to my left and placing the sweater and the black bag back in their plastic, he re-tied the bag to a later post, and then walked away. He didn’t take the bag to a different spot; he didn’t even mind to re-tie the bag on the other side of the flower bed. Just five steps over, re-tied it, and put his costume mask back down and returned to work. What is this life? I wondered.
Stereotypically, many of the costumed street performers in Sol are immigrants from South America. They band together, seemingly helping each other. When I arrived weeks ago I could see the small acts of kindness between them that told me they were a community like when a water bottle would be passed between them to offer a moments reprieve to flushed cheeks and drenched faces when the heat of summer still lingered in the city.
So what would it be for me to live such a life? A life where my possessions are tied to a flower bed in the middle of city center? A life where my possessions are a black knit bag and a sweater? A life that consisted of finding my clothes in random bags with no idea from where they came? Or a life that demanded I wheeled my possession, culminating to less than a carry-on, in tow wherever I went? What would that be?
Further still, what are the rules of society for those that must live in this way? Could the old man have refused to return the sweater to the costumed man? Is the code of conduct such that a person may take what they find unless such a confrontation takes places to let them know the owner is nearby? How is one to know the difference? As one who lives a different life I cannot tell the difference, but can they? What is this world of which I know nothing?
And perhaps most importantly, as I can truly imagine none of these things, how much has fortune and grace reigned over my life? As one of the lucky ones, I cannot begin to know.