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  • Mareena Francis

Faces of the Street

Who walks the street?

The light hits his lined brown face and he doesn’t falter. I raise my hand to shade my face but he stands unfazed on the other side of his roofless stall. He leans back against the crumbling wall behind him and looks about, waiting for a face from the crowd to make its way to him. I find my feet carry me across the street to him. He looks at me expectantly and I point to a random book from the pile spread out. He picks it up and tells me the price before I ask. As I take it from his hand, I see his eyes darting about behind me. I hand him the money and step back into the crowd that is his livelihood. The street is his office and we are his nameless customers. This is no stretch to pass through, this is where he must plant himself.

As I step back, another woman steps up to the stall to look at the books. I see a few faces turn to look at her as they pass and I see that there are still people who consider being transgender a reason to stare. I watch the vendor instead. He hands her the book she points to and declares the price exactly how he did with me. She pays him and the transaction is complete. As she turns, I automatically smile and she returns it before walking into the crowd. A street is a place for her to exist like all of us, but I wonder if it ever makes her feel like she’s on display.

A child darts past me and for a moment, I am enthralled. The way she runs, reminds me of an energy I no longer have. All of us adults walk in urgency or leisure, we’re walking fast and slow, there are bags under many of our eyes and also slung over our shoulders. We walk with an immediacy of an invisible race. But I watch the child. She runs. Her laughter deafens the air and as I have walked 5 steps, she is already at the end of the street. She looks back for a moment, triumphant. It is a victor I see there and the street is her latest conquest.

A man lies on the ground, along the walls at the sides of the street. He is fast asleep, a hand on his bare chest. I see protruding ribs but the bit that catches my attention is the feather-like white of his beard. I wonder if it tickles his skin. The crowd mills past him, unconsciously walking around him on their way out of the street. I wonder if he has become like the street; impervious to the noise, the footsteps, and the sun.

A girl walks past me, accidentally shoving into my shoulder. She mumbles an apology but never stops walking. I see her eyes darting between her phone in one hand and an open notebook in the other. She hurries down the street and I imagine it is only a blur for her. She has places to go and multiple lives to live. The crowded street she crosses every day is only a faceless passage taking her to who she is going to be.

A way ahead, a group of 5 stand at the side of the street, placards, and microphones in hand. They protest loudly and their words fall over the herd passing the street. I wonder if any of the words stick. There are people stopping to listen and there are others who barely glance over. I stop and watch the woman with the microphone. There is steel in her eyes and I find myself in both fear and awe. I listen to her words and read the ones on the placards. I realize that these are our warriors, fighting for us who barely stop to look. They have brought the fight to the streets and this is now their battlefield.

A car honks behind me and I step out of the way to let it pass. I watch the driver watching the street ahead. He is parting the seas today; as the crowd divides to let him pass. It’s funny to think that the moving metal box separates his place in the street from us. He is not one of the crowd in the street; he is a man driving through a stretch. In seconds, he is out of the stretch and the people have cascaded together again. The street and we were probably only moving images for him.

I am halfway down the street when I spot the photographer. There always is one on a street like this. I follow the gaze of his lens to a group of stray dogs spread out, asleep. I know when he has made his click and checked the light and the frame, it will look nothing like the dogs I see with my eyes. I am envious of how this street must look to him. I wonder if the stones and walls prick up every time he comes in, wondering if they’ll be chosen as worthy for him to capture. He makes his click and lets the camera fall back onto his chest where it hangs. The dogs on the street will now forever live in more than just memory.

A foreign face walks down the street towards me. Her eyes are wide and full of wonder as she takes in every stone, wall, and speck of dirt. She is collecting this street into her list of experiences in an undiscovered land. Once she has walked through, the street will no longer be undiscovered for her. Maybe she will also buy a book, carrying a piece of the street on her person. I try to walk as normally as I can as she nears me. I am, after all, part of the view.

At the end of the stretch, I pause. The street lies behind me but I can feel its life. I have watched the bricks and walls and dirt come alive with the faces that occupy it. In every face, I have seen a new street. I stop and look back like the child did. I have not conquered anything; rather I have picked apart and interpreted the faces the street gave me. I have exploited as much as I have admired. As an artist, this is what I do to the streets. I take it in as much as it takes me.

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