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  • Mareena Francis

The Streets are Storytellers.

We were an odd group that day, walking down the close-knit streets. Four were in bright-colored costumes with paint following along the curve of their eyes. Then came the man holding a cigarette in one hand and a camera hanging around his neck. I brought up the rear end, holding everyone’s phones and wallets. We were on a mission disguised as a photo walk that day; I was told we were chasing the light.

I was taught about the golden hour and how light would be hiding in little pockets of the streets. We split into halves as we trailed through the interconnected labyrinth. The photographer brought us to halts at crumbling walls and gates where the paint had faded. He then directed the models to turn those spaces into backdrops. As I watched the bright vitality of the young model posing in front of a stained wall, I could almost picture the man who once lived there poke his head out of the window above her head in confusion. There we were, turning remnants of history into snapshots that helped sell the colors adorning the model. I wasn’t sure if it was wrong. But the models looked like intruders.

I was made to intrude myself, on another street where we didn’t have to chase the light. I was the model wrapped in the brightest blue under a golden sky. We walked about searching for spots and the photographer let out a shout of exhilaration at the head of a street. We caught up to her to see a truck, loading up with numerous stalks of green bananas. We asked the men in mundukal and bandanas if we could take pictures. They said yes in polite confusion and a moment later, I was standing at the edge of their shed, surrounded by infinite stalks of bananas and men hauling them about.

It was much later that I read somewhere that a small bunch of bananas is called a hand. The stalks were clusters of hands. In a moment, I was back on that street, surrounded by hands, standing as a still prop while they lived their day around me.

It astounds me sometimes, how a path of cobblestones and wide sidewalks allows us to be our most human selves. I remember turning from the traffic-laden bright busyness of the main road into a street made just for me. That’s how it felt on entering; that the street had been constructed with the sole purpose of welcoming me. I looked about to see the same shift in everyone who walked in. We could all feel what was in the air- it was poetry.

I spent that Saturday night in a street where no vehicle could enter, surrounded by cool air bursting with music and laughter. There was art and jewelry and funny phone cases in stalls down the street. Somehow, even as the street continued to fill with the young and loud crowd, I felt cut off from the rest of the world. The space lined with buildings and cafes and graffiti walls seemed to stand in protection of the collective intimacy we craved but can often never find.

The long street that led from the city to the beach, was one I couldn’t walk down fast enough. It was bright and loud and there wasn’t an inch that wasn’t owned by someone or the other. We parked our scooters amidst a line of others, choosing to walk instead, but it wasn’t a street to stroll down. There seemed to be urgency and a strange rhythm under everyone’s feet. I walked to the end, past uniformed officers and teetering couples to enter the beach and I understood. The street was a prelude, preparing us for what lay at its foot. I walked into that raucous and disturbingly vibrant beach and I knew that the street had to be jarring to match this.

The very sand seemed to shift under the cacophony of music, each a different style. They seemed to collide into each other, and again I found a space where almost every inch was owned. The street hadn’t been one to stroll down because nobody was here to stroll. People were here to push everything past the limit.

Every street I walked with, showed me the heart of its people and the very nature of the city. I learned there were people who didn’t care where you stood as long as you let them do their jobs. I saw there were cities that recognized the bursting energy of its youth and gave them spaces to share it. I found that some places had infamous reputations for a reason. There was nothing the streets could hide, nothing it wanted to. I walked into the streets and every time I walked out, I was given a story to tell.

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