Letter To America

Entry by: Tauren

18th October 2016
The elderly man shuffling down the street, not limping, but favouring one leg, giving him a rolling gait, would by some be described as unkempt, though most would use the word scruffy. He is unshaven, yet unbearded, and despite the warmth of this late summer’s day he is wearing a black knit cap, matching fingerless gloves, with only the top button of his knee length great coat undone. He has an unremarkable appearance, which has never before been remarked upon; the only unusual thing about him is the foot square of slate tucked under one arm, which, because it is the same colour as his coat, is as invisible as he is.

I do not know his name, have never seen anyone talk to him, but he looks like a Joe to me, yes I think I shall call him Joe, if that`s all right with you?

At the cathedral, he mounts the steps that run the width of the plaza, pauses at the fifth, looks around, then goes up one more, looks around again. He shuffles eight feet to his right, and finally with the view he desires, stops, undoes the bottom three buttons of his coat and eases himself onto the seventh step, using it as a seat, where he rests, seemingly gathering his strength.

He is an island of stillness in a sea of turmoil, below him on the small plaza, people hurry past each other, rushing through each task to get to the next, so they can rush through that, and then the onto the next; ad infinitum, though perhaps the more appropriate term should be, ad nauseam.
He is not the only island of stillness though; thirty feet to his right, close to the kerb is a young man operating a hot dog cart, the barrow type, with an umbrella. Its wheels, large wooden imitations of wagon wheels; something that someone in marketing most certainly thought would put people in mind of the good old days, most likely describing it as “Olde Worlde” during the presentation; he, or she, no doubt mistakenly pronouncing the E`s.

Joe slips the slate onto his lap, fishes a nub of white chalk from the recesses of a pocket, and with fastidious care begins to sketch, first the cart, then the vendor. A full twenty minutes later he relaxes, satisfied with his work.
A pair of shadow`s fall across him; a young couple, tripping down the steps, insane with love, happen upon him and have peeked over his shoulder. The young man, either impressed with his work, or in an attempt to impress his new beau, has pulled a bill from his pocket and is searching for somewhere to deposit it. But Joe had neither removed his hat, nor had he laid out any other receptacle. He is neither a beggar nor a street artist, he sketches because it is what he must do, and for no other reason.
The young man gives his girl a `what do I do now look` and she shrugs, so he returns the money to his pocket and they continue on downward, still as besotted as before. Joe for his part thinks nothing of them; they have passed unseen, his attention never straying from the hot dog cart.

The vendor is doing brisk business this close to noon, and a pair of men in suit`s join the short queue, two men that could not have been more different. There is at least thirty years between them, the younger man so thin, he could almost be said to be emaciated, his clothes shabby, almost threadbare.
His older companion by comparison is immaculately turned out in his bespoke suit and hundred dollar haircut and, well……. It would be generous to describe him as corpulent, and ungenerous to describe him accurately.
The collar of his shirt is cinched so tightly about his throat as to put you in mind of a corset, his face so flushed that you could easily believe he was attempting to strangle himself with his own tie.

Joe sets about sketching him, not with the same care he had the vendor and cart, but with broad quick strokes, catching not the form of the man, but the essence of him.

When it is their turn the young man orders for both of them, handing the first dog to his companion, who promptly devours it, then holds out his hand for another. The younger man had obviously planned for this because he had purchased not one, but two more dogs. With three curving sweeps Joe infills the man`s gluttony into the sketch.

Without warning, and loud enough to be heard over the hubbub of the crowd and the passing traffic, the older man declares that, “When Trump is president he`s going to kick all them Ragheads,” and here he jerks a thumb towards the hot dog vendor, “Out of our country.”
He neither knows, nor cares that Hamid had been born in Queens, or that his father had served in Vietnam, though I am sure if he had been told this he would have asked, with absolutely no irony, “On which side?”

No in this new reality, this new America, it is considered brave to say aloud what everyone else is thinking, to speak the truth and damn the politically correct. How unsurprising it is to discover such similarities between this man`s truth and bigotry.
Here is a man who feels comfortable, when in polite company, to describe all people of Arab extraction as either Raghead`s, or Sand Niggers. What he calls them in impolite company, I cannot recount here.
But suffice it to say, that in the unlikely event he should ever grace any locker room with his presence, it will be the same one frequented by his tangerine coloured hero.

As they draw abreast of the artist the older man crumples up his soiled napkin, casually tossing it aside. For the first time emotion flickers across Joe`s face, not anger, not even irritation, more a look of sad disappointment, and then it passes. He reaches into an inside pocket and retrieves a handkerchief; it is old and well used, but for the most part clean. He pushes his hat back from his forehead, mops his brow clear of sweat, then inspects the cloth, finds the dampest part, wraps it around his index finger, and with vigorous, almost violent effort, erases the man from the slate.
The fat man stops, looks around, surprise on his face, he sees Joe for the first time, opens his mouth as if to speak, perhaps to protest, then winks out of existence.

A tall woman in a knee length skirt, a patent leather briefcase slung over one shoulder, who had just begun to change direction to avoid the man, reorients her course, walking straight through where he`d stood just seconds earlier without registering his disappearance.

The younger businessman pauses, looking around, he had obviously been mid-sentence, he has the mildly startled look of someone who`s heard an unexpected noise, but seeing nothing untoward he turns away, continuing his journey as if he`d been alone the whole time.

Joe returns the kerchief to its pocket, grips the jacket sleeve cuff, and with two sweeps of his forearm wipes the slate clean.
When he stands, his back “Cricks” loudly in protest as he arches it. Then, tucking the slate back into its accustomed place, he refastens the three buttons, before carefully, and slowly, descending the steps.

As he shuffles past he makes sure to smile at Hamid, bidding him a “Good day,”, and it is a glorious day. His next appointment is three blocks south and he is in no hurry, she isn’t due for another hour.