Thursday 24 January 2008

Green on Orange

He's got a red plastic badge on his lapel. It reads, "Drug Free". He's about 75, black, wearing a faded suit. He walks through the subway car with some bright green sheets of A4 paper, placing one carefully beside each seated passenger, like a schoolteacher dispersing handouts through a classroom. No one moves, responds, or says a word.

As he reaches the other end of the car, he turns and returns down the car, picking the sheets up again. He passes me without collecting the sheet beside me, he notices that I'm reading, and so leaves me be until the very end, and mine is the last sheet to be collected. I'm probably the only one who has shown any interest in even glancing at his tale of woe, his interface with the world. There's a handful of sentences written in black biro, badly photocopied. He had probably sat down at his kitchen table with someone who could write and spell good, to work out what he could possibly say to explain himself in words.

In the short letter, he describes how he was "pushed from a high porch" sometime in his childhood, and some years later began to get epileptic fits and blackouts. "From 1952 - 62 I was strong and healthy", it said. "I am also a James Brown imitator. I consider myself to be a good artist. Please help as much as you can. Yours sincerely, --- ----". Underneath, a black thumb-sized smudge that has the silhouette of a passport photo, and a photocopy of some rubberstamped, slightly official looking text that said "James Brown" in heavy typeset, probably some fan club membership letter that he was sent back in the sixties, maybe during that golden period of his life.

Finally, he comes to me. "Are you finished?", he asks me. "Yes", I answer, "thanks very much". "You're welcome", he replies. And he picks up the lime green sheet, replaces it to the pile in his hand, and falls back into the orange bucket seat, with a sigh.

And the train goes across the bridge, and Manhattan's twinkling nightlights get closer, and soon our D train is sucked in, sucked in... The doors open at Grand street. He heaves himself up out of his seat, out of the train, and across the platform.

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