–The above is a photo taken of a street in Messina, South Africa.–
–The following is a written sketch of my own sheltered experience in Messina.—
A pin thin old man pulls himself into a ball on his side. On the main street of Messina, an overflowing garbage can provides some shade from the unclouded sun. The old man’s sweat stains the sidewalk a darker shade of beige beneath him. He wears only a torn wife beater, once white, and a pair of oversized jean shorts, once pants. The light brown bottoms of his bare feet contrast the rest of his black body. Another bare foot, smaller than the old man’s, kicks the tight silver curls that cover his head. The old man remains still.
The foot that kicked him has now run to join his friends on the opposite side of the street below a store’s sign, it’s remaining letters read, “M_. Pr_ce”. The young men curl over themselves, laughing at the unconscious old man. Their smiles reveal different patterns in each of their mouths. The tallest of his friends, bulky and baldheaded, shows a piano in his grin; every other tooth is missing. The other boy, little but long- armed, exposes a hole in his face where his four front teeth should be. The boy that kicked the old man stops laughing first. He pinches his large brown lips tight around his full set of yellow teeth and runs his skinny fingers through his frizzy brown fro as he glances back toward the garbage can. The old man remains still.
A large woman wearing her baby like a backpack and a box of groceries like a hat nearly steps on the old man’s head as she tosses a candy wrapper on top of the brimming waste bin. She crosses the street to the side that boys stand on. The sidewalk on this side of the street drowns, invisible under the feet of the hundreds of people bustling outside of the bank, a broken down old building caged in by iron gates that protect it from the swarm. People pack together, shoulder to shoulder, stomach to back, outside of the bank waiting for their end of month’s pay.
The horde moves like an ocean as people push and pull creating a constant wave of motion amongst them as they crash in on the gates. They only manage to trickle through, person by person. Several individual ripples shake the crowd, as men raise fists, swinging them at each other until someone drowns in the mob, to be trampled over in the undertow while the wave continues toward the gates.
Soon, the mass has entirely engulfed the woman with the baby on her back. The people that plunge toward the bank from behind her squish the baby further and further into her back, suffocating the child’s screams. Amidst the chaos, the box of groceries falls from the woman’s head, pouring this week’s bread, bananas and eggs into the deep of the disorder.
The bread, bananas and eggs add to the swell of trash that floods the street these people swim on. Molding fruit peels, Plastic bags, ripped receipts, broken glass, fraying shoelaces and crinkled cardboard, overflow the road and drain out through the sidewalks where they congeal with scattered puddles of piss and vomit and sweat and blood.
The tall, bulky, baldheaded boy with the piano tooth smile plows his way through the crowd like a shark, whipping the raging bodies out of his way with ease, as he claims the fallen bananas for his own. He emerges from the throng with three big bananas to share with the boys. As they finish devouring the woman’s food, the three boys find themselves across the street, standing over the old man at the garbage can. They drop their peels, one by one on the old man’s head. The old man remains still.
Lindy Downie, like a lily pad caught in the current, floats out from the chaos. She dips back into the Volkswagen Meg and I have been waiting in, parked not far from the old man’s trashcan. Lindy throws a plastic bag and her purse on the passengers seat, doing up her seatbelt at the same time. She shoves her keys into the ignition and slams on the gas pedal. We race away from the mess of Messina but my mind stays with the old man at the trashcan. I pray that he hasn’t drowned.