I hold the camera in my hands, licking my lips. The icy wind finds its way to my wrists, my neck, my ankles; every inch of exposed skin; and it feels like someone is pressing a block of ice to my face. The cold sun is shaded by pregnant grey clouds.
I creep along these city streets, as silent as a shadow. The sky is stained with pale purple evening light, and soft rain begins to fall, dripping down my cheeks like glassy tears. I pull the camera towards me, beneath the flaps of my soft coat. The rain slowly grows stronger, falling on the silvery pavement to where it rises up in plumes of ragged fog.
“Of course,” I grumble to myself, fishing for a hat inside my backpack, shocked that it’s still not cold enough to snow. Torrents of glistening rain shoot down from the sky, running in a river down the sidewalk, and all the lights get caught up in it, so that it seems like a wavering yellow stream coursing down the road. My arms are full of textbooks – I’m on my way home from art class – and the camera swings from a sash around my neck.
I kneel down on the sidewalk, placing the books underneath a bench behind me. I focus the lens, twirling the long tunnel until I’ve captured a small glint of green I see in the far distance, oddly bright amongst the other washed-out hues spinning around me. I snap the picture. It’s an abstract shot, but the colors seem to move inside the frame. Satisfied, I click the lens cap into place and resume my walk, lost in thought.
As I approach the light, I realize that it is actually coming from a rickety, wheeled cart, pushed by a decrepit old woman with hair so stringy that it looks like pieces of sea grass waving from her head. I can’t tear my eyes away from the dark lines of her ancient face. Slowly, the cart rattles towards me, and we lock eyes. Hers are a cloudy blue. One of them is covered by the spidery grayness of a cataract.. On her cart are what seems to be a million different objects, all whittled from the same deep teal-blue glass.
“You want to buy?” she says in a painfully hoarse voice.
“How much?” I say, hoping to distract her attention. I want to photograph this bizarre display – an ancient hag of a woman, next to these oddly incandescent bulbs and jars of glass. The glass looks almost bewitched. It shimmers with an inner glow, piercing through the billowing, waxy fog.
To my delight, she holds up one finger and plods around to the other side. Her footsteps are agonizingly slow. I can see that her ankles, bulging from beneath her grey stockings, are swollen with ulcers.
Quickly, I raise the shutter and snap a picture of the strange woman.
“Ah! You have camera! Okay. Take as many as you want,” the woman says from the other side. Silently, I bite my lip in frustration – the flash had gone off, a brilliant spark in the gloom. Now that I’ve blown my cover, however, I decide to take advantage of the situation.
“Will you take a picture with me?” I say, lacing my voice with innocence. “I can just call someone over from the street.” Secretly, I’m thinking that I could probably add a hilarious caption to this picture and post it online. My friends would have a field day. The woman is so bizarre looking; her skin is almost purple, and her long, waxy white hair looks like it should belong to a witch.
She turns to look at me, and her blue eyes send a shiver down my spine. “Oh, you can take alright,” she says.“Go! Take away!” She throws her arms up. They are covered with purple spider veins that seem to hang like worms draped over her flesh. But she isn’t finished. “You take! You laugh… at me!” she shouts, voice rising and falling like a sailboat on a stormy sea, pitching and tossing, rearing and falling, loud and soft. “You, you, with your boots and your jackets–” and she grips the silver buttons on my red coat with one gnarled hand. “I curse you.”
“Excuse me…” I muttered, turning away. The rain began to fall harder, splattering on the pavement. “Are you threatening me?” I can’t keep the laughter out of my voice, although my hands are shaking.This lady is a lunatic, a freak.
“You know, I used to have dreams too. I used to have friends, so many good friends, and dignity too. Things don’t always turn out the way you plan. I held myself above everyone else… and I paid.” Her blue eyes are far away, somewhere else. “And now you take, take everything from me… People like you, laugh at people like me… Everything turns around in the wheel of life… Nothing could save me from this.” She is breathing heavily, chest crashing down on her ribs, up and down. Her stare seems to scrape into my soul.
I take a slow step back. People are beginning to look at us, muttering, casting looks at the crone. The old woman’s mouth dribbles spit down her chin.
I laugh, but my voice breaks. My eyes flutter towards the small crowd of people that is beginning to form. Folding my arms across my chest, I shiver as a cold wind drowns the landscape in ice. Suddenly, I realize. The people around us are staring at me. They’re judging me, looks of disgust on their face. They’re laughing at me.
And I, I am the one who feels out of place.
Suddenly, pictures seem to flash before my eyes. Me and my friends, laughing, laughing, our haughty scowls sending rays of grey darkness out over the cafeteria… A clock ticking, a golden wheel spinning, somewhere in the deep roiling air of a distant, stormy sky. Eyes watching me, watching me as I whisper daggers and poison and watched them flow like a river throughout the halls, until they finally reached the victim, sweetly murderous.
A person in a dark coat approaches me. I stumble, and one of the textbooks falls out of my arms. “How could you do that? Stupid kid,” the man says.
My eyes widen. “I… I don’t, I mean…”
“What kind of a person are you? Teenagers today,” he mutters, voice low.
I whirl around, and brake into a run. Cold air bites at my throat. Once I’ve made it far enough away, I creep into a little coffeehouse crammed in between two nearly identical pharmacies. It is warm inside, but I can’t get the images of their icy glares out of my mind.
Only then do I sit down to look at the photos. For a second I cannot believe what I am seeing.
On the screen in front of me, clear as day, is the rickety old cart. The woman looks at me through those same mealy blue eyes. But the glass is gone. It isn’t there. The cart is empty.
I zoom in and out. Only then, as I am passing by the corner of the photo, do I notice a few tiny blue-green orbs of light drifting towards some foreign silver light coming from a source I cannot see.
The woman’s words sting me. She is old, she is a bag lady, abandoned on the street… but somehow she’d managed to unveil the truth that no one else had dared to. The peoples’ laughter echoes in my head, over and over.
I look again at the photograph, wondering. The woman has a slight smile on her creased lips.
My gaze flickers towards the windowpane. My eyes are a cloudy blue.
Age 14, Grade 9