Skip to main content
Returning to his dented chair, John reminds me, “You don’t have money to go into town.” He doesn’t say this maliciously — he is right — but he still deflates my bubble.
I came to this country for love but practicing what I love does not pay. I find myself in a Catch 22 when I’m supposed to be contemplating Freedom 55.
Back home, in St. Kitts in the Caribbean, I transformed my students’ lives. I saw children destined for academic failure blossom because they discovered art and I mattered to them. I commanded respect—
“I’ll drive you down to the madness,” John interrupts my daydream. “I’ll get a kick out of watching those yahoos freeze in their tents.” He makes the chair crackle as he sits to watch TV.
Traffic near St. James Park is like sludge. Streets are cordoned to block traffic and allow the protestors to march. People rush toward the park, their raucous jeers piercing the air. Mounted policemen look at the maze, unable to restore order. The air is electric.
“Why don’t you drive around while I snap some photos?” I know driving is impossible in this mess, John will have to go somewhere else. We agree to meet in an hour.
The searing blast of icy air whips around my ears as I get out of the car. Struggling to get my camera gear out, the cold tripod slips out of my hand. I pick it up and something else falls out of my purse. Someone honks for John to get moving. From the steering wheel, John smiles at me and rolls his eyes at the chaos I’ve created.
“That’s why I love you, crazy woman!” He speeds off, only to catch up to traffic 500 meters ahead.
Dense with people and hundreds of tents, the park mushrooms larger, taller than I’ve ever seen it before. Pitched are bell tents, fly tents and tube tents. There are tipis, tarps, wigwams and even a yurt that acts as a reference library for the protesters. Inside the tents, people sing and smoke pot, read pamphlets and prepare signs. The air is as festive as a carnival.
People chant, Is it need or is it greed? We are the 99% who live in a tent. We won’t repent!
I take a picture of a masked Anonymous holding a sign that reads, Democracy for sale and another, of a young man hanging upside down from a tree branch, juggling what look like big plastic bowling pins. Small groups gather around organizers who wear red wigs and shout slogans into their bullhorns. A young woman clutches a heart-shaped red pillow in front of my camera, smiling sadly and smelling like cinnamon. I click and move along. A melancholic bearded man holds a cardboard sign, too small for me to read without my glasses, and stands next to a bucket full of something green. Our eyes meet. I near him, ready to snap, when I read his sign, Free peas.
Free peas? Juggling from trees? I cannot identify with these young activists full of weird ideas. These protestors are callow, don’t understand the woes of the world, and I am freezing out here. Perhaps John is right, what are they trying to accomplish? Does King High Finance care about this circus?
The camp, pitched a couple of days earlier, already shows signs of decay. The garbage bins overflow and tin cans lie flattened over trodden grass. I find a used condom amongst the rubble.
I need to get out. I reach for my phone and beg John to pick me up. Immediately. Before I hang up, someone taps my shoulder. Towering behind me is a tall Rasta man wearing a red turban which makes him seem even taller. Convinced he wants to preach to me, I start to move away.
His hand remains on my shoulder. The Rasta man smiles majestically and his eyes pierce into mine, as if we are familiar. “Pardon, but — you a teacher in de Caribbean, right? Yeah, me know so,” he says, reading my surprised expression. “Me nah can forget me art teacher from when I was twelve.”
The march is about to start and the volume in the park quadruples. Someone tugs at the towering man, urging him to return to the impatient crowd. In the impulse of the moment, I hand my camera to a stranger and ask him to take our picture. Click. Then I watch the red turban as it is swallowed into a sea of bobbing heads and placards of discontent.
Back in John’s condo, I download the files and show him the picture. “Last time I saw him, he was in sixth grade.” I try to remember. “He didn’t have time to tell me his name. I don’t know who he is!”
He recognized me, after all these years.
John says, “Your roots spread far from the tree, young lady.” He always calls me that, young lady.
Some lives are lived gently while others are fast and manic. Mine is slowing into manageable chunks. I do not understand all of it, but I have learned to live peacefully with my discontent. These days, it is hard to kindle any kind of fire in my belly but, I know I’ve mattered in the past and still do now.
Not paying attention to my story, John turns the TV on. Defiant protesters say they will camp until—
I switch the TV off and kiss John’s lips.