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Hummingbirds we don't see

In a moment

CHINA | Thursday, 15 May 2014 | Views [167] | Scholarship Entry

Plain. Real, I’m not making this up. Because this would be easier to forget. If one could.

The Taiwan-style fried chicken sizzles in its paper packet, two sets of wood picks digging their way in and out. I half concentrate on surroundings, half on the relief that wanders its way through my mouth, as I swerve my legs in and out of machine and human traffic. Horns blare all around me threatening to make my ear drums elderly. Smoke rises from the heat of day mixed in with fumes. The sun starts to creep down over head. My friend just meters in front, leads the way through what should be a messy Thailand or Vietnam.

A quick step'n a jump over a rail track and I look on with astonishment at the wheelchair line full of capable walkers. Ants of black and white suits, peppered full of funky colored adolescents file their way into the subway we are avoiding. Some stare back at me, the foreigner, one of many in this spot. But no one stares at the object; from which over all the chaotic noise, I am suddenly drawn to:
A soft voice over a microphone that catches my ears. Sad small soft incomprehensible yet lovable notes tune their way out of a small scrawl of a girl. Sitting in sack cloth and Beijing ashes, her dark skin and big pupils stare routinely out into the crowd that pass her by. Pointed bones, nutrition-less muscles, a mic the measure of her face; she hesitantly but continuously hums her song like a hummingbird. A dirty jewel in the middle of chaos.

An old long-bearded man sits behind her donning a beggars’ outfit, his face weather beaten by the years. As everything stops into slow motion, her doe eyes catch mine. They say nothing; but look straight into me. I see straight back into her. Emptiness. Hopelessness.

I have seen them before but not like this. My work means I know she is not his child and that a gang would likely jump me if I tried to snatch her. But for a brief moment, I consider it. Stopped dead in my tracks, people push by, yet I can’t move. But she has. Moved on. She is already back facing the other way. An eerie smile reaches the old man’s lips and I can feel my heart pounding his head into the ground as I snatch her away.

Then I am back in my body. My friend is gone. So like the hypocrite I am, I move on, back in with the rest of the crowd that don’t care. I catch up. My friend just meters in front, leads the way through what should be a messy Thailand or Vietnam. But it is just rush hour as usual in WuDaoKou, Beijing’s North West end.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip

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