Woman with dog.

Laoshan, China, 2020

Sometimes, when you have nothing better to do than chase the smoggy golden hour to the far-flung corners of the city, you get lost veering off the beaten track. On this particular morning I was shaken by a sleepless night and must have taken a wrong turn somewhere. Judging by the frosty stares I was drawing from passers-by, I was guessing they didn’t see many foreign devils around this ‘hood. An old lady actually stopped right in front of me and started hurtling a barrage of screeching, unintelligible abuse at my already fragile person.

I had no idea what could have upset her so. Like everyone else, I was dutifully wearing a mask, despite my better judgement and the early heat. Starting out, I thought I blended in quite well with my band of fellow forlorn highwaymen, all dressed up for that big ol’ heist none of us would ever pull off.

I guess my blue eyes gave me away. And the bulky Nikon on my hip probably didn’t help. Perhaps she thought I was a brash Russian spy. Or even worse, a rogue American tourist. With my trusted response of disarmingly weak Chinese not working its magic this time, I was forced to duck into an alley to escape her mounting fury. When I eventually stepped out onto a deserted square, it was as if I’ve entered into another world. Except for the ragged beating of my heart, it was eerily quiet. Across from me, on the far side, a young woman was placidly brushing her dog’s coat in the pale dawn light.

She looked up for just a second. Her eyes smiled, mine smiled back. I slid down with my back against the wall, stuffed the fucking mask into my pocket and just sat there watching them for a while. If she was aware of my tears, she wasn’t letting on.

I had no idea how I was going to get home. But then again, I’ve been lost for a long, long time. All in all, it was just another morning on the other side of town.

© Jac Kritzinger.
For photography, visit http://jackritzinger.co.za/
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