A photo a day keeps the dragon at bay: #9

Pictures that make me feel something. From the cold, roaring heart of the beast that is China.

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Old couple, Licun, 2020

I have no idea what I was doing in the old part of the city that afternoon. I had no business being there. At the best of times, it’s a rough-and-rowdy industrial hood where everyone always seemed to be chasing new money, that lush Olympic sprinter no one ever gets to fuck. You’d be hard pressed to find a more banged-up model of the hamster wheel posing as the rat race anywhere. I was just wandering around, completely strung out. It was one of those days when the singular and supreme effort involved with navigating a sensory cesspool is the only way to get your mind of Things.
After stumbling down a back alley entirely devoted to the to the dog and cat meat trade (I’ve written at length about critters in cages before, but it never gets easier), I turned a corner to hear a sweetish sound rising above the din. An old man was sitting next to his woman on the pavement peacefully playing the ehru, a traditional Chinese string instrument. Seeing as I haven’t heard any real music for quite some time – the tinny kitsch blaring from every nook and cranny 24/7 around here doesn’t count – I was hypnotised by the fine, haunting moan rising from the little red amplifier at his feet. I stood around listening for a while, then I sat down on the concrete across from them. They didn’t seem to mind. The woman was quietly sorting through a large bag of colourful stacks of paper. Perhaps they were the blueprints for the true revolution that never happened.
As the melody and the subway crowds continued to swell around us, I noticed that the cup in front of them was empty. Busking sure ain’t what it used to be. With the sleight-of-hand switch to a cashless society being pulled over here without skipping a beat, I guess they were just another couple of casualties left kerbside on the fast track to technocracy. I was fumbling for my wallet any old how, as one would reach for a phantom limb in the midst of night. All I found was my phone, snug against my thigh. I guess old habits die hard.
Seeing as we’re going nowhere fast in the shit show that world theatre has become, watching this duo I couldn’t help but wonder if my woman and I would also end up on some street corner around here one day. I hope not. Neither one of us can play the ehru, and even though we’ve squarely earned the right to sing the blues, that doesn’t quite make for an exclusive act anymore. After a while I simply got up and slipped away like a thief into the crowd.
Today at dawn, when I was out again in that neck of the woods scouting for a new project I’m working on, I was surprised to see them crossing the deserted street in front of the station. Like sprightly sweethearts, they were gently holding hands in the amber light. I’ve never seen two people looking so beautifully alone. The few crumpled notes I vowed to always carry with me since our first encounter on that frazzled afternoon were starting to beat their wings wildly inside my pocket, but the river between us has darkened with something sacred and pure. This was a time to be still.
I just stood there quiet as a beggar, wishing they would always keep walking, perfect as they were in that moment, over the threadbare strings behind my eyes until I could no longer hear in the dark.

© Jac Kritzinger.
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