A snail's life

Fortunately, in this city it is not common to come across people carrying everything they have from one place to another, stripped of their dignity.

With a purple scarf adorning his neck, faded army green trousers and a worn checkered coat, José keeps smiles in his pocket. I don't even know if his name is Joseph, but that's how I baptized him; Maybe one day I'll ask you what your name is.

I can't guess José's age: I'd say more than thirty, less than fifty. The long dreadlocks that reach the waist indicate a lifetime, but without accuracy.

The wrinkles on the face are not very expressive. He certainly has a regretful look about the emptiness of loneliness.

I've been running into José for several years when I'm walking around the city. By car, I have stopped at the zebra crossing several times so he could exercise his right as a pedestrian. When we meet, he asks me for a coin and, in return, offers me an honest smile.

One day, I asked at the grocery store on the street, where he wanders most often, if they knew his story. They just told me that he was peaceful, as long as he was medicated. The choice of the term “peaceful” worried me; It made me want to know more (in theory) about the violent side of Man. I discovered Steven Pinker who argues that there are good angels in our nature — that we are not a violent species, even though the news may lead us to think otherwise. José allows the medication to put the evil angels to sleep.

Recently, I found it in an area far from the city center. The smile was there, the faded pants and the torn coat, too. But he had a checkered scarf around his neck in shades of red, brown and beige, the kind that immediately reminds us of a perfume. I fantasized that someone with just plastic money in their wallet had offered him the scarf in exchange for a wide smile.

I confess that the image of the scarf, contrasting with the rest of his clothing, worried me, but not as much as seeing him pushing his mobile home, gathered in a supermarket shopping cart. An existence hoarded in plastic bags of various colors and sizes, on a patchwork blanket more torn than shredded with napkin decorating the iron. I knew that José was homeless, but seeing him like that, carrying his life around like a snail, moved me.

Fortunately, in this city it is not common to come across people who carry everything they have from one place to another, stripped of their dignity. Lonely souls who fall asleep wherever tiredness overcomes them, with the stars as a ceiling.

After this last meeting, months passed and I didn't see José again. Maybe, next time, I'll ask him what his name is and, hand out with a note, I'll offer him my smile in exchange for nothing.



Author: Analita Alves dos Santos is an author and literary mentor



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