By: Bethelhem Teame
Nameless. Just another blur face in the crowd. Another character without a line. Another extra in the background.
“I used to be quite famous, I used to be someone back in my country…but look at me now…” he trailed in his sentence and searched my eyes to see if I, random stranger, have believed his random revelation about his earlier life in his native land. “I was one too….at least in my own way.” I said it inwardly and cowardly. I don’t have the marbles or the guts to say that out loud. You see, culturally, as a society we are programmed not to engage in advertising or talking about ourselves in public or out loud. Where I came from it is generally frown upon to self-promote yourself or your work. You covertly wait for others to praise you and your work with gawking hunger and deep thirst . I know this is some sort of perverted hypocrisy but what to do? I nodded my head to give him the ‘go on’ he was looking for.
Seeing he now has my full attention on him, he took a drag at his cigarette, puffing his cigarette’s smoke in style, making small circles that disappeared into the air as soon as they come. I looked at him fascinated….Some people have that effect on me without trying as so much. They hook me just like that and I get hooked easily and willingly. The good thing is that it doesn’t happen often….it is hard to find people who grab your attention and concentration without them trying so much.
I studied his face from his half turned profile, it does tell a story. I wanted to know the story. If I play my cards right today, I might get to hear that story that is reflected on his face, in his entire essence and presence. I looked at the grocery bag I was carrying and I checked the Pepsi can, it is still cold….I thank God. He has started to whistle now, his cigarette long gone but its fainting stench dawdling back……what he was whisling sounds familiar, something I sing all the time….Oh I get the tune now. It is amazing grace. I smiled. I didn’t want to interrupt his a cappella….It is beautiful and in that sunny and warm day, on the strangely quiet road, in front of the Deli Grocery, from the behind of secondhand bookstand, his amazing grace echoed. I gestured an offer for the cold drink, he nodded his acceptance and stood up to fetch me a chair that was neatly folded under his bookstand. He set up the chair and cleaned it for me with his hands all the while whistling his song animatedly. I sat down without waiting to get invited for the seat….There was this strange vibe about him that wants you to pay attention to what he has to say.
“Sometimes, I miss the place I was born and raised up. That place where everybody knows my name, he looked up at me and smiled weakly. It did not convince either of us. “That place where I learned my first word with my first language, that place where I ran and played around with my peers, where the old ladies and gentlemen called me by my name and warn me to slow down, the place where I ever saw a girl who made my heart skip a beat as she passed by the neighborhood street when I was sitting down with my friends who grew up with me, the place where I wrote my first love letter which I wrote to that girl …the place of my childhood and adulthood….” He cleared his throat and I could tell he was fighting his tears back. “But also the same place that broke my heart into many pieces, that same place that made me loath my identity, that place that drove me out of my home, that place that made me wander to other places where nobody knows my name…”
I wanted to cry. I wanted to bawl, actually. But I bit my lips and swallowed back my unstable emotions. Crying won’t do us any good.
He took a long sip from his can and went on to say, “I worked hard in that place and earned a good life and name. I was respected in that place and walked high, my suits embellished with achievement medals. I was big there but I am out on the streets here. That place broke my heart and I decided to wander out….to a place far away from home, across the borders and the ocean waters….to a place where I am nameless, faceless and voiceless. Just an extra on the background when the real actors are in role and in lead in the drama of life. Just another face in the crowd, another character without line…”
His face emanated the whole shebang of emotions as he said his monologue about his life….Anger, regret, hurt, suffering, shame, betrayal, disappointment, embarrassment, hate, embitterment ….And again determination, perseverance, wistfulness and love. It was mosaic of animated colors and emotions passing by….I think that is what made his face deep and down at the same time, rugged with scars of life. A face that tells a story, that narrates the drama of his life.”
As I sat there motionless and speechless….contemplating carefully my next words for him, I couldn’t come up with something smart. He is anything but nameless. He was a survivor, a hero…..and the only acclaimed actor who solely can play the lead in the drama of his life….he has deep, touching, motivating and original lines as the character in the lead and stood up front this time, and I was one of the captivated audience on the front row.