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on vacation (see you next week)

On vacation.

the witness


Irakli turns onto a gravel road, the tires crunching past an old tractor, some yellow dogs barking against their chains, and then stops at a field overgrown with wildflowers. There are daisies and clusters of Queen Anne's Lace, little purple ones and even smaller yellow ones. He walks along the edge of the field. This is his land and someday the view that looks out at mountains and rolls down the hill will be from a back porch. His children will run through this grass, smelling the sweet air, feeling the rain on their faces. There are trees he has planted that already give fruit, handfuls of undersized apples and some cherries.

N is making a bouquet, her face just above the earth. She is smiling that Mona Lisa smile, her hair caught behind her ears.

I wander back down the road. There is no such thing as an old tractor I can resist. Their faded red paint and mud-caked tires are something that must be noted, standing witness by the side of the road. An old woman tiptoes across the gravel, her face tanned, the skin hanging loose from her arms. She crosses a wire fence into a yard and a big black turkey bounds from the shadows of a tree to greet her. She shouts, slapping at it, then feeds what I see are a cluster of baby ones in the tall grass. The big one keeps approaching and she speaks to him like a person, swatting at his head when he gets too close. Standing at the closest fence post, the Leica is small in my hands as I stand without breathing, waiting for the turkey to turn so his head will make a silhouette in the tall grass. I click once, without thought. They do not see me, so I will try for a few more. I am always surprised by how one situation offers people who see me from a mile away, their eyes burning into me, and how I can be invisible a few yards away from another person in a place as quiet and empty as this.


She sits in the shadows of a tree now, the turkey next to her as she pats his head and holds long conversations with him. I think of the market we walked through the day before. The streets were hot and full of dust. A gypsy girl no older than six was carrying an infant wrapped in some old cloth, begging from the black Mercedes sedans that passed. Motorcycles scream past us, mufflers removed or customized to make them sound like fighter jets. I pull the Leica close to my side, turning the lens against me so it does not get full of dust. The market will close soon and there is a smell that runs up to us, of animal blood and rotting fruit, of cheese going sour. I walk ahead, passing faces that are exhausted, men covered in stubble, women with mascara running down their cheeks. Eyes are bloodshot, cheeks painted with white wrinkles and suntans. They all follow my movements, even if the camera comes up to my hip, they bristle in expectation. I feel like I am in the Georgian counterpart to a Fellini casting session for a prison film. The men look dangerous. The women have sharp tongues. There are knifes sitting on stools to cut the fruit open, for buyers to taste sulguni cheese or a piece of dried fruit leather. They shine, dull and silver in the hot sun and I begin to understand I cannot take any pictures here.

A tall young woman in hot pants stalks past us. I see a bruise under one eye behind her mirrored sunglasses. Crossing the street to the other half of the market, I pass close to the faces, the hard hands, the smell of desperation thick around us.

There is a second floor in the concrete building, maybe a parking garage on another day. There are no people here. Even the neat piles of fruit are alone in the silence, just the sun edging in strange long shapes across the grey floor. A giant tank of trout stands blue, the fish swarming, wet and slick.



Comments

Annie said…
Beautiful...so evocative. I went there with you.

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