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the white table

The days are not long. The nights are short. Guitars are hiding in cases, with scraps of paper tucked inside. The pen is full. There is a fresh notebook, with creamy pages. The little white desk is in the middle of the living room, a cascade of receipts and laundry perched on it.

I clean it off, have lunch as it stares back at me. This focal point, this fulcrum where my thoughts become real, this cheap folding table from Ikea. It is familiar, and patient.

the choice is his (no surrender)

I load the tiny Leica at the kitchen table, the CL that almost fits in my palm. There are piles of broken asphalt downstairs and the remnants of a flash flood. Maybe there is a picture there, some workers out of focus with their great machines as the puddles turn opaque with dirt and oil.

Downstairs the backhoes and the rollers are rumbling back and forth, men in rain ponchos are grinding down curb stones. A truck with tar and gravel beeps in a steady rhythm. The entire neighbourhood is like this, all overturned fences and exposed earth. Pipes are being replaced deep in the ground. Welding torches light up in the mornings with a snakelike hiss. They all know the snow is coming, it could be here in a week or two. The ground will grow cold and stiff. Those great puddles with nowhere to go will turn to ice. At night the temperature already hovers just around zero.

Past the farmer's market, another crew is laying down a fresh layer of asphalt. There are more random piles of old road, standing like odd spikes to photograph. And then I see a driver jumping from behind the wheel of the backhoe. He punches one of the workers, one hit directly on the nose. The old man does not fight back. His hands hang limp at his sides, beneath the transparent poncho. The driver is just in a t-shirt, tight to his biceps, his black hair is short, his face unshaved. More shouting, and he presses the worker's face against the muddy ground.

The frail man does not fight back, no fists raised, no dispute, no denial. He barely defends himself, as he slides away and tries to stand up on the wet grass. Another flurry of words from the driver, his fist dangles in the air, telegraphing his next punch. It comes, and the man absorbs it more sponge than human. The other workers say nothing. They keep to their wheelbarrows. No shovels twist in their hands to defend him. It is as if this is not real to them. My camera slides into a pocket. A mother and her child stand near me, all of us watching the altercation.

This is not something to photograph. Not here. That would just be foolish.

I make my legs move, bringing me towards to the trolley buses that lurch towards the metro station. I do not look back. That man was trapped. He could run off and let the driver lose some steam. But no, something forces him to stay, something larger than this moment. Nothing remains but his surrender. He could easily be a migrant, an illegal. Many of them come to Moscow to make money to send home, supporting entire families with the handful of rubles they earn sweeping the streets and picking up garbage. The police hound everyone that looks like him, asking for documents and when he admits that he does not have them he can be carted off, or a bribe will let him off the hook. The choice is his.


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