The Alleyway People
The Alleyway People
By: Seth Moris
It was one of many decaying metropolises. But it was their home. A chromatic desert, the sight of grays, whites, blacks and chipped fading paints whitewashed by the sun and the rain. Their eyes pulsated with longing, for reds, oranges, purples, blues and greens. The sky was gray. The buildings were gray. The people were gray, huddled into their dark coats with high collars. Adapted to the grayness, to the pervasive chill. They were of it, and it was of them. Like begets like.
But what was that, you ask, in the distance? You will see them, you have seen them. They are like human soapstone, like moss covered rocks. Your mind has lost its grip on them seconds after seeing them. This is altogether different from being invisible; the black-globed cameras have no issue picking them up, their colors muted like the rest of the world into a dull electronic farce. This is the blessing and curse of being dim. No one saw you until you made a racket, and afterwards you were forgotten.
They dressed in primary colors, they dressed in synthetic colors the likes of which are only had because of petroleum alchemy, they dressed in overwhelming rustic tones, earth colors, and they dressed in blacks that were so deep they made even the darkest sight seem almost filmy. They dressed in ruined clothes patched over or sewn together or left to decay, and they dressed in expensive shoes, ironed suits. They could afford these extravagances because they were dim. And if they were gray they were the most fantastic, awe-ful depth of gray; the essence of grayness, not the half-assed gray and muck speckled urban sights.
And here they come, in the distance, walking between two strip of storefronts. You know the storefronts, smashed together so closely so as to resemble a broken, trailer-park smile. Slipping like phantoms posterior to these shoppes was an uncannily dense group of people. Made even more offensive to the senses was the fact they did not look the same. A young woman at the head of the pack was dressed in expensive business attire, and (god forbid a cliché) complete with a clipboard she held clutched in her arms, her black hair tied up into a knot, her designer contact eyes glinting even in the dull light.
Behind her! A young man with half a head of hair shaved off, with threadbare clothes held together by what appeared to be fishing line and safety pins; crudely printed cloth patches marked his leather vest like the ancient protective sigils of some lost civilization. In one hand he held a beaten up bottle of water; in the other was a cigarette. There were more! An old woman who looked as if she had walked straight out of a fairy tale, little purple shawl covering her body and clutched in wrinkled, bony hands. A man with sagging pants and straight brimmed baseball cap. A woman with colorful dreads that shone like the rainbow, with clothes to match. An older man who could have passed for any of our gym-teachers, or perhaps a construction worker; his thick arms bunching with muscle from a time long ago, his stomach protruding over his belt, but only slightly; and there were more people!
But their mere presence was enough to confuse the mind, to distort perceptions. How many were there in that little crowd? No one with eyes could say. They might have been oil and water, or like tea and milk. Their rapid progress seemed itself to be in slow motion, amid soggy and abandoned containers and paper parcels, soda cans and cigarette butts. Amid the garbage cans and dumpsters that smelled like month old fish. The woman with the clipboard stepped over a used condom, not a hint of disgust penetrating her stoic appearance. The young man with the ramshackle clothes laughed at the rubber, thinking to himself how they always look like deflated alien slugs. The rest of the crowd, its multicolored swirl of races and cultures and aesthetics convulsed like some sort of heart beat. Brain-beats.
When they approached the end of the alleyway, the woman with the clipboard turned and faced the crowd behind her. The group stopped immediately, snapping to attention. She was not their leader, but she was most definitely their organizer, and as they all had the respect of each other for their various merits. This was her ground. With all of the commotion, the group barely noticed a small boy had been chalking the sidewalk at the end of the alley with words that would have (probably) gotten him in trouble with his parents. The young lad had a backwards baseball cap; above the visor was a clear, blazing red “B”.
“Ok folks.” She said with a crack in her voice. Clearing her throat, she tried again. “Ok folks. You know why we are here. Do you all have your parts memorized? We have to get the timing difference on this down. We have to shave at least fifteen seconds off of our runtime. Questions?” The crowd stood silent, even the older woman with the purple shawl seemed more than content to proceed. It was then that a hand shot up, from the woman with the rainbow dreadlocks.
“What happens if the uh…” The woman with the rainbow dreads hesitated, looking for the words. “What happens if we see people trying to do things that uh…counter the whole deal.” The woman with a clipboard smiled, breaking the mask of equanimity; she was clearly excited to be there.
“Let them try. This is why we have Margie here. Right Marge?” The question was directed to the elderly woman, whose smile crinkled her watery eyes.
“Yes Ms. Williams.” The elderly woman said in a voice that managed to be high and soft and the same time. “I will make sure to run interference, so to speak.” She giggled at this. The woman with the clipboard turned to the rest of the crowd.
“Any other questions? Comments?” She asked briefly, but professionally. The man who could have been a gym teacher, or your friend’s army dad, coughed and raised his hand.
“Yes?” The woman called Ms. Williams asked curtly.
“Just to make sure, it was east street right? My zone? I know its silly but I keep thinking maybe it was wheasome street. Or west street?” He stated, turning the pitch up at the last second, turning the statement into a question. Beads of sweat, subtle, were growing on his forehead, his hands wrung nervously. The woman with the clipboard nodded.
“Yes, that would be east street. You shouldn’t second guess yourself so much Rudy. We can do this. Ok, anyone else?” No one spoke up.
The little boy who had been watching from the alleyway had snuck around the side of the alleyway with his little head half leaned across the corner, watching intently. The woman with the tied-up-hair and clipboard seemed to be in charge to the little boy, and he watched as they ceased talking and the crowd (so many people in such a small alleyway! thought the little boy) started to break apart and in small groups the people in the alleyway had begun to leave and turn right, or left, or any direction back out into the city.
The little boy drew back his head and pretended to be interested in the giant chalked “FUK PIGGS” graffito, while the crowd dispersed. What had been a crowd, what had been a crowded alleyway was now bare, save for the woman with the clipboard, who the little boy could had her face set in a small, but powerful, smile. The little boy felt lost in the ferocity of that miniscule smile, and didn’t realize he was staring at the woman until she fixed her eyes upon him and smiled even more widely.
“Why, hello there.” She said, and the little boy whisked his head around the corner to stare at the street full of cars and exhaust fumes, of dog walkers and women pushing baby strollers. The sudden contrast made his head spin, and when he heard her voice from around the corner, he stepped out.
“Its ok, I’m not going to yell at you.” The woman said. The boy stepped into the alleyway.
“Who’se you all?” He asked her, obviously meaning the crowd that had since disintegrated.
“We are just people. Like you.” She said, still smiling. Ms. Williams walked over to the exit of the alley, and crossed her arms around the clipboard that was hugged tightly to her chest.
“Whatchu guys doin’?” The little boy asked, his eyes wide. “Is it some sorta parade?” At this response, Ms. Williams actually let loose a laugh, which sounded like music among a cacophony.
“No, not a parade. Do you want to know a secret?” She asked the boy, who nodded. “We just want to make the world a better, or uh…nicer place. We want to make the world nicer. Put simply.”
The boy screwed up his face and peered at her suspiciously. “What’aya mean? Dad says that people tryin’ to fix the world are why stuffs so crappy. Mom says people should ’stay out of other peoples business’. That’s what they say.” The woman nodded.
“What if I told you, that we all think the way to make the world nicer, is to give people a reason to do what they really want to do?” She asked the boy, who stared at her with a clearly puzzled look.
“Well,” Ms Williams continued, “People get sad. They get afraid. They end up mean, because they are afraid. They end up hurt because they are mean, and they end up hating people. Did your parents ever talk about hate?”
The little boy pondered for a moment. “Mom says hating is a sin, but Dad hates people who are wrong.”
“Well, we think that people are mostly sad. They hate, but they don’t have to. What we do, is…well…look at this.” Ms Williams said, and when the boy watched her pointed finger, he understood.
The rainbow haired girl was helping a woman who had dropped a grocery bag. Ms. Williams finger moved, and the boy could see that the coach-like man was playing football with some kids down the street, on the outlet of the main road. Ms Williams finger moved, and the young man with patched clothes was playing a guitar and singing in a sweet voice that they could hear even from down the way, and people gathered around him in awe of such talent, and walked away with smiles. A group of rowdy young men who were talking loudly and impolitely about the proprietor of a business were being led away by the elderly woman with a purple shawl, who was begging their help while also giving them a subtle lesson in respect. The men looked guilty, chastised. All this and more, the little boy could see these alley-way people changing the entire mood of the street. Suddenly, the chill seemed less oppressive. People smiled.
And the boy saw that the people these alley-way people touched, who smiled when they departed, were being kind. They were helping other people, they were passing on the mood.
“This is all we do. But we do our best.” Ms Williams said, and the boy nodded, understanding.