They line up along the winding road, bundled up against the cold, overcast morning. Groups of three are the norm, rarely four or more. Lately, you’ll find quite a number alone, distant from the others, but bundled in their layering of hoodies and coats, hands almost always in their worn jeans’ pockets just like all the other men.
A smile is something I’ve never seen, driving by. The faces are too often blurred by speed, catching glimpses when my eyes should be more on the road and the cars and trucks around me. One after the other, though-there is a sameness about them; so many the same height, same build, same coloring. Only the coats differ, and that not so much. Their eyes are searching, looking to see who is going to stop by. They have a knowing about them: which drivers are on their way to and fro, and which are trolling for men just like this.
The men know that there is only a certain amount of opportunity, a time period for them to congregate. They stake out their spots. The solo acts are given wide berth, and driving past I wonder if they are outcasts, leper like in their own private needs, or is it self inflicted, hoping not to find any camaraderie but to stand out and not scare off any of the seekers.
Is there danger in it for them, or for those who engage them? Is the potential greater or less in groups? The rewards: some may never return to that stretch of road again after this day.
Who, in the end, is rewarded?
I just miss a light, so my time to observe is extended. A black SUV makes a slow right turn onto this road of bodies, darkly tinted windows. The driver is easing his or her gas guzzler along the path of expectant men, passing the groups, slowing down at the singles. It stops, and a solitary younger looking man, one who was just a bit taller than the others. He walks over, taking his hands out of his pants pockets, and leans over. What is left is the image of a hand on top of the roof of the car.
I notice the light is going to change: the green light in the other direction just turned to red. The hand disappears just as my directional light turns green. Green means Go. The promise of green meaning Go as in freedom of moving forward. His possible green, as in American dollars, meaning go in freedom of not starving that day, maybe the next as well.
I drive along, passing the scene that unfurled and the one germinating in my imagination. Other times, in traveling along this well worn stretch of avenue, I’ve seen the men are whisked away or just entering open trucks or vans. My assumption has always been they are day hires, the vehicles taking them to low paying manual work.
What if this wasn’t for physical labor? Why one person? Why only a younger male?
I continue this train of thought as I continue onto my morning meeting, and simply turn off those thoughts, preparing for a crucial, if not boring, hour of pretense.
On the way back, the men are leaving, walking in groupings like they were in their planted furtive ways. Still no smiling faces, and I can see this clearly as they are walking en masse towards and then away from me, as I speed along the road.
I’m at the same light I was stopped at before, only now in the opposite direction. No littering of figures on the grey surroundings of concrete, dirty lots and gas stations. Cars are idling, some inching their way up towards the light, most almost kissing other bumpers, as the drivers are anxious to be away.
The light changes, but not the area. It remains, and the ebb and flow of traffic continues into the late hours of the day.
They will return the next day, days, weeks, anon, in the hopes that they will not be walking home with only their hands in their pockets. Some won’t return, others will join in; a connection might or might not happen, but the searching-on both sides-will continue.
This morning, the pickings were aplenty.
It was the chosen that were slim.
I have a Guest Post over at Lisa Vooght’s Flash Fiction. I set myself a challenge of writing a parable-type piece in 200 words exactly (which I accomplished): A Superior Being. Click on Flash Fiction above to take you there.
I feel there is more there, but I wanted to be concise. Please visit Lisa’s blog no matter what:She is an excellent writer.