It was raining today, so the spiderman-loving bum who lives in front of the church across the road was not in sight, but the fact I found myself looking for him reminded me of the last time I ran into him. He’d scored himself a mobile phone, one of them new-fangled ones with the cameras in them.
He would hold the phone up towards the passing crowd and stare at us through its screen. He must prefer us this way. I remember how intensely he stared. In all the times I’ve ever passed him — with my undisguised interest, my half-smile of acknowledgement in case he should catch me staring — in all those times he’s never looked up, not once. Not once have I seen him notice a single living being that happened to be passing by.
He was holding that phone like he was looking into a hand mirror, up & out, in front of his face. I expected him to fix his hair or straighten an errant eyebrow hair. He didn’t, of course. But all that staring! I suddenly understood the aboriginal belief that cameras steal souls. It was like being eaten alive.
Several times during that day I thought of the bum, his gaze fixed on the tiny, real-time film of the happenings on our street. I wondered what he saw, whether our little two-dimensional ghosts made more sense to him than our real, 3D selves. I wondered if I would make more sense to _myself_ that way.
In fact, now that I think about it, he had also scored two large suitcases, which he had thoughtfully strapped to a shopping trolley. Probably so they wouldn’t get stolen. The suitcases were new and they did not look empty. They bulged at the zips. What was he doing with full suitcases?
The church, I note today, is locked, just like always. I should remember to check what kind of church it is. I wonder if they pay as much attention to the bum as I do. I wonder why *I* pay so much attention to him. Something about his isolation & seeming self-reliance appeals to me. He doesn’t appear crazy or needy. Just very focused on some internal life.
I wonder if anyone from the church ever comes to talk to him, to check where he’s getting his supplies. I wonder if anyone has said, ‘Hey, fella, nice phone. You take a lot of pictures with that? And hey, two suitcases, eh? Seems excessive for a guy in your situation. You planning on going someplace nice?’
I wonder where he is.