She stood erect and motionless atop a knoll of rubble and gravel on a little traffic island in the middle of a busy intersection. Staring out into the distance, she appeared lifeless, except for her large brown eyes blinking slowly.
She was a girl of about 14 or 15, dressed in traditional garb, her long jet black hair pulled back in a braid, her midriff bare, her exposed feet in a pair of flimsy sandals. Her hands were clasped together and her elbows outstretched.
My car, stuck as always in traffic, was parked directly in front of her, so that she was framed in my passenger window. Unwittingly, my gaze was fixed on her as one might mindlessly stare at a TV screen.
I began to wonder what she was doing. I expected she might approach the car, perhaps to beg, maybe to attempt to sell something. But she didn’t move. I thought of taking a picture of her since she seemed almost posed for one. But it seemed too obvious and in a way unfair.
A boy, maybe a year or two younger, was just to her right, on what would constitute a street curb if such a thing existed here. He was probably her brother and he was rummaging through a pile of debris, perhaps fishing for anything of value that could be salvaged, recycled, traded or sold.
Maybe she was watching over him while he went on his scavenger hunt. But she did not look at him. She just stared, trance-like.
I wondered why she wasn’t in school. I thought about this hapless being whose future seemed so bleak. What would become of her? If she were in school she would at least have a chance of making a living as one of the millions of tech workers. Yes, she would be crammed into a cubicle, headpiece attached, hands glued to a keyboard. Yes, she would be nothing but an anonymous pawn in a global power shift that, in an endless game of making things cheaper, “outsourced” modern-age labor from the Industrialized World to the Third World.
But she would be making a living, enough to pay for a roof over her head. As it was, this street urchin life she inhabited would inevitably condemn her to a life of arduous, monotonous manual labor that would quickly turn her into one of the many bent-over old women who lined the streets, sweeping with their makeshift grass brooms, whisking dirt away, all in futility.
Her stoicism only seemed to confirm she was already resigned to an inevitable, inescapable destiny.
But just then her eyes crinkled and she broke into a large toothy grin, springing to life like any giggling teen-age girl.
I wasn’t sure if this was a charade she played to pass the time, maybe a bit of performance art. Maybe she was slightly embarrassed that I was looking at her and at the same time flattered that anyone would even notice her amid all the chaos and cacophony of this city of 10 million souls.
And it then occurred to me that I had it all wrong. Maybe she was amused because I was the one who was trapped. After all, at that particular moment, stuck in traffic, nothing was more true.
Maybe she was as free as could be and wanted nothing more.
If the meek shall inherit the earth, they could very well start here.