FF34: Cages (part two)

A man sleeps on the street, Kolkata. [Buy a print]

He sleeps as we all walk past. And by all, I mean hundreds. Hundreds an hour. Possibly thousands a day. But that’s one of the disorienting things about a crowd, it’s hard to quantify.

A throng of people passes by the unusually neat and quiet section of the pavement. A throng so tight it might feel like a wall if you’re sat lying on the floor, still, motionless before the speed of a crowd.

He sleeps and does not notice us, as we too are asleep to the particularities of his life, the canvas on which all his details are drawn into being. He lays himself bare to our gaze and conjecture, perhaps all we see is a man lying on the floor, head resting on a bag of stuff, his hand covering his heart and his legs splayed out towards us. Matter out of place, but strikingly serene.

Like the bird, his feathers, his dress are a blend of smart and scruffy. Shirt and trousers, clothes of the workplace, clothes of respectability, clothes of status, yet visibly dishevelled and discarded. These clothes, these conventions, are not able to contain his wildness and his wilderness.

In this moment, gravity and torpor tie him to the grid that he lies on. What brought him to this place? Something else, perhaps a number of something elses, or someone elses, or his own will and decision and choices? While the network of lines under and behind him echo of containment and I think about the layers of his entrapment, it occurs to me that his bare soles stand, notably, on a ground of horizontal air.

As he flies like this, it is clear that he has travelled far. While resting, it seems that he has chosen the floor rather than the two perches that spear the pavement vertically to his right. Then again, a perch is merely a bar that got lost inside the cage, and I understand why he chose to avoid it.

The temptation to imagine the meaning — the potential adventure, the potential horror — of the surprising and exotic parts of him, spread out on the street before us, is strong. But the sum of his parts defies our knowing. The histories and long-forgotten experiences woven with mystery into the long strands of his hair lie out of our reach, indecipherable to the language we speak and the experience that we speak from.

As I reflect on the force and indelicacy of those collective pronouns, I realise that all I can speak of is ‘I’.

It feels unfair to talk about him while he’s sleeping though. Perhaps also unfair to take the photograph of him. But that’s done now. We’ll let him sleep, and continue past with the rest of the flock.


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