This morning I met a woman standing perfectly still beneath a tree. Draped over her body was a white shawl, with silver crosses embroidered in arbitrary patterns across the surface of the discoloured fabric. The light illuminated the emblems along with the starlings, whose singing perforated the silence. She stood motionless on the sidewalk with both hands grasping the wiry handle of a shopping cart.
Moving closer I attempted a smile, but was met with a surreptitious glance. As I approached, the woman removed her hands from the cart and pressed both her palms firmly against the base of the tree and closed her eyes. Puzzled, I asked if she was ok, if she needed my help. Her voice exhibited a concentrated rhythm, almost musical:
"I stand here not to talk with anyone. I stand here not to talk with anyone at all."
I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to leave her alone. A man with a briefcase skirted our periphery. Taking notice of the mute interaction he came upon, he shrugged and smiled before shuffling past. The birdsong mingled with the sound of passing cars.
After several moments, the woman opened her eyes. Scanning the tree, she came across a shoddy piece of paper tacked to the bark with a nail. In almost illegible handwriting, it read:
'Art Classes. Learn to paint your dreams with me! Cheap and fun. Call now.'
Dangling below were a dozen paper fingers, all with phone numbers scrawled on their surface. She plucked one, turning it over carefully in the palm of her hand. She spoke as if she had discovered something vital:
"This. This is a good idea. This world needs our beauty. And we...we need the beauty of this world."
With this she closed her eyes as well as her hand around the piece of paper. She repeated the phrase which sounded like a prayer or a proclamation:
"This world needs our beauty. And we need the beauty of this world."
A tear slipped from each eye and flowed within the deep furrows on her face. Opening her hand, she let the paper escape in the breeze and cleared her throat:
"To this harmony I would give the rest of my days. I may not have many left, but there are some. They are blank, but not empty. There are still beautiful people among us in this world."