Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Staten Island.

All was going well, I had taken the subway to the Ferry; a situation that lead to me a dialogue with a Newyorker, who would go talking to me, all the way, about how the Ferry is different during the day than during the night. The scene for me was very family friendly and touristic; at night it must be rougher, dark and scary.

When I got off in Staten Island it was very easy to get to my first stop: the museum, a local cultural space, quite special and miscellaneous, where you travel through the history of the Ferry, the Island and its environment, in a very educational and didactic way on the first floor, where there was also a temporary exhibition of art by Andrea Phillips. On the second floor, the artwork was interesting. The first impression was of naïf and decorative pieces, but once you got close you could see perfect collages, fun ones, that invited you to travel through the story behind each piece. Characters and scenes created only with pieces of paper and some paint, interesting yet not fabulous.

I left the museum wanting to continue the excursion around this island that was completely unknown to me. But then I thought, that since the first day, everything has been unknown at the beginning, making me feel a special confidence regarding the adventure of this new place: without prejudice, without fear.

I took the bus that would take me to the Buddhist temple: The Staten Island Buddhist Vihara. After talking with the bus driver we managed to agree on which would be my stop, and he promised to tell me when the time came. I sat on a strategic position that would not allow him to forget about me; the rear-view mirror connected us.

When the bus began its transit around the island, I inevitably began observing the characters that surrounded me. Buses here have a different distribution than the ones in Chile, making it impossible not to look at some people in the face, and my strategic position would make me look at two characters that seemed to be extracted from a movie, or even from the criminal pages in a newspaper. He, a small man whose feet didn’t reach the floor, with a big shaved head, fat short hands and an unhappy/psychotic look, reminded me of America’s 10 Most Wanted, or of one of the real evil characters from Prison Break: with a madman’s face and a guttural voice emerging from his messy teeth. With him: She, very strange as well and with an unhappy look, playing with her phone without paying attention to her companion. I began to feel a strange kind of fear, to experiment sensations I had never had, not even here, where no human being is more powerful than the city he’s in: except for them, more powerful than any of us, breathing a halo of evilness, making them stronger, crazy and strong.

Near them it didn’t take long for me to feel a strange nausea, where my stomach was seemingly about to devour me and my throat avoided letting a fearful cry of help out of it. A small while later, a woman got on the bus with here three small children, who generated a smile and excessive happiness on this man. The woman he was with turned her back on him, while he seductively invited the small girl, four years old or so, to sit with him. As she sat, charmed by this smiling monster, he’d caress her leg. A woman that was seeing what I was, got up and gave the mother her seat, taking the girls hand in a subtle way, leading her to the place she should be seating.

As if that wasn’t enough, and trying to stand the present situation, a woman of about 40 (she probably was around 35, looking worn out from life, a hard one for sure) got on the bus accompanied by a young man, who also had a shaved head and a scar that went all around his head. She cried as he took her to the far end of the bed, grabbing her arm tight. Suddenly I began hearing violent sounds, without any cry for help: he’d beat her and no one would do anything. I felt that I had to do something, every single minute, but the language and the fear stopped me. Then I looked at my paradoxical situation from a distance: sitting in a bus surrounded by people extracted from a strange world on the way to a Buddhist temple.

This lead me to get off the bus, trying to take a deep breath and standing straight again: I had been curved as part of a defense mechanism. I crossed the street and waited for the bus that would take me back to the ferry and the Manhattan I knew.

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