Illustration by Denis Shifrin
There are a few people I see every day, but sadly, their names are not known to me and even more sadly, because they do not speak to me it has become obvious that they do not wish to befriend me. There’s the lady in the black triangular skirt, her gathered hair pulled to one side of her face and neck. I’ve run into her at the mall, the movies, the theater and at least four favorite restaurants. I locate her with ease despite the fact that she’s usually tucked away at the end of a long corridor. I push her but still she never nods or says “hello”. Silence is her response to my presence. I’ve decided that the next time I seek out the Ladies’ Room, I shall not force my way against her but rather stand facing her and initiate a conversation. I know what irritates her – she hates being used, and silence and a still body are her weapons. "And who doesn’t?" I say to her. After I push against her one more time and say “goodbye” I walk hurriedly up city streets, anxious to get to my destination.
And that man – the one I stare at, whose permission I must get to continue on my way, why doesn’t he tell me who he is? Am I so minor a figure that he won’t tell me his name or ask for mine? How many multitudes of minutes have I stared at the hurrying man, legs extended in a run, lit by white dots that configure his body. Isn’t he tired of running? Isn’t he fed up with the pollution descending on him from the tall buildings or wafting up at him from the city traffic? Doesn’t he, poor soul, realize that in a flash of pre-set seconds the man in red will take his place and he will be able to rest for a minute or more?
What bothers me even more than the obvious cold shoulder I am getting from these people is that I only know their iconic identities and I guess I will never know their names. I am yearning, after so many years, to establish a relationship with them, break through their barrier of anonymity, let them know how many times I try to catch their eye and want to start a conversation. It doesn’t make me feel better that I seem to be the only one who wants to befriend a symbol, make it feel human. I guess that’s the way it is in the hustle and bustle of urban life; but if they help me, mustn't I help them? Isn’t that the essence of a good deed? In our world of graphic icons and virtual reality all symbols, in order to be understood must be based on the actual. Though I want to give a friendly wave or even say “hello” I know (or a part of me knows) that I would never like to be used as a stencil, a graphic design or a coded icon. Please, designer in some advertising agency cubicle, do not contact me to use my hand for continuous depiction immersed in that tub of 30 degree Hand Wash Only water. And never ever do I want to be considered as an outline for Entrance, Exit or Fire Stairs. I cannot stand the thought that I will forever be trapped in a black circle with a heavy diagonal red line crossing my body. Yes, I will befriend these people forever emblazoned on traffic lights, bathroom doors, and instruction manuals and I will tell them they needn’t be lonely or feel unappreciated. I will whisper though, that I prefer “WALK,” “DO NOT WALK,” and “LADIES.” And in stating that preference I will free them.
Pnina Moed Kass is the author of children’s books (BERALE series/Hebrew/Keter) and of the prizewinning novel, REAL TIME (English /Carion-Houghton Mifflin). Originally from the U.S., she has been in Israel for 45 years. www.pninamoedkass.com
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