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Now You See Him

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Karen Churchill

The laneway smelt of piss and paint. It was freezing. The city was at her windy, changeable worst.  Clutching our scarves to stop them slapping us in the face, carefully stepping around broken beer bottles and other detritus, we searched the images that lined the walls. We peered at intricate patterns that looked like elaborate pagan icons, at tortured bodies in various states of mutilation, profanities, words that didn’t make any sense, and even a few delicate floral designs. The lurid images filled both walls of the lane, their edges running together - new works overlapping the old. We searched every inch of that laneway, twice. Then we spotted it.  His face, or rather what was left of it.


He had his patch and he always seemed to be there, on a corner outside one of the city’s most up-market shops. Takings were probably good there, with a regular stream of well-heeled people popping in to buy cheese for that night’s wine o’clock, champagne and oysters for weekend brunches, sushi for lunch, or whatever. There he stood, in the heat, in the cold, in the wind, in the rain, seven days a week, his hat on the ground in front of him, or sometimes tucked under his arm, his hand out.

He was tall and skinny with long hair and a beard, reminding me of iconic images of Jesus. His hands were elegant, pianist’s hands with long, slender fingers. His clothes were shabby and, whatever the weather, even in the heat of summer, he wore a long, loose coat that flapped around him in the wind and swayed when he moved, and often fingerless gloves too, perhaps to keep those pianist’s hands warm.

The air around him smelt of spray paint, that acrid yet, at the same time, sweet scent that hits you right in the middle of your chest and makes you wheeze.

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