15th April

That Face

You see that face everywhere these days. You know the one. The dead-set look that goes with the trudge. A woman – it’s very often a woman – is making her way along the street, carrying two or three bags, and it seems every other person on the pavement is going in the opposite direction. So she has to lean, weave, shove her way against the tide, and each step is exhausting her. You can see this from the way her back is bent, her head lowered as if into a wind, but there is no wind. And the face is on her, the one sculpted by that invisible wind. I have to keep going, it says, if I stop I’ll never start again. If I think about everything that’s looming up to hit me I’ll collapse in a heap right here.

A man – it’s often a man – is pushing a buggy through the shopping centre. Everything about him looks poor: his clothes, his shoes, the pallor of his skin, the thinness of his arms as he pushes. He might be the father or the grandfather, it is hard to say, but he’s got the child on a weekday morning and maybe you’re making assumptions but you guess that this is his job, his only job, and that he’s been doing it since the child was born. He has the same face as the woman: the one that says, This is what I do, this is all I do, this is my horizon.

And the child in the buggy is crying, fretting: not a cry of alarm or pain, just a constant, anxious fret. Already the invisible wind is having its effect, the hard climate of circumstance is shaping and sculpting.

It strikes you later, when you’ve seen the face a hundred times during the day, that it’s nothing new. How could it be, when the face can pass so easily from generation to generation? It is centuries old. It’s the face of resignation, of being on the receiving end, of being oppressed. The face of poverty. You feel the waste, but not the pity. You feel the shame, but not the responsibility. You feel the anger.

Reader: Marianne Mitchelson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Guitar: Sorren Maclean
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