shadow people

i’ve been thinking about shadow people.

when the sun shines in shenzhen, it blasts through the city, and those who can take refuge in air-conditioned offices, malls, teashops, houses. those who have no air-conditioned refuge, sit in the shadows of trees and buildings. as i walk through the city, my camera searching for symbols, i often overlook them. and yet. they nevertheless people my walks through shenzhen–looking at me, looking away, resting. when our eyes meet, i turn away, ashamed to take the picture. their skin is usually deeply tanned, black, too black, as a hua, the woman who gives me a weekly facial says.

i freckle in the sun. accordingly parts of my body that don’t get regular sun time, are pale, fishbelly white, as my brothers used to tease. a hua likes my fishbelly. she sighs and says wistfully how great i would look if i could just stay out of the sun. i remind her that after forty odd years of walking outside without an umbrella, odds are most of my freckles won’t fade. she sighs again. what a waste.

the shadow people work odds and ends jobs: collecting and sorting trash, pulling carts of discarded electronic products to the second hand market. i come across older women sitting against the wall of an underground passageway, waving a hat to cool themselves. many bike to and from these odd jobs, spending the day and much of the night in the streets, unprotected from the sun except for the shaded edges of the city. even wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, and slacks they have been roasted dark, well done. ugly, a hua says, comparing her caramel colored arm to my fishbelly.

squint and you may see them.

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