I hear whispers. They come from the darkened alleyways and linger in the narrow stairwells. From the sewers they rise, snaking around my legs and urging me on, there are secrets to discover…hidden cookie factories and old tea tonics, dragons that sit under plastic awaiting their birth each New Year’s Day. I pick up the gray video camera that has hung around my neck like a dead snake. The object is hard, cold and small…it’s all but dead. No soft breath, no lungs, no heart. My fingers reach for the circular knob that activates the machine, Biiiiiinnnggg…there’s the green light. It’s waiting, now it’s time for me to act. The screen reflects my perception of the sidewalk.
Chinatown is clustered with German tourists. They stand, just as me, filming the swinging paper lanterns, just like me, they turn their cameras toward the rooftops and preserve forever the small windows with laundry hanging to dry. I hold up my camera and trace the lines of a man as he takes a photo of his plump wife. The video camera trails him as he walks down the street eating from his bag of fortune cookies. I follow him until the smell of sweet bread assaults me like a lover in the morning. I turn to the right and see a bakery laden with sesame encrusted buns and a crowd of small Asian women waiting to be helped. My eye is transported through the camera….my attention travels through the machine, the gray piece of plastic that comes to life in my hands. I watch them for a moment, but they live on endlessly in the code, women who fill their bags with cookies and moonpies.
I drift away from them and see a family gathered a couple steps from the entrance. There are two little girls sitting on the ground, one is probably six, the other three. The older sister has her arm wrapped protectively around the younger one in a gesture of fierce love. The mother of the two is kneeling in front of the three year old, fixing her shoe. The father is close by, leaning on a metal post. No one notices me. No one sees a young woman with a camera pointed directly at them.
Standing there, watching them, I feel the sweetness of love from one sister to another. Will their love turn and wiggle and flitter through life’s complications? Will the younger girl lie alone in her bed decades from now, remembering something soft and tender that breathes on her like an alchemist dream? Or maybe she’ll forget everything, her memory robbed like so many other things that get lost along the forking path. I stand and record, until the shoe is tied and the older one reaches down and extends her hand to her little sister.
Their forms drift out of site and I am left with their memory, their tender forms. I step into the shaded quiet of an alleyway. On the right is the open backdoor of a flower shop, the room is covered in buckets of dyed carnations and bright daisies. Five feet away is a doorway outlined in aqua tiles, the address reads “79.” The little gray machine is my third eye, my hand moves with it as I scan the shiny tiles, left from a era when color was king, when cars were moving rainbows on the highway of asphalt. I capture the Germans sipping “horny tea” at a tea bar, I grab bits of their words, sentences in their lives that flop on the floor like forgotten fish, but I swoop them into my net and store them for later.
The streets are crowded and they give me a piece of themselves that I will mix with the graffiti covered vegetarian restaurant and the old woman sitting on a stool at the far end of a jewelry store. I will mix her with the images of barbecued ducks and the young couple that kisses by the mammoth lions who guard the gates of this old town. With their forms, with captured words, with the stolen kiss and the forgotten newspapers that blow like runners down a hill, we will sketch a new story.
Like the Tequihua that we are, the builders, the masons, the musicians, the creators that we are, we will shape it into something new. An ordinary creation. A creation from the ordinary.