A man with one leg, the other lost just below the hip, crosses the street, on crutches. A moments thought: A war veteran? An accident at work ? Cancer ? He looks about 45, maybe younger. A pack of stray dogs chasing the scented wheel of a car steals my attention. When I return to the man he is lying in a puddle in the gutter. Before I have fully taken this in he is surrounded by three people helping him to his feet, or rather his foot. He’s dripping wet but smiles and thanks them all individually. Nodding his head reassuringly with a fresh red gash above his left eye. Satisfied, they all part on their separate ways and the scene evaporates.
I observe all this through heavily tinted windows in a bar sipping coffee, bad coffee. I have purposely chosen this place to witness the city transform from day to dusk From here I can watch the world go by, knowing my voyeuristic trait wont be discovered. Yet I still lower my eyes with guilt when I catch the eye of a passer by for an instant longer than chance.
The faces are mostly similar, dark brown hair, olive skin and beautiful brown eyes. Only the shape of their faces, their jaw structure, betrays the various levels of colonial blood. I could be in any Spanish or Portuguese provincial town but I am not. This is Punta Arenas, the city at the end of the world and the gateway to Patagonia.
It starts to rain but no one seems to notice. The sun is out, heralding the onset of a southern summer and everyone looks cheerful. Men sit on benches, as guilty as me. The young congregate on street corners sharing sweets or the time. Mothers clutch innocent hands and plastic bags whilst lovers clutch each other. Cars stack up against the gridded junctions, waiting for green. Larger shops have their shutters half cocked whilst the smaller ones bide their time, hoping to catch one or two more before the commercial day draws its veil.
The rain stops. Its been like this all week. Short bursts of downfall punctuating brilliant sunshine. But it is still cold, the colourful winter jackets augmenting the vividness of this bustling urban flow. I order a beer.
A red haired girl walks by, I think she’s the first I’ve seen here. She looks pensive and a little sad. She turns the corner and disappears from view, oblivious to the lines she inspires in my pen. The light starts to thin, the bench men migrate elsewhere and a younger generation take up their vigil. Soon the streets will empty but for now I soak it all, so as to to recall it on the ice.