There is no one who does not enjoy public entertainment. Street performers in every city, great and small, charm the penniless and the penny-plenty, the foreign and the familiar, the old and the young alike. I, myself, have marveled at the fiddlers and tin-men of New York City, and at the mimes and stilt-walkers of Paris. I have even, as a girl of eight, watched wide-eyed, a dancing mongoose, and an equally rhythmic, real-life Abu, hop to the beat of a drum, fully dressed in an embroidered vest and fez cap in the congested city of Karachi.
But it is in a few square feet of the city of Marrakesh that I have truly lost my soul. It is here that each marble in the spinning, colliding throng of spectators is a part of the act. It is here, I am certain, that boys on motorcycles fall in love with girls in and out of veils; that girls fall in love with the elaborate henna designs old ladies paint on to the flesh of palms; that stray dollops of henna fall onto and in love with the dirt ground, dry and crust there, until a wandering rubber sole scrapes them loose.
It is here that I have ambled as an empty body, while my soul skipped in and out of every other body, borrowed a bit of every other soul, before departing to take up residence a few foot steps away but, perhaps, many worlds apart. While the performers themselves are creatures of territory, returning to the same spot each night, the adventurers drifts as sinuously as the rising smoke and spreading aroma of the open food stalls. And I have been the lithe little girl who slips between the cracks in the crowd, below our waists, like an alley cat whose tail tickles unsuspecting feet as it passes. And I have been the stationary, shriveled man, cross-legged on a carpet, telling tales of distant empires and vanished dynasties. I have tapped his striated, wooden cane to the intonations of his slow, grating voice. I have beheld through his murky eyes, the eyes of those who do not speak his native Arabic, but who listen to the language in the back and forth sway of his body, in the melody of his voice, in the mirth and rumble of those around them.
I have even been the man selling freshly-squeezed orange juice around the corner who speaks scatterings of every language and none in its entirety, the snake charmer wrapping a writhing coil of slippery skin around a petrified young boy’s neck, the diminutive French lady, perched on a doll-sized chair, waiting and watching as her husband gets a shoe-shine. I have been the shoe-shine man, and have wondered where those shoes have been, where they came from, where the family is from. I have grasped for a few words of broken French, and have settled for a nod and a smile.
But I have been, most fully, that single but sociable black bird that cruises, lost against the night sky—the surveyor. Perhaps the shoe-shine man never really wondered anything about the couple, and never wished to speak a word, but he was what I made him, and what I took from him. He was what my soul, the surveyor, projected on to his soul, the instrument and mediator of my imagination. Every person whom we only perceive without knowing is just that, a canvas waiting to be filled with a creation of our own—a creation apart from what truly is. And from each person who, even as we hurry past, catches our eye, each person whose image furrows in our minds, this is what we carry with us—the place where two souls intersect, albeit briefly and perhaps, even, superficially.
My soul, when it felt its journey done for the evening, returned to me more complete and more vibrant than when it first left. And wherever it ventures, it now carries with it these splinters of people, impressions, half-real and half-imagined.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.