If Only They Could See

By Angela Hatcher

All you could hear was the faint trill of a saxophone, muffled, but passionately singing songs of smooth jazz and summers at the Bayou. It colored the air and the faded, peeling paint on the buildings of the French Quarter suddenly seemed very bright again.

People walk slow in New Orleans. They amble down cobblestone streets in a haze, looking ahead toward emptiness, slouching, weighed down by the gruelling heat. With each step and each breath the smell of steaming gumbo drifting from open air restaurant kitchens and the stench of spilt beer on the sidewalks would fill your lungs.

And he sat comfortably through it all — listening to the sounds he grew up hearing and inhaling the familiar smell of Decatur Street.

Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Angela Hatcher
Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo by Angela Hatcher

He sat on the curb, right next to his cart that displayed his art. Paintings of Bourbon Street, abstract portraits and the thoughts drifting around in his head were being sold for 20, 15 and five dollars. He smiled at people as they walked by, avoiding eye contact.

His shirt was grimy, a once white tank top smeared with grease. His slacks were torn at the bottom. He hadn’t shaved in a while, his beard was as wild and free as he is. He wore a cap on his head. It had a hole right on top.

Cue the 50-year-old tourist duo. Man and wife. Holding hands and armed with fanny packs, they gossiped about how gorgeous Naples is this time of year. Walking past the man’s cart, the pair stopped to look at his art. They didn’t seem interested in the abstract portraits or the paintings that bore his soul and exposed his heart. They zeroed in on the paintings of Mardi Gras and topless women wearing purple, green and gold beads.

The man got up from the curb.

“See anything ya like?”

The tourist in the Tommy Bahama shorts stared at the man. Like how Lady once stared at The Tramp, there was nothing but disdain in his eyes.

“How much is this one?” Tommy Bahama pointed to a painting of an alligator dancing at a parade.

“$15.”

Mr. Bahama scoffed.

They didn’t say thank you. They didn’t buy his art. They didn’t wish him a good day. They walked away quickly.

The man took off his cap and wiped the sweat from his brow. He stared up at the blazing midday sun, thinking, “If only they could see…”

And then he looked at his art — the pieces that were clearly tourist traps, the ones that bled from his veins, the ones that meant nothing and the ones that meant more than just something. He looked at them all.

And then he turned around, walked back to the curb and sat down.

All you could hear was the faint trill of a saxophone, taking a more somber tune, singing of love lost and hurt to come. It burdened the air, the buildings that were once bright and colorful were covered in peeling paint, fading.

His tank top read “The gods are real.”

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