What’s not in the picture is what I couldn’t bear to see. I didn’t crop it later, I didn’t edit out his image. I just moved my camera to the right and snapped.
We Americans like our gadgets in vibrant colors. My toaster is a shiny teal. My friend’s stove is fire-engine red. We like our bumpers painted even if we grumble when they get scratched. We like our celebrities suffused in soft light. That way, they never age. We like our bathrooms large and shiny. We joke, but we call our toilets thrones.
Frankly, we usually like our strangers to be shiny, pretty, and in vibrant color too.
Walking through Népliget, I am not alone. The first cool day in Budapest in more than a week, the city was promenading, licking ice cream cones, playing table tennis, posing for selfies. Old, young, beautiful, ugly, fat, thin, we all wanted that breeze on our face.
What I couldn’t unsee, what I couldn’t take a picture of because it would be too rude, too invasive, too salacious, too too was an adult-sized pram and in it, an adult-sized man. Homemade from a metal container, the pram’s bed was a human-sized sardine can. Unpainted, it was what is was: worn and dull metal. The wheels were the wheels of a ten speed. The handles were maybe from an old shopping cart. It was brilliant and ugly and real.
I looked and didn’t look. I refused to gawk, although how could I know? Maybe I was. I reddened. I smiled. The women smiled back. The man laid there unaware, his body not well covered. His knees were knobby and his legs curved inward like a runway model’s thighs. He had longish brown hair parted on the side. Someone had taken the time to make sure his part was straight and the bangs brushed from his brow. His nose was aquiline and pronounced because he was so emaciated. His almond eyes were brown and not lit from within. I wondered if he were day dreaming and enjoying the sun on his face. I hoped this was true.
Let’s face it, we might venture a private utterance of grotesque—incongruous to a shocking degree. I thought it. I looked and didn’t look at this man stowed, albeit in loving comfort, into a tin can. But look harder. This scene wasn’t shiny and packaged for tourist consumption. What I saw were women bonded together as kin telling stories and making one another laugh. Women who cared for a fellow human. Women who pushed his carriage from where ever they lived to enjoy a summer day in this tree-lined park. In another life, this man might have been a prince.
These women in polyester dresses and comfortable sandals played cards next to the man in the pram. We all felt the breeze. They were truth in beauty.