Maybe it was the production of Working – A Musical I saw yesterday that had me noticing people today, or maybe it was the absence of my plump, grandmotherly strawberry stand lady. Isn’t it odd how quickly we become accustomed to people and places? I only discovered the strawberry stand maybe four weeks ago, but every time I’ve been the same sweet lady with thick, white and silver curls sells me my fruit and honey. Today in her place was a whippet-thin man who could have been 50 or 70, his graying ponytail and whiskers, weathered complexion, and sunken cheeks made determining his age difficult.
Even fruit stands take debit cards these days and the hands that deftly swiped mine through the iPhone card reader showed the small scars of hard work and maybe a couple of burns, thick chipped nails, and one homeboy tattoo. He bore only one other tattoo, home made, on his right arm. But across his left bicep one beautiful, clearly professional, scripted name: Viola.
Viola was faded; she’s been with him many years I think. It makes me wonder who Viola is or was, if she is still with him in human form?
His has been a hard life if shabby, over-sized clothes, the sunken cheeks indicative of missing teeth, and a body likely worn down before its time are any indication. Was Viola a sweetheart, someone who broke his heart, perhaps setting his feet on a self-destructive path? Or is she a memory of better times, when he was loved and his future lay solid and secure before him? Maybe Viola is his mother, or a beloved sister? A daughter?
Does Viola know there is a thin, breaking-down man with her name on his arm, selling strawberries and tomatoes to suburban housewives? Does she have his name on her left arm, too?
Viola will remain a mystery to me, part of a life not mine, part of the life of another human being I met by accident when I stopped for strawberries. Viola is a reminder that all the people we encounter in our everyday lives also have lives and memories as rich as our own, full of heartbreak and joy, loved ones present and lost, the various incidents and accidents and sometimes purposeful inkings of Life accumulating on our bodies, marking time and telling our stories.