Thursday, July 02, 2009

To the public library: past the street vendors with the American flag bandannas and pashmina scarves and the grow creatures in the water, a man offering his hand to a dog tied to a tree, a construction worker knocking mud out of his treads. In the men's room stall on a shelf above the toilet paper there's a lighter that's decorated with little red dice.

I sat at one of the long tables and spied the nearest power outlet, where another table met the wall. The coveted seats beside it were occupied by two women; I could look over one's shoulder at her screen. She was video instant messaging with someone. Her correspondent's face appeared dark and grainy in the frame, with the corner of a picture hanging on the wall behind her. She seemed young, attractive, optimistic. A friend on a student exchange program in Barcelona. I imagined that the woman here was similar, that the picture she transmitted to her friend was almost like a mirror, of a like-minded young woman, hair down instead of up, out in the world, practicing the cello, contemplating a career in molecular biology or law.

The woman across from her got up to leave and so I went over to take the open seat and use the available outlet. As I rounded the table I glanced at the instant messaging woman and saw that she was badly disfigured. Half of her face was swollen and dark red; not from an injury, it seemed, but from some longstanding deformity. The moment I looked at her she looked at me, somewhat mournfully, almost apologetically; it seemed that she was very accustomed to meeting people's gaze this way. I looked away, not brusquely but as normally as I could, trying not to betray reaction. I sat down and handed her my laptop plug. She smiled weakly as she took it, and fumblingly plugged it in. It was very, very hard not to stare at her face, not even to glance at it again, to scratch that prurient itch.