Ordinary Day
For The Oriental Poor

Ana Rotea

© Copyright 2004 by Ana Rotea

It’s weekend. The garbage collectors won’t show themselves today. I mean those garbage collectors who are paid by the city to empty the dumping recipients and to carry away all the dirt…Because there’s another type of garbage collectors, there are men, women and even children who remove in the evening the top of the dumping recipients posted in front of the buildings using their crowbars and who search into the mixture of domestic dirt for still usable things: bottles, altered aliments – good for the pigs -, a pair of old shoes. This kind of collectors is always present and they can’t make the town cleaner… But the lack of this people could, in a way…

So turn your head away when you meet them or just ignore them. They won’t go away. They are part of the town picture, a familiar spot in the general view.

And their living is a living too, you know…

The evening is near. The right moment for the old man to go and search into the recipients of garbage: not to dark to miss something, but dark enough to pass almost unnoticed.

So he takes his crowbar and his big ugly bag, lights up a cigarette and he’s ready: a dirty old man for a dirty old job.

There is a month since he stopped trying to leave the dog at home, that is since the beast almost hung itself in the chains in the attempt to follow his master. So the dog is coming too.

The streets are ready… People taking their evening walk… Full recipients waiting… Start working!

It is ironic to say that the old man has a “nose” for discovering good, still usable things. The nose is insensible since he started this garbage job, that is since forever. What would be the use to puke every time he smells a rat?

So he doesn’t use his nose, but he uses a strange feeling to know what’s inside of a thrown away box or plastic bag. In his beginnings, he happened to open bags which contained cat or dog shit – how could some people keep animals in their houses, feed them with special food and then clean after them?

He looks at the dog waiting for him. Soon the dog will begin to bark and to run after the cars in the street. A bad habit that will end badly one day… As bad a habit as smoking cheep cigarettes. The old man coughs and throws away the butt.

There’s a plastic bottle. Good. He empties it from the air inside so it won’t occupy a lot of space in the bag. Next recipient. It’s so full. Searching it with his crowbar, he spreads some dirt on the pavement.

Disgusting! He shouldn’t be allowed to do that. He should be locked up for that!” - an angry woman voice.

What? And let the state pay for his expenses? It would be cheaper just to put him to sleep…” – the wiser voice of her partner.

The old man looks down. But he always looks down, anyway.

He looks down even in the small shop where he entered to get something to eat.

Yes?!” the voice of the shop assistant asks for his demand. The voice shows it’s a woman, a nervous woman, so he hurries to respond:

One sausage, please…” he dares.

The woman weighs the sausage, packs it, takes his coins with evident disgust, but simply forgets to give him the sausage. She takes another order while the old man is waiting humbly to be remembered. By standing there he’s annoying the customers with his presence. So he dares once more, staring at his feet:

Sorry, sorry, could I have my sausage, please?”

What?!” the woman’s indifference turns into anger.

My… sausage, you know…” and finally his looking down eyes meet the image of the wrapped sausage pushed nervously towards him.

The sausage is quick dinner under the hungry look of the dog. Good sausage! Eating it makes the day all of a sudden better.

The search continues: some glass jars, some tattered clothes, some pieces of old bread and some rotten fruits. He has different compartments in his bag for the different goods. He’ll wash and sell at the recycling centers the bottles. He’ll keep the shoes and the clothes for himself and family. He’ll feed his pig with the found remnants of food. The pig is not fat enough and it will have to feed many persons this winter.

The next recipient seems to be already taken. Gypsies women are his competitors. They are fast and efficient searchers in the garbage, so it would be useless to search in the same place after them. The old man waits to see the street that the gipsy woman chooses and he takes another direction.

The dog is crazy. No use calling him back. He runs after each moving car, he chases it for about one hundred meters and returns if no other car appears.

Another silent searcher for leftovers coming from ahead. So the garbage in front of the old man is already “clean”. He has a growl of small anger and decides not to change again the direction. This is usually a good street, a rich one, so the other searcher definitely omitted some goods.

He looks hard and makes some mess on the pavement again. The dog eats it. Nothing on this street. He only finds a little metal box: better less than nothing.

He goes further, while his dog remains behind. The dog jumps into the garbage recipient and continues the eating. He’s very agile and generally a good dog, too.

So the old man awaits for him to finish sitting at the corner oh the street. He has a competitor at the next recipient. The old man never notices the faces oh the people in the evening of the garbage. He sees this one and an unwritten rule allows him even to study the guy: it’s another poor, like himself, like the gipsy woman, like the garbage collector he met not long ago. The new one, a boy, has opened one recipient and now he’s feeding his skinny horse from it. It must be some cabbage in there…

The old man looks and looks at the boy seeing nothing but the horse and the boy, hearing nothing else but the horse eating, like every other scene around moves fast and is replaced with another fast image and in this succession of images, the remaining one is the scene with the boy and his animal.

And, as they are part of the same different world, the boy sees him too and gets a little nervous guessing that he’s occupying the old man’s place. So the old man waves his hand in a generous gesture inviting the boy to feed the horse ahead.

The weekend walk is young and the number of the moving cars is growing: young people driving with high speed and loud music, preparing themselves for disco or bars. The city in the evening is all about lights and music, with some dark and quiet, unknown spots. From his spot, can’t see but the dark spots.

The dog finished his dinner. He’s in a good mood now. He starts the chase after the cars and he can’t be avoided: a nice foreign car hits him and stops after a few meters with a strong, but late brake. The door opens, the music gets louder and the driver descends to first inspect the car. The car has no scratch and the killer, an adolescent, comes closer to the dog. Not a nice image so he runs back to his car swearing.

What the fuck! I didn’t see it! He jumped right in front of me! Fuck! I sprained his brains all over! But the car is all right or else my father would have me killed…”

The old man sees it all from his distance. Suddenly the dark is darker; it is too dark even for him, an old man used with the darkness. He can’t see very clear the dog lying in the middle of the street. No, not because of the tears running down his black cheeks, but because it’s so dark, so impossibly dark…

Let’s go home. Enough for today” – it’s his usual phrase to say after each search in the town’s garbage. The dog used to understand him at once. It’s harder now…

And he takes the broken body of the comrade in his arms. At home he will bury the dog in the small garden. The old wife will swear him, an always unsatisfied woman, a hungry woman, in fact, just a poor woman. He will swear her back and threaten her in order to reduce her to silence. Then he will see of his ordinary activities…

because this is another ordinary day for the old man, another garbage day…

Ana is 26 years old.  She is from Romania.

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