Yesterday, I returned to the streets of Belleville to take photos of the murals, street art and graffiti I had seen when I toured the area with Virginie of Street Art Paris. I got a couple of shots in before I noticed a man lying on the street, completely still. As people walked past him, I almost thought to do the same. Instead, I walked towards him.
Over the last two weeks, I have been giving des pièces, some money, to people on the streets who’ve looked in need, inspired by and in homage to my shuttle driver. It has made being here over the last three weeks more pleasant and meaningful.
As I got closer to him, a couple passed, and I saw the woman look down with displeasure. I stopped in front of him and said, “Monsieur?” There was no response. He was so still. His body looked heavy and weighed to the ground by something beyond his own weight. I began to glance over him and noticed that his legs were completely bloated. I began to worry a little and wondered if I were looking at a dead man, so I called out again, “Monsieur?” Still. Nothing.
I began to check for breathing and felt tremendous relief to see some movement. His breathing was faint– slow, shallow, almost imperceptible. I felt hopeful and determined, so I called out, “Monsieur!” This time louder. It worked.
He stirred, and his eyes opened, jaundiced and bulging. I looked into them, took his hands, which were more bloated than his legs, put the money in and said, “Une petite peu pour vous, Monsieur.” He looked me back in the eye, whispered “Merci beaucoup” then closed his eyes again. I felt guilty for having woken him, imagining that perhaps the dream world he was in was better than the one I had just called him back into.
I quickly walked away to give him back his space and make some for myself. It was the first moment I felt such tremendous sadness in Paris. I started to cry, so I ducked into a quiet street to compose myself. As I took a deep breath and began to survey my surroundings, I started taking photos of a mural across the street, when a hand from within the wall opened a door to one I hadn’t noticed before.
Curious and wanting to move past my sadness, I wiped my face, crossed the street, looked inside and asked two gentleman sitting down about to have a meal, “C’est possible de prendre une photo, s’il vous plait?”
I was greeted with a hearty, “Bien sur!” So I entered, and things began to make sense again.