Art Under a Rusted Streetlamp

Marie-Louise Williams

He walks confidently down the road, dappled by the yellow gleam of the streetlamps. The confidence, however, is not one that wants others to notice it. No. It is the kind that is oblivious to its own wonder. The kind that you can't help but admire...and slightly fear. His steps are uneven, and though he certainly walks with intention there's an air of chaos about his movements that is unmistakably unrestrained. The material of his coat becomes clear as he passes under another pool of rusted light. It is as if it is shifting and squirming on his shoulders. Suffering and pain, violence and injustice...all sewn together into heavy, dark material. He carries them on his shoulders with the grace of already doing so for a very long time. 

 

His tall frame shifts suddenly, as he sees his reason for coming. He strides across the pavement, where She sits, hanging off the wall as casually as the cigarette does from her lips. 

 

"Those will kill you, you know?' 

She inhales the accused deeply before turning to face him with a loud grin. "Ah, we both know that it sadly won't." 

A small smile grazes his pale eyes, and he joins her against the wall, stretching his legs carelessly towards the road. 

"Look, thank you for coming…I need your help." 

He notices her jacket. A fresh, jarring white, with stitchings all woven intricately together with hope and peace, safety and equality. He sees, as before, that it's in the lines of her palms and the wrinkles of her face that the struggle and strain sits clearly. 

She continues, "They only listen to so much of what i say, it makes them far too  uncomfortable to grapple with all of it." 

"They?" 

"Yes, they. The humans. I thought this new batch might be easier to work with but their own  injustice and apathy still scares them." She shifts on the wall to face him, trying to read his thoughts in the sharpness of his cheekbones.. 

 

"Well I've heard it can be a rather bitter thing. To be human." He says it leisurely, to the stars,  as if asking their opinion on the matter.

"Not if they care. If they change. You and I both know they can, we've seen it eternally.  We've done it eternally. And now more than ever, they seem to be taking me more seriously.  It's not just one or two of the bravest anymore…they might all be starting to try." 

He finally looks at her, seeing the conflicted hope and disbelief in her wrung hands. He knew it had been a long tough path for her. She wasn't an easy choice for the humans and was almost as unpopular as Peace. He could see their rejection of her in the scars that shrouded her beautiful skin and the denial that lay nested in her dark curls. At least he could hide the parts of himself that the humans weren't ready for, only being truly vulnerable for the rare few. 

And yet, maybe she was right. Maybe these humans could be brave. Could allow themselves to face their demons, to swallow their bitter pills. 

He stretches his long, skilled fingers through the space between them and plucks the cigarette from her mouth, causing her face to fracture into a grin brighter than her jacket. "I guess we do make a pretty good team…" he says it slowly, accompanying it with a breath of smoke. 

"Of course we do! 'Disturb the comfortable, comfort the disturbed'". She imitates his drawl as she delivers his frequently used line. "And we know I’ve never shied away from a little  disruption of the opulent." 

He rolls his smiling eyes, "So what do you need me to do?" 

"Well, the humans have gotten complacent. They think they've solved their problems, tamed their terrible minds and greedy hearts. They think they've achieved equality." The comment coaxes a mirthless laugh from her before she continues, "They have come far, truly, and it makes me proud when I remember the darkness they've grown from. It is no longer the exception to stand up and call for me. For change. And yet..." 

"And yet, they need a reminder, some more encouragement." He supplies the night air with the words she was struggling to find. "They need to feel. And to be felt." "Exactly. And that, old man, is where you come in." 

The 'old man' ashes the cigarette, and passes it back to her. He actually isn’t any 'older' than she is, as neither of them age. They simply change and adapt as the humans do themselves.  She'd graced him with the nickname, however, because he had created and lived in the hearts of humans for a lot longer than she. 

 

"Humans love when you show them painful realities wrapped in beauty and emotions." 

He mused at the irony of it: She, with her lustrous coat atop her heavy, injured skin needed the help of him, wearing destruction with it’s collar turned up on his untainted neck. He had always said that he wasn't strong enough to carry that ache as she did, in her own soul. 

"Okay. Tomorrow, the humans will face the day and you along with it. I'll help you express yourself to them, and you can remind them to help those who need us. Those who need to be seen. And heard. And loved." 

She thanks him not with words, but with a tight embrace. An icy, scorching embrace. He doesn't mind the pain though, it has been far too long and people often forget how much he might need a hug too. 

They move apart and stand together, in such beautiful contradiction...in such terrible harmony.

He raises his hand in farewell as Social Justice strides down the street, her coat swaying. She doesn't look back at Art, as he stands under a rusted streetlamp, on a quiet South African street.

To anyone who may read this, hello. My name is Marie-Louise Williams, but you can call me Lulu (a bit of a mouthful otherwise, don’t you think?). I am a 16 year old South African woman, currently in Grade 11 attending Roedean School (SA).