Short Story – The Beggar Woman

The Beggar Woman

A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik

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The Beggar Woman

     The beggar woman brushed briskly by us with her shopping cart: trash, empty Taiwan Beer bottles, old, stained t-shirts, water-damaged books, magazines with their covers torn and corners curled in, tin cans rattling around inside like they were thrown in a dryer. This, even though it’s a common sight in Taiwan, this woman made me feel uneasy as she passed us; I felt she looked right at me even though her head faced forward and her eyes remained on the prize (I’m assuming a junkyard to exchange her hard-earned junk for some coin), I feel like her eyes, like a frog’s eyes, were multidirectional, like her vision was 360′. I really felt like she stared straight into my face as she passed… And then she turned the corner and she was gone. I felt a surprising sense of relief – I didn’t mention this to my girlfriend who was walking independently, unaware of the woman’s intrusive (or imagined?) gaze. As we walked another block, on our way to a local cafe to while away our Sunday, suddenly she appeared again from a side street (damn she must’ve been hustling!) Her cart was still full – maybe she had veered off to pick up some other junk, a discarded tire, pieces of a broken chair – and she was staring straight ahead (to our left). I looked over and my girlfriend, who was texting away, either letting her BFF know how exciting her day was going be sipping coffee and playing Candy Crush, or already playing Candy Crush, didn’t notice the lady, and I decided to point her out this time. “Hey baby, doesn’t that old lady look weird?” I asked, trying to sound oblivious and unconcerned. She looked up, saw the lady, shrugged, and went back to crushing candies. We were nearing her again, and I could sense the lady somehow observing us without looking directly at us, like one of those new 360′ cameras that were becoming all the rage. I started to slow my pace, reaching my hand out and grabbing Julia’s, feeling safer like putting on a seatbelt in a taxi, when the lady suddenly bolted forward, cutting off a car who had to slam on the breaks to avoid hitting her – she didn’t flinch. She made it across and disappeared down another side street. I knew the cafe was coming up on our right, and was looking forward to sitting down with a warm cuppa coffee and reading my new Stephen King novel Under The Dome. We arrived – I’ll admit I looked over my shoulder to make sure the lady hadn’t suddenly crept up behind us – and we got our usual table on the patio. We ordered our drinks, opened up our book and Candy Crush respectively, and fell into our lazy Sunday routine. Our drinks arrived, and I nearly forgot about that creepy old woman when suddenly she appeared in front of the cafe… (Wasn’t she on the opposite side of the road?) She reached over the railing, towards our table, and my heart jumped into my throat – my girlfriend didn’t even look up from her candy-filled screen – and grabbed the receipt off our table. I breathed a silent breath of relief. The woman shoved the receipt into her pocket, but didn’t move. I tried opening my book to give her the hint (“Hey lady, we’re trying to enjoy our Sunday here, leave us alone okay?” I could hear myself saying in my head, but because I didn’t speak Chinese I kept silent). I peeked over the pages and she was still standing there, like in a trance, or waiting for something…”Can you tell her to go away?” I asked my girlfriend. “Zou kai!” she replied, without looking up from the colorful candy sprites. The woman didn’t budge. “Zou kai!” I attempted, but it sounded even weird to my ears. Suddenly my girlfriend put her phone down, stood up and yelled at her in what I can only imagine consisted of insults, expletives and curses. And the woman (I’m not sure if she could even understand any of it) slowly started pushing her cart away, wheels screech screech screeching from not being oiled in years, her tired, bruised, atrophied legs following behind like the cart was her master, her body its slave. Now she was muttering something, to herself it seemed, in neither English nor Chinese, just unintelligible gibberish. And just as soon as she had appeared, she was gone, on to her next plunder of trash and treasures. I turned to thank my girlfriend– but she was gone. “Baby?” I said, loud enough to hear on the patio. No response. I waited a few minutes, assuming she had gone to pee or complain her latte wasn’t frothy enough. When a few minutes passed I started to worry (why??), so I got up and went inside. “Have you seen my girlfriend?” I asked in my broken Chinese, horrendous but passable. “Mei you”, the waitress replied. I knocked on the bathroom door and received a knock back. “Baby, is that you?” I asked, slightly embarrassed. No answer. I went back outside but she wasn’t on the patio. I walked to the sidewalk and looked up and down the street. I couldn’t see her, but out of the corner of my eye I saw the old woman parked at the end of the block, her back facing me. Almost like she could sense my eyes, she turned, her cart leading her body in tow almost like they were one; a human centipede. And I could make something out in her cart, something that hadn’t been there before: a large, dark shape, almost large enough to be a…human.. her hair….Julia…….and she was gone, turned down another side street like a million before, to fill her cart and survive another day.

End

Cameron is a fiction writer living in Taiwan, and lover of all things macabre cbrtnik.com

BLOGasides: Being ITM or In The Moment

LiveInTheMoment
BLOGasides
Being ITM or In The Moment
Ready? Let’s be in the moment together…
    Ironically, I’ve always been a loner. I’ve always thought about things and done them my own way, setting myself apart from “the group.” You wouldn’t guess it upon first glance – I enjoy being around people, love being social, and relish being the centre of attention. But yet…I feel awkward around people. I can’t just have a relaxing, normal conversation about sports, or politics. It’s not that I don’t find either of those subjects interesting (although I could care less about “the game” last night), it’s just that I find them utterly inane; unimportant on the scale of things, fleeting and impersonal. Instead of prattling on about “the score,” I’d much rather talk about who “scored” the previous night. It’s so much more personal, interesting: human. To me who our next POTUS will be isn’t as significant as who my high school Year Book Club president was. At least that individual directly affected me – I knew him personally, and he got to choose which unflattering photo of me would be printed within its pages. And when truthfully, whether you’re voting for the Year Book Club President or the President of the United States, it’s all based on the same thing: politics, power and high school gossip.
     It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good political debate. I do..as long as I happen to be following the news that week. It’s just that I appreciate the NOW. Not the score from a game that happened thenight before; not who rose ahead in the polls today; but what’s happeningright nowin front of me. Like, for instance, if the lady I’m talking to has spinach in her teeth and I awkwardly point it out, or the smart-ass student I’m teaching pipes up with a funny remark, causing not only the entire class to erupt in laughter but the teacher too – that’s real to me. It’s about creating real human moments, things I canobservedirectly.I can tell what my best friends thinking if I suggest jerk chicken (he’s thinking, Hellyes!), not what a politician is thinking when he promises reform and better healthcare.
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     I think I live in the moment too much. I rarely plan things and that seems to be my downfall. It’s why I’m always late, why I’m always broke, and the reason I still don’t know what I’m doing with my life. I’m envious of everyone around me: I call these citizens “normal people” (NP from here on out). I envy their jobs, their lifestyles, and their generally relaxed demeanours under life’s stresses and pressures. They seem to defiantly move forward, while I obstinately pretend these things didn’t exist. I tend to defuse these social situations with a sly remark, a witty observation, a funny joke, all hiding the fact I’m morescaredthan the they are (though perhaps they’re thinking the same thing). In fact, most of the time I wish I was someone else – fat, ugly, poor or rich – anyone but me. But then I try and erase that thought, afraid that I’d lose my talents, abilities, personality, and anything that makes me,me.
     Sometimes, if I take a moment to reflect (which is rare in today’s day and age), I tell myself to acknowledge the awesome things I’ve done: the art, poetry and performances, to take some time out of my “busy” day to pause; to congratulate myself in an unrelenting, and at times unsympathetic world. It’s certainly healthy to do so; otherwise we’d all walk around doing things and forgetting why the hell we did them. So, good job me! Congratulations! You’ve survived another day – You got up, showered, brushed your teeth, dressed, made coffee, wrote a blog, went to work, taught a student something new, talked to a stranger, texted a loved one, watched three episodes of Narcos back to back, and did it all without offending someone too much and maybe even brightened someone’s day who felt worse than you.
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     I may be a loner at heart (the reason for all my self-inflicted problems), but perhaps we all feel like loners in our own world. I feel “unique” in this world – I believe my mom uses the term “special” – but this is a feeling I think we all need to adopt in a world that, if you don’t display your uniqueness in some way, you fade into the background unnoticed and unappreciated..and that would be such a loss to your fellow creatures. So let your uniqueness shine! Even if your uniqueness is the cause of your depression, anti-social behaviour and other issues, show the world you’re different than the rest. Read up a little on what’s happening in the world so you can indulge in a conversation that covers the basics: polictics, sports, Hollywood gossip… But make sure you’re also in theNOW:notice what people are wearing, what nervous ticks they have, don’t be afraid to awkwardly point out the mustard stain on their jacket or ask about their personal life. It’s the stuff that makes ushuman, and not just a Blackhawks fan who thinks Trump is the best thing to happen in politics since that weirdo who headed up the Year Book Club. What’s his name again?
Cameron is a freelance writer and proud loner

Poetry Corner – China Poem Part 3

China Poem
***Background: I wrote this on a lonely mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, China, after taking my first job teaching overseas... It was a tough year, but we (the Lingxi Crew) made it through, and I ended up spending six years teaching in Asia! My girlfriend, upon reading it years later, described it as "very emo."

China Poem Part 3

Woken from firecrackers like gunshots

Every morning at one o’clock

Town alarm blaring: warning of ?

Seemingly coming from above

Spitting in the streets, it's disgusting!

Broke-down machines, neglected, rusting

Young men bored, a daily routine

They smoke and drink and KTV

Outdoor table ball and table tennis

Do it all over when day's replenished

River dirty like the shores of Venice

Wish people here could afford a dentist!

Boys out-number girls and all of’em get married

But if they’re not, they’re probably scary

Men are generous but very jealous

At first they cheers you, then act zealous

....

Gentle wind, slightest breeze

Polluted air makes me sneeze

(Achoo!)

I feel congested, so unrested

Bed of wood makes rest so restless

Bug-infested when neglected

Noise is hectic, chest arrested

Everything here is queer and foreign

And when it rains it's f&*$in pourin’!

Old, mould, cold, fool's gold

Fake shit going once, twice, three times - sold!

Typhoon's on its way, heavy downpour

Devouring whole town, torrential sound sore

In my thoughts I drown more…

China's about twenty years behind us

But in kindness their generosity

can remind us.

-Lingxi, China, 2010

Poetry Corner – China Poem Part 2

China Poem
***Background: I wrote this on a lonely mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, China, after taking my first job teaching overseas... It was a tough year, but we (the Lingxi Crew) made it through, and I ended up spending six years teaching in Asia! My girlfriend, upon reading it years later, described it as "very emo."


China Poem - Part 2

Eating rice and noodles a lot

Streets lined with stroodles and oodles of shops

Teaching classes, reaching masses

of children still in teeny baskets

People sleeping, amputees begging

Young girls squealing, old bags haggling

Age is keeping, time is lagging

but never runs out so we keep on dragging

While we’re treated like celebrities

a person’s life here is never free

Sidewalks, streets are used as bathrooms

Pollution looms, witches brooms, no vacuums

Umbrellas, umbrellas – everywhere!

Shield from rain and protect from glare

On a sunless morning The Sun is scorching

Try to feel inspired but fun is boring

Feel like I might evaporate, I’m exasperated!

Need a nap or break, hot like a pasta plate

Hot and muggy, feel sluggish

Draught is coming, revealing rubbish

Old folk exercise, keeping healthy

Many are poor, but hide the wealthy

Girls get married, still so tender

Having babies, frill and slender

Starting families so young

When's the time come just to have fun?

Motorbikes racing traveling fast

“Out of the way!” Better make a dash

Horns honking, breaks screeching

Salesmen preaching, constant beseeching

My ears are bleeding!

....

Gloomy day, cloudy weather

A ray of hope holding on by tether

There's always next day to feel better

So for today, I’ll just endeavour


-Lingxi, China, 2010

Poetry Corner – China Poem

China Poem
***Background: I wrote this on a lonely mountaintop in the middle of nowhere, China, after taking my first job teaching overseas... It was a tough year, but we (the Lingxi Crew) made it through, and I ended up spending six years teaching in Asia! My girlfriend, upon reading it years later, described it as "very emo."


China Poem

Everything is old and new

But new is old, and old is new

Rickshaws, BMWs, Shaolin temples

Strict laws, streets in rubble, flower pedals

Car horns, “corn for sale!” 

kids crying, birds chirping

The sound of construction men 

constantly working

Muslim noodles served in huge bowls

Rice and chopsticks, spice and hot spits

Milk tea, milk drink, egg milk, hot milk

Silk scarves, silk sheets, rag silk, not silk

Polluted river, chicken liver

Cold shiver, hot quiver

Rain, rain, rain, rain

Again, again, again, again

Sun! Humid, hot, wet, damp, dirty, sweat, AC! 

WC no seat; both feet

Good people, look feeble

Paint a portrait on wood easel

Fun times, vent rhymes

Lifetimes into bent spines

Sun climbs, then shines

Rays upon spent minds

China: Sign up!

One year, I’m stuck

But with my luck

Won't last five months


-Lingxi, China, 2010