Sunday Morning on International

Sunday morning on International Blvd. A sidewalk laced in fog, car exhaust, the sick-sweet smell seeping from panderias. Little girls in patent-leather shoes, dudes crouched and smoking and speaking in Vietnamese outside the street shop: “Good tattoo ain’t cheap, cheap tattoo ain’t good.” The rattle of shopping cart wheels, the bark of fenced-in dogs.

I’m running late. I’m going to the 11am meeting at the In Between, a beat-up converted barroom now filled with folding chairs and faded banners, where we sit and curse and laugh, talk about God and booze, “hmm-mm”ing and “uh-huh”ing and drinking cheap coffee that stains our teeth. I love that place, its dusty corners and dying plants, the sag of the window frames.

I pass the bright blue letters of Iglesia de Buen Sabor, a storefront church with white bars over its frosted windows. The tambourine rattle and exalted voices of its congregation pours out the open door, from a faceless place—always black inside, when looking in from the street.

I make eye contact with a man standing in front of the doorway. He has a look of well-groomed desperation: cheap suit, overly combed hair, shoes shining like little black teeth. He’s got one crippled arm, bent and with a tangle of underdeveloped fingers; he cradles it next to his body as though he were holding an infant, or a small injured bird. I give him the half-smile and nod of a hello in passing.

He steps towards me. “Hello,” he says. “My name is Juan Carlos…” he continues on with a couple more names, surnames and second middle names. He leans his small hand towards me.

I pause mid-stride, take his small hand. “Right on, man, good to meet you.” It feels limp and strange in my momentary grasp, and I try to amend my handshake, make it softer, let it fit the contours of his curled-in fingers. “I’m running late, though—” I start to step away.

“You have a lot of joy in your heart.”

I stop, look at him with a slightly cocked head. “Thanks.”

He nods, smiles, then steps back into the black swallow and tambourine roll of his doorway.

I cross the street and squeak my own door open.

8 Responses to “Sunday Morning on International”

  1. 1 Candice August 17, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    …and a lot of kindness!

  2. 2 Simone August 17, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    “He has a look of well-groomed desperation.” An incredible line.

  3. 3 neha August 18, 2010 at 9:34 am

    “He has a look of well-groomed desperation.”

    I wish I had thought of that. This is a beautiful piece, but that line in particular floored me.

  4. 4 Gray August 19, 2010 at 7:31 am

    Lovely. I like the idea of a stranger taking one look at you and telling you “You have a lot of joy in your heart.”

  5. 5 Keith August 22, 2010 at 8:29 pm

    Amazing writing. Again.

  6. 6 pam August 30, 2010 at 9:33 am

    I love the well groomed desperation line, but here’s my favorite, “I try to amend my handshake, make it softer, let it fit the contours of his curled-in fingers.” There is something so compassionate about this gesture, I want to weep.

  7. 7 Sarah September 15, 2010 at 4:50 am

    This is a beautiful piece of writing, a wonderful tribute to such a tiny and passing moment. Not to go with the crowd, but I also loved the ‘well groomed’ line. I look forward to reading more of your writing in the future.

  1. 1 Bloody Good Travel Writing from August 2010 | Traveling Savage Trackback on September 7, 2010 at 3:50 pm
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Lauren Quinn is a writer and traveler currently living in Hanoi. Lonely Girl Travels was a blog of her sola travels and expat living from 2009 to 2012. She resides elsewhere on the internet now.

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