I wander the street of an old Chinese market. The smells from the food stalls fill the air and make my stomach rumble in need of sustenance. I yearn for food…I can see it, smell it, nearly taste it in the air around me but I cannot put it to my lips. I haven’t the money. It seems that everything on Earth is for sale here. Stall owners wave to passers-by enticing them to come see their wares, promises of deals that do not exist. And everyone knows this but come anyways – come for the belief that they are saving even as they spend on items worth far less than the deal they believe they are getting.
Fabric of every texture and colour, purses of all shapes, shoes, household good, clothing, jewelry; all line the streets, hanging from hooks and stacked on benches. It is as if all of humankind has chosen this spot to enact the sacred dance between buyer and seller, an ancient choreography designed to make the world go round. Without it we would all dry up and perish. Or so we believe.
And I can’t get a bowl of rice. All these riches so close but so far, and my belly rumbles all the louder. I don’t belong here and this is confirmed by the way I am jostled by the crowd, people walking into me as if I am invisible. For this I am somewhat grateful. I don’t want to dance and my cloak of invisibility makes it possible for me to abstain. Yet in abstaining I am ignored by the crowd and my desire to be waved at, enticed, welcomed and seen is as real as the rumble in my belly. A different sort of hunger…one not so easily mollified. And so I stand, a wallflower in this place, amidst the din of raised voices and the clamour of pots and pans, surrounded by the beauty offered by illusion, the seduction of comfort, the smell of savoury dishes. I stand as a wallflower and beckon to those dancing; “Come over here, try sitting this one out, let’s get to know each other…” I promise them that here they will find the most valuable package – wrapped in the immense beauty of their own skin, costing them nothing and providing them with everything. Even as I wave and motion them to me, my heart is lifted, my stomach calmed. Someone hands me a carton of steamed rice, like a hand from heaven it reaches out with just what I need, just when I need it. My gratitude fills me and spills out; a smile spreads across my face. I eat and eat, the rice warming me and filling me. The hand that offered it, my link to the dance, telling me I belong, even as I stand at the sidelines.