Autumn in the city of snow-stolen leaves. City of donkey’s eggs. City of the never-sleeping conduits, of seasonal employment as a street-painter. Reporting for duty, I am issued with a broom and a facsimile of a work of art. I am told that I must re-create this work of art by sweeping selected leaves from the pavement. The wind plays havoc with my attempts to simulate Van Gogh. My swirls of sea and sky quickly become fuzzy, their edges jagged with sneaky leaf prints. By the time I have completed the outline, I must begin again. Old men interrupt their games of go to offer advice, or simply laugh. By the end of my shift I have managed to herd the offenders into a corner near a rubbish bin for disposal by my assistant. Our supervisor takes my broom and informs me that my services will no longer be needed. It’s something of a relief to walk home to my one-room apartment, under the avenues of dying trees, and to kick up the leaves as I go. There will be other jobs. By winter, the local council will be posting up “help wanted” signs of a different kind: this time, to sculpt snowdrifts into alluring Buddhist mandala patterns. I prefer this kind of work, though of course the days are colder and blizzards lend the task an air of stubborn futility. Still, there will be no leaves to contend with. I boil water, add sachets of herbs and survive. Most days I manage to find a stray green leaf on the ground near the market stalls. Once I was lucky enough to find a turnip. I didn’t bother boiling it, though I knew its rawness would send my stomach into rational spasms. It tasted good. It was, suffice to say, solid. The money I earn from my snow painting will be enough to buy rice, the odd slice of bread. Most people here do not eat bread. I can see why: its floury appearance reminds them of snow. Needless to say, only a few of us have any talent for painting. The rest simply hide in their frozen huts, praying for spring, when the rupturing of the earth will require diggers and shovellers. The silver buses will line up by the bus station, doors flung open, and a sea of amateur farmers will climb on board. None will ask his destination, thinking only of the evening meal, the small gritty specks of soil in the soup, and the tiny green leaves emerging on the limbs of the snow-blasted trees. As for myself, this is the season when I will learn to sing. Buskers earn more money in spring. Couples stroll under the avenues of greening trees, whispering lines of poetry, like thieves unhurried in the dark.
First published in Southerly (2007).