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Phantoms of the Street

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The woman with the bike intrigues me. She rides straight and quick, like an arrow through the air. Then she stops abruptly to inspect some roadside curiosity. She might pick up bottles and cans or pause to examine an item others would not notice. I’ve seen her stare with seeming satisfaction at the remnants of a broken fence. She sees things most of us are blind to.

The woman might be one hundred years old. Her face is as lined and intricate as the back roads of a bucolic county. Her nose is hooked, her eyes sunken. She looks to me to be ancient, yet there is nothing old about her. Her manner is strong, her motions deliberate.

I’ve known her for several years, but I have no idea who she is. She is one of many phantoms of the streets. One of those apparitions seen out of the corners of your eyes.

The man with the bags fascinates me. He is small and as skittish as a street cat. Maybe forty-five years old and timid. His face is round and his eyes are large. The eyes are always alert. They will glance in your direction and then quickly pull away, as if affixed to taut rubber bands.

He walks slightly bent and he is always carrying bags. Plastic and cloth bags. As far as I can tell, he walks a well-worn path along Main Street in Lewiston, across Longley Bridge and into Auburn. Up Court Street and over to Hannaford.

I’ve seen him cashing in his bottles and occasionally standing in line. While waiting to reach the cash register, he looks like he’d rather be anywhere but in line at a crowded supermarket. It looks like agony for him. He’d rather be out walking—making his way down the path of his life with bags in hand.

The magic man confounds me. He walks in a light, open windbreaker covering nothing but a tank top. He walks in this garb even on the coldest days. I’ve never seen him wince against the chill. Nor have I seen him utter a word to anyone. He walks face forward, eyes like flint. He looks neither afraid nor interested in his surroundings. His face is weathered. To me he looks like one of those seasoned sea captains who smoke pipes and say “arggh.”

But he doesn’t appear to be very old. He’s muscular, although I never see him do anything but walk. He looks like he could work on the loading docks somewhere but he doesn’t. He walks.

What confounds me is that look of deliberation—deep, unstoppable determination—but no ultimate aim or destination that I can discern. That confounds me. That and the fact that he’s magic. I swear, I saw him in two places at almost the same time once. I’ll swear to it even as you roll your eyes and make twirling motions around your temples.

I was stepping out of the Sun Journal one early evening, on my way to a scene of mayhem in Auburn. The magic man passed me on the street. His eyes blazed forward and gave me no heed. He was walking toward downtown with great determination. I made quick work of evening traffic and was on Turner Street in no time.

There, striding briskly like a soldier in an invisible army, was the magic man. Same clothes, same look of deliberation. But it was two or three miles away and just moments since I’d seen him walking toward downtown Lewiston. The magic man defies the laws of time and space.

The lady who twirls delights me. I saw her a year ago walking in freezing cold toward Kennedy Park. At the time, I thought she was in desperate shape. I know better now.

See the lady who twirls several times a week. I watch her every time and I’m learning her routine. She’ll walk down Park Street at a normal gait. But then she pauses at a precise location and silently, gracefully spins in a circle. She does so without much fanfare or drama. She simply twirls. Then she continues down Park Street, stops and twirls again, in a pattern known only to her.

These are people I see often. I notice when they aren’t around. They seem to have lives that are secret. Somebody knows these people but most know only of them.

They are fascinating phantoms of the streets. You just know each of them has a story to be told. Sometimes I want to rush out and uncover those stories. Each and every one of them. But mostly, I’d rather leave it alone. And wonder.


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