Portraits

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She brings me with her when she goes out. Children bring in more money, she says. Children without shoes, without good clothes, with hunger in their faces and pinched cheeks. Everyone will stop for a hungry child.

So I go with her. We sit on the curb together, watching the rain fall, huddled together to share the warmth of a single threadbare blanket. The cobbles leech all the feeling from my bare feet, but she’s never let me bring so much as a box to sit on. I suppose it only helps if I’m cold.

I let her do the begging. She’s tried to get me to help, but I’m sitting here with her in the cold. That’s all the help she’ll get from me, no matter how ungrateful she says I am.

Instead, I watch. I watch the people go by, the families pushing strollers, the girls out shopping together. I watch the businessmen chatting on their phones, the women tugging their children on a little faster when they see us, the old war vet who sits opposite us and feeds the pigeons. I watch them all, and I remember their faces. Their clothes. The way her makeup is smudged, the way he keeps his hood up, his headphones in. The way she smiles and he doesn’t. I store them all away, their faces, their expressions. When we finally have enough, we go home, and I pull the sketchbook out from under my mat and draw the ones that I liked. The ones were messy, the ones that captured my notice. I don’t beg, but I steal their faces, their portraits. The way they looked at me, the way they looked at each other.

It’s a harmless kind of theft. I doubt they’ll ever notice.

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