Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Paying Attention To A Bead On The Floor




I was waiting at my gate at Vancouver International Airport when I noticed a small, white bead rolling through the concourse. It occurred to me that it might not be a bead, but rather some sort of candy. Too small for a gum ball, but maybe one of those little sour things.

Whatever it was, it had been dropped and then kicked, probably inadvertently, and was now traveling smoothly, like a marble along the ground. It slowed, but didn’t stop where I thought it might, instead finding an invisible track in the apparently not entirely level flooring. But even so, it did finally find a low point and settle in. I decided to watch it.

Although it was a busy terminal, the bead or bon bon had found a relatively protected spot, not directly in the midst of the hurrying feet, but off to the side where a clutch of middle-aged men were waiting impatiently for boarding to begin. They created a sort of diversionary protection causing people to walk around them and therefore the bead. What a lucky thing, I thought, to find just this spot. Anywhere else and the poor bead would be kicked along according to the fates.

Inevitably, however, I knew it would be kicked along, the odds of that happening, I figured, were close to 100 percent. And sure enough, my waiting and watching paid off as a woman pulling a roller bag emerged from the Starbucks across the way and made a beeline for the bead. She was on her phone, head up, not watching her feet. Why would she be watching her feet? It was a flat, dry floor, the kind of walking surface on which one needn’t be especially attentive. She got closer, closer, closer, then, Rats! she missed it, by centimeters. 

I realized then that I was rooting for the bead to be kicked along. As I watched and waited, a few other people came close, then one guy stepped directly on it with the ball of his foot. It moved a little, then settled back into its divot. If this was a piece of candy it was a real jaw breaker to have survived the full weight of a grown man. Then it happened, someone caught it with their toe, not solidly, but enough that it traveled several feet, getting itself amidst the shoes of the waiting men.

This was it, I thought, now all bets are off. This bead was going to be traveling again soon. And I was right as it began to move about according to the shuffling feet, then a heel caught it and it went skittering into the middle of the concourse, unprotected, where it found another low spot in the floor. I was sure I’d lose track of it now, but despite being out there amidst things it managed to continue dodging all those feet by simply remaining still and small. 

Finally, a family approached, the mother holding the hand of her son, who was doing his best to keep up with her, walking a few steps, then running, then skipping, then going on his tip toes. He noticed the bead as they approached. I could see him trying to wriggle free of mom’s hand in order to stoop for it, but she held tight, scolding him absently. He forced her to slow down as they got to the bead by leaning back against her momentum, the sort of machination that causes so many parents to have shoulder pain, took aim, and gave it a kick. The bead skittered ahead a few paces where it awaited a second kick. This time, the boy made full contact and the bead rocketed ahead, careened off someone’s shoe and disappeared, probably winding up under a piece of furniture where it would remain until a future deep-cleaning of the concourse.

Only the boy and I had noticed that bead, an inanimate object that nevertheless sought out low points. The boy had made a conscious effort to impact the life of this bead, while I only observed. Meanwhile, many more people had impacted the “life” of this bead without knowing it, an accident of them going about their lives.


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