I sit on a beautiful white beach under the shade of the eucalyptus trees. In the horizon lies the blue and emerald waters of the Sardinian coast. It is hot, too hot even for me. I’m not used to these temperatures anymore. The beach is crowded, full of happy bodies fighting to attract the attention of the sun while staying cool. They come and go. Some on their mobile phones, some playing paddle knee-deep in the cool waters. Small groups of women walk back and forth immersed in conversation.
A lonesome shadow sits no too far from me. The man rests under some sort of short and stubby palm tree. His skin is the color of deep night. A funny triangular cow skin hat hides his face from me, making him nothing but a shadow, almost a mirage. He is wearing a colorful dress which leaves no doubt of his origin. He is an African man, probably here illegally, probably selling hats, or necklaces made god-knows-where with god-knows-what claiming to be bone. He looks tired and defeated. But probably I am just imagining this because I can barely see his face at all.
He seems so out of place.
We are here on holidays. In the distance I can see the kids run back and forth bringing water to a hole made in the sand that quickly drenches their efforts. They don’t mind, and giggle as they run back into the sea for more. Their biggest concern this week is how to get more ice cream from the grandparents. My biggest concern is ensuring they have enough sun screen.
We are surrounded by tanned Italian bodies. Most of them fashionable, skinny and beautiful. Some bear the mark of time, but all well kept and looked after. The irony of the well off; we have to fight the excess. We fight the fact that we can eat until we make ourselves sick and fat. This shadow before me, one of many that cross our path during the day, they fight to stay alive, to feed themselves, for families they’ve left behind they may or may not see again. They are a cruel reminder of the injustices we tried to leave behind.
Another shadow crosses my path. He is carrying plastic toys on one hand and some African drums in the other. On his head about twenty straw hats he is to sell, one on top of the other reminding me of Dr Seuss’s ‘cat in a hat’. Another shadow drenched in colorful beads like a Christmas tree ventures into our party. My daughter, who loves jewelry, gives him the perfect excuse to take a chair in the shade and a rest next to us. My daughter does not understand he is selling them, and starts happily handing presents out to everyone. My son is trying them on. We chat a bit about football, about Senegal where he is from, about Spain where we are from, which bring us back to football; Spain just won the world cup. The conversation cannot wonder very far.
I choose a necklace he is wearing. It is long with white beads of different shapes. It is too expensive, I know. So I look him in the eye and ask him for a fair price. I could pay the full price but it is a matter of pride. He brings it down a bit. We both know he can go further, but the difference, the extra five Euros we can haggle down mean little to me, a lot to him, so I agree. My mother chooses another and goes through the same rite. He prolongs his stay in the chair until he is clearly no longer welcome. The children have gone back to the sea, the party back to reading or sleeping.
He lifts his weight and walks slowly back into the sun with the sole consolation that it was a good start to possibly a good day; he sold two necklaces before noon.
As he walks away I turn to see the shadow man under the trees but he is gone. Not a trace of him left in the sand. It’s like he never existed but in my conscience.