The hunch in her back is pronounced. She no longer stands erect but must walk slowly, her tiny body bent at almost 90 degrees. She wears a faded blue bonnet to shield her face from the piercing sun, but it does little to protect against decades of summers. She pushes a stroller in front of her, but instead of an infant it holds the tools of her daily life: spades and shovels and heavy work gloves. From a distance, she could be mistaken from a small child on a walk with her doll, but a closer look proves that this woman hasn't felt the thrill of youth in my lifetime. As she trudges past my apartment, I realize that her broken posture is the result of endless days laboring in the fields. As I crawl into my car to leave for work, I offer a friendly "ohayou gozaimasu" but she doesn't seem to hear me and continues slowly to begin, or continue, her day's work.
This is my morning commute.
He furrows his heavy brows and the deep creases around his eyes grow deeper as he peers into the already-bright sun. He is dressed in common workman's clothing, but he clearly takes pride in his thick mane of hair. He mindlessly pulls a comb from his back left pocket and runs it through the front of his grey-streaked coif, ensuring that the early morning breeze won't disturb a single hair.
His face is darkened by the sun, but not unflatteringly. He is impatient, pacing from the bench to the center of road and back.
Sometimes I drive past in a rush to make the morning meeting, sometimes slowly with plenty of time to spare, but always he is there, one calloused hand shielding the tanned face below that perfectly-styled hair, waiting restlessly for bus 58.
I smile, nod, and continue driving.
The sun is to be feared, hated, and avoided at all costs. At least, that is how this man feels. He embarks on his morning walk by taking every precaution against that fiery ball of evil in the sky. He puts on his dark pants and a long-sleeved jacket. He then brings up the hood, pulls up some UV gloves, perches thick sunglasses on his nose, and inspects himself in the mirror by the door. But wait! What's this? Uncovered skin! Surely the sun will find the revealed flesh of his face and burn it into a bubbling, cancerous ball of dying skin cells. To safeguard against this terrible fate, he grabs the final piece of his carefully planned outfit: the ski mask.
Or that's what I imagine as he jogs slowly past my car each morning. From head to toe to fingertip to nose, there is not a single sliver of human visible. The result is unsettling at first and, later, humorous. His dedication to untouched skin must surely make him one of the palest, most cancer-free people on the whole sun-soaked island.
I arrive, lock my car, and get to work. These are the people I start my days with. These are my daily faces.