O.B.O. (Part II of III)

by Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport

Click here to read Part I.

Chapter Two

An unsettling amount of independent business owners were forced to close their doors during the following weeks.  Some people blamed this occurrence on the economy, some on the gradual � and a few who went so far as to claim the natural � degeneration of the neighborhood over the years; some conceded to blame it on corporate establishments beginning to assert their presence over the area; some didn�t take notice of any change at all.  Jonas could not commit himself to any of these categories.  His concerns remained exclusively with his wife and his merchandise.  If it were not for the smoke and the constant sound of the sirens, he would have remained ignorant of all the fires.  And so it was that Jonas did not notice the drastic change that had taken place until he was walking to the corner one afternoon to mail a letter to his wife.  Vendors had moved out into the streets, crowding the sidewalks with little tables and stands in an attempt to sell the product that they had previously displayed in each of their respective store windows.  A small Italian family � whose bakery had hitherto thrived in the city for over thirty years � had taken to selling fresh loaves of bread and dinner rolls in the streets.  Every twenty minutes or so, the youngest girl in the family would run up the street to a cramped studio where her sister was busy baking bread and pastries.  Having received a fresh tray � which was still so hot that she had to wear thick mittens to protect her hands � the girl would carefully deliver the baked goods to her mother, who would hopefully by this time be ready to exchange the full tray with an empty one.  This relay continued for the rest of the day.  In some form or another, this seemed to be the same exhausting ritual enacted by the other vendors in the street.  One ex-proprietor of an elegant clothing store had taken to selling shirts and ties on the sidewalk; another man, who had formerly operated a family-owned butcher shop, wheeled a large freezer up and down the street in an attempt to sell marbled pieces of meat; a group of three young women set up a picnic table in the limited shade where they gave pedicures and painted peoples� fingernails.  Everything imaginable was happening here, and it might as well have been for free.  This street was often sanctioned and blocked off because of fires and construction in the area, a fact which had somehow contributed to the collective decision among the folded business owners to set up this make-shift marketplace. 

After his initial discovery of this new development in the local industry, Jonas often stopped off in the streets to walk around and see what the vendors had for sale.  The vendors tended to treat him like a true comrade, aware that he must also know of the truth that had forced them into this way.  In his presence, the other vendors felt they didn�t have to worry about succumbing to the shame which sometimes overtook their egos at the approach of a group of strangers who would observe their laid-out wares with condescending indifference.  Some weeks passed before Jonas arrived at the idea of organizing a small showcase of his gems which he might display in the streets.  By the time this notion came to mind nearly every conceivable crack in the sidewalk was shadowed by some salesmen or another, with a disheartening number joining the ranks every day.  Jonas happened to make an arrangement with one of his fellow jewelers � a man whose name was Peter, but whose friends had appointed him the nom-de-plume of Pyrite � which would allow him to occupy this man�s booth on the odd days of the week, and in return Jonas would share with him a small percentage of his profits. 

No matter how early Jonas went down into the streets with his briefcase, there was always some other vendor whose booth had long since been set up.  A majority of the vendors were very boisterous and outgoing, doing all they could to draw customers over to their table, appending the sale of their personalities to the price-tag of their merchandise.  A smaller group of vendors remained at their booths with their arms crossed in an attempt to appear unaffected by the prospect of the crowd, believing as they did that their merchandise was of such quality and necessity that it was capable of selling itself.  Though Jonas wished to attach himself to the emotion of the latter group � for reasons of dignity and respect � he could not refrain from showing his excitement as a great mass of people began wandering around his booth.  When someone happened to come up directly to his booth, he would very casually sweep his lamp over the collection of jewels while nervously explaining where each of them came from.  If a person inquired as to the value of a particular piece, Jonas � incapable of suspending his shame � would point to the O.B.O. on each tag and say: �Whatever you think is fair.�

Jonas�s primary sense of joy came from organizing what merchandise he was going to bring down to the street on his days.  Like pieces of a puzzle, he connected different combinations of stones, gems, bracelets, and pendants across a large space he had cleared in the middle of his living room floor, at once trading a turquoise for an opal, or a sterling-silver chain for a gold bracelet.  After he finally believed to have found the right order � by which time it was usually late into the night � he would sweep his desk lamp over the organized art, testing with his trained eye the ability of each piece to share and contribute in the collective shine.  Though Jonas couldn�t help missing the natural order and arrangement of his own store, he quickly became enamored of the genuine camaraderie among the street vendors and how they were always willing to help one another in any way they could, whether that be assisting someone in the erection of their displays, freely sharing in the product they sold, or watching each other�s booths so someone could take a break.  But even more than he appreciated this reciprocal relationship, Jonas felt himself to have been promoted into a palace when he first observed how the unobstructed flood of sunlight washed over the brilliant materials strewn across his little stand.  �All they need is light to shine,� he often thought as he created a shadow over a piece with the palm of his hand before then moving it away to realize how each gem seemed ready and anxious to translate the true source of its luster.  In spite of the fact that the other vendors had a great deal of respect for Jonas, and were genuinely fond of his presence on the street, their general consensus remained that the jewelry Jonas had for sale was not real.  They were under the impression that, if Jonas were in fact telling the truth, he surely wouldn�t endeavor to sell his stones on the street, but would take them to someone who specialized in such authentic objects.  Jonas had no explanation for this.  The only reason he may have been able to give � if for a moment he could trick himself into being articulate, something he certainly was not � was that he enjoyed this method for the same reason he enjoyed searching for those stones in their natural homes so he could later bring them into his own.  When Jonas honestly attempted to explain his position to one of the other vendors, a condescending glaze seemed to come over their eyes, though this was soon followed by an offer to watch his booth for awhile so he could go get something to eat.


Chapter Three

�So how�s the busking business these days?� Raymond said with a smile as he blew the steam away from the top of his cup. 

�I can�t say that I�m selling as much as before, but I sure am enjoying it a lot more.�  Jonas peeled off a portion of his croissant and scattered it onto the grass.  �Look at that one there.�  He pointed across the lawn at a small bird that had just dropped down out of a tree to snatch up the crust of bread.  Suddenly a whole flock of birds dropped down from the trees and began quickly snatching up the rest of the bread as Jonas continued to throw it.  Within a few seconds every crust had been claimed by the flock without the little bird having had a chance to secure any in its beak.  A wise and knowing smile crossed over his face as he recognized the essential struggle of the bird. 

�Well what are you going to do now?� Raymond managed to mumble through a mouthful of crumbs.

�About the little bird?�

�About your little business?�

�There isn�t anything else I can do.�

�And what does your wife think about your new mode of enterprise?�

�I�m sure she�ll get a kick out of the whole thing.  Like I said, there isn�t much else we can do at this point.  Kind of makes it easier that way, don�t you think?�

�Given the circumstances I suppose you�re not doing as bad as you could be, but I still don�t know why you don�t take them to someone who specializes in that kind of stuff.�

Jonas�s attention wavered back and forth between his friend and the contest of the little bird.  An old man came along bearing a bag full of bread crumbs, seated himself comfortably on a bench underneath the very same tree where the flock of birds had since reconvened, and began � with a motion Jonas immediately recognized as being part of a ritual � spreading large handfuls of crumbs across the lawn.  No sooner had the first handful been thrown than the flock of birds burst back out of the tree onto the lawn, hopping and scattering around, picking up the bread into their beaks as fast as the man could throw it.  Instead of following the course of the flock, the little bird had instead stayed back to search for any crusts which the other birds may have left behind.  Jonas broke up the rest of his croissant and threw it over toward the little bird, happy to see how easily it was able to take up the crusts now that the other birds were distracted by the bread from the old man. 

��and isn�t it true that most people are ordering their gems from television shows anyway?�

�I�m sure you�re right,� Jonas said, regretfully directing his attention back to his friend.  �How�s your own business going these days?�

�I can�t say that I�m winning,� Raymond sighed, dumping out the rest of his coffee into the hedge.  �But I think I�ll make it through the year.�

�That�s all any of us can ask for.�

�I suppose so,� Raymond seemed begrudged to reply.

�We could always find a little room for you somewhere in the market,� Jonas smiled, watching how energetically the little bird hopped from crumb to crumb, pecking at the larger crusts with its beak until they broke loose into a more manageable size.

�That�s a nice thought and all, but I think it might be a little hard for me to set up an auto shop out there.�

�You�d be surprised at what some people are able to do in such a small space.�

�I�m sure I would.�

Due to a mild riot that had recently broken out in the city, the marketplace was especially crowded by the time Jonas arrived.  Holding his briefcase by his side, he fell in line with the forward motion of the crowd.  �Come on, make me feel better about this,� Jonas thought as he fought his way over to his booth on the sidewalk.  Officers mounted on horseback trotted up and down the streets, cautiously nodding at the vendors as they passed.  An extra set of barricades had been set up on both sides of the street, forcing the crowd that much closer to the center.  �Make it seem easy,� Jonas said aloud, comforted by the fact that the furor of the crowd deafened his words.  Suddenly, if only for a moment, the entire crowd seemed to stand completely still, the officers were gone, the heat from the distant fires was unfelt, and the sunlight fell just right on his jewels.  Then the wind blew and everything was as it had been before, with the mounted officers struggling to control the collective panic of the crowd, the smoke from perpetual fires stinging his eyes, people pushing and pulling and screaming, demanding things he would never know, though the conviction in their voices connoted a cause which he could not help but to understand.  The young daughter whose duty it was to relay fresh trays back and forth from her sister�s oven to the street had a hard time moving through the crowd with a hot tray held high above her head.  When Jonas saw the bread, he felt inclined to smile as he thought about the birds.


Chapter Four

The music venue across the street from Jonas� apartment often played host to concerts that lasted late into the night.  Jonas left his window open so he could listen to the music as he organized his stones for the following day, finding something in the deep rhythm and pulse of the music which offered him a fresh insight into their order and arrangement.  Of the crowds that would pour out into the market after each concert, Jonas began recognizing a certain group of kids � though in truth they happened to be in their early twenties � who seemed to have allowed it as part of their ritual to stop off at his booth after each concert they attended.  Jonas could not help feeling suspicious of these kids at first, assuming that they, too, would take one look at the price tag and immediately dismiss his merchandise as inauthentic.  But there was something about this group of kids � he fell into regarding them as such, in light of how they compared to the progress of his own age � something that struck Jonas as kind, curious, and, for lack of a more articulate term, subtle.  Passing his desk lamp over each of the rows, he would first describe at length the properties of each stone, then, following the same order of description, place a stone in the palm of each young hand so that they may practice using their eye as a trusted tool of observation.  If the moonlight happened to be especially bright, and the clouds in the sky had parted past the pale surface of the night, Jonas would turn off his lamp so the moon�s glow could shine uncontested across the stones, extracting from them with this honest illumination a certain presence which must remain impossible to elicit by the guide of an electric light.  The marvel these kids experienced was especially unique because they seemed to show no outward signs of it at all, save for a few scattered sighs of astonishment and approval when Jonas paused to catch his breath after finishing his explanation on the maturation process of gypsum.  It didn�t take long for the other vendors in the market to become jealous of the attention Jonas was receiving from this ever-growing group of concert kids, especially since they seemed to vanish from the streets on the nights when Jonas did not occupy his space in the marketplace.  When he learned of the sudden attention Jonas was earning from the concert crowd, Peter � the man who shared with Jonas his booth in the street, and whose friends had appointed him the name of Pyrite � decided to augment his regular merchandise with falsified reproductions of the very same stones which Jonas presented for sale, believing as he did that no one would be able to tell the difference.  After two weeks without garnering any interest from either the general concert crowd or the group of kids who habitually frequented Jonas�s booth, Peter reverted to selling his usual merchandise with the same lack of success.   

Read Part III here.

Editor's Note: Part I was published on October 11th, and Part III was published on October 25th.

BIO: Dustin Michael-Edward Davenport was born in Kalamazoo, MI on May 11, 1986.  His first novel, Myth of Melody, is in search of wide-spread publication.