“I LOVE your earrings!”
She appears by my side and I feel like she has been there all along. We’re marching along Rampart just beyond the gates to Armstrong Park winding towards Canal Street. It’s hot and humid, quintessential New Orleans. I’m wearing all white to ward off the heat, yet my pale skin is ready to begin peeling from my burn and the emanating heat at any minute. The only jewelry I chose to wear for the climate protest were fair-trade turquoise-tinted dangling earrings. I have never been a fan of wearing earrings often but for some reason they began to appeal to me, like they somehow made me into a better version of myself, a more put-together and deliberate person. She’s staring intently at the left ear, transfixed.
“Thank you so much! Take one so we remember each other forever, we’ll be blood sisters.”
I unhook the earring with my left hand and pass it to the woman. It is now that I come out of the protest reverie and see exactly who this woman is. She’s walking with a cane in her left hand. She’s in soiled, black long-sleeves and pants. Her hands are caked with sweat and dirt. She holds the tip of the earring in her right hand for a moment, stunned.
“My sister is a truck driver, she don’t have a pair of earrings. How bout them Saints this season?”
She begins babbling about sports and I laugh like I’m understanding, but what I really want is to pay attention to the chanting again. Two organizers are in the front of the crowd in designated white shirts, megaphones in hand.
“Show me what democracy looks like!”
“THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE!” we echo back to them.
I glance to my left over at the woman walking step by step with me. I’m expecting her to be bashful, to give my earring back and say there’s no point to have one earring–because there isn’t. My boyfriend to my right taps my shoulder.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“I gave her my earring.”
She’s a few steps ahead of me now.
“I just got sort of into it and gave it to her…” He can sense the resentment in my voice.
“Well, get it back!”
I jolt up to her again.
“Hey, can I get my earring back?”
She looks at me. “My sister needs a pair of earrings. Let me get the other one.”
“What? No, please let me get my earring.”
“Tell you what, I’ll give you back this earring if you give me your sign.”
She tilts her head up to my sign I’m holding up for the climate change protest. It’s a colorful flower in the shape of a daisy and I’m holding it by the green paper step. In the middle I’ve written “This is OUR future,” with the OUR underlined, and the circumference around the center reads “Protect water, protect land, protect people, value life.”
I grip my sign in my hand harder and I feel myself becoming even more attached to the words I’ve written in permanent marker and an equally potent sense of disbelief. Is this bitch seriously trying to steal my flower to give me my own fucking earring back?
I go to grab my earring from her right hand and for a moment our fingers touch and I feel her grip down on the delicate metal, the turquoise bulbs. She huffs, throws her hands up and scurries off into a side-street.
“She took your earring?!”
“Yeah… She just wouldn’t give it back.”
We’re winding down onto Canal Street. The crowd has blocked a bright red streetcar, the cables connecting the transit grid a spider-web of right-angles above us. The palm trees are in parallel rows for as far as we can see. Everything has a sense of order in the chaos and a new chant has sprung.
“We NEED! A LEADER! Not a stupid TWEETER!”
I take a few breaths to shake off the audacity of the woman at this specific event, this specific moment. Cars are all blocked trying to exit the French Quarter. I’m in the first few rows of protesters, when I look back I can’t see the end of our own parade. We’re chanting. We’re breathing. We’re laughing. We’re alive. Who can give a shit about an earring?
People start taking pictures, the tourist crowds are upon us. People stare with their mouths open or sway to our chants. They take photos and videos and hold up their fists but don’t join and watch from afar. I feel like I’m in a zoo, but I don’t feel alone. When we finally wind our way back onto Rampart we realize we’ve stopped traffic there, too. Cars have their windows down and fists up, they beep their horns and give us a thumbs up or a peace sign. We’re making people stuck in traffic smile. Our lonely little group of the angry has caused a small sea of momentum and I can’t feel any better about the greater picture of it all… Despite losing my earring.
I feel a vigorous tap on my shoulder and turn around.
She takes my palm, places my earring back in my hand, turquoise and silver shining in the heat, and smiles.
“We’re blood sisters, aren’t we?”