Mary Beth Meehan

Rafael – Providence, RI

Rafael – Providence, RI

I was in Olneyville Square, walking, when I heard something clanging behind me, metal against metal. An elderly man in a brown cap was riding a bicycle. Under one arm he was carrying a pair of crutches, while a metal chain rattled against his back fender. He got off his bike, fastened the chain around the bike and a pole, and headed toward a nearby bank.

Rafael is from Puerto Rico. He moved to Providence recently, to be near his son and daughter, who live in the area. Retired, he lives alone on Westminster Street, just a bike ride from Olneyville. He said he loves to be alone – he can make his coffee or turn on his TV whenever he wants. No one bothers him.

We crossed the street and he took off his cap so I could make his portrait. He was stiff at first, but I asked him to relax. I asked him to imagine that the camera lens was someone he loved.

After we were done, he wrote down his address and told me where to send the photograph. I asked who he’d thought about while we were working. “Mi madre,” he said.