She walks with an outstretched arm guiding her down the sidewalk, seldom relaxing enough to let the hand mirror out of sight. Sometimes she stops, seemingly gripped by the hand held reflection, to tug at her highlighted bangs or the straight strands pulled back under headbands and hair clips from around her asian face. To those who approach her with common talk, she listens and replies casually, as though constantly using a mirror in the street would be the same, to everyone else, as carrying a bag. As her pace plots the same six block circle everyday, four or five times a day, a slight bend in her arm and shuffle in her gait give the air of familiar ground for this local.
“She’s pretty famous around here. One Berklee student dressed up as her for Halloween and everyone recognized him.” said Emma Barcelo at Floyd’s Barbershop on Massachusetts Ave. Just between Berklee Performance Center and Symphony Hall, the “Mirror Lady” is a memorable character in the local community. For the last three or more years she has walked the same route, in the same direction, causing various reactions in her path.
“I say hi and she says hi back… …I think she’s sane, not crazy. Just lonely.” said Nomar Lugo, the 7-3:00 greeting doorman at the Tillingers Concierge residential building. “I’m always talking to homeless people.” he says while juggling his keys in and out of his buttoned up suit coat pocket and swinging the door open for a resident as his untucked tie sways with his moves. “The security guards watch her do loops around the building.”
Looping behind Mass ave. she passes Whole Foods, laughing and smiling audibly while people across the street might wonder who she was conversing with if handless phones weren’t popular and she wasn’t carrying an elevated mirror. Neighbors make one-way eye contact acknowledging her unique presence and her mirror drops below her glance occasionally, trailing off in thought.
“If you talk to her she’ll yell at you.” said Steve McClure having a smoke outside Floyd’s Barbershop with Emma & Mike Baldino. “She usually doesn’t scream any words, its just screaming.” chimes in Emma. “There’s just a lot of crazy people around here.” Mike concludes with stories of other colorful local characters.
Later, in front of the same shop, screaming erupts from her in multi-lingual words and the mirror looses her attention. She concentrates her amplified anger on two young girls dressed to kill and leaning their giggles into each other, trying to avoid the attention. Mirror lady rotates her body and voice, following them as they pass by. Other pedestrians look around from face to face wondering what happened and possibly who had started the confrontation.
On the other side of her daily routine she pauses between two parked cars and adjusts the mirror in front of her. Her hands pet at her hair now in a way that seems more distracted and her eyes wander one at a time around the side of the mirror beyond the looking glass or perhaps, behind her, through it. The two parked cars for a moment then seem to become shields for her body while she stops to watch around her. Is she looking at herself or is the mirror just a tool to watch everything else?
“I overheard that she was mugged from behind.” said Ron Janick the Berklee mailman delivering two bins stacked in a leaning dolly cart. “I’ve been mugged and it feels uncomfortable, constantly looking around until that feeling wears off. In the beginning I thought she was a kook.” Ron said, almost pitying himself for misunderstanding the possibilities of her situation.
After finishing the third of her many walks this day, she ducked into a residential doorway and maybe put the mirror down. Outside on the wall there is a plaque that reads, “Hemenway House. For decades, lodging houses [like the Hemenway house] provided an important form of housing in American cities for single people and immigrants. But the supply of lodging house rooms has dwindled- … … a direct role in the rise of homelessness.”
Mirror Hand artwork 2013©Sarah Rushford / Photograph 2013©GretjenHelene