High Stakes Dominoes

I’ve learned the past few weeks in Natal how much the role of curiosity plays in what we pay attention to. Almost every morning, very early, I sit on our third floor balcony overlooking a busy city street with a median between the lanes of traffic. The median includes palm trees, much trash, old abandoned tires, and a small amount of space that is a tiny park with seats embedded in the concrete floor.

What draws my attention to the middle section of the street is an elderly man who comes to the same spot on the median and stands observing traffic and people.

He follows the same pattern each day. He will cross the street to his spot in the park-like area of the median, stand, and turn completely around to observe the people and the traffic. He looks down at the ground and searches for a weed to pull, pitches it away from his space, rubs his hands together, and sits on the same stool with one foot on the seat of a nearby stool, and watches. He wears flip-flops, a net tank top, and short pants. The clothes always match colors and his hair is carefully combed.

After he finishes these rituals, he will greet anyone who comes near his spot.

The gentleman usually stays an hour and then leaves—probably to go home for breakfast.

Most days I will see him a little later from our building with 4-5 other “retirees” sitting on the stools playing dominoes. The many cars and motorcycles that pass by on each side do not distract them. About noon they disperse and the same routine is repeated most days.

Since I do not speak Portuguese, I can only speculate on their conversation. Do they discuss the rainy season, the amount of traffic, complain about the government? And how about the dominoes game? Do they lay money on the table and the winner gets the pot? Or is this a game just to while the time away?

I can’t resist watching each morning the rituals that unfold and the discussion over dominoes that ensues. I’m simply curious and that alone keeps my attention. Dominoes anyone? What kinds of things are you curious about? What holds your attention?