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I first saw this man years ago. The sign on the back of his wheelchair reads: “Please help me fly my kite.” For some reason I never approached him, and I always felt a little guilty, especially because I only rarely see people interacting with him.
This week I finally decided to talk to him, but for the first few minutes I wasn’t sure it was the right decision. He spoke extremely softly and with great difficulty and didn’t make eye contact, most likely because he couldn’t turn his head. After a few questions I thought I was causing him distress, and almost apologized and walked away. But then I sensed that he was actually enjoying the conversation even though his answers were very short, usually just a yes or no. When I struggled to figure out how to release the kite, he even gave me an encouraging fist bump. Still, I was only able to extract some basic information.
His name is Richard, he’s been doing it for 20 years, he doesn’t do it in the winter and he stays only in Boston Common.
At the end, I wanted to know why he does it, but I realized that he probably wouldn’t be able to give me a detailed explanation, so I just offered him one possibility after another, expecting at some point a ‘yes.’
“Why do you do it?” I asked him. “Is it for the money? The interaction with people? Do you just really love kites? Do you enjoy being outside?”
He remained silent until I simply asked him: “When are you happiest?”
At that point he moved in his chair, turned towards me as much as he could, smiled a little and said louder than before: “When the kids stop by.”
Portraits of Boston is a project of independent photographer Ivan Velinov. He is regularly sharing some of his favorite portraits with WBUR. Visit his website to see the hundreds of portraits he has taken on the streets of Boston.
This program aired on October 24, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.
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