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Streetsy

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45 seconds until the lights turn red. Seva knows this because that's how long the countdown is on the crosswalk sign next to her, running parallel to the rush of traffic. She is headed for the traffic island across her, a small patch of brickwork nestled between two sets of very busy lanes. Further ahead of her view is the city's most central hospital, quieter this hour; behind her, a college with a constant flow of students and teachers holding coffees from nearby cafes, getting in or out of one of the many tram stops around her radius. It is close to noon but the cars and buses bustle on, downtown not too far away.

As she waits, Seva re-checks the contents of her keister, a run-down beige travel briefcase that looks like it had circumnavigated the world since 1908. She wishes she had that much travel experience, but she's a young vagabond and reckons she's still got a lot of opportunity yet. Inside this bag, however, isn't one's usual travel accoutrement: there's a toothbrush and odd bits of clothing here and there, but most of it is filled up with various objects of manipulation. A crystal contact juggling ball, cloudy from wear and tear; a couple of bright plates, divots in the centre, with accompanying dowels snug against the briefcase's diagonal; a patterned diabolo looking like a hollowed-out hourglass; twin balls the size of tangerines hanging off pencil-thick ropes. A set of three juggling balls nestles by a corner across from the tips of the plate-spinning dowels - the most basic of her tools, but useful when in need of a quick, easily impressive act.

30 seconds. Seva takes her phone out and uses the front-facing camera as a mirror. She takes a quick look at her outfit: a crisp cream blouse tucked into linen trousers that can't seem to decide if they are capris or pantaloons, brass-brown shoes close to the same shade as her chin-length choppy bob knotted with laces the same shade as her socks, dark brown braces with white stripes down the middle holding it all together. And of course, her hat - a basic black bowler she calls her "lucky hat", though sometimes she realises she's mostly kidding herself. Most of her attire, including her hat and her keister, were scavenged from the odd op-shop or two, sometimes found in Free boxes around her travels. Her braces, though, are sentimental: the only bit of her old life she rescued before heading out to travels and travails that led her to this very intersection. Seva looks almost like she came from another time and space, but the city dwellers aren't too fazed - they tended to think people like her were a little bit odd anyway. And that's if they really knew who she was. Mostly they just guess 'hipster'.

Hiding in plain sight, very convenient.

15 seconds. Seva takes a photo, but decides she doesn't quite have enough time to upload it, and besides she's not really meant to be here anyway. Hiding in plain sight can only go so far before certain people ask uncomfortable questions. She's become really good at avoiding those questions before they start - running away from coppers or councilpersons finicky about people working without permits, or avoiding other streetsies that have noticed her trespassing on their turf. Seva's never really stayed anywhere long enough to establish her own pitch, claim her own territory - and honestly? She's not sure she really wants to. She's much more fond of spaces where she can flit in and out, materialise and dazzle those nearby with something just a little bit different. Stoplights are perfect for this - in a way, a kind of permanence because traffic islands don't disappear, but the audience is quick and temporary by design.

She does dream sometimes of bigger pitches, holding circle shows that bally in crowds of tourists and locals awed by her dexterity. Spaces for her to really throw and catch, maybe try out a few more daring objects - fire, perhaps? Hmm, fire's a little overused. How about knives? That hasn't been seen in a while. Maybe if she ties ropes to them and slings them around like poi. That's definitely going to get her some attention. Maybe even the attention of the Big Leagues! But they only watch the high-key pitches, those right in the middle of downtown next to popular cafes or tourist traps or central stations; most controlled by powerful and dangerous streetsy mobs that occasionally claim to provide "community service" by renting out their pitches to up-and-comers and providing "mentorship"...for the low, low fee of your first hat plus 85% of all subsequent hats. Hey, streetsies gotta eat too.

5 seconds. Seva runs a finger around the brim of her maybe-not-as-lucky-as-she-claims bowler hat. Even 15% of a hat at a key pitch like that would likely be more than the kind of hatting she could pull from her flash acts. Barely enough for food most days, though sometimes she strikes lucky and earns enough for a roof for a night. She runs the odd errand here and there, mostly to help out other streetsies who would much rather trust one of their own than a punter-folk, but even trust is hard to come by among her kind. She gets by, somehow.

4.
Seva squares her shoulders, holds her keister next to her, and snaps her fingers.

3.
All goes fuzzy.

2.
The lights turn red.

1.
All goes fuzzy again.

0.
Seva is on the traffic island.

A driver pulling up right next to the island blinks at Seva, looks back at the sidewalk, then back at Seva. Did she just sprint over really fast? Seva just smiles.

She opens her keister and makes quick decisions about what to use for this round. Anything that involves throwing is out - don't want to break a window. Plate-spinning is tricky because the dowels are pretty tall. Contact juggling? Easy enough.

She takes the crystal ball out of the briefcase and gives it a quick wipe against her blouse. Sometimes she thinks she can see moving images in there, perhaps a warning or a portent, but her skills don't extend to divination. (Though she did spend an enjoyable 48 hours once in the company of a small group of streetsies that were into tarot cards and runes, and enjoyed the chance to mess around with them. Maybe she'll look into that if her current stock stops bringing in income.)

The cars start piling up now, traffic stretching a good distance past the hospital and the college. It's getting really warm now; Seva's hat feels like a broiler upon her head as she tries to manoeuvre between the rows of vehicles. She tries not to let the heat get to her, putting her energy instead on her crystal ball as she deftly moves it along her shoulders, her arms, up and down her back, on the edge of her fingertips, floating between her hands.

Not all of that is sleight of hand.

The heat is getting to the drivers, though, which shows in their relative lack of response to her show. They barely look at her performing, and many outright ignore her attempts to hat. Stoplight shows are tricky like that - your audience is captive, sure, but not for you, and could very easily run over your toes if you annoy them. You could be welcome and entertaining relief, or you could be a pest on their journey - and you wouldn't know until you start.

Seva does have one other trick up her sleeve, though it is one she is very reluctant to use. She's never been keen on influencing - or really, forcing - anyone into paying attention to her, let alone drop significant coin into her hat. She wants people to watch and enjoy on their own accord, give her money because they were truly entertained, not because things went a little bit fuzzy in their mind.

But she's a performer. A streetsy. Performance itself is just another form of manipulation, isn't it? Doing specific things to elicit specific responses? Acting in particular ways to get people to feel certain things about you? Charming people to be on your side, even if you're playing - or being - not exactly likeable?

And yes, streetsies gotta eat, and that includes her. Right now she has barely enough to afford a sandwich. Looks like she might need to find more pitches for the rest of the day - maybe that checkerboard space by the library is free. If it hasn't already been claimed by another city streetsy mob. Or the Council.

Oh if only the Fairy Godmother could help! Well, if she even exists at all. Her title is whispered in rumours amongst the streetsy folk: a mystery matriarch type that somehow has the ability to connect streetsies in need with just the right pitches, show clans, guides, spotters, opportunities. And no need to really pay her back too: she gives from the goodness of her soul, and besides is far too big for any possible show opportunity anyway. They claim that many of the Big League superstars were streetsies whose careers were kickstarted by the benevolent machinations of the Fairy Godmother, protected from the stigma of their early selves. But just getting these stars to admit their streetsy background was difficult enough; trying to claim assistance from someone as mythical as the punter-folk's Santa Claus would be another hassle entirely.

Doesn't stop Seva from dreaming about being noticed by her, though. Could save her some trouble having to deal with pitch mobs. Maybe help her earn a little more in her hat so she could get a cold drink to go with the sandwich.

Maybe she should use her charm powers, all she needs is just a couple more dollars...

The lights turn green. Cars and buses rev up, whizzing by her. No time to catch a punter's eye for any kind of charming or performing. Time to jet, before the coppers impound her for traffic safety violations. Can't exactly hat in jail, and she's not sure if her nascent charm powers extend to security guards.

Seva snaps her fingers.

All is fuzzy.

She reappears on the sidewalk.

45 seconds until the lights turn red.