On my last day of being thirty-four I sat on a bridge in the centre of Sao Paulo and waited for someone to cut the nails on my right hand. I was having problems with my husband, he left home and took the nail clippers with him. I had no one to cut my nails at home, and the nail scissors could only be used by a right hand. So I went out into the city to see if someone would help. I sat amongst umbrella sellers and fortune tellers, each of us with our wares set out in front of us.
A lot of people came up to me to try and work out what on earth I was doing.
This lady said she had cut a lot of nails in her lifetime because she has a lot of children. This man took a picture so I think I might be on his Instagram somewhere.
This man is called Carlos and he has also worked as a street performer. He said he did not like the direction the world is going in and that he has noticed people becoming more disconnected from each other.
This is Aleksandra, she stopped to cut my nails. She is a manicurist who was passing between appointments. In her hand she had a box of tools and nail varnishes. My nail scissors looked quite inadequate in comparison.
She said you’ve got to stop and help haven’t you. If we looked after each other the world would be a better place. She is learning English so we spoke in a mix of English and Portuguese. She cut, filed and painted my nails with clear nail varnish. She checked my left hand and improved that too, because she wasn’t satisfied with my own work.
Then she picked up her things and left.
I thought about the experience as it started to rain. At a time when I felt alone (even the nail scissors were conspiring against me), I was met and understood, by lots of people. And when I needed a nail cutter most, there was an actual manicurist, offering her services.
I have done this once before in 2012 in Salford. It is nice to remember that life still isn’t going to plan and that sometimes you just need other people to get you through it.
This piece of work was commissioned by my mum, who for my birthday had sent me some money to get my nails done. This covered the cost of a photographer, the brilliant Alicia Esteves to document the manicure. Special thanks to the grandiose writer Leda Cartum, who translated this text into Portuguese.