The Man With The Green Eyes
The Man With The Green Eyes.
It was pitch dark in there. I had to come down the steps carefully, holding with one hand the rail, with the other the satchel, stretched out in front of me for fear that I might bump into something.
I would pass in front of the women's convenience and then into the long corridor, full of cubicles stretching along, and walk the narrow path left between them and the large windows.
Most of the glass was broken and pieces of wood had been nailed to stop the cold wind from coming in.
People trying to create a private world sheltered by a few blankets. Refugees ... they seemed to spring up everywhere ... covering the beautiful ruin of the building ... hundreds of them ... thousands of them, making the large rooms small, the long corridors full, the stairs dirty.
Down in the courtyard people were queueing for breakfast.
It was cold.
The old man at the corner of the corridor was up as usual sitting on his blanket, his coat and hat on, drinking tea out of an old tin, biting now and then from a piece of white bread and cheese. Almost everybody was asleep in the second corridor, bodies lying in a row covered with blankets, elongated bundles from which nothing could be distinguished. One had to walk very carefully on the narrow path left between them.
And then the marble stairs stretched in front of me ... dirty but still magnificent. Every time I came down I imagined myself in a palace, dressed in an evening gown, carrying behind me a long elaborate trail full of frills and laces, and I would start to move slower. One could never run in an evening gown with a trail, could one ?
At the second flight of steps I looked down into the courtyard. He was always there, leaning against a column. Dressed as usual in his patched coat, the collar up to his chin, a pair of boots with his toes out and his blanket rolled into a bundle near his feet.
He always looked up at me, he had the most magnificent eyes I have ever seen ... deep green ... large .. very large .. full of some luminous quality ... like a child's.page 60
He was there every morning .. a pale, strong, serious face. At first I wasn't sure that he looked at me, there was no understanding in his eyes. I thought that his head had simply come into that position somehow, and that he couldn't be bothered to turn it away.
He had been in the camp as long as everybody could remember. No one knew who he was, he didn't talk to anyone but just stayed all day long in the sun, when there was sun, or crouched in the corner of a corridor when it was cold.
Every night he would take his bundle and go out into the huge grounds which surrounded the building and sleep on the marble steps of a deserted chapel which stood at the beginning of a garden full of small anaemic olive trees.
Around him floated like a diffuse light, unfinished - half known stories, of dead parents ... war ... of an adolescent lost in foreign lands ... of police and fear ... fear ... a fear that made him forget everything ... forget where he was ... and who he was ... and made him silent ever since.
No, there was no understanding in his eyes.
He didn't seem to belong anywhere, be anything, want anything, he seemed outside everything.
One morning as I was coming down the stairs I noticed that he had moved closer to the end of the stepe and as I approached and passed in front of him he smiled ... he smiled at me. I was dumbfounded, he had actually smiled at me.
I smiled back, surprised, and hurried down the steps and ran across the yard into the street.
I was sure that this was going to happen some day ... that he would come back ... come back into the moving circle. Something had to bring him back, he couldn't be lost for ever ... The street stretched long before me shadowed by trees. The shops were just opening.
I walked on the sunny side of the street feeling very warm. A waiter was arranging the tables in front of a cafe and further down at the tavern a gramophone was already playing :
Open - open the door
'cause I can't resist no more.
The sky was blue and the street wide ... wide. O God! Let him come back ... lot him come back. He can't live for ever in the unknown.page 61
As I walked along the corridor the next morning, watching the old man biting the white bread with his toothless gums, I wondered if he would smile again.
And as I came down the steps he was leaning against the column and his eyes looked at me ... and beyond me ... at the wall ... and through the wall. But there was no understanding in his eyes. And I was more than ever convinced that he had turned his head for a moment towards the stairs and didn't feel like moving it again but kept it there towards the stairs for no reason ... for it didn't matter in what direction his head was turned, it didn't matter where the eyes were looking ... they couldn't see.