Eye´s Shadows (wiersz klasyka)

Grzela Remigiusz

I was running across the platform because I was mad. Because I was completely
delirious. I was running after the train. But the train was waiting silently.
There was still another 15 minutes before it departed. I was to go to the town
of Lublin. As I neared my car, I bumped against an old woman. She waved her
walking stick after me, shouting and sending me all the Egyptian plagues. The
sweat was flowing on my neck. I should turn and say something. I should help her
stand, say that I'm sorry. But my mind was filled with other things. I almost
broke my neck. As I forgot about the pain in my heart, the pain was my more and
more often guest. I seemed to forget about my old age. Or maybe, after all these
years, I still felt strong enough to run. Was I running, or just running away?
My own world died long ago. It was now only black or only white. The door to my
car was closed, and I struggled nervously with it. Only after the fifth or sixth
try did I succeed in sliding it open. As I jumped up the stairs, I finally
understood that there on the platform I had been running after someone. But who
could it be? Was I losing my mind? I moved down the hallway, looking into the
individual compartments. The faces changed one by one, some sleeping, some
looking quietly out the window. Now I understood that I was looking for one
particular face. But could I find it? I knew she must be here on this train,
sitting, waiting. Where else would she be if not here? II The train first slowly
and after while faster left the station. Standing at the compartment's door, I
looked at her. She was thirty, maybe thirty-five. She had beautiful red hair
falling lazy onto her arms. She had a pretty face with sharp features-with
strong cheek-bones, nut-shaped eyes, a snub-nose. Her arms were long. Her neck
was long too. She was intriguing-her beautiful woman's face and her man's body.
Could I just go in? I helped myself by breathing deeply, fixed my hair. I tried
to control my emotions, to calm myself down. I entered and said, "Good morning."
She didn't seem to know I was there. She was looking after something outside the
window, where the world was still sleeping in the dark. I repeated a bit louder:
"Good morning." This seemed to wake her up. She looked into my eyes, completely
embarrassed, as though she had been caught in a trap. Her face grew severe, her
muscles stretched. She was like an animal at which you aim a gun and which asks
you to save its life. Her eyes looked like the eyes of an animal that knows in a
while it will be wounded. It's true, she was embarrassed, but she took up my
game. "Good morning," she answered with a low-pitched, frightened voice. "I'm
sorry. I was lost in thought." I sat down in the seat across from her. I felt
calmer now but was still in a frenzy, still a stranger. We sat there for a few
moments, and after a while she removed her bag a book that I recognized: A
Magician from Lublin. "Do you like Singer?" I asked. "Oh, yes, very much," she
said, and then offered: "You know, it's really strange, but Singer reminds me of
my childhood." She seemed to be overcoming her fear of the stranger who had just
entered her compartment. "I remember the same world and knew a similar
magician." She was looking at me, but also seemed to be running away. "I knew a
similar artist. There are no artists of his kind anymore." "Who did you know?" I
asked, encouraging her. "He was handsome, thin, he looked like an aristocrat,
with a very gentle face. The face was wise but at the same time wild, with big
animal-eyes. He had long and gentle fingers. He looked like a wizard. He was
such a strange man. Mysterious. And he was a great story-teller. When I was a
little girl, I used to run behind his cart. Over time, I would come closer and
closer during his shows and watching him pulling pigeons from his topper. And I
wanted to follow him everywhere. I only wanted to be with him, and nothing more.
So I went." "You went?" I repeated her, sounding like an idiot. "I left my
family and was paying for that decision for many years. My family couldn't
understand why I decided to leave, to go with him. They hardly forgave me. But I
was also not strong enough to live with him, to live the way that he lived. He
treated me like his daughter, even introduced me to all his women. It was really
mean, actually. Can you imagine that feeling, that humiliation? All his sluts
were laughing at me: 'So, little girl, you think that he lives only for you? You
can't give him everything he needs. And he's not the kind of man who is so
easily satisfied.' "But I stayed with him. I didn't have anyone else. There came
a day when I wanted to be with him as a woman is with a man. And when it
happened I understood that I also couldn't live that close to him. He took my
dream away. He took my hope. So I left." She paused for a minute and looked at
me with eyes that had nearly given way to tears. "Yes, I remember that world
very well." "Yes," I said, not really understanding what she was trying to tell
me. What was this world she was telling me about? "He was an artist. An artist
can't think about someone like me. An artist must heat up the emotions, again
and again, make an attempt on his own life. An artist must love and must hate.
He could love and hate at the same time, causing pain and later crying like a
child curled up under the table. I told him he was killing himself, but he was
an artist, and killing made him alive. Without killing he would be unable to do
anything. "Singer was an artist. He knew how to kill, and he was writing about
me. I know his places because these are also my places. I grew up on Krochmalna
Street in Warsaw.... I'm sorry, I shouldn't bore you." How could she play with
me so cruelly, I thought, pretending she really didn't know who I am. The world
outside was sleeping. The train's engine dragged on, struggling to pull the
cars. The mist was lifting over the land, and the landscapes outside the window
were changing slowly: forests, fields, small villages, all sleepy and foreign.
Suddenly the monotonous landscape changed, and there appeared a deep hole. In
that hole was a sleeping lake. Water vapor was lifting beyond the valley, and it
seemed to me that it was a kind of bog, which can gurgle, boil, and bewitch. The
day itself would soon awake, but now the world outside looked more like a fairy
tale. As always, my imagination had run rampant, even as I dwelled on her story.
She continued, trailing off as she spoke: "With a life like mine.... It is
difficult to like life. My world has passed, and I can't live like that. I just
can't." Her voice was that of someone who is very tired, of someone whose life
is ending. "I had five siblings. Aron was the youngest. I was the second oldest.
In my family, the older children take care of the younger children, and my
sisters-Cypa, Roza, Irit, Milka-mothered the two of us a great deal. My mother
was seriously ill. My father was a well-educated Jew, always reading the saint
books. We were poor. I remember that red-haired Gimpel from the grocery often
felt pity for us and wouldn't take our money. He knew that it was a difficult
time for us. Maybe I had to grow up too young. Sometimes I think that I was old
since I was born. "On Twarda Street lived our aunt, Ruta. She lost her husband a
year after their wedding and never removed her mourning clothes. She mourned her
dead husband for years. I visit her sometimes. She used to play the
piano-Schubert's serenade. She was my mother's sister, a very progressive woman,
and my father was not happy when I wanted to visit her, so I went there
secretly. One day when I went to visit, my aunt was on the carpet in the middle
of convulsions, acting like a fish out of water. She was pale, or even blue with
big, dull-looking eyes, and her dentures were chattering. I was terrified and
didn't know what to do, whether to call for help or to run away. I was
paralyzed. I was looking at her but couldn't help. And then Aunt Ruta spoke. Her
voice was strange. It was not her voice. She spoke like a man. She shouted: 'Do
something! Do something! I can't stand this!' But I couldn't do anything. The
voice was her husband dybbuk's. I was standing there and she was lying on the
carpet asking for help. So I ran away, and I kept running all the way home. I
didn't know whether to tell my father, so I stayed a while outside our house. I
came back and acted as though I hadn't seen anything abnormal at my aunt's flat.
The next day, my father said: 'Nina, Aunt Ruta has left us.' She died because I
didn't help her. Every evening I see her lying on the carpet." I looked at her
eyes. Suddenly I noticed that small wrinkles had appeared on her face. Her hair
was no longer shiny. Where is that pretty face? She became older. Was she
leaving me? Her peaches-and-cream complexion was changing to parchment. Maybe it
was not the same woman? Maybe I was sleeping a while and in place of that woman
was another, older and much sadder. "Are you interested in my life?" she asked.
"I just think...," I searched for a few words. "Think?... About?" "You're
telling about your youth as it happened many, many years ago." I tried to talk
to her, playing. Maybe she wanted me to play with her. "Yes, it happened many,
many years ago. My dream would be to stay with my family-with my mother, my
sisters, and my brother. Now I know how important childhood is, the first years
of your life. In my life I was always looking into death's eyes. Death was
always close to me, always taking what I loved. My mother left early. Later Aunt
Ruta. Later Cypa died from tuberculosis. She suffered a lot, spitting up blood.
Before she died, she said only that she regretted not knowing how dates taste.
Dates were for her not only exotic but a symbol of what is beautiful, of the far
lands about which we would tell stories in bed. I loved Cypa so much. She was
like my mother. "Father was losing us, one after the other, and he tried to find
the answer in his saint books. Did he find it? Do you think there is any answer?
Cypa was so pretty. I wanted to be like her. But there's no Cypa anymore." She
looked out the window for a long while and seemed to forget about me. The sun
had risen over the tops of the trees. I watched a village pass by, just a few
lonely houses standing in a line along the river, standing like soldiers. Grass
grew on the sloping roofs. The train seemed to run over and above the small
houses. A conductor entered our apartment. I looked at her palms, at her dry and
wrinkled fingers. Her skin was like paper. I was terrified. The ticket inspector
left. She remained silent, but after a while she said: "I'll tell you more." She
opened her bag, reached in, and then gave me an old yellow photograph with an
old bearded man in a black coat. He was surrounded by children. There was also a
thin gray woman. Not smiling-as without life-like that old photograph. "It's my
father, and it's my mother, and... and... it's Cypa." "You look just like your
sister." "Do I?..." She was silent for a while. Then I understood that these
people couldn't be her familiars. It was a really old photograph. "But it is my
family," she said. Was she reading in my thoughts? "That's Roza. She fell in
love with ... he was not a Jewish boy. And our father forbade her to see him. He
locked her in a cubicle. I couldn't understand that, so wise man and so cruel at
the same time. People said he was a pious Jew. But one day Roza escaped. She
left the house and wanted to leave the town. She tried to jump into a train but
fell under the wheels and died." I looked at her face. Her eyelids were heavy.
She brought the photograph closer to her eyes, up to her nose. She hid herself
in that picture. "This is Aron. He was a little capricious. Aron, Irit, and
Milka were taken to Auschwitz. I never saw them again. Polish acquaintances
bought for me the Aryan documents. But it was too difficult to live. How could
we live? I have only that one photograph in all the world. All my life is
buried. Only these faces, these wise faces, these wise eyes. That's why I am
telling you their story. If I didn't do it, then who would? Who still remembers?
No one claims Cypa's, Roza's or Aron's eyes. Maybe the dybbuks, but no one
else." Her shaking hands hid the photograph back in her bag. Her face grew
sadder, and her eyes seemed to sink. Pulling a brush from her bag, she combed
her white hair. "My magician is not in the photograph. He's not in any
photograph. I burnt them all when I understood that he wasn't for me, that I
couldn't give him enough. Till the man draws his life from a woman, the woman
lives. When he notices that the woman has no more to give, he kills her. Until
the woman draws her life from the man, the man feels that he is loved. He gets
used to that and stops giving. When the woman notices that she doesn't draw her
life from a man anymore, she gives him freedom but she dies. Woman dies in every
case. I died a long time ago." I took out a photograph from my pocket. "Do you
recognize it?" I asked. "What are you trying to tell me, how could I recognize
you?" "Look, please." "Look?" She took the picture and her eyes looked blindly
for the faces. Her fingers smoothed it. She took it close to her nose. Then she
took off her glasses. "I wanted you to hear that," she said. "But I was dreaming
that you would let me leave, that you wouldn't stop me... And Rojze, your pretty
wife?" "She stayed at home, with our grandchildren. We have four grandchildren,
beautiful Jewish kids. The youngest is Aron." "Aron?" III The train stopped. She
left. She didn't want me to follow her. She didn't want me to see her limping.
She was an old woman, who I had known before. Before. April - July 2000
Translated by Remigiusz Grzela and Peter J. Orne

przysłano: 5 marca 2010

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