Eyes Decide| Irma Tavelidze
Each June, the verdure of the garden, and its indescribable beauty, gives me plenty of food for thought: How could I let this miniature heaven on earth escape my memory? How could I forget the freshness of these trees and grass in the rain? I reach out to a ripening peach, pluck it, and go back to beating myself up: I should come here more often. I should spend more time with my parents. At first glance, nothing changes from summer to summer. The fence pickets, just like before, stand guard like warriors armed to the teeth, protecting the place from the annoying noise of the outside world, an invisible enemy tough to ward off. Maybe I should come back and spend the spend the remaining years of my parents with them? To spend days listening to their stories, going through old, faded photos, and tidying up the kitchen and the bedroom. The same moves to be repeated every day. Feeling obviously exhausted and yet content by the end of the day, longing to lay my head on a pillow sewn back when I, a little girl, would not give up dreaming of becoming a theater actress.
“O how I loved the cranberry bush that used to blossom here in that corner,” I say out loud for them to hear who always have something to hide and mince their words so skillfully, taking their time breaking the news of the withered bush to me. Yes, they’ve told me the sad story of this big shady bush before, but without imprinting much on my memory, so that I cannot associate it with another death and unfairness devastating the world.
“I loved it, too,” my father says.
It happened last year. An elderly woman on a microbus grabbed me by the hand and said, “I’m your classmate Tina’s mother. You were good friends. Remember how you loved spending time together?” Even with her appearance she stood out from the other parents at parent-teacher conferences. I loved her unusual flexion of a Ukrainian-turn-Georgia. It excited me and inspired thoughts of a beautiful faraway land. I would give anything just to catch a glimpse of those vast fields, that cloudless sky, neat and gorgeous towns and villages, and children playing on the riverside, with my classmate Tina usually joining their ranks in summer.
“My eyesight is so poor. I can’t see anything in the distance,” she shares her grievance with me.
Hard work and endless struggles have worn her down, turning her into a different woman, someone annoyed by the heat and crowdedness, someone no different at all from any other passenger. Most likely, she would find it hard to accept the idea that time tends to take without permission and never gives anything in return.
Life is a constant burden that you keep bearing on end without even knowing why or for whom….
She raises her voice. Her words start running together.
I am about to get off the minibus. I’m looking for farewell phrases.
“The horror! The horror!” she goes off like that character from Joseph Conrad’s book. Then she gives me a look as though no longer recognizing me.
Life in our neck of the woods has led her to total disappointment. Or maybe she’s trying to say that nothing can be discerned, seen clearly, in the darkness of this universe?
She was the only one I could see on the train car, with her hands on her lap and her head turned toward tall trees. Maybe she didn’t even notice how attractive they were, maybe she was somewhere far away in her thoughts—some place that reminded her of things hard to forget, or maybe fleeting moments of happiness, or a friend she had not seen in years, whose voice and diligently articulated words she missed the most. I was watching her in near dread, shocked, with a frog in my throat. It seemed inexplicable to me that, immediately upon boarding the car, she headed straight toward me and chose this one of all the available seats, where I could observe her clearly, able to count each of her hairs let loose to flow down from her temples. Her face, eyes, nose, and lips looked just like mine. And her neck and shoulders—it felt like looking in a mirror! She’s even picked glasses like mine, those with roundish lenses that seemed unsteady in a silver frame. She must have been 3-4 years younger than me. She put her tote bag heavy from reams and others stuff next to her. Her phone started ringing, and she went on groping for it inside the bag, much the way I would have if anyone suddenly remembered me on German soil. She spoke quietly, in barely audible words. I was all ears. Her words set my pulse racing. I was eager to learn if she had taken up writing as her life’s work, or maybe she was translating books, volumes by some classic authors, to replenish the shelves in some university library. It seemed that we had seen other before, somewhere in the dim and distant past, in which we committed something unforgivable, like burning down a hotel room or locking up some unfortunate cat in a dark wine cellar.
Ambrose Bierce, in The Devil's Dictionary, ridicules all immigrants without exception, those who think that grass is always greener in other countries. How many roads must a man walk down, how many places of residence must he change, before he finds in himself to nod to the author in agreement, without getting up in arms over his indifferent stare? I imagine what would be my friends’ response who, years ago, left the country in an attempt to flee something they believed they could escape by adopting a language and living environment. After all, there must have been a place with better working conditions, right? There must have been a place where hourly wages were unbelievably higher, right? A place where streets are washed clean and balconies are packed with flowerpots…. “It’s sheer hell,” I can’t get out of my head hear these words of N. K., who came back for a cup of coffee last winter. Nor can I shake off this sense of helplessness that makes it hard for me to utter a word and formulate phrases of comfort in my mind. Anyway, there was nothing I could say to dissuade him from going back and being so willful, to make him reconsider and welcome back the dirty streets of his hometown and black cars parked right on sidewalks. Every promise would eventually prove empty—we both knew that nothing really had changed over this time, and that one still had to work 4-5 jobs to make ends meet, that joyless days were still followed by sleepless nights that made the monsters of the past appear even more dreadful, tying all kinds of nooses around our necks and sure as day convincing us of life’s pointlessness. After all, I’m not going back to my parents’ house either, I reasoned. Yes, visiting and opening their door always makes me happy, but before long it dawns on me that staying draws me closer to danger, pushing me to make some compromises, and painting acquiescence as the only solution, as though looking into a muddy whirlpool, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the sight.
It’s a cool late September evening after a rainy afternoon, one memorable for a reddish sky and glowing clouds with bright gold hues. I look out the only window in my room, unable to decide if I should pull my phone from the pocket in my pants, to take pictures and fit the changing view into a standard frame. Of course, the picture will not show what my eyes have grasped over the past few seconds to link to another place in another time—simply because the eyes are entitled to such frivolities, because no one will be angry with them for the wrong decision and creating barely understandable order. I’m standing on the top tread of a portable ladder—I’m in the attic, so there’s no other way to reach the window—and use one hand to slide aside the laundry on a washing line. I guess I should take pictures and erase them a few minutes later if none features that which makes this fall evening exceptionally beautiful. But what’s the deal anyway? Isn’t it enough that the universe, suddenly overjoyed after storminess, paints this precious picture right before my eyes and offers me a few minutes that are nothing like the past few days or even months? And there have been bright spots before, like your heart skipping a beat when you see a letter from a friend, or a present on New Year’s Eve, a cozily wrapped bottle of wine, or a phrase discovered while reading Gilles Deleuze’s novel: “My wound existed before me”—which made my head spin, as though the author were reaching out to me—or my father’s question: “When are you coming?” which he always asks with childish impatience, and that smile on his face….
I turn my head toward the interior of the room. The dark does not affect my vision. I can see every tread down the ladder.