It was either children or starve. The place is Athens, the time an autumn Friday, my stratagem short, like the attention span of youngsters. They change ruthlessly quick. But memory is indelible with me. It toys cruelly with things, perhaps, best slighted.
Daphne McTass is the case here, and the pranks these same children play on her, and which I take a very dim view to.
"I'll have no part of it," she said, with that voice of hers, this morning about ten, to my proposed practical experiment. Daphne is a sin -- voice and all. Curly raven hair ripples to her narrow shoulders and spills over a deep forehead, around cyan-blue, sightless, Egyptian-almond eyes.
"Terrible thing to do. They're a wily generation granted. Kids with compounded problems. But then, you don't know what it's like." Daphne shifted in her chair uneasy. The teacher's lounge was deserted, but for the slight, old and rickety cleaning woman dusting off the old shelves filled with antiquated English-learning texts and audiovisual apparatus we use.
"But you," I said, "could teach them. One day forfeited, to see for the rest of their lives."
"It'll be like tying their hands behind their backs, and educating them to use feet and toes in their place. What's the sense..."
I was considering Daphne's eloquent disagreements when the bell fractured our fruitless sortie.
It's Saturday, noon probably. And I dither nonplus through once familiar thoroughfares. A good Samaritan volunteers, grabbing my elbow and with encouraging snippets whisks me across Amalias Avenue and up the curb, says good-bye, abandoning me quickly to my fate as though sightlessness was a fresh strain of AIDS virus.
The notion does not abandon me.
I hear familiar traffic growling by and feel the cool drifts upon me from the National Garden to my left. I identify as I teeter along wafts of sharp pines and the pungent pass of oaks and a swirl of minty eucalyptus.
In my dead reckoning, twice I'm snatched curtly from harm's way. The first, a speeding bicycle. The second, a procession of police cars frenziedly climbing onto the sidewalk heading most likely to the Zappeion building where (as I read in yesterday's paper) the E.C. metro-extension delegation is to meet today for further subsidy allocations.
I am neatly deposited on a park bench--foreboding whispers ebb and flow all about me. My orientation is decimated. I reach up to the dark pair of glasses -- No! I tarry, it has to last over the whole weekend. Instead, I press the gauze pads taped on my eyes more firmly against their sockets. "To the ancient knoll," I whisper, defying a bark of instincts from inside.
Tap, tap! Tap, tap!
It is a comforting sound that of the walking stick ahead of you. You get the illusion that you can actually hear compressions and expansions in space. That an obstacle in your path of way will alter their expected cadence to alert you.
Yes. It's a different world. You see sounds. Fertile in smells and lip-licking dusty flavours, Daphne. Tap, tap!
Ah, metal. I know this exact spot of the road. Two days ago I passed it. All dug up, replacing old sewage pipes. Solid metal sheets had been laid over the deep trenches for automobiles to get across. The knoll is ahead and to my right.
Daphne, Daphne, you love them too much. Why so much devotion to strangers' children? Is dedication your seeing organ? Do you find your way in that infinity of darkness of yours by it? The little cuspids will rip your unlit world into dimmer slits. Show them a glimpse of it, if nothing else, and they'll gasp to be rid of it. And marvel at your courage.
I already do.
And half a day has only gone by. Two for me. A full school day for them. Attention span will swell like a sail, I guarantee you that. They will not forget it. And they will love you for it. They will give accounts of it down to their grandchildren.
And I to mine--
Ah, firm pavement, good. Do it, and you'll earn their respect in no time.
"But the idea is monstrous," she kept insisting.
Children can be monsters, if you allow it, Daphne. There's that little spear-chucking hunter, Jack, in all of them. He'll stick you unmercifully come the chance. The restless imp is biding its time. Tie its eyes, one day only, and it will see for the rest of its lifetime, Daphne.
"I'll have no part of it."
But I will... will provide her with indisputable facts of non-damage. The analogy of this test should prove enough. An adult survives the perils of the city's core, unaided by his most vital of senses. You are too giving to them.
"It's simply the unordinariness of my situation. Open curiosity of children. That's all."
More. You are the voice of midnight, that is a heart -- if I ever heard one -- speaking. The face and body of a ripe woman, that's never been -- that which is bread and water to all women since time out of mind -- vain.
Dirt? Dirt where there should be pavement? And this queer silence. A tomb vault is less inert. There, at least, one would hear the rasp of a centipede, or the scratch of a beetle. The hub of a city should gallop with noise!
Daphne, your starless universe begins to undo this man's wit. Am I being cursed for my manner of boldness? To end all of it should be simple. Ah, but you have suffered through it since birth, and I to give up in a bit more than half a day's progress?
I...I cannot. What may lie beyond these two covers of my eyes ties my arms to my sides. At least, what abides behind them is what I make it to be. I can forge a hundred explanations with my brain for the event taking place right now. Each one a grown man's reasonable explication. A dream even. But if I were to strip the pads off, the hundred conjectures would collapse into one certitude. I will be shorn of the freedoms you possess, Daphne. Be poor, almost naked, with just a single one.
What have we here? A puddle? A lake? The Bering Straits?
A voice amid the--! "Ye-e-es!"
"You are a tourist?"
"A tourist, my good man?"
"You are crazy -- oh, I am sorry. Wait there. I will help you."
"Who might you be, sir?"
"Senior Inspector Engineer, Manos Gotsis. Ehh! I have told them that these new metro shafts will become a trap, if not guarded twenty-four-hours. They do not listen."
"Shafts, Senior Inspector Gotsis?"
"I am almost there. Phew! Give me your hand."
"I don't understand--"
"You are, sir, thirty meters under Omonia Square."
"Beg your pardon?"
"On your left are two thousand volt cables. On the right scaffolding around a well ten meters deep."
"In front of you, the city's main sewage network -- another four or five meters of a river of wastes -- that empties a kilometer off the coast of Piraias into the treatment plant."
"And you have a guardian angel."
"Gotsis, sir. Manos Gotsis."
"Oh, course, Mr. Gotsis. Merely referring to a colleague that's also a guardian angel of a sorts...children are her specialty..."
"Watch your head."
"...and buffoons that think they know what seeing is all about...and try to change the world by proposing that each and every one of us should experience at least once that night of nights..."
"Ah, it must be sad not seeing."
"Sadder things, Mr. Gotsis -- seeing, yet blundering around blinder than a odd bat."
I'm not much of a teacher, particularly on Mondays.
And I take to the ends of the Earth every so often because children are in a way invariant: under a fixed shadow of growing pains. Autumn in Athens, winter in Catania, spring and summer in Siberia -- they're all the same. Day to them comes always after night. A night that is simply vast and petrifyingly menacing to a tot alone in a room evil-thick with darkness.
But enough of darktime (plenty of it, too, in their checkerboard teens). "Who in God's name would want the babes all to be righteous Ralphs? How many do you know of who would want love hatching from an unforgettable day that starts off with darkfall!"
"Just one won't be an agreeable number then?"
This time, and I don't know why, I alarmingly poise at his soft-spoken so-silly query.
Could I, I would venture for this man into raw seeing light, a whole existence of days -- dawn to dusk -- were he to behold for one eye blink the woman in me in love.
However, I only and plainly nod a simple 'yes.'
Vasilis Afxentiou can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org