Month: August, 2014


This boy does not quite look comfortable sitting still. He seems a little amused at being pushed outside of the house, made up like this in public for the sake of a passport photo or something like it. It does not seem as if he chose the tie himself. And he can’t have been long from the barber’s, his hair still holding the crest of the wave combed into it, unbroken by the wind. I imagine his mother fussing over him one last time before pushing him into the machine, drawing the curtain shut, and feeding the slot with coins.

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Though amused he hardly seems buoyant; his shoulders are slumped, his body cramped and stuffed in the booth. Having submitted to the process, his lips seem passive as if there were nothing held back on his tongue or at least nowhere to speak it.

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But his right eye seems to be drifting free of the room, his mind almost elsewhere. And the right corner of his lip is turned down and tense with a touch of aggression. Perhaps he is not amused after all. (It strikes me in passing that if this detail were all that were left of the photo, I could have easily mistaken his face for that of a man twenty years his senior that had perhaps once been pinned to a board on a wall of his firm). But his left eye seems palpably shocked, as if it alone had caught sight of something that the other side of his face, becoming lost in thought, had missed entirely.

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I wonder how the other photos in the spool turned out. I suppose that among the others this one failed to make the cut. And that is why it was discarded or lost in a drawer and set on its way to the market where I picked it up. Perhaps in the very next moment, shaken into shape by the first flash, he recovered his composure, lifted his gaze and stared straight ahead, fixing the camera with the perfectly formal, blankly physical look that was all he had been asked for.

In the corner of the bar three women sit on displaced theatre seats raised on a platform a step above the floor of the room. They speak with each other as loudly as they must to be heard. I am sitting at the bar next to a man called Stefan. Stefan has two daughters, both of whom are deaf and who are now sleeping alone in his apartment close by. We can hardly speak as we do not share a language but Stefan nonetheless struggles to tell me about himself. I quickly find that I cannot respond. He does not want me to say anything at all. He is appealing to me for something else. Perhaps, I think, he sees no chance that I might demur, that mute as I am I would simply welcome as true whatever he has to say of himself and his life and daughters. But without anything spoken between us, I catch only a need and his life stays far from view. By sitting dumb I encourage him. As each drink bottoms out he gestures that this will be his last, as his girls are at home and they need him. But I have no intention of leaving and somehow he does not break away and orders himself another, a small one, each time. The talk of his daughters comes to an end when I ask after their mother. The question goes unregistered. Instead, he motions to the women in the corner of the bar. He has noticed that one of the women has been looking in our direction and has smiled. He tells me that they are interested in us and I oblige to accept this unquestioningly, though each of us takes their attention to be unbalanced in his own favour. Despite the vain smiles we allow ourselves, neither one of us leaves his seat. Now he has run out of ways to approach me. I pick up my book again and start to read and he takes slight offence as if he were being abandoned. I take notice of this, place my book back on the bar, and sit with him in silence. I cannot be taken in by any of the conversations around me, as I only understand the occasional word. It feels as though there were no air to carry my voice so that any words would have to stay choked behind my tongue. As Stefan sits beside me, slight motions pass over his face while he stares at the last of the beer in the bottle in his hands. I turn myself over to watching the barmaid wash the glasses expertly. She vigorously dunks a glass in a bucket lined with bristles and filled with soap water before rinsing and leaving it lined up glistening like crystal with others to dry. She hardly looks at what she is doing but carries on instead in conversation with those around her. I feel as if I were parting, like reeds pulled aside to gain a clearer view.