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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Jon Abril Olaetxea > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

Eyes |

She was in the habit of going around playing with her eyes. As she went here and there on the bus, she would offer her eyes every morning to the old woman begging on the pavement. She would give the bus driver a little bit of her eyes in exchange for her ticket. She would get a look from the young girl next to her despite the music coming out of the girl’s walkman.

She had no idea how she had taken up her hobby. The one with her eyes. She had no idea why she had not chosen to play around with smell. Or hearing. She knew why she had not chosen touch. She was afraid that someone might touch her, as she would find it a terrible punishment. She disliked cat fur, which would send a shiver down her spine, in the same way that she disliked the feel of brown, spring leaves. They gave her no pleasure. She could not understand how people liked to touch brown spring leaves. Yet hearing and smell gave her pleasure. But she did not choose them to play around with. It had to be eyes. She tried to discover the reason. The glasses worn by her Grandmother Juliana had not been her inspiration. She was not particularly traumatised by the brown eyes of her classmate. Perhaps, at some point, in dreams, a pirate might have tried to rob a look from her. She knew very well that pirates wear an eye patch, not because they have an eye missing, but because they want to show off the other one. But apart from the pirates in dreams and on television, she had never met one in the flesh. No, she hadn’t. She had never had any pirates in her bed, at least not one of those good-looking guys. At one point she had thought of regarding the drunk neighbour downstairs as a pirate, but it would not have been possible. Basically, he was a drunk but he was not a bad guy. Even though he would pass her on the stairs with stolen eyes, one day and the next as well.

Again and again she tried to find out where the eyes game could have originated. She did not dare ask anyone. If she told her mum that she was playing with eyes, her mum would take her eyes out with a slap across her face. Her dad might be able to give her an answer, dad always came up with a suitable answer to tricky questions, but faced with such questions as these he would lose control and also his eyes. And she did not like to have to look for her Dad’s eyes in the living room, under the sofa, behind the telly, or among the little china ornaments. On such occasions very often, too often, one of her dad’s eyes would appear in the lavatory or in bed, during a nap. On occasions it had turned up in the fridge, fed up with the daily routine and searching for somewhere cool. Indeed, her dad was often in the habit of losing his eyes. And as this was so important for her, no way could she admit that her dad should lose his eyes again. Not her Dad, nor anyone else.

Her brother would take the mickey out of her and close his eyes just in case. Because that is what brothers always do. Every single one. Pull her leg, but close his eyes, just in case. The most daring brothers answer by keeping their eyes open, but then they take the mick; they never look straight into your eyes, they gaze the other way. It’s easy to take the mick that way. She did not know any brother who knew how to take the mick with their eyes. And it’s easy to take the mick without using one’s eyes. That was why she thought that being a brother was easy.

She scoured encyclopaedias. And books in public libraries. With the librarian’s eyes staring at her without taking his eyes off her. The fact is few like her go to the library to ask about eyes. But eyes of books are made for oculists. Not even opticians understand them very often, because the eyes in books are not real ones. Because nothing real appears in books. Let alone eyes. At night when it is time to go to sleep eyes which continue open turn up in books. And that cannot be. Eyes have to close so you can go to sleep, because closed eyes prevent the retina from drying.

From her studies she learnt that the human eye consists of three layers: the sclera, the choroid and the retina. And in the centre of the eyeball there is a crystalline part that performs the function of the lens, and there are six muscles that move the eye. She had thought that the reason for her problem could lie in a seventh muscle, or maybe it was simply that there were only five. And that caused her fear and terror. And when the things that caused her fear and terror took place, she would close her eyes, because when she did so, the problems disappeared.

The doctor told her that eyes were fine, and that she had good eyesight. Then she made a sign to him with her pupils, but the doctor did not wink at her from behind his glasses and she concluded that she did not like that doctor. She did not see eye to eye with him. Moreover, she decided that an oculist that needed glasses could not see properly and she continued to be worried. But with her eyes closed her worries disappeared.

As every day she had a blue look for her brother, because blue looks were for brothers. For her sister, on the other hand, she would save an orange look, and a lilac one for her parents, because hope was the least she could give them every day, seeing that they had given her so much.

And she had eye games of all kinds of colours and flavours for each moment. Chocolate eyes for when she was with friends; ones the colour of lemon ice cream when she was watching terrifying images on television, as if they were a long way away from her. Her eyes would turn green when faced with injustice, the green of struggle, the green of blood, the green of passion. Or she would choose yellow when her pupils were tired; strawberry flavour when she had somebody she appreciated very much in front of her; her tears were the colour of violet; her eyes smelled of the sea when she was relaxed; the stink of rotting potatoes exuded from her eyes when somebody made her angry; they resembled sugary sweets when somebody caressed her. Her eyes would make the sound of water when she lost sight of something, when she was in a reflective mood. And they were purple when she hurt herself. Very rarely would her eyes turn white, because she did not like any kind of whitewash. On occasions mistiness would spread from her eyes, when she was upset. But more often they would display the colours of the rainbow, full of joie de vivre. Just after she woke up she would keep ostrich eyes for a chosen few, because care is required when choosing the person to whom one is going to give the look of an ostrich that has just woken up. And red ones…

And that way she had a variety of aromas, flavours and sparkles for each situation and person. Sometimes hot, sometimes cold. Sometimes she would also make up her eyes, as elegant ladies do. But she did not particularly like made-up eyes, because eyes are not paintings. Frequently she would gaze with a special sweetness, and with an excess of tension more often than she liked. Sometimes she would look cross-eyed but mostly as straight as the line down the middle of the road. She displayed different eyes to everyone: to those at home, to neighbours, for friends, colleagues… She also reserved some for enemies, even though she tried not to have enemies. And for the orphans along the roadside; and for young women battered by their husbands; for cheeky adolescents, too, for idealists, utopians, for those who believed that another world was possible; for her lover: for those who earned 40% less for being a woman; for the disabled; for those nobody looked at; for drug addicts; for the blond women that work the streets; she had eyes for immigrants; for local people; for those who were alone; for those who felt alone; for dogs on the street corners; for the one-eyed, mythical “Tartalo”; for cyclopses; she had one kind of eye when she spoke in Basque, and a different one emerged when she spoke in Spanish, because she wrote ojos in the look; eyes when she spoke in English; yeux when she spoke in French. And eyes like those of cats during night time bouts of drunkenness; those of goats in the hangover the following day; those of horses when she made love… She seldom closed her eyes, and she would look the other way with great difficulty. But after playing with eyes, after displaying eyes of all appearances, colours and sounds for all situations, she never had any eyes for herself, because no one told her that she had to look inside herself. And she had not learnt that. When she tried to look inside herself, her eyes catalogue was of no use: neither red ones, nor chocolate ones, let alone those which were cloudy or produced the sound of water. She needed other eyes to look inside herself. But she saw nothing but darkness, because she had almost forgotten how to look at herself.
2011 Euskal Idazleen Elkartea
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