Janka Skryhan

Blindness

At the seaside sanatorium in the Caucasus, I took my meals at the same table with a fair-haired young woman. Her name was Viera. I knew that she, a talented pianist, was here on a holiday after a long concert-tour, and my attitude towards her was that of eager deference.

Usually she came to the dining-room a little later than the others did and, having greeted us with a shy nod, sat down at the end of the table. She behaved with reserve and modesty and talked very little, but what she said always had a ring of sincerity and intelligence about it, and when she got up and went away, you would always be left with a longing to see her again. She had a kind of special feminine charm about her, and a sort of beauty that did not catch your eye at once, but would grow on you as you came to know the person better. Well, there are such people, after all, who, once you come across them, even by chance, remain in your heart for long days to come.

Sometimes Viera and I went on short trips through the surrounding countryside. Every morning we used to meet on the beach: I would come to the beach at sunrise and find her already there. She was alone by the sea and, leaving her thick, fluffy bathrobe on the sand, which still preserved the chill of the night, she set about her morning exercises. We would wave to each other and she would shout to me: "You shouldn't be so fond of sleeping, dear friend! It's a waste of time! You ought to be sorry at missing so much beauty!"

And really everything around seemed quite beautiful, probably because she was there.

We would take a dip in the sea, which was still cool in the early morning, and I felt particularly happy that the same waves rocked both Viera and me. Then we dried ourselves on the towels, which also smelt of the sea and, while doing so, we would step closer to each other and say "good morning" once again. Then we would make our way back to the sanatorium, reaching it at just about the time when our colleagues were only getting up.

At breakfast I met Viera again: she seemed to hurry towards my welcoming gaze.

Sometimes, however, when her chair remained unoccupied for longer than usual, I felt uneasy, fidgeted, and eagerly waited for her to come. Eventually she would arrive and say, "I'm sorry - I am a little late. I was busy with my exercises." And she would say it to me in such a voice, as if she really had something to apologize for.

One day I was lying on the hot sand of the beach with a colleague of mine. We screwed up our eyes against the sun, peering at the transparent cloud of smoke rising over a steamer visible on the horizon. Suddenly, without any apparent reason, my colleague made a remark: "Your neighbour at table is a very nice woman, indeed."

"You mean Viera?" I asked.

"Yes. It's a pity she has this thing with her eye. She's quite beautiful and - such a misfortune! Poor woman!"

"What's wrong with her eye?!" - I was astonished.

"It's all disfigured. Haven't you noticed yourself that when she looks at you, she screws her eyes a bit, so that nobody should see that her eyelids are different? And she always places herself so that you don't notice her defect - she doesn't want to show her temple."

"No, man," I answered sharply, "surely you're mistaken. You don't really mean Viera. It's someone else you are talking about."

"What?!" He replied. "Haven't you really noticed it yourself yet?!"

My colleague burst out laughing and joked about my inobservance.

When I met Viera next time I looked at her, examining her face deliberately. She be came conscious of it, fluttered her eyelids excitedly, accidentally turned so that I caught sight of her right temple, and then she bit her lip as if she were in pain. From the corner of her eye, from the very place where life and age leave their first lines of wisdom and human maturity, from this corner ran a very thin, long scar... Like the track of a quickly moving venomous snake, the scar disappeared behind a stray lock of hair on her temple. It was a mark left by the war, it was a grim reminder of the touch of death.

I felt the presence of something noble, pure, sacred. This woman was the best woman in the world, the best woman of all...

Later, whenever I met Viera, my colleague's face would recur to me, even against my will, and it seemed to me that his eyes were dimmed by a repellent inhuman blindness.

 

1958




Source: Colours Of The Native Country. Minsk, Byelarus Publishers, 1972.
Translation: R.Lipataŭ

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