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Robert Elsie

Albanian Literature | Modern

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Linditë AHMETI, 2008

Mimoza AHMETI

Webdesign J. Groß

Mimoza AHMETI

 

THE SECRET OF MY YOUTH

    She had a rather curious name. They called her Eyes. I don’t know whether she was given the name at birth, the time at which our parents give us names without taking our wishes into consideration, or whether she acquired it as a result of her big eyes. Whatever the case may be, it is true that those eyes of hers had a sense of perception much keener than what normal people could possibly imagine.
     I had avoided those eyes for a long time. I could not help feeling a shudder down my spine when I heard someone whisper that her eyes sometimes underwent a perilous disfigurement. Quite normal people, for instance, had complained that they had seen themselves reflected in her eyes as a drop of water. Other people - serious, respectable and admired individuals - had found themselves not reflected, but grotesquely mutilated in her eyes.
     No, I certainly did not want to see myself transformed into a monster in the eyes of a girl.
     I had taken a decision. Whatever should happen, I was resolved not to let myself be captured by her eyes. But... I had taken this decision before ever being seen by them. And indeed, I was seen by them. Every time I try to avoid something, it homes in on me. Now there is nothing I desire more than to be captured by those two eyes, and this time totally.
     I am presently convinced that everything beautiful on earth is an exception, an ‘anomaly’ of sorts, towards which everything normal or average is attracted, in contradiction to its nature. Yes, and those all-possessing eyes could do nothing in the essence of their activity other than to constitute an ‘anomaly.’ They offered a precise reflection. Yes, I realize there is a dose of illusion in most human reflections. It is perhaps for this reason that knowledge as a process is so long and infinite whereas human existence is so short and ephemeral. Because the reflection in her eyes was so precise, many people were confused by them.
     They were the most marvellous eyes I have ever seen in my whole life, the meeting of physical beauty and functional perfection. When I praised her eyes, that is, when I told her I loved her, she replied simply, "My eyes were not always like that. Experience has made them the way they are." She had never spoken to me of the particular quality of her glance. Perhaps she regarded it as a matter of course. And for her, it was one. But not for me.
     I did not understand that when she observed something - a city, a flower or a face for example - a certain space in her eyes remained empty. The objects she observed did not always fill her gaze. It could very well happen that any object, however big it might seem, would leave a void. This unoccupied space in her eyes she often filled with blue sky or with dreams of the future. Such was her life.
     I did not realize either that I was one of the rare human beings (though I doubt very much that I was alone in this capacity) to fill almost all the space in her eyes with my reflection. Almost. But almost is not the same as completely. There was a bit of space left over, a tiny bit of space, indeed so tiny that, had she wanted to, she could have filled that little corner with the reflection of a tree or a bird in the spring. But then, total bliss would have been beyond reach. It is only when her eyes were filled to the full with the person reflected in them, only when no space was left over in them that bliss could be attained. It was a strange game played between her eyes and her brain. Only now am I beginning to understand why she gazed so long at the sky. It filled her eyes to the full. She loved it.
     I allowed my happiness to be jeopardized, the happiness of the two of us. I was incomplete. There was something missing in me, something that created a void, a tiny unfilled hole in the corner of her eye, but it was room enough for a reflection, and by no means the most unusual of reflections: the boon of happiness.
     I could not understand, and I thought a lot about it later, why a girl with big, bright eyes should have made such a sacrifice. Perhaps it came about since, though I was incomplete, I was the most complete of all the incomplete persons she had known up to then. I was almost ‘the one’ destined for her eyes. I was not completely ‘the one’, but almost. Do you understand now? Is it not terrible? It was simply a question of a little tiny something missing, but something which jeopardized everything.
     And so she sacrificed herself. I did not realize that she was constantly reducing the size of her eyes solely to rid herself of that little hole which was always left over beside my refection. If only she had told me, if only she had mentioned the problem, I would have done battle with myself and, why not, done battle with the others to grow in her eyes, or at least to become sufficient. What a shame! I was insufficient, and I did not even know it!
     I did not realize that she was reducing the size of her eyes for my sake. I noticed nothing to begin with. Perhaps she had not started reducing their size at the start since she was waiting for me to grow, to become ‘big.’ It was later, when she had given up all hope of my growing, that I spotted the wrinkle in the corner of her eye, a fold in the muscle under the skin which disturbed me somehow.
     The days passed. Her eyes became more and more disturbing for me, not in their beauty, but in the way she used them. They had withered, had decreased in size. And all the time, my love had withered and decreased in size. They were not the same two eyes I had caught a glance of at the start - eyes which people, both young and old, would gossip about at length. For me they had fallen into a morass of normality. Even worse. They had become devoid of all beauty. Deceptive eyes. That is the impression they made on me.
     Anger began to take form within my breast. It looked as if she were making fun of me. And anyway, what significance could my love possibly have without her eyes? My words of reproach turned into insult. I could not understand why she put up with me. Her patience made me believe that I was right. I did not realize, as I now do, how rare, how extremely rare people were who could fill her eyes. I had attributed this rarity to my virtue. How ridiculous! She seemed to realize this and therefore put up with me. I was not ‘the one’, but I was ‘almost the one’... So she put up with me.
     The more I reproached her, the more patience she showed, the more her eyes withered and wrinkled, and the more their glance grew faint. Finally one evening I seized her by the shoulders and shook her in rage:
     "You’re lying, you’re lying," I cried out. "You have ugly eyes, the ugliest eyes I have ever seen. Leave me alone! I’ve had enough!"
     She was stupefied. As I shouted, her eyes slowly opened. To my surprise, they grew big and bright, penetrating and pure, just as they had been when I saw them for the first time, when... they were still free of me. I don’t know why, but I was now speechless, with something stuck in my throat like a bone.
     She gave no reply. She departed with eyes revived as I stood there benumbed from what I had done. No, not from what I had done. In reality, I was overwhelmed by the metamorphosis in her eyes. For one moment, a flash of lightning had illuminated the dark clouds of my doubts, a flash which proved lethal to my hardly profound conviction that I had been the cause of the withering and shrinking of her eyes, the most beautiful eyes on earth.
     I called her name several times over. You will never believe how hard it was for me to call her by her name:
     "Hey, Eyes! Come back, Eyes!"
     But it was in vain. She did not return. Having turned her eyes away from me, I regained the place that I deserved in them. Soon thereafter my happiness dissipated. I had been almost complete, but not complete. I was insufficient. The game played between her eyes and her brain was now interrupted.
     She had no intention of returning. There was to be no more bliss. Perhaps there never had been. She had created it with hard work by wearing out, indeed by damaging her eyes. Bliss is the only thing that we have still not learned to appreciate when it is bestowed upon us. A weakness? Perhaps. But because of it, I still feel human in my suffering. I suffer to become sufficient, to become perhaps something more.
     Some people say that bliss is impossible, unreal. But I got very close and I know what it is, even though I did not succeed in mastering it. I believe that I can do it though. I want to take possession of bliss! Let them laugh at me all they want (laughing at someone else is often nothing more than a painful reflection of our own impotence). I want to attain the impossible. I want to be complete. I want to fill those eyes to the full. To attain total bliss.
     This is the secret of my youth. One more reason for living.

[E fshehta e rinisë sime, from the journal Nëntori, Tirana, 1990, 2, p. 86-89, translated from the Albanian by Robert Elsie, and first published in English in Description of a struggle. The Picador book of contemporary East European prose. Michael March, ed. London: Picador 1994, p. 262-266.]