Aashish Kaul: Phantom Days

Cian Dayrit, from Spectacles of the Third World, 2015. Source: tin-aw.com


in this world, beauty is so common

— Jorge Luis Borges


Again I wake up with the sound of drums in my ears, the mattress hard under me. I bury my face in the crook of my arm that is on the pillow, while with the other hand I search for the watch. The drums seem nearer now; their beats ruffle the hair on the back of my head and slide down into my ears, but sleep has not left me entirely and it is with difficulty that I lift my head to check the time. It is not yet eight and I have already twice repeated these movements in the last twenty minutes, which could well be three hours. Then all at once the beating of drums ceases. The company has concluded its morning march. A bugle is heard three times. After that all is silent, though I now become aware of another sound, that of the old fan rotating above. Fighting the urge to fall back to sleep I turn around and rub my eye with a finger. I can think of nothing as I follow the movements of the fan through the mosquito net that closes on me from all sides – like a room within a room. In my sleep I recall feeling the warmth of a body. But here I lie alone, ignoring the discomfort of a full bladder. I see the road that passes through the forest, its trees yellowish-brown skeletons, their branches bare and rising willy-nilly towards a sky which is white with heat; the earth as far as you can look is covered with dead leaves. It is a landscape at the end of time.

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Julian Gallo: Hoxha’s Children

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Alex Majoli, Scutari, Albania, 1997. Source: magnumphotos.com

Tirana, Albania — April 11th 1985

1

The foremost leader has died.

National mourning. Black flags flutter from the windows along side our national flag. Tears, agony, grief, everywhere one looks.

The television shows nothing but tributes to our fallen comrade.

I sit in the café, sip my coffee, watch the grief stricken faces of my fellow comrades. I look out the window at everyone just standing around, consoling one another, seeking comfort in another’s embrace.

I turn my attention back to the interior, continue to sip my coffee, occasionally watch the old films of our foremost leader when he was young, healthy, strong.

The café is crowded but most people don’t speak, most sit with their own thoughts, grieving, as if a member of their own family has passed. In a lot of ways, one had.

A woman sits by herself at the far end of the café. She isn’t crying or gazing at the television. She simply stirs a spoon in her coffee cup, smokes a cigarette, gazes out the window with no expression. She looks sad but there are no tears. Thin and pale, deep lines  crease the corners of her mouth. I can tell that she must have been very beautiful once but either time or hardship had nearly erased all traces of it. It isn’t until she glances my way that I realize who it is.

I can’t look at her.

If it weren’t for those eyes, I would have never believed it.

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