He was always looking at the stars, and I was always looking at him. The evenings on the beach. We were still young then and were all filled up with great plans to go overseas, to start enterprises, to taste some fame even – and those plans did not seem unrealistic yet.
People usually came there with one of three goals: to settle arguments too loud to be held in public (mind you, in a small town nearly every one of them seems so), to find the limit of one’s tolerance to alcohol at a campfire, or to experience some kind of intimacy with whoever they chose to have it with.
I didn’t go there for any of that. I came there to buy orange juice at the old woman who missed three teeth. At least that was my masquerade. The orange woman never said much, but she always smiled when she heard the sound of money – I say that because she was very near-sighted, and her hearing must have been enhanced a lot to make up for that.
I would pay her with a vague sense of guilt. It were never my own coins, you see; before I went to the beach I would take them from my mother’s stash, the one she kept under her pillow (or, if it was empty, the little green box with a ballerina on it in the basement). As I handed the old woman the coins, I would glance over sideways, never directly, always casually and never smiling. His figure would stand out against the dark.
Most of the days I seemed to be her only customer. I would slowly drink the orange juice as she would doze off in her chair, snoring slightly. At each third sip I would look over at him – quickly, as if responding to some unheard sound, or a shadow. But he would never look back.
This ritual, the repeated staring at a statue-like boy, who was immersed in the stars, gradually began taking its toll on me. The more I looked (glanced) at him, the more I started to feel my skin fading. I started feeling like the space he was observing, mostly black, and empty. And as the summer days passed, and the cheering of the beach people in the distance became more monotonous, and his contours against the dim backlight became more perfect in its nonchalant and casual beauty ( - the beauty of a handsome person who thinks himself unwatched - ), I started wishing that I was the sky stretched out from one horizon to the other for him to study.
Never did it occur to me to speak to him. Never did it occur to me that my behavior was erratic, dubious, weird in any way. And never did he look at me. That is, until the moment the planes came, with their engines shrieking, at a low flight over the beach; and their smoke blocked out the stars. Only then did he look down, confused, stumbling amidst the crowds of shouting people, dropping the binoculars, with a look in his eyes of a man about to be overrun by elephants. Only in that moment our eyes met, in the turbulence of an oncoming disaster, and with the sound of shattering bombs on the bay, and in the dust of a greater destruction than should ever have been. I reached out for him, and for a moment I imagined he stretched out his hand – but then a sandstorm started, and I lost all hearing and sight. Blinded, I lay on the beach, sand in my mouth, covered in dust; I crawled around like a crab in captivity, uncertainly, until I felt a hand and let it go. There was something in its touch that made me withdraw, instinctively. Then I started hearing faint cries, that grew louder and louder; and I started seeing shapes in the dust.
When I made it to the boulevard, the planes had left. They had left a destruction. There were fires, and a mist of the yellow dust, and pieces of paper that rained down. I walked down there for a while, numb-struck, seeing hollow-eyed, not wanting to see and wanting to at the same time, not wanting to be here and wanting to be here at the same time, wanting to be living and to be dead at the same time. Then I found him. He was trembling all over, and wounded. I kneeled down at him, the boy I had admired without a word. He was holding the binoculars in his hands, so tightly that the blood had drained from his knuckles, and kept on muttering. ‘The sky, the sky.’
Not wanting to look at the wound in his side, I asked gently: ‘What about it?’
‘It’s wrong,’ he said. I am to this day not sure if he was crying.
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘Look for yourself,’ he muttered, and pushed the binoculars in my hands.
I looked through them. Through the smoke, I could indeed see gray, very clear fracture lines against the smoky black heaven. ‘But no,’ I tried to reassure him, while I turned the binoculars around in my hands. ‘Look, it’s just the glass. Look,’ I urged him. But he’d gone quiet.
‘Look,’ I repeated.
I started pressing the binoculars harder and harder in my hands, until it hurt, but it didn’t seem to matter.
‘It’s only the glass,’ I said again. ‘Just look, will you? Will you?’ He didn’t respond. I realized then that I didn’t even know his name. The boy on the beach. He’d stay there.
And those words would stay with me. The sky, the sky. It’s wrong, it’s broken.