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A little flashback
Short story

By Mammad Aidani
November 17, 2002
The Iranian

I was sitting there alone. I could not release myself from the pain. La piazza was full of people. I had just arrived in the city. I was full of pain and I did not know how to deal with it. I was too young to know how to overcome it. I was pessimistic about everything and I was beginning to experience despair. I was not expecting anything. The sun was shining, and that afternoon in March was pleasant. I remember that my brain was burning and my body was aching. What was I waiting for? Nothing.

I wanted calm and I needed a special temperament to achieve it. I was too young to lead that kind of mentality yet. I knew the world was full of lies and tricks, and I did not want to take any part in it. It was the beginning of my choice to lead a solitary life with my books and thoughts. I felt that I was already experiencing this strange desire to be alone. I looked at people and I could see their fallibility, and mine. I was always curious why most of them were so deeply warped by their big egos. This was a sentence that one of my teachers, years ago, uttered in my class.

I vividly remembered his expression. His face was full of torment. We young students looked at him and said nothing. I think he cried. I did not understand its full meaning. He loved writing things down, he went to the old blackboard and wrote some gibberish, as if we were not there, and quickly wiped it with the eraser. I can see his intelligent face in front of me even now. His tears were coming down as he was writing those lines. We all looked at him and then asked him to explain. But he ignored our pleas. He was in his own world, all alone. You can guess for yourself how I felt after that day.

I recall that, sometimes, at night, especially in winter when everyone was asleep, I would go outside my dilapidated house and sit alone on the old and broken public bench near the lamplight on the corner of our lane, and watch all the drunken men walking home displaced, disorientated, and looking sick. And here I was, in this medieval city, in a piazza, on these old steps at night in a foreign land, watching drunk men and women going home or sleeping alone on the cobbled streets of the ancient alleys.

I was glad I had arrived in the city in the summer. It was warm and pleasant. I saw the young people kissing and I remember one particular young woman pacing up and down talking to herself, and from a distance there was a young man watching her and having his own pace. There was pacing around the lanes. She was weeping. I wanted to say something to them but I could not speak the language. So I watched them like a mute till they disappeared. But before that I saw them putting their hands over each other's shoulders, and that made me happy.

There I was, so delighted to find out that I could use the steps as my bed and my sleeping bag as my resting-place. Although strangely, I have to admit, I felt that the world was still a bit innocent then. I felt it, anyway. I was sitting there and watching it alongside my own life. I liked to be unnoticed and observe things. For example, hearing things like this, 'No, no, I trust you.' I heard this from an old man arguing in Italian about something with another old man. I understood words like Io and fiducia and guessed the rest.

I used to amuse myself with these peculiarities to forget my precarious situation as an outsider.

I wished to watch everything, I was hungry to learn by observation. I used to sleep in peace and enjoy the insignificance of my being. People came and went. Some of them had some violent arguments and this concerned me about the situation I was in. I was poor and felt nervous that poverty would take the best out of me soon, and this forced me to think hard to make that place feel safe. I did not have any other alternative. It was summer and winter was a long time away. I didn't expect anything. Was this a mistake? I had to start from somewhere and that was the beginning of an arduous road I had to take.

I wasn't going to write things down at all but for some strange reason I think it is important to share. I recall telling myself, 'Who knows, perhaps through self-searching and an introspective attitude I could save myself.' As always, I fell, tumbled into silence and wrangled with my fate. Where was life going to lead me? I had twenty intense and desperate years behind me. I was frightened. I relied on survival skills; skills I had learned to cope under extreme pressure, when I felt extreme loneliness. It was then that silence and listening were necessary to keep me in touch. I could hear the laughter of some local people screaming Che gioia, still echoing in my ears after all these years.

I was watching people and was frightened that I would lose my courage to go on in that new place. It was the month of March and a very hot month indeed. There was so much happening and everybody looked excited and I did not know why. I had my reason to feel so. I did not know the place yet. Night was approaching. My greatest dream was to read Dante in his tongue. But in those moments I needed a little bit of generosity in this world. I shut my eyes and suddenly started to scream.

To this day I wonder if anyone heard my voice. Because no one came to ask me why I was screaming. I remember I opened my eyes and I saw people were bumping into each other, and that was it. People bumping into each other in that ancient place. I was not noticed by most of the people there; I felt the uncertain life ahead of me. My life was in suspense.

I listened to myself. My inner voice was strong and clear. I knew that I had to succeed, not to collapse, I might have looked desperate. I buried my head in my hands and told myself to get on. I reasoned things out. It worked. Perhaps that night one of my strengths was that I knew how to talk to myself. Maybe I learned this from those who taught me that inner strength is crucial for survival.

They were people with few words, deep pains and formidable resilience. I was not sure about my future. This distressed me enormously. Why could I not find someone to help me? I felt insulted and humiliated that I could not speak with anybody. Like a child I looked for familiar faces to tell them that I had lost my way and wanted to beg them to assist me to find my way home. No, I could not find anyone to talk to. I was deeply thinking about my alienating experience and was curious to know what they did think.

I was about to faint as people went on talking and strolling. I felt very vague and did not know what to do. People looked gentle and talked a lot, which was a relief. There was a sense of humanity around there, and this was reassuring to me even though I felt that I was not noticed by them. I was keen to know how they thought of their love and sufferings. I was looking at a point on its surface, I could not distinguish anything, I was on the edge of it, and the horizon was so far away that all I saw was empty, and the sun was going down.

Of course, from time to time, I looked into the crowd to see if I could find a familiar face. This has become my peculiar attitude wherever I have been: I always look for a familiar sound or face. I haven't told you but I generally talk very little. I'm not sure why, maybe I'm overwhelmed by the experience of being cut off from my roots. And I'm acutely aware of this even today. I didn't have the skills to get to know people. I needed to find my feet on the ground first.

I'm sure people I occasionally met or happened to be around with didn't mind this attitude. The exchanges I was observing indicated to me that everybody had many troubles and wished to talk about them in order to prove something. In those anxious times, in my silence, I committed myself to learn how to create a space for peace and quiet in my tormented mind. I didn't seem to have anything to prove and therefore my presence often went unnoticed.

But, tragically, I was collapsing and I wanted some attention to keep me focused and I did not have that. I knew the only solution for that young man was to set a goal for himself and it did not matter how long I was going to live. I needed, urgently, to set a goal for myself to work out a solution to put the pain outside me. I knew it was absolutely important for my well being. I looked at the people in that piazza. I was alone and realised how much I lived in my solitude.

My spirit was strong. But I could not ask the crowd for help. There was a kind of nobility in my pain and I wanted to understand it by myself first, and write about it later. I remember I wrote a letter in which I mentioned this but, as usual, I did not send it as the address that I had in mind did not exist anymore. This caused me a great deal of inner inflictions and pain. I had to beg this pain to go away. I needed a release and I did not know how to achieve it. The pain was shaping my personality and I did not know it.

I was an outsider without shelter and a clear future. How could I have thought that I was developing my philosophy of living in isolation, day in and day out? Was my existence forgotten? I was not able to know. I was absurdly alone and there was no one to help me. I think the strangest thing in those days was that I was not aware that my inner strength was my only company.

It was a warm summer day and that afternoon on the steps of the piazza was pleasant. The beautiful Italian and foreign girls and boys were all there mingling with each other and sharing their cheap wines and some played the guitar. I remember Stefano very well. He was a charming and talkative boy, possibly my age, from Urbino. He was alive and full of energy and an enthusiastic figure in that crowd. He loved to talk to everybody there and I was not exceptional.

He came to me a few times and uttered things in front me with some theatrical gestures. Of course I did not understand and I just smiled and he went away, playing his guitar. I did not want to engage and I could not speak Italian well, but I enjoyed witnessing the games these people were playing to get attention. I know that if I had gone to them and talked, they would have included me with pleasure. But I preferred to learn in isolation. I was a new in town and I needed to see things at my own pace, without rushing.

In any case I wished to get into learning the language and felt like engaging with the crowd later. I was extremely fascinated by the shapes of the buildings and the way the city looked. I wished I could enjoy it better but the pain in me was excruciating and I did not know what to do with it. My head was as hot as boiling water in a kettle. I pressed it with my hands and it didn't help. I did not know how to get rid of this pain. I needed relief.

Then night arrived and I trusted myself that I would find a way to calm the pain. I stood up after hours of sitting there, and calmly walked into the old narrow cobbled streets. I could feel my heartbeat. I was indecisive and at the same time I was trying as hard as I could to regain my strength. I felt very weak. I was feeling like a broken young man without a future. I wanted desperately to rebuild that broken young man in order to have a life. I was coming from hunger and the malady of loneliness. In short I was paralysed that night. I told myself, don't be afraid, you have seen worse than this, don't let yourself be overcome by this pain, go for a long and infinite walk into the night. Don't let yourself fall.

I know you would perhaps not understand what is being conveyed to you beneath these vaguely written lines. You don't need to. Even if you knew, you will never find out their real meanings. It is a long story to tell and I think you have heard it before.

Believe it or not you have seen and will see me everywhere. I wonder if you have taken notice of this. Without knowing you, somehow I think that I'm deeply imbedded in your depths. I wish you would go away by yourself and search for me there. I have been looking at you and you have also been looking at me everywhere. But mistrusting, we have never gotten to know each other. Perhaps this is our eternal dilemma.

I still can hear the echoes of these lines in my ears.

Why was I sitting there years ago all alone? Why am I telling you these things now, in my irregular manner of thinking? My answer is that I have been watching you all these years and I know that you have been watching me all those years too. Do you understand what I'm saying?

This morning I woke up calmly and uttered this to myself, 'I can't see anything', it is dark and I feel that I need to know you, and it is almost dawn. I open my eyes and suddenly as freshly as I could I'm invited to remember those open and spacious places I lived on in that piazza and how they kept me company, the silence on those summer nights on those steps. The sun was rising, and the sun is rising again here. The full light of the moon was my path, to keep me calm.

I was granted to go on for another day. My mind was in suspense, and in this deceptive world I held on to my strength. To be alive was a miracle, and I knew that to keep it, I had to use my energy -- and will -- to overcome my powerlessness; even though I was the worst of all the people I was observing coming and going to the piazza.

Does this article have spelling or other mistakes? Tell me. I'll feex it.

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