The last time I looked there was an old man staring blankly into the haze, he didn’t seem to notice the muffled activity on the street below, nor did he see me. I was the proverbial fly on the wall; seeing, experiencing, sensing without being noticed. I watched him intently, if per chance he were to look my direction and notice me, would I smile, wave and shout out to him “Good day!” and should I attempt or presume to say it in Romanian or Russian? Or would I quickly look away, caught in the guilty act of spying on another?
The window is simply an opening in the wall of a building which is the color of a cloud ready to produce a deluge of rain. Behind the man, the room is a study of the variations of charcoal there is no light, nor dark, only shadows. Even his shirt is dingy white from dirty wash water.
His eyes are watery, tired, empty; around his mouth frown wrinkles engrave and set chiseled boundaries. His face is a study of vacancy, long-past waiting for an artist to sketch life and joy into it. His chest expands as he drags deeply on his cigarette, the ember glows signifying flickering life, he taps and flicks it and the ash quickly falls and then fades into the backdrop, another shade of grey. He looks back into the apartment and says something, takes a long suck on the cigarette and flips the stub out the window, littering the street below.
I ponder on the man as I look to the sidewalk underneath his window; unable to spot the cigarette butt, I wonder about a life that seems so bleak. I brood over the people of Eastern Europe and what they have shared with us of their history, blighted by the countless invaders and the scars of relatively recent hostilities. There is a pall in the air that reeks of the desolation left by the most recent unwelcome conquerors who sucked all useful vitality, then left decaying abandoned shells about which no one cares to reminisce.
When I look back the window is empty.
My attention is drawn to a window to the left as a florescent light flickers on. I hadn’t noticed this window before; it has lace curtains and pots with colorful flowers, purple, white and pink petunias spill out on the small deck. The movement of a lady is softened in the swirls and ruffles of the lace patterns which separate her from the world, from me. There is a glow to the room with its daffodil colored walls. I can hear the clatter of pots, clinking of silverware and glasses, infused with a background of convivial chatter between a man and a woman. A zephyr of laughter floats from the window.
I ponder on the woman as I look at the featureless building in which she lives. Her window terrace is the only one with flowers. Here there is cheerfulness despite passed oppression. Here there is color. Here is a lady who plants flowers and laughs. Maybe on the street below, those who pass by sense a bit of the hopefulness that is raining down upon them.
It is a muse that swirls in the space between our windows. I catch my reflection in the slant of my opened window; there amidst the frown wrinkle and tired eyes I encounter a face with an expression of a life that hopes in hope – if that makes sense. The human spirit can be indomitable and I cherish this moment as wonderfully comforting, and yet odd, no longer a still life, magically a lively vignette now emerges.