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Journey to Rhodes
For several years, my health suffered a series of blows, caused by those most normal of factors. The weight of the pen, the confusion of the brain, the sickness of the heart… In short, all the afflictions from which the common artist suffers, coupled, of course, with an alleged lack of inspiration. My condition seemed only to worsen, and I grew constantly weaker in spirit, mind and body. I attempted to seek relaxation in strong, pungent liquids, which stole from me my sobriety, my diligence and my peace of mind. I desperately tried to attain the unattainable fiend inspiration through opiate pipes of polished, humid wood, causing only greater disappointment at my forced return from a land of tranquillity and brilliance to one of insignificance and pestilence. Constant were the travels from beauty to brutal practicality, and more degrading, more painful as they lingered on. Exhausted, I collapsed into a state of such appalling decadence that months haughtily danced on in a macabre fashion before my sufferings were ameliorated. I still remember sitting up on my bed and smoking a cigarette, while the breeze from the window caused my silk garments to graciously flutter at the rhythm of my doctor’s voice. Effectively, he sent me abroad to convalesce.
It was then, during the early summer months, that I began my journey to Rhodes, boarding a white vessel to reach my destination. Much of the journey I spent reading, entirely disregarding the human faces which surrounded me. Their smiles brought envy, and their futile complaints summoned such a rush of contempt that I would have to seal my eyes and abstain myself from those endless texts. Alas, I could only read, as writing was forbidden me until I knew what to write. The idea was that it should come naturally, without any effort on my part. I awaited this effortless, majestic wave of inspiration, tiredly hoping that it would strike me with unbowed force… and in the meantime, I beheld the sea. I confess I rather dreaded the prospect of one week on-board a vessel in which I had only that endless blue mass to gaze upon. Once I boarded it, however, I soon came to regret my naïve thoughts, for its beauty was indestructible. Standing on the bow and looking on as the keel ploughed the ocean, propelling an irresistible mountain of white onto the calm, cool azure. The latter colour, of course, was common, but stole one’s eye as it appeared in several diamonds of water which seemed desperate to erupt into waves. Even when grey, it exhibited the martial majesty of a great army preparing for war, and the sounds of agitated waves breaking on our ship seemed to deem us its enemy. How can we… how could I resist the sea?
It was a soft journey on that smooth mantle that brought us to Rhodes. Faces crowded around the deck and pushed the railings as if to hasten our ship, compelled by the towering magnificence of its sober castle. Its walls exhibited a dusty grey colour, and the cuttings between every stone were easily seen, declaring the monument to have been erected by the human hand. Underneath it lay the many houses of which the island was composed, some of brown stone, some grey, and others entirely whitewashed. They were protected by doors of all sorts of shades, blue, yellow, brown, red, even white. And then there were the people, an amalgamation of locals and tourists all drowning in the resplendent light of the burning sun, giving a Holy impression to the swelling scene. Rhodes lay before me, an explosion of life, an exhibition of colour… a demonstration of the simplicity of beauty. And as I got off the ship and saw myself surrounded by local merchants, I took in their cheerful, hoarse voices, beheld their linen tunics and smiled. My contempt for the human race had begun to abandon me after I witnessed the perfections of which our imperfect breed is capable of creating.
However, all this splendour came at the heavy price of the sun, which mercilessly scorched me. It poured its heat on me as I walked up the cobbled streets, followed by the unrelenting sound of the wheelbarrow on which my luggage lay, pushed by a local. The sights of the beige residences fanned by the palm-trees brought jealousy to my heated frame, and at length, I sat on a grey step leading to a white, wooden door, telling the bearer to carry my baggage to the hotel. The clattering sound of the wheels recommenced, began to fade, and disappeared, leaving only the chorus of gruff, hissing Greek voices. Salesmen filled the streets, showcasing exquisitely coloured necklaces and earrings. There was the pure blue of topaz hanging down in beads of all different sizes, embracing the hanging, pale-green jade and the damsel amethysts. Like flowers in a garden, they were, evoking the sweet breezes of spring and of all its pleasant aromas. I sat there looking, in a sort of dreamy gaze, until the sweat running down my brow awoke me and reminded me of the heat. After removing my hat and fanning myself only to become more tired, I got on my feet and looked around, in search of water. The same cacophony of screams descended upon me, and still waving my crumpled panama, I drowsily walked into the crowd looking for water. As I stumbled on the dusty ground, whipping my brow with a cotton handkerchief, I saw a woman bent over a clay amphora.
I swallowed in anticipation, and cut through the dusty air and the growing crowd to see her. When she raised her head, however, I took two more uncertain steps, as a child before sleep, and stopped. Her Grecian brow looked into nothingness, and I, looking at her features, beheld absolute beauty. I had seen buildings of a sublime glory, and knew us, imperfect beings, to be capable of such magnificence, but the creature before me was as perfect as those edifications. Powerless, motionless, speechless, I rested my stinging eyes upon her face and contemplated how a perfect God created imperfect beings who created perfect monuments themselves. If there is a God, I have never known, but given the possibility, she was His only perfect human creation, a work of art, indeed, for the first time made by a perfect Artist. There she stood, a humble creature wearing plain clothes, bending on her knees, sweating under the sun for the weight of an amphora… and she was beautiful, she was beautiful. She was beauty…
When I was seated on the steps, beholding the necklaces and reminiscing on the attractions of spring, I was in a dream, one from which I had woken. Gazing upon the Greek maiden, however, was a dream from which I could not wake. I looked into her dark eyes, shinning as burning tar, and could see nothing beyond her undeniable splendour. They were of a scalding black, and though not large, rested under half-closed lids which enhanced all her mystery, her clarity and her pride. They were an immense lagoon in which darkness reigned supreme without any sign of death or mourning. I imagined myself gazing into those fiery stones every day of my life, and trembled at the current of sentimental anguish with which they flooded me. They were set in between a luxurious pair of glistening, bleak lashes, which covered them like velvet curtains cover a charming view. And both were framed by a striking pair of diagonal, pronounced eyebrows of a shadowy tone, possessing such an assertive air that they brought nothing but awe.
They were deep-set, ornamenting an elongated straight nose which endowed her with an even greater expression of aggressive beauty. It began near those striking eyebrows, and extended itself with vigorous confidence in an enviably even, unblemished manner until it bent backwards over the mouth. Here, it exhibited a pair of dashingly round nostrils, another shade which supplemented those stunning features with further art. It was a portico to her mouth, a small, enflamed elevation with an oval shade and a dark pink of a reddish undertone, which made it seem swelling with sweet nectars from the grape. What would a kiss from those lips have been? A taste of the finest wines embellished by the sweet, gentle scent of a blossoming gardenia under the sun… They stood motionless, the red amongst the olive shade of her arresting features. Her face seemed a gem, so perfectly carved that it was, with a round forehead and very small cheeks, which descended diagonally into slender jaws, in turn meeting their end in a prominent, determined chin.
Mesmerized, I moved towards her in the same uncertain fashion with which I had taken my first two steps. My hat was still clasped in my hand, crushed now by my fingers and losing its original white tone to the invading brown sweat. It had lost its shape, crumpled as it was, and even its original purpose, as I now merely waved it close to my face hoping for some cooling effect. But I was soon reminded that I was not standing before a masterpiece in some marble gallery, and the sun poured its heat on me in as brutal a fashion as the screams of the unrelenting multitude surrounding me. I drew my hands to my face to avoid it all, to cease looking at the crowd and to gather my thoughts without having my mind invaded by that solar tyrant. I dropped the wretched, olive panama from my hand, and saw its miseries increased as passers-by carelessly trod on it. Slowly, I moved towards the dusty ground, seeing the ends of floating tunics lose their colour to the sandy clouds of dirt. I removed my hands from my head, lest I was thought to be weeping, and drew them towards my destroyed hat, raising it to my head. I then looked up, slowly, to see her celestial features once more. There she stood.
I trod on, too enchanted to speak, and too reverent to this figure to have the impertinence of waving my arm at her in a drawing gesture. The crowd drew before me, thicker and thicker like a vibrant night, and my arms were forced forwards, cutting through it as the bow of a vessel. Many were the bright linen vests I brushed aside, and more than one foamy suit was soiled upon the touch of my trembling, moist hands. My progress could not be halted, and though running was far from my mind, I walked at a pace expressive of both determination and reverie. Indeed, a resolved dreamer was I, so devoutly burning to stand face to face with an object too glorious for human life. Carpets of beige, red and black paraded themselves before my eyes, along with a stream of glowing copper urns, pots and pans. They exhibited their golden colour boastfully, allowing the sun to bathe them so they could be seen in all their splendour. My eyes were scorched by their glow, which persisted for so great a length of time that I was, once more, forced to stop walking and to draw my eyes to the ground. Wretched pottery, clanking it’s way ahead, boisterously declaring it’s exquisiteness to the world! As if it was gold… It was not, and to my delight, I was aware that it would soon lose its conceited orange glow and sink into an ugly, degraded brown.
At length, the cacophonic ensemble disappeared, and my march was resumed. As before, I gazed above the rough materials thrown over the shoulders of locals, and saw her again. She looked at the skies, her black pupils piercing the clouds with a stare of great distance and aloofness. She was now not more than six feet away from me, and I raised my nose to the air in an attempt to feel her scent. The fume of spices, herbs and delicacies which floated around rendered my attempt impossible, and thus I looked at her once more. I was expressionless, utterly devoid of any change in my face. Though I stood before a creature of unsurmountable splendour, I could muster no reaction… none, I was…
I was in love! The heat of that sentiment burnt within my breast as it pounded through my veins! Dead? Dead, I thought myself, when I had first gazed upon her Olympian brow? So lovely a creature could not be, on this earth, could not exist? The heat had stifled me, and her beauty riddled me with a morbid feeling of lifelessness, but now! Now I lived, I was more alive than ever I had been! It was love, pure, uncontrolled passion, and I would not stand idly by, staring at her while that golden orb burnt me to the grave! Out of my path, confounded salesmen, wretched tourists, out! I pressed them aside with enormous angst, like a man possessed. How dare they block my way towards eternal bliss? Abominable people, foul humans!
I stood before her… I could now take in her scent, one of olives and rosemary. I had long forgotten my thirst for water, for I now thirsted only for her! My eyes wide open, I stared at her mercilessly. Not a word eloped my lips, not a gesture escaped my arms, but my eyes… Oh, if eyes had lips, they would have spoken only of adoration! They should have burnt into her bosom’s core, for the sheer fascination that she held on me needed no sounds, but the thundering tenor of my unrelenting eyes. Oh, my passion knew no bounds, it could not know any at all, for she stood before me, like the breaking of the sun to announce the end of a storm! And I prayed with unprecedented fervour to a God in whom I did not believe to give me the strength of Apollo, that she would be mine! Yet despite the torrents of brute passion that ran through my veins, and the light of love that shone from my eyes, she never looked at me.
We stood before each other, and yet her eyes completely circumnavigated my form. And I, in my prostrated state, could do nothing but adore through sight! My heart oppressed my wretched mouth, which begged leave to burst in the most beautiful melodies to pay homage to the unearthly beauty of that creature. More, however, it desperately explored all of my vocal recourses to look for any sound that might make my presence known, but… no, it was to no avail. I stood, I looked, and she stood as if completely alone in the world.
Cruel fate, however, reserved greater angst, and before my terrified lips could mutter any sound, she turned and walked away. Her pace was not quick, but it was steady, and she moved through the turbulent multitude like a spirit.
My senses propelled me forward, stumbling through merchants and cutting down tradesman and tourist like some brute in battle. Their protestations came in floods, some in words, some in gestures, and some even in physical retribution. My hat had now long since been forsaken, and my ivory suit was plagued by large brown stains of perspiration, both mine and from the hands that struck me in revenge for my brutality. But I was determined to go forward and not lose sight of her, and so long as that slender white figure was visible to me, my determination would compel me to ignore the abuse I so justly merited from those who surrounded me. I went on down the street, pushing in the mildest cases and hitting with my arm when I deemed it necessary. Oh, that accursed crowd! Confound me for behaving like them, and confound them for behaving like themselves! Surely, my actions against them were brutal, but I asked, I pushed, and in stubbornness, they insisted on showing me their beads, displaying their coloured silks, and hissing at me in broken English that the goods were, indeed, good, as was their price and above all, their own intentions. The sun still burned in the sky, and I wanted her. I desired above all else to look at that marvellous vision again, to feel her sweet scent and to do so in the peace that such adoring observation deserved. Not amongst these raucous peasants! So am I to blame if my words were harsh and my actions ruthless?
I do not care to recall the hellish wretchedness of crossing that eternal street. The same croaking creatures, everywhere, everywhere, always to be seen, continually to be heard! After much exertion, that swelling scene was forsaken as I followed her into a quieter side street. Here, again, I could feel the breeze as it caressed my cheeks, and the edifices which surrounded us were of mellow beige much more pleasing to the eye than that blinding white. It was one of those alleys which seemed to have been built on a staircase, as it went perpetually higher and higher, and the pavement was formed of uneven steps rather than the dirt which had characterized the street we had escaped. The houses were tall and narrow, or rather, so narrow that they appeared tall. Yet, as the street went up, so the houses became of a less imposing size, until there were no more buildings to be seen. Its inhabitants seemed to be mostly elderly women dressed in red or black gowns, who sat at their doorsteps leaning on wooden sticks, praying to rosaries or stroking the beads that ran round their necks. It was a quiet, melancholy alley.
She answered the call of one of the old creatures, standing by a whitewashed archway carrying a large green bottle. Upon meeting her, she removed the amphora from her back and slowly poured a sensuous stream of water, which acquired an emerald hue upon entering the recipient. After a few grey coins exchanged hands, she proceeded, assuming once more that pace of a tantalizing calm which so beguiled me. Her feet lingered on each step, and it was only with the greatest languor that she moved upwards, up the street and towards the sky. She never looked back, never encouraging me to follow her, never giving me the slightest provocation. My presence was unbeknownst to her, naturally, and I was merely one of so many human faces that had passed her and that might have no touch of her life. Yet I willed it should not be so, and upwards I went as well, first at a steady pace.
It dawned on me, however, that my heels clicking on the sandstone slabs were the only clear sound in that alley. The clamour of the distant horde of merchants could still be faintly heard, but other than that and the rustling of the breeze in the bougainvillea flowers, the most pleasurable silence reigned in that street. I paused and looked about me to witness that soothing scene, so religious in its quietness, and thus proceeded to walk at the same pace as her. Onwards and upwards we went, both clad in white moving towards the blue plain overhead, like the most devout of processions in our muteness.
And as we came to the high end of the street, the sun struck my eyes. She, however, moved towards it, like a dove flying toward its golden rays. As my eyes accustomed themselves to the sudden burst of light, I surveyed my surroundings. Rhodes, the city, was abruptly over, and all that could be seen was the rustic countryside. A few white and cream houses with red tiles were to be seen, insignificant clouds in the sky of earth and trees that surrounded it. Short khaki grass grew from random parts of the muted brown dirt which was everywhere in that place, and a series of olive trees could be seen, their pale green leaves swaying at the gentle breeze. By the trees were short stretches of old, ruined walls, their grey stones now giving birth to the most beautiful blushing bougainvilleas, whose paper flowers graciously drifted with the waft and swished on the ground. There was a clear dirt track which led to a beautiful gathering of carob trees, and beyond it, a cliff looking on to the sea. The heavy, sweet scent of the carob permeated the air, and beyond it the distant sound of a benign ocean and a thousand rushing flowers.
She followed the track into the clearing and stood there, gazing out to look upon the serene azure mass that extended itself infinitely before her. Her arms seemed to be crossed in front of her chest, and her amphora lay beside her. She was motionless, and I could not see her face, for she stood with her back towards me, her raven hair smoothly dancing with the wind. I desired to walk to her, to place my hand upon her shoulder and see her face again, so that I might be inspired to tell her, to somehow make her understand how beautiful she was and how much I adored her! Yet how could she come to understand that I, an absolute stranger, felt so deeply for her? It was not only the usual angst of love that kept me from confronting her. Her entire person seemed a part of nature at that moment, in all her awing stillness. She had not gone to that spot to sell water, or for any apparent reason other than to be amongst beauty. I understood it. Because of this, I could not disturb her. Though she stood before me, we were as far apart as ever.
My eyes were still upon her when suddenly, she left the spot with great haste. She placed her amphora on her back as if it was made of paper, turned to the side and with hardly a sound but a rustling of grass, she swiftly ran off. So abrupt was this movement that I hadn’t the time to act upon it. One moment she was there, one moment she wasn’t, and all that was clear to me was that she had not noticed my presence at all. I was certain, in fact, it was not I who made her run, for she didn’t look back at all, indeed it was always as if I had not been there all along. Taken aback as I was, I could not think properly, and my first instinct was to follow her. I could still see her gracious figure running through a field towards some unknown location. She ran like a child, more for pleasure than for obligation, seeming to have not a care in the world.
However, after a few paces, I concluded it was useless to do so. I knew nothing of Rhodes, and she had already gone too far for me to catch her. Enraged at my forced inaction, I kicked a carob tree and stomped on the bark which I had broken. How could I have lacked a moment’s action? Why had I been so reluctant to make my presence clear to that magnificent creature? I furiously meditated upon these questions without finding any plausible answer, and exhausted my mental powers in doing so. My wrath gave way to sadness, and disheartened, I returned to the main city, wherein I hailed a dirty cab and directed the driver to my hotel.
It was one of those old world buildings that have been marvellously restored, all built out of sandstone and exhibiting its mellow beige colour everywhere. I was in no state to enjoy the pleasant surroundings, however, and retired to my bedchamber, a spacious apartment all charmingly whitewashed and facing the sea. The furniture was of a greenish brown colour typical of light wood, and of a modest elegance which fit the room’s unassuming charm splendidly. Above my bed was a small silver chandelier, and the walls were sadly decorated with those mediocre landscapes so common in hotels. I stepped onto the balcony and lit a cigarette, desperately attempting to keep her from my mind.
As the artificial odour of the smoke reached my nostrils, I looked at the sea, wishing to feel its saline scent instead. It now exhibited a series of colours, starting with a bright grey closer to the sand. Further away from the shore, it was now as blue as ever, and parting the two azure portions was a blinding streak of golden yellow and sunny orange. It was the majestic reflection of the setting sun, and the sky over the sea was now an unblemished bulk of a mellow auburn colour which spoke of nothing but harmony. No clouds disturbed it, no descent of nocturnal darkness obfuscated it… nothing could tear away that splendorous amalgamation of colours as the world entered a more peaceful state.
I, however, felt enraged by this display of beauty. I could see it clearly, ably identifying everything that conceded it its singular exquisiteness, knowing with every fragment of my body that the spectacle of a sunset untouched by human ugliness, in its pure natural form, was beautiful. I knew this one was beautiful, in its explosion of lovely hues, and yet! Yet I could not sense that beauty, I could only see it. I knew that it was beautiful because I had seen such beauty before, and yet it was an analytical, detached sort of knowledge. I did not feel the beating of my heart increase before the marvellous sight, nor the urge to smile and weep at the same time. Nothing, I felt nothing, for I knew my mind to be elsewhere! I had seen beauty in its supreme state, and until I saw it again, until I could forever preserve that image, I would never feel anything beautiful again. I would merely be presented with the sight and recognize it in a dull sort of manner. This I could not allow, for I, an artist, could not fail to be moved by art, whether natural or created by man!
I spent the rest of that eventful day smoking at the balcony, having a light repast in my bedchamber and retiring late to bed. Amidst the white sheets, I could think only of those that enveloped her figure, and despite the comfort of the bed and the soothing sound of the sea, had little rest. My sudden cowardice stifled me, and its result even more so; such an overpowering feeling could bring nothing to my writing, for I knew I would become so enthralled by her magnificence that I would give little value and no thought to the pretended feelings conveyed by mere words.
Thus, the following morning I rose early, and dressed with considerable haste, caring little for the state of my tie or the crumpled form of my brown linen jacket. With my other panama on my head, I lit a cigarette and left the hotel, indifferent to the growing sensation of hunger and refusing to have breakfast. The early morning breeze enclosed me, and beneath the vile smoke I could sense the gentle odour of the orange blossoms. I disposed of the cigarette and walked down a wide street flanked by beautiful orange trees, affirming a moving harmony between the human being and nature. Its mild scent brought about a fleeting feeling of happiness, which duly escaped, and once again a curtain of agony descended upon me. That street, in all its peace and beauty, reminded me of the sea the previous night, and all that I had lost! The sensation of awe at the beauty of sight, scent and audition had returned briefly, merely to taunt me. Desperately, I walked quickly towards the beach, which lay at the end of that long, wide street.
As my shoes sank in the golden sand, my entire body sank with them. I sat there, with my legs bent as arches, looking at the simple charm of the sand and the sea. The dry odour of the beach was all around me, and though it did not atone for my sadness, it brought a certain relaxed resignation. Laying back and drawing my hat over my eyes, I fell asleep.
The first thing I sensed upon awaking from my slumbers was not the light weight upon my face, nor the darkness, nor the close sound of the sea, all peculiarities to on who has just come to life in a place where sleep does not often meet him. It was the hollow touch of hunger, weightily pressing itself upon my stomach and most brutally oppressing me. I quickly removed the straw object from my face and rose to my feet, my eyes half closed as they were struck by that shimmering stranger. Standing up seemed to only worsen the dread feeling of savage appetite, and I resolved to find a place in which to eat. Removing the silver watch from my top pocket, the hour came as a shock to me, for it was two in the afternoon. Ashamed at the extraordinary length of my inertia, I walked with that considerable haste and look of resolution so typical of one who is utterly unaware of his destination. Rhodes was now more plagued with people than it had been upon my departure from the hotel. I walked up the same wide street with the orange trees, and now their scent was much fainter, having been forced to compete with the odour of the human mass.
This street, being of privileged location and shaded by the trees, was quite a centre for commerce, though of a far more pleasant nature than that of the wretched narrow road which had been my first sight of the hectic confusion of the island. Waiters in traditional garb stood by pleasant looking esplanades displaying the carte du jour, and making most offensive attempts at English, French and Italian. Oysters! There was something for which I had great appetite, especially if followed by the smooth meat of the lobster. I resolved, therefore, to sit at the esplanade which served both these delicacies and quickly placed my order. How strange it is, that when the heart is barred from beauty, the body turns to pleasure.
The oysters came first, large maritime pebbles on a blanket of cool green foliage, centred by a yellow lemon. And there they were, humid, soft and grey, smelling more of the sea than the sea itself. The waiter placed them at the centre of the table, next to the bottle of white Spanish wine that I had ordered. It had cast its mellow, fruity aroma over the table until the arrival of the oysters, which now dominated the scene. I rapidly consumed them, first sprinkling them with strong white vinegar and then letting them slide into my mouth. It was pure delight, partly because of hunger and partly because of my own fondness for the delicacy at hand.
The crowning glory of my lunch arrived shortly after, in an explosion of colour as beautiful as it was appetizing. At the centre of a large wooden tray lay a majestic lobster of so vivid a red that it seemed to signal the heat with which it had been cooked as much as the steam emerging from it. It had made its bed on a refreshing amalgamation of green and purple cabbages, skilfully arranged so as to make that which would be ingested in a second a work of art. Finally, also upon this crib of salads and surrounding the imposing animal, were several lemon halves of the softest yellows. Delighted by the spectacle, I felt positively criminal at first in ruining so charming a display, but hunger signalling its presence once more made me yield, and I enjoyed the soft lobster enormously.
My meal having come to an end, I decided to sit back and enjoy the afternoon breeze and the shade of the esplanade. I poured myself another glass of wine and remained there, in relaxed contemplation of the fine scenery which surrounded me. The scent of the orange trees was now stronger, and descended upon me with indescribable sweetness. I smiled upon beholding the elegance of that wide street, with its beige houses, white marble balconies and a million different plants all grouped in gracious accord. My heart seemed weaker for a second, and then it grew quiet and satisfied. In that comfortable warmth caused by the nectar of the grape, I sat back upon my chair, my face flushed with a large smile, but despite my seeming calmness, I trembled with excitement. My heart could once again feel the beauty that surrounded it. The overpowering feeling had returned to me, and what I had supposed was death was a mere malady of the senses from which I had recovered. I remained in peaceful reflection and peaceful happiness until I saw her. A white figure walked up the street, carrying the same amphora of red clay and showing the same gracious, willowy pace as before. In truth, I had not seen her face this time, and her hair was entirely covered by her white tunic, but I knew it must be her!
In feverish exhilaration, I jumped to my feet and ripped more money than my repast had been worth from my wallet, placed it on the table and rushed off, quickly putting on my hat. I kept my distance as I had done the previous day, but resolved to confront her as soon as we were alone. Given the wretched experience of the previous day, such a resolution might appear strange, but the passion I felt for her was too great to be expressed amidst the bustling atmosphere of those streets. Indeed, the more I followed her, the more people surrounded us, and after taking a series of narrow streets which I can only remember as being cool and shaded, we found ourselves in the same boiling, loud, hyperactive street where I had first laid eyes on her. It had not improved, for it was still the same melting pot of mankind. The same merchants hissing, the tourists screaming in dozens of different languages, and the sun blazing down on all of us.
Steady in my resolve not to lose sight of her, I resorted to the same tactics as previously, mercilessly pushing aside those who crossed my path. Perhaps out of sheer determination, or my previous experience in that street, I seemed to cross that crowd with far greater swiftness and speed than before, and was never far from her. She then turned to the same small alley that seemed to go up until it ended in the countryside. Once again, the soft breeze carrying the heavy odour of the carob enraptured me, and I was struck by a thousand white and violet flowers from the bougainvilleas. For a moment, I lost sight of her, but then remembered the clearing by the sea where I had last seen her, and made my way towards it. I was full of joy once I confirmed that I had been correct in my assumptions, for there she was, standing beyond the trees, this time still holding her amphora. For a moment, I was somewhat wary of the prospect of disturbing her, but remembering what had happened the day before, I walked towards her and placed my hand gently upon her shoulder.
She was startled and turned around in great haste, emitting a graceless shriek. Once she turned, it was I who jumped. Before me stood not the marvellous creature who had so enchanted me, but an elderly woman, her crisp grey hair falling over her brown emaciated face, all wrinkled and sullen like the trunk of a willow. Perhaps she was not as hideous as I recall, and possibly not as old, but when one seeks Aphrodite, is it a wonder that even Helen should look like Medusa? She smiled and hissed a few words at me, showing me the amphora, but I could not reason at all. A feeling of enormous anger had once again arisen within me, and I roughly turned my back on the old creature and walked back, pacing the fields and streets with a heavy tread.
My countenance must have been quite fierce, for I remember that as I walked down the streets, I was scarce impeded by the insufferable merchants, and all jumped aside to let me pass. All save for one, an American in a beige linen suit and boater who was angrily waving two dull copper pots at a merchant, and making the most frightful row about how they had lost their lustre overnight. Such was his wrath at the inevitable occurrence that he was completely unaware of my presence until I savagely brushed him aside and retook my journey. In spite of the appearance of anger, I was in a state of great confusion and agitation. I had followed the wrong woman, and all the while I believed her to be beautiful she was merely a reflection of past beauty, withered and wisped away by time. Had I regained my feelings for beauty only to lose them again after so brutal a shock?
I hastened my step and quickly found myself running up the same wide street where I had been so relieved during my pleasant luncheon. I now scorned to look at the orange trees, and in sheer defiance of their scent, stopped and lit a cigarette. Then, standing still for some time, I walked the rest of the way back to the hotel, which I entered with the same angered look on my face and with the last remains of the smouldering object dangling from my lips. I walked to the individual at the reception desk, a man wearing a black morning suit and a shirt with a winged collar, and demanded to see the ship timetable. He made a small bow with his brilliantine-ridden head and quickly fetched it for me, placing it on the desk for me to browse at my discretion. I did so, rustling through the pages with mad haste until I found a ship that sailed away the following day, and demanded that the receptionist book me a first class cabin. After a few minutes in which he attempted to dissuade me from cancelling my hotel reservation lasting an entire two weeks, he sighed and telephoned the company, and my cabin was reserved.
For the rest of that day, I remained in my room, with all the shutters shut so as not to have to contemplate that beauty I knew I would not be able to feel, smoking cigarette after cigarette and having only a very light meal, once again in my bedchamber. A chamber maid came in to pack my cases, which took her about thirty minutes, despite her shaking hand. She must have been nervous on account of my silent presence, and I can’t remember saying one word from the moment she arrived to the moment she left. Just as I expected, my night was spent in a state of agitated sleeplessness, and I therefore decided to leave my bed at 6 in the morning to reopen my large box and remove a packet of cigarettes I had left inside my brown jacket, consuming it with such voracity that it was finished by seven o’clock. With nothing else to do, I bathed and dressed, hastily knotting a red striped tie and carelessly putting on a mid-brown three piece suit. I ordered that breakfast be brought up at 8, and after eating it, I was left with nothing to do but lie down upon my bed in a state of wrathful alacrity which soon turned into tiredness, and I fell asleep once again.
Fortunately, my slumbers only lasted until two in the afternoon, when the maid entered my room to clean it up and found me still lying on my bed. Alarmed, I looked at my watch, and evidently noticing that I had only two hours before my ship departed, asked the maid to have my luggage sent down and ran to the reception. The same receptionist received me, and he informed me that one of the hotel cars was ready for me, whereupon he led me outside. There, glistening under the sun, stood a magnificent burgundy Packard tourer with cream suede seats. Once my luggage was loaded, we departed, taking once again that wide street. This time, I could not help but look at the orange trees for one last time, and once more feel their scent. It was, as it had been before, full of merchants and waiters, who somewhat halted our progress, to the extent that I was forced to further gaze upon that lovely scene. A tear rolled down my cheek, and I looked upon it one final time as we turned towards the docks.
I cannot remember the insufferable bureaucracies that I had to face before boarding the ship and before my luggage was conveyed safely on board. Suffice to say that after waiting for some time, the ship began to leave port, and after reaching deeper waters, turned to starboard and began to make its way around the island. I stood on deck, bending over a balustrade and holding my trilby with my hand so it would not fly. I was engaged in conversation by a superbly dressed Austrian gentleman. I remember that he wore a light grey three piece suit with the most remarkable peaked lapels and a homburg on his head, and that his conversation wall all about the decline of masculine fashion, which he interrupted only to gaze at some bird with his binoculars. I indifferently agreed, as I looked upon Rhodes in its entirety. As he spoke, I suddenly felt that same warm touch in my heart that I had felt at the restaurant, and I realized that I could see and sense all the beauty of Rhodes. The majesty of its taupe castle, the simple elegance of its squares and avenues, all flanked with rows of exotic trees, and the charm of its beige rows and alleys. And as I saw Rhodes, I had her image in my mind, and I was not taken aback! I had not loved her at all, not for one moment, it was her beauty I loved, and that beauty would remain with me forever.
Yet in a moment, as we were sailing past the most rural part of the island, I saw a white figure. Stunned, I ripped the binoculars off my Austrian companion’s hand, and aimed them at the height on which it stood. There, looking straight at our ship, straight into me, was that figure. Her long raven hair fluttered with the wind as a dozen bougainvillea flowers of rose and white flew past her. Her olive complexion was at the height of its splendour under the strong light of the noon sun, and her dark burning eyes looked straight ahead. And slowly, very slowly, those bursting red lips opened in a sweet smile, and as if bidding me farewell, leisurely raised her right arm. The open sleeve of her tunic easily slithered back onto her shoulder, and her bare arm stood still, undisturbed by the breeze and the burning sun. So did she, and her face remained staring at me with that delighted look until I lost sight of it. And that I never did.