On the street down from Port de France, round the corner of dirty stinking Rue Mobarak in Tunis knelt a man with no eyes in his head, skin sucked in and sealed at the back of his sockets like the hollows of an emptied dozen-box of eggs. He wore a dust-caked suit that maybe some European nuns had struggled to put over him. It was day, dusty, the cold of spring in Tunis and when I saw him I realized it was not true what Tunisians meant when they said moyen, tout est moyen ici, ‘all misery is moderate here’. This man was without eyes on his knees, three empty mouths in his head and seemed someone had once scooped out his sight.
I could not keep my Dinar piece, so I bent to put it on the patch of cardboard on which he sat.
That instant he decided to move and stretch his legs, as he rose and lifted the cardboard divan my coin slid down unnoticed by him to the sidewalk.
Monsieur, I said. He mumbled in Arabic dusting off his mat of cardboard, I retrieved the coin.
Monsieur! I said again and tried to put the dinar in his hand, but he swung his hand speaking in Arabic, as if I was a nun trying to pick his lice again tell him about St Lucia
Monsieur! I now tried to drop the silvery coin with emblems of liberty and fruit harvest in his begging bowl, but missed again as he tried to find a comfortable way to sit on the mat with the English “down side up” (maybe it was a Mauritanian import) and symbol of a wine glass, an umbrella of bad luck. People walked by, sets of male and female many-scented behinds in tight violet and blue pants.
(Noise-shuffle of footwork as if a ritual mating dance was required before I could inseminate the center of his old tumor-hand with a cold Dinar-nickel depicting in faded metal relief the figure of a girl bring Spring bounty to the risen nation.)
He found his spot and settled, finally I placed the coin in his smoothed callused open palm; his palm shone as if he could now see through the silvery retina I had landed successfully in it. Something had made it impossible for me to complete the transaction and give him the charity without our touching. His blindness, his having two holes in his head, carved by a war criminal or a cruel castrating ogre-Odysseus, at least forcefully ensured physical contact, bending the knees of self-flattering alms throwers.
When my imagined Mother Teresa glow wore off I wondered if anyone had once tried to place shining coins in each hollow of his eyes.
Maybe that was the problem—when he died, in a suburb of Athens or Crete his loved ones did not care to place coins over his eyes as they haphazardly cremated him on cheap hay by the river while they smoked and spat, gossiping provincial in the midst of river-side burial.
So when he was to go to the Netherworld, he did not get far until animals of the netherworld ate his uninsured eyes and he ended up in Tunis, in the city of cold dry gray and dust on trade. Tunis where the tough-lunged brokers who were well-fed and moneyed from their struggles and government favors competed for the limited air.
He sat since then howling on his knees, death without eyes, waiting for the sunbarge to the Western lands of gold wheat and peace where he could rest amidst the flowers they call Sisters of Noamen.
Note from Tunis, Tunisia March 19 2012
Tunis without eyes by Arturo Desimone is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at arturoblogito.wordpress.com.