The Forgotten Stories of Manuel Milho VII

The deposed eyes

— The men who work on daily pay follow premisses and values, like those who have a secured box at the court. And it is harder, among rubble, dust, and stone chips to acknowledge wills, because existence is submitted to the apparently sovereign order of the sense of duty.
Ruivo, who had just arrived at the yard where the men rested at the end of the day, memorized what Manuel was saying, as if organizing by filaments the words that would form his intervention, in the dark of the forest, where everyone gathered to listen to the stories of Manuel (where they came from I didn’t know!), at the mouth of the tents which, minutes later, would fill with the tepid smell of bodies, devastated by other wills. The poor reuse everything, starting with words, and then the mockery that distinguishes everything suspends the sense of judgement — hence the cursed class struggle:
— But if the workers have a will, why do they choose a condemned life, without a name, without a voice, thus covered with dust, back pain, without a bed or granted cleanliness, of single night women? Is it not true that, to be well lived, life must have only one night, because of the constancy of a woman who loves herself, because of the brutal discretion of the children who are growing up?
Manuel struggled with himself, as if he only had the vague and imperfect hypothesis of an enemy’s profile, for which to keep breathing:
— The reasons and desires are varied, even though sustenance is the table on which everyone kills or entertains hunger: some carry the stone to keep busy the hands that otherwise would end up under a woman’s skirts, robbing stores, trashing his friend’s tent, so that they do not accuse them of not having done everything they could against poverty. Others overcome laziness, which is nothing, with the weight of the stone, thus contributing, after all, to a religious work, which the Lord will later pay for: it is enough, it must be, to believe! Misery and devotion touch each other somewhere in the path of fury and tenderness, one and the other boulder supports the shoulders of the workers, there are many more that it is not the stone they carry, but faith in lightness, when at daylight the last ray of sun falls, and the moon is the harbinger of a new beginning, judgment suspended in a mild wind, the face turned back to no one…
— And us? Have you ever thought about what moves us in this land, now desert, infernal heat, now mire, expunged dampness, fetid work passing from hand to hand among the poor who are just that: ragtags homesick for the right to be a man, who is to have courage and not to use it? It is just that I only hear ‘others this, others that’, but I’m myself, and I don’t find mirrors but those that show the wealth of the great ones who have ‘Sir’ and ‘Lady’ plus their name. Tell me why. It is just that he’s been there for days that, word, I don’t know how to continue…
‘—If you do not use courage, what good is it to us?’
Another throws it.
Baltasar caressed the dormant stump, part of the whole hook, a solidary reason between defence and combat. He could not forget about Blimunda, who advised the spike for dark nights, and said aloud:
— Manuel is capable of serving the responsory with a greater skill and ingenuity, I use my left hand only to catch the will of my wife who is far away, but I set fire to everything that tries to trap me in decay, and I don’t long for it, nothing else in life, but I, Sete-Sóis, Baltasar as a nickname after all, if it’s true that we die before birth and life arrives after the work is done, I tell you — beyond the dripping tap, and it really drips! — I tell you that courage is a thing about singing or grooming, but not something one uses, because if cherished from the heart in the arms of men, it does not end. And what is used has a certain end.
— Oh Manuel, but where do these ideas of yours come from? People are tired, we just wanted to listen to a story that would lull us to the stars. And look, if we ended our lives asleep, it would be with a relieved heart. But this way a man can’t sleep ever again!
Manuel snored, who knows, from agitated dreams, which thus blazed the images of night down his throat for the next day. The head resting on a stone. The men return to the tents. Manuel opens his eyes, softly: tomorrow he already knows that the story will be about the sky that is the same over the heads of all men and over those of all women.
And because thoughts are legends at half-mast, Manuel recognized, on the other side of the camp’s arch, the voice of Ruivo telling the story of António Ele-Há-Olhados, whom he had dreamed of two nights ago, for whom he was still looking for an outcome. Ruivo said:
— António was a farmer and head of a large family. Tired of the hard teachings that life insisted on directing to him, with a malicious dexterity of hands, he plucked out his eyes and gave them to his offspring, who thus began to see for themselves and for their father, protecting him from the dangers around the corner and by the abyss of the mountain, those of cement and of the dirt, of the water and of the wine, of the work and of the woman, already enraged at the way her husband prostrated himself. In blindness the hungry are saved, the fearful are lost. But if the eyes were many and concentrated, thus producing a neat — and sharp — vision, the threats were of so many more targets concentrated in a single face: each of the faces of the five children who made up the Olhado clan. Thus, the children, exhausted from the anxiety in which they lived, constantly anticipating for an arrow nailed in the shoulder of one and in the eyes of the others, found resting, in their experienced-eyed heads, as a solution, to kill the father, and thus resuming their identities, their scenic delights, the desires that, for 10 years now, were condemned to the direction of the father’s face, which, like the regulating cord of the puppets, determined the north of the offspring. They thought that by killing their father they could finally turn their eyes back to what truly interested them. They chose a quick, painless death, since making him suffer was not the role they were ready for there.
—And killed? Their own father? — Ours is a sick world…
—And blind! — another worker bluntly replied, with laughter and some spit, without knowing the truth he had just realized.
—They killed him, yes, but death got ahead of life, and the five brothers spent the rest of their days flashbacking every night, as soon as sleep fell over their eyes, the scene of the killing.
—Have they gone mad? Did they survive the torment? I have seen men wasting themselves for less.
—It is said that they were killed in their sleep, by a hunter interested in the absolute vision which, the rumours said, was the power the family held, having decide to rip their eyes out of their faces. Therefore, my friends, there are savvy eyes somewhere in this world, but unprepared for the days. The pair has no sure whereabouts. The royal authorities themselves fear following in their wake, expecting the worst: an eternal nightmare. Well then, what is eternity after all if not the sum of life that we happen to be able to see passing by us here?
—But is it one or is it five pairs of eyes?
—That I do not know anymore. I heard Manuel tell this in my dreams, I do not know anything else, but I wanted to test you, were it not for those damn eyes being here among us. Now if he comes to us with stories and mysteries tomorrow night, we have plenty to surprise him with.
Manuel slept with difficulty, imagining that in the place of the stars in the sky the eyes of the Olhado Clan floated, and the following day the stone he was lifting with his hands seemed to close his eyelids, such was his sleep and fright.