_Energheia Israel Prize 2014.
The walls are pilling, the plaster is falling off and it seems like the smell of piss and sewer has been stinking the stairway for some time now. Half way going up I start to feel nauseas. Most of the doors don’t have any apartment numbers or any other signs of residency. Everything seems dirty and forsaken.
Seeing where Nilo is coming from, makes me feel a latent cloud of sadness hovering over me and a bitter taste swelling my tongue.
I stop in front of a door I suspect to be where his family lives. I take two deep breathes and knock it three measured and cold times. I can hear some sounds from behind the door, but fail to figure them out. Maybe it’s somebody moving a chair or opening a sliding door, on theirs way to open the door.
Doubts start to creep on me and I am having second thoughts about the whole situation, maybe I have knocked the wrong door? Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped by like this, unannounced? Why am I even here? I haven’t seen Nilo for months by now.
Nilo’s Mother answers the door. She looks so old, like a creature from another time. She was surprised and bewildered to see me. From the look of her face, the family hasn’t expected any guests to stop by for a visit in a long time.
When I ask her about Nilo she seems even more curious and suspicious, she lingers for a second, then asks me am I a friend of his, and I nod quietly which oddly seems to give her some sense of comfort.
As she lets me in, she offers me something to drink, but I decline. “Maybe a cup of tea?” she insists, but I’m too anxious to drink.
“I don’t know…” she starts preparing me.
“He is not acting like himself lately. He is been so strange ever since… you know…”
I nod again, trying to act as calm as I can, while avoiding any further conversation.
“I’m worried…”, she continues, “I don’t know what’s wrong with him… he is always tired and he barely speaks with anybody…”, her breath becomes heavier, her hoarse voice from years of stress and chain smoking starts to crack,
“It’s good he has a friend… it’s just the first time I see you… can I ask you something?”
I lean closer, as she whispers, “people are talking… saying Nilo is messing around, out all night with the devil knows who, using some drugs… calling him names, I don’t know… Do you know any thing about any of this?”
The old woman couldn’t even bring her self to finish the sentence. I didn’t want to be responsible for what might happen to her if I say anything.
In her eyes, Nilo was her own angel and drugs were the devil’s incarnation.
“He is a good a kid… but you know… people talk, all the time, all they do is talk…” she murmured for a couple of seconds almost inaudibly, desperately to herself.
Looking at this poor old washed out woman that watched her son dies and desecrated, makes one think is there enough gold in the belly of earth to bring her Rama back.
I look down, knowing she will now start asking me all her questions, like an African pagan discovering fire.
“Well never mind, you are a good man, I’ll keep you in my prayers”, she turns back to me, struggling to keep a straight smile “please, come in, he is in the living room, watching TV…” she says as she closes the door behind me.
As I enter the room, I see an old worn out carpet and a young kid that looks about 4 or 5 years old, playing near a TV that sets on the sports channel.
On a navy blue stained and rotten couch, which looks like it was there for centuries and the house was slowly and pivotally built around it, laid a decayed, dead figure.
The figure was wrapped in a blanket and wearing a white stained and ragged silk shirt.
On the coffee table next to him, was a cup of tea with a blend of different kind of leaves, a pack of rolling papers, a pack of cigarettes, a bottle of wine, a lighter, a pipe, a slice of lime, an old book, a fork and a plate of rice and beans from a couple of days ago.
Through the black hair, the curly coarse beard and the eternal cigarette that was hanging from the tip of his mouth, I try to catch the glimpse of a sight, from the man that used to be Nilo.
The man that more women have loved, than he could have ever loved back, but less than he ever did, was alone.
I seat right in front of him and try to make eye contact, but his dead empty eyes gaze in the TV. I can almost hear in the background soft piano playing through his unforgettable smile, I look embarrassed at his gravestone blank expression that never seemed to recognize its mourners.
Form the kitchen, steps out young black haired and tropic rain skin, Amina. She comes out of the kitchen, like a nymph from Nysa. She looks down at me with some polite hint of disdain as she whispers something in his ear that makes him laugh and takes away his cup of tea back to the kitchen.
I knew Amina from the days she used to wait for Nilo to come back from long warm nights in meaningless sweaty beds with women that wanted to love him more than they could ever have. She was always there, waiting for him to come back to her in the end of the night.
She hated all of us, even though I always hoped that one day I’ll end up with a girl that will remind me of her. But we came from different worlds. She lived two
blocks away from Nilo and was one of his many neighborhood girlfriends, and I was one of his artsy friends that he was just fooling around with. And Amina didn’t want anything to do with me.
“Nilo…” I try reluctantly.
“Nilo, how are you? What you’ve been up to? You don’t answer any of our calls, you don’t call any of us back, your moms saying you lay in bed all day… what happened?”, he looks at me with his distant eyes, then he smiles and leans his head back exhaling “I’m good, thank you. How about yourself?”
I smile back and unfold, “I’m doing alright… you know, we met about two weeks ago, all of the old folks… for old time’s sake, we missed you there… just seeing how everyone is doing, reminiscing… We even talked about you, you remember Natalie? Of course you do…” as I answer myself rhetorically with a self-loathing laugher, I notice Nilo’s eyes slip a sparkle and his lusting for life smile is cracking his dead lips. That moment, I knew he remembers everything, just as well as I do. A part of him moved, probably the same part that misses Natalie’s milky blossoming skin and her folding thin lips.
“She said, she has seen you not to long ago. Saying she tried to call you, but you didn’t answer, you just ignored her and walked away”
Nilo stayed still like worthless ashes of a stone statue deserted by time, “ahh, sorry about that…”, he murmured sparsely.
I wish I could tell what was eating Nilo up. But all I knew was that it hasn’t left much of him.
Amina came back from the kitchen eating a fig, to kiss her broken and defeated valentine and to light him another cigarette. As she lays in his lap like a wild leopard, he ask her quietly, “Amina, do you mind showing our guest his way out?” I abide, trying to find a hint of old Nilo, in his vacant glass irises.
As I follow her to the door, I ask gently “Amina, I was talking with Nilo’s mother before, and she is worried about him…” She looks at me confused, “I mean, he never leaves the house, what is he doing all day?”
She looks upset, “what are you talking about? There’s nothing wrong with Nilo. He was working 10 hours every day until he got fired last week, but he is doing the best he can and we will find something else…” I nod submissively and turn to depart from a door that has already been shut. Every time a door closes behind me a part of me dies or at least stays in that room, I still didn’t quite figured it out.
Talking with Amina about Nilo was like talking about a man I have never met before. I couldn’t imagine Nilo in working clothes doing any kind of manual or hard labor. Wasting his life like this, I knew he could be doing so much more with his time. It made me a bit mad at Amina.
As I left his house, oddly floating through the filthy stairway, barely managing my own arms, I dose away. Like a pack of wild wolves trying to chew
down every bit of whatever glory left, thoughts started running through my head, trying to figure out the riddle of the Sphinx.
Nilo was never really one of ours.
I honestly believe that Nilo never really liked any of us, not me, not any of his friends, not his own mother, not even Amina. It was like, he couldn’t stand living.
Life was a burden he had to carry, a disease he couldn’t shake off. I remember how he used to keep losing his stuff everywhere, missing the bus or getting lost in even mildly crowded places. How poorly he handled questions… There were times he couldn’t even tell you his own name. There was something about him that could have never adept to our reality.
Oftenly, I have wondered, how such a great and beautiful mind, can be so misunderstood. For most of his life, Nilo has been missed out and overlooked. Misjudged and disfigured. It’s like nobody ever took the time to try to see him. Like we have lost him somewhere along the way, and never bothered to look back for him. And if it was up to him, he would have remained unnoticed for his entire life.
Even though, all along, we all wished that one day we will be able to understand some part of him before it will be too late. Searching in the wrecks for Atlantis, for Rosetta stones and secret omens for his kingdom to come. It was his eyes that had some way of crawling through the backdoor of your mocking soul and into your heart.
Looking in his eyes today, I have seen a man that has given up. Something had changed him. It was too late…
There was nothing to save from the coals of when we watched our leper Achilles burst in flames and collapsing into itself. It was like seeing a shooting star. With all its marvel and glory, blazing through the flaring sky, enchanting and agonizing at the same time, scolding through the void.
All the streets, cities, states, continents and deities he created and inhabited inside his head for years, melting in the cosmic infinity. Sinking to the depths, decaying, draining into deep space by omnivore time. Like a rare collision of abnormality and reality… planet Nilo is utterly dead.
The more I think about it, the clearer it gets.
Nilo wasn’t meant to live among us.
We watched him burn out, and Eve wept.
And as for me, I have more likely faded away, each day at a time, a bit by bit.
And I wish I could say, I have someone to do so, for myself as well.