The street is like a great storyteller, waiting for me whenever I have the time to listen to one of its stories. Sometimes it’s just a jumble of words and images but every now and then it tells me a story, a short fragment from its vast collection. That day I listened and it told me about the girl with the marble eyes.
The people bring the street to life. They ride the motorcycles and push the food carts along the crowded sidewalks, or travel in a songteaw like me. There isn’t much space in one of those vehicles but ten people can usually squeeze together on the small benches. A few days ago I was in one (in my imagination I pretend they are carriages and I’m riding through open country fields and not in a polluted, crowded city) took out my book (The Thirteenth Tale) and got lost in it until a sudden braking made the words jump from the page and I looked for some fixed thing to grab hold of. Then I looked straight ahead and totally forgot my book. She was sitting across from me, our knees almost touching because of the cramped space, and the first thing I noticed were her eyes. Somehow they reminded me of the aristocratic Siamese cats I’d seen in a cartoon as a child, with their upward elongated slanted eyes, the pupils a rich dark brown that was almost black, and so perfectly round and big it seemed almost impossible that the eyes themselves could contain them. They looked like two shiny marbles and I was afraid that the next gentle shake of her head would make them tumble into her lap. Gliding easily from left to right, I imagined them rolling slowly over the smooth surface of the eye.
I tried hard not to stare so I shifted my gaze to the woman sitting next to her. She was older and fatigue had marked her eyes, making the light brown pupils look very much like a piece of cloth faded from too much washing, the whites streaked with tiny red lines and actually not white at all but a sickly yellow. She blinked and looked away and my gaze returned to the girl with the marble eyes. She never once looked straight at me but always somewhere behind me and into the street. Her eyes were always moving and I became absorbed with this new occupation of watching them glide effortlessly from side to side. Hands folded neatly in her lap, the blue and white uniform of a schoolgirl, straight black hair tied up in a ponytail with a brown piece of lace; face devoid of any makeup, a mouth with full lips slightly thrust upward and the flat small nose common to the Asians, a wide forehead but not high, and those eyes that seemed to dominate all her other facial features.
I looked at the book in my lap but its magic pull had been broken so I raised my eyes to her again.
The white surrounding the pupil had almost the crispness of the snow, making a brilliant contrast with the brown of the pupils. Her expression was neutral, serious. I could not see the trace of a smile nor the shadow of sadness, no movement of lips, no movement of hands. She just sat there almost like a statue if not for the motion of those dark shiny pupils: left to right and left again.
I had to get off, my stop was close, and I fumbled for a coin with which to pay for my trip. Pushed the small button on the roof of the songteaw and braced myself for the customary lurch and brake. Never get up until it comes to a complete stop, that’s one lesson I learned the hard way. Got off, placed my coin in the outstretched palm of the driver and started walking, leaving the girl with the marble eyes to carry her story forward.