by Kleitia Vaso

Prey – Tirana

This neighborhood is full of sick wolves or mangy dogs hungrily looking for prey. Not to actually eat rather than simply devour them with their at once ravenous and exhausted eyes. The more visible flesh the better, of course, regardless of its quality, hidden or revealed through clothes. Yet, in case somebody half-naked or very tightly wrapped is missing, any female form will do. Even fully-clothed and heavy-set grandmothers are not out of the question. A truth which, if I have to be totally honest, is somewhat reassuring.

Keeping this environment in mind, the reader will understand my surprise one day when while running to get out of the neighborhood in my rarely-worn and out-of-date exercise clothes, I felt somehow invisible, the one power or ability I have very often wished to conjure at will. Especially during the inevitable crossing of the neighborhood. Well, here it was and had been all along. A pair of outdated shorts and running shoes and one was almost safe from the irritating but not (usually) truly dangerous hungry eyes. I suppose I had known this truth all along and verifying it was both a pleasant and disappointing realization. As is the case with most wish fulfillment, the attainment of invisibility largely depended on my own profound desire for it. If said desire existed, it could well be reasonably within my reach. Yet, desires are often contradictory. One wants both visibility and peace, people and solitude, love and comfort. Usually, whatever is absent is the thing craved.

As I was walking, half-protected by my cloak of invisibility, I noticed, somewhat dismayed, that the usual parasitical men who seat endlessly in the sidewalk chairs of the various beer/meatball places had turned their heads and were all looking at someone walking in front of me. Curious about this unanimous head-turning, I turned also, expecting to see, curious and somewhat fearful, either the personification of beauty or someone scandalously walking naked. The truth was far from both. As it often happens, reality was located somewhere in the middle, exhibiting, for the umpteenth time, the persistent human desire to greedily have everything, ultimately resulting in getting little of anything.

The poor girl, the receiver of these lustful looks,  seemed wounded. Self-wounded, actually, which made the view even sadder. She didn’t have marks on her body or anything equally extreme to indicate her vulnerable state. Instead, every gesture or movement of her body expressed her unease. She was wobbling, unsteadily, on a pair of thin and slightly-bent-from-wear stilettos, unreasonably worn during the hottest midday sun. Further up, a short tight skirt which uncovered, not necessarily in the most flattering way, a pair of legs.  I cannot remember the rest – a tank top, perhaps – because I was mostly struck by her stance. Her head was lowered as though her body was somehow severed from it and existed independently. The head took no responsibility for her clothes, her discomfort,  its effect on this easily entertained crowd. She seemed tired of walking as if on a tightrope, almost ashamed that she had revealed so much yet she could not have done otherwise. Then and there, I smelled the true essence of sex appeal in its most basic sense; it is not beauty, not confidence, nor signs of fertility as we are taught by countless magazines. Rather, it is insecurity which, through discomfort and similar guises, signals a deep-rooted desire to gain affirmation from others, the self-sacrifice displayed for the short-lived pleasure of another, the willingness to turn oneself into prey.

The girl looked like a wounded deer patiently waiting to be dealt the fatal blow.

Scars – Everywhere

One day J. said that in a very short time humanity will have one face, that of Kim Kardashian. I laughed at her radicalism, reminiscent of our father’s usually correct but avant-garde predictions which we avoid facing until they are right in front of us. But, one short afternoon at the airport convinced me that she was right.

As we all know in these times of constant travel and de-exoticism, the airport is the ideal place for people watching, especially if one is not extremely tired. In the opposite case, the unusual mixture of individuals melts into a horrific faceless mass. But, when the trip is fairly short – meaning not transatlantic – and the day young, it is the best spot for observing people. Not only because of the variety of faces, situations, attitudes, the freer display of feelings, the heightened drama of re-meetings and separations, but also because one becomes an anonymous stranger, free to wholly be oneself. No one knows me or you there, we become a blank slate with no history and expected behaviors. For better or worse, gladly or sadly, the chances of re-meeting anybody noticed there are  few to none. Thus, I observe to my heart’s content, fully abandon myself to it, unlike anywhere else.

Which is exactly what I did in this case. Completely fresh and free, I kept looking and, at times, staring, at anyone that attracted my attention. What struck me the most was the number of faces with permanently or temporarily altered features. The first noticeable common thread linking many faces was tattooed or drawn-in eyebrows, one thick shape faithfully mimicking the latest eyebrow trend which, hopefully, will not change anytime soon. The look is supposed to encourage the natural growth of eyebrows and anything natural seems wonderful at this point, miraculous even, yet people always find a way to unnecessarily complicate everything. The resort to an artificial filling-in is easier I suppose than actual growth which requires a little more time and patience. Personally, I received this new trend as a godsend; it revealed a history of wasted time on silly and painful plucking which as I discovered changed very little. More importantly, this realization revealed the true nature of all self-maintenance rituals as self-perpetuated traps, the needlessness of which may be swiftly uncovered by a little timely negligence. But, no negligence at this airport. Very often, these bold eyebrows pointed straight up towards the sides, a trend borrowed from Star Trek characters, a source which would never be acknowledged by the girls wearing them. Further down, a lot of cheeks, bones and sparkle but I am not yet an expert in telling the real from the enhanced. The clear telltale sign of any intrusion, however, are the lips. Puffed-up and bloated lips, protruding but not exactly in a natural way, betray the artificiality of other features as well. The first and slightly painful-looking giveaway is the swelling of the entire area from nose to lip, the elimination of a natural transition from one feature to another. An unflattering protrusion that is especially visible in profile.

I looked at one girl particularly, not because of her stunning beauty as she might have believed, but because of her curious attitude. While she was noticeably well-dressed, wearing several trends at once but not making the fatal mistake of combining too many of them, she seemed prematurely wary of all the attention she undoubtedly would receive. The aviator glasses, the flouncy short dress, heels a lady-like hat, she looked like a movie star from afar especially as she walked in a demonstrably self-assured way. From close up, her raised eyebrows and extremely pouty lips seemed to express the certainty that every girl looking at her would weep her heart out. What I felt instead was the distinct and recurrent desire to revert back to wearing togas or anything equally simple, a desire amplified and transformed into longing each time I see my own reflection aggressively returned to me by beigey or purplish trendy aviator sunglasses. A desire borne of the visual fatigue caused by excessive and ubiquitous accessories standing in for missing personalities.  But, the most overwhelming emotion while looking at the girl was pity. I pitied her internal wounds and insecurities so openly displayed on her face and body. Her features looked like scars, wounds. Everything inside, visible outside. To me, this transparency seemed nearly unbearable.

Very often I hear people claim that they have done this or that to make themselves feel better. “I did it for myself,” they say resolutely yet the sentence sounds learned by heart, regurgitated. Many sentences do. I understand in some cases, I certainly do. There are deformations that other people cannot overlook, ignoring everything else, focusing on one unworthy focal point. But the puffed-up lips puzzle me. What purpose do they serve for oneself? One cannot see them while walking or talking, one does not have to kiss his/her own lips. The gigantically overblown lips give everyone – I believe but I cannot be sure – an immediate and unambiguous sexual image. This elimination of one more link in the chain shows the wearer’s willingness to facilitate any leaps – even ones of imagination – for an increasingly passive audience. In the short-term these alterations might make life easier and briefly more pleasant. Yet, if we believe in Darwin’s theory of evolution the self-wounded and deformed prey will have to increasingly mutilate itself, an endless process ultimately resulting in becoming utterly unrecognizable. A shell of its former self, it will be useless to the by-now fat and apathetic predators lazily watching it from the sidelines. Tragically, it will be equally useless to itself, or the few surviving particles, the phantom pains of which will cruelly remind the poor victim of the amputated parts.

by Kleitia Vaso