To The Gallery

In the act of judging I think we pretty much lose completely the capacity to observe ourselves. Refugees, immigrant crises, sinking boats, aid efforts, denunciations, attacks, insults, defences – we always have something to project outwards, seldom any reflection upon our own behaviour. For better or worse.

Which was worse? The eyes that could be seen at every crossroads and check-point? In every tree line, on every border and staring with greedy hatred from the face of every observer? Both those sent to govern and those just passing to leer. Or the unseen ones? The distant ones, omniscient and unforgiving? The ones formed in the imagination, half certain in briefly caught snippets of news and rumour where their glare was etched in pixelated images?

She no longer cared enough to attempt to know. Stalked by both the violent and the silent galleries of viewers the idea of being judged, of presenting some appeal by appearance, had been crushed to nothing beneath the simple force of forward momentum. Only when those ubiquitous eyes shifted closer, suddenly attached to grasping claws and red faced malice did they force a reply. And the only reply she had to offer was to flee.

Once the eyes had belonged to a journalist. That was when she’d been half blind herself, unaware of the stalkers’ gaze the world had laid upon them all. The journalist had been earnest, eager to soften questions of death in almost childlike language. A polite attempt to cosset his outsider status in stupidly hollow delicacy. So she’d assumed at least, what she had read as an almost oppressive awareness of their invasion of other people’s suffering could just as easily been feigned naivety for the sake of a story. Hindsight now made true innocence or empathy hard to stomach and impossible to judge from briefly curious strangers like him. She’d answered him though, tiredly indifferent to the results even early in her flight from the war. Not for a second questioning the gently constructed softness behind the man’s every word.

But the wages of honesty had dogged her ever since. Manifesting in diatribes and defences, assaults and acceptances from an audience distant enough to not hear reasons but close enough to pass judgement. Her voice had been added to the tragic chorus the journalist had used to satiate the distant and greedy eyes of observers set on distilling certain judgement from a life she could barely comprehend. They’d made her a parasite and a pariah, a martyr and a mourner. Summing her and all like her up in remote conversations and uncomprehending stares cast to snippets of TV footage and profligate speculation. All while she marched on, hidden in a mess of refugees no more interested or in control of their jury than she was.

By comparison the violent eyes which leered without guile were an easily understood harassment. They asked nothing, they simply stated. Rejection, revulsion, easy cruelty. At every town and camp, setting out with an obvious passion to drive her away. Bricks and battles negating the need for spoken or written judgement. Their eyes would never be pleased, never ask for any presentation from her to satisfy them.

But the gallery didn’t matter, neither the immediate nor the remote one. She would always be too tired. Always be too reliant on that desperate forward momentum, to play to any of them. And even if she weren’t, she had long since learnt that she could never please them. The eyes would always judge and she would never, ever have anything to offer in reply.

My latest work, No Cure for Shell Shock, is a collection of short stories and poetry. It’s available as an eBook or paperback here.

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