The blue eyed man had just settled behind a table at the rear of the café when his eyes lifted and his heart went oddly still in his chest. It did not skip a beat nor speed up even a little. For an instant it just seemed to go still. That was because of his sudden sensation of time contracting, shrinking to nothing. He knew it. He settled into this feeling. It was no use to fight inevitability. As his eyes lifted he’d seen a woman through the door to the street. The lower pane in the door was of distorting glass stamped with a flower pattern but the upper pane was just glass, and he’d seen her proud face and curly but well-arranged black hair, the chin raised as if in arrogance, the cold and alluring features, as she walked past the café. His eyes followed her as she passed the front windows, tock tocking the wet sidewalk in her high heels. She was in a kind of cape thrown over one shoulder, dark blue, and a tight wine colored dress. She didn’t turn her head to glance into the café. Then, gone. She was gone. The blue eyed man’s heart was beating soundly again. He lowered his eyes to look at his hands. They were resting on the marbled tabletop. He could see the pulse beating on the outside of a thumb, where the blue vein shone through his tanned skin. He swallowed saliva. Thick, but not impossible to swallow. Was it fright? No. It was only his usual caution. He had recognized the woman, in a place where he didn’t want to recognize anyone. It was quite essential that no person recognize him here, in this little neighborhood of Buenos Aires, sitting at the rear of a nondescript café. Ilena was her name, Ilena Sanchez. Where had he known her? Mexico? Yes. Mexico City, about twelve years before now, when he was still with the Agency. She’d been a highly paid asset and they’d had a brief wild affair although she was married to the industrialist. They’d gone away together, to the sea. He remembered the fishing boats resting on the beach all through the blazing hot afternoons, the gray nets drying on wooden supports, and at least a half dozen fiery sunsets. Well, that was done. Done and done. He’d finished his work in Mexico City and before catching the jet back to DC had seen that Ilena Sanchez was paid off handsomely for her services to the Agency, which didn’t of course include the considerable erotic services but should have. Might as well have. Here he was now paying the price for being a Don Juan. He hadn’t meant to get involved with an Agency asset yet he’d been wounded by her first proud glance at him and unable to resist fate. That’s what it was to him at the time, or at least how he’d explained and justified it to himself on the long dull flight home to where his second wife waited for him lovingly, eagerly, in the beautiful Georgetown townhouse he’d recently bought with his special bonus payments for the particularly sensitive work he often did with the Agency. What a fool I am, he’d thought, even while he still tasted her – even while his skin still smelled faintly of that pungent suntan oil they’d smoothed on each other. One night in a beachfront bar they’d danced together sweaty and half-asleep to a jazz band’s slow version of Besame Mucho and he knew that no matter what it would always be his and Ilena Sanchez’ song. And Ilena Sanchez didn’t even know his real name. He remembered how her wide nostrils flared when he gazed at her, and how she gave that little abrupt toss of the head just before leaning forward to let him light her cigarette, her eyelids drooping almost shut, and he felt the exotic stab of heartache again. It was an affair, was never meant to be anything but. Ilena Sanchez hadn’t asked him to stay with her, to write to her, or even to ever think about her again, and he hadn’t offered. They fell asleep one night holding hands. He’d never experienced it before, not with his first wife and not with the second and not with any other girl or woman on any continent. Oh, well. Here she was in Buenos Aires. Wearing a beautiful cape and a tight dress, with that same arrogant chin and lush mouth, that same proud swaying walk, clacking along on her high heels as if on the way to the opera. What a fool I am, he said to his hands on the table top. The waiter was heading over to him with the espresso, the white cup ringed with crema. He sat back, shutting his eyes. Who might she be working for now? Was she still with the Agency? If she saw him here it might all be over more quickly than he’d ever imagined. He was short on cash just now and didn’t have the time to arrange a clear escape. Not if she made the phone call he knew she knew how to make. But she hadn’t seen him, so that was that. His heart was beating evenly and everything was fine.
He walked slowly through the darkening streets back to the house he rented. It was a small three story house on a narrow side street, like any other house in that somnolent neighborhood, and its facade was painted the same drab yellow as so many others in this suburb. Its small yard was enclosed by a wall. There was a small patio in the back, also walled in. Blue fragments of broken bottle glass glistened along the top of the wall. He opened the iron gate with his key, went in and shut it behind him with a clink of metal. The front windows of the piano nobile reflected a frenzied glory of sunset. He stared at the sun-blinded windows for a moment, then walked up to the oaken door. He opened this door with another key in his small ring of keys. Inside, the house was sparsely decorated. He hadn't had time to accumulate many things. He shut the door behind him softly, with a great feeling of loneliness, and unwound the dark scarf from his neck and hung it on the coat hook. He took off his leather jacket next, the lining warm and smelling faintly of soap and sweat, and slung that over a stark wooden chair that stood in the hall. He slipped out of his loafers before padding on stocking feet into the barrel-ceiling living room. It was a room like any other in a house resembling most on that street, and it echoed a little. He stood at the bar pouring himself a whiskey. It was good whiskey, he could afford that. Laphroaig, 10 years. He poured two fingers into a crystal highball glass. He drank a sip before going to a leather upholstered wing chair, where he sat gazing at the empty fireplace. Usually he sat in this room for a little while every evening at about the same time -- sunset. He watched a splotch of red high on the wall fade to nothing. In the cold dimness he stood, tilting the glass so the last fiery drop poured onto his tongue. There were tears in his eyes. He might have expected that. He took his empty glass to the bar and poured another stiff drink. He wasn't thinking about Ilena Sanchez. But then suddenly he was thinking of her, and only of her. Anyway there was no way to reach that shamefaced erotic beauty now. He could have left the cafe and followed Ilena Sanchez but he hadn't. Not because it would have been dangerous. Then why? Was it because the life he had been living was featureless, numb and gray like a bad dream, and its lack of passion had seeped into him, rendering him helpless to act on a sudden impulse? The blue eyed man didn't want to think so but he had to entertain the thought as a possibility nevertheless. He drank more of the Laphroaig, throwing his head back and letting the whiskey blaze on his tongue before swallowing it.
Nobody knows anything. Nobody knows what to do with life. We can't know the consequences of our own acts. We suffer from this but even the suffering is absurdity. We're like pathetic mimes trying to tell a story that involves love and hate and many other complex emotions. All that we can do is make ourselves laugh in derision. Isn't that so? He climbed the narrow stairs, the boards squeaking, and went into the bathroom and washed his face in cold water. He was a little drunk from three glasses of whiskey and when he was drunk his mind became pleasantly unfixed, passionate yet aloof and serene. He dried his face with a thin towel and looked into the blue eyes of the dark haired man in the mirror. He'd been handsome as a young man. He wouldn't claim to still be young. Maybe he was still a little handsome, not compared to what he was but compared to other men of his years. He didn't know anymore. There were no emotions in that face. Some laugh lines about the eyes, yes, and some frown lines around the mouth deep as cuts. He'd been to many places and done many idiotic and some brutal things. He'd told himself that what mattered was the fine awareness in him that effortlessly distinguished right from wrong and told him when he might be going too far too fast or warned him that the course of action he was pursuing would lead only to a bitter and terrifying end. Terror. What do you know about terror, he asked the man in the age-dulled bathroom mirror. Then he wondered how many aging men had stood at this same sink staring into their own eyes and wondered in the same cliched fashion what had become of the younger man, the one so senselessly full of life? It's not a past you lack, but a future. You've got plenty of past to last you the rest of your life. But that's like saying there's nothing left for you but to remember and you don't want to remember it all. Ilena Sanchez yes, and Besame Mucho. Some of the moments were raw and beautiful but they're gone. All. Gone. Into fiery sunset oblivion. As the sun sinks slowly in the West we bid you a fond farewell.
The blue eyed man winced at his inner jokes. He shut his eyes. Nothing. Just his breathing, a heartbeat. He was fit, in good physical form. Every morning on the sandstone patio after a misogi cold water bath to greet the rising sun he did martial arts kata and close combat shadowboxing until the sweat flew from his face. Sometimes he practiced with his commando knife, the one he wore when he went out into the city taped to his left shin. No matter what he'd stay quick and relaxed with the mental attitude of one who survives anything. Even if taken by surprise he wouldn't freeze up. What, after all, is the true meaning of that phrase "overwhelming force"? It's based on an inner attitude, like Miyamoto Musashi's. The attitude of the Void-warrior. No reluctance, no holding back, quick to engage and to cut down the enemy with a deafening shout. Every moment of life was a battle and you had to draw from the depths of yourself to win it.
As he laid his wristwatch on the small bedside table beside the shining glass of water the blue eyed man suddenly remembered wrapping a slim gold wristwatch band around Ilena Sanchez's wrist. He'd bought her the watch in one of those jewelry stores in the glittering shopping district of Mexico City, on a slow afternoon. When he saw it his heart gave a throb and he knew it was for her. He saw in his mind's eye how her wrist would look with that small gold watch on it. He'd imagined her brutally erotic laughter. She laughed as if with shame whenever he gave her expensive things, and he'd already given her a few by the night he presented her with the wristwatch. It was an insane gift, worth two months of his salary and maybe half a bonus, but he was reckless about Ilena Sanchez. What if the Agency had found out? Was it possible they might even have eliminated her? It was possible. What a bastard I was then, the blue eyed man thought. Nothing would have happened to him personally, except maybe a reprimand, but for Ilena -- the discovery of their affair at some higher level might well have cost Ilena Sanchez her life. Why am I going on senselessly with these memories? asked the blue eyed man. Maybe he should sit down and open up a clean notebook and start writing, write it all out of him then burn the manuscript and be done with her and with his reverberating past mistakes forever.
For more like this, see THE LONELINESS OF THE BLUE-EYED ASSASSIN by Okamoto.