There was a man as black as the starless night with a regal face and large coal black eyes. His stunning face was slightly hidden beneath hoards of braided hair. When I first encountered this man on a train to London, he was holding his forehead in his hands. His eyes opened and closed slowly as if he was trying to awaken himself from a dream. His hands were large, his palms covered with lines from many walks of life. On his ring finger he wore a ring so magnificent it practically blinded me with its sheen. It was a thick gold band with a diamond as its focal point, a diamond that looked as if it had been chipped off in the mines of Sierra Leone and put straight on that gold band. For an hour we sat there facing each other in complete silence. He was opening and closing his eyes, while I pretended to gaze out the window beside him. Little did he know I was staring at him completely enraptured. The next thing I knew his eyes were on mine. I had been caught. Our eyes stayed fixated on each others for what seemed like eternity, but really it was only about 30 seconds. His mouth curved into a radiant smile, and he laughed a pure, genuine laugh. I laughed because I didn’t know what else to do in this ridiculous situation I had gotten myself into. His voice was like velvet, supple and soft, something I had not expected by just looking at him. “I like your face. It is kind.” The words flowed out of his mouth in a strange accent that wasn’t quite Jamaican, yet not quite English either. I smiled politely and said the first thing that came to my mind, “Your eyes seem like they could tell stories.” His smile faltered momentarily. He nodded and simply said, “All eyes hold stories my love.” And began to tell his.
He was born in a small village in Burundi. At a very young age, he lost both of his parents to AIDS, yet somehow he never contracted the deadly virus. I listened intently. Never had anyone been so open, so ready to share his life’s trials and tribulations. His eyes were focused on mine, black colliding with blue, forming an unbreakable bond. He took my hand in his, I felt completely vulnerable, but no fear stirred within my being. He was left alone in the world at a very young age, yet he said he never felt alone. He found comfort in people. Hearing their stories made him feel connected; telling his own made him feel alive. He was the first person I had ever met that was so fearless when it came to communicating and connecting with another human being. He continued telling me about his youth, how he lost friends to the rebel armies, how he himself had killed far too many. Then he described what it was like to take a life. His lips tightened, and his eyes closed. I felt his hand loosen around mine. “When you take a life,” he said, “you take a part of yourself. When that person takes their last breath, your soul takes its last breath.” His words resonated in my mind. This incredible man was sharing his most intimate self. Before today he had never seen my face, or heard my voice, and he didn’t even know my name. Even so, my hand was intertwined with his as he described the feeling of taking a life. The train came to a stop; we still had another hour until London. He asked if I had ever been to Africa, I said I hadn’t, but I planned on going. I had always felt a type of affinity to the whole continent, but in particular Eastern Africa. He had moved to Jamaica when he was eighteen years old and missed his home ever since. He stared out the window, and the small lines around his eyes highlighted their almond shape. His cheek bones were set high making him appear as regal as he was. Right then he looked straight at me, and the stories within captured my soul as I prepared to delve deeper into this unfamiliar person.
When I was young I was taught never to talk to strangers. Aren’t we all taught that? The fear of the unknown is installed in us at such a young age. However, if all we do is fear those who we don’t know, and shun those with whom we are not acquainted, how do we ever connect? How do we break the barriers between worlds? How do we feel one another’s presence? The answer is that we cannot. Of course there are people who have done bad things, but then again we cannot judge a person based on their past. I was talking to a man who had been a child soldier, who had seen many die, and had himself been a killer, yet he was loving, accepting, and wise now. I sat there listening to him, memorizing his face, memorizing this moment.
He went on to tell me about Jamaica and about his first love who he found there. She had skin the color of toffee, light creamy brown, and black hair that fell down her back in gentle waves just like the sea. Her eyes were a mixture of deep blues and greens, and they saw through his exterior into his soul. She was a beautiful woman, but her beauty was wild and unpredictable. She was a woman that could not be held down, could not be captured. Rather she was a woman that had to be loved like the seasons, never still always moving. Her favorite fruit was pineapple. Her favorite color purple. He knew everything about her before he even knew her name. I told him that seemed like his trademark and he laughed that genuine laugh once more, and continued. Her name was Amani.
He found this out while on the beach collecting sea shells. He brought her cut up pineapple in a purple bowl, and she smiled and told him her name. He said that smile is never far from his mind. His eyes became glassy, and he said her smile was all he had left. All he could manage to say is she died, but their love never would. This simple explanation was a sharp contrast to his previous tales. It completely lacked the embellishment that made everything seem more beautiful, but I suppose there was no way to embellish lost love. It just was a moment of pain and then nothing.
The train kept moving along, thirty more minutes now until London. He asked me about my life. He told me that my eyes could bring people to life, and urged me to follow my dreams with zest and passion. This man as dark as the starless sky, with eyes that could mend a broken heart, who had taken lives, who had loved and lost, was now homeless on the streets of England.
Iziah was his name. He loved kiwis and the gold in autumn leaves. His first love was Amani, and she had become his wife at twilight. He had a scar above his left eye, and his almond shaped eyes yearned for home. He was much more than the homeless man that most people took him to be, yet most just passed him on the streets saw wild dreadlocks and tattered clothing , and walked passed him without another thought.
Clearly Iziah is not someone who was in my life for a long time, I don’t have stories with him, or memories that go back through my childhood. When we reached London, he asked if he could walk with me just too where I was being picked up. I consented, and we got off the train together and began our walk through the station. His body was long and lean, and he walked with a slight limp, but was obviously strong in his youth. He hummed and walked beside me, and at a small shelter beneath the stairs, he stopped me. He kissed my hand, told me it was a pleasure meeting me and wished me a safe trip in London. I returned the words and was on my way. As I was walking I smelled pineapple. I followed the scent back to its source, a little fruit stand, and purchased the most luscious flavorful pineapple I could find. I walked back to Iziah’s home, and we sat and ate pineapple. His eyes were full of happiness, and his heart full of love. He ate the pineapple and it was as if he was watching Amani on the beach collecting seashells, her hair falling down her shoulders. There were no words this time. I kissed his hand this time and left him with his pineapple and his first love. I left him knowing I would never forget his beautiful face and his splendorous ring. It wasn’t so much his words of wisdom that stuck with me but rather his smile, his stories, and his laughter. And the love he had with a woman who loved pineapple and the color purple. And who loved him because of all he had endured not in spite of.
And this is love. Mixed with loss. And so we continue.