He Asked about the Quality

He left the office where he'd been given
a trivial, poorly paid job
(something like eight pounds a month, including bonuses)-
left at the end of the dreary work
that kept him bent all afternoon,
came out at seven and walked off slowly,
idling his way down the street. Good-looking,
and interesting: showing as he did that he'd reached
his full sensual capacity.
He'd turned twenty-nine the month before.

He idled his way down the main street
and the poor side-streets that led to his home.

Passing in front of a small shop that sold
cheap and flimsy merchandise for workers,
he saw a face inside, a figure
that compelled him to go in, and he pretended
he wanted to look at some coloured handkerchiefs.

He asked about the quality of the handkerchiefs
and how much they cost, his voice choking,
almost silenced by desire.
And the answers came back in the same mood,
distracted, the voice hushed,
offering hidden consent.

They kept on talking about the merchandise-
but the only purpose: that their hands might touch
over the handkerchiefs, that their faces, their lips,
might move close together as though by chance-
a moment's meeting of limb against limb.

Quickly, secretly, so the shop owner sitting at the back
wouldn't realize what was going on.

Constantine P. Cavafy

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