It was evening when my legionnaire came back, and the lights in the square were casting a glow that made his hair shine brightly in the darkness, burning like burnished gold. As I watched, he stopped and looked up at my window and when he saw me, his face lit up. Looking back, I think he knew, in fact I'm certain of that. And you can say that it is easy to be wise after the event, that hindsight is a wonderful thing, but there was a wistful yearning in his face, a look that haunts me down all the days. He had come here with no illusions – he was here to pay a debt, a debt of honour and he knew he wasn't going back to America. I'd seen that look before in men's eyes and I shivered when I recognised it in his face, his beautiful face. No-one should have that sort of knowledge.
He loved me all night, with a desperate, sweet anguish. His skin was golden, like the sand, and warm and soft and smooth. I let my fingers dance over it. "You don't have any tattoos." Most men in his line of work did, and you can believe me on that. I've been with enough to be an expert.
"So maybe I'll get some. What do you recommend?"
I placed my hand over his heart and felt the strong, steady beat. "No one." I traced the letters out on his skin with my index finger and he smiled, a strange, haunting smile that had the world behind it, a world of shadows and strangers. His smile was the deadest thing alive enough to have the strength to die and his eyes were hollow.
"That sounds about right." There was an ineffable sadness in his voice. "There is no one. I wish there was. That's me: not seen, not taken. Not wanted." And I knew he was thinking about the girl with the strange eyes.
"Maybe she has her reasons?" Although I couldn't think of any.
"I could get that tattooed as well. On my right arm, to remind me."
I stayed in his arms all night, and he in mine. He slept like a boy, and all the lines of worry smoothed themselves out, so that towards morning he lay peacefully, looking like an angel, his fair hair spread out like a halo on the pillow. And when he slept, I wept for what might have been.
I didn't know his name, I knew nothing about him, and yet I knew everything. He loved me all night, loved me in the manner of a man who craves loves and is seizing it with both hands, knowing this is his last chance. The weight of his lost happiness fell heavily all around us. Always I think about that night and the way happiness was so fleeting. I hope he was happy, if only for a few hours. He deserved that much.
I think about that night and lust for him eats me up. Sometimes, I cry and think that when he lay on me, so that our hearts were beating together, I should have cried out my happiness and let him know that he was loved. But I was afraid to see him smile again. And it probably wouldn't have mattered much anyway.
He loved me all night, and he left me in the morning, just as I knew he would. I knew that much about him: that he was tall; he was slim and handsome; he had beautiful bright eyes that would darken in sorrow, just as the clouds pass over the sun and of course I knew that he would leave me, for that was my destiny, to stay here and watch as he walked out to meet his fate, that bright summer morning and left me to face mine. We were both alone, in a world full of strangers. I knew nothing about him, I knew I was nothing to him, and yet I knew everything there was to know. Above all, I knew I would never forget him.
He left me just as the sun started to break through the dawn, and I stood once again at my window and watched him walk back across the square and then turn down an alley, to where his friends were waiting. At the corner of the alley, he paused and turned back to look at me, just as a ray of sunshine illuminated his face, and sent light into his hair. There was a world of empty longing in his eyes and for a moment that spanned across time we looked at one another, before he turned and walked away. As I watched him disappear into the shadows I realised that he was ready, that he had accepted his fate and was going willingly to meet it. I wondered who could inspire such loyalty, such love and if they would ever understand his sacrifice.
Later that morning, the Commescu house rang with sound of gunfire, and wise people shut the doors of their houses, turned the sound up on their televisions and pretended not to notice. The town had all learned a long time ago that it wisest to not to notice anything the Commescus did and definitely not to say anything. If you wanted to stay alive and in good health, you were blind, deaf and dumb when it came to that family. But I've never been particularly smart when it comes to lifestyle choices, so I ran down the stairway, emerging in the square just in time to see my legionnaire chasing one of the lesser members of the Commescu family. His gun was in his hand and I can still hear the sound of his boot heels ringing out across the cobblestones and the echoes being flung back by the stone walls of the houses. He ran like an athlete, with long strides and arms pumping the air, but the Commescu had the advantage of knowing the local terrain, and dived down a side street that lead to the beach.
Like I said before, it's not much of a town, but we have a nice beach: broad and long, with golden sand. That morning, there was a fierce wind, and the sea was full of white horses and the waves crashed upon the sand with a harsh fury, leaving spume bubbling on the foreshore. I know, because I started to run after him, running as fast as I had ever run in my life, trying to grab hold of destiny and pull it apart. But fate had already been written, and that day fate appeared in the vengeful form of Dracul Commescu. He came out of nowhere, with a rifle in his hand and as I watched, he took careful aim.
My legionnaire was running across the sand, running as if he was accustomed to it, and he was gaining ground on his quarry when a shot rang out and the gulls rose into the sky in a squawking flurry of wings. It was his destiny to die on that beach, on the warm sand; to die in an instant as a bullet crashed into his back and severed his spine. They said afterwards that he was already dead by the time he collapsed onto his knees, but he hung, suspended in space and time, as the gulls hovered overhead and chattered their ire like some malevolent Greek chorus and I started screaming and running towards him. All I know is that he was dead when I got to him, lying on his back, looking up at the sky with empty eyes from which all the light had disappeared. I took the gun from his hand and shot Dracul Commescu right between the eyes. It pays to know how to protect yourself in my line of work.
When other Americans arrived, I was sitting by his side, holding his hand and looking at the smile on his face. I knew why that smile had frightened me before: it was the smile of one for whom death is an old friend, someone to be welcomed rather than resisted. The wind was blowing and his eyes were full of the warm sand, but his hand was already cold. I think they knew from the look on my face that he was already dead. Or maybe it was the body of Dracul, who lay sprawled in an inelegant heap that gave it away.
The woman stood like a statue, her hair whipping around her in the wind, and the older man put his arm around her, seeking solace or maybe offering comfort. She lifted back her head and cried out, an eerie, keening sound that soared above the noise of the sea and then floated away impotently on the breeze. Their companion, the tall, black man fell down onto his knees on the sand and closed his friend's eyes with an infinitely gentle hand. When he turned to me, I saw that he was crying.
"He was ready," I said. "He met his death like a man." Then I got up and walked away, leaving them alone with their grief. I did not look back, but just kept on walking and I let the wind whip away my tears and dry the traces they left on my face.
So, here you are, sitting in the café drinking coffee with the girl your mother warned you about becoming. You don't know anything about me, you don't even know my name, but you do know that once upon a time, I had one perfect night, with a man who walked out to meet his death with a smile upon his face. And I will always remember that night, and my legionnaire. He was tall, he was handsome and when the sunshine fell on his face as he lay on the beach, it sent light shining into his hair, so that it burned like a bright beacon, as if he was flame capped like Achilles. I knew nothing about him, I did not even know his name, but I have never forgotten him. And at the going down of the sun, I remember how he came to me, and when it rises again in the morning I can almost see him running out to die on the sand.
One day, I'll get out of here. But I will always remember that day on the beach: how the sun shone, and the waves broke upon the shore and the gulls circled overhead; and how my legionnaire lay there, with a smile on his face and the sand filling his bright eyes. He met his destiny here and for the moment, it seems as if I will do the same. I haven't given up hope though - not completely. One day I'll get out of here. I might even get to America. I've always had this thing for Americans, you see. And in the meantime, I have no regrets, absolutely none. I have my memories, and whenever I smell the sun upon the sand I remember my legionnaire, and the way he felt in my arms. Only, whenever I hear Edith Piaf sing, I wonder what might have happened, what might have been…
I'm not so different from you. Once I loved and was loved. Can anyone ask for more? I have my dreams, just as you do. And one day I will reach out and take hold of them. Until then, I do whatever I have to do just to keep on living. I'm not ready to walk out into the sunshine and meet my fate.
J'sais pas son nom, je n'sais rien d'lui.
Il m'a aimée toute la nuit,
Mon légionnaire !
Et me laissant à mon destin,
Il est parti dans le matin
Plein de lumière !
Il était minc', il était beau,
Il sentait bon le sable chaud,
Mon légionnaire !
Y avait du soleil sur son front
Qui mettait dans ses cheveux blonds
De la lumière !
Mon Legionnaire lyrics by Raymond Asso