Most walls she had seen, were brick walls. Vibrant when they are new, and greying like the concrete that binds them — a few years later. She always hated seeing old walls. Actually, she hated all walls, but old walls she found especially disgusting. Yet, walls were the thing that curiosity is made of. This one made her especially curious. It was tall and it was white.
There’s always something behind a wall.
A garden, a building, a treasure, or perhaps, another country. Sometimes, a gentle human, occasionally a vile one. The wall in its own standing has little meaning. It’s a structure that hides and protects something. Break it down, and all is exposed and vulnerable. This tall white one marked a territory perhaps — a statement of what’s mine and the rest of the world. It didn’t have to be so tall, she thought, if it was just a statement. Walls that make a statement are usually just waist-high. Mere markers. Feel free to see in, but not step in, that’s what they say. Walls seem to be doing better than me, she thought, at least they are making a statement. I haven’t been able to make a simple sentence for a while now.
The old man was walking towards her, slow, his head down. He’s quite tall, she thought, if only he would walk straight and hold his head. He probably couldn’t. His clothes were muddy grey, it was obvious that long ago they were a brilliant white. A sense of uneasiness surrounded her as she and the old man walked towards each other. She was surprised by that uneasiness, it had no reason to exist.
As they came closer, she saw that he seemed worried, not the kind of worry that lines the face after living a long and difficult life, this concern was immediate. She stopped as they came close and asked, “Sir, I’ve been walking along this wall for a while now, what’s behind it?”
“Why do you want to know?” he asked. His emotion didn’t change for the better or worse.
“I’m a tourist,” she said, “I’m just curious – I’ve never seen such a tall and such a long white wall before.”
“Are you from the press?” he asked, glancing at her camera.
“Oh, no,” she smiled, “I am a tourist, like I said before, I just like to take photographs.”
“Nothing to photograph here, is there?” he asked. She couldn’t make out if he was being sarcastic, his expression had not yet changed. He waved his hand as if covering the monotony of the background, “No subject, no point of interest that would make for an interesting photographs. Emptiness, in a way.”
“I didn’t say I wanted to take photographs, just to know what’s behind the wall.”
“If you were supposed to see the other side, would the wall be so tall?”
I should just politely thank this old gentleman and leave, she thought to herself, no use in prolonging this conversation. Yet his answers, though they were questions, made her even more curious.
“You are right, I should go now; thank you,” she said with a quick smile and started to walk ahead. She’d get to her hotel and ask the manager about this wall. There obviously was some interesting story here. She hailed the black taxi, right there.
“Miss!” he called loudly to her, turning around. The street light reflected his silver-white hair in its full glory.
She turned back and started to wave, to say goodbye. Her uneasiness and her curiosity was now a mild brew of fear.
“A better question, when you see a wall the next time, would be to ask who built it, rather than what’s behind it. You might get better answers,” he said without his worried expression, as he saw her get into the taxi. “Every wall has a purpose, and that purpose is defined by the one who builds it. If you know who built the wall, you may know what’s behind it,” he said, with a sincere smile. She saw that change in his expression, but that’s all that she could make out. His clothes and the walls seemed to have become a single white blur. The old man and the wall seemed to share the decay of white.
“Welcome back, miss,” the short manager with the trained smile greeted her as she entered the hotel, “I hope you had a good day and got many nice photographs of our town.”
“Oh yes, a wonderful and relaxed day, thank you for your suggestions and directions,” she said.
“Always at your service, miss,” came the practiced reply.
“I do have a question for you, however,” she said, as her uneasiness evaporated in the yellow lights of the hotel lobby.
“Of course, how can I be of service?”
“After I turned left from the Town Hall, there was this very big wall, a white one, and it seemed to go on forever. It was almost ten or twelve feet high,” she asked eagerly, “what’s behind that wall?”
“A white wall, miss?” the manager seemed surprised. “We have no white wall in this town. We have one brick wall along the Municipal Garden, and it has flowering plants on it, but it’s just a couple of feet tall. The Mayor’s house a four or five feet tall iron railing painted in black, but definitely no white wall.”
“I saw this wall, I know it was white, and it was much taller than I am,” she said. She didn’t mean it as a comment on the manager’s height, she was sure he thought so.
“I was born and brought up here, miss. I know each and every corner of this town; it is a small town so it isn’t difficult to keep track of changes here. Hardly anything changes here. I can assure you we have no white wall in this town. You are mistaken for sure,” he said, in a confident voice that she had never heard before. “If you took a left after the Town Hall, you entered a large open ground, where there are absolutely walls or building, no structures at all.”
“In fact, it has been like that for a few hundred years.”