Creatures That Once Were Men
(The Story Of A Journey)
I met him in the harbor of Odessa. For three successive days his square, strongly-built
figure attracted my attention. His face--of a Caucasian type--was framed in a handsome
beard. He haunted me. I saw him standing for hours together on the stone quay, with the
handle of his walking stick in his mouth, staring down vacantly, with his black almond-
shaped eyes into the muddy waters of the harbor. Ten times a day, he would pass me by
with the gait of a careless lounger. Whom could he be? I began to watch him. As if
anxious to excite my curiosity, he seemed to cross my path more and more often. In the
end, his fashionably-cut light check suit, his black hat, like that of an artist, his indolent
lounge, and even his listless, bored glance grew quite familiar to me. His presence was
utterly unaccountable, here in the harbor, where the whistling of the steamers and
engines, the clanking of chains, the shouting of workmen, all the hurried maddening
bustle of a port, dominated one's sensations, and deadened one's nerves and brain.
Everyone else about the port was enmeshed in its immense complex machinery, which
demanded incessant vigilance and endless toil.
Everyone here was busy, loading and unloading either steamers or railway trucks.
Everyone was tired and careworn. Everyone was hurrying to and fro, shouting or cursing,
covered with dirt and sweat. In the midst of the toil and bustle this singular person, with
his air of deadly boredom, strolled about deliberately, heedless of everything.
At last, on the fourth day, I came across him during the dinner hour, and I made up my
mind to find out at any cost who he might be. I seated myself with my bread and water-
melon not far from him, and began to eat, scrutinizing him and devising some suitable
pretext for beginning a conversation with him.
There he stood, leaning against a pile of tea boxes, glancing aimlessly around, and
drumming with his fingers on his walking stick, as if it were a flute. It was difficult for
me, a man dressed like a tramp, with a porter's knot over my shoulders, and grimy with
coal dust, to open up a conversation with such a dandy. But to my astonishment I noticed
that he never took his eyes off me, and that an unpleasant, greedy, animal light shone in
those eyes. I came to the conclusion that the object of my curiosity must be hungry, and
after glancing rapidly round, I asked him in a low voice: "Are you hungry?"
He started, and with a famished grin showed rows of strong sound teeth. And he, too,
looked suspiciously round. We were quite unobserved. Then I handed him half my melon
and a chunk of wheaten bread. He snatched it all from my hand, and disappeared,
squatting behind a pile of goods. His head peeped out from time to time; his hat was
pushed back from his forehead, showing his dark moist brow.