He asked about the quality –

C. P. Cavafy

He left the office where he’d been hired
in a minor and ill-paid position
(about eight pounds a month, with benefits)
once the arid work had finished,
having spent the whole afternoon hunched over.
He left at seven, and walked slowly,
and loitered in the road. Beautiful
and interesting: that’s how he came off,
now at the full measure of his sensual craft.
The past month he had turned twenty-nine.

He loitered in the road, and in the poor
side-streets that led to his home.

Passing in front of a small shop
that sold cheap and tacky articles to labourers,
he saw a face therein, he saw a figure
which goaded him to enter and feign interest
in viewing coloured handkerchiefs.

He asked about the quality of the handkerchiefs
and how much they cost in a voice drowning
and almost suffocated by desire.
And similarly came the replies:
distracted, in a faltering voice,
with tacit acquiescence.

All this time they were talking about a purchase – but
their only purpose: that their hands might brush
above the handkerchiefs; that their faces, their lips,
might draw near as if by chance –
a fleeting touch of limb on limb.

Quickly and quietly, to avoid the attention
of the shop owner who was sitting at the back.

[Published 1930]

Original Greek Poem

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