The Dream Seller

Lucia Munaro
The Dream Seller
He was sitting at the corner of the street, on a rush-seat chair propped up against the wall of a house. It was very early, but already little splashes of sunlight dotted the grey of the pavement, and were radiating cautiously outwards. Soon they would reach his legs and he would feel their warmth. It was impossible to tell how old he was, that man who came to sit at that corner without fail every morning. Though robust, his frame betrayed a certain agility. Set just below the arches of his eyebrows, two eyes, dark and alert, twinkled above a sharp nose and full, pinkish cheeks. His lips were soft and thin – there was an almost feminine quality to them – and when he spoke they relaxed into a benevolent grin.
If you looked at him closely, you would say he looked like a gentle old satyr. But hardly anyone did look at him, indeed hardly anyone noticed his presence there at all. Whatever the season, passers-by would hurry along their way, each lost in his own thoughts. Goodness only knows why it always has to be that way in cities. People go about with no apparent connection to anyone else, and yet each person is part of one amorphous and indistinct whole. Then, occasionally, they might cry out, or run and seem momentarily alive. But if you think about it, for the most part they resemble little soulless puppets, sagging under the weight of their own thoughts. Each to his own, as the expression goes, even if each one looks identical to the rest in his striving.
They passed him by without noticing him. Not that he minded especially, or took it to heart. He did watch them though, and attentively too although always with a certain detachment. He was there, after all, to do a job. He might have been any kind of street seller – he might have been just like the farmers who come down into the valley on market day, laden with little baskets crammed with their seasonal products, herbs and fruits. And people stop to buy them at little makeshift stalls, and what they’re buying is in essence the fragrance of the forest, the memory of an ancient flavour, the illusionary right of belonging to the mountains, where the fields seem like gardens and where people still talk in a language the city folk can’t understand.
He had a basket too – the man sitting there at the corner of the street – placed on the floor in front of his chair. Only it wasn’t a real basket, and the goods he was selling were both invisible and intangible. His goods were light, lighter even than that uneven cotton wool from which clouds are made, perennially changeable in the sky. Or, you tell me, how much do dreams weigh? Yes, for that man on the corner was a dream seller.
He waited patiently for the sun to come and carress his legs, for one of the passers-by to slow down a little and turn their gaze distractedly towards him. It happened occasionally, and he always ended up managing to sell someone one of the dreams which he kept in the basket at his feet, ordered in neat lines, crammed in together side by side. He had to take good care of dreams so that they didn’t fly away – light as they were - before he had found a buyer for them.
It’s not an easy trade, that of a dream seller, believe me. For one thing, since they were made of nothing, it was not only very likely that the dreams might have floated away, but also that they might have unravelled. It sometimes happened that they got all tangled up with each together, as different coloured balls of yarn are sometimes wont to do if you shove them carelessly into a box and then forget about them a while. And so a single dream would end up confused with its neighbour and so would come out as a story of which one could make neither head nor tail. In other words, completely unsellable. Yes, dreams are tricky – you have to take the utmost care not only with how you store them, but also with whom you give them to: you have to find the dream perfectly suited to a particular person and vice versa.
You might say that people in the city no longer have the time or urge to dream. He found it so touching when one of those distracted passers-by stopped, almost involuntarily, in front of the basket. It was so moving to pick out just the right item for a particular buyer. It required a lot of talent, certainly, and a certain agility of spirit, even more so than when one finds oneself embroiled in a conversation which requires you to hit words nimbly back and forth, to return the unexpected replies of the other person with mastery, to keep up with erudite topics and to try one’s hand at the precise deep shots and, occasionally, to make some brilliant point. In this case however, there being no other party to act as a stimulant as in conversation, the man had to trust in his own innate talent to win over the apathy of the passers-by, to liberate them momentarily from that unhappy spell which had hold of them and which had robbed them even of the ability to dream. He had to act quickly, with one look and the tone of his voice alone he had to seduce that person who had distractedly come to a halt in front of him and to approach them in such a way that would allow him to work out which dream would suit them, what the goal was that they had lost sight of in the pursuit of God knows what.
He was convinced that the goods assembled in his basket at his feet were nothing more or less than the lost dreams of those unfortunate passers- by he observed every morning. He relied so heavily on a peculiarity of the face, the stance, half a word uttered by the one standing in front of him to ascertain which dream belonged to him or her. He would then extract that dream from the basket and sell it to them for a paltry sum. His compensation was not really his earnings in any case, but rather the opportunity of seeing those passers-by return the next day on the same dull route as always, but finally with some expression, with a renewed trace of passion in their countenance.
He remembered having sold a dream about a horse to a girl who wore her blonde hair in tufts held with a hairpin at the nape of her neck, a girl who was tired before she was even born. That time he hadn’t thought too much, he hadn’t needed to, he retrieved the dream from the basket with one sure movement and handed it to her, certain that this was the dream which belonged to her. He was certain of this fact even now, despite the fact that some time had passed and he hadn’t seen her again. Another time he had sold a dream about the sea to a woman who was already getting on a bit, with a somewhat severe expression and a way of walking which seemed weighed down with regret. When she had passed by him again, he had noticed that she now moved almost as though she were following the rhythm of the endless chasing of the waves, and she kept her head raised, as though sniffing the salty air. To a man whose expression seemed to be one of nervousness and shock all at the same time, he had sold nothing less than a dream about a son. And since this man had passed by him many times since, he saw how, little by little, he was reborn, as though that dream had cured him of his apathy. Who could say whether, among the remaining dreams in that basket, there was a dream for him too. Nobody wondered where the dream seller went in the evenings. Nor where he picked up those precious dreams which he sold for such a reasonable price during the day. Even I couldn’t say for certain, but I do know this: that man could recite from memory any number of books, little tales, stories and verses which he had heard or read. That’s the only clue we have.

Translated from Italian by Rosanna Forte
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