I was sitting in the Smithfield Luas stop and it was very difficult not to notice him. He was an old man, with long silver hair and long white beard. His face was carved with the passage of time and his eyes contained that hollow sight found frequently in mystics, castaways and the demented.
He was seated on the Luas bench but soon stood up and walked a couple of meters to grab a roach that was lying in the pavement. Instead of smoking the rest of the tobacco as I was expecting, he slowly walked to the bin and delicately let the roach fall into its morally acceptable place. Then he went back to sit down on the bench. A few seconds later, he spotted a little bit of plastic slowly carried by the wind. He went, picked it up, placed it into the bin and returned to the bench again. Once seated, he let his eyes drop to the pavement only to find another small piece of rubbish. So he returned to bend his back, grab it and bin it. And he kept doing that operation over and over, one piece of rubbish at a time. It looked more like a ritual than a simple clean up act. I was amazed with that mans’ determination, and the fact that he conceived his binning as a single mission involving a single piece of litter, forgetting all the others in his ritual journeys from bench to bin and condemned to repeat it over and over again. There was something honourable and tragic in it. It reminded me of the myth of Sisyphus, cursed to roll a big rock up to a mountain only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity.
The Luas came and I jumped aboard. Though the window I could see him a few moments more, cleaning up the now empty Luas stop.
The second time I saw him was in the same place. It was one of those extremely windy days. As I arrived at the Smithfield stop I saw him grabbing something from the floor, walking to the bin and returning to the bench. Slowly cleaning the place bit by bit. On one occasion, someone arrived and sat down at his starting point, leaving no free place on the Luas bench, so his cycle got broken. He became doubtful for a moment as if he had awakened from a trance, but finally he went and sat on a doorstep nearby. I was looking at him, expectant, waiting for the beginning of his cleaning ritual around his new area. But this time he didn’t look for litter. The violent wind slapped us from time to time with autumnal anger. His long hair waved in front of his eyes. He put one hand on his pocket and took a comb out. Slowly, he started to comb down his silver hair immersing himself in another vicious circle. Soon the wind turned, messing up his hair again, and he, with the same serenity as the priest lifting the blessed host, took the comb and drove it down. Over and over again.
I wondered if I was in front of a lunatic or a genius. If his mind was accidentally falling into vicious circles or if his consciousness had reached a superior state of mind that confronts every little detail of this world with total resolution and immense patience.