Excerpt: "The women gave him a vacant stare that sprung from the confusion when fear mingles with the expectation of possible reward."
The word came suddenly in relentless pursuit and spread through the land like a disease, poisoning the minds off all those who chose to abandon the beauty of silence.
It was not a sudden realization. It came slowly, like the onset of a season in the desert. There was little external change to announce this gentle progression. It approached him gently one spring morning, subtlety clinging to his awareness and dwelling on the fringes of his conscious mind like a well-dressed beggar. It demanded attention with piercing eyes and not a single word.
The morning tasted like the sheets he was lying on, human and fragile. The sun streaked through the leaves of an acacia outside his window and made his skin vibrate in ripples of light, moving ceaselessly with the knowledge of time.
The drip of the tap in the bathroom was the catalyst. The sound defined the quietness of the morning in his ears and he suddenly stumbled on the concept of stillness and presence. It only lasted a few seconds before the noise came back, but it was enough to make him realize that it non-existed and that he has been conditioned by noises subtle and vulgar for a very long time, possibly since he was only modest living flesh with strange protuberances for ears in his mother’s womb. (Memories are made to be outlived so we can be aware of time. Ultimately the human mind is a time machine. A keeper of seconds, minutes hours and days. It will be destroyed by infinity).
He turned over and pressed his nose against the sheets where she used to lie. He imagined her laughing at one of his silly early morning jokes he always told after they made love. It did not smell like her any longer and it made him sad, it awoke the longing for that profound stillness in him and it made him a searcher, a wanderer and nomad in the land of the urban Bedouin. How amazing that a simple thing like that could change the life of one man in an instant. Everything seemed clear now.
He got up, made coffee and skipped breakfast. (He still had no appetite. It’s been days).
He had to get out of the house. He knew being cooped up like this in the dark with only misery for company was turning him into mush. It was time to feel sun on his skin again. Maybe it would bring some relief from the BIG NUMB. He wasn’t sure, but his survival instincts spurred him on.
He closed the door behind him and became intensely aware of the sliding of the lock mechanism and what it meant to close something, the changing of the physical space as well as the unspoken meaning of locking the world out; or in, depending on your position in space and time. The air was beginning to heat up languidly and soon it would be thick with the smell of the sea. He walked up the narrow street towards the main road and listened to the hum of the cars up ahead. “It never seemed this loud before”, he thought to himself. He kept on walking towards the sound. In the main road he stopped to look at the ocean for a while. Hunks of shiny metal rolled by and obscured his view. It reeked of petrol fumes and chemical vapors. It was a devastating scene. It was the rape of something holy. He swore at the traffic before he crossed the street and immediately recognized the irony in this, his internal pollution infected the scene with anger. The world was impure. He was impure. Yet something pure inside him could recognize this. He did not feel like laughing at himself. The anger rose inside him steadily. He became aware of the voice he could only hear if he shouted in his head: “Why her, why now?”
He’s been suppressing that voice. He could not handle its message. He was to fragile up till now. He knew he needed to listen to that voice more intently, (it was the only possible way out), get to know it well; but the noise was too much. He stumbled onto the beach and walked down to the water’s edge. The hum of the cars got muted by the gentle sound of the rolling waves. He stood there for a long while, frozen and stiff with a tremendous vacant stare. He could feel something was about to give and he let it happen. Then he wept for the first time.
“I’m in love with the eternal part of your mind” she said while stroking her fingers through his hair. She meant it at that moment and it took much out of her to say it and she felt stupid and vulnerable immediately afterwards. It was such a dramatic statement. It was a bit ridiculous.
At first he only smiled silently and this made her insecure, but then he kissed her and slid down until his head rested on her chest; and that comforted her. He was also vulnerable, they were vulnerable together.
“I don’t want to work today.”
“So call in sick, you look a little sick to me. Yes, I can hear your heart is beating irregularly. And you look pale, very pale”.
He put his hand on her tummy and caressed it.
“And you have a swollen tummy. I suggest you stay in bed today.”
They laughed like the children they were in that moment. They were innocent again, free of sin.
“I can’t, it’s irresponsible, and besides, I’m a terrible liar.”
“A woman who can’t lie? Whoa! Unheard of” he said mischievously.
They laughed some more; they laughed together to the rhythm of the type of cynical humor they both adored and understood. They laughed together often, like all lovers should.
They were fighting and caressing at the same time and loving each other for it. They both knew how rare and precious that type of honesty is to find between a man and a women.
“No seriously, I have to go, Peter is hopeless without me. He doesn’t have a clue about running his own business! He depends on me.”
He felt a slight irrational pang of jealousy but put it aside almost immediately. He wanted to say that he also depended on her, but he knew that it would be a mistake; their love depended on a finely balanced tension between hope and the possibility of loss, and this was the sacred alchemy that bonded them. They both respected this game and admired each other skill at it without words and unnecessary explanations.
“And you,” she asked while playing with his her in a maternal fashion …”what are you going to do on this sunny day? You lazy bum, stare at flowers all day long? Or the waves?”
He turned on his back while sliding down until his head rested on her tummy and gave her an upside down quizzical frown.
“Today I shall paint with the utmost vigor, I can feel something strong coming on.”
He got up and kissed her and they made love for the second time.
The moment she got in the bus she regretted not taking up his offer to stay. It was such a gorgeous day and she had the feeling of time slipping away. She was in love and for a change the man in question loved her back. It was a happy space.
She brushed her sentimentality aside like a true professional and went to sit in the third bench next to the window as was her habit. (She was slightly flaky and superstitious, and on the days when that seat was taken she became agitated).
The road made a steep incline from the tiny coastal village up to the main road that would take her to her office in the city a mere thirty kilometers away. At the top the bus drove parallel to the magnificent view of the hamlet and the ocean and she could feast her eyes and mind on it with abandon. It was another perfect Mediterranean summer’s day. The ocean was blue and flat. The light breeze was playful and not bothersome. Already she thought about her return in the evening. They would have wine and cook together like they always did. She thought about a possible menu as she dreamily swayed along to the rhythm of her journey.
He wept for a long time, ignoring the people that walked by with children and dogs running and barking after invisible water monsters in the shallow surf, doing their best to protect their universe from magical invisible threats.
After a while he was finished, dried out like a forgotten garden in the middle of a ferocious summer. Then he laughed madly. It was a dry laugh that coughed its way to the surface, like some dark thing that needed to get out. He went and sat in the rolling water and plunged his hands into the wet sand, pulling them out and watching the mud oozing through his fingers. After a while he walked in deeper and immersed himself in the cold water. He wanted to feel numb all over. He wanted to drown his pain and possibly himself, but the cold eventually woke up the instinct in him to get up and survive. He got angry once more, he felt betrayed by his bestial nature, his primitive being that forced him to face the world beyond and above sea level, the simple man inside of him that he fought with constantly and who always won. (Even a poet will lose beauty in a fight to survive. It’s the practical thing to do, after all. Eternal grief is not practical).
“You fucking idiot. Why did you let her go?”
He walked away mumbling, incoherent and crazed with grief. Memories tore him apart and put him back together in the same moments.
It took a while for his clothes to dry. He walked up the coastal road for a long time, trying to tire himself out, attempting to batter the ‘other’ man into submission. He crossed the street again and walked into a restaurant with a bar on the one side. Before he met her he had a bad drinking habit. She helped him get control of the situation. She was never judgmental, only caring, sensitive and mindful. She was not the judgmental type. She suffered enough in her youth to have earned that wisdom, and she was intelligent. He loved her intelligence above all. Now he felt abandoned and ready to give in to his self-destructive urges. . He sat at the counter and ordered without hesitation.
“Whisky, a double with lots of ice and soda please. Any kind, I don’t care.”
He took the first sip and it felt good, and sobriety died a not so shameful death. He tried not to think, but the more he tried the more he remembered, and the more he remembered the more he had to drown the anger. The sun went down unnoticed like something barely recognizable on the edge of a stage. A simple prop without meaning. The curtains were about to fall, heavy and dense with dark, the voice of a dead man speaking through layers and layers of sand and rotten wood. The night hovered about. It stretched from the edges of the scene all the way to outer space. All the way to a hidden, uncaring sun. (Even the sun was a prisoner of its motion, a cog in a bigger machine. Even the sun will die at some point in the future, EVEN The Sun…)
He took the picture from his wallet and set it alight. He watched it burn with drunken detachment.
He let it smoulder in the heavy glass ashtray in front of him and imagined it to be a funeral pyre constructed from pure crystal on the edge of the Ganges in a city where the smoke of empty human vessels challenged flickering shadows to a duel. The fight was untouchable and nobody ever won, but it had to go on. It gave meaning to blood and meat. (And blood and meat gave meaning to it.)
There were more people now. He could see their faces in the mirrored walls. They were like laughing ghosts, empty and not human, completely unreachable; and fake. He took the smiles and jokes personally, their pleasures were traitors to his pain. Their careless happiness tormented him without compassion. How could they understand? They were lesser beings then. His pain made him a temporary god. A rather pathetic one at that. (Injuries without blood only evokes empathy from the brave and supreme. This is the hidden power of silence).
A man came and sat next to him. He concealed the flavour of office paper and nervous sweat, he was left unsatisfied and mean by the delusion of legacy.
“You look a bit pissed, let me guess; she left you for another guy?”
The man laughed and ordered a drink. He stood up without a word and walked away.
“I was just making conversation friend” the man shouted arrogantly. The words hung like silver bullets in a nightmare where time stood still. The voice could not touch him in any way; it could not penetrate his will to ignore everything except that which he chose to face.
He became the midnight and a full moon, a Hollywood massacre, an actor who forgot his own lines but who remembered all the other player’s words. Even his anger was useless in this empty space. The meaninglessness became the meaning. Don’t think or try to understand. Just walk away.
The night outside was busy and dark and he headed for the section of town where the prostitutes, pimps and dealers clung to existence. (The so called lesser actors). That was the best remedy he could think of to temporarily help cure his current condition.
The harbour lights were dim and menacing. Drunken sailors lurched and begged the sea for mercy, to take them back one more time.
He saw two women standing under a street lamp some distance ahead. He could hear their banter, their laughter, the scorn that drove their voices like chariots into the night. Driven on by a secret loneliness towards an epic battle with themselves.
He had no more fear, no more hesitation. His mind was a prison camp filled with the demented survivors of a war. His mind was a slaughterhouse, a death camp, a sinister killing field where evil spirits feared to tread.
They went silent as he approached. He stood still a short distance away from them. He was not hesitating, he was watching, willing the puppets to entertain him so that the show can begin; (or perhaps just continue with more vigour; at least), shooting mental bullets at their feet. “C’mon dance for me baby. I want to see you move to the music of my devastation. I need a spectacle to take me away. I need to be pleasured into meaning.”
The women gave him a vacant stare that sprung from the confusion when fear mingles with the expectation of possible reward.
“You just looking? You want some of this?”
She fondled her plump breasts with both hands.
“You look nice. We can make a deal, a good deal.”
She walked up to him. He looked, (and hoped); for the knife in her hand, but saw nothing. She came and stood with her hips swaying untender and brash close to his crotch. He could feel the warmth of her body and he could smell her breath. It smelt damp and muted. Like the end of a long road. He waited for the steel to touch him, for the blade to rip his flesh; and for the blood. It did not come.
“So are we going to do it man? You drunk? Stoned? No matter, I can make you cum.”
She kissed him on the cheek and took him by the hand. She pressed her tongue in his ear. He waited to feel filthy, but he did not. He tried to notice her, to detect her physical presence, but she remained a monstrous haze, monstrous and voluptuous. She led him away. He followed meekly.
The late afternoon was blooming. She liked this part of the day. She liked waiting for the bus and leaving the city. She only liked leaving because it enabled her to indulge in thoughts of her return. Not triumphant or even noble, but elated and thankful.
She was staring out of the window. She was thinking of the day they met. This was not an unusual occurrence because she thought of it every day as she moved past pedestrians and parked cars, trees, garbage and other neglected remainders of a working day moving towards its own return.
They were both lost. They have both given up on love and the irony was that their cynicism attracted them towards each other.
“If you are trying to impress me I can assure it’s not working. I can tell you right off the bat: I’m not interested.”
He let the three balls fall to the ground and roll away. He seemed unconcerned about the loss. He met her gaze and replied with equal force.
“Well I can assure YOU that I only did that in the hope that you are a dumb slut that will fall for shit like this and sleep with me tonight. I’m not looking for love, but I like sex. So ARE you a dumb slut?”
“No, but I was good at acting in school.”
They did not have sex on that first night. They ended up sitting on her balcony, talking until daylight. In fact, they did not sleep with each other for another two years. They randomly kept in touch on social media and met now and again. They always had a good time together, but it was understood that they will always, only be friends. They shared everything except their bodies. They simply were not into each other that way.
Then one night they went clubbing and both hooked up with different strangers. The next day they woke up with the same inexplicable empty feeling. They send each other messages almost simultaneously. That night they tore each other’s clothes off and had sex thrice. They fell asleep in each other’s arms and the rest was history being made. Just like that both of their lives changed forever.
The sex felt exactly like it should have, like a betrayal, like a fatal blow to a friend. Now the bond was broken.
He paid her what she asked without question. She could not understand the service she rendered anyway. It was not about the physical act. It was a mental and spiritual purging. He needed to be infected by her to get rid of his disease. He felt strangely better now.
As he walked back to the house he allowed himself to become completely empty. He accepted the fact that this void would be his only companion for a long, long time. Then his brain went into a tumble.
“How do I accept this thing I cannot accept? Must I accept unacceptance? I don’t understand this. I don’t think I understand anything. It’s all so confusing. Fuck me, I wish I was dead like her. Maybe I shouldn’t say that. Maybe I have a responsibility to live for her and in spite of everything? It’s all so fragile. Like a misspelled paper cut. It’s sharp but stupid. I’m stupid. Shut de fuck up! Stop being so sentimental. It’s just life. It’s nothing personal. Let’s go home.”
It was the second last bus stop.
There was a dog lying next to the road. It seemed to be injured. She got off. She didn’t think much about it. She just did it. She loved animals. She believed they were souls trapped in primitive vehicles on a mission to teach things to humans. Things like mercy. Things that had to be understood with emotional intellect.
The air was dusky and heavy. The moment she kneeled beside the dog it got up and walked to a man half hidden in the bushes who was softly whistling to it. She watched the scene with perplexed confusion. It was too strange and it didn’t make sense. She was filled up to the brim with that mercy and could not understand what was going on.
Moments later he exploded from his hiding place and caught her completely by surprise. She went numb. The shock of what was happening to her overwhelmed her. He was strong and he dragged her into the bushes. When the sense of surrealism wore off she tried to scream, but her voice got stuck in her dry throat. He had too much power. He punched her hard on the nose and she became faintly aware of blood dripping on her chin. She touched it with a slender finger and looked at the smear on her pale skin. “Is this happening?”
He punched her one more time in the stomach and she collapsed like a rag doll. She gasped for air. He was on her in seconds. It happened so quickly. By the time she got her breath back she was already naked from the waist down and he was plunging into her with such force that she could feel her back biting into twigs and stones. A strange detachment overcame her, as if she was an unfeeling observer to the macabre spectacle. She thought of her lover and silent tears started rolling down her cheek. When he finished and the final blows came she did not bother to protect herself. She allowed herself to drift into the violent silence like a drowning fish going home to the abyss. Her lasts thought was: “How easy it is to die.”
He climbed into bed just before the first rays. His body tasted the sheets. It was like any other sheets. He lay there while a few more thoughts tumbled on him from a place he would never find or fully live in.
”In the end it's all part of one thing…” he audibly mused to himself, “…the human progression. Our genetic code that constantly evolves demands paradox, separation and polar opposites so it can grow and evolve. Basically we are stuck in this ludicrous reality of 'us' and 'them', you and I, war and peace, of the 'right' and 'wrong' way, of the living and the dead. Of love and loss. Basically we are fuct. Because we are fuct we live.”
He groaned heavily. Tiredness finally overcame him. It felt like a great mercy and he accepted it without putting up a fight. This was not a contest he could win anyway. He finally knew and accepted this fact.
He fell asleep, clutching at the pillow next to him that has now become a nameless orphan..