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If ever there was someone in need for understanding, it is here, it is now, it is me. Surrounded by platitudes and inanities, bombarded with clichés and banalities, I cannot think clearly. When I listen to this noise, each new sound grates and rubs me raw. I cannot defend myself, my wits are shredded and torn. I am abused by all for my lack of patience and sympathy, for refusing to obey the rules of this polite society, and for all this, I have no defence. Is there no mirror I can hold up to show them what they do?
My sense of equity, of fairness and justice in the universe, has been breached. I stand alone against the forces of darkness, naked and without protection or defences, stripped of support and of respect. How can I regain my dignity, restore my self-confidence, convince myself that I am not alone, abandoned? Where is safe harbour in my hour of peril?
Pride, self-delusion, and vanity had been the weaknesses that had undone me, blinded me, revealed me, left me open to criticism and derision. A little mockery is all it takes for the walls to crumble and the barbs to penetrate.
After all the warnings, I was scammed, I was robbed. It was not that I didn't know how it could happen, I was in the wrong place at the right time, and someone lifted my credit card details and flew out of the country on my bill. My virtual pocket was picked, and I didn’t feel a thing. A virtually invisible transaction happened where they filched my credit, rolling the numbers back from zero to red, to where I owed the bank $508.78, including international transaction fees, and I hadn’t stepped out of the country, I hadn’t felt a thing.
How he cloaks himself in comfort and sympathy, succoured by sycophants and admirers who fall prostrate at every word, who swoon at his every utterance, gesture and affectation. I have yet to understand the great man and his vanity, this self-serving posturing, each bustle and brandishing seems only to inspire the need for more of the same. It feeds on itself, the culture grows in its own petrie dish, a self-contained world that devours its own body to survive. How they press and squeeze me on all sides; the damage they cause is not only to me, but to themselves.
Here is nowhere; it is the edge of the world. To the horizon is empty space, beyond this lies civilisation where people hold tightly to their shells, they walk in shadows and shun the light. I embrace this, feel free in a world where only light and space exists. I see evidence of others, before my time, on rocks and in paths across the landscape where migrations took place. In this desert there are birds and insects, few large animals. The sunlight purifies, leaching out strong colours, making brittle permeable matter. The trees are bowed down, they cast no shade.
Who would I be if I was chronically mis-spelled, incorrectly named, lost, misfiled? Who would know to look for the lost pieces? Fragmented, would I be dismissed as a triviality, incomplete, as random bytes, and shunted off to nowhere? Scattered as shards and fragments, associated with alternate entities, shunted about in appended files, hived off into random and unknown corners, can the whole be derived? When not labelled correctly, do the parts still make up the whole? Do I exist in all my parts or am I more? Can I change and grow, glued together, accreting life like a straightjacket?
If I am not found complete where expected, if I do not answer when called, will I fade into obscurity, like a firework dispersing light and colour as it soars away into nothing, a shell trodden underfoot falling into shards and grit and powder? This disillusion has left me spinning in the universe, my friends and colleagues turned away, my voice blocked at every turn by the noise and violence around me. Who can find me now in the world? Who can see me reaching out here? Can all I have been, be pieced back together to make me whole?
I think about the corners of the universe that harbour the forgotten. These lonely places are where objects wash up as flotsam and jetsam, half submerged or partially buried, as scum they float about on liquid surfaces that leave wavy lines and ridges on clean sand as tides withdraw. They are unrecognisable, unrecoverable, disintegrating before our eyes; they are amorphous and we are unable to shape a memory of them in their previous lives, as the objects they were. The agitated bubbles of surf explode leaving only indentations or elevations in the sand, graves that show an object lies here.
I disappear, become translucent, then invisible as the sun rises above the horizon. Hands held up shielding my face glows orange and molten blending into the bleeding sun before me; haloed fingers are liquid, splayed like starfish. At first, a long shadow is cast but it leeches into the rocks and sand as the heat rises. White light strikes, etching wrinkles and lines, writing on my skin. Shapelessly I shimmer like a mirage, pale and fragile, flimsy and desiccated, weightlessly hovering. Light falling through me has me drifting and tossing as in a celestial stream, slowing ascending in spirals, aspiring.
He stepped back. The greeting she offered, still there between them, unanswered. He looked at her hand and the long bare arm extended towards him; at the way she leaned forward, smiling. It seemed friendly, even warm, and yet was uncertain. It felt to him that she had turned things around, that she expected something else. The step back had disconcerted him, he was unsure how to proceed. The next exchange should be for him to smile, shake her hand, and complete the natural flow of the introductions. This is the way these meetings progress – one exchange and then another.
‘Well,’ she said brightly, withdrawing her hand. ‘A cold drink then. I would certainly like one.’ She turned and looked back along the bar for someone to serve her. ‘Maybe more than one.’
Picking up the menu she flipped pages as the barman walked towards them.
‘I wonder what is good here … maybe the wine. Red.’ She turned to him; ‘Do you drink wine?’ she asked.
‘Blind dates are difficult, aren’t they? Sit down … sit down,’ she said, patting the barstool next to her. ‘I know, I have been on so many.’
The barman stood opposite her, waiting.
‘I’ve a list of questions,’ he said. ‘Can we leave here and go somewhere to talk?’ Surprised she sat holding the wine list close as though he was about to take it forcibly from her. ‘We can come back later,’ he said. When she still didn’t move, he thought about the dating rules women have: don’t be alone with a stranger, make sure others are around, let someone know where you are, take nothing he says at face-value. She seemed unreachable behind her safety barrier, prepared to defend herself. ‘I will be outside,’ he said, ‘if you change your mind.’
‘The trick, I suppose, is to be surprised when something different happens,’ she said to the barman as she ordered her wine but he was already in motion and may not have heard. Her date had walked out, but that had happened before. As she turned from the bar she saw him crossing the road to the park. Their exchange had unsettled her; it was probably her worst date yet. She would tell her friends later how she escaped a homicidal maniac, how he tried to drag her away to some dark quiet alley, away from her glass of wine.
‘Can we walk a bit, maybe along the waterfront?’ If I asked it like that, would it have helped? Moving helps me relax, I needed to explain that. And the list, what was I thinking. It i s just a start, a plan, a way to get us past the nervousness and talking. Sitting here, waiting. It is early evening, still light, and there are people about: people walking dogs, joggers, couples walking to somewhere, and me just sitting here talking to myself, watching the bar, knowing she will come out and walk away quickly pretending she does not see me.
In the glass before her, reflected against the dark wine, were miniature scenes of the light and life around her. One image looked back into the bar; it showed a spot-lit table and a couple merging into the shadows with their heads together. As she turned, another image, a stamp-sized picture of the park across the road, showed her date sitting alone on a bench, lit by a streetlight. She moved near the window looking out at the evening, at him. The wine warmed her, the bowl of the glass fitted nicely in her hand as she gently swirled it.
I entered through the out-door when he raced over blocking my path. I turned to get past, but there was a nasty glint in his eye – he had been evaded before and knows the signs. In blocking my path, he had stopped all inward traffic and now an increasingly impatient audience was watching us. It is an irrational decision when opening or closing for the day to force everyone to use one door when there are two available. Both the in and out-doors swing both ways, they are merely conduits between the foyer and outside, the signs merely a courtesy.
What I had done was almost a public service: I had reduced the density outside, and I showed by example an effective way to better manage resources and time. The advantage I sought was faster entry but, being caught flouting conventions comes with a penalty.
I could minimise contact with this angry man by backing out and returning through the designated door. I thought of the favours I would need to jump ahead in the queue, the pleasantries and smiling to endure, and whether I had enough left to last me through the week at my present rate of consumption.
Either of us could have spoken first, I could have beaten him to it. With this opening parry, he had deflected my attack and held the upper hand. Forced to defend myself, my response was not timely, prepared or polite.
His judgemental tone made me what to find another oppositional action to take, where I could again breach these social conventions he had made law and evade his control and manipulation. Could I sit, here on the floor in front of him? Ignoring the chairs provided would tighten his screws a bit, shake out a bit more of his rust.
Then again, being penned behind a desk with nothing to do but act as hall monitor for the building, it was inevitable the people passing through would become targets for his spite. The suggested behaviour for marshalling crowds could be ratcheted up to the severity of law when controlled by an overbearing and officious guard.
“You are behaving erratically,” he said, standing in my way. He out-sized me in every direction: looking down on me was not just an attitude, it was an elevation. He cast a long shadow.
“I am going up the stairs behind you. Please move aside.”
“What is it?” I asked. “What's your problem?” I didn’t want to acknowledge him but ignoring was impossible. “This is out-of-order. Why are you holding me up? Why are you holding up all these people trying to get to work?“
A few of the incoming crowd had slipped by, most stayed and watched the brewing David and Goliath battle.
Throwing off invisibility comes with an avalanche of problems and bureaucracies have long memories. From this a song and dance a reputation for creating disorder and spectacle might be attributed to me. Belligerence in guards is accepted, not so for staff.
“When fighting for a right, a freedom even, emotion is all you need; logic will not win an argument.”
They were facing different views through the restaurant’s panoramic window. In his glasses, the lenses turned dark as he watched traffic coming up the street, the fluorescent sunset layering through the haze beyond. Direct sunlight falling on his face removed any evidence of emotion.
In half-shade, she sat watching the lengthening shadows of trees in the park. Shifting suddenly and knocking the table, a tidal wave formed in her waterglass.
“I’m not emotional … this is serious. We must discuss it.”
It was late in the afternoon, just on the edge of evening, when restaurants quietly gathered themselves before the dinner rush. A few late customers sat with their coffees in the last of the sun watching the evening arrive. As the daylight faded and shifted behind them, the room disappeared in sombre violets and deepening blues, and within staff quietly moved a table and rearranged chairs. There was the muffled sound of cutlery and plates; bottles were moved at the bar and the faint clink of clean glasses. Before the lights were turned on, time seemed to swoon and pause.
Shopping in the most dangerous part of town is something to consider. For the special purchases you can’t find easily elsewhere, you’ll find the best deals there, if you’re street-smart, and can get out. With the rewards, there are challenges too. It is important to go unnoticed before you find that you are the object being assessed, measured, on sale. It takes time to learn how to bargain in these places, they are all different and you need to know what you are buying. There is no get out of jail card here, no jails and everyone is a thief.
“Let me get that.” He stood blocking the light, reaching for the bill.
I saw him surrounded by a halo, in a warm and comforting aura. Behaving like an angel was only part of his appeal. He had no sharp edges, he did not jar or rock, nor trip or fall, there were no jagged movements. He seemed to flow through the world.
“It will be my turn next time,” I said, feeling a prickle of nervousness. “At least let me leave the tip.”
“Already done,” he said, still smiling.
Was this the end? Did he seem anxious to leave?
“Do you go on many dates?” I was tiring of the man of mystery projection: it was time to break through that shell. I wanted to get him off balance, have him step out of his good manners for a moment, get him to talk about something that didn’t seem prepared.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” he said. “This is my first.” The unexpected answer, a little judgemental, yet it was the first personal statement he had made. “Don’t take this the wrong way ... I have been away for a while.”
“Do you want to talk about it?”
This is just my voice, as alone I rail out from the deep dark void that holds my soul. Here and now I am defenceless, stumbling around trying to make sense of everything: the details and minutiae everywhere blind-side and overwhelming me. How come I have never noticed this before, have I just forgotten? It is as if I have woken from a long sleep and the world around me is unknown and untouchable.
On days like these someone will ask me if I’m working too hard, if I need space, if I’m all right, and I have no answer.
Words fail me and the month has ended too quickly. I am here filling in the blanks, to turn black to white, to keep pouring sand into the hourglass when everything has already spilled out, and the world has moved on.
Alone: there are weeks ahead when I will have no contact with others, when I am to be patient and kind and quiet and gentle. These qualities do not come easily. I move quickly towards the abrasive, to feel the heat of an active brain.
This is the sound of my wings beating on the glass trying to escape.
“The year is proving to be one of light and joy. It is as if, with the ending of last year, like a bubble I am rising, breathing deeply and casting off shadows and entanglements, kicking to the surface.”
Where do these images, these sensations, come from? Of lucid movement, the ability for flexing and turning that I wish was possible is given to me in dreams. Gliding, I hold my breath effortlessly, adjusting to pressure, to the density of the world around me. Swift falls through empty air then the sharp beat of wings to catch a rising thermal.
I sit thinking of human frailty and fundamental flaws as I look at the draft of my last assignment. Procrastination is winning. Writing this is a displacement activity, giving me the illusion of activity and achievement.
What will happen in the race to the deadline: at the last minute, the wordcount finally reached, it will be pushed over the line and submitted. A short moment of relief will be followed swiftly by the dread of knowing it is not good, only a mashup of trite opinions that, in the calm light of day, are no longer credible even to me.
Maybe a stroll in the sun, a walk in the park? Maybe what I need is a little light relief? Everything is too serious, I just need to take time, make space, breathe a bit.
The world is so closely integrated, correlated, driven. I want to just take it easy, slow down, try and think clearly.
I want to step back and look at everything as if it is new: to see without prejudice or politics. Instead my mind constantly runs around a treadmill, of questions and suppositions, of assumptions and presumptions, endlessly repeating, revolving, until I am going backwards.
The Tip Jar