There’s an observation that I have come to make in all the years that have been so far included my pathetic excuse of a life. It doesn’t exactly concern me whether this knowledge will hold any relevance whatsoever to anyone other than myself since I’m saving up all my fucks to give for things that actually matter. But back to my point, what I’ve come to observe is that clocks seem to get a helluva lot louder when the silence turns awkward. It’s true. Each second ticks with the sole purpose of mocking the quiet. That’s the funny thing about time, isn’t it? It’s a phoney bitch that does nothing but mock everyone and everything, including the goddamn silence, and then disappears into god-knows-where.
And here I stand next to a window, listening to the ticking getting louder and louder and the air getting harder and harder to breath. Washcloth in hand, I observe the slice of the bright-blue sky dusted with clouds that hover over the skyscrapers, neatly cut and plated and placed in front of me for me to enjoy each and every bite and savour the flavours that dance on my tongue. But there lies the problem. I can’t enjoy my slice of the scenery. I can’t concentrate on this breathtaking, gorgeous view that seems like it’s been made just for me. Anywhere else, I would linger a few minutes longer, take another few bites. But today, here, now, I can’t.
I can’t because my past has outrun me and is sitting comfortably on a beige leather couch behind me. I can’t because I’m at war and if I look away, I’ll be slaughtered. I can’t because breathing is so goddamn difficult that my lungs are ready to jump out of my chest to take in all the air in the room but something tell me that even that won’t be enough.
“Hey!” A loud voice saves me from drowning in my memories. “I’m not paying you enjoy the view! Get back to cleaning!” The woman looks at me with daggers in her eyes, though I can only look at him. He hasn’t bothered to look up to see what’s going on, too engrossed in the pages of his book . He’ always been a sucker for the words of a classic. I remember he used to read me some of them, though I can’t imagine him remembering any of that.
I snap out of my daze and walk out of the room, mumbling an apology to the woman. I enter the master bedroom and begin fixing up the bed, starting with the pillows. While I’m arranging the covers, I can’t help but bring one of the pillows up to my face to take in the familiar scent. It feels awkward doing so, but the rusty and sweet smell of him is just as comforting as it was all those years ago. Don’t get the wrong idea. This isn’t some sob story about a boy and a girl with a happy ending. He isn’t anything to me other than a reminder of all the shit that I’m not all to excited to recall. He was a neighbour and friend when we were little. Always had his nose dug in a damn book. I feel the corner of my lips pull up into a light smile at the memory and a warmth spreads across my chest.
He used to loaf around outside our small, one-bedroom apartment and he was always asking me to to come with him to some goddamn movie or the other. He always wanted to go to the goddamn movies. It was funny the way he used to ask me, though, always cracked me up when he would get down on both knees and get all puppy-eyed and he would use the softest and the most sincerest of voices to say, “Samantha Rogers, I request the high honour of you accompanying me for this movie.” and then he’d start singing Billy Joel’s Piano Man because he knew that I would say yes if I heard him sing it. Cracked me up every time and it still does. But, damn, that was a long time ago, a decade almost. He isn’t singing any Billy Joel anymore. He isn’t asking me to the movies either.
I plug in the vacuum cleaner and start to push it around as I hum a familiar melody. The noise of the cleaner drowns out my humming, but I keep humming anyway. He seems to be doing alright, you know, happy from what I can tell with the gleaming eyes and toothy smiles of the all the family pictures scattering the walls. He’s got the big, fancy house, cleaners to clean it up, a wifey and a kid that he was always talking about having. Yeah, he told me once about having all this stuff like the beautiful home with a fancy view and a gorgeous wife that he loved more than life and then kids somewhere along the line. I used to listen quietly and imagine him like this, you know living the life that he wanted. I never told him about the kind of life I wanted to have, simply because I had no idea about what I wanted, whereas he seemed so sure about everything. It’s nice to see that he got all he hoped for. It makes me less afraid of hoping for things.
I don’t know what I’m afraid of more. The idea of hoping itself, or having life shatter that hope in a million pieces. I used to be under the impression that hope is the drug that nobody can refuse a dose of, for the fear of going insane if they don’t. I used to think that it’s pointless to hope for things that you know aren’t possible and so I learned to expect the worst and never felt the threat of disappointment. Though I’ve come to realise that doing that is more cowardice than rationality because we are meant to expect something from life after all the shit that we receive from it. Whether we get it or not is not the point, not losing hope is the point because it may be a drug but it’s the only drug that it doesn’t hurt to overdose on. And I guess he realised that way before I did.
I finish dusting up the living room and throw one quick glance at the man still lost in the reality of the pages in front of him, before making my way to the kitchen. He hasn’t noticed me yet. I don’t blame him, it’s been a long time, but a part of me can’t stop hoping that he will look up from his book, flit his eyes towards me and I’ll smile as they widen with surprise and realisation. The rest of me, and the more rational part of me, though is praying that he stays where he is and I can leave before he notices my presence. I don’t want him to see me the way I am in my rugged house-cleaning uniform, cleaning his house. It’s not the embarrassment that I’m afraid of, it’s the pity that I know he will have if he sees me like this. He’s just that kind of guy who will feel pity for you if you are in the shape that I’m in. But it never feels good to be the one being pitied, in fact, I’m sure anyone would rather swallow cat piss than have pitied eyes fall on them, at least I’m sure I would.
I scrub the dishes, still humming to myself as I work. I still have to get to the study and then I can leave. I find it funny, in a way, how so much can change so quickly and in such a drastic way as more and more days pass. It’s also humorous to think about how different life could be if there was one minor detail that could be changed. For me, that was my booze-whore of a father. His speciality was to sit around on the couch in our lousy apartment and yell at me to get him some more whiskey, not to mention his utter doomed fate in gambling. The bastard got us so deep in debt that even if he prostituted himself on a goddamn unicycle, he still wouldn’t have been able to get us out. But that’s not exactly his fault, nobody wants to sleep with a beer-bellied man with a receding hairline and booze-breadth, especially when he’s on a unicycle.
So what did he do? Well, he was a cold-hearted drunken sonuvabitch with no job qualities, no self respect or any respect for that matter, so he wasn’t exactly remorseful when he sold me to a whorehouse. The bastard even picked the location of a whorehouse so far from home that he wouldn’t have to see me again. And just like that, my life was nothing more than a tangible thing in his hands that he no longer required. I always wonder what the boy living next door, now a man reading on the couch in the living room, thought about what had happened to me. Did he wonder where I was? Did he try looking for me? Was he sad that I was gone? Or was he indifferent to my absence? Questions swarm my mind and my legs itch to walk over to him and blurt them all out. I want to know about his life, what he did when I was gone, how he got out of that dump, how his mother was doing, whether his sister still kept in touch and so much more. I want to know so much, but I stay where I am. I don’t move an inch.
He doesn’t need his past following him, like mine is following me now. He doesn’t need to feel weight on his shoulders or any obligation to remember me. Just because my life has been screwed up doesn’t mean I have to screw his up for him. I know he’ll ask and I wouldn’t want to answer but he’ll convince me and he will be sorry and I want to avoid that. Why should he feel sorry when he’s done nothing wrong.
I move to the study, dragging my feet along behind me. I’m just really tired and all I can think of is going home and curling up in my bed and falling asleep, looking out at the sky from my bedroom window. I do that a lot since my filthy excuse of a father sold me away. I just found a sort of comfort in the changing colours. It took me a good five years to get out of that hellhole. It was the same thing everyday. One man after the other, day in and day out. Some of them were nice, they would come in and ask me if I was alright, but you could tell that they wouldn’t really remember the answer the second they were out of the door, but it still felt nice to be asked once in a while. One forgets what’s it like to be cared for in a place like that and I didn’t mind a few reminders.
Anyway, I endured hell for five years, living the teenage dream in a goddamn whorehouse. I couldn’t run, I just couldn’t. I tried but every time I did, I couldn’t figure out where I would go. To my booze hound of a father? to the neighbour who would have long forgotten me? take the life of a homeless beggar on the streets and then live off scrapes or die of starvation? Those seemed to be the only available options and I figured that my best shot at survival was to stay put.
And I was right, well for the time-being. You see, the universe has its funny ways of messing with us. In my case, it designed the perfect kind situation in which the owner of the whorehouse came barging in, with not a scrap of clothing on him, and tried to force himself on me. So in a panic I broke a beer bottle on the side-table over his skull and shoved the sharp end up his guts. Well the rest seems to be a blur, but there was a trial involved and I presented the story of my life to the jury and for once the pity played in my favour. So that was that. It’s not exactly the kind of memory that I get all too steamed up to go back to, but then again, I don’t have all too many to get too steamed up to recall either.
I’ve been cleaning up houses and apartments for a while now. It’s a job that I managed to land after the trial and it surprised the hell out of me that anybody would be willing to hire me given my “resume”, but that’s life I suppose; you’re always surprised by the way it turns out. I was once told that everything happens for a reason and there’s the funny bit. How can every tiny detail in life be backed by a reason for occurring the way it did? The simple answer: they can’t be. The small things don’t always have a reason behind them but they always add up to become a reason for something big that happens in life, things that you keep with you forever. I don’t know if that makes sense but I’m not going to break my neck explaining it. All you need to know is that if something bad happens to you, it’s probably going to lead up to something big, something that will topple your world upside down, maybe for the better, maybe for the worse. The point is, you can’t be too bummed about it because you might miss the good things that life has to offer.
A smile invades my lips when I see a 1930s smith-corona typewriter sitting on the desk. Should’ve guessed the sonuvabitch would become a goddamn writer with the way he used to tell me his stories all the time and how he always had the right words to make me smile. He had this gleam in his eye when he read them to you like he was lost in a different reality of his own creation. You could see the story writing itself before his eyes and your ears always yearned for more. You never got tired of listening to him. He had you under a daze with the words he used, the voice in which he spoke, the expressions that clouded his face, he could have you enthralled within a matter of moments. That was the best part; being so captivated in his world that you forget your own and just make his reality yours.
There are hardbacks and paperbacks strewn all across the room. I can picture him sitting on that armchair, reading Salinger’s Franny and Zooey and then suddenly getting an itch to re-read that one line from E.E cummings, putting the book down on the floor beside the chair and walking to the shelf to pick up another classic and revisit the pages, promising himself to return to the one he was reading before. He’s always been the funny character, always cracking me up even though I’m just picturing him, like one of those in his stories. I pick up the books, quite a few of them at the same time, ready to arrange them on the shelf in alphabetical order by the authors’ names and not the names of the books themselves and then subdividing them in the order of the years in which they were published just the way he used to, when I hear someone clear their throat behind me. My mind screams at me to stay put in position, knowing who it is that stands at the door, but I will myself to turn my head anyway.
He has his arms crossed and he leans his weight on the doorframe with his right leg crossed over the left. His brown hair is tousled in a clump, his thin-framed glasses are perched on the bridge of his nose and his lips pursed in a straight line. He looks much more mature since the last time I gave his face a proper look, but the childish mischief is still there, you could see it in his eyes if you looked long enough. There is the familiar curiosity that is hinted in the slight arch of one of his eyebrows and the slack demeanour in the way he leans.
“Yes?” I say, “may I help you?” These are the first words that I’ve said to him in almost ten years of seeing him. Sometimes you just can’t make a moment memorable, no matter how well you plan it in your head.
I look for a sign of recognition in his face but there isn’t any, when he says, ” You don’t need to do this room.” His voice is stern and sharp. You can tell that he’s reticent by the way he talks and the way he holds himself.
Not even a single hint of recall in his eyes. I sigh inwardly and nod in response. I put the books down on his desk and walk out of the room, crossing him on the way. I wait for something, anything but it isn’t there. I look at him one last time but I can see that he doesn’t see anyone familiar. I want to deny it but it’s just too damn obvious to not to confirm it. I want to come up with excuses, but how can there be any way around the simple fact that’s plain in front of me. I want to be blind, but even then I’d be able to see the truth that has made itself so damn visible. He doesn’t remember me. I wasn’t hoping for him to not notice me because I didn’t want his pity, I was hoping that because I wanted to avoid this exact situation. I wanted to avoid the loss of the little hope that had managed to seep its way through. I guess, avoiding it wouldn’t’ve made any of this any easier, either.
Can’t exactly blame the man, can I? But then, who do I blame for this? I could blame the bastard who sold me, I could blame my fate, I could blame the entire universe for being so crappy towards me or I could blame myself. You always want someone to blame, don’t you? You always need to find a way to make it lesser of your fault than it actually is. But how do you blame someone else when you know it’s not going to help you? Who do you blame to make yourself feel a little less worse? Will that help? Will it make the pain any more bearable? I don’t know the answers to these questions and I haven’t bothered to find out either. I’ll let you know if I have something, though I won’t hold my breath if I were you.