He lived in one of those dilapidated buildings that sprout up when no one is noticing. His room stood at the end of a dank corridor only half filled with light. The sparse illumination was accompanied by intermittent sounds of fluctuations from the faulty bulbs. It was raining outside and a dripping wall had created a puddle that seeped in from under his door. It brought along a suffocating mustiness.
Lying on the hard, damp floor of this room he stared at the splintered, white ceiling. The blankness of the white paint resonated with his recognition of the futility of existence. He had no one he could talk to about his newfound sense of awareness. His own existence was haunted by a cloud of solitude for longer than he cared to remember. He had been living alone for seven years now.
It was all those years ago that he had abandoned his tiny village and family in the hope of tonier neighbourhoods. His time at home was characterised by parents constantly remonstrating with him about his “silly fixations” and trying to talk him out of his “juvenile tendencies”. He never paid heed to any of their concerns and disagreed vehemently with every point they made. Their rebukes antagonised him to no end. In youth’s arrogance and hotheadedness, they appeared to him narrow minded and dull-witted.
One day, after a particularly tempestuous altercation, the nagging got too much to take. He knew he was not meant to be a farm boy all his life and they did not have the foresight to understand that. He knew that he was destined for greater things, for stardom, and simpletons cannot be taken into confidence during dialogues with destiny. That same night he surreptitiously snuck out with a bag and their money, and without as much as a goodbye.
The promised tryst with fate never occurred (he did not have the faculties to decipher the ways in which it did, everyday) and his search failed miserably. Life had been way tougher than anticipated. His time in the city was summarised by compromises, rejections and dejection. He was often forced to take up odd jobs to pay the rent and if possible, arrange for dinner. Falling asleep hungry was customary. After all this hardship, he would have gladly traded city life for working at the farm again. But he couldn’t go back now. He was too ashamed and uncertain about his own people accepting him.
He was too proud a person to return anyway. Back home, he was somebody. He had friends; people who listened to what he had to say, who laughed at his jokes and who thought he was smart and charming. There was even a girl who he thought was his girlfriend. He used to be bold and confident. It was precisely because of that erstwhile swagger that he could not bear to go back. Retracting would be an acceptance of defeat to all those people who looked up to him (or disagreed with him). A revulsion of lesser people’s condescension is an atypical motivator. So he carried on.
But no amount of deluded pride stopped him from accepting the fact that he hated it here. He had come to the city with a lot of hope but it had gone from being a place of dreams to one that scared him. It was cold, overcrowded and most inexplicably, refused to notice him.The indifference was unlike anything he had imagined.
In the metropolis he wasn’t a hero, just an extra body hanging onto straps of trains so that it didn’t fall down. After having spent time some observing, he had become well versed with the way of the townie. The only advantage of that vaunted thing, experience, was that he could now notice that strangers (the kind he aspired to become) treated him like an inconvenience. His experience taught him that he was a failure.
It wasn’t like he had not tried. He still tried a lot. He had attempted to befriend and fit the warped definition of what was being passed as normal. He endeavoured to infiltrate the groups of people he thought were stylish, sincere and accepting. He strained to learn their ways and become like them so that he would be a natural part of their lives. He succeeded in being happy for a minuscule duration, or at least in pretending that he was.
But those people started disappearing, mostly after startling revelations of debts and failure. A tiny few began avoiding him as an immediate precursor to their wild celebrations of success. He lost either money or face each time, but losing a little bit of ego remained consistent throughout. Eventually, he realised that no one here could be trusted. He resolved to shun other people, congregate solemnity and amass a huge fortune. His prosperity would teach them a lesson and would prove a point to detractors and backstabbers.
He traversed the vast distance from the past to the present and looked around his room. The entirety of his belongings, barring the thin mattress rolled under his head, were contained in a single trunk. That one short gaze told him a lot. He discerned that he was never going to be famous or achieve his definition of happiness. No one was going to point at his house or assume postures outside his building for photographs (like they did outside stars’ residences). He knew that wreckages with seepage and overgrowth did not make for attractive pictures. As the magnitude of his realisations washed over him, he couldn’t stop a tear from escaping his eye.
He had been weeping a lot recently. His life had been reduced to days of painful introspection and frustrating incomprehension. He had been grappling for answers for a long time. The ever-increasing inventory of questions obstructed any sleep that would saunter his way mistakenly. His eyes stung and back ached. He always felt sleepless, giddy and lightheaded. Thanks to that drowsy lightheadedness (and mostly to escape it), he had determined his course of action. He resolved to conclude the painful labor of waking up daily. The allure of going through the day over and over again did not captivate him anymore. He decided to surrender and take his final bow.
He had read newspaper articles about people who committed suicide. He read and reread each and every grisly detail. He wanted to know what they did, how they did it, their reasons and the impact their final, definitive act had. He wondered whether they were cognisant of being heard, spoken and thought of; of finally being famous. Maybe he too would write an explosive letter in memory and imitation of all such doomed celebrities. He looked at the old rusty fan that hadn’t worked for a long time now. He had often haggled with his landlord over it. He was glad that he could ultimately put it to some use.
He was admiring the antediluvian, unstirring symmetry and staunchness of the fan when a drop of water leaked from the ceiling onto his forehead. That made him drop out of his dreary deliberations about death. All of a sudden he sat up, shook his head and thought about what he was thinking. As soundness returned, he realised that this was madness. He would never have the courage to do that to himself and others. They would be devastated if he killed himself. An involuntary shudder escaped him, partly due to his soaked clothes and mostly due to a debilitating fear of what might have happened if he wasn’t a sensible man.
He lifted himself off the floor and walked lazily towards the mirror hanging on the wall over the sink. He looked at his reflection with an enthusiast’s appreciation, smiled and heaved a sigh of relief again. He dragged a wet comb through his head and decided to leave for work. The deranged, depressing thoughts stayed away when he kept himself occupied. As he departed, he double-checked to make sure he locked the door behind him.
He had recently started wiping the floor and tables in a small, insignificant restaurant. Over time, he had begun to double up as a waiter during the morning and evening rush. He knew he was adept at his job because he would seldom mess the orders up. He quite liked it at the restaurant because they were granted the delicious, leftover food every night. The compensation was satisfactory. He was extremely pleased with himself for having the shrewdness for landing such an agreeable appointment. He decided that he wanted to own a restaurant one day.
The only thing he didn’t like was his boss, who unfortunately was the man who owned the restaurant. He kept screaming about idling, taking the wrong order or leaving tables dirty. It was absolutely unbearable. Lately he had been giving him hell for reporting late to work. He checked the time as he descended the stairs and hurried his pace a little. He jogged onto the street and then waded into last night’s collected rain. As he moved among the crowd towards their collective destination, his only thought (just like everyone else) was to have a good day in tips.
He had to make a living after all.
PS- Darkside is a New York band comprising of Nicolas Jaar and Dave Harrington. They make some beautiful music.
Link to Darkside’s EP.
Link to Darkside’s KEXP performance.
Link to other Darkside story.