He looked down from the large window of his room. There were people milling in the street below, appearing to be ants from the height he was standing at. His workplace was right opposite. Looking up, he saw the symbol of his employer branded permanently in the evening sky. He had invested his best years and considerable intellectual capabilities to ensure that symbol kept glowing. It was the reason he lived where he did.
The urge to move had first arisen seven years ago. The lure of success had started to make the daily, arduous journey home seem like a worthless waste of time. As the boundaries between work and life had begun to blur, he found it incessantly difficult to decide where he wanted to be more. After much deliberation, he decided that the logo symbolised everything powerful enough to make him relinquish the house that built him. That was when he had moved.
It turned out to be a masterstroke. He had been announced as the youngest partner in his firm’s long, illustrious history yesterday.
His employer was one of those behemoths that had a presence in most countries and was universally recognised. It was a matter of prestige to be working there. One landed employment only after going through laborious tests and processes. It was very competitive. Earning promotions too was a big struggle in that dog eat dog environment. However, he had managed to do that repeatedly and with consummate ease to be where he was today. He looked at the symbol and the people below him and allowed himself a satisfied, smug grin.
He knew he wasn’t like the other people who worked in that building. He was neither a tool for corporate slave drivers nor loud, flashy or good at “selling himself”. He hadn’t been for sale, ever. Nevertheless he made sure everyone, quietly at first and then with explosive rapidity, noticed him for his intelligence, his ability to work for unbelievably long hours and his consistency in providing extraordinary results. Soon his opinion became one required to be reckoned with. There were quite a few double takes on the announcement of his promotion over older, more experienced candidates (especially by the candidates themselves) but there were no murmurs of discontentment. No one believed that he didn’t deserve it.
He, on the other hand, was not surprised at all. He had carefully plotted his ascension with years of planning and hard work. He had ensured he developed subordinates into full-fledged work machines, met targets with an efficiency that frightened his peers and meticulously calculated each promotion and double promotion through negotiations with his superiors. He had turned himself into a personification of everything that his firm stood for and so he knew that the ultimate advancement to his career was near.
It had finally come yesterday through a short surreal meeting with most of the existing partners of the firm. He had been inundated with congratulatory messages ever since. They had even arranged for a party for him later in the night. He leaned back in his chair and let the wave of contentment sweep over him.
But as he lay for a while, he realised that his joy was not absolute. There was a vexation he felt each time he took a moment to slow down and contemplate. When he analysed the toll his work had taken on his personal relations, his sense of achievement felt dented.
His existence had been haunted by a cloud of solitude for longer than he cared to remember. He had met and been in relationships with women from his office. But each of those connections was invariably severed prematurely due to professional jealousy and insecurities. He had been in many violent arguments about him prioritising work over them. Some had even gone to the lengths of inducing proximity due to his growing stature in the organisation. He always saw through them too late and had suffered much heartbreak due to that reason. Soon, he began to avoid romantic associations altogether.
He didn’t have any friends either. There were a few people who he spoke to and had cordial relations with. They were people who he would chat with about sports or politics over quick cups of coffee. But those people never stuck around (mainly because he didn’t let them).
The ones out of them who did voluntarily seek him out were those who knew that he could get things done for them. They disgusted him. It had been a while since he took to eating lunches alone and dodging parties on one pretext or the other. The same “friends” were throwing him the huge bash to celebrate his success. He let out a huge sigh of exasperation. He wished he could find an excuse to not have to go among that crowd of selfish strangers. He really felt out of place sometimes.
It wasn’t as if he had not tried to fit in. He had. He had tried to befriend and to conform to the warped definition of what was being passed as normal. He had even succeeded in pretending to some degree. He was very capable at making people like him. Whoever he met seemed to be envious of his sharp intellect, his obvious penchant for humour and the ease with which he glided through the ethanol-fuelled phantasmagoria that they paraded as parties. Nobody hid their admiration or refrained from passing compliments to him.
But the envy other people showered only heightened his feeling of isolation and non-fulfilment. Their admiration came to him as loud bursts of sycophancy. He didn’t feel superior and proud when newcomers told him how they looked up to him and dreamt of becoming like him one day. He thought it was comical. The waking blind’s reliance on sleeping dreams often incited ironical amusement inside his head. He thought of them as fools perpetually lavishing vulgar, denial-ridden fantasies upon themselves.
Or it might be the fact that for a shrewd observer, his struggle with rudimentary questions that even the less discerning had answered with reams of “plans” and “dreams” was discomposing. To be conscious of his inadequacies and the more cavernous ones of happier people made him feel worse. He might see things more clearly, but he felt more lost than they did. He didn’t know where he was supposed to go from here. He had achieved everything he had set out to achieve. He didn’t have anyone to share his next set of dreams with now.
He got up to shake off the unease. He lit a joint and began to wander the confines of his room. There was an obsessive cleanliness around him. The stack of books kept on the floor due to a lack of an empty shelf too had a surgical geometry to it, the spines arranged in a wave of rainbow colours. He often found escape in books or smoke. A combination of seeking truths and a fumigation of reality seemed to restore lucidness for a while. They detached him from the pervasive ugliness of his life and helped him transcend to something prepossessing.
But as he had been growing older he found lesser and lesser time for the bound stacks of paper he loved so dearly. He had to literally eke out periods where he could clear his head from work and find some time to read. His sacrifice of personal time for a career combined with a continuously growing affinity with technology saw him shift his required interruptions of reality from books to films. The lure of celluloid dreams was so intense that soon that remained his only hobby, and one that he protected with ferocity.
Everything about films enthralled him. They appealed to his idea of intelligence and aesthetics. He would often zone out during boring meetings and last through them only by reminiscing about the wonderful magic he had witnessed on his television screen the night before. Films were stories narrated in a manner that was tight, taut, imaginative and filled with wondrous techniques and skills that he knew he could never comprehend completely. He loved the background scores, the cinematography, the distinct storytelling style each director had, basically everything. They made him feel the same sense of wonder that children feel in a toy store.
Most of all, he admired the actors. He would relate to each and every character that appeared on screen in a way he could never do with the people he met in the physical world. Some of his girlfriends had teased him about the fact that most of his best friends were fictional. He knew they were right. His personality was rife with idiosyncrasies that made him seem aloof, rude and “weird” to most people in the real world. The characters that appeared on screen mirrored the same characteristics. They made him feel like he belonged.
Lately, he had been endeavouring to decipher what it took it took to portray darker minds on screen. Watching Heath Ledger’s Joker had aroused his interest. He knew that it must take a very special and tormented man to portray such controlled madness. He didn’t know how the actor didn’t lose himself. He often wondered how Heath Ledger had any friends.
He had watched the film over and over again, pondering on what it must have taken to develop for a role of such complexity. He had read every available article about his preparation. He had begun to revere the man. That was until the man had killed himself.
He had been devastated when he had heard about Heath Ledger’s demise. But after he got over the initial shock and denial, his brain had automatically begun to dissect and analyze what must have been going through the actor’s mind.
He knew that Ledger was an insomniac but he refused to believe even for a moment the “accidental drug overdose” explanation. He had read on one of the conspiracy theory sites that Ledger had maintained a diary while preparing his role as the joker. The last entry in the diary was a cryptic, unexplained “goodbye”. He conjectured that Ledger must have thought that he would never be able to match what he had just created. He thought that the actor must have been thinking about killing himself after staring into the abyss so deeply. Artists tend to overthink anyway.
He himself had also given a lot of thought to how he wanted his life to end. He knew that he would like it to be quick, painless and if possible on his own terms. On days after particularly bad breakups or tough days at work, he had come back home and slept to sedatives. The release that he obtained from these had led him research painless ways of dying. The Internet was his good ally and preparedness was never an area he lagged in.
Even now there was a tab open on his home computer’s browser enumerating a large number of medicines that that could liberate him from his loneliness and misery. He knew that in India, he could easily obtain the drugs he required over the counter without any questions asked or eyebrows raised. It was only a matter of convenience that he had not used the suggestions on that webpage as yet.
The buzzing of his phone on the table made him come out of his own head and check the time. He realised that he was expected to be with his colleagues in a very short while. He was slightly annoyed by the fact that he would have to get ready in a hurry. He hated having to hurry for other people’s benefit but made sure he was never late.
He got off from his bed and emptied the ashtray in the dustbin. While turning his computer’s screen off he left the tab open. Just in case he required it in the future. Then he got dressed and plastered his killer smile for the party.
He was going to make a killing from tomorrow 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 New York Boiler Room set.
Link to the other Darkside story.