The story of a man that was trapped in paths that did not lead to other people...
|David wrapped his frozen hands around a scorching hot cup of coffee, and picked it up from the counter after having paid the waitress. Still in his heavy winter jacket, he pulled a chair and sat down at a corner table overlooking the life-teeming yet somehow dull and predictable street. He carefully peeled the cheap plastic lid, drew the cup closer to his face, and took in the rich odour that was slowly rising from the steaming liquid. He was in no hurry. Buses came and went, two perpendicular lines of cars drove through the intersection, always one going and one standing. They illuminated the drab grey street outside in white and red; mostly red. People walked by his table on the other side of the glass, either alone and in a hurry to get out of the cold, or in groups or pairs, walking more slowly, conversing with each other. People came and went from the coffee-shop. A waitress in her mid-twenties was mopping a stubborn stain off the floor, sporadically alerting passers-by to the slippery floor. He liked the feel of the hot coffee slowly finding its way down to his stomach, sip by sip, while watching how the world carried out its existence independently of him.
He usually came here after work, or at night when he was tired of reading or watching TV in his apartment, which was on the eighth floor of that same building. It was his first rented place in the big city. He thought, when he first came here six years ago from a smallish town north-west of there having graduated from university, that he’d find himself something nicer with time, but he grew accustomed to the bachelor pad, and the rent was also reasonable. He could, in fact, easily afford a higher standard of living, being a junior accountant in a large firm, but the reality was that he saw no need for it.
He lived in a second-rate world; the world of observing life from the side. He figured it out not too long ago, although deep inside he always suspected it was the case. He was never popular as a kid in school, and mostly kept to himself. The quiet type; the kid who stayed to read in recess, or aimlessly stroll the playground, digging up dirt with the soles of his running shoes, waiting for the bell to sound again. He got used to taking long walks in the city, especially over the weekends, when it was sunny and staying inside became unbearable, but it was too cold for that now. Being a keen observer, he took notice of the routes different people took when they were walking, and also the places those people tended to end up in. That’s how he finally came to his discovery that the world was at base divided up into two completely separate realities. He likened it to two vastly intricate webs of barely distinguishable forest trails of two Indian tribes, located in the same forest, where neither tribe was aware of the web of trails the other had. Not that this depiction is in any way realistic, but it’s the best he could come up with.
There were two kinds of routes people took, and two kinds of places those routes led them to. Following people around the city, taking great care he was never detected, he constructed a mind-map of those two realities. Along street pavements and winding park trails, in the office and in his apartment building, the two types of routes were very subtly geographically distinct from each other. Even inside the coffee shop, after hours of long observation, he learned to distinguish between the two. One type of routes ferried people between their apartments, the restaurants they frequented—and the ones they tried out but didn’t like—movie theatres and playhouses, and finally to other cities where those routes would connect a similar net of locations. This web of routes and places they have led to and from, David realized, was the reality of people who were living life as it came to them.
His reality was different. The routes he took had one distinction: they did not geographically converge with the routes of others. His whole life he has been walking up and down pathways that no-one else shared. Nobody else treaded the same web of passageways he was using. He felt that all communication with other people was done from a distance; one world to another. Just like shouting over a deep crevasse or a fast stream you could not cross. There were other people like him, he realized, whose web of routes, and the places it led them to, was not connected to anyone else’s, but it was of little interest to him.
What was of interest to him was that other world, where the web of routes led to other people. When he was taking his long walks, he always looked for places those two webs might overlap. He figured it should be on a busy street, where people were brushing past each other in a great hurry at rush hours; or perhaps in a park, on a patch of grass, where borders were not delineated, and people chose seemingly random paths. But for several years now, he could find no place where that happened. It was perfectly engineered, so it seemed, in such a way so that the two webs of routes never actually came into contact with each other.
Finally, he finished his coffee and all that was left was the sweet gooey residue at the bottom of the cup. Ahead of him waited an evening of pleasant reading (he was in the middle of Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker series) and then later on a drama series about a hospital would be on, and he intended on watching it. Perhaps he could even try a new recipe for dinner. He got up slowly, picked up the empty paper cup in one hand, and the plastic lid in the other, and started heading towards the exit, where the garbage can was also located. It was a well rehearsed route and he wasn’t paying much attention to his immediate surroundings. The girl who was mopping the floor had put a yellow triangle in the place where the stain was, and was now busy behind the counter. At the screeching sound of his boot, she looked up gasped with horror as the twenty-something man she so frequently saw here, in his heavy winter jacket and carrying the cup and lid from his coffee in each hand, stepped into the heart of the puddle with his right foot, abruptly slipped forwards, then sideways, and clumsily collapsed on the floor with a loud thud, nearly missing a table with the back of his head. The other customers stared at him, frozen in their seats.
“My god!” She yelled and rushed towards him. David was lying motionless on the hard marble floor, some blood oozing from an open cut on the back of his head. Somebody had dialed 911, and in a matter of minutes an ambulance was rushing him to the hospital.
It took him a few minutes to collect the blurry jumble of lines and shapes to a picture of a hospital room. He tried lifting his head to survey his surroundings, but a sharp spasm of pain sent him back to unconsciousness. After a while, he opened his eyes again, and the picture assembled itself much faster this time. When he tried moving his head, he felt pain but it was bearable this time. He was in the trauma ward of a hospital, and the nurse was just starting her round. When she saw him, she immediately rushed toward him.
“Please be still! You shouldn’t move your head! I’ll call the doctor.”
After a minute or so a middle aged doctor arrived, dressed in a white robe and a stethoscope slung around his neck.
“Mr. Lerner, can you hear me?” David barely nodded. “Good. You’ve been out for the last 20 hours… you’ll have to rest now and when you’re feeling better we can do some tests on you. But perhaps you’d like to see Lauren first for a minute or two; she’s been waiting here for the past three hours?”
David was puzzled. He barely knew anyone in the city, and try as he might, he couldn’t recall anyone by that name. Besides, it was very difficult to concentrate at the moment. He just stared at the balding doctor in puzzlement, unable to form a question.
“Good! It’s settled then, I’ll let her in for a minute or two, and then you can rest.” He said with a faint wink in his tone. “Please show her the way, Margie, and give him a mild tranquilizer afterwards,” he addressed himself to the nurse.
Soon afterwards, the nurse led the girl next to David’s bed, and disappeared. At first he couldn’t recognize her, but then it dawned on him: it was the girl from the coffee-shop, the one who was mopping the floor the other night.
“Hi,” she said in a soft voice, slightly embarrassed at the fact of being there. “I thought I’d pay you a visit. After all, I guess I’m also partially responsible for this,” and she looked about the room, “whole incident,” she finished abruptly, and looked at him. He was physically unable to respond.
“It’s good to see that you woke up… David,” she was mumbling. After a short pause, she continued, “I’ll come to see you tomorrow after my shift, right now Dr. Schechter said you need to rest. By the way, my name is Lauren. Goodbye then.” And she left.
He couldn’t help but smile. The throbbing pain did not interest him at the moment, since he realized that last night he had accidentally slipped into a different web of paths, one which leads to other people.