A short story about life.
I have lived in this city for too long. And on this issue there are no two opinions. When I woke up every morning, I saw the same faces. I had read somewhere that when you stand in a certain place, you seem to merge with your surroundings. I vowed that I would not let that happen to me, but here the years went by and I had accomplished nothing. Except to finish school.
I'm sure others felt the same way, being forced to take the subway to work, or maybe the streetcar. Sleepy mornings banish fears and give strength for a new beginning. It's just how the system works.
A person's biggest delusion is when he decides inwardly that he can cheat it, and a little while later, everyday life rushes back at him with all its greyness.
But where am I? I am standing all alone on a wooden table, with my arms round my head. The room is quiet and peaceful. Before I lost my job I at least felt part of this community. A special form of mimicry when you don't know what you're going to do next.
I was the top of my class at school and everyone, even though they hated me, fought for my attention. I've always thought that this institution builds a distorted view in people and hinders them in life.
Quite a few of my classmates worked most of the time. Others even dropped out quite early. And I stubbornly stayed and took all my exams with excellent marks. A little later, I clearly realized that our common work connected us more than anything else. When it was over, we parted.
That was until the Tuesday night before a dull autumn last year. Each of us had to participate in some kind of charity or community service activity - that way we could justify our presence. My friends would make fun of me and ask if I could do nothing but scrub plates?
Actually, yes. I loved to fight. I did it an average of two or three times a week and usually came out the winner. But I soon realised that it was stupid because it was of no use to anyone.
But not to digress - others go their own way and fight, and I'm so straightforward.
In the evening, walking around town, I noticed a sign scrawled with teenage carelessness - "Are you the last souls in this grey and boring town?" The message stung me a little. I knew it was true. It had been a long time since I'd felt the romance of wandering around this part of town.
One can't be at school all one's life.
It wasn't long before I ran into a man with a severed leg who told me "I have a family and I'm going to them! You can't live here anymore." His story sounded plausible given that there are all kinds of scammers. How could this street beggar be any different? I felt sorry for him and left the coin in his hands.
The next morning I just got up and said to myself, "I have to go!" But could I escape myself?
I gathered my things and realized it was the city's fault for becoming a part of me and my fault for not becoming a part of it. But where were my former friends? Everyone was stuck in a different part of the world.
I decided to somehow fit back into the grey and boring everyday life. I wander around these squares again - now empty. Mute witnesses of another time.
Suddenly someone turned to me:
- "Remember me from school?," the voice sounded friendly.
- " Maybe!," I replied, a little nervously.
- "Are you at work?," was my first question.
- "No," was the answer, "After the corona virus we were made redundant. This pandemic turned out to be a real nightmare."
I turned around and looked at the eyes of the man across from me, but they seemed so expressionless. It seemed like an eternity had passed. Honestly, I didn't remember if we had ever really been classmates. I felt a strange awkwardness, but I tried to hide it. My interlocutor was hardly aware of the nightmare I was living in myself.
- "What are you doing now?," I asked, as much to keep the conversation going.
- "I've gone on an enforced holiday," the faceless man replied.
I'm playing it great actor. Just a little more and he'll leave me located. Then I suddenly remembered and asked him:
- And what are your intentions for later?
- "Well, nothing in particular," he replied calmly, "I'm going to try to get a job."
We part politely. And everyone goes his own way.
I walk without direction. I have no idea what to do next. Definitely the school is inculcating wrong values. I live like a dream. I still have something to eat. But I feel that somehow I am out of place. It's not that I don't work - I just feel it. I'm out there somewhere. One of many, not one among many.
Do I have to be like a leper every time I meet someone? Sometimes we have to do unpleasant things too, don't we?
I'm coming home again. Today was a wasted day, but tomorrow I must surely solve my problems.
Suddenly there was a knock on the door. I decisively opened it and there was no one there. Apparently I was dreaming, despite the fact that I was awake. Then the inner voice spoke to me "Get up and do something! Now!"
Somewhere in the darkness, a siren's wail could be heard. Perhaps an ambulance was picking up another ragged soul in this town. How sad! May it was getting more complicated every day!
I was just about to go to bed when I saw a noose hanging from the ceiling, but it was empty. I rolled my eyes to banish the insidious vision.
After that incident, I made the decision to get out for good. I packed my bags and shuffled silently into the street. I left the city behind.
In fact, if one hitchhiked, one could go far. Down eighty-ninth highway some people walked too infrequently. Moreover, the region was too sparsely populated, which was practically fine with me.
I knew someone would just pick me up anyway. It was hot. And the dusk was looming around, but I wasn't scared of wildlife at all. Well, maybe just a tiny bit. I think that's quite all right.
Anyone who has driven around this state knows all too well what I'm talking about. So I'll try to avoid unnecessary descriptive detail. I'll just mention that the heat is annoyingly murderous even when you think it should be cold.
The sad melody drifting through the suburbs I leave behind is nothing more than one last nagging reminder of an inevitable break with the past.
Sometimes I feel like I can detect a devilish whisper in the wheat that sways not far away in the field, but I keep moving forward nonetheless. Everything merges before my eyes.
I begin to feel sick. I don't remember having eaten in the evening. Everything is a bit confused for me. Except for the image of a gallows swinging before my eyes. Pretty corny, but nauseating. Is this what I deserve after all these years?
I feel like a child who has entered the illusory world of adults, but not in the right way.
Highway eighty-nine winds down and disappears seemingly into infinity. Hardly anyone particularly cares where exactly it ends. I don't recall any of my friends ever telling me if they ever got to the end. However, when I think about it, I feel I should be more careful because there are definitely coyotes in this area. I have heard their howls from afar. They have a habit of sneaking up stealthily, surrounding their prey. But no sound is reaching me right now.
My confused mind paints pictures that make me feel sick. Who really needed a dreamer like me?
Each step was naturally interesting and brought me closer to my goal. There far ahead perhaps lay the secret of it all. I felt I was going in the right direction. Sorrow seemed to disappear and I gained new strength with which to fight. Yes, I definitely had to do it!
I walked with all my strength, looking like a drowning man trying to grasp an invisible straw that slipped from between his fingers every time.
I strained my memory to recall my previous acquaintances. But all that remained in my mind were pale copies of them, fading in and out, individual details of their physiognomies sometimes standing out. Everything was falling into place. Maybe I'm starting to grow up too!
After a while I stopped at a sign by the side of the road. According to some rumors, it was over two thousand miles long, which meant it crossed roughly the entire country. I wasn't sure how fast I could get to the nearest settlement. Did you know I always wanted to go to Arizona? This place appeals to me with the opportunity to be alone with myself! I don't want to force anyone to accept my presence. Sometimes it becomes quite difficult even for myself to tolerate. I just want to stand alone in the middle of nowhere!
I definitely had to choose one of the two forks. But which was the right one?
After some thought, I decided to take the left-hand path anyway, but it wasn't driven by any affinity for that direction - it was just that one arrow was smaller than the other. And somehow it seemed friendlier.
I took off. Again, nothing interesting. Only the emptiness seemed much greater. I could feel the light breeze blowing and quickly understood why some described this road as the most scenic in the states.
Come to think of it, my personal life is a complete mess. I've had four marriages. None were successful. At least I didn't go to jail. Somehow I don't get along with people. Maybe I'd be lying in a two-by-two cell where I could hear the sound of my own breathing. An interminable remedial course in a not very pleasant place. Alone and quiet - well insulated from all the mess outside. It would be a lifesaver for my battered soul. I've even wondered if I didn't make all these friendships for the sole purpose of finding some sort of guidance in my life. It's a bit overwhelming, honestly!
All the vegetation around here is no longer those little wheat stands, and the soil seems dry and cracked. In the middle of nowhere, a house springs up. Its outline looks like thick smoke in a rough marsh. It's definitely not attractive.
A man is standing on the porch. Just another old man wondering what to do and how to make a living on his meager income. But he doesn't seem bothered at all and doesn't even notice me.
After a while I pass him. Somewhere in the distance the outline of something interesting starts to grow. In front of me there is a resemblance of a small grove. It's too sparse, but in the middle I can see the traces of a totem - a real Indian totem.
I am filled with laughter. I would never have stuck it right there. Even the very idea of it seems ridiculous to me. The strange find isn't too far from the little house I left behind.
I laughed heartily. Of course it had wings and all those weird faces on it. It wasn't very big maybe about fifty or sixty centimeters, but it was placed up high so that it could be seen from a distance.
I stood and watched it. And then I laughed. Apparently this was how the old man had decided to kill the much free time he had. And he didn't care about anything at all. Then I turned around and just walked back to the town that didn't want me.
- "Where were you headed, young man?," he jokingly beckoned to me.
- "I was trying to find myself," I replied.
- "Was he that lost?," he laughed.
- "You see," I spoke to him unconsciously in You.
- Things are simpler than they seem. Only the wisest will arrive at the truth in the end.
The old man was smoking one of those old-time pipes you used to find around the Middle States. He reminded me a little of Sherlock Holmes. His face was sunken in the gloom, and his legs were stretched forward into nothingness, as if he were about to ah-ha down some invisible slide.
- "Where do you know where I'm headed?," I asked him, a little cheekily.
- "Well, let's just say I've been following you for a while," he laughed.
How comfortable he had made himself on the porch. There was neither dog nor gun beside him. Everything was just idyllic.
- "What's your totem for," I asked.
- "For fun," was the reply.
"What a whim!" thought I.
My interlocutor seemed to read my mind.
- In fact, you chose the wrong direction. You should have gone where your heart led you, not your mind. The mind has a tendency to go astray.
The dusk had fallen and I listened to him as if spellbound.
- "You can't go back either," he went on in a monotone. - "But you might ask yourself why I came to this point."
To tell you the truth I didn't know what to answer. I stood there looking at him like a complete idiot. It was definitely awkward listening to the guidance of such an elderly man. It was extremely uncomfortable. Still, I had dignity. Or maybe I didn't? And what should I have done in your opinion?
I nodded silently. His lecture lasted over ten minutes, but he gave a lot of practical advice.
- You have to open your mind again. Otherwise every new city will seem black to you and no one will accept you anywhere.
I blinked for just a second. When I opened my eyes there was no sign of the house. Only the totem was laughing at me. I tried to walk back. But no matter how hard I walked, it was as if an invisible hand was pulling me the whole time. I could feel that something was holding me back.
I looked back to where he had been a moment before - he was gone.
I thought about it and made my decision. There was no going back. I couldn't go right either, as the road diverged far into the mountains. Then I got really scared. I closed my eyes again and heard the old man's voice.
- "There, you've figured out the most important part," he muttered with slight reluctance. - "Now you should move on."
- "I'm not sure which way, though," I muttered.
- It doesn't really matter that much - as long as you really imagine that you want to get there.
- "Then I want to be back where I've lived all my life," I replied, without giving it much thought.
- "Well, all right, since you don't have any doubts about your future," the old man coughed slightly and paused briefly, "remember that you've met me and what I've told you."
I opened my eyes and woke up in my bed. The clock seemed to have frozen. The window was slightly open. There was a car horn somewhere far below. I ran my hand across my forehead. Sweat trickled down my cheekbones. The answer was so simple and I kept feeling like it was different.
I vowed to put the old man's words into practice. As a boy, I loved to jump off the roofs of buildings. It filled me with life, but made my parents' hair stand on end.
Without thinking much I threw myself out the window. I had still retained my reflexes and just landed on my feet on the adjacent roof of a house that was more than four feet away from my own. I must have made an unimaginable noise, but somewhere in there I felt the boy in me awaken. I was ready to live and make a fresh start. Maybe the old man was right. If you feel with your heart and really want to get somewhere, the path you choose will always be right.
I took a circuitous route home having known beforehand that I would not please the evildoer. For the first time, I enjoyed my dinner. The sun had already begun to rise. I didn't know what tomorrow would bring, but I was looking forward to it.