At 6, when I come awake, the night broods in stale blackness. Gone are the thrills of the fresh nightfall. Electric lights equal electric shock. Many months of treatment later, I am still not used to it.
Freshly shocked, this is not the time for sensitivities.
At 6:35 I stare at the elevator door already impatient.
Once on board, my descent is paused just two floors down. A 20-year old ginger-head enters. Shoulders up to his ears, chin below his collar bone, hands clenched in his pockets, I have never seen eyes on him.
Shaggy and miserable, his stance forbids seeing, but I look at him. A stench of rancid cooking oil wafts from his clothes. It describes his job at a fast food establishment. I feel like smacking him, every time. The elevator takes a long time to get going again. Slow to open its door, programmed to wait for passengers to board until it can safely close, eventually it continues its fall down the shaft. I am going to be late.
Worse than the smelly cook are the friendly morning faces, trained to please. Once in a while, we stop to pick one up.
I have one myself. Awful stuff. We smile, wish good morning and the morning cracks, like an egg fallen on its head.
At 6:50 I am rushing to catch the bus at the terminal, my mouth open from running up double steps from the subway platform. I like that slithering run-up, the skilful avoiding of bodies coming down the stairs in a hurry. Slightly winded, it is the first moment I feel electric. I even smile, at no one, just smile.
The bus is neither dirty nor clean at that hour. It has the damp smell of a soggy cloth left behind. The rain this morning makes us all smell like wet trash.
I never count the heads, but if the bus leaves with dozen passengers or less, I exhale with relief. With fewer people on board, it is less likely I will hear their music, or their voices and the bulk of their bodies will not obstruct my view. Most people could appreciate the common quietude of that hour, but further ahead, there are few women already chatting. A Chinese woman who occasionally boards the bus for a short ride irritates us all with her screeching voice yelling into her phone. When she exits at Mt. Pleasant, we all share the relief that none of us has become a murderer on such a dreary morning.
It will take half hour to my destination. I type with my thumbs a ‘good morning’ and ‘have a wonderful day’ message. Then I spend some time thinking how to say ‘ily’. I have gone through raindrops and stars, butterflies, sunrays, Universe, silly giggles, snowflakes, misty mornings, dew drops, sunny mornings, Mediterranean beach days, madeleines et macarons… all in millions in the preceding
days. I am running out of ideas but want to make it meaningful every time.
Sometimes I just say ‘I love you’.
The rest of the time I spend staring out the window. With only few heads onboard, nothing obstructs the view. I stare at shop signs and street lights. Above them, darkness persists. Thoughts are brief, inconsequential; I never remember them. They don’t fully form, my aborted thoughts. The consequence of fast track jobs and lives that service them is thinking fast and forgetting even faster. Chopped parsley – am I a vegetable or an herb? Still life certainly. I pick up few pieces carefully, attempt a cautious reconstruction, nothing matches. No resemblance. Where am I, I ask, looking at the bits of green.
Where am I, I look out the window suddenly. It is all the same, even in the dark, but it is not. I run up to the driver and ask in disbelief
- Did we pass Warden?
We did, he smiles amused.
How far, I look outside in the dark. He says, not far, just a little farther back.
I step off the bus into the empty space of suburbia, where steps disappear like mice in fields of golden wheat. Except the field is black.
It is a mild ante-day in January and I start walking back briskly. There is no one outside except for the people in cars but I can’t see them. The light will find its way over the flatlands. Engulfed by dark void, that thought brings relief. The air is fresh, I notice. I am enjoying the unexpected walk
I begin to laugh.
I laugh and skip and raindrops fall on my soggy smelling face.
It is wonderful, suddenly wonderful!
I see a yellow light.
It is the McDonald’s sign.
So happy to see it, I am. Oh, I am indeed. Never mind all the rotten things I have said about the corporation before. (Not many, really). The arch of the glowing M guides me and so I end up inside the prison of my days. Where no one bars me from leaving.
It is the economic sentence, to death, with a purgatory of pension and paid medical bills.
Despite that solemnity, I, like everyone, do not think I will grow old and infirm. Such is the nature of nonsense we cultivate inside these prisms, our heads and other architecture.
Hierarchies are displayed for clear visibility.
Hypocrisy shakes hands with everyone as always, never dishonest.
The stress binds us all and draws near each other to uncomfortable proximity.
Forced smiles, turned heads, habitual endurance.
The Company is the Supreme Being in that careful entanglement, and we oblige, defer and lay down our offerings
It is where most days end up.
Apart from that, I enjoy the process of sorting through problems. They suffer from poor management, I see right away, but I rarely feel clever these days, and these opportunities offer morally ambiguous alliance. I participate eagerly, is my demise.
During lunch, I divide the half hour between eating a piece of bread, cheese and few grapes, with reading from a thin book. I reward myself with a thought of escape.
When it’s time to leave, I realize I’ve shrunk to a prune. Desiccated. There is a brief moment when I step out of the white box and take in the vast presence of the world outside.
Outside is where I long to be.
Not outdoors necessarily, but outside.
Right across the wide street is the tall water tower. Incredibly white through dusty and smog-filled days
it resembles a spaceship here on a mission. Seagulls fly in circles and hoops around it and I take note of the empty sky. How lovely. If I left early enough, I would see the end of daylight.
The pause to admire the tower, its indifference and alien calm, takes a breath or two. Then I spring back to my swift walk
up the concrete path to catch the bus home.
The bus in the afternoon has lost its morning smell. It sags with the load of people, skinny and overweight, young and old, quiet, tired – invariably someone is loud.
The bus itself is loud. It is a long shift in the bus world and the engine and its parts breathe and gasp labouring
Sometimes we drive by one broken down by the side of the road. We pity the people who had to disembark and wait for the next ride. They are unwelcome by the people on the new bus.
The new bus with its double load casts an envying glance at the one standing still, the sparse blades of pale grass grazing its thick tires and low stoop. But in reality, grass is further afield, and the bus is slouching on concrete poked with holes.
On I ride along with the other folk, my head bobbing up and down, and falling down occasionally as I doze off. It usually happens half way through. When we reach the end stop, my head is murky and I can barely stand up, forced out of slumber for the second time that day.
Once in our neghbourhood, I drop by the grocery store and shortly after leave with bags of fruit and vegetables. In the worst of times, as in best, we always eat healthy. Chopped parsley and prune salad is on the menu
made fresh to order. I will add spinach, broccoli and tomatoes as variations.
At home, sweet kisses of a teenager and her lively smile greet me. By the end of the evening we would have shared few more sweet moments, and likely an argument. Occasionally we skip the argument, but sweet moments never fail. How fortunate I am will perhaps cross my mind; often it doesn’t.(‘How miserable’ usually finds its way in). By that hour my mind is very tired and generally numb. The numbness begins to thaw only after I have made dinner, cleaned up and prepared lunches for the next day. By then it is too late. Numb is in fact better than alert as I need to get to bed soon after. I sit down with my work done. A rare moment of introspection, and nothing to reward it with. I am thoroughly emptied.