A muse walks in

In the evening, at the early sunset, a massive flock of birds flies home. I turn to the sky at twilight every evening, and I am glad to see the sky darken further by the flapping of the wings of a thousand birds. The silence in my life is temporarily pierced by the sounds of birds singing their evensong. I can feel a stab of sentiment as I turn upwards to watch them, my eyes have gotten so used to looking into microscopes or my computer screen, that it is a treat afresh every time I look up. I am so used to listening only to the digital sounds that emanate from my speakers that the flapping of wings in the flight of birds sound like an orchestra of freedom that I will never feel.

When silence returns after this brief glimpse of birds, I find it disturbing. The searing pain in my left leg returns. My reliance on a walking stick makes walking for long a difficult task and yet, I return to the Centre every evening. Watching the birds is my ritual for the evening, as if it is a bell that I wait to toll, to tell me that the day is over. I am more free in my own solitude than in company and the anonymity of the dark brings me solace. In the dim streetlights and the bright neon lights, there are shadows where I know that I cannot be seen or heard and if a colleague or professor were to walk past, they wouldn’t notice that I am there.

I bought a falafel and sat on my favourite bench. I watched the cars and buses pass me, in each window a face that I will only know in its transiency. In a moment, I can look into the eyes of the occupants, and I know that there will be know glimmer of recognition. I am glad that it is dark on my bench and the nearest streetlamp is too far away for it to cast a light on me, a man in a black overcoat, wearing glasses and very long hair.

Unfortunately, most of my emotions now are mere sentiments, platitudes in my mind that make no difference in the physical world. I have always wanted to live a dream, but my solace is in knowing that my life, solitary and without the false colours of company, is as close to a dream as I can get. I am very satisfied.

I walked to a restaurant that I frequent and ordered a cup of coffee and some fried chips. Around me is some electro swing music, and no one else. I sat at the corner and waited, for what seemed like the thousandth time in the day. Why do I feel as if I am always waiting? What am I waiting for? Who am I waiting for? Am I waiting for a pass from some mug like myself, some lonely man who is as silent and sentimental as I am? Am I waiting for a woman to breeze into my life like most of the women I know?

The truth lies in the fact that I know nobody. I am as distant and strange to them as they are to me. People have often complained that I seem distant. I don’t seem distant, I am. Somewhere, in the ribbons of Space and Time, I will cease to be distant, but there is an equal chance that such an intersection will never come, and I am content in that.

The coffee arrived and I waited for the chips. Ina  few minutes, the chips arrived, the waitress retreated to the back, and I was left alone. I am glad that the waitress isn’t talkative, and I am glad that a muted silence has descended on my ears once again. I can no longer hear the music in the restaurant, I can no longer hear the revelries outside, I can no longer hear the words that people spoke to me throughout the day. One by one, all of them are silenced, and I know that I have created a wall around myself again. Who would know now that the man sitting in the corner hardly speaks anymore? Who would know that the man in black overcoat is as good as deaf?

A sudden crash fills my ears an jolts into a sense of awareness. I turn quickly to my left and I see Victoria, my landlady’s daughter stumble into restaurant. She must have caught her foot on one of the clumsily placed chairs that I have learned to avoid. Victoria looks around, flustered, and as she turns to me, she awkwardly waves a greeting before making her way  to my table. I must have looked shocked because she asked me if I had seen a ghost.

“No, unless you count my own reflection”, my attempts at being witty are feeble.

“You do look pale”.

“You would be too if you heard someone bring down half a restaurant 6 feet away from you”, my feeble attempt at wit is gaining strength.

She laughed. She ordered a cup of coffee and a salad. I asked her how she was and how her school was going on. She asked me if I had ever been bludgeoned on the head and then dragged through a field of barbed wire. I hadn’t. “Then I can’t possibly explain how school is going”. Schoolgirl wit, always wack out of context, and almost always an exaggeration. I sympathized with her. It isn’t easy to both be a student and look after kindergarten kids in the after hours. She wondered if I had disappeared. She hadn’t seen me in months, and if it were not for her mother’s watchful eye, she would have guessed that I had gone back to my own country. She told that she couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw me walk into the restaurant. She had followed me from the park bench to the restaurant and she described my movements as if I was a spy. The black overcoat did the trick, she said.

“Should I be worried?” I asked her, narrowing my eyes ever so slightly. I don’t take kindly to being stalked, particularly by schoolgirls. Not that I have ever been stalked by schoolgirls, but still.

“No. Not unless you are a spy. Your cover is non-existent, you certainly look the part.”she continued, “come to think of it, you do look a bit like George Smiley. You do look a bit like Gary Oldman, the spectacles, the gait, the serious air of a man who is tired with the world”. She sipped her coffee and ate a large sliced tomato in a way that did make me worry for her sanity as well as mine. She watched me unblinking, and I swore. There was no way in hell that I looked like George Smiley, the spymaster from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. She disagreed. I had a passing resemblance and she wondered if sub consciously I felt like a septuagenarian. If not for a full head of black hair, she would’ve guessed that I was an old spy, in from the cold.

Idi nakhoi”, I said. It is Russian for fuck you.

“So you do speak Russian then? Another piece of supporting evidence”, she said.

I speak very little Russian, and I did say that to her in Russian.

She was a bit surprised. “No one could’ve guessed that Ativ Schuberg speaks Russian, in addition to what, ten other languages? If that is not a give away, I don’t know what is.” she ate another slice of tomato in an equally sinister manner, “if not for your age, I would have have said that the game was up, my friend“. She cocked her hand up as if it was gun and mocked a shot while whispering “pfft”. I wondered if she was crazy. I wondered aloud. She laughed again. “You are twenty years old and you speak Russian and the local language after being here for less than a year. I would say that, in addition to your squirming incredulity are both dead give-away”.

“Someone’s been reading too many detective novels”, I observed humorously.

“maybe I am, maybe I am not”, her evasiveness wasn’t going to help her.

“Well, in that case Mademoiselle Victoria, I must say that your conversation is biased and your observations therefore inadmissible in court or to any observer who is rational enough”. I replied triumphantly, “Cognitive dissonance my dear, you see what you wish to see”.

“And I see a man interested in theatre, and I have two tickets for Shakespeare next Monday”, she said, much to my surprise “and in case you are not as intelligent as you seem, I am asking you to accompany me”. She looked at me questioningly. I was tempted. I agreed. Shakespeare, I wouldn’t miss for the world, and I told her so.

She could have just asked me if I wanted to accompany her to the theatre. “Why the theatrics?”, I asked.

“Well, I do like some evening amusement, don’t you?”. She bit into another slice of tomato and I could see that I agreed.


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Not everything

I went to a play earlier this evening. It was about two men and two women who get entangled in a kidnapping, and how, in the end, one of the men and women fall in love and choose to stay together. After the play was over, I walked out of the theater and stood on the square in front of the theater. People milled around me, getting into their cars and going their own way. I stood there, and savoured the fresh cold air of the night around me. I walked to the nearest cigarette shop and bought a can of Monster Energy. The streets were empty and a mist slowly descended, and there was a chill in the air. I had enjoyed the play, and although the local language is not very familiar to me, I could understand most of it. I missed the company of Yvette, she could translate what was being said, and I am sure that she would have enjoyed it as well.

The night continues descending into a swirling mist of silence and a cold breeze. I hear the sharp clicking of heels behind me. By now the mist is thick and blanketing everything. From the mist emerges the actress from the play and she halts for a second before walking past me to the cigarette shop and buys a pack of Rothman’s. I turn around and greet her a good evening. I compliment her acting and she seems pleased. She is surprised to see a foreigner here, and much more surprised at my attending the play. She asked me if I understood the dialogue. I humbly replied that I didn’t. I did, however, say that her acting compensated.

“I could understand what was going on”.

She smiles a little forlornly. She is the replacement actress. The locals wouldn’t know the difference. The leading lady was ill for the evening. In a moment of being chivalry I said that she was a good Leading Lady. Reassured, she asked me if I knew of a good restaurant nearby. I told her that I did and took her to Boris’ bistro, a quiet place with good music and very good food. A few minutes later, the two of us were sitting across each other and discussing my country and my life in general. She hadn’t ever seen a man of my heritage in person, and was intrigued. What did we eat back home? What did we do to enjoy ourselves? Most importantly, why was I here?

I decided to spare her the lengthy diatribe of my life’s philosophy and my own dilemma of being a foreigner everywhere I went. I spared her the details of my academic and moral failures back home, and I decided to spare her the details of the disgust I had for people in general and told her the most vanilla thing I could come up with.

“I enjoy travelling”

I don’t. I have a difficult time travelling. Packing up my bags is the most tiresome thing about travelling, and that is not to add the constant waiting at lines and the transits from one airport to another. I told her that I loved this country, and of my poor conversation this was the only saving grace. I do love this country and I do love this city and moreover, my life here has some meaning and consequence, small and insignificant though it may be in the wider context of things.

The food arrived in the hands of Boris himself, who beamed at me as he served me my Pizza. Poor man, he looked at my walking stick and felt a stab of pity. He was glad that I had graced his humble restaurant and brought with me “charming company”. The actress looked up to Boris and smiled widely. She loved this place and would come here more often.  Boris asked her name, and she said Petra.

I had spent the last half an hour with a woman whose name I didn’t know. Courtesy seems to be something I have lost somewhere in the romanticism of “being a gent”. I turned to Petra, just when she turned to me, and she asked me my name. I told her, and she wondered aloud as to why it hadn’t occurred to her to ask my name. The two of us pondered over the paradox of missed conversation at length. Where do we pass the point of being strangers and become so engrossed in conversation that the most basic questions of identity escape us. After dinner, she and I took a walk around the Center. She told me of her childhood in the capital (a city that I have yet to visit) and at the end of the night, we exchanged numbers and I took her leave.

I took a taxi home and I told the driver to drop me off at a street behind my apartment building. It is one of the inside streets of the city, winding through rows of houses and apartments and at night, it is quiet and deserted. I reached the front door of my apartment building and fumbled with my keys. As I stepped through the door, I was greeted by small scream. I screamed as well and stepped back, switching on the landing lights. In front of me were two kids, around thirteen or fourteen. They looked at me as if they saw a ghost.

“Mr Schuberg?”, the boy stammers. He is a small boy, with brown hair and a scar on the left side of his forehead. He has greenish eyes and in his hands is a cigarette. I ask him what is he doing here, at midnight. He looked at his feet sheepishly and fell silent. I turned to the girl and then it dawned on me that the two of them, enthralled in the throes of young love, were spending some time in the basement, where they would be left alone. And they were probably sneaking back home. The two of them were neighbours, they lived two floors above me. I don’t know their names, and you can imagine my surprise when the boy knew mine. I understood that I was intruding, wished them a quiet goodnight and hastily went up to my apartment and shut the door with determination.

Now that I was home, I couldn’t help but laugh. There was something both adorable and heartbreaking about seeing to children in love. To young teenagers, and the whole world was against them. I was mildly amused but I also felt as if I had intruded on something intimate. I walked to the balcony for some fresh air, and I could hear the whispering of two teenagers, young and in love.


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The Scalpel and the President

I woke to the sound of the alarm on my phone and groaned. The past weeks have seen me take injections and muscle relaxants for the spinal injuries that have plagued me for what seems like a lifetime, but have done so for only 5 or so years. I lay awake in bed, thinking about the walking stick that lay just a little out of reach. I would have to lean out of bed to grasp it and use to help me get up from bed. I decided that it was best if I waited. Outside, autumn sunshine glowed brightly. A slanted ray of sunlight fell on my blanket where my chest was and I could see the shape of the shadows cast by the buildings outside mine. I was still groggy from the painkillers and the fitful sleep that seems to describe my nocturnal repast.

Slowly, thoughts begin to form themselves. They swirl into focus and I realize that the US Presidential results had been announced a day ago. Donald Trump had won. Was I surprised? No. Was I angry? No. Was I fearful? No. The mental checklist done, I leaned over and grabbed my stick and propped myself up. My left leg tingled, the ravaged nerves protested, but a few minutes later, I stood up in my bedroom, bathed in sunlight. Hours have passed since my waking up from a medicated slumber, and groggy though I feel, I can form thoughts with increasing clarity. Donald Trump has won, and he did it while being hounded by everyone, the media, the intelligentsia, citizens, and the world in general. It was a surprise to me that he won, and in my processing of this strange phenomenon, I read the various testimonials of those who feared for their lives, those who wished that Donald Trump was assassinated, and by those who rejoiced that they had won, that they had fought against the harassment of those who called them “racists” and “homophobes” and one particular writer particularly stated that Donald Trump’s victory was a victory for those who had been hounded and lynched by mobs of overzealous people who claimed that they fought for their own identity by branding and blaming working class Americans as being “racist, ignorant, stupid, homophobic misogynists”. That the victory of Donald Trump was a push-back against the large scale name-calling by those on the Left.

I am not a political scientist, my closes friends are, and we are yet to come to a consensus as to why Donald Trump won. He has won, and there is little to be gained from being emotionally upset as some people are. He has won and I have enough faith in the established order of bureaucracy and “the system” that whatever wild ideas he may have, can be pitted against saner heads, and I trust that saner heads will prevail.

But why do we concern ourselves with the goings-on of another country? Why do we sit at our computers typing endless arguments and counter-arguments that go nowhere. President Trump is across the seas and continents, and yet, in my apartment, his name hangs like a shroud. His name is echoed by my colleagues here, in this Eastern European town, and there is a wild exhilaration in the way they say that now, Europe would be saved. There is a wildness in the way bars portrayed the news of the Trump victory alongside news of the elections of the President for this country, and in the midst of the jubilation, the quiet cynicism of Eastern Europe returns. Not so long ago, someone had won an election in Europe’s backyard, and then, in his effort to keep intact his country, millions lost their lives, their homes and their children. An entire generation lost its future, and as they pick up the shreds of all that is left, they can’t help but look at the massive popularity of the leaders who win the hearts of so many and feel the despondency. Ultimately, war, disease, suffering and tragedy come to us all, and there is no president or prime minister, who can stop the inevitable.

I am advised a week’s bed rest, and I use this time to focus on managing the pain in my back. I haven’t spoken to Yvette in almost a month as she is busy in the Capital city, preparing for a concert. She calls me in the evenings to ask me how my day went, and I have the usual response of how well it went. Between us is an undercurrent of pleasantness, as though we keep up the cheer because we understand the coldness of the world around us, she, a woman who didn’t know her father, and me, a solitary foreigner. I understand the contempt for the Right Wing, and I understand the contempt for the Left Wing, and my political inclinations are neither kosher nor are they completely rational, there are flaws everywhere and I feel that we try, in an act of self-preservation, to try to fool ourselves into thinking that we are all above fault.

Chopin’s Spring Waltz plays on my laptop, I can hear the notes and the bars of this beauty, and I am reminded of the move “The Lives of others”, and I know that there is something that can be salvaged from all our losses. I wonder though, if all will ever be the same. I understand too well the corruption that comes with power for I too have lusted for power when I was younger. I lusted for power, and I know even now that I still do. Somewhere, there is a lust, an insatiable thirst for power that I cannot quench, and I understand that power, in itself, is a tool that will drive a wedge between your own values and yourself. Ambition embraces power like a lover, but power poisons ambition through its urge to fight everything for preserving itself. I lusted after power when I was younger and I realized that I could not be trusted with power if I sought it and hoped to conquer it. In all of us, there is an authoritarian, in all of us, is a war criminal and in all of us there is a commander of a death squad, and in ways that I have found inexplicable, I have never allowed these elements of myself to win.

I went to the Centre, leaning on my stick and I stood at the War Memorial, looking for names that I hoped I could recognize. In the corner I can see the name is scratched over. Legend has it that this name was removed after it was revealed that this was the name of an Officer who ordered the slaughter of prisoners of war. What was worse was that this Officer’s bravery on the battlefield saved the town from collapsing to the enemy. And yet, crazed in his power and his love for country, he ordered the execution of all the prisoners under his command. There is a small golden crown that can be made out from under the scratched off name of this Officer. I know nothing of this man, but I know enough of war to see the lust of power, the craze and the madness that comes in the pursuit of victory.

And yet, I stand at the threshold of change, and who is to say what comes tomorrow? Should we give up now, or stand resolutely to face all that comes to us so as to not forget how far we have come? I stand at the Statue of Father and as his arms are wide open, I can see the town stretch out beyond the horizon.


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