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.