Every Day, The Same Story.
There isn't always a light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes, more often than not, the tunnel never ends. You just keep walking in perpetual darkness - walking and walking until you tire yourself out. Someone said, "keep going, don't give up, remember why you started in the first place." Okay, well, why did you enter the tunnel when you knew it could be dangerous?
The obsidian rocks - or not, because all you see is nothing. It's all dark. When you started, it was only 8 am, still a burst of light entered the mouth of the tunnel, illuminating your route to a few hundred meters. All you decided to carry with you were some energy bars, a bottle of water, a flashlight without batteries, your phone with some charge left, and not much else. You assumed it would take you an hour tops to map the entire tunnel and come out the other side, victorious. Oh, how wrong you were.
Once the sunlight light dimmed and stopped dancing on the rocks completely, you turned on the flash of your phone camera. Unfortunately, you found out, too late, that your flashlight was without a power source. The phone, an old, cheap, and sturdy model, carried you for a good hour before it too gave up. If only you had remembered to pack batteries, a portable charger, another canteen of water, and some more food. This entire expedition was now turning on its head. At this point, you are thinking to yourself, "Why?"
Why did you com here? You, who hates adventure. You who would rather sit under a tree with a book. Why, indeed, are you here?
To feel something.
After what seemed like an eternity of hopelessness, you felt like you wanted to explore. You wanted to see something new, feel something new. What better than the literal light at the end of the tunnel? You thought it would make for a great project. Visit tunnels around town and capture the moment when you finally see the not so metaphorical light shining on you. You would call it "Hope Is Hard Work". Well, it wasn't a bad plan, until you picked the wrong tunnel.
And, now you find yourself in a fix. You have no idea what to do. So, you take a moment to assess the situation. You have read countless books and you can definitely come up with a solution.
First, it is not cold inside the tunnel, it is not a cave, so you at least do not need to start a fire.
Second, you do not really have an appetite, so the energy bars will last you a couple of hours or even more.
Third, you are so lost inside the tunnel, you no longer know which direction you came from. Even if you were to start walking in the 'assumed' opposite direction , where would it lead?
Nevertheless, you turn around and start walking.
You are walking and walking. Again, it is so dark inside, all you can do is worry about where you are placing your feet. You are sweating now - a combination of the physical strain, fear, and nerves. You are well and truly lost. You have tried both directions and walked for as far as you could manage before turning back. Good thing you are not claustrophobic.
It is pitch black. You are tired. You no longer have any sense of direction. So, you do the only thing you can think of. You sit. Wipe your sweat and eat one of your three energy bars. You drink some water, only a little. You can feel an impending doom weighing you down. What if this is it? What if you never get out?
Well let's just wait now. Anything is possible. Maybe this is your gateway to a magical land? No? You snort at that idea. No magical lands await you. This might just be it.
Let's peak inside your mind for a bit.
Oh, man. So disappointing. Why did no one tell me about this tunnel? Maybe this one was never finished and it just goes deeper and deeper inside the hill with no end yet made. Why did I do this to myself? Did I subconsciously know that this tunnel might not have an end? Did I come here knowing full well I may never get out? Damn. That's too dark. Why does it feel so peaceful? It is so quiet here. Is it the lack of people or the noisy streets? No cars, no phone notifications, no people. Just me, in the darkness. Wow, now I am smiling. There is something really wrong with me. But, enough of that. I need to find a way out before I completely give up.
Phew. What a ride.
You get up and start walking to your right. You continue walking for a good half an hour before you realise you left your bottle of water back at your stop - what with it being so dark and all. You sigh to yourself, stomp your feet a little. But, you decide it is not worth going all the way to get it. But, how long are you planning to walk anyway?
I am so tired. I don't even have water. Even if I go back, I wouldn't even know where to find the bottle. Oh god, why! No. Think straight. I can do this. I can do anything I want. There is no one here to stop me, no one here whispering I am not enough, or that I am a loser and I don't work hard. There is NO ONE HERE. Let us just keep going, I got this.
Wow. That was some pep talk. But, do you really got this? eh...
What was that?? I just felt something brush my cheek. Holy crap, was that a bat? I will freak out if there is a bat inside this tunnel with me. What if there are more? Oh no. Oh, no. Oh, no no no. Hell, no. I am getting out of here.
Whoa. This is possibly the fastest you have ever walked. Didn't think you had it in you, huh? You are so determined. Have you ever been this determined for anything? No?
WAIT! Was that not a sliver of light just now on that rock? I hope my mind isn't playing tricks on me. I better find that light.
You are really running now. You are gunning it, like there is someone after you. You know those dreams where you are running as if being chased? Just a little bit further now.
I could cry right now. Oh wait, I already am. I finally see it. Is this how it feels? Is this how it feels to get what you really want? It's there, in plain sight. I can almost touch it now, the sunlight, now on my fingers, my arm, my shoulder, and then shining on me, kissing my skin, ever so gently. What will I see if I look back now? Honestly, I don't want to find out.
You finally did it. You found the light at the end of the tunnel. Not a metaphorical tunnel, a literal tunnel you entered exactly three hours ago. It was just really, really long. You have read countless books. You, as always, started spinning tales, made it way more exciting than it needed to be. But, all in all, it was definitely a fun adventure. You decide to do it again sometime.
She was standing behind the yellow line. Staring at her reflection in the glass doors. Her muddy white shoes carried a world of stories etched into every dirt-ridden streak. She never cleaned them, unless it rained.
Today. Today, she was embarrassed of them. She met a friend for lunch. Her shoes, her dress, her hair, her life, seemed impeccable. She had it all together. And, here she was, standing behind the yellow line, dirty shoes and no goals to boot.
She thought to herself, "okay, let's not get disheartened. You have time. Life is long, you can still make it. Let's take it one day at a time." But just as she finished her train of thought, she heard the sound of the engine from the incoming train. This abrupt interruption made her stop in her tracks, just as she was getting on.
"Maybe I take it one day at a time a little too much?"
"Is it even advisable to live in the present?"
"Does it make sense that I'm almost 30, working part-time, making next to nothing and meeting successful friends while wearing dirty shoes?"
The doors closed right in front of her eyes. She didn't move an inch. She was in the middle of an epiphany.
"Maybe everything I've believed so far has done me more harm than good."
"Better take the next train."
And, so she does. She gets on the next one. Finds a seat. Plugs in her earphones. Gets out her book and loses herself in stories from far, far away.
Just another day.
The clock struck midnight and I drew the curtain aside to glance out the window. The sight left me feeling flustered; chills running down my spine.
At the heart of our existence, the secret to longevity, and the meaning behind human life is compassion. A pandemic unearthed our deepest, darkest thoughts, the reality behind our masks that we put on to show the world and brought it to the surface for everyone to see. Panicked families in my city left their temporary living quarters and embarked on their way back home without a thought to their own health and safety. Without food or water, they began their journey homeward hundreds of miles away, they walked from noon well into the early hours of the morning. Stopped at the border, roughed up for wanting to return to their families, their parents, their children. Beaten up, their souls broken, their dignity crushed - only a painful reminder of their former selves. Transported in the back of an unseemly truck, huddled together like rotten vegetables in chafing burlap sacks, the horrors of the night made all too clear when the dead were reserved a spot right beside the living.
As I drew the curtain aside, I saw men, women, and children, laying on the street with their worldly belongings strewn about. Waiting for a rickety bus to take them home. A disease looming over our heads compelled us to stay indoors, stay safe and then there were our people who did not have that privilege, that luxury we took for granted. A bus finally arrived after hours of them pottering about in 50 degree weather - sweltering, melting heat. A crowd gathered at the doors for this golden, maybe the only, chance to return to their villages. Some climbed on the roof of the bus while some could only grab the handle and pray they reached home without falling back.
In the world that we live in, inequality, inequity, and disparity soon become the tenets of a democracy. Rather than being for the people, it is against them. The others. A lack of agency, lack of money, lack of power left them helpless out on the streets with no one and nowhere to turn to. Is that all human lives are worth?
A group of people made to sit on the ground with their back to the authority, all they see are shadows - intimidating, suspicious, and moving. A mist suddenly engulfs them, enveloping them in a cough-inducing cloud. The smell, a burning smell of alcohol invading their senses and they realised what has been done. They were being sprayed with disinfectant to protect those who might eventually come in contact with their group. For whose benefit? Not a flinch or a shadow on the unperturbed faces of the perpetrators; they were just following orders. They too lack the agency to make better decisions, or so it seems.
Compassion, or lack thereof. Humans are not equal. We are different, we are diverse. We do not want to be treated equally, we need to be treated with equal respect. Treat us differently, respect our differences. Create space for the individual who is different, feels different, looks different. We need choices and then we need room to say yes or no. We want rights and then we need the authority to exercise them. Be humane, not just human. Stay true to your words. If you have the power that means we gave it to you. Respect that. It is not yours to abuse. It is not yours to exploit. Relent, repent, apologise and maybe our lost souls will forgive you for your wrongs.
The 99th Day
Let me describe the last morning of my last day. It started with a heavy downpour, washing down all my effort and expertise in cardboard-box houses. Even Louis was feeling lousy, and he is never lousy. The only thing left for me to do was to run for shelter and my immediate sanctuary was the opera house, Polunin, across the street.
For someone wearing bedraggled clothes with hair awry accompanied by a poor, shivering, washed-out retriever, the opera house was a daunting reality. And yet, I found myself dripping all over the red carpet under the red canopy with its gilded frame and gothic etchings. I heard the strains of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake wafting through the revolving doors. As I stood there, teeth rattling, I snuck a glance at the doorman, draped in latest doorman fashion, something straight out of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. He tutted at me like I was a thorn in his side, sabotaging a perfect landscape painting by John Constable with a blot of black ink, aka my sorry form.
Lousy and I, I mean Louis and I decided it was time to move on in an effort to save what little face we had left. We ran to the second-best respite from the torrential rain; the front porch of what seemed like a 17th-century baroque house from Vermeer's oeuvre. Even though I was unable to peek inside to find the girl with the pearl earring, I knew she was in there somewhere. The only thing worse than being shunned by the doorman was the Great Dane sneering, yes, sneering, from the, slightly opened, window. With a coat like black velvet, she now snarled and curled her lip at poor Louis.
Oh, the poor thing, he's having the worst day!
Louis whimpered long enough for me to understand his absolute horror at the state he was in front of the 'Queen of the Neighbourhood'.
Yes, Arabella was officially ordained as I had come to learn.
Finally, the pair of us circled back to the now wet, and flattened, cardboard box that was our mansion. Oh, well. What could be worse, right? Even on the street, this has to be rock bottom. I could not even manage to scrape together a piece of tin for a solid roof over our head in all my 99 days here. I have truly and miserably failed at this.
Miko would be oh, so disappointed. I tried to tell him that this will never work, I am a lover of the finer things in life and Louis? Louis was the debonair Prince, and in his prime he had broken many a heart. It was a hard life out here, I know because Bertie-Under-The-Bridge told me and her word was gospel. Bertie helped me weave together a story here on the hardened sidewalk, scrambling for a coin here and a suspiciously wet bill there. All I had accumulated amounted to nothing but a few shiny coins that were, in all probability, a type of metal that I could have used to build a house for the ladybug that resided with us. Actually, I may have accidentally crushed her in my sleep.
100 days. That is how long I was supposed to stake out in front of the Polunin, the tip was for tonight, or tomorrow morning, at 12:00 AM, but on my 99th day it seems like my time is up. The doorman is sure to recognise me, and Louis, in the next round.
My cover is blown.
Eh. I better grab a couple of freshly-baked pretzels for us before Miko arrives and drags me back to the station.
The day is warm somewhere. Here, it is dark, dim, and quiet. Cold seeping in through layers and layers of clothing. Toes curling and nails a faint purple. The sun shines through the window, but you have to run to catch it. It dances on the wall and a sliver dazzles on the sofa. Either you plaster yourself to the wall or hang by a thread from your window, the sun will escape you. Work seems like a punishment as your fingers refuse to move across your keyboard. The winter chill creeps up like an insidious force; hands under you as you sit at your desk. Maybe these hands will get warm enough to function because you have to meet the deadline. Despite, tap-tap-tap. Sounds of children playing outdoors, music from their toy cars buzzing in your ears, someone is at the door and you are distracted. You stare out the window, glimpses of the sun-kissed sky, on one of those rare, clear days. Pigeons frolic on your window sill, chirping, lurking, and invasive. You are brought back to Earth with a jolt, the clock is ticking. Tap-tap-tap. Just a thousand words more and you can call it a day.
The sun is setting now; no slivers, only shadows remain. As the day grows darker, you finally see yourself in the window, a spectre-like imitation, a cheap one. You resemble a deer caught, wandering, sauntering, guilty. Your fingers are now stiff, the purple floods your nails, you worry that they might fall off. Time to get warm. As you type the last word, a burden is lifted. You can now snuggle under your blanket. The obsidian sky looms as the lights flicker in neighbouring houses. Before you know it, your feet give in and a desperate warmth envelops you in a familiar embrace. Your eyes feel heavy, your breathing slows. You succumb.
What a day to be alive when everything and nothing has yet again come crashing down on the nation like a whip that is controlled by the forces in power because they did not get their way so they whip and whip and whip leaving gashes on the backs of thousands of innocent people who want nothing more than to just be left alone to their own devices at any given moment of time as it is their right and if the forces that be stand in their way at every turn and every corner then what are they to do but soldier on into the future because they still have to leave their homes with some semblance of normalcy for the progeny for their children for those who will be left behind even amidst this horrible state of things and then there are those who go from one leg of their lives to another without a thought to their surroundings and it must be nice to live in that kind of bubble with that kind of privilege and since they have no relation to those who are directly targeted who are the poor and pitiful blokes and women and children on the streets who are silly enough to believe that things might change for the better because what else can they do but soldier on into the future and the people with blinders on continue to celebrate a birthday a wedding a bachelorette and a baby shower because they remain untouched and does it sit well with them if their brothers and sisters are subjected to violence on a daily basis or is the nation really just built on hypocrisy and we have the wrong perception of what we as humans are truly capable of since some are stupid and believe in the goodness and kindness and compassion of others but they do not know that such constructs are more fiction than fiction itself and sometimes there is no light at the end of the tunnel and this belief that is so blind faithful pitiful and morbid remains undeterred and people continue to soldier on into the future. Now, and forever.
Dedicated to Molly Bloom.
The crowds bellowed, chanting a reverberating chant, stars dancing across the night sky; joyous, harmonious, and unified. The ruler decrees a notorious sentiment, a sentiment unacceptable to the land the people claim as their own. A superstar, a politician, a journalist, an academic, and a citizen unite till their last breath. Standing in solidarity against the despot whose tyranny claimed the life of many. The streets are laced with the blood of the fallen, the innocent, and the judged. Without trial, without repose. Violence rules over the miasma of the night, stunning even those that stood ignorant on the sidelines. The lurkers and the watchers, unaffected no longer. The time on peace ran out when the despot took the throne. Now, the crowds shout and scream, their fists in the air with chants of freedom. The freedom they deserve, the freedom that is their right.
Thousands across the land stand together, bound by the same cause; freedom. Once again, a fire is ignited in the hearts of many. Every person comes out to drag the despot himself on the stand. No one stands idle, no one watches from the margins of privilege. The veil is pulled away in the most scathing manner, leaving nothing but perforations in its wake. The portal opened and the demons stepped out, and the crowds shout. They shout for the land, they shout for the end of their suffering. The land that once was, no longer remains. Changes, a little in a name here, a little in a song there, destroy the fabric of what was once a most majestic part of the world. Tethered by the ropes of greed and arrogance, blinded by the glimmer of untouched, unchecked power, the land now stands as a mere shell of its former self. But, hope.
Hope, because the crowds gather. They continue to stand together in droves. Stadiums, parks, schools, and monuments reverberate with the sounds and shouts of freedom from oppression. Students do not hold back, parents do no hold back, and while the unsuspecting leader, the despot, sits in abandon surrounded by mirrors to celebrate his narcissism, the crowds gather to bring him to trial. A hammer and a nail. That is all it takes to break the mirror. The despot is brought back to his place on Earth that is our land. The crowds tearing apart his arrogance and his unaffected daze, his imperviousness and his thick skin. He falls.
Not a drop of blood is shed. No violent calls echo in the now mirror-less room. Only the crowds who stand, their heads high, palms together as if in prayer, and a ghost of a smile hinting at days to come. Days full of promise. Days full of hope.
Particles surround me as I ride on the back of a bicycle. I know the rider, but I can't see his face, can't find his name in the jumble of words that is my mind. We ride along pastures anew, cattle grazing on the side, as the fine dust particles stick to every inch of my body; from my hair to my slipper-clad toes. I can taste it, all of its granular, gritty, and violent details. It rubs me the wrong way. Why am I donned in a sari from the old days? Not draped over my left shoulder like my mother wore it, but tucked in the front over my right. My hair slicked back in a low bun, now rough to the touch and greasy due to the journey. We ride along thatched huts, coal smoking in the fire pits, men walking home from the mines, their faces slackened and dirty, dusty. The womenfolk swatting away flies, the little pests, as they languidly land on the chapatis, rubbing their limbs together as if preparing for an appetising meal. We ride to what appears to be a dark cave, we are at the entrance and something looms. We halt, he dismounts and I jump to save myself from falling, but I fall. I can no longer see his back, I fall. Inside the cave, darkness surrounds me as I fall. My heart jumps in my throat, I can no longer breathe, I see nothing. I wake up with a jolt. I was there, behind him. On his bicycle. I no longer remember. I don't remember his face, I don't recall his name. Like dust, the memory fades.