Trusting a Stranger

He looked up at the sky. Summer was definitely here. The days were getting longer, and felt like an eternity. Business was slow too. No one had the energy or inclination to deal with the heat any more than they had to. He was used to seeing stony expressions. But in the summer, these faces spoke a different story. The studied arrogance gave way to the tiresomeness and strain of everyday life. He made his way through the crowd, he had exactly 3 minutes to make the most of before he would be forced to get out of the way. With a time frame like that, he had to be very sure who he wanted to spend time on and who pass over.

As a rule, he always passed over the women. They might be stylishly dressed and driving expensive cars, but they almost always hesitated to buy anything without approval. He didn’t have time for hesitation. He’d learnt that the hard way. But sometimes, on a whim, he would stop by some of the women. Not the really attractive ones, never the really attractive ones. They looked through you. No. He’d pause at the mediocre ones, the ones who are too worried to make eye contact, who shift ever so slightly when he approached them. Even if they were in a car, with the windows up.

This woman, for example. She looks about average, but is dressed well. Wears sunglasses and sits behind the wheel of a vehicle you don’t normally see a woman driving – windows up, air conditioning on, looking ahead at the traffic light. He could see that she was listening to music by the way she was tapping her fingers on the wheel. He could say anything to her, she wouldn’t know. He leaned close to her window, held up the roll of sun film he was selling today and said, “I can help you escape the life you are trapped in. If you can just trust a stranger,” in a voice just above a whisper. She startled him by turning and looking straight into his eyes, as though she’d heard what he said. Then she shook her head absently and turned away.

He stood there looking at her for a moment longer, unable to shake the feeling that she’d heard him. Then he pulled himself swiftly away and into the crowd.

A Vision

I saw her today. I’m sure it was her. She was behind a shelf. One moment i was grabbing something for the special dinner i had been planning, and the next i was looking into a pair of wide, empty eyes. Hazel. They were hazel. And they were lowered almost immediately. I saw again the hair pulled back in to a ponytail, gaunt features. I stood there transfixed. I had looked for her for so long. Searching every photograph, every memory, every sentence, every word. I hadn’t counted on actually finding her. I had not realized until that moment that I was secretly hoping that she didn’t exist, that she was somehow a figment of my imagination, a morbid personification of my paranoia.

But there she was – right before my eyes. And I was frozen. I couldn’t think of one thing I could say or do. And then she was gone.

Persistence

At first I missed her. I didn’t see her. I couldn’t. I wonder if I was blinded. How could I have missed her. There she is, on the very fringe of the photograph. Barely visible. Hair pulled back, wide, empty eyes, wearing clothes that are a size too big. There’s something about her. Something familiar, yet strange. Something compelling. She is there, even though she is never looking at the camera. As though I can see her only out of the corner of my eye, else she just isn’t there. Like a ghost. 

And I’ve started looking for her. Searching every photograph, every memory, every sentence and every word. But she disappears when I search for her. Hides, behind a shelf, a clothesline, a sound. I search for her in his eyes. As though it will reveal more than the photograph has captured. But I turn away frustrated because I cannot see what he has seen, cannot see her. 

But he talks to me. Endlessly, about everything, about every minute. Every moment is accounted for. And I listen, impatiently, for a mention her. But she hides. And I stare, at him, till he reaches to touch my face and I realise that there are tears running down my cheeks. Silent, angry tears. Irrational tears. I must know her.

Changes

These days, I see him taking longer to dress. There was a time when I would have to nag him and nag him to get him to do anything for me or around the house. Nag him till he wakes up, nag him till he gets out of bed, nag him to switch off the TV or fold up the newspaper to go take a shower, nag him to dress, to eat, to drink his coffee, to leave home in time to get to work. Then I would have a 10 hour break. Once he is back in the evening, I’d have to start nagging him again; and to do the simplest of things, even if just for himself. I’d have no choice. He’d give me no choice. It was as though he had taken a dip is the waters of Lethe. And then he would get irritable, and angry because I was nagging him. It was a vicious cycle. Every night, I would fall exhausted into bed, after finishing all the chores by myself. He would’ve fallen promptly asleep immediately after dinner.

I see him every day now. Well. He works with me, so in a way, it is inevitable that I see him everyday. But I see him everyday now. He walks up to me, every morning, with a cup of coffee in his hand for me, coffee just the way I like it. And he is always sharply dressed. And as I sip on the coffee, I try and take in whatever I can of him. While he talks. He talks as though he has been waiting to talk all his life. Waiting for me. Waiting for now. He tells me about everything he has done since the last time we touched, we spoke, we saw each other. Every minute is accounted for. And I laugh. I tell him he need not be so detailed, while secretly I want to hear more. He looks in my eyes and smiles. Then he continues from where I had interrupted him, perfectly…every expression exactly in place. And I listen while I sip on my coffee and try and take in whatever I can of him.

But these days, something is different. He has started coming out with me when I go out for random shopping or other errands. He seems to be taking longer and more care to dress for work. When we go out, he takes a lot of pictures, even if we are out for groceries, even if it is just for a casual dinner because we happened to be out at dinner time. Pictures of the place we are in, and of himself smiling broadly into the camera, and one odd of me without warning, as though I was just part of the landscape, as though he felt obliged to take one of me after taking so many of himself. “Look Natural,” he would say then. It is as though he has suddenly come alive, suddenly found a reason to do things, even menial things. But the reason is not me. For he still doesn’t talk to me, still doesn’t look at me. Barely tastes the food I make, or acknowledges the things I do for him. It’s like I’m a third person, there only in spirit if at all; a tiny gear, that ensures that his life goes on smoothly but tiny enough to not be visible. 

For Theseus, Today

A labyrinth, I think,
requires no answers. Just,
perhaps, an entrance, and,
more importantly, an exit.
In the middle is confusion,
anxiety, fear, and a struggle
to survive your self.
Self expression is irrelevant,
only direct action is admissible.
It is only practical to be calm,
and alert, and keep walking.
Some frustration is inevitable,
but one must remain focused.
Retracing is allowed, but
only __ number of times.
You are not allowed companions;
or instruments of digging or
destruction or of flight.
The assumption:
You let yourself in, so
there’s a reason you are here.

– From “Still, Life.”