The places, the sights around him had been the way they always were. Yet, they seemed to speak to him today, convey something. Just him and those sights. No one else for him to pay attention to. Too hollow to speak to himself, too broken to notice people. And so, immersed in what lay around. A strange sense of belonging with lifeless objects. Cream coloured walls on his sides, white marbled flooring underneath, grey escalators, transparent doors of shops.
He walks slower than he usually does today. Walking has always been a means to some end for him, a movie to watch, a stomach to fill or a class to attend. This is not that hurried kind of walk. A touch regal. He sees that his left leg always goes ahead first, always. He never knew it. Absorbs the entire impact of his foot touching the ground, heel to toe, enjoys the rhythm. He hears the firm sounds, he listens to them carefully.
Around him seems to be a world he hasn’t explored. Shops he has passed many times but never known anything about. A minuscule black birthmark on the Tommy Hilfiger model’s right cheek. The freshly cut grass on some other store’s advertisement. A shop selling candy, the uneven distribution between the beige and black of the famous cola bottles. Even here, in a miniature recreation, the bottle remains half empty. Incomplete.
A store sells just socks, is called Happy Socks. He looks down at his feet, black Benetton slippers, successors to green ones. He doesn’t remember the last time he wore socks, or the last time he was happy. He stands there, staring in the direction of the shop. Sockless, happinessless.
He steps on the escalator, skips a step. He sighs in frustration, wants to feel every moment of his time here today, take it slow. He is so upset, he goes back down after reaching the next floor, and takes the ride to the top again. It feels good, peaceful, the soft whirring sound of the escalator just the music he needs right now. The ride to the top. He wonders how that will be, whenever it is, as fulfilling as this or not.
On the next floor, just as he exits the escalator, he sees his reflection. White, ashen. He says something, but the lips remain sealed. The body doesn’t move, his choice of clothing odd. Soft whispers emanate from somewhere, not his mouth because that isn’t open. They’re saying something to him. He tries to listen.
“This isn’t reality, just an elongated nightmare. Look around people love you, miss you. You are not alone, this earth is not a battlefield and your life is not a war. Your mind is playing tricks on you. Any moment now, you’ll wake up, heave a sigh of relief, brush it off and move on with the good, comfortable life you lead. This isn’t reality. This cannot be reality, not what is written for you.”
As he listens to this, a smile begins to spread on his dry lips, like the first drops of water after a prolonged drought. The whispers turn louder, no longer whispers. He had to stretch his ears to listen to them carefully, not anymore. The voice is clear now, and is very dark. It isn’t his, and it’s not talking about reality and unreality. Something else, mundane, not profound.
“Sir, you’re blocking the entrance to our shop, could you please move aside or come in and take a look at the T-shirt you’ve been staring at.”
It wasn’t his reflection he was talking to, there never was any mirror. It was a mannequin, a lifeless body masquerading as a person. No soul, no peace.
He started panting, rushed down. Impatient, in a tearing hurry, skipped multiple steps. No soul left, no peace left. Gone, all gone.
As far as he was concerned, life ended that day. Hope vanished like the sun in the evening.
He didn’t see anything on his way out, shops or walls. Just long, dark shadows.
But one day, some day in the future, he will realize that there is a way out. He doesn’t need a reflection telling him this is an elongated nightmare, just himself.
The smile will form on his lips. The arid land will get irrigated. There will be peace, there will be peace. He just needs to tell himself, even fool himself that it is still there, hidden under the layers that make this life.
There is peace.
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