Tapping out the last paragraph of another report from an endless reel, flooded me with a renewed sense of apathy. Though I knew without looking that there were only moments remaining in the day, I was not perplexed. The excited snatches of conversation wrung out the end of the day better than any alarm could possibly have. I rose from my desk and my vision remained unnecessary and unfocused. I navigated the clutter of cubicles with a deftness only available after years of repetition. I gazed at the chirpy new workers and was reminded of the fact that the system here had long ago taken my personality. My spark.
In the beginning I felt my corporate uniform had removed my individuality; little did I know that the building would finish the job. The building was open plan, cheerily lit, and personally decorated within sharp limits. I knew all too well that home was but a long train trip away, but this failed to excite me, unlike the people who worked alongside me. My childless wife would be waiting, with warm greetings and calm accommodation of my consistently flat mood. She loved me, she truly did, but I had long ago fallen out of love with myself.
We didn't relate fluidly, she and I, as we once had. It seemed we had grown together too long, and created too many similarities between ourselves. I no longer looked at her as an enigma or paradox. I felt I knew her, at the very core of her being. We had hoped by our cohabitation, to nurture within each other the spark that each of us alone had seen. But, at end, our time together was too short, and the time away too long. The passions shortness couldn't overcome the emptiness of the longness.
So it was that I entered the elevator in a swarm of other entities. Although I was known and familiar to all these people, none struck up conversation with me. As the doors silently faded closed, I was further confronted with the reality of my situation. Physically I had retained nothing from my youth, my hair was thinning prematurely and my physique had long ago become doughy and unimpressive. My chin rather than a clear line merely faded into insignificance. As my eyes roamed back to view themselves, I saw that they were outlined with folds of flesh that hung.
Even I couldn't stand to look into my own eyes. The windows into my soul had long ago been boarded up, putting their very contents into question. And on the train it was the same, many familiar faces, but no familiar people. Like a convoy of blinkered horses, we and the train rattled on. As the journey continued, people began to depart and I began to make myself more comfortable. With the departure of the person sitting opposite me, I slid deeper into my chair, allowing my head to loll to the left. My half open eyes recognised a rift/tear in the fabric of familiarity. Amid the usual clutter of advertising material, I viewed a black rectangle. It was wedged between the seat leg and the train's side. I made my way to the curious object, unwedging it from its niche. The black was cured leather, and sliding this off revealed a book bound in coarse red paper, and bearing a black inlaid symbol, a circle made up of interconnected swans. The revelation of this familiar object swathed me in memories long buried. I was consumed with the emotions of these memories, and I relived the elements of my life that were connected to this book. This process only ended when the train reached the end of the line, my station departing the train I was filled with a sense of determination. I knew what I had to do.
Entering my home, my wife and I exchanged our patent greetings. She was reclined on the sofa watching television. I sat on the floor in front of her, crossing my legs into the full lotus pose. This was extremely painful, but the pain was familiar. Turning off the Television my wife gazed at me quizzically. Following my eye line she saw the book resting on the floor, what was to her innocuous was pregnant with memory for me. Before she could speak, I did.
I said "I found this on the train; with it we will change our collective lives."
"How? Why?" she asked.
"It already changed mine once, I'm confident it can again." I replied
"But, how can that be, I know you!" she said become concerned.
"I never lie to you, you know that, but in this case I was lying to myself most of all," I replied hastily "I decided that my past was so unlike everyone else's that I simply shouldn't speak of it. For years I created a way of life, this meant not only physical control but also mental control." I explained "Withholding this from you was only part of it."
Continuing I said, "I convinced myself that my upbringing was like everyone else's and created my own back-story. This is the story I told everyone, not only you."
"You had better explain yourself" She said "I can tell you have some things to get off your chest.'
"Well, when I finished school, I got great marks, but decided to take a year off. As you know, this didn't sit well with my parents, but this is where the story becomes different to the one you know." I explained
"I begun to tell her of the things I had only just recalled to memory upon finding my book on the train: So with some overt encouragement I moved out. They didn't think I would last more than a week on my own. I decided to prove them wrong. Sleeping at friend's houses, my days were uneventful. One day I decided to head to the library. After that I was there every day. Having rediscovered the pleasure I took in learning new material. I begun to spend more and more time there. I became so consumed with this daily routine that it seemed unimportant where I slept. One by one, my friends barred me from their homes. After some time, I took to sleeping on the steps of the library. This suited me well because it meant that I could spend more time reading. I wasn't dependent on my friends who had shown themselves to be less than charitable. Also, I was making something of myself; my parents would never see me return to home on bent knee. When my friends in turn refused to allow me to take meals with them, I took to asking people for money.
"After some time I realised that my improvised lifestyle meant that I was officially homeless. I didn't see this as negative or life threatening. I felt that I was like a modern man deserted on an island. My knowledge would set me free, and separate me from the other stupid homeless people. So out of library hours I begun to become skilled at improvised life. But all was meaningless short of the time spent contemplating and reading. My life was one of terrible discomfort. My food was always the sweetest and richest food, this maximised my calorie per coin ratio. This left me feeling unhealthy and my sleeping places were cold and uncomfortable surfaces. I didn't cohabitate or relate to anyone, homeless or not. I was entirely self sufficient, I was free to pursue any inclining I could dream up. But as this became my lifestyle I became increasingly depressed.
"When I found this archaic and damaged book, I was intrigued. I felt I knew of all the books in the library. This one was wedged in between the shelving and bore no library tags or markings. I took it with me; I would read it at every chance and no longer felt the need to return to the library. This book seemed to combine the entire wisdom of an entire era. For every experience of my life I could find a response in this book. I devoted my life to following its words. In accordance with this, I replaced my library patronage with physical exercise and a refinement of my improvised life. The only item I had was this book, everything else was flux. I became adept at activating people's empathy and getting them to give me money. I had seen the other side, and knew full well what wouldn't convince me to hand over currency.
My newfound devotion to learning this meant that I could pursue a healthy eating program, in accordance with my reading of the book. After years of each of these lives I felt that something was still missing. I consulted my book searching for maxims and adages referring to success in human experience. They stated that I required a discipline beyond merely health, I needed an art, or better a job that had a master to serve. It stated that this would give me humility and a clear purpose. The occupation the book referred to was defunct, but I decided to apply the theory of it to a current occupation. I took to rising ever morning to catch the train, I observed people; I decided that the placement of power and prestige was clearly on the white collared professionals. I begun to consider what gave them this position, the main constant was their uniform. It became clear to me that I needed to acquire a suit.
"After this conclusion, my life was concerned with making money, but since I had no job I took to begging more and more. Other than this, I caught the train in peak hour and observed the workers; I mastered their gestures and posturing, my plan begun to take shape. Once I was confident in this persona I took to using it to beg. This took moneymaking to a new height, people would become convinced I wasn't beyond help. Thanks to this I soon had my suit. I wore it and caught the train at peak times, now while reading the careers page in the paper. From overhearing conversation, mostly from snatches of mobile conversation, I internalised many of their views and opinions.
When it was time for my first job application, I had no problems, I was promptly hired and took my job, catching the train to my first day of work, and I discarded the book that had gotten me here, wedging it in under a seat. My first paycheck was an issue because I had no bank account. I returned to my parents triumphant. They were impressed, to all intents and purposes my life had worked out. They set up a bank account for me, under the pretence that this would make them more able to receive money from me. They, of course were very obliging. What they assumed I had done with my life was what I supported, I decided that the endpoint was the same, and the in-between was meaningless.
I eventually bought an apartment and fully stepped away from my difficult double life of sleeping on the street and working in an office. I begun to imitate the men at work and so doing became fast tracked for corporate success. In accordance with my fellow workers I took to the bar scene with them. There I learnt what they expected from a female companion, after a time they begun to see some of these women frequently and later cohabit with them. I knew that this was must I must do. So it was that I had many girlfriends, though they all were pure expressions of my workmates ideals, I chose you because I saw a concealed flame, an inner sense of personal strength that I felt mirrored my own. But it never really revealed itself, and in truth it still hasn't." This statement offended her, but she knew to allow me to finish.
Concluding I said, "The entire time we have been cohabitating, I feel I have been displaying a persona, one that took a lot of work to develop, but now I feel is holding me back, just as my other lives and personas have failed me."
She stood up, and I was convinced she would leave. Instead she sat cross-legged on the ground. Grasping her right ankle, she placed it on her right thigh, doing the same with her other leg, she sat before me and begun to speak.