Sam learned of Oz’s death on his phone.
It was ironic considering that he hated being disturbed by the ringing of his phone. He hated it so much that he hardly ever had his house phone plugged in and refused to own a mobile. Phones seemed only to bring him the worst news and luck. They did nothing more than complicate an already complicated life. Today was different. Today he had been worried about a friend and had just put his phone back on the hook when almost straight away his phone rang.
“Sam, are you there? This is Jim from the office.”
“Good morning, Jim.”
“It’s the afternoon.”
“Are you okay?”
“Nothing…look I have some bad news for you, mate.”
“Oz died last night.”
“What are talking about?”
“Look…I know you and him were close…the police said there was a fire in his home…”
“But I saw him after work…”
“How did he seem?”
Sam lied to not betray his friend’s problems, to not let the world rob a dead man of his dignity.
He would lie in court if need be and who was going dispute such a lie?
He went silent and let the discomfort of a quiet hissing phone overwhelm the conversation. He remembered being a kid and being interviewed the day Joy had left. He hadn’t given anything away then, he wouldn’t do it now.
“Oh Jesus, Sam. Look, I’m sorry, you take as long as like.”
“He was my only family here.”
“Just let us know when you’re ready to come back, okay.”
“Thanks Jim, you’re a pal.”
The man in the room stared out of his window. He thought how death seemed to touch all who came in contact with him and for second he thought again of Joy. He began to itch and felt flushed as his noticed his mouth was dry.
“Another one gone”
Having someone who had come into his life in the way that Oz had, someone who truly cared about him, having this person die shook him to his core. His life here and now just did not seem enough. It was never enough. He knew then that he would leave. The taxi driver had been wrong. It was time to go and leave all other people untouched by his shitty Midas touch.
He lay on the bed watching and what was he thinking?
What do you think about when you receive bad news?
Do you think or do you just feel?
I see Sam feeling and seeing deep into his head.
The only images in his head are memories.
Good memories and bad.
His life in its meaningless muddle.
Outside Sam’s world was the same as ever. Rain still fell, the sun still shone and people still lied and tried to fuck each other over. He was sat in the corner of a café, staring out into the world, on a bright Sunday morning. He was looking at the vegetation all around him. He was really observing the colours, the forms and the richness of their shadows in the early sunlight. He slowly began losing himself in them, feeling them sucking him in. Osmosis. He had stopped thinking and had let go, a moment of peace. His elbow slipped off the table snapping him back to the world and he realised that he had never noticed how green this place was. The trees, the plants surviving everywhere, anywhere, just waiting, lying dormant until man finally destroys himself and life can go back to normal. Back to the silence of Eden.
He sipped at his black coffee, feeling shaky, eyes closed, concentrating on the black bitter taste of the drink, indulging himself in the smell, feeling the weight of the cup in his clammy hands.
He began to dwell on his life.
“What have I left behind? Nothing. The people, the times I laughed, the times I wept, all now in my head. They follow me. Showing me that all I’ve ever done has been for myself.
Every woman fucked, every bottle drunk, every cigarette smoked …
The past is coming back to haunt me, I feel it. The things I did are like dogs snapping at my heels and I don’t know how long I can put off being judged. I see the law everywhere. You only have to look into the eyes of some of the ghosts hanging around in bars here, eyes bloodshot, squinting, tearful, full of self-loathing and hatred of circumstance. The ghosts of the living.
But I am back now. Today I am sober.
Work does not matter, what matters is feeling alive. My company are such a bunch of cowboys that they need me. They need me, as everyone else keeps leaving for better jobs. Better jobs. Who needs a better job than one where you are allowed to disappear for days on end, and when you return they still greet you with open arms. But I know it will not last.
A slap on his back shocked him. He froze, not daring to look at the face connected to the hand. His coffee spilled onto the table. “Jesus!”
Then he heard a familiar voice.
“Wakey wakey, strange boy!”
“Antti…′ mornin’.” He let out a deep breath, verging on the hiccups, slowly reached over to a tissue and began mopping up his coffee.
Antti was grinning at him. That meant he was worried.
“What’s the matter, man, you look like shit. You didn’t get handjob off a faggot or anythin’ last night, eh!”
“So, wha’ did ya do? Where th’fuck did you vanish to?”
“Uuuuuhhhh…I went for a walk.”
“You went for a fuckin’ walk!”
“Yeah…I can’t really forget, y’know. Oz an’ all.”
Antti shrugged, his indifference riled Sam for a second. He knew his friend was trying to cheer him up. That was the killer punch line.
“We tried phonin’ you yesterday, but your phone was off the hook. We were worried, man.”
“Oh yeah”, Sam exhaled sharply from his nose, staring into his coffee cup.
“Look man, WHAT IS THE MATTER? C’mon man, speak.”
Sam stood sharply up.
“Antti, look I…I need some time to figure shit out. Go away, eh!”
“What fuckin’ ever!”
Antti sat in the corner of the café, watching his friend leave, then realising that Sam hadn’t paid his bill, he dug into his pocket and went through the pile of coins in his hand. Not once did he notice the plants.
The way back to Sam’s apartment was a pleasant enough walk, the only irritations being the stares out of the open-air restaurants and street stalls, embarrassed smiles and murmurings, or the sharp piercing noise of a cheap motorcycle speeding homicidally down the soi. Sam just stared at the floor as he passed the eating houses or shouted, “DIE!” after every screaming bike.
It made him feel better.
A light breeze tickled his nose. It was still early enough to feel the wind, he looked across the road to see two children, a boy and a girl, playing soldiers with water pistols. Sam grinned. They were wetting each other, and anything in their sights. Seeing the life and utter disregard for rules from the kids made him feel some of their playfulness. He stopped and did not see the people passing him going about their lives, shopping, exercising, working, oblivious to the dramas in the mind of the lost and damned. The children carried on playing and he just quietly watched.
Oops! He got you in the eye.
Don’t cry sweetheart.
Go on get him!
Good girl, now squirt him in the mouth.
You got him!
His hands are covering his face, revenge, sweetheart!
That’s a girl!
Then the little boy squirted too far, and hit his ancient grandmother, who was just leaving their little Chinese shop to go shopping for supplies. He hit her right in her sagging breast. The old woman looked down at her sodden blouse, walked straight over to the little boy, and slapped him hard across the ear. Sam could hear the sharp noise of the blow across the road. The boy just stood staring at the floor and his younger sister broke into tears. They flowed with her cries.
Sam turned and walked quickly home, still hearing that slap in his head.
As he turned into his apartment building entrance, the security guard gave him the usual smile and nod.
“Hey you, hello!” he shouted.
Sam ignored him, not wanting to hear. Into the lift, forgetting for a moment to press his floor button. Down the dimly lit corridor. Key in the lock, forcing it to open. The door slamming in the wind. Locking the door. Shutting the curtains. Stripping naked. His head began to throb, throb so hard thought that it would explode. Literally cover the room in his brains.
Sam searched under his bed for his little Black Book. Finding it, he fished his lighter out of his jeans pocket. He took the book into his bathroom and began to set fire to the pages. He held onto the book just long enough for the flames to singe the hairs on his hand. When the pain got too much he dropped the book into his bath. Another chapter of his life had ended. Another turn around another corner. As the book burned, he stared into the scorched and bright pages. He saw himself as a child on a Welsh hillside. He had sat there to get away from his family, from their intrusions and tyranny. He pulled his brown duffel coat tighter around his body. Joy wasn’t there anymore. There was nobody there for him. He sat there and looked around him at the damp and sparse Welsh moors and the rain pissed down upon his small head. A lone and sad tree, hunched and devoid of its spring leaves and the dark green moss and grass danced to the music of the wind. He felt something digging a hole inside of him. Its claws scratched against his psyche pulling off layers. It was looking for something. It found a spark. Sam had begun shivering as the claws went deeper inside him burning in the small flame. He opened his eyes and saw the spark in everything. Everything was on fire. The rocks, the tree, the hills, it was all consuming itself. The fire inside everything was trapped.
Then he was back in his apartment and all that was left of the pages of his ash.
He grabbed a handful of the nothing substance and he rubbed it into his hands.
Then he turned and went back into his bedroom.
Something was digging and scratching inside him.
It was looking for something.
Oz wasn’t there anymore.
Lying on the bed.
Staring at the fan moving in circles.