Chapter 1: The Unhappy Man
At first I was not so sure whether I should write the following stories exactly as how it happened at that time. Not because I intended to fool my readers into thinking that it was wholly and merely a fiction but because the story, albeit as true as it can be, was a strange occurrence for me or anyone witnessing what was happening. Nevertheless, I believe that my reader would love to hear the very plain truth of what happened on that year, the year that changed my life for ever.
I shall began with my first meeting with the Immortal. I remember it was the beginning of September in my hometown Ravelou, a city whose glory lies not in its culture and arts but in the gloomy shadow casted by the skyscraper of our city. The early autumn rain had just stopped, leaving the city wet and glittery in a mist of steam smoking out of towers pipe, lugging their way towards the sky through forests of steel and concrete.
I had been waiting for the rain to stop, in a bar not far from my office, reading the leaflet of the city theater under the dim light of the brass-furnished place. The leaflet is boasting about the newest classic play currently running, something about an immortal who can foresee the future, but is tortured by the fact that his power, that was unlimited, wanted by many for selfish desires. It was probably a story typical to that era of wizards and witches, old classic. This one, though, was once claimed to be true by the author and the people living in his era.
I could not believe such things for once, and repeatedly thinking of the bullshit while sipping on my warm coffee. Fed up, I tossed the leaflet aside and simply staring at the wall, oblivious of my surrounding as I, and the people in this city, always am.
“Less are interested in plays, nowadays,” a bartender came up and took the leaflet, surprised me, “poor things.”
I didn’t reply as part of me was annoyed by his sudden fake hospitality and lip services. The bartender started mixing some drinks for a newly arrived guest who happened to sit next to me.
“My daughters aren’t interested in books and plays like how I used to be when I was around their ages,” he smiled to his guest, “your drink, sir.”
The newcomer received his drinks in silence. He neither said nor commented anything of the bartender’s remarks on his daughters, though the person was only a few inches before him.
‘oh,’ I rolled my eyes.
“And why are you telling me this?” I asked the bartender rather coldly. The ice in my glass clanked as I asked, the corner collided loudly with the glass as if affirming the lack of empathy in my tone.
The man seemed to be taken aback. He didn’t expect that kind of retort, I reckon. Was he a foreigner? I haven’t seen much people talking to stranger these days, even for hospitality services.
“Forgive me for my impolite acts, sir,” the bartender bowed slightly as he started cleaning glasses with a piece of blue cloth, “I just noticed that the theaters are currently low on actors and funds while offices are packed with people.”
‘oh yeah right, like it’s your business,’ I added mentally.
I left the bar right when the clock arm struck seven, keeping my eyes on the ground I was walking on, staring on the glossy, wet cobblestone into the reflection of the city.
I hadn’t even walked for five minutes when someone grabbed my arm and pulled me. Surprised, I looked up and resisted, thinking it might be a thug, but registered the face as my colleague in the city ministry office. I sighed in utter annoyance when the rat like face grinned to me. With a little shake I released myself from his grab and tidied the arm of my coat.
“Christ, you startled me,” I adjusted my top hat, “you could have just called my name.”
“I know, but I couldn’t,” he replied, seemed agitated, “Come with me, come on, I’ve got a deal.”
“Just come,” he pulled me again. I sighed in defeat and decided to follow him, to the bar I left just minutes ago.
When we entered, though, I noticed a difference. A hooded figure was standing around the corner, talking to a person with thin, groomed moustache, who seemed to be the manager of the place. I hurriedly averted my eyes from the strange figure and followed my colleague to one of the table. An attendant approached us as soon as we took our seat and waited without a single word, his face sour, his lips was pulled into a straight, unpleasant expression while his eyes blinked lazily. I casted a glance to him, avoided his eyes and asked for Tia Maria as I wanted something less alcoholic, less dry while my friend opted for neat whiskey.
“What is it?” I asked, still eyeing the hooded figure in the corner, now walking towards the empty, dusty and chipped stage in the bar. I have never seen anyone performed anything on that stage, it just stood there like a dilapidated, annoying big box everyone seemed to frown upon.
“Do you remember the scoundrel that got you scapegoated?” my friend asked.
“I heard he’s currently in a project, seemed unclean. We’ve got ways for you to pay what he did.”
“It’s your chance.”
I sighed, this kind of things again.
“Listen--” I was trying to explain when a single soft note echoed through the room.
Some turned their attention to the stage, though brief, where the hooded figure had seated on a chair, holding a strange instrument with strings. He had had taken his hood off, and much less to my expectation, the person was still very young, with long, braided reddish hair and sun-kissed skin. He looked around the room, before turned to look at me straight in the eyes. The young man then smiled and nodded to me, as if I am one of his acquaintances, before addressing the whole room with greetings and announced that he will provide a little ‘enjoyment’ for them. Still surprised, I shifted my attention back to my friend, who was looking at the young man too. I didn’t even realise that the attendant had had our drink delivered.
“You know him?”
“Nah,” I shook my head, “how would I know a busker.”
I expected the young busker to sing like most on the street, barely able to hit the right pitch and hoarsely singing the lyrics, so I paid no attention to him again. Turned out he only played the instrument.
“How is it? We can help you with that.”
I rubbed my temple and looked at my colleague, before sighed again,
“Listen,” I said, “I have had enough with him. I don’t want to pick a fight. I have necks to be saved,” I told him, “if you want to do anything with him, go ahead. I won’t hold you, but I will not help you either.”
He growled in frustration and drank his whiskey, “we’re trying to help you here. Look, if this succeed, there will be a chance you’ll get--,”
“Yes but the risk is far greater if it ever failed. Beside, I’m done with that person, I don’t want anything to do with him.” I drank my drink fast, “find someone else.”
He huffed, “oh well I can’t force you,” he leant back, “but I really thought that this is a good chance for you.”
I shrugged my shoulder. The minstrel caught my attention again, still playing the strange, harp like instrument. I thought he was going to only play the instrument, but a moment later he took a breath and start singing a song I’ve never heard. Much to my surprise, he sang in a gentle, husky voice, much like a whisper, but not really a whisper. I couldn’t explain it exactly in words; it’s just that there are tint of sadness, hint of wisdom, and whispered tales behind it. The song told of a lover in a distant place separated by war, and how they long to meet each other. We turned our attention to him for a short time, some even made an effort to got up and throw coins or a little money to the busker feet at the end of his robe, as he didn’t provide anything to keep the changes. He smiled and nodded to every person who gave him something.
“He sings nicely,” my colleague commented, watching the busker, “but singing in a place like this is a waste. He could have sung in the theatre.”
“Yeah, whatever” I grumbled, still watching, “Are you going to give him something? Don’t be, you know, these lazy people only know how to have fun and ask things from someone else.”
“Nah. I don’t have change,” He stood up, “I’ll pay for your drink. Are you leaving now or...”
“I’ll stay for a while,” I said to him wryly, “thanks.”
“Hey, no problem.”
I watched my friend as he left for the stage after paying, threw two coins at the busker feet, who nodded and smiled as the coin landed with a soft thud on the stage. He then walked out and I shifted my attention back to the busker, who had ended the first song and began with the second not long after. He has a very serene expression while singing and I silently envied that gentle, carefree look in his eyes. Tears begin to form, and even a slight shudder creeping up my shoulders as I listened to him caroling in foreign tongue.
“Strange,” I thought, “I haven’t had myself trembled to a mere song for a long time,” I watched the candlelight swung slowly, the light moved as if swaying with the carol.
Around one hour later, the bard stopped singing, once again addressed the bar customer with impressive politeness and collected the coins without even bother to count them. I was rather disappointed when he stopped, but everything eventually ends, so I too, stood up and left the bar, tightening my coat as it’s getting colder in the evening.
Little did I know that I had just caught a glimpse of death.
The night passed without any downpour, but the dryness last only until the dawn. There was no sun at the time it was about to break through the horizon, instead dark clouds rolled through the sky, sending beads of water down the skyscraper. It was already thirty minutes past eight in the morning, but the darkness is a reminiscent of six. On the ground level it is hardly any different as the skyscraper always cast dark, heavy shadows onto the earth, allowing only few streak of light illuminated the man made gardens, pond, and streets.
I walked with my eyes glued onto the cobble street, watching only my old leather shoes making subtle noise as they stepped onto the arranged stones. Hands shoved into the deepest corner of the coat pocket, hurrying through the crowd in the tram station exit, making myself as small as possible so as not to bump into others. It was drizzling, I can feel the water sprinkled on the back of my neck.
There was a song stuck in my head since this morning, buzzing on the corner of my brain. I realized that when I stopped walking to wait for the traffic (the sign across the street read stop for us and go for the cars), only when the low hum ceased for a moment. I casted a single glance to the sign, before again drowning in my own thought. The tone came back again. It was one part sang by the busker from the other day. I could not remember his face, nor I can recall the entire lyric as it was sung in a foreign language, but that was one sad song, I can tell. What was it about anyway? I mindlessly stared at slow moving clockworks across the street, humming the earworm to myself.
“That was a folk song.” A voice commented. The same voice I heard yesterday at the bar. Gentle, young, and polite. I looked to my side, noticing the singer from whom I heard the song. His sudden presence surprised me, to be honest, but I tried hard to keep my feet nailed onto the earth, suppressing my jolting nerve system. He turned to me, smiled. A very, very gentle smile, though sad, perhaps even angelic, I don’t even know how to describe an angelic smile nor I know how does it look like. I tried to smile back, obviously awkwardly, raising both corners of my mouth with extensive effort.
“Good Morning,” He said again, bowing slightly, to my surprise, “I hope you will have a good day, despite having to have to go through failure today.”
I stunned for a while. Do I suppose to understand this abrupt, alien, out of nowhere vague statement?
“I-I beg your pardon?”
The sign changes with what I imagine to be a sound of moving clockworks before he could say anything further. The crowd around us instantly moves, like a programmed crowd of robots. It took me by surprise, again, but this time I quickly averted my gaze and started walking, acting as if he wasn’t speaking with me.
He might be a loony after all.
“We’ll meet again,” was the last thing I heard before I stepped down to cross the road.
The attendance-checking machine clanked loudly as I checked in my card. I flinched at the gritting gear before leaving the lobby into the tower, shifting my messenger bag as I walked to the elevator.
The gate closed with a loud dragging sound, the machine wheezes as I and the other three person made our way up the tower. I looked at the row of yellowish floor button on my left, noticing one of them had the light flickered and almost dead. The person next to me shifted and accidentally poked my sides, much to my annoyance.
My mind wandered again. I had just a fight with my wife early this morning. She had been moving things around and tidying up when I came out from our bedroom and tripped over things she stacked up near the door. It pissed me off, and apparently it pissed her off to. Why should she stack everything near the door while there are plenty of space somewhere else? We may live in a very small house, barely enough for two of us, but there gotta be a space somewhere else. Can’t she see I was in a hurry?
Actually we have been fighting over a lot of things for the past months. We have fought over something big, money, income, her habit of collecting small chinawares and where to put them, or something small like who move the flower pots and where were the keys. We have been married for almost eight years without children, and we’re getting older. I think we’ve stopped kissing almost for a year now. She has been fuzzing over small things, getting concerned for all things micro and have been trying to finance herself to no avail and I simply let her be. Since when did my life turn so bad?
I snapped back to reality when the elevator stopped with a loud rang. The door dragged open again, and I face the usual corridor I’ve been walked on for ten years. With heavy steps I treaded the floor, reached for my cigarette and lit it up as I pushed the door to my office open. I was halfway in when my steps froze at the sight of someone standing leaning to my desk, papers in his hand. He’s my boss, and to see him standing over my desk, that means I’m in big trouble.
“Oh there you are,” he greeted non-chalantly, “I read reports about you. Your manager also told me things.” He showed me the paper then threw it to the table, ” that’s it. You’re fired. Pack up and leave by today. I’ll transfer your remaining salary and compensation later.”
I stood still on the door. The world was spinning too fast for me.
“Good luck,” he tapped my shoulder as he walked past me. I couldn’t open my mouth to answer him, nor I could digest the news well. It stuck on my chest like a burning coal.
I was fired. I, a man who had nothing else to do and nowhere to go, now had become a pitiful, jobless man.