Act III. The Boundary Between Immersion and Drowning
I don’t know what I’m doing.
My shadows dance from my front to my side then back again. This is due to the speeding cars’ headlights and the street lamps that cast uneven figures on the sidewalk I have been on for about an hour or so. The lights come in white and yellow to vaguely orange, but I have a limited color palette. Just as my shirt is white. Just as the sky tonight is just black.
I enjoyed my Physics lesson today, but its late schedule was met with a late dismissal. It’s 5:30-7:00pm, the latest schedule a 3rd year student can enroll in. It made me miss my last bus ride home. Now here I am, unable to fetch a taxi on a highway beside a wall of graffiti and murals. The art consisted of very happy students looking away and very sad faces looking at you. There are some holes here and there, but the art is enough to veer you away from the textural flaws of the wall. And now I am on my first time walking home. It’s just a straight stretch of road, I thought. I don’t think someone can mug me in a well-lit place even at night. Someone will stop driving to help me just in case, I thought.
It’s unusually chilly tonight. I have my smooth, cottony jacket with me with my backpack firmly under it for security purposes. I have my handkerchief on its right pocket as both of my hands are snugly fit inside. My hands and face feel oddly damp. I’m not sure if it’s the moisture. I’m not sure if it’s sweat. I’m just sure that it’s there. What isn’t there however is my ID card. I probably left it in the classroom. As the cars buzz in and out of my ears as I realized how far I am now from the gate of the campus.
From what I understood from my Physics professor, this undulating noise from the cars is because of the Doppler Effect. The closer the object is to you, the louder you can hear it. Their engines all sound the same to me. Just like that white car’s. Just like that black car’s. I look at the walls and see a myriad of colors. They looked the same at first, but some looked odd.
I heard a news today about the increasing number of unregistered art along these walls I am traversing by. It said that famous works of certain graduates from this university of mine made most of these murals, all of which tell the world how diverse and open we are. Now there are murals in black and white with a signature I’m familiar with. I can almost hear the paint as it was spread along these walls. The sound of that red guided by the brush of a woman who wanted to show flames of passion. The sound of that black that is expressed as a spider with the face of a very sad human.
I could hear my breathing, but I wasn’t tired.
It hit me that the free gallery of murals from the entrance up to now is starting to become wild. Signs of graffiti like political discontent to declarations of love to warnings like not staring at the wall began to show. Rogue art, like caricatures of discontented people, rose from mere words to disembodied voices that are now talking to me. Sometimes they are narrating as if they were storytellers. Sometimes they are just in a labored breathing, as if they were sick.“Oust this guy for robbing my life away from me.”
“We are the people they say they are listening to.”
“We are actually the people they are leeching from.”
“Matt loves Erin but not the other way around.”
“He’s following someone for a while now and the latter doesn’t know.”
These seemingly random stories are giving me a sense of thrill. I don’t like this discomfort I feel as they talk to me, but in a way it distracted me from everything else. Maybe it was this feeling of being engrossed in art. Maybe this is what happens to art enthusiasts. The art itself is speaking your language.
Some objects like garbage bins were in the way of some murals. Some smelled of rancid urine. Some were probably just-abandoned kiosks with faint smells of barbeque, hotdogs and calamari. Some isolated bags smelled fishy. Some grassy areas smell like rotten eggs. The various smells were too… Shall we say, varied. Unlike this wall.
From then I knew this wall had something special in it. All these people inside in a dichotomy of emotions. No one was angry. No one was disgusted. No one was shocked. It’s just either happy or sad. I couldn’t even count them all but the happy ones were of different art styles. Probably different artists. I realized that it’s just the third time I saw a sad painting on the wall, and it was the same face. The three were probably of the same artist. The same frown. The same droopy eyelids. The same stare.
I could hear my breathing, but I wasn’t tired.
It dawned on me that my shadows didn’t dance as much as it used to, that only the street lamps were the source of light. There were no more cars. It was just me and the wall. My heart skipped a beat and it felt like my shirt was glued to my back. My feet now moved a bit faster as I scanned the highway. There’s no sign of any nearby car, only scraps of garbage strewn about but not enough to call it messy. I looked back and saw just a stretch of darkness with a few lamps in between. Enough to light everything else except the darkness behind the trees, around the corners of the kiosks and plants and through the overpass and on some uneven flaws on the wall.
It was a one sided conversation ever since, I realized. The murals have been talking and talking and talking since god knows when. My clock stopped at 3:09 but I could have sworn I was checking it before I left. My knees started to beg for a moment’s reprieve and I removed my eyes from the sad face on the wall. It felt like it wasn’t sad for himself. It was sad for me.
It made me realize just now what a shitty life I have, and not just because I missed a bus. Not because I can’t fetch a cab. Not because I’ve been walking for a long time. It’s because I was always alone. Left with no one to talk to.
I reached for the yellow juice drink on the bottle pocket of my bag which was hidden between my back and my jacket. It made me look like a hunchback, I thought. Like I was carrying the weight of something I didn’t want. Something that was just dumped on me. I twisted the cap as I sat on the sidewalk in a temporary surrender, sad and tired. My breathing was heavy and labored. I could feel blood rushing through my temples. The taste started from cool and lemony into a bit metallic. I looked at it but I couldn’t find metallic objects nor blood inside. I feel a bit sweaty, but I didn’t move my jacket an inch.
I had everything to hide, and this jacket made sure of it.The sound of my breathing started to move away from my immediate surroundings but I was still tired no less. I looked at my stagnant shadow. It started to look like it wanted someone new to follow, as if it was bored with me. I stood up and began to walk again as my shadow left me.
I looked back at the mural and it began talking again. In and out of politics and personal rants.“Our university is the best, it’s just this and the others.”
“My girlfriend is what everyone sees, I see a room with a light bulb.”
“The requirements are hard but the achievement is the ultimate.”
“She was a sick, sick girl.”
“People are dying in hunger.”
“We want change and we want it now.”
“Your dad is still there only because of marriage.”
“Don’t look.”I could hear someone breathing, but he wasn’t tired.
And like the Doppler Effect it started to go louder and deeper. It felt like my ears are vibrating with it. But now I’m sure it isn’t me increasingly getting tired. Now it’s as loud as ever and I could see the sad face again, making me feel it’s being condescending. As I walk along the wall that spanned like it was a whole city, I can only see the face changing ever so slightly from sheer sadness to anxiety to antagonism to interest to exhilaration until that grin was so huge that it stopped there. Then when I expect to see the face, it was just a blank frame. Just a painting of an empty portrait frame, where a face should be. After few meters and empty frames away, I started to miss the face.
I look closer into a blank frame. Slowly, I run my damp fingers along the edges of the frame. The frames are holes all along. Now I painted it gray with my fingers. My hands have loose strands of wet hair and gray blood. I dye blood every time with black and white. They wouldn’t think what’s been shielding the university, what’s been considered as an exhibit of fascinating art, is actually covered in blood of students long forgotten. Using blood is impractical for painting but thanks to those who donated their blood, I feel like my message is being sent to everyone. I shove my hands back into my jacket’s pockets, afraid. I know these are mine.
I don’t know however, who I am. I should have went back for my god damned ID card.
I can’t take it anymore. The hands I have aren’t mine anymore. It takes off my jacket and removes the man’s head from my bag. I tug too hard at the scalp, it seems. But now I can fit his head on this empty frame. I find myself muttering “Everyone who likes you gets placed here,” humming something I’ve never heard before. Everything else feels automatic as the mossy, forgotten wall was adorned by another mural. I adjust its frown and those droopy eyelids. I make sure everything was sculpted well.
I could hear his breathing, but he wasn’t tired. He’s just a portrait.
I can see a wall along a highway no one drives by anymore, adorned with heads of people who try to hurt her.
I pull the mirror out of my bag and caress my face that only had a smile on it. I can’t see my full reflection. “Erin,” I said. “I hope you can love me now.” I set my mirror so that I can see behind me. I can see cars on the highway through the reflection, but there’s no sound. I turn around and see the university wall behind me. It isn’t my university anymore, anyway.
Now that this man has been taken care of, I can use his face as my own. Maybe with a more handsome look, people will appreciate me more.We are all plagiarists and thieves after all, I thought. But I could see myself with this.
Matt thought he was watching a video, but he didn’t know what he was doing.
He was suddenly in front of the wall being featured in the video a while back.
There’s something missing, Matt thought.
And with gray ink on his fingers, he finished the piece with his signature in cursive. Grayscale. That was his alias.
Now My Monotonous Hell is complete.
MARSHFIELD— Officers are heading up to the infamous “Freedom Wall” of Featherbrook University (also known as FU) for the appearance of a number of unauthorized murals. The Freedom Wall is known to house art made from selected alumni. From colorful and inspiring artworks, the murals are caricatures of what seem to be anthropomorphic objects or animals. Said murals have been reported to have a sweet, coppery smell, and police dispatch confirms that they are painted with blood dyed with black, white and a combination…
...with the only clues being a mysterious signature in cursive that reads Grayscale.