Writing Kenyan Prayer Scarf earthed my sorrow, and the imagined death of the character provided some of the release death might bring – but only for a moment, which may be the case, as it is in the story. So, my morosity remained, which resulted in another short story entitled The Solitary Man.
The Solitary Man
In a filthy bedsit, in London’s east end, a fifty-one-year-old man sits upon a steel-framed plastic chair, of the kind one may find in schools, with his elbows resting on a small, square Formica table.
The tumult of the city, thundering outside the single-glazed window of his apartment does not bother him. In fact; he barely notices it, since he is deep within his mind, searching for words to express the meaning of life, and describe how humankind may unite to create paradise on Earth, instead of continuing to allow a minority to create a living hell on the brink of a Third World War.
He understood how this may be achieved the day before, after almost thirty years of isolation and intense contemplation of life’s meaning. He senses the realisation will leave him if he fails to express his thoughts immediately, so he licks the stub of a worn pencil and begins to write within the blank pages of an old school jotter, which was the only paper he could find.
’To create a metaphor, relating to science’s attempt to understand our planet, and the universe within which it rotates, one should imagine a fully functional passenger jet being placed on an island of primitive natives while they are fast asleep. Their curiosity, upon awakening, would undoubtedly lead the natives to investigate the aircraft, and perhaps they would feel they are beginning to understand its reason for being when they utilise various elements of its construction to create jewellery and tools, and so forth.
They may arrive at a great many theories regarding its origin and purpose, which may make perfect sense to their limited intelligence, and lead them to believe they will understand everything, eventually, if they persevere, even though it is obvious to the creators of the aircraft that they are miles off the mark.’
He stops writing and sucks the end of the pencil. It tastes bitter because he has been digging his ears with it whenever he has paused for thought.
“No” – he mutters, as he rips the page from the jotter, screws it into a ball and casts it upon a great pile of debris surrounding the table, which has been gathering since he had been released from an asylum, some thirty years before.
“No. That’s not it at all. I’m beating around the bush” – he concludes. He counts the remaining blank pages in the jotter. “Seven” – he says.
He takes a tattered, torn, dog-eared book entitled The Last Revolution from the only shelf in the filthy room, and flicks thoughtfully through the pages. He doesn’t bother reading any of it, because its condition is the result of his endless fascination with the work. The author was ridiculed, along with the concept of a true global democracy, but he is sure it holds clues regarding how paradise on Earth may be created, through the collective intelligence of the planet’s populous. He licks the pencil and begins to write;
’Should true democracy develop on a planetary scale, global civilisation would be created through the collective intelligence of humankind, rather than the fragmented stupidity of a minority. Of course, not everyone would wish to participate in creating their societies, just as there are those who do not vote in general elections in today’s political arena. Yet; those who would may voice opinions that would otherwise be unheard within the so-called democracies we currently inhabit, which only presents the majority with an opportunity to choose the minority who will govern them.
True democracy may be compared to X-Factor, where a country’s citizens are given the chance to express talents that may otherwise pass unnoticed. In essence; true democracy would unearth politicians in the same way X-factor discovers superstars ....’
He stops writing, frowns, and sucks the end of the pencil again, which tastes less of earwax and more of wood and lead, which has been exposed through the pencil being chewed during moments of contemplation, since digging his ears had ceased to stimulate his thinking.
“No. Again, I’m wandering off the point” – he grumbles, while ripping the page from the notebook and flicking it to zigzag through stale air, towards the pile of rubbish, upon which it eventually rests.
He turns his head to look out of the window, but they are so grimy he only observes four rectangles of grey glass. Nevertheless, their blandness transport his busy mind to a relative peace, where a thought settles, accompanied by words to express it. He licks the pencil.
‘Humans are very adaptable’ – he writes. ’We occupy lands from the far north of the planet to the deep south. We adapt to our environment, no matter how inhospitable nature has rendered it. We make our homes upon ice and snow, in deserts, and deep within rain forests, and live as all creatures on Earth, in the way we procreate and raise our young as well as we are able, so our species may survive and flourish.
Nature places a great many obstacles upon our path, such as cyclones and tornadoes, tsunamis and volcanoes, which may destroy life on Earth, should they erupt. We accept we are unable to prevent catastrophes created by the forces of nature, and only wish they will not occur. However; the greatest threats to our existence are not created by nature; the destructive forces are the creation of those who govern our kind – whether the consequence of global warming, which may render the planet uninhabitable, or a hostile political climate that may result in a nuclear holocaust.
Although the majority of humankind would be able to prevent these forces from causing irrevocable damage, by revolting against those who govern and taking the destiny of our planet into our own hands, we choose to place such concerns in the back of our minds and simply hope they will not occur, in the same way we try to forget about the destructive forces of nature.’
His writing has grown large with excitement, and he has already reached the foot of the page. He stops, reads what he has written, frowns and says – “no! I’m totally missing the essence of enlightenment.”
A sense of panic rises within him as he counts the pages remaining. “Five” – he sighs. He casts his mind back to the night before, when years of jumbled thoughts seemed to have been drawn together to form a picture which made perfect sense – as if each thought were a piece of a jigsaw puzzle he had been unable to complete until that moment. He knows he will be able to express the enlightenment with a few hundred words, if he chooses them carefully, and if it grows much longer he may overstate the vision and the point will be lost. He licks the pencil.
’If everyone were to describe the world they wish to live in, and every wish were to combine and manifest in reality, a paradise would form overnight. Perhaps it would be fair to assume that no one in the world would be hungry, and each would drink clean water from a tap or well. Every homeless person would be housed, and every child taught to read and write. The threat of a Third World War would vanish, and peace would reign on Earth.
So, imagine that you, I, and everyone alive were to write a short essay, describing the world we wish to inhabit, and all were placed in a giant pot, as though a melting pot for dreams ....’
The pencil’s point has worn to wood. He twists it and tries to write, but tears a hole in the page. He jumps up from the chair and rummages through a dresser’s drawer, in the tiny room, with the hope of finding a pencil sharpener, but only finds a small, blunt pocketknife, which he uses to peel back the pencil’s wood and expose the lead. Once the pencil has a reasonable point, he sits down and re-reads what he has written. The hole in the page distracts his attention, and his mind falls blank. He rips the page from the jotter and crushes it within his hand, before tossing it towards the pile of rubbish surrounding the table and licking the pencil.
’Behold everything you see. Everything you touch, taste, smell and hear was once nothing but a dream. Everything that has not been made by humankind was once nothing more than God’s dream, and everything that is was once nothing but a dream within the minds of our kind. The dream must arrive before the materialisation, just as a thought before an action.
To dream a dream that is unable to manifest, because the dream is forced to remain as a dream by other dreamers, is against the laws of creativity. If the dream of flight would have been forced to remain as a dream, we would never have flown. If the dream of travelling through space would have been crushed by those who did not share the dream, we would not have set foot upon the moon. And if those who dream of peace on Earth are only considered idle dreamers, we will always live in a world at war.
Has war been created by a minority to protect their dreams? Has our world been constructed from the dreams of humankind, or only from those who govern our lives, who force us to exist within their dream, which manifests through our effort? Do we work to build their dreams at the expense of our own?’
He is almost at the foot of the page, and knows this will not do; he thinks it sounds like whimsical revolutionary propaganda. He tears the page from the jotter, screws it up and hurls it against a wall, from which it bounces, before falling upon a pile of rubbish that grows with every thought he attempts to express.
Three pages. He knows he has to think carefully. The enlightenment had something to do with God, and there is only the One God looking over us all. He was particularly surprised by this element of enlightenment since he considers himself an atheist, or an agnostic, when he isn’t totally depressed. He licks the pencil.
‘As science continues to unravel the mystery of our existence, investigations regarding consciousness will lead scientists to conclude that God exists.’ – he writes.
’They will arrive at the conclusion that there is a God, and there can only be the one God. This will inspire debate regarding the world’s many religions, which most will agree are the result of considering the concept of God in a world divided by borders, language and culture. When this realisation occurs, religious wars will end, and the planet will unite in peaceful worship of the divine; The One God.
Even if you do not believe in God, imagine for a moment that He She or It exists. Imagine that God created this planet, and the vastness of the universe which hosts her majesty. More; imagine you are this Force, which has created all that exists, and the Earth is your pride and joy. Imagine you gave each of the inhabitants – from the tiniest to the grandest – free will, and one species the gift that you, as God, has; the ability to turn dreams into reality.
You, as God, anticipate the furthering of your creation by this species. You imagine they will spread beauty upon the Earth from the dreams they dream of a paradise on Earth. However; you did not anticipate the task would not be as obvious to them as it is to you, and you are horrified to see attributes manifesting within some that did not exist in the universe before their creation.
The natural altruism you have instilled within humankind is being destroyed by the will of an almost imperceptible minority, who lust for power, wealth and fame. As a result of their influence, peace transforms to war. Kindness to cruelty, fairness and equality to greed and exploitation. The minority mark out borders to stop the free movement of the majority, so the dreams they dream are unable to spread from one land to another – and it is the dreams of all that would combine to create the paradise you have envisioned. In a desperate attempt to resolve the situation, you prepare a book for their contemplation, but hundreds of versions of it emerge since the world is divided by these borders.
Not only has your attempt to unite humankind resulted in religious warfare; your will has been misconstrued. Most believe God wishes to be worshiped, and will be very angry if the praise is not enough, when really all you wish for, as God, is that everyone takes good care of the planet you have made for them and treat one another kindly and with respect.
You are exasperated beyond measure. You have grown tired of all the hymns. Most are Godawful. You would like to remove those responsible for the catastrophe from the face of your creation – pick them off your planet as one might fleas from a dog – but your fingers are too big and clumsy ....’
He stops, grimaces, and slaps his forehead with incredulity. Not only does he sense he is straying from the point, yet again, but he absent-mindedly turned the page in the jotter and began to write on the second last page, which means there is only one page left. He rips both from the jotter and rolls them into a tiny ball – tosses it into the air – and head butts the sphere of failure towards the heap of refuse and hopeless hope.
He stands and crafts a needle-sharp point on the pencil with the penknife, before resuming his seated position with his face resting within his hands. He sucks air through his fingers, while attempting to regain the composure necessary to create a one-page manifesto for global reform. Once he is breathing steadily, he licks the pencil and begins to write in a tiny, precise hand.
’Our spirits begin to die before our bodies, because we pass from a fantastic lie into a terrible truth. Once we realise that everything we believed as children was only a lie, we fall into spiritual shock, which heralds the commencement of the death of our souls.
The task of parents is to hide the real world from their children, by creating an imaginary world within which they may grow healthily, because they would not be able to do so within the real world. So, children believe the world is a magical place, full of unimaginably beautiful possibilities; a world of fairies and goblins, Father Christmas and Easter Bunnies – a place where dreams can come true.
As we grow, and realise this magical world does not exist, the spiritual world of youth collapses into the grim physicality of existence. From the moment childhood ends – when the true ways of our world are revealed to us – the joy of life is replaced by a struggle to re-establish its meaning and purpose.
As children we dreamed of being astronauts and pilots, and kings and queens, but when we reach adulthood, we expend the energy, once spent on dreaming, hoping we may pay our bills on time, or that we will not lose our jobs, because we may lose everything if we should, or that we will not be destroyed in a Third World War.
To live; to escape the death of adulthood, all we should do is dream again, as we did as children, and believe our dreams can come true, no matter how fantastic they may seem. We should dream the dreams of adulthood as we dreamed in our childhood, and dream we have the power to transform this troubled world into the magical world we once believed existed, before we were told the truth – that the world is not magical at all, but only governed by greed, war and fear, and that dreams have limits. Yet; our dreams are only limited by those who have created the world we live in. Now is the time for the dreams of humankind to combine and manifest in reality, to create the world the world dreams of living in ....’
He sits back in his chair – sensing he has found the flow – but he is three lines from the foot of the page, and knows he must find more paper before his train of thought is derailed. He jumps up from the chair, pulls a drawer from the dresser, and empties its contents onto the pile of rubbish creeping up the walls of the one-roomed bed sit. He tries to quell a rising sense of panic, as he frantically rakes through a variety of bric-a-brac, before spinning around and grabbing the handle of another drawer.
The incredibly high levels of mercury in the market-place pencil he has been licking react with the medication he takes for a heart condition, which causes a massive cardiac arrest. He slumps to his knees; dead before his body hits the floor.
He lies undiscovered for several weeks, until the smell of decomposition alerts a neighbour. Once his body has been taken away, to be burnt unceremoniously in the district’s crematorium, the council arrive to clean up the mess.
Council workers carry black plastic bin liners full of ancient rubbish outside, and toss them into a skip sitting at the roadside. The majority of residents on the street are oblivious to the passing of the solitary man, and once his flat has been cleaned and the skip removed, the only evidence of his life upon it is the tattered, torn, dog-eared copy of The Last Revolution – lying on the road, next to where the skip stood – and his jotter, with its single page turning slowly to and fro in a chill, autumnal breeze.
A young schoolboy, passing from the wonders of youth into the grim reality of adulthood, picks up the book and the jotter, and after stuffing the book into his schoolbag, he reads the solitary man’s last words as he makes his way home.