I: Them Days (A)
In the beginning...
“What would you say about it?”
“Life?” He asked. “Well, life. Huh, I just wish it ended now.”
Lights fade in, and a figure of a man, my Grandpa, appears, sitting atop a hill, gently sloping over a vegetative land, and overlooking such green lands for miles.
It was all plain, but for the vegetation. No settlement, no wildlife, and no structure. Nothing too big. Not even a tree. Just the beauty of it—the green. And more of it. The horizon looked beautiful. A few hills bowed to the magnificence, sticking out a little beneath its orange fore, just enough to complete the touch, with one or two clouds from a distance, dangling atop them in a relaxed manner. They formed shapes, like feathers, and others like faces, smiling down on the little creatures below; what little beauty remained of mother universe.
Beside the man, and a few inches to the right, sat I, a 12-year old jolly boy—full of among many things, life. I had my knees folded up against my thighs, my left hand fastening them on the front, with the right completing the lock. I looked over at the same lands as Grandpa, and as he spoke, every bit of word sunk to my little hungry mind, like a drop of water to the desert sands. I was a hungry one, alright. Hungry for knowledge. Especially the ones that came in stories. I loved stories. It was definitely one way to spend my evenings. With our old man, telling tales of the past, and his feelings of now.
They were puzzling, most times. I couldn’t crack through some vocabulary, which I would have to ask that he re-explained. And Grandpa would sigh, then proceed in his usual, steady tone. “A revolution, little one, is when you say NO. We have had enough. And you make the change—you stop waiting for it to be made for you.” And as usual, our conversations would leave me with some emptiness; a blend of inexplicable hunger for more, and inescapable confusion, on both the message and the intention of it. The feeling that someone wanted me to understand something. They knew I wouldn’t, of course, but went on, anyway, punching my mind and heart, with holes, whence questions would later overflow. Mostly “what-ifs”; at times, “why.” But I gave up on the latter, eventually.
On that day, I tightened my generic foot strap, and wrinkled my face some more, trying to figure out why for a while now, Pap seemed to drive the same message in almost all his conversations—that he was tired of life. Well, of course, I should have understood him more; he was an old man. But it was quite troubling how he’d put it. He always had an edge to his voice, and it was hard to miss the emotions; they were dripping off of every word.
He finally turned to look at me, Grandpa. He sighed, then shook his head lightly. He fixed a steady gaze on my face. “Oh, child.”
“Pap,” I said.
“You’ve always had that fiery eye; you know that?” He chuckled, his shoulders involuntarily dancing in rhythm. “And I like that. I like a fiery eye. It means you’re not only attentive, but you’re also confident. And respectful. You’ll listen to everyone and anyone—and that’s good. It’s a good thing to carry with you, child.”
I looked on. If Grandpa was right about one thing, among many, I could keep a resolute lock on any speaker. I was attentive. And hungry.
“I remember.” He went on, slowly turning back to his initial position. I followed him with a similar gaze, before turning to the same lands he looked at so nostalgically. The sun’s rays were starting to dim off as it sunk further down to the earth. Its effects were still vast and evident for far. “I remember how life felt when freedom was ours. I remember how it tasted, freedom. It still is, right there. Lingering; at the tip of my tongue. Oh, it was sweet, I tell you. Sweeter than the bird poop, they told you came from the bees. Ah-ha! Little one, the real honey, was worth the carnage. O’, freedom! When everything we had felt like ours, and we didn’t have to pay for our very own existence. Subscribe to live. What is this world, now, this—life?”
He looked down, a frown dressing over his wrinkled face. My tiny heart sunk, and even though some things he was saying were too heavy for my mind at that time, I understood how my old man felt. And oh, I wish he knew that. Perhaps, it would give him more solace. Then, I didn’t think anything would.
Grandpa looked back up, then turned to me. I could have sworn his eyes were misting up, and I couldn’t control the heaviness that was taking over my heart. A tear squeezed itself out of the corner of my eye, and he noticed it. He took a deep breath, exhaled, then turned to the lands from before.
A smear of shame had overtaken the nostalgia, and it was all over his face— a new look of resignation like he had failed. Me or the world, I thought, dear late Grandma. And everyone he held dear. I translated it to sorrow, a look I couldn’t write off. I wished I knew more adult stuff. The little I could carry was the weight of his sadness, his pain. And the questions that were but building spaces. Making homes, in my heart, and my mind. I listened anyway. He went on, shifting his eyes from left to right, then back. He lifted off his right hand from the ground, with his index finger sticking out like a rod, directed towards the horizon.
“There.” He said.
“Right there. The end of there. Where there is nothing, but-but, a mystery.” He pointed on, and I maintained my gaze on the horizon. “Do you see it?” He asked. “There. Where the sky meets the earth.”
“I see it,” I said.
“That’s as far as our freedom goes.”
And I looked on, with renewed interest. I unstrapped my feet, then stretched them flat on the earth, folded my hands, and looked.
“Yes?” He turned to look at me.
“There is—nothing, there. The world moves-round, they say?”
“You’re right, little one. Go on. Uh-huh?”
“So, if our freedom lives as far... I don’t know!”
“I like your thinking. I’ve said before; you’re not only a fiery eye, but a fiery mind, and a fiery heart too!” He smiled, then went on. “Have I ever told you what a chimera is?”
“A-Kem... kai...” I mumbled the words before he took over.
“And a dream?”
“Oh, that I know!” My face lit up.
“A dream is what you hope to achieve, isn’t it? That goal. Ambition, they’ve also called it.” Grandpa said.
“Uh-huh, yes...” I nodded slowly.
“A chimera is like a dream. The hope is the same, but the good book says—it is illusory. Something impossible to achieve.”
I nodded my head as I followed.
“I said it, son. I remember how it tasted. It was heavenly. Now, the heaven is just-just right there. A far, we can never reach, however hard we try. Day and night. Never! Freedom.” He stopped, swallowed, then proceeded. “It is a fallacy. Like the things they said were endless. Timeless. Forever. A life we once lived but lost. It’s now but a-a chimera!” He shook his head lightly. “You know. My old man used to tell me. ‘Once you get into shackles, even if you succeed to get off them, they never get off you,’” Grandpa swallowed.
“Always leave a mark! Bigger shackles inside your heart. And in your mind too. You’re never truly free, child, listen. Our shackles came off. But not the ones we built for ourselves. And it started day one! When the real ones came off. We moved them inside. To our minds first. And then we starved reasoning to death. You know, they say some things die, and die for good. I believe it now.”
He suddenly stopped, then returned to his initial position.
“That’s enough, now,” Grandpa said. “Your old man is just some bitter old bear. Let him be, will-you?”
“No problem, Pap,” I said with no hurry and watched him nod his head slowly, quietly.
Grandpa suddenly sprang to his feet. In his old age, I was surprised by how much balance he could still gather. He supported one knee with his right hand for a few seconds once he was up, and my eyes remained on them for a few more, just to be sure he was okay. “Get up, boy!” He said, waving his hands up. “Quick, quick!”
“Your Grandmother! You know those fools might have already come to harass her, and oh, fools! We spent the whole afternoon here. Quick! With your little feet. Go check on her, go!”
“Oh, pap!” My heart crashed. It was perhaps the most hurtful part of my days around him, and knowing the possibility of no cure for it, all I could do in such times was fall to actual despair, whose ins and outs I understood, better than Grandpa’s long speeches, and coded lessons.
It was not the first time that this was happening. Of course, it did, every afternoon we went out for a “breeze of life” as he liked to call them. I wouldn’t take him every time if I could finally admit to myself the inexorability of this particular phase each such time. I would perhaps not take him at all if it were a simple choice, not even for his calcium-insufficient bones. But, when Grandpa wanted something, your opinion would remain just that—an opinion. Like a faraway cry most times. He was sick, and he didn’t even know it. He had been told many times why he took the pills, but old age has something with it, you know. I didn’t understand much about his condition then, but what had been fed to me—that he was sick.
I tried to reach out for his hands, but he violently resisted, warning me off. “Do not come too close, son. Your Grandmother needs help, not my silly old hands. I said, run!”
They were almost the same statements every time, and of course, they would rattle my 12-year old pants to the bowels, and I would take to my heels, obeying obsolete instructions which broke my heart too. I ran anyway, knowing it was better that way. And that I would return with dad, calming the panting old man down; before promising that everything had been taken care of and that Grandma was okay. We’d then give him a glass of dosed water as we walked him slowly to the house, where he’d sit in his usual couch for a few minutes. He often said one statement, mostly the same, hardly ever different, but he did switch at times, just before blacking out. This time, he roared the usual. “Rosalie, my wife. Come here...”
Grandpa’s story was often a sad one, but it had formed a part of my life. A part that I somehow knew, though with a heavy heart, that I would carry with me for long. Perhaps for eternity. But then, I didn’t know how long eternity was. So, I lived on. And it was not life, indeed, as he said. We were living on the breadcrumbs of freedom, and I only came to see it later on, when my mind opened more to reasoning. When I could grasp more than a few vocabularies, and when I could dare flip a whole page, having consumed thousands of characters in hundreds of words.
And such a consumption didn’t turn to waste. It became a journey of discovery, and I walked it. First, unraveling secrets to the heart of this puzzle that was starting to trouble me—life.
Well, it seemed quite simple. Just flip a few more pages? But really, every word turned to a lesson learned. And I read many, many words. Day and night, I couldn’t stop. I read on until I could hear voices in my head as I walked. Just my atoms, I’d figure, reminding me to walk faster, so that I could continue with my insatiable search for everything that made life as green as the lands Grandpa and I looked over. And then there was the connection, lessons, and entertainment. I was never lonely anymore.
And even though I departed from what they called the real world, I felt my soul sip into another, which was full of beautiful souls; souls that didn’t want violence, money, fame, or more of what stained their real world; but a flip of a page, and more quiet space. It was good for the mind. And I realized how hungrier it got every after sessions. A well that couldn’t be filled. And I got better, and the world seemed better, and many impossible things, possible. But before I was interested in making the impossible happen, I was first drawn by the varied perceptions different authors held of the world. And a particular one that I so often like to quote, now, by Philip K. Dick, read:
Maybe each human being lives in a unique world, a private world different from those inhabited and experienced by all other humans... If reality differs from person to person, can we speak of reality singular, or shouldn’t we really be talking about plural realities? And if there are plural realities, are some more true (more real) than others? What about the world of a schizophrenic? Maybe it’s as real as our world. Maybe we cannot say that we are in touch with reality and he is not, but should instead say, His reality is so different from ours that he can’t explain his to us, and we can’t explain ours to him. The problem, then, is that if subjective worlds are experienced too differently, there occurs a breakdown in communication ... and there is the real illness.
Chapter continued in the next part. Please drop a vote or comment. Thank you!