‘Who am I?’ It’s the third time he’s asked that question to himself today. The hundredth this week. Today is a good day. On the television a man is telling another man how great he is. He feels he should know who both the men are but he doesn’t. His hand reaches out for the remote control, he wants to turn it off, but there’s a strange draw. He has nothing but contempt for this individual who has made a lot of money, lives in a big house and is for some reason adored by millions. Stupid hair, sly smile. Crook. ‘Prick’. The word slips out of his mouth. He presses the red button, only his own reflection left in the television.
He picks up his pouch of tobacco, hands shaky, he’s not sure why they’re shaky, it’s starting to worry him, he should go to the doctors but that means the doctor might tell him he’s dying. Next week. Definitely next week. A sip of coffee, a pull on his roll up, a long stream of smoke streaks across the room, the sunlight making it linger in the air. He looks at the clock. Ten o’clock. Still early. Could go and get the paper but that woman will be there and he doesn’t want to see her because he looks a mess and well, he fancies her. He’ll turn red, stutter, say something stupid. Wait until it’s gone two and she’s finished her shift. Asif will be there then. He likes Asif, he doesn’t say anything, no questions.
‘Who am I?’ he’d forgotten about that fucking question, just for a few minutes now it’s there knocking around inside his head. Not a bad person, I always help people if I can. Jesus, just because you help people, it don’t make you a good person. Now he’s arguing with himself. He closes his eyes and shakes his head, as if it’ll shake that unanswerable question from his brain. He opens his eyes again, another pull of his roll up, blowing out the smoke. What if he is a bad person? Then what? Does it mean he’s fucked for the rest of his life? Will it always be like this?
A small black cat brushes against his leg, he reaches down with his hand, not looking at it. He’d found it in the rubbish chute, it was almost dead, skinny, barely able to move. Spent all his money on getting it fixed up. Now it never leaves him alone. Of course it won’t leave you alone, it loves you. He picks it up and puts it on his lap. ‘Sorry.’ The cat purrs, kneading his jeans. It loves him. He smiles, a sad smile, a loving smile. Sad because the cat is all he has, loving because he has the cat. He puts her down on the floor again, she looks up disappointed. ‘Sorry mate, need to go out.’
He looks in the mirror. His blue eyes looking back at him. He doesn’t look too bad today, not as bad as he thought. Puts on his jacket and looks in the mirror again. Doesn’t look great, really. Sits back down on the sofa, does he really need to go out? What’s he going to get? The woman next door, is talking to someone. A saviour, he won’t go out until she’s gone, he doesn’t want to talk to her or see her. He likes her, but she fusses and she’ll say she ain’t seen him about recently and she’ll ask questions and he doesn’t want to answer any questions.
Phone vibrates in his pocket, looks at the number. His mother. He ain’t talking to her now, she’ll only be moaning about something. What’s she got to moan about? Life is good, nice pension, goes away on holiday twice a year. She better not come knocking today, he doesn’t need that grief. A million fucking questions and no answers. He shakes his head, it ain’t her fault. It isn’t anyone else’s fault. A deep breath ‘Sort yourself out.’ That’s what they keep saying to him. How do you do it? Is there some sort of switch and if there is, where is it?
Another deep breath, he’s going to do it this time. He’s going to go out. Another look in the mirror, not too bad. Could be better. He can’t meet his own eyes, scared to look at himself, scared to see what lies inside. Hand reaches for the door, hesitating before turning the latch. Once the door’s open there’s no going back, someone would see and they’d think he was a lunatic. They think badly enough of him as it is, can’t let them think he’s nuts as well. Step forward, out into the open. She’s there. He thought she’d gone.
‘Hello, son! How are you? Not seen you out and about for a few weeks. Thought you was dead!’
She likes him, always liked him. Nice polite young man. Bit quiet, don’t really say much, looks like he thinks too much. Sometimes she wonders if she should ask him for a cup of tea or something. He could do with someone to talk to, he don’t ever have any friends around. Well he did, but then they stopped coming and now he never goes out. Poor kid. Must be having a tough time of it. What can she do though? It ain’t really her business, he might think she’s interfering. Could do with a hug, that’s what he could do with.
It’s a joke. He knows it’s a joke but his heart sinks. It’s that word ‘death’, it sends shivers through his whole body. Not because he’s scared of it. No, because he keeps thinking about it and he can’t make it go away. He wants to tell someone, but they’ll just think he’s gone mad. Maybe he has gone mad? He smiles weakly at her, she beams back at him. She goes to say something and then stops. He thought she might invite him in. Why would she? It’s what he wants. Just to sit with someone for ten minutes. He hears her door shut as he makes his way along the landing to the stairs. Head drops, she probably doesn’t like him.
At the bottom of the stairs, he looks one way then the next. Which way? He doesn’t know. No direction, no purpose. Just go back upstairs, you’re safe at home, no one can see you, no one can bother you. If no one can see you, no one can hate you. Not everyone hates you. No one hates you. Conflicting voices. A fight in his mind between the rational and the irrational, the irrational always wins. And here he is stepping into the world of the rational while the irrational stokes hatred, not hatred of them, hatred of himself.
A newspaper. He’ll go and get a newspaper. She’s there though. She might have finished work or have a day off. Head down, he sets off towards the shop, eyes flicking up to make sure he’s going the right way. Opens the door, his heart pounding. Looks up at the counter. No one there. That’s good, no one there, he can’t buy anything so it’s best to leave and go home. She appears, smiling. Why is everyone so happy? He smiles back then looks down at the newspapers. Doesn’t know which one he wants, they all look the same, not able to take in any information. He pats his pocket, pretend you’ve forgotten something. Back out the door. A mess, he’s a complete mess.
Sitting in the park, going over and over his ridiculous attempt to buy a newspaper. Another roll up, his chest hurts. How did it all go so wrong? It had all been so right and now it’s gone. Alone, nothing, failure. Two kids kick a ball between each other in front of him. Laughing, taking the piss out of each other. That was him. A few years ago, with his own mates, kicking a ball about, friends. Now they’re gone. Where did they go? They didn’t just disappear. Slowly, slowly. But that’s what he wanted and he doesn’t know why.
A blackness, a cloud. It had just appeared one day. It took over everything. Enveloping his life. All those hopes and dreams he’d had? They’d never be realised. The cloud had snatched them away and persuaded him they were just foolish, childish naivety. There had been glimpses of sunshine, tiny rays of light poking through but they were fleeting, teasing, taunting him. Look at what you could have had, then disappearing back behind the cloud which cackled at him. It had control and it wasn’t going to relinquish it.
One of the kids rolls around on the grass, pretending to be hurt. His mate laughs with him. A smile spreads across his lips. A genuine one, one of those glimpses of sunshine. Maybe he could be like that, maybe he can turn it all around and it’ll be back to how it was. Sunny, summer days in the beer gardens with his friends, enjoying the company of people. Hatred gone. That’s the hardest, hating things you don’t want to hate. They pick up their ball and head home, slowly ambling across the grass, happy. He’d forgotten what that felt like.
A man and a woman pass, holding hands. A surge of jealousy pulses through his body. He can’t look at them for more than a second. He wants to be that man and there’s no way he can see he will ever be like him. He gets up from his seat on the bench, turning away from them, heading back home to his safe place, the place where he can’t be teased and taunted. Except by himself, but he can handle himself. Well, almost.
A quick look up at the balcony. He’s hoping she’d be outside. She’s not. Probably gone shopping or talking to one of her friends in the kitchen. His hope lies in a woman he doesn’t really know, a woman who has no idea what is going on inside his head. Passing the door he stops, listens. No sounds, she’s gone out. If she’d been there, he’d have stopped, talked to her. Told her he wants to scream out loud because he doesn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t have. He knows he wouldn’t have. It never comes out, he’s tried. The cloud tells him he’s stupid.
The cat is waiting for him, purring, rubbing against his leg. He reaches down and picks her up, sitting down on the sofa. Tears fill up his eyes. He looks down at the cat, she rolls on his lap.
‘I don’t know why this happened and I don’t know what to do.’
She jumps down to the floor, playing with a piece of string. He’s failed. Into the kitchen. He takes three cat bowls from the cupboard, filling each of them up as much as possible with food. She purrs as he puts all three bowls down on the floor.
‘That will do you until someone finds you.’
He leans down and softly kisses her black fur. Sits back down on the sofa, makes another cigarette. Smokes it slowly. Enjoying it. All doubt has gone. There’s no need to doubt anymore. He smokes the cigarette faster, it’s getting in the way now. Stubs it out in the ashtray. Stands up, turns towards the window which he’d left open. No hesitation. The drop to the bottom over in seconds. Life flashing before his eyes. It doesn’t matter. It’s over. The cloud is gone.
If you know someone who is lonely and depressed talk to them. You’ll make a difference.
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