The blasting wind screams along the narrow street, engulfing me within its solemn immensity like a frosty cloak. Tickling sensations rush through my body. I imagine giant ants, like those I have seen on TV earlier, relentlessly crawling under my skin. As I think more about these little creatures, I’m suddenly suffused with a profound sense of inescapable sadness.
How the tiny ants stoically bear the burden of their limited existence, diligently making their way without ever complaining or questioning their repetitive enterprise somehow touches me. Miss Thomson always said that I had a vivid imagination and that I shouldn’t think too much about the ways of the world. Maybe she is right: I should simply accept how things are.
Is it already time to go home? Probably. Mother hates it when I’m late; it always makes her so upset. I’m starting to be cold anyway. My white sweater doesn’t do a good job at protecting me from the constant glacial breeze. Now that I contemplate, it looks incredibly bizarre. I can’t remember where and why I even bought it. I’ll ask mother when I get home. Yes, I’m sure she will know, she always does. Reassured by this thought, I look up and ponder the immensity of the ash grey sky above me. A multitude of clouds slowly passes by, making me feel very small— insignificant. They seem to be floating completely freely, unbound by any man-made limitation or bureaucratic restrictions. Complete and immeasurable freedom will always remain unknown to man, except maybe in those rare moments of deeper vision and insight that occur so randomly and unexpectedly. I wonder if it’s like that for everybody. Perhaps one day they’ll be able to control or even navigate the clouds by some means. Only blue skies and accommodating warm sun for the rich folks. Let the poor get all the rain of the world. Maybe they already do, now that I think about it. The clouds steadily travel towards the ever-distant horizon, slowly narrowing and shrinking before they ultimately vanish out of sight. Will I ever see the same clouds again? Probably not, clouds are like people you see in the streets. Some somehow strike you as particularly interesting but then they simply vanish out of sight, never to be seen again. The clouds remind me of the first time I smoked a cigarette. I felt terribly guilty for inhaling nefarious lung-cancer causing toxicity, as mum called it, and simultaneously donating money to those despicable corporations that embody everything I have learned to despise. Like the clouds calmly drifting into the distance, I remember looking at the cigarette smoke as I slowly exhaled it. At first, it was dense and strong but then, gradually became thinner and very sparse until it seemed to completely evaporate into absolute nothingness. This thought made me incredibly sad and, again, I didn’t quite understand why. It reminds me of that passage I can’t seem to forget. Ineluctable modality of the visible or something like that. I cannot remember who said this and I still haven’t quite figured out the meaning of it, but it still somehow touches me, makes me think. Everything changes, all things animate and imitate, I guess. Yes, that’s what it must mean.
I’m so distracted lately. Like those clouds above me or the smoke of my first cigarette, my thoughts seem to repeatedly escape me. They are tangible at first and then mockingly vanish before I can seize and squeeze them like an overly ripe orange. I keep walking, alone in the cold. Everything seems so strangely familiar and yet fundamentally unknown to me at the same time. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this street before, and yet it reminds me of some houses I know, or used to know. A decaying road sign says ‘Memoria Lane’. As I continue walking, I see a tiny black dog with veiny, meagre legs digging like the crazed undertaker from that movie I saw in one of the neatly kept front yards. He’s probably trying to get to a bone. Or does that only happen in cheap comic books? Maybe he’s trying to catch a mouse and enjoying the rare sense of complete superiority and limitless power, feasting on the delicate smell of the mouse’s fear. His target however somehow seems to evade him. As he’s trying increasingly harder, he starts to breathe heavily, making clipped short noises like a dying man. I decide that he’s making a fool of himself. A bit like I’m making a fool of me sometimes when I forget my appointments or the time or where I am.
I’m freezing. The wind howls mercilessly through my clothes and skin. I keep walking. It is getting later and later and mother is certainly starting to worry.
All of a sudden, I think I’m being followed. The unexpected thought strikes me like the powerful blow of an old rusty hammer. Or am I just being paranoid again? That would be pitiable, like that dog tirelessly chasing the poor mouse. I almost hope someone is really after me. I freeze dead in my tracks, abruptly turn my head around and heroically look at my potentially imaginary pursuer. Two men approach, smiling at me. Their smile profoundly scares me: it doesn’t seem genuine but rather intrinsically heinous, emerging as a calculated means to gain my trust and mask their true and, as I’m sure, despicable intent. ‘Hello Mr Cain, have you got lost again?’ one of them asks with the characteristic spurious smile. My thoughts are racing. I’m utterly bewildered. I don’t understand, why does he know me? ‘I’m only returning home just now, my mother is waiting for me, she’ll worry if I don’t arrive soon’ I manage to burble, my voice failing me. This is what fear in its most distilled, existential form does to the bravest of men.
They come towards me and grab me by the shoulders, gently but decidedly. I can sense that they will not depart without me. I realize that I’m not the dog after all; I’m the petrified mouse, waiting for my fate inactively in my corner. ‘Leave me alone, I need to get home.’ They don’t let go of me, but slowly direct me towards a parked white van. I try to resist, push them and finally cry for help, like a damsel in distress I read about in some romantic novel. I’m suddenly so frail and helpless, like an old man. ‘We’ll take you home, don’t worry. Your mum told us to come get you,’ said one. ‘It’s okay, we won’t hurt you’ added the other.
I calm down. Resignation seems to have lifted the sickening veil of terror and panic. Before I know, I simply accept their offer and start walking. I’m so tired all of a sudden and my head is spinning. They take me to the large white van. I get in and, before I know, doze off.
When I wake up, I still feel dizzy. I don’t know where I am, but I’m suddenly under the impression that a thousand sceptical eyes pierce my skin with the precision and calculated remorselessness of a surgeon’s long delicate scalpels. Light bulbs devilishly spit sterile light in my face, creating innumerable sterile shadows everywhere in the room. Where am I? Where am I? Where am I? It is time for me to go home, mother will be most unpleased. Let me go, I want to scream and yet not a single sound manages to escape my sore throat. Everything is so silent. After this kind of monstrous silence, the slightest of sounds would be awfully frightening. I decide to wait.
‘What happened? Can I go seem him?’ The old woman asked. Her face was distorted by worry. ‘Your husband has wandered off again. He walked on his own before getting lost a ten-minute drive away from Manor Court. I’m afraid his dementia has advanced considerably. I’m very sorry madam, but he might not be able to recognize you or your children anymore. In fact, we believe that, by now, his memories only include the earlier parts of his life. He for instance believes that his mother is waiting for him at home, but as you know… she passed away more than twenty years ago. You can go see him if you wish, but be prepared to be disappointed.’
Hesitantly, like a child expecting to be scolded by angry parents, the old woman slowly walked into the dazzlingly white room. Like a death row prisoner firmly walking towards a certain end, the woman already knew what was lying ahead. She proceeded, terrified but stoically. Her thin lips trembled when she addressed her husband of 40 years. ‘Hello Anton, do you know who I am?’ He did not recognise. Instead, he silently looked at her with his twisted, glassy eyes. They were the eyes of someone beholding a person for the first time.
‘I am afraid your husband has arrived at the end of his journey,’ the doctor murmured with an earnest sigh.
Inspired by my time in a local nursery home.
Image courtesy of Chantal Lorang