A Dream Of Poe - The Wraith Uncrowned
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“Thank you. Have a nice weekend,” the young man said to the bakery’s sales assistant and put on the friendliest smile he was capable of. Then he stepped back out on the street and turned right to follow the pavement back home. Now that he had bought himself a loaf of fresh bread for the weekend, he had finished his last errand and could do whatever he liked. Only theoretically, of course. Practically, there was little to do, just as always.
When walking down the shopping promenade, he looked down at the ground most of the time. He knew every inch of this street, so there was nothing to discover except for a tidal wave of unknown faces which never subsided. The more interesting these faces were and the more exciting the personalities and lives behind them seemed, the more he felt the need to look away. But from time to time, it was still necessary to look up. This time, he looked up just in time to see a blonde woman about his age standing in front of a café and taking an impatient, almost irritated look at her watch. For some reason, he stopped at once and took a sudden decision: Since he was free to do whatever he liked, now was the time to do something extraordinary – by his standards, that is. He had nothing to lose, but at least there were new experiences to win.
Putting on the most self-confident face he was capable of, he turned to the woman and said, “Your rendezvous is late, huh?” She turned her eyes away from her watch to see where the voice had come from – it might as well have been the voice of her watch, since the information must have been about the same. When she noticed the young man standing in front of her, she seemed slightly surprised. After a moment of hesitation, she answered: “Yeah.”
“How long have you been waiting?” he asked. She took another look at her watch: “Exactly sixteen minutes. It’s about time!”
“Indeed, it’s high time he turned up.”
“How do you know it’s a he?”
“Just guessing. You know, when somebody’s making me wait, I always set myself a limit of ten minutes. If they haven’t arrived by then, they’re standing me up and I leave. I think you’re too generous, standing here for sixteen minutes.”
“But I’ve been looking forward to this date so much.”
“I tell you what. How about me buying you a coffee instead? Or whatever it is you’d like to drink.”
The woman raised her eyebrows, thought for a few seconds and finally took yet another look at her watch. Looking up again, she said, “Coffee’s fine.”
“Is that a yes?” he asked.
“Let’s just take a seat right here in the sun, shall we?” She pointed at one of the café’s tables which stood outside on the pavement. He took off his coat and sat down as requested. To anyone who had not heard their conversation, it had to look as though he was the rendezvous she had been waiting for. Now that he had finally arrived, the waiter hurried towards them so she would not have to wait any longer. The young man ordered two cups of coffee.
“So,” she began, looking at him with bright eyes. She asked him about his flat, about the reason why he was right there at that particular point in time, about his leisure activities and his thoughts on this and that. Sometimes she laughed with restraint, but most of the time, she just listened. Whenever he tried to ask her about something, she gave a short, almost laconic answer only to ask the next counter question right afterwards. He soon realized that he would hardly find out anything about the woman whom he had just bought a cup of coffee. Quite the contrary, he was the one giving all the information in this interrogation game, and there was no end in sight. He could not make head or tail of what the woman was aiming at – she did not even seem too interested in what he had to say. She actually frowned more often than she laughed, if only slightly. Finally, he interrupted himself to ask, “You’re not too fond of individualists, are you?”
“Indeed I’m not,” she answered. “I like those who are part of the system and who know their part well. I’m fond of those who try to contribute to the whole instead of trying to be a whole themselves. Y’know, those who have their place in the world, who know where this place is and take it. You, good boy, don’t seem to have a place here. You’re not part of anything. And for all I know, you’re far from being whole. You’re far from being anything, I daresay.”
“At least I try,” he said tentatively.
“Well, boy, it’s a lost cause. Trying won’t get you anywhere.” She drank some of the coffee he had bought her and lit a cigarette. “Want one?” she asked.
“No thanks,” he responded. “I don’t smoke.”
“Surprise surprise,” she said, smiling at him. “See, that’s exactly what I mean.”
There was an uncomfortable silence, and they both seemed to feel that their conversation had come to an end and they should be going. He did not want to seem impolite, however, so he did not say a word. Instead, he waited for her to speak or give him a good reason to say farewell and leave. Since he wanted to be ready whenever the moment came, he sipped the rest of his coffee. It was almost cold, so while swallowing it, he shut his eyes for a moment as if in pain. Then he looked up to find her staring down at her cup. He decided to do the same after putting down the cup he was still holding in his hand.
The next time he looked up, he noticed a tall, thin man of middle age approaching their table. He was coming down the pavement towards them, and his eyes were fixed on the young man’s face. He was wearing an elegant black and white suit and a simple black hat. As soon as he had reached the table, he cleared his throat as though there had been a conversation to interrupt and said in a distinct, low voice, „Excuse me, young man, may I have a word with you?“
“Why would I want to talk to you?” the other one replied. “Who are you anyway?”
“Please. It’s important,” the man said just as calmly as before, and his face did not show the slightest sign of offense. His addressee figured he would not give away anything if he listened to what the man had to say, so he got up, grabbed his coat and said to the woman, “I guess we’re done here.”
“Yes. It appears so,” she answered. “Goodbye, boy, and have a nice life.”
“Sure,” he replied, but only for the sake of politeness, for he neither believed that the woman’s wish was sincere, nor did he believe he would actually have a nice life. Ever. While following his obscure new dialogue partner across the road, he heard her calling after him: “Thanks for the coffee.” He made an almost imperceptible wave with his right hand and kept walking.
The tall man led him down the street and then turned left into the next side road. After a few steps, the younger man stopped abruptly and said: “Now what?” The other one turned around and smiled brightly.
“Do you know why you’re here?” he asked.
“Well, I thought I’d have a cup of coffee.”
“Is that so?” the tall one kept on asking.
The younger man began to feel irritated and said with impatience in his voice: “Yeah, with milk.” But this did not seem to be the answer his dialogue partner had been hoping for. His face was alert and still waiting for a proper reply.
“In fact, I was walking home when I saw that girl standing in front of the café waiting in vain for her rendezvous. So I figured…” – The other man raised his finger to interrupt him, waited a few seconds, looked him straight in the face with a stern expression and finally cleared his throat once more to ask, slowly and with more emphasis this time: “Do you know why you’re here?” He made a wide gesture with both arms. “I mean, here”, he said.
“Ah, I see”, the young man replied and had to laugh. He was beginning to think that the mind hidden underneath the black hat was not working too well. Maybe the guy had had one pint too many this morning trying to forget that a simple suit cannot cover up his inner void. Right now, it did not really matter whether he was generally out of his mind or just confused for the moment for whatever reason – either way, the young man did not want to be too rude, for you could never know how such people would react. So he tried to give an honest answer, hoping the man would leave him alone soon.
“Just because,” he said. “There’s no deeper reason to it. I’m here – period.”
“Is that really what you believe?”
“It’s what I think. I don’t believe in anything.”
“Then you probably won’t believe in what I have to say, either. But I will have to say it nonetheless.”
“What if I told you that you are one of the elect few who will always have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders so the rest of humankind will be able to live?”
“Go on.”
“Unfortunately, there is no such thing as equilibrium in the world. The elect few I have just mentioned – they can never achieve true happiness, and their existence will never be more than a vague shadow of what they would want it to be like. Disappointment and disillusionment are the cornerstones of this existence, frustration and bitterness are the results and ultimately the only emotions which will last. Nothing special will happen in the lives of the select few. In fact, there will hardly be anything worth mentioning when they’re asked to tell anecdotes about their past. While others will always have lots of nice stories to tell, some of which could easily have been taken from a film, the select few will only be able to respond to these stories with even more frustration and bitterness. The world needs their frustration and bitterness for the stories of other people to become possible. The elect few, therefore, play a very important part, their task is mandatory, and yet they will never be given credit for it. That’s part of it, too. Their lives are those of martyrs who will never be recognized, not even after their sorry death; martyrs who will not be canonized and whose memory will not be treasured by anyone. It’s a job you don’t apply for and a job you can’t quit.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you are old enough to give up hope. That will be the only balm granted to you. You are still hoping too much. Give up on it. It will only make it worse. It’s time to resign to your fate. You’ve done a good job so far, you know.”
“How would you know what kind of job I’ve done so far?”
“Just try and believe me.”
“Well, belief is just the issue, remember? Actually, I’ve often thought something along the lines of what you’ve just told me. Sometimes even the word ‘curse’ has crossed my mind. But as I’ve told you before, I don’t believe in anything of this kind. In fact, I don’t believe in anything at all. There is no reason for all of this, no purpose. A great bunch of insignificant coincidences, that’s all. There’s nothing more to it. You want me to give up hope? Well, piece of cake, I don’t have much of it left to give up on anyway. It seems like I’ve tried everything. We seem to agree for the most part – the only thing I really can’t agree with is the idea of being elect and having a task. There’s no significance to anything I’m doing. Not only is it just coincidence, it doesn’t make a sodding difference. If I wasn’t here, the world would be turning just the same.”
“If you weren’t here, someone else would be in your place. But that is really insignificant, because as a matter of fact, you are here.”
“Whatever you say, man, but I still don’t believe in this will-of-providence-crap.”
“Do you believe you’ve just had a cup of coffee with milk in a café around the corner?”
The young man thought about the question for a few seconds. Then he replied, “No, I know I have.”
“Can you tell the difference?”
“What difference?”
“Between believing and knowing.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t see what you’re getting at. How long are we gonna play this game?”
“You believe I am playing games?”
“Yeah, I do. Like those parlour games in which there’s two teams and cards with questions on them, that kind of game. The difference is, there’s no way to win this game because there’s no right answer. You’re gonna keep asking me over and over again, no matter how many answers I give. I don’t believe in anything, so I don’t wanna discuss belief, you see?”
“You believe I am playing games.”
The young man just stared at him and said nothing.
“You believe you know that you’ve just had a cup of coffee.”
“Look, I still have its aftertaste in my mouth.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Then what is the point?”
“Do you believe I am now standing here talking to you?” was the tall man’s next question. It turned out to be his last one, too, for before his dialogue partner could answer, he just vanished and was nowhere to be seen. A moment later, it was impossible to remember his face. Only a vague idea of his voice was still echoing in the young man’s head, but even this piece of remembrance was fading. Soon there would be nothing left of the freak except for his pathetic suit and hat.
The young man arrived at home without even noticing that he had been going there. His intellectual game had distracted him so much that he had entirely forgotten about the world around him for the last few minutes. It was as though these minutes had never happened, as though within that timeframe, no world had existed except for the one inside his thoughts. The universe had consisted of himself and the man in his suit and hat, nothing else, and most certainly no one else. Now that he took out his key, everything had returned. Everyone had returned. He had returned to everything and everyone and would be there to stay away from everything and everyone just like before. He would be confronted with everything and everyone forever just like a Christian believer discovering God through a telescope and being forced to keep watching Him for the rest of his life, unable to figure out how to send off a radio message up there.
When he unlocked the door, the key seemed to let him back inside the world of which he would never be a part. Suddenly he believed that there would not be anything in the post box that day. And he was right. But at least he had some bread for the weekend. Now there was only one question left to brood over: Why was it that his intellectual game had been conducted in a foreign language? Maybe it was because he felt like a foreigner.

(All rights reserved. Please do not copy this text without my permission.)

Sidetrack Walker - Dark Chamber Pop for the faint of heart.

Mon Jun 11, 2012 10:34 am
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