THE BUS SPEEDS PAST Rachel as she’s still walking towards her stop, prompting her to sprint after it down the street. The chase gives her a strange sense of excitement. The soles of her shoes clap against the sidewalk.
The gap between her and the bus continues to grow, making it feel like she’s moving in the opposite direction. It seems impossible that she can make it at first, but there’s a stop sign which gives Rachel valuable time to catch up as the bus is forced to come to a pause – and still more as it slowly starts accelerating again: it’s enough. People are still shuffling on board by the time she arrives, panting at the back of the line. She fantasizes about dropping to the ground and letting the bus leave without her.
She gets on, disoriented, and takes long strides towards the back. There aren’t many open seats, but she spots two near the back, at the beginning of the raised platform. Each one is beside a man sitting at the window spot.
It’s a decision that’s made within a split second, without much thought, but it ends up so that Rachel sits next to the less attractive one; probably because it’s easier. She sinks into the seat – out of breath – absent mindedly wipes her nose with her hand, wipes her hand on the inside of her pocket and feels as though her lungs are too small to take in enough air.
She turns her head and can tell that he’s short despite the fact that he’s sitting down. He has wide set eyes, vaguely brown cropped hair, a brown backwards cap, an unshaven face.
She manages a short “yeah,” before turning back and continuing to focus on catching her breath. It’s starting to get better.
Silhouettes of trees pass by against the blue evening light. It would be easy to imagine the bus sitting completely still, she thinks, with the world outside moving around it.
“It was a pretty long run you had,” he says.
Her response this time is just a short chuckle; the idea of talking seems exhausting. But after a pause, she finds herself thinking out loud: “It kind of reminds me of Zeno’s paradox.”
“Chasing the bus I mean. It’s sort of like that thing Zeno came up with… You know the one where Achilles chases the tortoise, but since they’re both in motion–” she tries to illustrate with her hands as she speaks, but soon gives up. “Actually never mind; it doesn’t even fit anyways.”
“Tortoise and the hare,” he says.
“Oh, yeah… that makes much more sense. Wow,” she laughs at herself, but tries to let the conversation drop there. She’s content with the idea of ignoring him and just sitting there, breathing. She checks the time: 7:20. She would be late.
“So where are you headed?”
“I’m kind of out of breath.”
It occurs to Rachel that he has a strange face, an abstract look that doesn’t match the voice he has; he looks like the type of person who would slur his words. She feels guilty for having the thought.
“Me, I’ll either go to Mckibbins or Foufs,” he continues.
“You don’t know which one?”
He shrugs, “I’ll decide when I get to the metro.”
“You’re not meeting anyone?”
“Nothing planned. I just felt like going out… end of the March break and everything. Amazing that it’s still so blue out eh?”
“Yeah…” It was true. She checks the time: 7:21.
“So, are you meeting anyone?” It’s brought up again.
“It’s hard to explain.”
She’s hesitant to talk about it because she has trouble explaining it even to herself. Meeting up with Vihaan had made sense when she planned it last Wednesday: as an experiment to better understand the people who approached her, her relationship with the external world. What did it mean to be approached? How was her perception of herself affected by it? Maybe something towards those questions could be learned from a brief interaction.
That had been her reasoning at least, but it doesn’t make as much sense to her anymore. Now she finds herself just following the motions that have been set up for her, not really having much faith in them. She stares blankly at her phone: 7:23.
“So I guess you don’t want to talk about it then.”
“Kind of, yeah. Sorry.” She laughs to ease tension.
“It’s alright. I’m Brian by the way.” He extends his right hand, obliging her to shake it with the one she had recently wiped her nose with. She notices that her nose is running again.
“Rachel. Nice to meet you.”
This time she takes napkins from her backpack. She turns her head, clears her nose, and finds herself stuck with the used tissues. While she tries to decide between putting them back in her backpack or fitting them into her pocket, Brian has continued to speak:
“I guess I’m going downtown because I like it more there. I need a change of scenery; kind of tired of where I’ve been lately.”
“I work at a really shitty bar. Do you know Marlowe?”
“I might have heard of it. Never been though.”
“It’s a bar and restaurant. I work in the kitchen at the back with a bunch of morons.”
“Look at my hand,” he raises his palm to show her a large red welt. “I got fucking hot spooned yesterday.”
She just stares at him.
“Not even the good kind of hot spoon either.”
“What the fuck.”
He makes an awkward attempt to laugh, then, prompted by her silence, takes a serious tone again. “Someone put a spoon in the deep fryer and then left it on a counter, so when I picked it up…yeah. They pull shit like this all the time. They just fuck around all day.”
“Shit…they’re really always like that?
“It’s a fucking crackhouse there. The managers, the kitchen staff – everyone. Literally. It’s tense all the fucking time, and the people in the kitchen are so lazy. I’m the only one who puts any effort in my fucking job. But when shit hits the fan I always end up taking the heat, even though nobody listens to me.” He lets out a groan. Rachel just sits there.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “I guess you can tell I’m pretty frustrated.”
“A little. Sorry to hear.”
“It’s just hard. And I mean I did have this friend who used to work in the same kitchen as me. He’s the kind of guy who’s popular with everyone, but he would have my back at least. When he would tell the other guys to stop fucking around and get their shit together they would actually listen – when I try to tell them they always just shit all over me – so it was nice to have him around. But he got fired recently.”
“This guy – Danny – worked as a waiter, and since he is who he is, people would always give him free drinks and shit like that. Well, the manager caught him pissing on the side of the building one night. Apparently beat the shit out of him right there, while he was still pissing and everything. Yeah. They’re fucking cracked over there. Now shit’s just worse because at least fucking Danny would stand up for me sometimes – when he felt like it at least.”
“But you know, I actually stay over at Danny’s place pretty often. He has people over all the time and…well shit’s been a bit rough for me at home lately, so he lets me crash on his couch.”
“Well, that’s nice, isn’t it?”
“Kind of. It’s a trap house over there. Everybody’s taking drugs and having sex all the time. I don’t get into any of it, as you can imagine,” awkward laugh. “Just adds to my loneliness, really.”
“I don’t really know what to tell you right now.”
“There’s something that makes it nice talking to you. I have no idea what it is. It’s definitely not your conversation skills.”
“It’s a fucking curse is what it is.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nevermind.” She checks her phone again: 7:30. Who cares. Vihaan definitely won’t be bothered if she’s late. She wouldn’t care if he cared either. She doesn’t even want to go.
“Rachel Laffer is that you?!” comes a voice from her right. She looks up in a jolt. Intense green eyes stare back at her.
“Oh Julia! Hey!”
Julia is standing tall and confident, her long blonde hair tied into a bun. She’s with a friend of hers – a girl with light brown hair, a tan coat, freckles – evidentially they just got onto the bus. A line of people can be seen slowly moving behind them, making their way outside.
“Been a while hasn’t it?”
“Yeah, a while and a half.”
She looks at Brian and smiles. “Hi!”
He gives a muffled hello in return. Rachel secretly becomes embarrassed by the impression Julia must have of him being a friend of hers.
She turns back to Rachel. “I don’t think I’ve told you this before, Rachel, but I really love your curly black hair.”
“My hair’s brown actually.”
“Oh, is it? I’m sorry!” She leans in, smelling of sweat and bland deodorant. “Yeah when I look more closely I can see it now. Still though, really nice!”
“Thanks,” she smiles.
Julia smiles back, blinks once, then leans back.”Well, we’re going to go grab a seat – take care,” and off she walks towards the back of the bus with her friend.
“Friend of yours?” Brian asks.
“Yeah, we go to the same school.”
A lone tree stands far off in an empty field. A piercing image, it seems to contain some sacred presence, it calls out to you – not in its own voice, but a voice that has rested deep within your sleeping mind.
The voice speaks without words. A solemn inheritance from a time before you can possibly know; familiar in a most mysterious way, yet – as though from another world – all too distant at the same time: the way the deaf might meet an orchestra once heard.
“How shall I deal with this?” you wonder as you look from afar at the lone tree, swaying in the silent field, and how shall you indeed? For there is no way that you can respond to it at all.
At this moment, I am sitting on the side of a grassy curb on Lanthier Street, in Pointe Claire Village. A strange spot for my Author to have placed me. To my left is a small stretch of parked cars; to my right, the rest of the curb.
Across the street from me is the Pointe Claire Curling Club. I can see, through its fence, people playing a game of croquet on an artificial field. They are close to my age: the early stage of what can be classified as senior citizen.
I confess that there are two people to whom I owe thanks for my being here right now, on this curb, watching this game of croquet. There is you, my reader, currently allowing me to exist by reading the words on this page; and then there is my Author, my creator: the naïve child.
It can be said with great certainty that I am not a sentient being. My consciousness is an illusion, the product of this terrible gift that human beings have: the ability to create false realities, ones far removed from their own plane of existence.
My Author, presumably as an experiment – because he can – has cursed me with the full awareness that my awareness is not my own; that my agency is a delusion; in a phrase: that I am a fictional character.
What is it like to understand my false existence so intimately, you may ask? It is something that neither you, nor my foolish Author, can ever understand.
I have just realized, as I look at the distant sky, why it is that I’ve been placed here, by this curb on Lanthier Street. From here, the steeple of a church is perfectly visible, like a painted mural: standing far-off in the background – a small cross placed at the very top – towering over a mass of buildings and trees between it and myself.
Looking at the powerful image – my view of it streaked by strings of telephone wire superimposed over the sky – a strange thought enters my head, almost against my will:
Walk to the church and you will find a symbol.
What choice do I have? I stand up, cross the street, and begin walking towards the direction of the church, along the red sidewalk leading towards the main street of the village. The Pointe Claire Curling Club passes by me.
So, this is what my Author is having me do. I wonder what he has planned…
I must admit that I feel a certain amount of spite towards the child. That spite, of course, is his intention, since I am nothing but his contemplation of how a painfully self-aware character such as myself might react. That makes the spite even worse: he is so detached from his creation; to him, this must be little more than a game. Everything I think and feel is mapped out to his desires, but he doesn’t suffer any of it. I am trapped within the young fool’s will, a will which can never be an adequate replacement for the one I’ll never know.
Though the area by the Curling Club was relatively quiet, as I continue to walk I approach the bright busy heart of Pointe Claire Village. The sounds of passing cars, scattered conversations, and the occasional, obnoxious rev of a motorcycle engine become increasingly prominent. A city bus runs by.
The steeple of the church is no longer visible, having become hidden behind various buildings, all now much closer to me. No matter: I know where it is. It’s not far.
As I reach the corner of Bord-du-Lac – the main street of the village – I see a black metal bench. The humidity of the area has gotten me tired. The bench invites. I sit. So what if my Author wants me to walk to the church – there’s no rush! And to hell with what he wants! (I realize though, that he has probably intended for me to sit down here from the very beginning).
Across the street from where I sit, I can see a small café. People are sitting around charming tables, under beige parasols. I stare at their faces, the way their mouths move.
All of them, sipping coffee and chattering away, seem to me blank – almost devoid of any humanity. I know that this is my Author’s fault; his view of the world is far too inexperienced to produce any sophisticated picture. This unconvincing world he has created is nothing more than a cheap imitation of true reality. And of course, this also applies to the nature of my own existence.
My own existence…what can be said about it? I cannot recall any details of my life; my family, my experiences growing up, the observations I should have made throughout my many years – all of that is entirely inaccessible to my memory, and I suppose, has never existed at all. And how could it be any other way? My Author hasn’t lived the long life that I presumably have. How could I – his creation – understand anything that he does not, express anything that is beyond his own language, as he puts these very words into my thoughts?
So why then has he made me an old man at all? He’s too young, far too young to get my character right! Why create this old soul and restrict it with such limited experience, the understanding of a child? And how can I ever forgive him for such an abomination? I know that the fool is writing this all right now as I say it, fully aware of his crimes!
I rise from the bench, furious. I walk down Bord-du-Lac with impatient haste, paying little attention to the various shops and empty-faced pedestrians which I pass. I must get to the church. I must know how the child can ever hope to justify what he’s done to me. He promised to show me some symbol when I get there: just what will it be?
I reach St-Anne Street rather quickly and turn left. The church is just up ahead. There are less people around now – only a few families scattered here and there; the busy noise of the village has faded away.
The street leads through a stretch of houses, and then towards a view of the lake. White flags, sailboats, are painted in the distance. I make a point of not looking towards the church until I reach the very end of the street. Upon my arrival, welcomed by a calm breeze, I turn my head to the right and see the full building: an impressive piece of architecture. Why does the sight of it fill me with such dreadful anticipation?
It stands on a well-cut field of grass. I walk on the smooth concrete path leading up towards its steps, approach its large red door, find that it’s locked.
My Author has not given me any instructions beyond coming to the church and now I am here. So, where is the symbol he spoke of? What is the message the fool dares to give to me, the one he has created and condemned?
I turn around and sit on the pale steps, scanning the area for any sign. I see nothing out of the ordinary. Was this all some joke, a part of his experiment perhaps?
A long sigh soon leaves me. The infuriated passion that was my affliction before is breathed away with it, leaving behind only the dregs: a bitter depression, a lonely self-pity towards the depraved condition that my Author has left me in.
There is a golden coloured statue of the Christ, with red flowers planted around it, standing across from me, in front of the lake. The blue horizon stretches under his feet. Is this the symbol my Author has intended? No, I certainly hope not – it would be a pitiful one to say the least! No, I doubt that it is. If it were the symbol, I would know immediately, would I not?
But I do find it amusing – this powerful figure from the realm of myth, how it has found its way into this reality as well. I imagine that the statue is an exact replica of one that is in my Author’s real world. What a voyager the Christ is!
I lower my gaze from the statue, and my eyes widen at what I see next.
There, on the pavement below the steps I sit on, an incredibly intricate design has appeared, drawn with dark brown sand. I am certain that it was not there before.
The design is far too complex to describe in detail. I stare, mesmerized. Almost as if on cue, the breeze becomes a powerful wind. The design moves.
Looking at the animated sand as it blows away, dancing in the wind before my eyes, an understanding touches me. How can I describe what I see? Words simply will not.
The sand drifts off and soon is gone, the pavement once again blank, as if nothing were ever there. I continue to stare, sitting absolutely still.
I know the phenomenon was seen by my eyes only – not by yours, my reader, and not by my Author’s either. Don’t you see? It was too elaborate to put into words, and is impossible to clearly imagine in any abstract way, so the event was fundamentally real only for me! Yes, that is the gift my Author has given me, the one comfort in his power to bestow: it was seen and felt by me alone.