I’ve had a busy week and even though I started two pieces, I couldn’t find the time to finish even one. So this week’s story is a blast from the past. This one landed me my first freelance writing gig (oh, what a short and uneventful two months those were) two years ago. Copy-pasted without edits because like I said, an incredibly busy week.
I first noticed my inability to see color on the 21st of June: five months after losing my job, two after losing my flat. I was walking down an abandoned trail in the Nature Reserve, counting to myself when I suddenly remembered that it was autumn. Autumns were supposed to be crisp. Autumns were supposed to be yellow. I found myself puzzled by this strange discovery. I picked up a dried leaf and tried to remember how it was supposed to look. Brown morphing to orange morphing to yellow. It was a futile exercise. I let the leaf slip through my fingers and heard the soft crackle as I trampled it without further thought.
Five hundred five. Five hundred six. Five hundred seven.
The best thing about not having a job is you have a lot of time; to think, to walk. The best thing about not having a home is you can keep walking. I stopped thinking and started walking after being pushed out of my cramped half-bedroom flat.
“Your kind is not welcome here.” The landlady had said viciously. Usually, I would have put up a fight. That day, I just nodded and walked. I haven’t stopped walking. Every day I start from zero. I count as I walk, stopping only at restaurants asking if I could work in exchange for food. Sometimes they let me eat. Sometimes I count to thirty thousand and then some until I fall asleep.
Most people who see me, see a rather peculiar twenty-something-year-old man with disheveled hair and a strange far-away look. Or so I have been told. They sometimes ask questions.
“What do you do?”
“No, I meant… are you working or studying?”
“You must be one of those artsy people. You look that way. Lost in your thoughts. Tell me what do you think about so and so happening at such-and-such place?”
“I don’t think.”
A forced laugh now. This is about the time they realize they’re talking to someone a bit
loose in his head.
“Oh come on. You have to think about something.”
“All the time?”
“All the time.”
“I lost my job.”
“Because I used to think.”
“How so?” They lean in now, hands folded on the table. Curious.
I smile and leave.
That is the routine. You see, once you have stopped thinking life is so much easier. There is no anxiety gripping your chest. There is no fear of the shadows lurking in the dark. There is no worry of tomorrow or the next hour or the next second. There is no good, bad, different, strange, mysterious, new…And apparently, there is no color either.
In my old life, I used to think. I used to write. Sometimes, I would sing but my friends would immediately tell me to shut up. So when a major controversy broke out in the news about Very Important People doing Very Despicable Things to a Very Insignificant, Much Oppressed Fraction of the country, I thought. I spoke. I wrote. I marched the streets. I shouted. I whispered.
Slowly my friends distanced themselves.
“Oh sorry, That Really Important Thing came up.”
“Would love to go with you but I need to show That One Cousin around town.”
“Pizza would be great but I’m on The Diet.”
I could see what was happening. Because I could still think. And when I wasn’t writing The Opinion Piece or The Highly Passionate Argument, I would catch myself thinking about People Who Didn’t Care. The Passive Observers. The Shoulder-Shruggers. And so it happened that one day the HR lady called me to her office, a pleasant smile on her face, a lethal document in her hand.
“I’m sorry but The Company has hit a rough patch. We would have to let you go.”
“But I’m more qualified than Janice from Accounting.”
“But Janice doesn’t criticize the society. Janice doesn’t care. I’m sorry, but it has to be done.”
Your kind is a tumor in this society. Your kind is ungrateful. Your kind is unwanted. Leave.
And so I started walking. And stopped thinking.
Six hundred and fifty-two. Six hundred and fifty-three. Six hundred and fifty-four.
I’m used to not seeing color now. I’m sitting on the edge of a pavement outside a hair salon. A young boy walks up to me.
“Your hair is long, like a girl.” He says. I look at him and then go back to looking at the gray road with the gray cars.
“My mom’s getting her hair cut. It’s so boring inside.” He plops down beside me. “What are you doing?”
“What? The number of cars?”
“No just numbers.”
“Because I don’t think.”
He chuckles. “What does it feel like? To not think?”
I pause. “…Empty.”
“You paused! That means you thought. I made you think!”
I smile at him.
“Why don’t you think?”
“Thinking is useless. Thinking gets you nowhere. Or worse, in a lot of trouble.”
“I get into a lot of trouble at school—Hey look! It’s starting to rain!” He holds out his hand to catch the raindrops. “My mom says, the first few drops of rain, they bring good luck.”
“I don’t believe in luck.”
He’s standing up now. “Of course, my favorite part is when the storm hits. I love it!”
The rain picks up and soon it’s a merciless downpour. The little boy has his face turned skyward. He is laughing.
All night the sound had
come back again,
and again falls
this quite, persistent rain.
Robert Creeley. A small voice in my head whispers. And suddenly, just like that, there are more of the voices. Verses upon verses of forgotten poetry. There is a storm outside. But it can’t even begin to compare to the blizzard of thoughts in my brain.
The door of the saloon opens and a woman walks out shouting. Within moments, she has the young boy by his collar.
“What were you thinking? You’ll catch a cold! You’re grounded!”
Epiphanies are strange. I look at the mother and son. He’s grinning at me as she tries to dry his hair with a handkerchief. From the gleam in his eyes, this wasn’t the first or the last storm he would dance in. He tries to pull away and the handkerchief traces a graceful arc as it falls.
It is Red.
This story was written as part of The Ray Bradbury Project. I’m writing one story a week for a year (or as long as I can keep it up). You can read the previous installments by checking out the tags on the right!