Colours. The simple shades fascinated him, the delicate mix of softness and warmth – the beach; dunes, white and sharp melding with azure water, the breeze and mellow waves of bright sun. Ben’s feet were bare and ankle deep in sand. He couldn’t feel its sharpness beneath him where the wetness had sculpted it into the hollow of his feet. It was sharper seconds ago until the cool water ran around his feet, lapping at it and numbing it. He heard someone come in; the steady click-click of heels on marble interspersing intricately with the rhythm in his head. He didn’t turn around when she spoke. He didn’t listen. He merely nodded when she finished, not to her but to the orchestra whirling out notes in his mind. His eyes were lost in the view in front of him. It was one of the reasons he picked this building when he needed to buy one for his law firm. The view of the Atlantic Ocean from his office gave him an unearthly kind of peace.
“Sir!” someone called, subtly imperative with slivers of exasperation.
He returned slowly, from the glitter of the ocean in the distance, borne back on wafts of warmth with the shells of imagination dissolving around him. “Beatrice, have you ever wondered, how beautiful life is?” he asked.
“Don’t you think?”
“I don’t know, sir. I believe a general look at it is quite too broad. I think it’s best addressing the subject human-by-human. It depends on whose life we are talking about. The child begging in the street might think differently.”
A slow smile creased his lips and he turned and eyed the file she just brought in, lying on his desk.
“Um… I was saying we were sent this a few minutes ago. A client of ours, Lewis Pharmaceuticals has just been sued.”
He walked away from the glass to his desk. Picking the file, he grunted on seeing the law firm representing the Claimants. Old devil, he thought and flipped through the pages unhurriedly. “Hogwash. We will meet the bastards gun to claw. I have seen better claims.” He said tossing the file on the desk and settling into his chair. “Tell Leonard and Paul I need to see them concerning this before today ends.”
“Very well.” She said. He opened another file. Seconds pass.
“Anything else?” He asked seeing she was still there… her eyes probing, pregnant he could see, with questions and hell knows what else.
“Have you been taking your medication, sir?”
Here we go. He relaxed into the chair and studied her. “Why would you ask that?”
“Nothing… you just look a little…” she paused, her mind in a tortuous whorl for the right word to use, in a struggle not to offend. “…tired.” She added finally.
“I am fine.”
“Okay, call me if you need anything sir.” She said and left the office for her cubicle, taking the click of her heels on marble with her.
Laying back into his chair, he closed his eyes. He knew what she meant. Why she asked. The daydreams were increasing. Some days, he would lose track of time entirely, lost in folds of nothingness of what could have been; what wasn’t. He had been off his med for a while now, missing needless appointments with the annoyingly inquisitive psychiatrist. He preferred letting his mind heal by itself, without the pushing and prodding of chalky tablets and biting questions. But it was a struggle these days . . . like trying to run around a muddy track, then slipping into a tar pit. It was feeling hysteria seep into your head and clothes while deep in the pit, drowning in the burning desire to smash things when words… simple words elude you. It was okay on some days, almost like nothing ever happened, but on some others…
They told him he would get better but it’s been months and everything was still the same – one annoying irregular circle of straight and broken days passing in a blur like thick wafts of warmth rolling off wind-swept hills. He shivered. His employees helped him handle his cases; he helped where he could, the little he could, feeling as useful as motes swimming in the air on harmattan trashed days. He returned to the window and the rhythm resumed; the steady pump of the piano weaving into the wail of another instrument, one his ears couldn’t see; couldn’t recognize. At least he was still alive. He still had a home. Happiness. A loving wife he could return to everyday, one whose eyes and words reminded him of the flickers in the dark, the little things that make life alive. He smiled, happy she survived. From any other person, pep statements on his condition would sound quite too clinical, dispassionate pig-swill meant to feed him fat with needless hope as if he were a child, needing reassurance that no beast lies beneath the bed, after a ghost story. He felt warmness returning to him and the shiver stopped. It rolled over him from his head down, coating him like a sea of fur.
The sun was setting when he left his office, running home; the only place where he felt peace and calmness envelop him. He guided his car through traffic, tapping his fingers rhythmically on the wheel. He turned into his street and felt intermittent flashes of light from the setting sun hiding behind the trees hit him. It opened a chasm, bringing back a memory. One of the demons he thought he had drowned. He fought with it, dust billowing about them both as they trashed about in the sand. He tried to bury it beneath a bundle of thoughts, to forget, to spare his mind the torment.
The morning it happened, was like any other. He was driving. They were headed for a resort, a weekend getaway, for a taste of ocean air and night. It was sunrise and little sparks of light were shooting at him from behind trees. She was by his side, they were arguing about something he couldn’t remember. It was intense. He got to the turn… took it…
The memory died, temporarily and the rhythm resumed, a voice joined …How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist… He smiled. It was the last line of his favorite song, hers too, one that never left his head since.
He got home and leaving the car in the garage, he paid silence to his gatekeeper as the man drowned him in a deluge of felicitations. He bolted inside, away from the world and their pitying blindness, away from the silly righteousness of the eyes that followed him and his shortcomings, nodding at him, smiling, with silly compassion, with feigned incompetent understanding – the kind you would give freely to a toddler or a mad man.
He walked briskly around the house looking for her and then remembered he left her in the bedroom before he went for work. He opened the door and found her still sitting where he left her. She lifted her eyes from the book on her thighs and smiled at him, speaking with him in signs. It broke his heart to see her like this, helpless, her lips and tongue immune to words. Yet a part of him was happy, at least she was still with him. At least, he wasn’t alone. She asked him about his day and its quirks. He leaned on the door and told her everything, pausing sometimes to laugh mockingly at the weird looks his employees gave him these days. A piercing headache pinched at his skull and he felt another shiver roll over him. Without thinking, he crossed the space between the door and the sofa and carried her. He felt her wrap her arms around his neck and the shiver began to dissipate. Holding her like that, he waltzed slowly to the song playing in his head. He felt time stop and puffs of heat cloak and carry him; carry them away. The notes and lyrics float about them, adding fuel to their transport, pushing them to places where his only concern would be sleeping and waking and sleeping and waking; not minding anything else, provided he was present and she was too and they were full of life, laughing, smiling, their minds awake remembering small words. He thought of days before now, when they would sit outside on some evenings and watch the stars while she hummed Sleeping at Last’s Saturn. He hated it initially but soon learned to love it, the way she sang it, giving it short bursts of life, making the lyrics jump about like the jerk of a body when the shock of a defibrillator runs through it. The music slowed and in seconds came to an end. He stopped spinning and dancing and laid her favourite dress back on the sofa, placing the book on the hem as if it were human, as if the dress could read much less speak or waltz. He smiled to himself. Happy and nodding to her, he ambled out of the room, leaving warmth eddying behind him.
It is a fickle thing, this mind and its journey of sanity; its journey to balance and the twist and turn of it. The power of the mind in a fight for poise, for survival to latch onto a memory setting it off with curious things… like warmth – the passive signature emitted in tiny acts that show our humanity – in waves and handshakes and rib splitting laughter shared over private jokes and touches and kisses; lips and tongues intertwined, in hugs and smiles and ear splitting arguments… and then a sharp bend looms, another vehicle rams into yours, it skids, directions change, the world whips about, a forest looms, a crash. And hours later, you come to and discover you are bleeding but you don’t care. You remember nothing, save the being by your side; who she is – she’s bleeding too. You’re weak. You unbuckle the seat belt and drag yourself towards her. You hold her, wrapping her in your arms, you need to help her but you can’t, not like this. Your mind sputters, your consciousness wanes. And the last thing you remember… you feel… with the human in your arms, is warmth… leaving.
“You taught me the courage of stars before you left. How light carries on endlessly, even after death. With shortness of breath, you explained the infinite. How rare and beautiful it is to even exist…” Saturn – Sleeping at Last.
- Caleb Nmeribe #Carlflame