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Drama Inspirational

This story contains themes or mentions of mental health issues.

 So it's said: The Buddha, before he was such, left his home, deeply dissatisfied. He encountered three phenomena from which he'd previously been protected: old age, sickness and death - and a fourth which came as a revelation: a meditating monk. The impact of what he saw was transforming. He became 'awakened'.  


1

I'm falling. 

Plummeting down the brilliant, glass wall of a soaring office block. The day is bright, the sky blue; the sunlight reflects off a whole field of windows, the clearest of mirrors. With utmost clarity I see my reflection hurtling with me, flickering like a silent movie.

Falling.

My reflection waves its arms helplessly, eyes wide and locked into mine; hair, tie and jacket pulled skywards by the whip of air. A round, soundless mouth torn open in panic.

Falling.

In the mirror of the windows, my image looks down. The hard street far below is a silent river along which cars and busses slide like tiny boats. Pixel-small figures mill along the edges. Everything down there waits patiently for me.

My reflection looks back up, it's face calm now, our eyes meet directly as we fall through the breathless air.

Falling.

The faster we fall, the slower time seems to go.


***


I awake as usual, roll out of bed in my crumpled pyjamas and stagger to the bathroom. The start of an ordinary day: Formica table breakfast in the kitchenette; the drive to work, grinding away a day at the office; the reverse the journey, back to my apartment. Then not much else. Television. A book. Bed. The quotidian cycle of my safe, unobtrusive life.


How did I get like this? Shut in the snail shell of this apartment, detached from fear and hurt.

Oh yes, I've had therapy, digging through the dull compost heap of my life, first with a blunt spade, later scrabbling with my fingernails: My childhood. Adolescent fights with middle-class parents as I search for my own meaning; dragging myself indifferently through school and into work; the pointless path of my so-called career; the total absence of love in my life; the endless absurdness of everything. All there and all now covered. Weeds and worms. 

I tried to play in that garden with different therapists, to gather a few flowers from my memory; to find seeds of love to hold; to heal the wound of anxiety that so needs healing. To find some reason for my uneasy dread of life. They called me depressed and had me on medication but the numb pattern of my life continues, set now for so long that I can't remember anything different.

But I learned two things: At some granular level I know that inside my thick shell I'm capable of simple, vast love. I also fear breaking that shell and finding, deep inside, nothing there.


  Through my little bathroom window, dawn is well on it's way. Like a ritual, I fold my pyjama top, place it neatly on the edge of the bathtub, turn, bend to the sink and splash hot water on my face, ready for the daily shave. Blinking water away, I open the door to the mirrored vanity cupboard and reach in for my razor. 

And pause.

I frown, slowly withdraw my hand, close the door. I stare stupidly at the mirror.

I know it's myself reflected there, but deeply changed: older, so very much older. My eyes, watery and cataract-ringed, gaze intently from my wrinkled face ; brown liver spots scatter over the skin. My jaw has dropped open. Half my teeth are missing; most of the others sit as grey pegs in my gums. 

My refection strokes its sparse, white hair, then turns its hand and taps a withered finger into its face.

Then indicates my own.

Looping over and over, my reflection points back and forth between its own senile face and mine, thin lips mouthing, You. You!

I rock dizzily away from the mirror and sit heavily on the edge of the bathtub. It takes a long while for my heart to calmed down and I dare to peek in the mirror again. With relief, I see only the bathroom with its pale green wall, towel rail and paper lampshade. The decrepit old man is gone. 

It takes me more time to realise that, actually, I'm not there either. Me. Myself. No matter where I look, or how close I put my face to the mirror... 

I'm not here.


***


I'm in quite a state. Was I still asleep? Was I hallucinating? I feel on the edge of something catastrophic.

Rather ridiculously, it dawns on me that I'm now late for work. I don't need any other excuse to get out of the apartment. I get dressed quickly and, with a deep breath, step into the street, gladly closing the front door behind me. 

Outside is an ordinary day: grey pavements drying in the morning sunshine, litter lying sullenly in the gutters. People and passengers pass by, oblivious. 

I can barely blip the key fob to my car, I'm still shaken and confused, but as I drive the familiar journey to work, along the same route I've followed every day for years, my little clam-shell trailing the same bus, watching the same pedestrians crossing the same junctions - all this is soothing.

I've never had the urge to do anything different.


The towering office block shimmers in the morning light. I pull into the underground garage. It suddenly occurs to me that I haven't shaved - something the office etiquette insists on. I park the car, unbuckle, then twist the rear view mirror to check for stubble. 

And freeze.

From within the mirror, rheumy, dark-ringed eyes peer back at mine. My reflection is gaunt, my skin sallow and sunken deep beneath prominent cheek bones. Cancerous scabs crawl over my face; a repulsive drop of blood hangs from my nose.

I'm appalled. I look ill, so... diseased. Bile rises in my throat. I pull away quickly, thumping back against the headrest. 

My reflection remains in the mirror. From where I'm curled into my seat I can see it looking down. 

Looking at me.

Slowly, the disgusting image lifts a forefinger and, with its white, crusty nail, picks a scab from its face. Then the hand turns and beckons. 

Helpless, I'm pulled back upright. Our eyes are locked. 

My reflection points at me, then back to its face. Again and again, the finger travels between our faces. I watch it silent mouthing through thin, wasted lips, You. You!

There is no one around, no-one sees me stagger out and dry heave next to my car. I spit, go to wipe my mouth and, without thinking, look in the wing mirror.

The garage, the other cars, the fluorescent lights in the ceiling: all there. But not me. 

I'm not here.


***


All I can think of is to keep going with the day, somehow. What else? Sign myself into some emergency psychiatric black hole? White coats? Even straight-jackets?

I enter the office building's cavernous atrium. Everywhere is glass, light; space that gleams and echoes. 

My head is still full of my putrid image. I fumble badly at the speed gate trying to slot my card into the reader. 

A voice: 'Alright, sir?' 

One of the security guards, whom I've no doubt ignored for years. I flap a hand over my disheveled suit and finger-comb my hair.

'Fine. Thanks,' I mumble back.

'Bad night was it, sir?' she grins. 

'More like a very rough morning.'

'Never mind, sir. Just don't jump out the window!'

My card suddenly lets me through through the turnstile. I leave her smirking. There's an open door in the bank of elevators. I step in, flinching at the mirrors set in one wall. To get my back against them, I shuffle annoyingly among the other passengers, keeping my eyes to the floor.

The elevator takes a long time to rise two thirds of the way up this incredible glass structure, way up to the offices where I work. 

I enter the suite, a wide open area with computer-laden desks, ergonomic chairs, coffee areas, conference cubicles and potted plants. The outside wall is completely glass, broken into a number of windows letting through morning light that runs over white paper, grey surfaces or shiny chrome, cutting through the quiet murmuring and clacking of keyboards.


I make my way across the bland carpet to my desk. Co-workers, standing by water-coolers, titter and mark me out to others at desks. I get it. They see the loner who never joins in with the trivial gossip, nor laughs at puerile jokes; the outsider who's never, ever, late - who now turns up looking half beaten, dragged from some wild party. 

The tittering turns to suppressed laughter, 'You! Look at you.' But I don't care; I hardly know them.

It seems I've worked here forever, turning up day after day, putting in the dull hours, grinding clockwork. Another shell for this part of the day. 

I feel so... done.

Abruptly, the vacuous smirks and giggles break something in me. What's the point? Of them, of me, of anything?

It's so stuffy in here, claustrophobic. I don't go to my little cubicle. Instead, I wander across to the window wall and look out. 

Our building is one of the tallest in the city. It's walls are clear, polished glass. A skyscraper of light. 

I gaze around at all the other glass super-structures surrounding us. They shine like columns of water towering into the sky. Streams of mirrors, endlessly reflecting each other. 

I watch the sun catch on sharp corners and clouds slipping over glittering surfaces. Tiny birds glide through blue canyons. It's an otherworldly landscape: clean, pure, seductive; full of space and light and air. Day after day, I've hauled my pointless life to this place but never stood looking out like this. Never taken in this incredible beauty. Who, besides us, now, in the history of the world, has ever soaked in a view like this?

If I could look closely enough, I imagine I could see my insignificant self reflected in the building opposite. I shiver at the thought, swung out of my reverie by the old man and the sick man, grinning and pointing from mirrors inside my head.

There's a pressure in my chest, a sense of being ending. I can never go back to my apartment. Never again sit in my car or travel the elevator to this place.


I can't hear the room any more.

There's a safety lock on a smaller window pane. We all know how to open it, though we never have. 

But I do now. 

I push open the window and roll over the edge.



***


I'm falling. 

Falling down the glassy side of this huge office block on this bright, sunny day, with the sunlight rippling off the windows, the clearest of mirrors.

My reflection - and it is my exact reflection - waves its arms helplessly, eyes wide and locked into mine. My hair, tie and jacket are pulled skywards by the whip of air.

Falling. 

Yet the faster I fall, the slower time seems to pass until our descent seems leisurely, calm. 

My reflection looks at me, it's face quiet now. Our eyes meet. 

Amazed, I see me rip open my shirt, point my finger at my heart, then turn my hand and point out, at me. Looping over and over, pointing back and forth, I mouth to myself: You You!

Wake up.

Wake up!

I'm floating. Hanging in the silent air as time speeds back up.

My reflection begins to fall again, faster and faster. 

I watch him point at me one last time as he diminishes. 

Down, down. 

And disappears.

November 24, 2023 07:30

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