Some days, when the wind turned rigid and speedy, he stayed inside his little cottage on the sloping land beneath the hill. Inside, he did what all people his age did. Old-man things. He took frequent naps, spinned oatmeal in his toothless mouth, and, thick lenses guarding his eyes, read books that weren’t of any significance anymore. At times he talked to himself, sitting up in his bed, without realizing, imagining arguments with the wife and daughter that had left him long ago.
Once, when he was young, he’d done this infront of mirrors, when he’d admired his appearance. But that was no longer the case, he was a bald, old man, the skin beneath his eyes dark and sagging, wrinkles on his stretched, crumpled skin.
He was alone, surrounded by blurry walls and cold nights. Once he’d had a loyal companion, one that never deserted him, that stayed in the grasp of his hand, the flame of a lighter away. His cigarettes. But his declining health could no more accomodate that habit. His doctor had told him years before that one packet could cut his remaining days short significantly. So he’d quit reluctantly, forcing himself to indulge elsewhere, in other habits, one’s that didn’t threaten to kill him.
But at the time, he’d still had a wife to keep him company. A woman that was his. A woman that shared his last name. That he’d loved dearly. Before his second divorce, before he’d once again failed his marriage.
I’m leaving you, she’d said. I can’t endure anymore.
He’d asked her what she meant. What had happened. What had changed. He didn’t understand her, her anger, her decision to let go of their marriage of 40 years. How long had she not been happy? For how long had she thought of this union as a burden, an endurance?
He knew in part her distrust, her withdrawal, her detachment had stemmed from how his daughter had left. The last link that held their relationship together. His daughter who had married into another sect, another society, without first seeking their permission, another one of her childish rebellions, the only one he couldn’t come to terms with, couldn’t accept.
His wife had begged him but he had nonetheless denounced his only child, considered her as good as dead, turned her away for life.
Since then she’d stayed silent. She’d never made conversation, or ate well, or smiled. But he had never made the connection, read the situation, to understand that something grave had gone wrong, something very important had gone missing.
Though he knew she didn’t forgive him for estranging her from her only child, she’d made up another excuse, another justification. That she couldn’t overcome her guilt from decades ago, when she’d broken his home, displaced his first wife from her home, wrecked so many lives. That she thought this was her only punishment, her only refuge from self-condemnation. That she was to do to herself what she did to his first wife.
She’d left an October night, without saying farewell, not formally ending her long-standing alliance, fusion, partnership, whatever he chose to call it.
Why did the society pretend marriage was a commitment firmer than love, that it could make people stay, he’d asked then. That legal document, that social necessity, had never held people together. Both his marriages had been broken, both his wives separated from him.
In this he, too, was partly to blame. He’d never been faithful in his first marriage. He’d fallen in love with a much younger woman. A simple girl who’d initially been intrigued by his maturity. His strange, methodical outlook on life. She was foolish, easily influenced by his prowess as a speaker, easily manipulated by his promises of love, ready to overstep a defined line, enchanted by a man she knew was married. She’d succumbed to his mysterious nature, his dark, but not unfunny, humor.
She’d wanted to marry him, jealous of the woman he returned to every night. She’d given him an ultimatum, told him to throw his wife out, to forget her as if she never was. She’d had an incredible unfeeling quality, not caring about the pain she was causing to another woman, a woman just as insecure as she was.
So he’d been forced by the love of a young girl, by her mesmerizing beauty, to severe his tie with the woman who’d come to be known as his better half for the past two years. It wasn’t easy, but it had to done, he’d told himself in moments of doubt and regret. Now that girl, that love, had also chose to leave him behind, after 40 long years.
His divorces may not have been so bad at an earlier time. But now he’d lost his abilities to entice women. He no more took pride in his appealing looks, his charming ways. He’d lost that a while back. Now, when women saw him, they approached him with a certain kindness he’d always disliked. Treated him, he assumed, like they would their own fathers. Most women didn’t even notice him, his arching back, his mellow amble, his shaking hands. They looked right through him, like he’d never existed.
After a while, even he began to believe that. That he did not exist. He’d talk to posters on the walls of crowded streets, assuming no one could see him, and invited stares he’d thought were only co-incidental. He’d walked through fast-flowing traffic, infront of fast-paced cars, and barely survived from begin crushed to death as the drivers had pushed hard on the brake pedals. He’d thought that nothing could ever hit him, or scar him. After all, he did not even exist.
He’d been taken to a doctor, taken by stranger who’d held him by his hand. He’d struggled but eventually given in. There, at the doctor’s, he’d learned a new word. Lucid, the doctor had called him. He is lucid now, the doctor had told the stranger that stood by him. The word now stung him a little, that even though he didn’t understand what lucid meant, he was offended by the assumption that he wasn’t always lucid, or that he was sometimes lucid. He couldn’t tell which one was worse. Being lucid or not being.
He’d feared death, strangely more after he’d stopped believing in hell and heaven, in the judgement of his life’s deeds. If his deeds were to be weighed, he was most definitely deserving of Hell, he knew. But even after he’d stopped believing, the uncertainty of what lay beyond had eaten at him day and night. Maybe he’d return as a dog or a tree, he’d thought somedays. But he’d disliked dogs, resented their presence amongst civilized societies. He’d found trees boring, unable to move, unable to converse, they weren’t any better than being dead anyways. He’d also imagined his soul to dissolve, to vanish into the atmosphere. His conscience turned to humble dust. But even then he’d imagined a certain darkness where he would be doomed to live for eternity, he’d never once been able to imagine a scenario where he didn’t exist, or the universe didn’t exist. By the end he’d always be left with that haunting dark prevalent in his surroundings. But if nothings there, how come there’s dark, he’d asked himself, unable to come up with a response.
He’d have preferred the certainty of religion, of knowing that there was a certain alternate universe where he could begin anew, where he could live a life even in death. A never-ending one. But that ship had sailed, with his ability to believe onboard, packed in a wooden crate, nails digging into it’s corners, hidden in the captain’s cabin. He’d lost his capacity to ingest myths, and accept deities that defied science, and nod in unquestioning trust to the laws he’d been told to follow.