Bookmark #222

It doesn’t start loudly. It starts with a nudge gone overboard. Perhaps, someone asking you, with much assertiveness, to stay for lunch or maybe, a remark made in friendly banter that tips what you’ve been holding onto for so long, your arms are numb.
And tip it does as you start coming undone. The seams of the very fabric of your identity start to break, thread-by-thread. It’s a quiet implosion; no one hears a thing. Inside, however, you watch the destruction of everything that you know as regular.⁣⁣⁣
A wave of irregularity rises, crushing the very foundation of who you’ve been, submerging the rubble of everything about you that once was and isn’t anymore. It doesn’t take long. An island remains.⁣⁣⁣
The pressure was there, and you knew it. You could convince everyone you had it under control, but there are only so many lies you can tell yourself before you start to doubt yourself. Once you’re there, all it takes is a push. If you’ve felt that burn in your chest, which takes but two milliseconds to spread to your entire body as the room caves in around you, you’d know it.⁣⁣⁣
It was an act of great patience, perhaps, to watch yourself fail over and over again. It was an act of extraordinary heroism to pick a stone up from the wreckage and to start building yourself up again. And yet, no matter how impossibly high, everyone has a limit. Perhaps, I had reached it.⁣⁣⁣

I’m marooned on this tiny island that’s left of who I thought I was; I pick a pebble up. I have a choice. I could understand. I could pick apart what tipped it all into this instantaneous, colossal destruction. I could go about it as I always have and start building, one pebble at a time.⁣⁣⁣
I pause. Then, I swing my arm and toss the pebble into the sea. It skips for a bit and then plops; it sinks to the bottom. I spend the afternoon purposelessly tossing the leftovers. I choose to let it go.⁣⁣⁣
I want to do it differently now. Try some levity, maybe. I seem to be stranded in my own mind anyway. I have all the time in the world and nowhere important to be. I don’t want to understand anything anymore.

I’m much too tired of being the only one who does.

Bookmark #221

The blatant truth of the matter was that I did not have a clue about what I wanted in life. For all my bold claims and raw smarts, I was terribly aloof and unaware of what I desired. I was particularly fickle with the future and what I planned to do with it; I was obsessed with the past and what had come before; I was continually trapped in the daze of today.

The audacity, then, for me to advise a friend or someone who asked for it did not go unnoticed to me. In fact, like someone trapped in a cell of their own making, I kept a tally on the walls of my mind. I was counting the number of times I pretended to know what I was talking about when the only things certain in my life were the breakfast I repeated every day, the two or three things I did regularly without any significant results budding out of them, and the obliviousness about my own quirks and shortcomings.

I did not know what tomorrow held for me, where I’d end up, or with whom. In fact, I did not even have an inkling about the direction I had to walk towards. I was fond of walking, that much was true, but my preference to do things without an end and for the sake of doing them had me trudging aimlessly and in circles for years; I returned to the same flaws, the same people, the same dreams, and the same godforsaken town.

Perhaps, writing these words in the past tense is a step towards me breaking out of the prison I mentioned earlier. The walls are filled with lines now. I believe it is now that I shall plan my escape from this hole I’ve dug myself in over the years. I’ll do it slowly, taking one day at a time, and then all at once, I shall be free.

It has taken me a long while, but I accept now that my confidence is false and my surety, a mirage. I’ve held onto it for so long, the sand has started to slip out of my hand.

Bookmark #220

I either moved too slow or too fast. That’s how I knew my life. Either I zoomed past those around me, walking so terribly fast that I barely got to say hello, or I was so slow, I could scream and shout all I wanted, but no one would hear me, and I would be left behind.

I often wonder if this was something specific to how I carried my life or was it the case with everyone else? Did others, too, feel themselves to be stretched through time? Being way too much and nothing at all within the same hour. Maybe, it was because of the split in my nature. I had, as was common knowledge, two ways to tackle my days. The first was to want to be a part of the world I stepped in every day, to want to contribute and be of some use. The second was to escape what I knew as the world, never to return again, and spend my days away from everyone I had ever known.

My deepest desire was to pull the greatest trick I could pull. I wanted to make sure everything was taken care of, that everyone important to me, no matter the count was well, and then disappear. I believe a day would come when I would feel I could make the leap. Then, I could retire to my quiet retreat on a hill or a smaller town, untouched by anything at all. Yet, I can never see a clear picture of myself in that life. I wonder, in this life that I have no clue how to get to, am I alone, or is there someone else with me? Am I beaming, or am I exhausted? What do I do every day? Am I the calm neighbour or the cranky old man? I wonder how these days and this life would feel then, whenever that life will be.

To be honest, until that day arrives, I’ll be stuck between passing those I love either too fast or too slow. I think I can’t quite match the pace at which other people walk. I always seem to miss the most important people by a smidge. I’m not sure if that will ever change, but I have to keep going until then. When all that is done, I will vanish to my quiet existence. Maybe then, I could stop pretending to be split into two versions of myself. Maybe, I could slow down a bit then.

I believe that would be a life lived well. If only I can get there in time. I am terrible at figuring out the right pace, evidently so.

Bookmark #219

You walk on a familiarly unfamiliar road. Today seems different. It’s getting harder; walking’s getting harder. You lift your feet one after the other nonetheless. That’s what you’ve always done. You ignore the growing daisies peeking out the walls of the old house you pass on your way. The aroma wafting from the local café won’t do much today. Some days are heavy and tedious, and nothing tastes great, and everything is jarring.

It’s alright, though. It’s not like you’re the only one walking with the weight of the world on your shoulders. Look around; there’s enough to go around for everyone. The world is a heavy place. Everyone has something on their shoulders. Maybe, no one smells the coffee tonight. The café looks awfully dull. Too bad they spent so much on the decor. It’s a bummer those fairy lights on the patio don’t brighten much tonight.

And yet, let me ask you something, why are you walking anyway? Does it not matter, or have you forgotten? Look at you lifting one foot after the other. Look at all of us going about our days; we’re still going. It’s ironic how tired we are on most days, but we continue walking. I’m like you, too. No lie about it. It is a crime against humanity to lie about matters concerning the weight of the world.

Yet, surely, something is making us lift our feet. Surely, there’s something there. Why do we keep going? Have you ever stopped to wonder, or are you too busy walking because it’s what you were taught? Look at how far you’ve come. That has to count for something.

Look, I could tell you there’s a place where you won’t have to do the dishes with an aching heart or water your plants while you die inside. I could tell you it gets simpler, and I could tell you you’ll breeze through it, but you and I both know it’d be a lie. It does get simpler, sometimes, but it doesn’t stay that way for long. You best get used to it.

We’re all here. We’re walking, and we’re all carrying something. If there’s any reason to keep going, it has to be in those around us: those we know and those we don’t. Look around; everyone’s trying their best to take another step, lifting their own share of the weight, might as well continue doing the same.

Bookmark #218

Have you ever been to my apartment? Probably not. I don’t let people in unless they’re family or a friend, or an acquaintance I had to let in because of some impossible situation. I’m a relatively private person, although my facade would have most people believe they know things. They do, too, as much as I’ll reveal anyway.

More often, though, when it comes to someone visiting my apartment, I make an excuse. I would tell you I have work to do or the place is soiled or that it’s better if we can meet in a café or a pub or anything that is not my apartment. Perhaps, your place. Your place would do!

My apartment is sacred to me, and that’s partly because of how I prefer things in my head. It’s a reflection of what goes on inside my head. You see, everything is thought of, and no, it’s no designer’s paradise, but it’s mine. The coffee machine is at the far end of the kitchen, and reaching it takes me enough steps to wake up. The lamp is placed perfectly between the clock and the tiny succulent. I prefer it that way because the shadow is an even blur at night. It’s about the little things.

If you were to pick something up and set it down, I would nudge it back into position instantly, often to your frustration. I can live in a mess for some time, though. It’s only that I don’t like living in someone else’s mess; I am perfectly fine with my own. Yet, my need to keep and file everything into its proper place surfaces, eventually. I know I’m not the first person to exist in this slavery to perfect order.

As abrupt as that sounds, it’s how I think as well. I nudge my thoughts in different directions until they fit. I have learnt to have a third-person control over how I think and how my thoughts are shelved. I’m the sole housekeeper of my tiny little brain. It’s difficult to explain unless you’ve been to my apartment, really. When you ring the bell, and if I let you in, you’ll know more about me than I could ever let on.

Once you do, nothing is sacred anymore; everything’s a vulgar attempt at control, and so I will let it go. That’s when you’ll really know me. Everything else is what I choose to show you, and if I don’t open the door, that’s all you’ll need.

Bookmark #217

I believe every writer, in fact, every artist has one thing they obsessively describe. It doesn’t matter how many times they talk about the said thing; it’s never enough. There’s always something new, a new layer, some new depth that they can reach with their subject or muse of choice.

For me, I’ve learnt, it is the ever-present urban sadness. I’d be lying if I said I don’t take the same walk every day. I pass the same places by, I frequent the same cafés and bars, notice the same people often, and always see something new.

People talk about escaping. I do too. Yet, for me, something always drags me back to the land of concrete and life. That’s what I can write about: countless cities, people from all walks of life. My muse is no person; my muse is how general people exist and live and breathe and cry and laugh and celebrate.

There’s a sort of beauty in the lives of the countless people that make up a city. There’s a sort of melancholy in all of our exhausted faces on a weekday evening, mine included. There’s a sort of joy there as well. There’s a relief that we’re all making it through another day.

Everyone has something to say or someplace to be. It’s difficult to explain unless you’re ready to be another faceless person in the crowds. It takes a certain underestimation of the self to blend in. I believe I’ve mastered the art of disappearing.

Yet, every artist who focuses on one muse often hits a wall when the muse inadvertently disappears. Even if I could entertain the impossible idea of walking about the city, there would barely be any people. Life is not at its general behaviour. I don’t have much to write about anymore.

My notes are filled with half-written pieces about love and whatnot, but how can I write about love unless I watch first-time lovers sharing a milkshake with two straws in a café, giggling? Some of my notes talk about grand ideas of fate, but how can I write about destiny unless I witness the myriad coincidences that occur only if you look closely?

Each sentence I write lacks something now. Every piece misses the mark. I’m at odds. I reckon the state of the world has pushed me into a corner, or perhaps, I’ve written myself into one.

Bookmark #216

It occurred to me recently, I was the smartest idiot I knew. I think the fact that I knew I was an idiot made me smarter than most people I knew. All that said, I was an idiot through and through; no more, no less.

It wasn’t for the lack of skill or ability or potential… for what, I’ll never know, really, but they kept saying I had a lot of it. I didn’t know what they saw in me that I couldn’t but I knew I wasn’t half of what they saw.

I knew this because despite everything, and despite my demure and humble attitude, I was a proud person. I was proud of my ideals, of my integrity as a human being, of the silent wars I kept waging against society; most of them irrelevant and unnoticed. I had no hidden intentions. In fact, I had no intentions at all.

In a world where you were supposed to put yourself forward, I continually and intentionally understated my strengths. In a society where people talked fast and smooth, I only talked quickly. I talked how I talked because of a genuine need to keep up with my ideas. People talked to convince others of their intentions.

In the end, I knew I was an idiot. I did things without any ends. My choices and vocations were all ends in themselves, not means to grandiose conclusions. I wrote words. I lent a hand where I could. I earned to keep food on the table. I learned whatever was enthusing.

I was hell-bent on my way of doing things, and I was too sure of myself in the absolute worse ways. I could be anything I wanted to be, but my idealism, my pride, and my insistence on humility guaranteed I would stay within crowds.

I knew it before most would even realise: my idealism was going to be my downfall, provided there was a pedestal to fall down from. I liked it that way, too. When you were among people, you could understand things better.

It was a weird feeling; to be able to see everything, every intention, every little nuanced action that people hid slyly, and to not want to participate. It was like knowing a game so well, you had no interest in playing it.

I believe I was born that way. I had always been that way. It wasn’t something I learned. Some of us were born idiots, standing by ourselves in crowds.

Bookmark #215

When I was younger, I dreamt of an utterly united civilisation transcending galaxies. I don’t talk about it much, but the thought never left. I saw so many around me who were uninspired. It saddened me to my living death, to a standstill, just the simple act of looking around. Of course, every person was fighting a battle of their own. I, too, was fighting my own, despite my privileges; those earned through each step or those I was born into out of luck. Both were my responsibility. Of course, we needed to be better. Civilisation and humanity were deeply flawed.

There were problems, large ones, but our highest responsibility was not to forget the gifts of our times. We needed to be better. We owed so much to each ancestor who tried to fight, to stay alive, to make something, all the way back to when we were still part of the jungle. I did what I did because I owed in equal parts to the painters, the philosophers, the builders, the scientists, the composers, the poets, the farmers, those living around them, those whose names were erased out of history, those who continually strived to believe in better. I owed my entire life those who came before.

We owed it to each hunter-gatherer roaming the savannahs to keep moving our bodies. We owed it to everyone and everything that came before, everything that increased the odds of our existence in the first place: to strive; to try. We owed them to be better, to learn more, to open our minds further, to accept the human experience; to know science and poetry alike, to look at a painting and not just see colours but lines, and to look at the lines as not something only out of geometry but also, expression of the burden of the human condition.

The history of civilisation was a humongous debt: towering and overburdening, and yet it was no excuse not to look back in awe and admiration, but to bow before what those before us accomplished, and to revel in the possibility of how far we could go. Our responsibility was to avoid our need to escape, to look in the mirror, and to accept that it all begins with us. It began with one person taking one step towards a higher ideal.

Before they knew it, civilisation followed.

Bookmark #214

A long time ago, I had a rather abstract dream. I don’t have a lot of those, so at first, it was a pleasant surprise. A few minutes or hours in, one could never be too sure when it came to dreams, I found myself in the city I was born.

The streets were the same, so were the places I frequented, and so were the people. Everyone I had ever met here was in the city, and I ran into all of them. The only difference was that I was nowhere to be found. No one seemed to remember me. Not even the baristas and bartenders. I was an outsider to this place.

I was baffled, at first. Then, I felt this overwhelming melancholy. It was shocking to have never existed. I’m sure you’d feel the same way. The thing that irked me the most, that didn’t sit right with me, was that despite my apparent absence in all of those lives, in that entire city, nothing was different.

My parents were the same people. My friends acted the same way, only they weren’t my friends. The people closest to me had not changed an inch. It didn’t sit right with me, of course. Had I never affected anyone’s life enough for them to be significantly different in some way? Had I not given a quirk, a habit, a catchphrase, a memory that changed someone?

In that dream, I spent a lot of time in the city and around the people I had always known, and around some I had known for a bit. I kept trying my sheer best to find the absence of something I may have caused in the world I knew. It was a futile exercise. Everyone was the same, everything was the same, and I had never existed.

They treated me like they would treat a stranger who had suddenly become a part of their lives, who visited the same places as them, and who did the same things as them. Just this new friend from outside who was a decent addition to everything but whose presence wasn’t needed beyond that of common courtesy.

I thought a lot about it when I woke up. Honestly, I still do. I can never be too sure of how I feel about it. It stirred something that cannot be changed, however; that feeling of absolute loneliness never left me completely. On some days, even as I spent them surrounded by people, laughing, the dream was the only thing on my mind.

Bookmark #213

When you’d been alone long enough—didn’t matter if by choice, by circumstance, by sheer bad luck, or in lieu of an ongoing feud with the universe—you forgot stuff.

You forgot lying on your couch in the middle of the day as a teenager, listening to music, each track reminding you of the person who just won’t leave your mind. It’s funny how we outgrew that not because we wanted to but because we often, lost the luxury of lying down in the afternoon itself.

You forgot being surrounded by people in a bustling coffee shop but stealing a quick kiss, as both of you smile awkwardly, pretending nothing happened and no one saw; something did happen, and yes, they did see, but you didn’t care. It’s funny how you forgot that adrenaline completely after some time. It’s laughable how you now sat in a café caring what someone might think of you being there alone.

It wasn’t just those things, though. Countless little shenanigans from your life were lost so deep within your memory, it was as if they never happened. No one ever moved their fingers through the locks of your hair as you lay in their lap. No one ever pulled you into a dimly lit corner in an art gallery. Nobody ever looked at you through a crowd, locking eyes with you as they walked towards you. You never had someone steal the last slice of pizza and run away from you, laughing. You never held someone while the sun rose to spread its yellow over everything, but most importantly, their face. None of it happened. You forgot it all, slowly.

It all disappeared as your days became full of yourself, of family and friends—if you had the good luck of having any, of strangers and acquaintances talking about data points and emails. Coffee became just coffee, the days were all the same, and there was laughter surely and so much good but when things went awry, no one told you things would be okay. Yet, they were okay in the end.

Love became a distant memory; a life you once had. You could never be too sure if it was a dream or something that happened to you. At least, that’s how I felt about it all until she laughed the other day. Then, it all came back to me, all at once, like a silent explosion, as if it had never left.

Bookmark #212

Humanity was incredible. There was so much we had done. We could talk to each other, even meet each other for the first time, over the phone. A text message was a more common way to tell someone you loved them or missed them than actually telling them. In fact, a meme would often do. You didn’t have to use words at all.

Yet, for all our great tools of communication, we craved touch. You see, it was one thing calling your mother from another city, it was another to sit beside her as you tell her you’re tired. Your friends could only joke on a video call amidst a pandemic as you felt like they were there, but spending months waiting to get a hug was perhaps, even worse.

A friend couldn’t put their hand on your shoulder as you lose yourself in your anxiety and sadness, never to return. Of course, you could call them, but they’d be out of words. We seldom have words for terrible situations. It was our instinct to comfort someone with our entire being, instead of a box vibrating in our throats.

And to be in love from a distance was the worst of all. Love has so little to do with words. As a writer who has failed to find it, I should know best. Love has everything to do with holding their hand and looking them in the eye. It was so much more than a text message or a disappearing image. Love was about hugs and embrace, and soft, unintended brushes between hands while you don’t pay heed to them and smile instead.

It seems we were only realising now that before we had words, all we had were sounds, and before that, all we had was touch. For most of our history, we’ve talked in gestures and we’ve talked in touch. Talking has so little to do with language. Now, everyone focused on the words, everything focused on the words, and no one talked because they couldn’t.

Perhaps, one day, we will invent touch again. Until then, I hope your text messages can still reassure a friend. I hope you call someone knowing all too well you can’t say anything that will fix anything at all. I hope you miss your father and your mother and your brother, and I hope their faces within a rectangular box are enough.

I hope you can bear with the helplessness, until we invent touch again.

Bookmark #211

Here’s what I realised after spending enough days walking in a daze. I realised I’m not a great person. I’m not a warm light of laughter on most days. On most days, I’m a stubborn grey cloud floating all by itself over a colourful meadow, taking things a bit too seriously, losing myself in my head for hours, and sometimes managing to crawl my way out of it, barely.

Yet, I realised my going back to every mistake I had ever made, my obsession with doing things correctly, and my fixation on making things right with as many situations as I could warrants that I am a good one. While calling yourself good is not without the ego that comes with it, I learned that I’m humble enough to understand that this clarity will last some five days before I start to feel a shake in my legs again.

I know I’ll fall on the floor again and again and again because it’s my nature. I cannot let some things stay where they belong: in the past. I have never lived in the future or the present. I am someone who runs to catch up with today not tomorrow. I am someone perpetually living in what has already happened in the tiny history of me, so I can be the one who makes sure it doesn’t happen again.

I learned that there were others like me—millions—who tried so hard to pull things together, who went the extra mile for strangers, who continually beat themselves up about the tiniest of flaws, who craved being of use to those around them in any way possible, and who often lost their way and forgot who they were.

I learned that as much as everyone enjoyed the bright sun, and as much as everyone needed the sunshine, it were the silver linings that kept them going, and for the silver linings to exist, the clouds were as important, if not more, than the sun. We were reminders that the sky wasn’t always sunny, and yet, that was okay as long as you floated on.

Sometimes, we were exactly what the world needed.

Bookmark #210

Ah, we’re back here again. Happens a lot, doesn’t it? The floor used to be colder, too. Look now, we have a rug. Sitting on the floor has never felt better, has it? Gotten a bit too comfortable with life, have we? You used to be better, kid. What happened?

Remember the first time you felt your breath go faster? Yeah, I don’t either. I mean, we don’t remember when it began. I’ve never been able to put a pin on it, you know? I know it goes all blurry when we start going back. It probably started with the school bullies. Yeah, maybe.

Do you remember how they’d wait for you? Remember taking the longer way through campus to avoid every corner they frequented? Oh, man, still walking away from them, are we? Those sucker punches hit hard. I can still feel them sometimes, you know?

Can’t hear a thing at first, can we? Then, it gets louder. Every single sound, even the softest of whispers are jarring; the confusion, the world spinning, the knees shaking. Then, we’re back on the floor. The tiles used to be much colder, though. You’ve done well, kid.

Oh, but, it wasn’t always the bullies, right? They say you think too much, man. I laugh at them. You think just enough, I feel. You know where you went wrong, precisely, exactly, down to the specific moment where you screwed up, right? That makes you good, better. Breathe, you’re spiralling now.

It gets tough, doesn’t it? Laughing. I know it does when all you think about is every single mistake. You forget something often, kid. So, I have to come around and do this each time. It’s all getting a bit tedious, if you ask me, but well, that’s the job. I’m the grown up here.

Kid, I know you remember all those times you’ve been on the ground; do you remember the sidewalk? I know you remember what happened right after, too. You got up. You always get up. It’s morning already. We gotta get up, little man.

Look around, there are no bullies anymore. It’s only life, but you got it. I wish you’d stop bullying yourself someday. You’re not half bad, kid. You’re alright. Get up now. You always have, and you’ll figure it out.

Come on, we’ll do it together, on three. I’ll make you your favourite sandwich.

Bookmark #209

I was perpetually exhausted. I didn’t know how else to put it. I was too tired to look for a word. I was too tired to try. I didn’t remember the last morning I woke up absolutely refreshed.

Even if I got enough sleep, which I did more often than I didn’t in case you doubted my ability to take care of myself, even if I did that, I woke up exhausted. I woke up with a solution or two to a problem I was stuck on or a fix a friend was caught up in, but I was always exhausted.

I smiled in the mornings anyway. It didn’t have to make sense for me to accept that every morning was a fresh start. So, I tried every day to feel some sort of refreshment. I had good health and a sound mind on most days. Some might say I had both in absolute control. Yet, I was weary.

It wasn’t hyperbole, trust me. I could fall asleep on benches, in cafés, even when I was waiting for the signal on the traffic light to change. If I found myself in one place too long, I became languid. I found myself dozing off so I would always keep moving.

I wanted to sleep but not for some ten hours where a beam of light would peek and wake me nonetheless. If not a beam, there’d be an explosion of things to do because exhausted or not, life went on. I wanted to escape to a place where the sun won’t rise for years, until one fateful day when it would, and all would be okay. Perhaps, I was too used to that feeling.

I often felt like I was living a borrowed life. I know the moment where it began too; the day I might have borrowed it. It was a day from years ago. I’d often dream about it and then wake up, exhausted. It was a rather helpless dream for I could always just watch that day unfold from a distance, unable to move.

If I didn’t dream of that, I’d go back to dreaming of my general days. I barely had abstract dreams. I often envied others when they told me of vivid and colourful ones. As a rule, I had always dreamt of my day. Maybe, that is why I often knew the right thing to say. I was, in effect, living twice.

In any case, the final truth of the matter was that I was exhausted. However, this was the first time I wanted to do something about it. I was tired of this feeling of utter exhaustion.

Bookmark #208

In all things worth doing, in all journeys worth taking, and in all life worth living, one could be in three places. One could be in the beginning, one could be in the ending, or one could be in the dreaded middle.

The beginning of all things was loud and fresh! It was in the “”can’t get enough of you”” kisses. It was in the commute that felt like a scene from a film. Beginnings were beautiful because they meant change; scary, of course, but once you took the plunge: absurdly exciting!

The ending of all things was about coming full circle. It was in the claps, the smiles, or in the acceptance of tides turning yet again, albeit towards better shores. Endings were all about pain, at first, and finally, relief; they were about deep sighs and bittersweet smiles.

Then, there was the middle. It came on a random day, unannounced. Then, it stuck. It was in the tiny pause after every I love you uttered. It was in the arguments on the subway because as much as you knew which station the train approached, you didn’t have a clue where you were going.

The problem with the middle wasn’t its stubborn tediousness, though. Rather, that it was invisible. The beginnings mattered to you, the endings mattered to others, and the middles were oddly absent from the narrative of everything that mattered to anyone.

No one told you about the days Kafka spent hating himself for not writing a word. Not a single soul talked about Bukowski’s lost years. Hemingway’s missing pages were seldom mentioned. The middle was a test. It was the puddle of dirt we had to cross all by ourselves, floating in cluelessness, wondering whether we even got anywhere at all.

It felt like sitting on a train that never stopped, continually hearing the jarring chug, the periodic scream of the horn, staring at the same people with their sickly expressions. It was in spending an eternity stuck in one place.

On most days, it felt like you’d wasted a lifetime on the train to nowhere. You felt deaf, unable to hear anything beyond the white noise of effortful uselessness.

Then one day, it ended, just as it had begun: unannounced.

Bookmark #207

Welcome to the new city. I hope you had a good journey and have a place to stay. Here’s a quick guide to building a life here. If you don’t build a life for yourself, one will be built for you. So, it is highly recommended you take control of it all.

First and foremost, what is your poison? This is important for you’ll need to find a café or a pub where you shall be a regular. How to be a regular you ask? There’s a bit of a nuance here but it’s rather easy. You start by going into a few places until you fancy any one.

Maybe, it’s the tablecloths that bring you joy or their croissants are out of this world or they have cheap beer. In any case, choose wisely for you’ll spend a lot of time here. You’ll be here when you have the best day of your life or when you’re absolutely heartbroken.

Choosing a place isn’t the only requirement. Always take the same table. Find a favourite, always order it. Once the server suggests your order before you have a chance to smile at them, you know you’re a regular. Now, do you enjoy walking? No? Well, nonetheless, find a favourite street or park.

This will be and is expected to be on your way to your reason for being in the city: work, studies, big dreams without any plans; we allow for everything. Nonetheless, the park or your street, should be on your commute or nearby. That’s the only requirement. Now, this shall be your corner of familiarity in a life that will soon begin.

Thirdly, and most importantly, find one person to laugh with. If you can’t find one person, as it has gone throughout the history of cities, one will be provided for you, eventually. Although, you will have to remain ostensibly honest. In other words, you can make a few stories here and there. That helps make friends.

Cities tend to overwhelm you more often than they don’t. It’s important to have a corner or two. If we’re both honest about it, your plans before you came here are horseshit. Things will change, and you’ll learn to be okay with them.

As long as you have your three keys covered: a place where people know what you like, a place that never changes much and a person to visit those places with, you’ll be fine.

We hope you enjoy your stay here.

Bookmark #206

I was talking to one of my friends the other day when they said something profound. Friends tend to do that more often than we notice. They said happiness wasn’t something you felt; rather, it as something you noticed. Happiness was like an elusive rabbit that you chased in the forest. You could see glimpses of it provided you paused. It always got the better of you. It was a fifteen-minute window every day, at best, where you saw happiness. I think my friend was onto something.

I spent too much time in my head, but I learned that happiness wasn’t going to wait for me to be ready or okay. We humans, we revelled in sadness and agony and angst. The more we craved happiness or purpose, the more fleeting and nimble it became. The trick was to stop running. It tended to walk up to you. Even if it didn’t, you could notice it rustling the leaves nearby.

Often, you found happiness in the tiniest of moments. It was in walking your dog, cribbing over it, not knowing it was the last time he dragged you to smell a turd in the grass. It was in laughing with someone between the kisses, being blatantly young. It was in going to sleep holding them, and waking up to say goodbye, possibly forever.

Happiness was in sitting with friends in the golden hour, talking all sorts of bullshit years before life touched any of you. It was in watching the sun fall on a familiar face, unaware that the next time you saw them, their skin would be lifeless and pale. It was in sitting in a regular, bustling café, without any knowledge of the fact that you’d be locked inside your house alone for months. Only to finally come out and see it shuttered down forever.

Happiness gave you a tiny opportunity to notice itself before it disappeared amidst the foliage of sadness and confusion. It came, and it raised its ears, and if you missed it then, it ran off. Happiness gave you some fifteen minutes between your running and all things important in the world. Sometimes, it stuck around longer provided you knew how to sit still.

Just look, without wanting it, without looking for it. If you were lucky and if you were still, it stared at you, right in the eyes.

Bookmark #205

I severely lacked imagination. I watched people think of unicorns and rainbows and all things bright and beautiful. I watched them all the time talking about what could be, but I could only see what was; I was too grounded. It was a problem for me because that meant, I couldn’t write about things I had never felt or seen, and that didn’t sit right by me. I could only write about what I knew. To that effect, I was terribly limited.

My writing was art, maybe. At least, I’d like to think so as I clacked keys at three in the PM or AM; that is, to say, regardless of the time. However, my writing was never going to be my largest piece, my greatest achievement. My magnum opus was not going to be a few words or sentences strung together. At some point, I realised, my stupendous masterpiece was going to be my life.

It would be all that I tried on my journey to more: to know more, to feel more, to be more. It was going to be in how I lived and how I loved. It would be in the anecdotes, if people had any to offer, after I had ceased to be. My life was my magnum opus. My pièce de résistance was in my everyday. I hoped that someday, when someone pulled on that thread, they’d stumble upon my irrelevant life and it would humour them for a wee minute. That was my last act.

My act of writing was only to keep a faithful record of it, in my own way, to not muddy the truth of it all. So, like a madman, I connected tiny details, left little hints littered through time itself. It all began on the day I was born, or rather, the day I seized control of how I wanted to go further. I was going to work on it, in my own time, until the day I died. Until then, I had to keep going.

What else could someone with a limited imagination do? I agree, it was a poor man’s solution. Yet, it was enough for me to find meaning amidst the futility of it all. I was my own work of art, and I was my own unfinished feat. On most days, however, I was my own unreliable narrator, tricking myself into believing I had anything to offer.

Or that, I had anything significant to say.

Bookmark #204

The more you grew up, the further you went in time, the more you learned there were no fresh starts. There were, of course, beginnings, and middles, and endings. However, you couldn’t start fresh, as much as people said you could. You could begin again, but everything from before came with it. The music you enjoyed a year ago may be forgotten, but your feet tapped automatically when you sat in a bar and the riff started to play.

Everyone you’d loved before made you the lover you were now, for better or for worse. If you walked on eggshells once, the dodging was ingrained in your gait. You took it with you even if you went walking in a meadow of flowers. Often, so many quirks you had weren’t your own. They were pieces of people you stole like a kleptomaniac, unable to resist the urge. Even the way you kissed evolved with each new person gracing your lips. You subconsciously avoided what each previous lover didn’t like, and so, you had less and less of yourself to give away.

Life was, by its very nature, a countably infinite stack of blocks. Yes, you could take a few blocks away if they got too old and too wobbly, but the scrapes they left on the other blocks stuck around for as long as the stack stayed up. I wanted to start afresh, not just again. I was terribly tired of who I was, sometimes, and I wanted to escape not just life, in general, but myself. It was too loud, too often.

Everyone I’d been before was still in me, albeit in parts and fragments, and everyone I’d met before had changed me, albeit in ways I couldn’t fathom until I used a particular word or a certain idea riled me up or a specific fragrance killed me inside. It was then that I’d take a step back and sigh at the finite finality of what we went through as time passed.

Everything stuck around, everything was a part of us, and nothing that happened was wasted or left behind. The best course of action, I realised, was to let yourself be changed, continually. To always be in motion, to always be fluid and to let time guide you; to always be open enough to be scarred yet again, clinging to the hope it doesn’t leave a lasting mark.

If you were lucky, you never got scarred at all, sometimes.

Bookmark #203

I sat sipping coffee at a lone table in the farthest corner of my favourite café. At this point, I wonder why that is a relevant detail. That is, quite frankly, all I do. Looking back over the years, I have consumed coffee and talked about everything around myself; no other significant achievement comes to mind.

What would you see if you saw someone sitting by themselves reading on a Tuesday afternoon? Perhaps, they’ll appear as too sure, doing whatever they want, against all of society, in silent rebellion. Maybe, they’ll appear as too clueless, unaware of the day or time or age, sitting there, affecting nothing.

I often saw myself from afar and saw both of them at the same time. That was why I was often dazed when an old friend or an acquaintance ran into me in a café. They’d ask me to join them if I wanted to, and I’d just stare at them before telling them I was okay by myself.

I had always been okay by myself. Yet, I wanted people to ask me to join them. There was freedom in being able to choose. That was the one thing I could choose with certainty in life, and I craved that certainty. I’d be lying if I said I ever told anyone “”yes, I’ll join you, thanks for asking.””

They talk about it in metaphors about critters and bugs. They say a caterpillar became a butterfly only after it built a cocoon. They say a seed had to break through a shell to start growing.

What if, I ask, what if the caterpillar spends too much time in its cocoon? What if it forgets it ever wanted to break out? What if the seed was never told it had to break out of the hard coat? What if it can’t? Surely some seeds shrivelled and some caterpillars suffocated.

My cluelessness was my cocoon; my assurance in myself was my coat. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I was, perhaps, a caterpillar who wasn’t told how to build a true cocoon or worse: tricked and never taught how to emerge out.

I sat sipping coffee at a lone table in the farthest corner of my favourite café on a Tuesday afternoon, and my hoodie over a shirt looked ridiculous to me for the first time. I suddenly started feeling older—older and purposeless.

Were my years of grand, proud flaneurism coming to an end?