The Heart of a Crowd

There are moments when you yearn to be just one amid many.  

You pine for the blur of faces whooshing around you, the accidental brush of a hand on yours. To breathe in the air that has been cast-off by the surrounding throng; the intimacy, you crave it.

There is comfort to be taken in isolation, yes, but the loss of individuality holds a certain charm as well.

You want to forget- just for a while- to simply live and breathe, to step out and endure. 

And so, you stand here pulsing in the heart of this crowd, and tell yourself that your bubble does not exist.

It is a relief then, this lie.

To let yourself be swept away by the ocean, by the mass of obscure grey shapes, your only duty to contribute to the beauty of the ensemble.

Within this crowd, you can tell yourself: perhaps for all your worries about a distinctive existence, you are nothing more than a single artery of a heart, pumping and throbbing on impulses from your milieu.

Here, your own decisions will reflect off the millions of facets of this glass sphere. Your behaviour can be formulaic, without blame and without pressure. 

Here, you are merely a fish among a shoal, and the ocean does not move merely because your fins have grazed it.

Trapped within the jostle of elbows and shoulders, you are truly free. 

Within this crowd, you are no one, and your insignificance has never been sweeter. 

 

Photo by Carl Findahl on Unsplash

 

Hat Tip to Mike from From the Front Porch for his input on the piece

 

 

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You close your eyes…

When you close your eyes, your world is not void.

It is in flashes of red, of gold, of scandalously bright pinks, flickering like stars on the backdrop of a bruised black.

You can stand in the budding light of a winter dawn, the chilly morning breeze whipping around you, and shades of pastel pinks and oranges bloom into being.

In the punishing glare of a mid-day sun, your world is a flaring red: it soaks you in delicious warmth, drowning you in an ocean of scarlet.

When the night shifts from dusk to twilight, the wilting glare of the fading sun shines a queer royal blue, embroidered with strands of sea-silver.

When you close your eyes, your world is magic.

The world outside is harsh, full of dull greys and insipid whites. But it doesn’t have to be so. The world beneath your eyelids is beautiful, and it’s yours.

So you don’t doubt, you don’t question.

You believe. Ignorance is key.

This place you see, of laughter and joy, of everlasting beauty and frivolous magic, is real. It has to be.

Because when you can’t trust yourself, what is there to live for?

You turn a blind eye, let yourself get caught up in the charade you create.

The truth is right before you, they say, but they’ll never understand.

You do not want to see. You do not want to know. You don’t ask. You don’t doubt.

You close your eyes, and believe.

 

 

Photo by Cédric Klei on Unsplash

Fall to Power

Whatever we did, we did for power.

Money. Love. Beauty. Respect. Family.

Power to control, to seduce, to create, to morph.

Science to control our surroundings, psychology to control ourselves. Society to control our world.

Everything you could have possibly yearned for, anything you could want, in the end, was merely a tireless quest for dominance.

It sounds vain, even as I think it. To reduce the entire of our lives, all our hopes, our dreams, our drive, as they would say, to one pathetic power-play.

But to be vain itself is a power, to have the power to be vain, to be selfish, to think only of oneself. A luxury. How we wasted it.

Don’t be like that, they would tell us. Serve. Adapt. Fulfil. 

Be selfless, sans the self, shrink yourself, smaller, smaller, until you no longer exist.

How can you want when you are not in being?

You are content, they told you. Happy. This is what happiness feels like.

How were we to know?


It’s why we fell in the end, I think to myself.

Because there was that ‘more’ lingering in the air, more power over the other person, loved more, respected more.

Big words like ‘unconditionally‘ and ‘forever‘ thrown about, disrupting the balance.

When we fought over the TV remote, the restaurants, who paid the bill, who fed the cat, who took out the trash. Hands flying, head shaking, dishevelled, letting loose, words spewing out of red lipstick, I remember, there was so much red towards the end.

How trivial, we thought, how mundane.

In the end, it was those little things that did it.

We laughed about it afterwards, of course, hands clutched together, eyes smiling, mingled sighs and half-hearted apologies.

But the more was still in the air, whispering, scheming.

They say that when you go deaf, it starts off as just a small humming in your ears. And then day after day, night after night, it slowly drowns out the world around you, until it’s all you can hear.

That was what it was like, this ‘more‘. It was like going deaf, deaf to what you have, right before you. More, more, more. 

When we pretended we didn’t care, hurting, hurting so much, battered, broken, tired, oh-so-tired. That was about power too.

Apathy. Ignorance. The less you care, the better. The less you know, the less you care. Close your eyes, go in blind, go in deaf, more, more, more.

We craved the imbalance and we paid for it. The scales finally tilted. We fell.

In the end, we fell, falling, falling, was that power?

Was I happy, then?

I can’t remember.

The fall was a grey blur, a single whoosh, a rush of blood to the head, passion, lust, rage, hunger, us gasping for breath, breathless.

It was breathtaking, as they would say.

That’s not always a good thing.


Photo by Yessica Villalobos on Unsplash

I was here.

Today is one of the bad days.

Today, I spend an hour over the page, spelling out my name onto paper, over and over and over again until it’s all I can see.

A curve here. A line there. A dot. Repeat.

A tear drops onto the ink and leaves a speckle of blue that wobbles when I exhale.

I feel my pulse steadily rising, my heart beating faster as I take another breath.

It’s all wrong.

It isn’t me.

The paper cackles as I crush it, mocking me.

 


I feel like a mirage, as if I’m made of smoke, fading into nothingness.

A cold squall of wind could hiss my way, and I’d be gone, only two sets of nails and thirty-four teeth swirling in a spiral down to the ground.

And then, just as quickly, they’ll turn to dust and ash, blown away in a gust of grey.

Maybe someone will look up as I billow past them, a look of distant incomprehension on their face.

Maybe another will mouth a perfect ‘O’ as my hand fleets right through their arm, grasping for a berth.

The moment will be forgotten as quickly as it came.

I’ll be forgotten.

I could have never existed.


On the desk I write on is etched three words and a date.

S.R. loves J.D. 2007.

If I close my eyes, I can look up and see two pale, shimmery shapes rise up from the letters, hands clutched together, eyes shining, a tender glance, a subtle kiss.

I love you. 

No one can refute that now. It’s evidence. Evidence that they existed, that they lived, that they loved.

I would like to have that, I think.

Decades later, I would like for a hand to run its fingers over my carving, sharpen the edges, perfect the letters. I would like to become a part of the wood, to live forever through it.

And if my name is on the page, if my name is scrawled on some distant pillar, I tell myself: I can’t disappear.

I was here.

See?

I told you.

I told you I was.

That’s my name, I was here.

I rip the page and start over.

The paper cackles as I crush it.

 

 

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Resonance

You walk past the street, wind in your hair, smile on your lips. One hand is tucked in your coat. The other clutches a small bag slung over your shoulder.

The crowd is bustling, and you manoeuvre yourself through with a practised ease.

It’s just another day.

Mundane. Normal.

And then, you see me, walking just past you.

If you asked, I would tell you I’ve never met you before.

You’d agree.

I don’t know your name and you don’t know mine.

But nevertheless, you see me, really see me.

So maybe I smile.

Maybe you do.

Maybe you raise up a hand in greeting, a small wave.

Maybe I nod in response.

Maybe our shoulders brush as we cross paths, shuffling through.

Our shadows align under the morning sun. Whole.

Your eyes catch mine, and lock, just for a second. Linger. I look away.

And then, we’re both gone, just as quickly as we appeared.


It was just another day.

Mundane. Normal.

I didn’t know you and you didn’t know me.

We were two ships passing in the night, on different paths in the same waters.

But in that fraction of a second, we were as close as two people could ever be.

Our hearts pulsed to the same beat, and our blood sang the same tune.

Resonant.

We were in resonance.

The moment is gone as quickly as it came.

But in all the years that’ll come to pass, you can’t help but believe.

You will never truly be alone.

 

Photo by Bruno Nascimento on Unsplash

 

 

 

Castle in the air

There is a castle I live in, with glass walls that kiss the sky.

It holds clasped around it an air of mystique, of whispered secrets and hushed murmurs, cloaked around those four glass walls no one has seen within. There are no doors and windows. No way of entering at all. The glass is tinted, so that everything inside is merely a grey blur.

Inside: the grass is dead, the air stale.

Each day, I step outside, and I am remoulded, recast into different flesh, en vogue.

I step outside and my shadow is lighter, as though I have left a shade of it behind.

I step outside, and my world is anything I want it to be.

I can be one amidst a million again, a thread blending seamlessly into the cloth. Or I can be a single streak of silver against black.


I am a storyteller: telling fairytales of life inside the grey, never lying, nothing true.

Look at the tapestries, I entreat, flourishing the cobwebs that hang from the ceilings.

I am an enchantress: weaving threads of magic in place to fabricate my own reality.

Look at the grandeur, I urge. How the walls stroke the skies, crystal glistening in the moonlight, outshining the stars.

I am an architect: setting stone upon stone, carving a world into being.

Look at the glass walls, I whisper. For you shall see nothing beyond it.

I am anything I want to be.

Your eyes widen, in awe, in admiration. In wonder.

It a heady feeling, that sense of being put on a pedestal, as if the laws of gravity no longer apply to me.

As though I could fly as long as I don’t look down.

I can no longer stop, I have gone too high to fall.

I cannot bring myself to care.

I can fly.

Which is the dream now? Which is the lie?

Then one day, you arrive. You knock at the glass, hand rapping sharply on the walls with no doors. I do not respond. You should not be here.

You knock again.

Silence.

I hold my breath and then sigh, leaning against the walls.

Footsteps echo into silence. You are gone.

I am relieved. Relieved of the truth, of how close you came to seeing it.

But there is a twinge of something I cannot identify right there. Regret? Longing? It is not pleasant, whatever it is, and I dismiss it.

I have only a second’s warning when glass explodes into the air, cracks spiderwebbing along the walls.

You walk straight through: through the tinted glass, the façade of castles and fairy tales, tapestries and skyscrapers.

Lies.

You do not flinch.

Not when the glass shards pierce through your skin, blood dripping onto the dusty wooden floors.

Not when you take in the cobwebs, the damp, musty smell of neglect.

Lies.

I want to scream. To rant and rage. To throw a fit.

You are not supposed to be here.

I say nothing.

The balance has shifted. The power is in your hands.

I want to strike out like a cornered animal, glaring into your eyes, challenging you to make a single misstep, longing for you to just give me a reason to be angry. It simmers just underneath the surface, underneath this overwhelming shame, the guilt.

My pedestal has gone, and I am falling, falling. I look down.

I am Cinderella, without the –ella, only ashes.

Exposed. Vulnerable. It’s too much. Too soon.

Silence.

And then you make an obscene comment.

Laugh.

Offend.

The transition is smooth. Seamless. There is no hitch, no falter in your steps. No pity in your eyes.

The air is stale, the grass dead, but you are the same.

I am grateful.


There is a castle I live in, with glass walls that kiss the skies. There are no doors and windows, no way of entering at all. The glass is tinted, so that everything inside is merely a grey blur.

I pause for effect with all the grace of a serial-gossip about to reveal the biggest secret of her infamous career.

But there are ways, I whisper into your ears. Cracks in the glass.

I nod emphatically for emphasis.

Who knows? One day, she might let you in.

 

Unshackled

A chair, a table, a plant.

On the table, a fishbowl, in the corner of the room.

A splash of golden on grey.

It is an itch that refuses to be dismissed, like a picture placed slightly tilted in an otherwise perfect room.

My forehead leans on the glass box, my eyes pressed against the surface.

A goldfish darts past, a bolt of sunlight. It doesn’t spare me a single glance. I am ignored; as it is ignorant of my existence.

I wonder which one of us is the slighted one here.

The world beyond those four glass walls is incomprehensible to it, only a distant dream, the faintest litany. My world ends with this tank.

The only difference between us is the side of the wall we stand on.

Water and air.

Captivity.


Every once in a while, it buts its head against the glass, striking at its tank with its fins.

It swims around the tank, once.

Twice.

Another thump.

Repeat.

There’s something slightly off about the entire scene. About the way its body moves. Stiff. Almost brittle. The eyes are glassy, unfocused. As if it sees something here that I can’t see, living in a universe completely different from mine.

It swishes past me again, moving in those hurried, jerky movements I’ve grown so used to.

I imagine it wishes for freedom. For the glass to shatter and set it free. To see the world from the other side of those walls. My side.

I trace its path with my hand over the glass.

Another thump.


Then one day, it happens.

At first, the crack in the glass is small. Barely the length of a hairpin. I run my hand along the fracture, feeling the tiny welt scratching at the delicate skin.

The goldfish thumps on the glass.

I press the tip of my index finger on the fissure, slowly pushing in. The glass strains under my finger, cutting through the sensitive skin. A bead of red surfaces.

The fracture spider-webs across the tank, creeping along the surface.

One more prod.

A single crack echoes in the room, a muffled gunshot.

The tank shatters all at once, and there’s a mesmerizing beauty to it, to the way the glass seems to implode on itself as the water gushes out, pulsing. Shards of glass fly around me, flipping slowly end over end, the sunlight catching in each piece. A thousand tiny, beautiful rainbows.

The goldfish is swept out onto the floor, flopping as it struggles to breathe.

Blood drips onto the wet floor from my finger.

I watch as it thrashes on the wood, breathing out the last of its oxygen into the swirls of red.

There’s a certain irony to it.

My life-source mingling with its.

Our worlds have collided.

Hands claw at my throat, and my lungs seem to be surrounded by metal bands. I wheeze in, and my breath whistles, like blowing air into a clogged pipe.

The tank goes blurry. The table, the chair, the plant. Fading away.

Only the fish is left.

The fish and me.

The fish is me.

I was never meant to be unshackled.

 

Photo by Sadiq Nafee on Unsplash

 

 

 

Faceless

It all started as a game.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a people-watcher.

As a child, I would watch people for hours before even attempting to talk to them.

I’d scrutinize how you spoke. What you wore. When you laughed. What you liked. Whom you talked to.

I would watch and watch, try to figure out who you were. What you wanted.

And once I put together the pieces of your identity, I would form my own, making sure they clicked.

It was like a puzzle that only I could finish and it amused me to have that sort of power over you: to control exactly what you see.

But under all of that, I’d ensured that I was that girl:

The girl you want to speak to.

The girl you share all your secrets with.

The girl you like.


I flit from one person to the next, as graceful as a butterfly.

Always smiling. Always pleasing.

You come to me when you don’t have anyone else, and it’s my shoulder you cry on, it’s into my ears you whisper your darkest secrets.

I soothe. I comfort. I encourage. I motivate. I charm.

And when I’m finally alone, I laugh.

I laugh at the world, at how gullible you are, to think you know me, to trust me the way you do.

I laugh till I cry and then I cry till I can’t breathe.

The tears never end, it seems, they flow and flow relentlessly, leeching me of everything.

The real joke was on me, all along.

And I’d never realized.


I look in the mirror and don’t recognize the shadow that looks back into my eyes.

I don’t ‘like’ her.

In fact, I despise her.

I see myself wrapping my hands around her throat and squeezing until the light slowly fades from her eyes.

And then, I realize the girl is me.

The irony: I’d gained the affection of everyone else, only to realize that I couldn’t win me over too.

Alone, I’m a coward. I’m despicable. Spineless. A doormat. A hypocrite.

I morph myself to suit the people around me. My very identity is built on everyone else’s desires.

I’m no one without someone to please. Nothing without a task to complete.

And there is nothing left of ‘me’ now, of the person I could have been.

Before. Before all the masks.

 


When I look back, all I see is crushed dreams, and when I look forward, I see an eternity of nothingness.

But it’s what I see when I look within that truly scares me.

Underneath all my masks, I am faceless.

 

Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash