Monday, January 29, 2024
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THE MAN IN QUESTION

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I looked into the man’s face. It was etched with suffering. He had no doubt fallen many times in his battles with Life. It looked to me like the greatest pain had not come due to the falls, but from the effort required to rise, and rise again. I also observed the deep laugh lines that’d gathered around each eye resembling a spider’s web. Yes, this man had lived life to the full. He had triumphed many times and learnt nothing from it. That’s because the recipe for success changes frequently. No. It was from his failures he’d learnt everything. And the reason for them had been simple – he’d gone against his instinct.

He’d survived many things in his life. Wars, plagues, floods, marriages, injury, slander, lawsuits, success, failure, gambling, death threats, betrayals, great wealth, poverty, love, broken hearts, rejection, addiction, vicious dogs, adultery, asthma, poisoning, tightrope walking. gangsters. drive-by shooters, merchant bankers, and long debates with actors. As such, these days, it was difficult to get him excited much, or fearful at all.

He’d beaten his demons, and was proud of it. But it’d been some of his friends who’d done him the most damage. They’d posed as friends but were really opportunistic spiritual vampires, sucking off his life force in order to live through him. And when they’d been found out and cut like a cancer out of his life, they had flayed about like dying sharks biting at his reputation with lies, exaggerations and groundless accusations. Most of what they accused him of were acts they’d done. The fact that they were so blatantly hypocritical was what hurt most of all. And from then on, he’d rationed his loyalty to those who’d proved theirs to him.

Now, he spent much of his time looking for things he hadn’t found. It made him as expectant as Jungle Jim on a safari.

He’d once stopped a cab and gotten out to wander through a desolate, ravaged field that desolated the remains of what had once been a theatre. The taxi driver was bewildered as to what his forlorn passenger was looking for. Whatever has been here was long gone, he though, as his meter ticked away. But his frantic passenger was searching for something only he could see. His youth.

Sometimes, late at night, he wished he was dead. But there was a safety net in knowing God never granted his wishes. This knowledge scared him with the recurring nightmare that he may live forever. And that it’d be his punishment for having lived too well for a few years at the peak of his success, when he was too young and too busy to have enjoyed it. He’d once had immense power and never abused it. He’d also held the key to many vulnerable hearts and never used it. The facts, as opposed to the gossip, would show that his integrity was never bought. So God took these opportunities away and seduced someone else with them.

In exchange, the man in question, was given a rented studio apartment and enough food to get by. He was also granted the solitude to reflect on the follies of life, and write about them in with a rich appreciation of God’s sense of humour.

He’d figured out the secret to God – He is passive. Having granted us free will he sits back and watches what we do with it. If you wanted action, you had to consult his competitive estranged brother, Satan. But that loan shark had interest rates that’d severely cripple your life, and could never be repaid due to the compounding penalties given only passing mention in the very small print.

And if you accepted that deal, you’d end up worse than alone.

The man who sat in front of me, felt many things  But he’d given up feeling what didn’t matter anymore. He told himself that he had enough heart left for one more great love. But she’d have to be an extraordinary woman, and he now suspected that such a perfect match only existed in dreams. Or delusions. He wasn’t sure what the correct word was anymore. All he knew was that God loved to tease him with possibilities that went nowhere that only foolish younger men or, those older bodies on the brink of madness,

He laughed out loud at how younger women now delighted in taunting him. They took so much but gave very little in return. They knew the art of getting away Scott free, and would be able get away with it a few more years before they too ended up alone. It was all about the promise and how much could be taken in the shadow of that. While one could. He knew all their tricks now and that rendered the game too predictable to hold his attention long. They hadn’t known him in his prime, nor would they’ve had the opportunity to. But these were different times. There were very few who could see past surface layers to find true love. Soul to soul.

How much do you have to hurt before you feel nothing anymore?

How much do you have to love before it means nothing anymore?

This man hasn’t aged from living. He’d aged from giving. And now all those who’d taken from him could celebrate the fact that there was nothing left.

They’d conquered something that felt important to them, but they couldn’t analyse what it was, or why they’d felt such compulsion to deplete it.

After all, they were good people, weren’t they? I mean, they wouldn’t hurt a fly.

The man now, each day, felt his spirit leaving his body and wondered what kind of life his shell would have. He thought that perhaps he might be more socially accepted in this zombie-like state.

But who knew such things? And who the hell would even think about it? Other than a man with too much time on his hands, who’d stopped momentarily at the crossroads.

That was when I realised I’d been observing myself and the extraction had been successful.

 

(C) Frank Howson 2020.

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