The small round man, who smells of sweat, watches with his beady eyes. This way and that, he turns his head, trying to determine who his sob story will work on best. He has assumed a proprietary air since the moment he set foot in the house. This is a place he has not set foot in for almost 30 years, but now the master of the house is gone, and the mistress in a vulnerable state, he thinks the time is ripe to make a move. Only the owner of the house seems to trust him, that vulnerable woman. Her children are suspicious of a man whom they have not seen since they were young. He seems to expect them to welcome him with open arms. He is devious and sly, this small round man, saying one thing to the sister and another to the brother. He conveniently forgets the things they have told him, and plays innocent when he is caught in a lie. ‘Sponger’ thinks the sister. ‘Thief’ thinks the brother. The other, their mother, is merely thankful for his company and the retying of old bonds. But the small round man bides his time, and sweats.
‘Where has my life gone? My drunken-ness of being? Where is the joy, the enthusiasm, the passion?’ cried the man, making the sailor jump almost out of his skin. He turned to find behind him a man, standing in a manner that could only be described as four-square. His hair was standing in clumps and tufts on his head, as though his hands had recently tugged at it in desperation. ‘I’m sorry?’ asked the sailor. The man stood four-square with his mouth open in a grimace like a letter box and did not answer. The sailor was growing tired of this hell or nightmare or whatever it was that he found himself in. He could have been anything he wanted, he reminded himself. ‘Where did you come from?’ he asked the man. ‘You shouldn’t sneak up on people like that.’ The four-square man continued to grimace, the only movement about him the occasional blink of his eyes. ‘Why are you standing like that?’ the sailor asked. He wanted to be impatient with the man, but he couldn’t get the feeling to line itself up. ‘It is the hour to be drunken,’ declaimed the man. Only, his mouth did not move.
The snow began falling as we arrived at the big yellow box on the roundabout. It continued to fall as we made our way along a prescribed route through showrooms and display areas, past enticing arrays of furniture and accessories. We took our time, considering everything carefully, weighing up its desirability alongside its necessity. We piled things we didn’t really need into big yellow bags and spacious metal trolleys. We picked things up and put them down when we found something else more suitable to our needs. Twice I demonstrated my popularity with strangers, something about my appearance inviting conspiratorial conversations on subjects I had no interest in. I was only there to buy drinking glasses and a laundry bin. I came away with more than that, of course. Curtains and pillows, placemats, wrapping paper, a notebook. I justified my purchases by saying that the laundry bin was out of stock, so the other items balanced my budget. My friend bought a bathroom sink. A bathroom sink! She saw it, and she wanted it, then she spoke to a sales assistant, and suddenly she had bought it. As we left the big yellow box, the world outside had turned white.
He sat in the bare room at the bare table on the hard wooden chair. This was a room made to his own design. He sat there and listened to the silence. It had a harsh quality, burning and bleak. He wondered if it was silence, or whether the frequency hum of the single light bulb was leaking into his ears, hardening the silence it cut through. He assumed that he could also hear the hum of his own blood making its way around his body, alongside the creaks and gurgles of his joints and digestive system, the minuscule rasp of his breathing. He wanted to test himself. He wanted to know whether he would be able to survive if he were to become the only person left on the planet. He didn’t know why. He had no expectation of a global disaster that would leave only him unaffected physically. He just wanted to know what the silence would be like and if he could cope. So he experienced silence for twenty four hours, presuming that it would send him mad. Twenty four hours of silence, arid and dry like a desert of red sand, stretching out with no respite.
Yodel if you want good service. No, literally, yodel for it. Whistle down the wind. If you want good service, don’t employ Yodel to deliver your packages, though. Their couriers fake signatures, not even bothering to disguise it by choosing the name of someone famous. They leave mobile numbers for the customer to call to rearrange delivery, but the voicemail inbox is always full and nobody ever answers. They claim to have returned packages to the depot, but the depot can never find them. Either that, or they throw the package over the back fence, and you’re lucky if it’s only the ‘sign for delivery’ agreement that gets broken. Today, after almost two months since it was dispatched by the manufacturer, and a week after a replacement product was sent out following my report of non-delivery, a package arrived. It was left with our neighbour, but no card put through our door. The box was battered, as though it had been crushed under a pile of larger boxes, or as though someone had tried to force it through a letterbox that was clearly too small for it. So now we have two of the same thing. We only needed one.
I arrived too late into the day, and snow was starting to fall as I stuck my head outside the door to assess the prevailing conditions. I could have risen earlier, but then again, I could have gone to bed earlier the previous night. I should have found some drive. Perhaps the greyness of the sky was the infection causing my mood. As it was, all of the things that I could have achieved did nothing more than paralyse me. I chose not to be Sisyphus, and left my various boulders languishing at the bottom of the hill while I did nothing, daylight barely touching the edges of my life on this cold winter day. I settled at nothing, moving as if in a dream from one seated position to the next. I did not approach my lethargy with bad grace, rather with a blankness that felt like distraction, although I could not say what I was distracted by. Nor could the snow find the energy to commit. Its nascent flurry as I performed my basic weather check died as soon as I closed and locked the door in its face. Together, we were neither one thing nor the other.
‘Me?’ asked the sailor. ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ‘That’s the thing,’ said his opposite, ‘I’m not sure. But until you do it, I can’t do what I need to do next.’ ‘What do you need to do next?’ His opposite glanced down. ‘I think I’m supposed to meet someone.’ ‘A small, dark girl?’ asked the sailor. ‘Yes, that’s who,’ was the reply. The sailor thought for a moment. ‘Do you get the feeling that we’re the same person?’ he asked. His opposite looked up again and frowned. ‘We can’t be the same person. I’m here and you’re there, which is here but on the other side of this green metal wall. How can we be the same person?’ ‘I just thought,’ said the sailor hesitantly. ‘Yes?’ said his opposite. ‘Well, I just thought that maybe we had become separated and were travelling on parallel lines.’ ‘Wait there,’ said his opposite. ‘I’ll meet you by the line of games.’ The sailor agreed. If he knew about the line of games, then he must have been here before. He waited for a long time. His opposite didn’t come. ‘Maybe I ought to go to see where he is,’ he thought.
The girl at the table looked sad. ‘Are you sad?’ asked the sailor. The girl at the table didn’t reply. The sailor felt helpless on the inside. He stood in his bright white trousers with the gold buttons, and his blue and white striped tunic stretched tightly across his muscular frame, and inside he felt weak. He tried to turn back to his shovel and the opening in the green metal container, but the sadness of the girl wouldn’t let him. He knew that all the games in the world at any number of discount prices wouldn’t make the girl at the table happy again. ‘What are you doing?’ said a voice behind him. The sailor glanced over his shoulder. It was his opposite, inside the green metal container. ‘There’s a girl at a table, and she’s sad,’ he told him, ‘what are you doing?’ His opposite was silent for a moment, then, ‘I suppose I’m just waiting,’ he replied. The sailor turned away from the girl at the table and leaned towards the opening in the green metal container. His opposite was leaning from the inside. ‘Waiting for what?’ he asked him. ‘You, I think,’ came the reply, softly.
Two hundred words a day, I said that I would write. What if some of those two hundred words were Japanese? I was revising (or shall we say learning late) before class the ten kanji we were assigned in Japanese class last week, when I noticed that they formed a kind of story. The words were responsibility, healthy, unusual, friendship, cultural festival, lavish, anguish, your wife, coffee shop, and Lake District. In my mind I saw a man. He was taking on responsibility for being healthy. Then he struck up an unusual friendship at a cultural festival. His behaviour was lavish, and it caused much anguish because, sad to say, he took your wife to a coffee shop and then ran off with her to the Lake District. What a bad man. He wasn’t responsible at all. I think his attempts to be healthy were nothing but a ruse to run off with your wife, a married woman. If we see him again, let’s not speak to him. That will teach him a lesson, won’t it? This imaginary man who ran off to the Lake District with your wife, whoever you are. Did you know that she was like that?
The small, dark girl appeared again. The sailor thought he remembered. ‘I know,’ he said. ‘These games will never end.’ The small, dark girl raised a quizzical eyebrow. ‘It’s what you were going to say,’ the sailor said. ‘Was I?’ she replied. ‘I don’t recall.’ Folding her arms, she chewed her bottom lip, her dark brows knitting over glittering eyes, drops of jet looking down, focused on what, the sailor did not know. ‘This doesn’t feel right,’ the sailor thought. His legs were itching for motion, but he remained rooted to the spot. What age passed, he didn’t know, but eventually he took up his shovel again and started to push more games through the opening in the green metal container. ‘Isn’t there something else you should tell me?’ he said over his shoulder to the small, dark girl who was no longer there. In her place was a different girl, sitting at a table alone. The sailor watched her for a while, shovel frozen in mid-air. The girl at the table seemed not to know he was there. The sailor got the feeling she was somewhere surrounded by people and he was looking at her from the wrong direction.