short stories

~ Moving Forth ~

~ Moving Forth ~

A dreadful silence filled the room. The surrounding walls looked at me with suffocating stares. I lay flat and still on my bed as the weight of the entire world pulled me down into the mattress. The dream had abruptly ended and I was back in my old bedroom, living at home with my parents after travelling around the world for one and a half years. From Brazil to New Zealand, the grand adventures had come and gone – all those soul-stirring experiences lost in the mist of mind and memory, and now I was back to where I grew up: penniless, alone and depressed, with no one close by who truly understood or cared how I felt. 

     On top of this I had returned back to my old job in the local supermarket. It was not something I had planned to do, but having been reckless enough to come home with no money and a considerable amount of debt, I immediately returned to a place I could walk into work straight away. This created some sort of time warp in my brain, as if the last one and a half years had all been nothing but some sort of surreal dream. As I walked down those aisles and stacked those shelves, I felt my heart being crushed slowly and surely by the old familiarity of it all. It really was true that absolutely nothing had changed. The same customers came in at the same times; the same scripted conversations were endured; the same items were stacked in the same places. As I worked, I stared emptily into space and let my mind wander. How could so much have changed within me but everything here remain exactly the same? How could I live this other lifetime while people had stayed set in the same mode of existence? How could I go around the world and now feel so lost in my hometown?

     Inevitably, I felt as if everything I had done was for nothing; I felt that all the life I had gained had been stolen off me. A total pointless waste of time. What a foolish dreamer I was, thinking that my big, post-graduation journey actually meant something. It all suddenly felt meaningless. And not just for me, but those close to me. Besides the obligatory ‘how was it?’ question, no one really had an interest in what I had done. 

“So I guess it’s time you joined ‘the real world’ now hey”

“Welcome back to reality”

“Time to get a proper job”

    These were the comments people shared with me about my trip. Misunderstood and alienated, my heart soon raged against everything around me. Reverse culture shock set in and I began to feel more foreign than I had while on my trip. This just about peaked on a bank holiday Sunday evening where I stood in a pub listening to everyone talk about jobs, football and television shows. Suddenly, standing in silence at the bar, I was mocked for wearing casual clothing and working in a supermarket. It was right then that I became a stranger in my own town. This was supposed to be home, but now it was clear the bohemian madness had finally claimed me: I now had no home. I was an exiled alien, lost somewhere in the great cosmic ocean of existence, devoid of a place of any real belonging.

      As I experienced this conflicting state of affairs, I thought of my companions I had shared my adventure with. Where were they now? And what were they doing? Were they also back home, beset by the same doom and gloom as me? I racked my brain and remembered the moments of getting drunk on Copacabana beach on New Year’s eve with Ana. I remembered partying on a balcony overlooking a beautiful lake in New Zealand with my twenty housemates. Hiking to Machu Picchu with new friends. Climbing mountains in Bolivia. Cycling around wineries in Argentina. Yes, yes! All of those things! All those beautiful things swept away by the merciless waves of transience which eventually enveloped us all. The tides had turned, the fleeting friendships over and I now stood alone in what might as well have been another world altogether. Thinking about it all, I felt a strange feeling in my stomach. It was going to be a tough time, I knew.

     The weeks and months continued to go by in tremendous solitude. I soon avoided going out as I couldn’t face the others. Consequently, those bedroom walls gradually suffocated me more and more. It wasn’t long until felt like a prisoner of some sort. In times of desperation, I let society’s influence set in; I went online and applied for those career jobs I wasn’t interested in. This was the script I had told myself – that this big solo travel trip around the world after graduating from university was my final blowout before retreating back to the farm of normality to begin a steady career. It wasn’t until I went to an interview that I realised my delusion. As I sat there lying and pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I felt tremendous inner conflict burn inside my blood. Within me a great fire roared and raged against it all. I quickly began to realise I was facing the music – that I was finally acknowledging that I wasn’t going to walk the straight path society wanted me to. I had been avoiding it for a long time it had seemed. From an early age I knew in my gut that I didn’t belong to the world of careers and contracts – to sensibility and suburban sanity. I had suppressed the fact that I was incompatible with that world for many years and now it was time to accept that things in life weren’t going to be so straightforward for me. Acknowledging this, a personal crisis ensued. The dark clouds gathered inside my head and the rain poured down.

     In the midst of this storm, I found myself visiting the nearby farm fields in the countryside daily. I guess it acted as a little bit of an escape from society. The allure of nature occasionally allowed some of the pain to momentarily reside, as if there was some whispering voice of wisdom in the wind and in the streams, trying to tell me something that would alleviate me from my suffering. Although it helped at times, it wasn’t enough to stop the storm inside my head. As the weeks and months went by, the thunderous noise increased intune with my own despair and desolation. I gradually began to realise that these feelings were nothing new. It was true that I had felt out of place all of my life at home. From a young age I knew deep down something inside of me was vastly different from the rest. Perhaps that was the source of past bouts of anxiety and depression, I wondered. I had always known I didn’t fit into the world I grew up in, and it seemed I had subconsciously blocked out this fact to spare myself the pain of facing my isolation as the black sheep I undoubtedly was. But finally, at the age of twenty-four, the realisation had caught up with me: I was an abnormal outcast, a wretch not belonging to my place of birth, someone not destined to have regular life.

    Eventually one day I was walking in those fields and the weight of it all became too much. I couldn’t go on the way I was any longer. I stopped and stood alone in the middle of a field. I then looked up to the sky with tears of pain and rage, before collapsing down onto the ground. For a long time I just lay there motionless in the grass, feeling the wind whip against my skin and the pain and madness howl in my mind. I felt myself sinking down deep into the earth beneath me, swallowed up whole by this world. It was true: I had been broken – the lowest I had ever sunk in my life. I was a destroyed man, shackled down by my demons, lying helpless and alone in the torture chamber, feeling myself disappearing into a state of non-existence.   

     Then something strange happened.

     Somewhere deep inside of me, something changed. Something was destroyed. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but at my lowest point I felt it implode on itself and dissipate into nothingness. In the wake of this, I then started to feel the pain gradually start to reside. I sat up and breathed in, wondering what the hell had just happened. Perhaps it was the abrupt death of a demon within me that had been causing me all this pain. Perhaps it was a lock to something which had finally split under the weight of all the pressure. Whatever it was, I felt its sudden disappearance within me, followed by a feeling that was like coming up to surface for a life-saving gasp of air. It was then that I realised a critical point had been reached – a peak of pain overcome. Feeling some strength start to return, I picked myself up from the ground. I then limped on home, knowing something had changed inside of me forever.     

     In the months and years that followed that troubled time, I have still been limping on home. I wasn’t completely cured from my problems altogether. Something like that which brought you to the edge of destruction doesn’t just fade totally. But it was a moment that was pivotal for me – perhaps the most pivotal in my entire life. In that field that day was the moment I finally let go of a whole lifetime of suppressing my true self and faced the fact of who I really was. In that field that day I allowed a persona I had been burdened with by my surrounding society to be killed. I gave up the egoic state of caring what other people thought of me and to listening to the dogma about who I should be in this life. Since then I have gained mental clarity and been able to overcome my inner conflicts and struggles; I have been able to summon the courage to become the person I was born to be, and not the one society tried to mould me into. With a new profound faith in my own inner being, I have continued my adventures all over the world, I have summited the mountains, I have trekked the countries, I have wrote the books – I have accepted and come to the terms of the fact that I am a born outsider. With myself adjusted to this new state of being, I have found my true calling and followed it fiercely with all my heart and might and passion. The tides have turned once again, and I now stare into those morning mirrors, proud to see my genuine and authentic self gazing on back at me, ready for whatever’s next upon the great journey of life.

     It is true that sometimes in this life an individual suffers tremendously with coming to terms with who they really are. Human society and the cultures we exist in are enough to send any man or woman into isolated states of depression and desolation. With everyone around you trying to mould and shape you from a young age, it’s easy to get confused and lose yourself in the madness of it all. It truly is a fight to be yourself in this world, especially if you are driven by a deep inner desire that leads you away from the safe herd. But the essence and authenticity of yourself is a fight worth winning and no good warrior ever won a great battle without having to go through some struggles and pain. On the quest to the shores of your destiny you will undoubtedly face isolation. You will face discomfort and doubt. You will face the situation of being painfully misunderstood by those around you. But please, if you feel that fire within you then have a little faith in your inner voice, don’t keel over to something which insults your soul, and don’t give up on yourself just because sometimes you may have to walk alone through haunted places. Stand up tall and dive down into the depths of yourself. Walk wide-eyed into the darkness and meet your demons face to face. Fearlessly explore every ounce of your own inner being. After a certain amount of time, you will emerge with eyes full of fire and go forth back out into the world as a warrior of the wild. And from that position on you will be stronger and more resilient than ever before. Your eyes will blaze with brightness. Your heart will ache with passion. Your gut will rumble with thunder. With a ferocious tenacity for life, you will live the life that sets your soul on fire – the life that your very heart screams out for. The path of your life will be thrilling and magical, and when you reach the end of your road, you will have no regrets about the life you lived. You will have a victory of personal authenticity. You will have a victory of individual courage. As you become the person you were born to be, you will have the greatest victory of all:

you will have the victory of yourself.

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miscellaneous

Alien Nation: Chapter One Draft

(the following text is a draft chapter from a novel I am working on called ‘Alien Nation: The Diary Of An Existential Millennial’)

1)

     The dream faded from sight as my eyes opened to the reality of my room. I didn’t bother to check the time, but the light penetrating the small gap in between my curtains made it clear once again: another day of existence had begun.

     I lay flat and limp on my bed, casting my eyes outward toward the window. Suddenly I felt a shudder go through my body. Out there beyond that glass the human race was preparing for another day of battle. Right now alarm clocks were bleeping, ties were being tightened, ignitions being turned and traffic jams forming. Soon the workstations would be manned, fake smiles would be cast, hands shook, lies told, deals made – economic and political doctrines successfully enforced and followed. On the streets the pedestrians would be marching along those grey sidewalks, pulled along by some vague meaning and purpose for life. Their hands would be clutching and clinging onto briefcases, or shopping bags, or lottery tickets, or holy books, or beer bottles, or prescription medicines, or something – anything. Throughout the course of their day advertisements would be consumed, newspapers read and lies believed. Meanwhile the politicians and businessmen would be sat above in skyscraper offices plotting and conspiring the latest activities of corruption and self-interest.

     Such ferocious absurdity was not just taking place in this city, or this country, or this continent – but across this entire goddamn planet. The thought of what was out there was enough to turn my face into my pillow and retreat into my own dark cave of isolation. Humanity and its strange ways were as relentless as the english rain, and burying my head in the sand often seemed like a good alternative to going out there and joining in with the madness. Unfortunately my existence on planet earth was subject to the concept of money. My temporary peace and solitude was afforded by the few remaining pounds I had in my bank account, which had been continually dwindling down and down to the last three digits. A gradual realisation had been dawning on me and I knew that there was no avoiding it any longer. It was time. My name had been called; my letter of conscription typed. I knew it was time to go out there and join the war, to face the firing squad – to let myself be beaten and bludgeoned by the companies and bosses and executives.

        I got out of bed, got dressed and headed into the kitchen of my flat. There my Hungarian roommate Csaba was cooking breakfast with his usual erratic nature that plagued him from head to toe.

        “Good morning Alex!” he said cheerfully. “You want some breakfast? I cooked too much again.”

        I looked down at the pan, where overcooked strips of bacon were drowning in oil – a merciless fate he seemed to impose of whatever piece of food he was cooking.

         “I’m good thanks” I said.

          He carried on twitching around the kitchen as bits of greasy fat sizzled and spat out from the frying pan.

         “So what are you going to do today?” he asked. “Have you starting looking for a job yet my friend? You know that our rent is due tomorrow?”

         “Yeah I started looking a few days ago” I lied. “I should have something sorted out for the end of the week.”

         “Ahh that’s great, but you have the money for rent right?”

         “Yes.”

         “And also for the bills – the internet and electricity?”

         “Yes, yes.”

          He nodded in satisfaction and carried on moving erratically around the cooker. I grabbed my cereal from a cupboard and began pouring a bowl, trying to avoid further conversation with him. I didn’t really have anything against him, it’s just that talking to him was a strained affair for all parties involved. To be honest I often wondered how I ended up cooped up with this creature in a small flat. He was a strange one. For one he happened he was the only gay person I knew who opposed the gay marriage (on account of his Christian faith). When I moved in he had claimed he was a people person but that started to seem dubious when he came home everyday angry and sour-faced from his bus driving job telling me how much he hated everyone in this town. “Those fucking people!” he would curse as he recalled his day to me – “I want to kill those fucking people!”. He once devised a grand plan to escape to Austria to live a quiet life in the mountains, but that had failed and had left him come crawling back to England with sad and bewildered eyes. I kinda felt sorry for the damn guy to be honest. Here he was: unhappily single, balding, thirty-five, and had already spent his entire youth stressing and butchering away his best years. Despite this, still he hadn’t learnt the futility of his ways, or even how to fry bacon for that matter. It was obvious he was lost, but that was okay – everybody was secretly lost in some way, it’s just that some people hid it a little better than others.

        I finishing making my cereal and retreated to the lounge to eat my breakfast alone at the table. I sat down with my laptop beside me. I opened it up and went on youtube to play some ambient music while I ate. In the last few months, ambient music had been a medicine to calm my mind when the grenades were going off inside of it. When I slept, I played ambient; when I wrote, I played ambient; when I sat on the internet plotting a way to escape this planet, I played ambient. Ambient, ambient, ambient. It was the cure to sailing smooth through the stormy seas of my mind. With ambient music a man’s mind was at peace, free from the demons of overthinking and anxiety that were currently chipping away at my the inside of my flatmate’s skull. With it the voices of society faded away and a man was delivered to a new place, a different place – a better place.

       After a few minutes of mindlessly staring into the vacuum of space and time, a thought entered my brain. I decided that I better search the latest job adverts – I did need a job after all. I went onto google and entered ‘jobs brighton’. The search gave me access to a few job websites, so I selected the top one and began scrolling through their menu of economic employment.

     For a moment I was quite optimistic; I imagined that maybe there would be something out there that interested me – perhaps working in the local national parks outside the city, or working down along the beach, or maybe working somewhere in solitude. Precious solitude: yes, yes that would be enough! But there was nothing of the kind. The majority of jobs were commission-based sales jobs which were designed for excitable extroverts who could bark their way to scamming some senile elderly person out of their retirement savings. I could imagine some goblin-eyed boss putting his hand on my shoulder and telling me “good job kiddo” after conning some eighty-year old out of her rainy day fund. Besides the sales jobs there were also some retail and bar vacancies, which of course meant interacting with hordes of humans throughout the day.

    In the end I gave up. I decided I’d just go to the employment agency and see what grool they had on their own menu. I closed my laptop, slumped back into my chair and stared outward toward the window.

    As I stared outward into the skies above the surrounding apartment blocks, I suddenly started to feel a bit down. The whole thought of going out there and joining in with the human race started to dampen my spirits. Why couldn’t life just be a fun adventure, I wondered once more. It was a thought that went through my mind at least twenty seven times a day. Often I’d find myself getting philosophical about everything and lamenting in the banality of everyday life. I mean, you couldn’t get away from it. Everyday you were awakened by an alarm clock to again face the absurdity of citizen-based existence. Here you were: an intelligent being that floated through space on a twirling, organic spaceship in a universe filled with black-holes, shooting stars and infinite horizons. And yet you were subjected by gravity and government to live in a world of monotony and mediocrity. Instead of sailing through the cosmos, you’d stutter through traffic jams; instead of exploring the earth, you’d explore supermarket aisles; instead of writing poetry, you’d write up tax-returns. Why was it like this, I wondered over a bowl of sugar-free, low-fat cornflakes.

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short stories

~ A Christmas Abroad ~

~ A Christmas Abroad ~

“It was December 25th, Christmas Day, and I was sat alone on a sofa in the hostel reception sipping a caipirinha cocktail. I was in sunny Brazil, Rio De Janeiro, out travelling the world with a beach right out on my front doorstep – yet I couldn’t help but feel slightly depressed. For the first time on this trip I was homesick. Christmas was the time to be with family and friends back home – not getting drunk half way around the world by yourself. That was fun of course normally, but in this instance it felt a little out of place. It wasn’t my first Christmas abroad, but it was my first one not shared with a large group of people in a home of some sort. It was a strange feeling – a feeling which lead to me drinking more and more sugary, high-strength cocktails.

While wallowing in my own tipsy self-pity, my roommate came over and asked to join me for a drink. He was an eccentric, middle-aged, bald Greek guy who been travelling most of his adult life. He had stories from just about every country and continent and still maintained that child-like excitement about the world around him. He sat down and shared some drinks and travel stories. I told him of my first trip to Ghana and he told me of his life of perpetual gypsy travel. It turned out this was his eighth Christmas abroad in a strange country far from home. He told me about them all as we sipped our drinks down in an orderly manner. After chattering away like excitable children, we decided to go down to beach to catch some Christmas day sun – the world-famous Copacabana beach was right on our doorstep after all.

We reached the beach and slumped ourselves down in the sand. We ordered a few beers off a vendor walking past and carried on drinking in the midday heat. I sat there staring out into the Atlantic ocean, sipping that cold beer, chatting away with my new friend. While there in the heat of the sun, I gradually began to think about my own future, and whether I would be spending the next Christmas at home or somewhere else in the world on a beach with a stranger. Was I heading down the same path as him? Was I sailing further away into the unknown? Was I becoming a perpetual traveller? As I pondered these questions a man came over across the sand trying to sell us sunglasses. Now drunk, I bought a pair and invited him to sit and drink a beer with us. We got chatting and I soon found out that he too was a foreigner travelling in Brazil. As we drank, he spoke about his life, his journey and his aspirations for the future.

It was strange; in those moments as I sat there and listened to those two nomadic strangers, I suddenly felt the homesickness begin to subside. Listening to excited people who were travelling alone in a foreign country made me feel like I was back home, wrapped up warm around the glowing lights of a Christmas tree. It made me feel like an excited kid again. It was then that I realised these were the kind of people in life I shared the greatest affinity with. Not the settlers or static souls, but the wanderers – the aliens – the nomads and outcasts. The people who didn’t try fit into a society that didn’t fit them. And the more I travelled, the more of them I met. They were the ones with the wild eyes that – if you looked deeply enough – beheld the scorching sunsets, the jagged mountains, the wide oceans and gypsy madness. They were the ones who laughed in the face of soulless monotony and declared war on the normal – the ones who took life by the scruff of the neck without compromise and hunted the horizon until the very end.”

short stories

~ Not Letting Them Break You Down ~

~ Not Letting Them Break You Down ~

Yes, it’s true that there are many kind-hearted people in this world, many people who want the best for you, but make no mistake about it: out there there are also countless people who want to break you down little by little – piece by piece. You are not always in good company in your day to day life. At every second, the sidewalks and cities of the world are filled with people who will try to assert their dominance over you to their own gain; who want you to feel timid and fearful under their shadow; who want you to be laid out on the floor so they can stand a little higher with their head in the clouds. Integrated into a society that often rewards their behaviour, they are the sociopaths, the narcissists, the bullies, and the manipulators. Sometimes they are simply the people who have suppressed their own issues and are looking for someone to vent their own inner pain upon.

    Like most of us, I have come across a few of these creatures in my life. Sometimes they are easy to spot; sometimes they will first infiltrate your radar and appear as friends. The meetings have been many but the most notable example I can recall of this was when I was backpacking around Australia. Desperate as ever for money to keep on travelling in some basic way, I went online and responded to a casual job advert. It was from a middle-aged man who owned a few properties in the city of Adelaide and needed some help with them and his farm a little out of the city. The job description seemed like an easy fix, so I applied, spoke with him on the phone and arranged to begin work at the start of the following week.

    It was three days later I got picked up with a fellow backpacker who had also responded to the ad. We were picked up on a dusty highway on the outskirts of the city. A beaten Toyota jeep pulled up along the freeway and there he sat behind the wheel: a big, bald, burly behemoth of a man, Australian but of Greek descent, with noticeably large hands and chunky fingers – the sort you knew had seen a lifetime of hard manual labour. I climbed in tentatively and introduced myself to him. Straight away he gazed at me with a piercing stare that shot right into the depths of my soul. I felt intimidated from the start. I looked down at how ragged and scarred those chunky fingers clutching the gear stick were and suspected that tough work awaited me. A painful, bone-crushing handshake then went and confirmed this.

    Thirty minutes later we arrived at his farm and got to work. There was no time for ceremony I realised as he threw a spade at my feet and asked me start digging up a fence post in the nearby field. I grabbed it and began thudding away at the ground in the baking Australian sun. I already suspected he expected me to work at a fast pace, so with that in mind I toiled away with all my strength, breaking the earth apart and pulling out the fence as quick as I could while watching the sweat drip off my forehead onto the cracked ground beneath my feet. 

      After finishing this task he got me to clean out an old barn that was crammed full of junk that seemed to have been gathering there for at least a few decades. Giving me just fifteen minutes to complete the task, I ran around like a madman clearing everything out as fast as I could. While I whizzed around, he would repeatedly come and look shocked that I hadn’t finished the job yet. He’d stop in the doorway of the barn and scowl at me with a look of disgust.  “What’s going on boy? You should have finished this by now. This isn’t good enough. You’ve gotta be quicker than this. Hurry up boy, hurry up”.

     Already I began to see that the bald behemoth hated my blood and guts. This feeling only intensified when, after clearing out the barn, he threw a shovel at my feet and asked me to clear all the horse manure off an entire field. This job was to be followed by clearing out a hen paddock which had a stench bad enough to make the devil weep – that’s not to mention a little interruption where I had to try and herd some sheep into another field as he stood by the fence watching me with what I sensed was a feeling of jovial delight.

     This sort of degrading, back-breaking work went on for a few days – and not just for me. Me and my friend would look at each other with exhausted eyes as he rampaged around the farm like a madman getting us to grind out our sweat and blood for what was essentially the minimum wage. At lunch he would invite both of us into the farm kitchen where we would eat lunch and drink a beer in a strange and uneasy atmosphere. It was a time to rest, but I never really felt totally comfortable to sit back and relax. There was an aura of contempt in the air and I felt a sort of bitter resentment or animosity towards us. Any attempts at small-talk or humour to creep under his tough exterior only resulted in that piercing stare he used so well and frequently to make you feel small and intimidated.

    It was after a week of this exhausting existence that my friend decided to quit. It was a Sunday evening and I was speaking to him over the phone. “Yeah screw working for that bastard. I’m not killing myself for minimum wage. I spoke to a guy in the hostel who once worked for him too; it turns out he just likes to screw backpackers around for fun. He’s a psycho mate, he doesn’t even need the help, the farm is just a hobby of his. Just do yourself a favour and quit now. I’ll help you sort something else out.”

     I thought about it and decided his words made sense. It didn’t surprise me that other backpackers had been through this ordeal and left after a few days. It didn’t surprise me that someone like that found pleasure in tormenting young backpackers like us he no doubt suspected came from privileged backgrounds. I thought some more about it and agreed with him; that it was better to just quit and find another casual job which wouldn’t be so painful and degrading. 

    I was about to text him my message of resignation when I suddenly heard another voice speak up somewhere inside my head. It was an old and familiar voice I recognised – the voice of stubbornness and resistance that I had occasionally listened to in hard times gone by. I thought back to the week on the farm and I knew from that piercing look in his eye that he wanted to break me down; I knew he found pleasure in recruiting backpackers and getting them to quit; I knew he felt better about himself that he could do these jobs that other mere mortals could not do. Having both of us quit after a week would only strengthen his resolve of hatred and contempt further. It was right there and then that I was going to brave out his thunder and lightning; that I was going to stand tall against his storm. My mind was made up and so began the start of a silent war. It was a war of endurance. Of pain. Of persistence. Of blind defiance to prove a point that I wasn’t even quite sure was at the time.

    The week got started again and the battle continued where we left off. Picking me up on that dusty highway every morning, I was taken to the farm where I cleaned out hen pens of shit for minimum wage, where I blistered my hands as I dug away with a blunt spade into hard earth, where I scrubbed windows at a speed great enough to make my wrists snap while he stood beside me and barked at me to hurry up. There was one time on the way home that I had to run down a highway with a container when he had run out of oil. Having returned as fast as I could, he still remarked how I should have filled the container up a little more to the very top. “You’re just no damn good kid; you haven’t got any common sense and you haven’t done a day’s work in your life have you?”

      I quickly realised that there was no room for any positivity or gratitude in this bizarre relationship. Sometimes a moment of quietness meant he was satisfied in some way, but other than that it was a lifeless affair. At lunch we would always sit in that disturbing silence as we ate and drank under heavy air. One time he spoke to me about his divorce and his daughter, but that was as deep and human as the discourse ever got. Any attempt to get any further details only resulted in hitting that familiar brick wall. Like many men across the world, he had closed himself off with a tough exterior that few, if any, would ever truly penetrate.

      Eventually we started working in the city tending to all the homes and apartments he rented out. With him owning what seemed to be an entire neighbourhoods worth of residences, we shot around Adelaide like maniacs while rushing in and cleaning out the properties at lightning speed. I mopped floors, scrubbed dirt, cleaned windows and cut the grass while making sure I didn’t miss a patch that he would no doubt lose his beastly temper over. Sometimes I would briefly allow myself a quick moment of standing still and staring up into the sky, wondering how the hell I had ended up on the other side of the world in such a random situation. This wasn’t exactly what most people imagined when they thought of worldwide travel; scrubbing shit stains off toilet bowls while getting shouted at wasn’t exactly the mind-broadening, exotic experience I had envisaged back home.

     Still, I found a way to deal with the absurdity of it all. The work itself wasn’t such a problem; I knew that the majority of people in the world had to toil away in hard, menial work for much less than the minimum wage I was earning. It was the fact that I had to deal with a snarling boss who was standing over my shoulder and relentlessly barking at me for hours on end. I reminded myself that they were just words and escaped into my own mind where I dreamt of coming adventures out on the road. One time he snapped at me while cleaning a bathroom for missing a spot on the toilet cistern, and I just stood there thinking of my east-coast trip while his words shot out at me. Like I had realised a few times in my life, I knew that in the depths of your own mind was the last refuge of freedom that no demon or tyrant could ever penetrate no matter what weapon or words they used. Insults could be hurled and skin could be pierced, but never could the bastards find a way to break into the wonderland of your own inner joy and imagination.

     This tactic continued to work well until one day where he dropped me at his own property where he lived. We both cleaned up the inside of the house as normal and then he took me out into the back garden. He led me over to a hole in the ground with the top of a large pipe visible at the bottom through the dirt. Throwing that worn and weathered spade at my feet again, he asked me to dig around the whole pipe so that it was possible to get down beneath it and make a repair. After giving me this task he jumped in his van and said he would return in half an hour. “I want it done before I get back, you understand?” He then pulled out the drive and disappearing down the road.

     With that command in mind, I got to work again, thudding that crappy spade against the rock-hard ground. The midday sun beat down as the sweat poured from every orifice of my body. The battle continued and, after twenty minutes of struggle, I began to realise that the situation was totally futile. My body was dehydrated, my hands blistered and bloody, and every thud into the hard ground opened up only the tiniest piece of room around the pipe. In a moment of exhaustion I threw the spade aside and went and sat under the shade of a tree for a while. I then went to the shop and bought myself three cold drinks before returning to the garden. I sat still in my own self-pity; I knew I was beaten and I didn’t care. I waited for the bald behemoth to return and shout at me with his thunderous voice.

     While I sat there, I decided there and then to ring my friend to see what work he was now up to. I picked up the phone, rang him and began explaining the predicament I was currently in. Hearing my story, he was shocked that I still hadn’t quit. “Man, what are you still doing working for that psycho?” he said. “I’ve just sorted out a job at a party-hire company. It’s regular work, five days a week, and twenty bucks an hour. Quit and I’ll get you in here as soon as possible. I’ll speak to the boss tomorrow. Save yourself now brother.”

     I told him to speak to his boss let me know. I put the phone away and carried on sitting there in the shade, thinking about the absurdity of the situation before me. As my mind wandered, I thought of the bullies in school. I thought how so many human minds vented their own hatred and fear at others just to make themselves feel a little better. This bastard of a boss was no doubt the same. I knew that those bullies and haters won the second you keeled over to them. When your back was up against the wall and faced the haters, one had to stand strong and remember that – no matter what they threw at you – as long as you kept the flag of joy raised in your heart then they would always lose. ‘Bring on your thunder and darkened skies; pour down your rain and watch my flowers rise. Ignite your hate with those flames of doom, and in that warmth watch my spirit bloom’ – a piece of poetry I had written once in a diary, which I suddenly remembered.

      With that piece of poetry in mind, I decided then that I would endure his storm a little more; that I wasn’t going to quit the job unless he fired me. My mind had ventured once more into the realm of chaos and, as he came back to the house and began barking once again, I found a strange sort of sense of happiness and peace while staring into his red, erupting face. I smiled at him while he shouted at me and then realised that I had hit the wall and gone through. It had well and truly become a game of madness.

     And so the battle went on and on. Some days I’d be on the farm cleaning up horse shit or fencing in the midsummer heat, and other days I’d be whizzing around those houses, trimming those lawns, mopping those dirty floors, scrubbing those shit-stained toilet bowls. Everyday I arrived home exhausted and in need of a twenty minute long shower to cleanse the dirt and the sweat and the madness off me. I’d look into the mirror and tell myself that it was a life experience – a lesson to be learned that would help fund my next stint on the road as I travelled down the east coast of Australia. Sometimes his degrading words reverberated around my skull as I went to sleep, but I eventually laughed them off, revelling in the stupidity of the situation that I was sure to remember until old age.

     The critical moment came somewhere around the end of the third week when I had just finished cleaning up the horse paddock on the farm. With the smell of horse shit now permanently ingrained into my clothes and skin, I limped into the jeep, beaten and mentally traumatized as ever, ready to return home to that cold shower. It was a Friday evening and we drove to the spot on the highway where I was always picked up and dropped off. We reached the spot and pulled up along the highway. As we stopped he turned off the radio and let out a sigh. An uncomfortable silence filled the air. “I tried kiddo” he said eventually. “I tried kiddo, I really tried. But you just ain’t good enough. Here’s your check for the week. I won’t be needing you again”. 

     I looked over to him. I then looked down at his hand and took the paycheck from him. There were no more words – just still silence and a check. I let the realisation hit me and suddenly felt a symphony play in my heart. It had finally happened; I knew at that moment I had been successfully fired. My hands were blistered, my back sore and my mind exhausted, yet through the pain and strain and the verbal abuse, I hadn’t quit. I hadn’t let him have the pleasure of breaking me down totally. I sat back soaking in the aura of sadness that filled the car. This time I noticed he wouldn’t look me in the eye with that piercing stare, but just gazed out the window waiting for me to leave. After a while he turned and told me to get out the jeep. I clambered out and looked down at my hands. The blisters on the insides of my thumbs were red and raw with pride and pain. I then looked up at the sky and let out a big stupid smile. A victory had been achieved; a lesson of life learned. I watched his Toyota jeep cruise off down the highway, never to be seen again. I watched it until it disappeared over the horizon, knowing that he would always carry his hatred with him, for I had not let him offload it onto me.

      That little job in Australia ended up serving as good preparation for what I was to face throughout the rest of my life. Since then I have encountered many other people like that man. For as long as you walk this earth, they will inevitably come at you from time to time. They will come at you in the workplace. They will come at you in the bars. They will come at you in the streets and the towns and the cities. When they do one must know how to stand tall against the contempt and absurdity that the human mind is too often capable of producing. One must stand with courage in their heart and madness in their mind, knowing that there is a joy inside of you that they can never take away – knowing that there is a fighter spirit that all the hate in this world can never wither down into nothingness. With that simple act of learning to dance in the rain and laugh in the face of the howling wind, one could ultimately save themselves from becoming yet another one of those hateful souls looking to offload their own inner hate and pain onto others.

     That day when I was fired, I clutched my paycheck and strolled down the road back home with my head held high. I had been beaten down, I had almost broken my back scooping up horse shit at record pace, I had blistered almost every finger of my hand – hell I had even been fired – but I hadn’t let him break me down totally, and in some way that fact was one of the most valuable things he could have rewarded me with. Even with my measly paycheck, I had been gifted something that would prove valuable to the end of my days. I had learnt that within me was a fighter spirit that the most ferocious storm or hateful soul couldn’t easily extinguish. And in a world where so many resentful and hateful spirits crossed paths with you, few things were more valuable than that. As I had written that day in a teenage diary of the past:

“Bring on your thunder and darkened skies; pour down your rain and watch my flowers rise. Ignite your hate with those flames of doom, and in that warmth watch my spirit bloom.”

    With that thought in mind I moved on through Australia ready for the next adventure, ready for the next battle – ready for the next quest in the wild and wonderful and, sometimes, backbreaking game of life.

 

 

 

short stories

~ The Ones That Get Away ~

~ The Ones That Get Away ~

      Out travelling the road of life, lost in the night of some foreign country, roaming the cobbled streets of the old town, kissing her under the moonlight. She was a lawyer, seven years older, with hazel eyes, brunette hair and the sort of Mediterranean look that made you think of fancy restaurants overlooking sparkling blue waters. She wore a flowery summer dress that shown off her hourglass figure; her ears adorned green jewelled earrings and she carried an expensive-looking designer leather purse under her left arm. I of course knew that usually these creatures of luxury were out of reach for a no-good, drifting nomad like myself, but for some reason the gods above had backed me this evening. Perhaps they were just having a laugh amongst themselves, but they had backed me and I had lured her in.

      We had met about one hour before in a smoky traveller’s bar where our eyes had crossed paths as we both sat on bar stools staring wistfully into time and space. I smiled, went over and asked if she too was also bored with existence. She looked up at me with piercing eyes and, after a second of awkwardness, the tension was cut with a friendly smile. From there on in we got talking and shared a drink: two whisky cokes with ice.

     It was a few minutes into drinking and chatting that I first began to realise she was slightly more upper-class than the girls I normally went after. As we chatted she told me of the human rights court cases she had been working on; she told me of her education and how she owned her own apartment. She was too charming to be snobby about it or anything, but I quickly concluded that she was definitely a little more sophisticated than the girls you normally met in these traveller bars. With this in mind I tried to come across as a regular, upstanding member of human society. I talked about politics and economy; I talked about theology and philosophy. I tried and tried my very best, but after five minutes my cover was blown.

       “You’re a little strange aren’t you?” she said with a wry smile.

       “Well you’re the local lawyer sitting on your own in a backpacker bar.”

       “Yeah, and so what? We all have our moments of madness. Besides I’m not alone; I’m waiting for my friend behind the bar. She finishes in an hour.”

        I looked over where a blonde girl was mixing a cocktail behind the bar.

      “One hour?” I said. “Why don’t we go for a walk somewhere else, to another bar, or perhaps you can give me a private tour of your town? You know, teach me the history and that? I am a tourist in your country after all.” She took a long sip of her drink while staring into my soul, making me wait – making me guess. The look in those hazel eyes told me that she knew I was full of it, but finally she agreed anyway. We finished our drinks and went off out into the night.

      After exiting the bar, we wandered through the winding streets of the old town with no particular destination other than the present moment. We passed busy bars and restaurants; we walked along the waterfront of the harbour. We made small-talk about my travels and she told me how I was brave and how she had always wanted to travel alone. It was something I had heard from many people while out on my travels. Damn near enough everybody in society wanted to quit their job and travel the world – like always, I didn’t understand why so very few actually did it.

       Eventually we stopped under a streetlight in one of the side streets. With no one around, we finally embraced and shared a kiss in the silence of the night. We then stared into each others eyes and I made a comment about whether she always went for guys seven years younger than her. She let out a little laugh and suddenly – for about the fifth time that year – I was hopelessly in love with a stranger. At that moment all I wanted to do was to swim into her eyes and drown myself. It was a feeling I knew all too well. Not just then, but I regularly had this feeling – an overwhelming feeling of total reckless abandonment to something or anything or everything. Often all I wanted to do was to abandon myself to the world, to the wonders, to the women. I wanted to get lost in those foreign countries, lost down those old cobbled streets – lost again and again in the eyes of those beautiful strangers. I was reckless, I knew, and possibly insane.

       Even if we somehow formed some sort of relationship it wouldn’t have been long before she realised I was completely incompatible with the regular life she wanted. Women like this wanted structured and stable men. They wanted men who could be husbands, men who could be fathers – men who could stay in one place and raise children and talk to their neighbours about the weather over the garden face. The problem was that I was none of those things. I was a wayward wanderer, a restless dreamer with itchy feet – a piece of trash caught in the wind being whipped around by the pull of my gypsy heart.

       Looking further into eyes I thought about the alternative to the mess and madness that was my life. It was true that somewhere inside a part of me wanted to be a regular human-being sometimes, but the problem was to do that you were supposed to solidify things. Houses were supposed to be cemented down; relationships were supposed to last; job positions were meant to be held for years and not months. It’s not like I didn’t understand what was to be done in order to be a functioning member of the human race, it’s just that I couldn’t seem to do it even if I wanted to. Something had gone wrong in my DNA or upbringing. My mind was possessed by a great fire; my soul was caught in a wild storm. This woman was beautiful, stable and deemed successful in society’s eyes as a lawyer. She had a chance – she had a strong chance at a normal life. But what chance did someone like me have? I was a nomadic fool who couldn’t even stay put in one place or job position for a full year. I couldn’t fit myself into anywhere. I couldn’t even drive a goddamn car. The gods may have backed me tonight in the short-game, but long distance I was sure they wouldn’t have touched me. The game was a fix and there was no chance – there was just absolutely no goddamn chance.

      After a while we carried on strolling around through the lanes and streets. We petted a stray cat and followed it down an alleyway; we kissed again against a beaten old wall; we kissed once more around the back of the town church. Eventually we moved into a small, secluded square where I twirled her around and watched her flowery dress dance in the midnight breeze. The moment was damn near perfect, but it was sad – it was so sad for some reason I couldn’t quite say.

     “You know, I have to work this weekend, but I will be free on Monday. If you’d like to hang around town then maybe we could spend some more time together? We could take a boat to one of the islands. I’d like to see you again.” She smiled and stared into my eyes. I smiled back, stalling, my mind exploding with a million and one thoughts.

     “Yeah, I’d like that” I said finally.

     “Good… I like you. Even if you are a little younger, and a backpacker.” She gave that same wry smile that just about knocked me out on the floor. I looked at her then looked up toward the night sky, wondering why the gods liked to inflict such bittersweet pain upon us all. Was there a purpose to our pain? To our impossibility?

      Eventually she checked the time and saw that she had to go back to the bar and meet her friend. They were going to the gig of a friend and she asked me if I’d like to join, but it didn’t feel right so I said no. She gave me her contact details and we’d said we’d talk again, and that she hoped that I would wait around town to spend some time with her, and then I gave some phony agreement and immediately hated my own guts. I said that we’d meet again, knowing that I already had a bus booked out of town in two days time. It was an empty promise I’d made with many women out there across the world. I’d said it to women in South America. I’d said it to women in Asia. I’d said it to women in Australia and New Zealand. But the reality was always the same: I never saw any of them again. They drifted out of sight forever like ghosts into the mists of mind and memory. They went on to forget me and sit entwined together on sofas somewhere with other men in suburban neighbourhoods of stability and sanity.

       Before going I gave her one last kiss, said goodbye and watch her skip away like some deer into the night. She rounded a corner and just like that she was gone forever. Drenched in the silent solitude of foreign lands, I stood alone in the night once more. I would have thought that I’d have gotten used to this scenario by now, but for some reason this night the thought of what just happened consumed me. As I walked back to my hostel under those flickering street-lights, a sad feeling filled my flesh and bones. There was just something different about this time – about this woman. It was in her eyes. Deep down in those hazel eyes I could really see the alternative life so many other men my age would go on to live. I could see myself being a settled soul with a steady job, coming home to a loving wife and kids. I could see myself going on summer vacations and walking in the park together. I could imagine the polka dot dresses she would wear to our anniversary meals. I could imagine the way she would smile at me on a sunday morning. Such thoughts weighed heavy on my mind and I gradually got lost in all of them – entertaining them, playing with them, toying with them – but I knew deep inside of me that it was a reality out of reach.

        On sunday I was heading further down the coast, leaving her behind like all the others. I already had my ticket and hostel booked and I wasn’t going to change my plan. After all, what would actually happen? ? It was nothing more than a slip of character and in a moment of clarity, I allowed myself to retreat back to the acceptance of who I really was. I knew deep down in my bones I didn’t belong with  woman like that. I was still just a piece of trash caught in the wind whose fate was to keep getting lost in those foreign countries, lost in those strange towns – lost in the eyes of those beautiful strangers. The world she resided in was never meant for me. Instead I belonged to the wind, hurtling over the horizon, swept by gusts of curiosity that left me staring out of bus windows in foreign lands knowing that I was doomed and destined to never to step off and belong to one place or person or particular community. It was a chaotic life, and it was my life. My own personal disaster.

   It was two days later when I boarded my bus and watched the town drift out of sight. I pressed my head against that familiar bus window and stared out at the passing countryside. As I watched the towns and farms go past, I reflected on the night with the girl and thought about what it would have been like to see her again. Many thoughts went through my head but as I sat there and stared out the window a bit longer, I gradually felt my mind begin to shift back to its familiar state of being excited for what was over the next horizon. Maybe I was a bad guy or even just mentally disturbed, but whatever it was I knew that this was a sickness that couldn’t be cured by any drug, job or pretty woman with hazel eyes. It was right there and then that I realised with a sense of horror that I may never find the cure to whatever madness it was that consumed me. If a beautiful woman like that couldn’t get me to change my plan then I just had to accept I was doomed. If a beautiful woman like that couldn’t get me to change my plan then I just had to sit back and accept that no matter where I went in this world, or how many years passed me by, I would always just be that young boy out there exploring the world, wide-eyed and curious, moving from town to town, drinking in smoky bars, falling in love with strangers, wandering through old cobbled lanes, staring out of bus windows – eternally and hopelessly lost in the dream of what it is to exist.