Excuse me, may I take this seat, or are you expecting company?
— pardon me for appearing to delight in your solitude. My joints are freezing over and this seat is a great relief. The workers bars are always bustling during the colder months. Something about drinking in comradery warms the soul.
Excuse my wayward comments but you have such striking eyes. I’m not trying to bemuse you I promise, but tell me, have you ever heard L’appel du Vide? Perhaps one time on a mountaintop, or crossing a bridge? You may have felt it tugging at your impulse.
Oh your French is rusty, of course. The call of the Void, my friend. Yes, yes, I can see you have heard it, been struck with the inexplicable desire to step over the precipice, longed to be weightless, suspended between states of being and nothingness. I too have heard the call, not yet yielded to it, no, it was much stronger in my youth. Raging against the tide of mediocrity I heard the call. I conversed with the void for many hours, letting my feet dangle from the heights of the Four Districts Dam. I worked nights you see, lonely work.
Oh your glass is empty! Allow me, please. I appreciate having someone to talk to.
No, no not anymore, no I don’t have the energy nowadays, need my sleep, but then I worked in public sanitation. Yes, the guardians of the gutters and all the rest. I would drive my sweeper from the east side of the district across the dam wall to the west. You see, as a trusted employee of Victus Sanitation it was permissible to use the dam bypass and skip out on all that nasty traffic along the motorways. Disgraceful how they manage them, always clogged up with commuters banging their heads against the consols of their buggies. What a shame to tear up the tram tracks, makes no sense for the city at all. Yes, I much prefer the ease of the dam crossing, not to mention the serenity. Have you ever been?
Oh, you must, it’s quite the marvel of modern engineering. Eight hundred meters tall, it spans the canyon. Something about the sheer mass of water being held by the dam makes the void seem so welcoming. Those some million gallons, held at bay by the tenacity of mankind to live where we are forbidden. Something about such a restrained power, a sleeping giant… it’s a strange sensation to verbalise my friend, do forgive me. I lose myself sometimes.
But, yes that’s right, I spent my shift breaks sitting on that wall. I would finish my cigarette and flick the glowing butt out onto that black sheet of velvet. Watch it float down, imagining that I am the butt, glowing red hot and burning up as the wind fans my ember. Then I’m gone. The butt is gone. Back onto my sweeper and off to the west.
Used to be full of ethnics you know. Yes yes, all those little restaurants and backroom cellars. The department of public health was working overtime, but we never really want to know where the flavour comes from. You can hardly tell looking at the place now, I suppose those veins of colour have been swallowed up by by the gentrifiers. It’s all Victus food outlets and clothing stores now. You used to find a good cup of coffee on every corner. The men in their little round hats and the women in great quilted frocks tossing dough in street-side ovens. How things can change within a lifetime.
Ah, I do not mean to burden you with my melancholy. Let us talk of something else.
Do you feel as though you play your part? Tell me, do you see yourself aligning with the powers that be?
You’re right, I suppose those are some vague terms. Let me think.
Do you feel, when you walk around day to day, that despite the familiar settings and sights that surround you, you are still a visitor in a foreign land? Yes that’s it. Do you?
I imagine you are unlike your peers. No, they wouldn’t indulge this old miser, and a drunkard at that. Of course, I wasn’t always in such shambles. I had grown up with the ridiculous notion that I would be a zookeeper of all things. Are there still zoos in the district? I would not step foot in one nowadays, too cruel to those poor creatures. It’s not the kind of cruelty we used to see, no, not the cruelty of the lion tamer or the circus elephant. The lions love their trainers now. They can eat, exercise, and breed in more comfort than possible in their hostile environments, natural to the outside world. But have you ever seen the eyes of a beast in the wild?
Too young, too young, there remains little to see. But in those hard eyes shines utter supremacy, an undying will to subdue all with ruthlessness and tact. You will not see this in the zoo. There are no more rogues or wildcards trapped behind acrylic walls. If you flew, by chance, to Africa, and found a proud lion, naturally at home in the savanna but relocated to the western district, would he compliently eat from the trainers hand or allow his belly to be groomed? Hardly! He would pace back a forth, act hostile to his keepers, protect his belly fiercely, perhaps even refuse to eat. Unlike the creature born into a system of captivity and servility, the displaced lion is always aware of the indignity he is subject to, and is unyielding in his desire to return to the wild. My fellow, do not lose the keenness to your eye. Do not let those wrought iron bars become a sight of comfort. Do you understand?
Oh here again, I do go on. You must forgive me, it’s rare I find a friendly ear to share in my misgivings. Do tell, what is your line of work? Not a zookeeper I hope, although you fit the bill! Your hands are strong no doubt, you do not have the slight build of a typist or the gauntness of a financier.
Oh at the distribution centre? I suppose a crust is a crust, and I’m in no position to turn up my nose at you. Married?
How lovely. What better than to share a life with another, yes always stronger together.
Oh no, not the life for me. I’ve never been in love. It sounds strange to say out loud but it is the truth. A sad truth, but that is often the case. I suppose I’ve always felt a sort of guilt for having never deemed another worthy of my love, not that there was necessarily anything to give. I look at my fellow workers while they loiter drinking tea, their dirty blue overalls remarkably similar to my own, but I do not see my reflection among them in the shop window. Even still when I lock eyes with a man, just for a moment as we cross paths at an intersection, I am unsure if what lies behind those eyes is at all similar to my own. Not at all to degrade the fellow as something less, I simply have no way to know his inner workings, short of stopping him right there on the street and asking a most inappropriate and disconcerting question. Even still, the terms in which he might describe this practice are likely even more ambiguous than the question being posed.
Yes I do suppose every person is different. We are all individuals after all, and everyone knows that we should never lose sight of that.
Did you have siblings?
Oh, what a jovielle house, your mother must be proud. Run ragged but proud all the same. And children of your own?
One day, perhaps.
I have a daughter, far away from here. No, I wouldn’t have her live with me. This is a place undeserving of a child. So strange to think how the youth here live an experience entirely different to my own. Not to say that I was an unruly child, but I was an ever present element of chaos in the lives of my parents. I would make a terrible student were I to wake up ten years old tomorrow. I am confident to say that I would likely have been expelled and detained were my teachers of the modern school of thought. Moreso I was lucky to have teachers at all, my education taught me practical skills but also an intuition for humanity that is utterly absent in our learning places.
Oh dear, it seems last call is upon us. May I tempt you with another? It’s the least I can do, I feel truly blessed to have stumbled across such a amicable drinking partner.