24 December 2010

Wake Up

John wakes up. He slept well, only dreamt nice dreams. His dreams replayed some early childhood memories mixed with some dream logic. He dreamt about his dad and him sitting next to the plastic pool they used to have in their garden. His dad was laughing; the sunlight reflected off his white teeth. They were playing around with a beach ball when suddenly his dad grabbed him and threw him in the pool, with his clothes still on.
The water felt nice and cold under the hot summer sun. He lifted his head from the water and felt drops falling from his hair and sliding over his face. Looking up he saw his dad standing next to the pool, smiling even more than before. Then, suddenly, and in a Mary Poppins kind of way, he was lifted up and flew away – straight up like an elevator.

He looks at the ceiling for a while. He sits up and runs his hands through his hair. He wobbles around on his metal bed. It squeaks. He jumps off and gets down on the floor. He spreads his hands and inspects the concrete 50 times from close up and 50 times from a small distance. It looks the same from both distances; grey and cold.
Then he walks to the mirror and looks at himself. His brown beard has grown long and makes him look like a lumberjack. His hair is not too long; it stops just above his eyebrows. His eyebrows are up and reveal his smiling eyes. Today is a special day, and he feels fit. So long beard he tells himself, and grabs an old and simple razor that he hasn’t used for months. When he had just arrived here, he had shaved every day, neatly, purposefully, just like in grammar school.

On the way down, the razor stops to chat with old snafus he hasn't seen in a while. John is patient with him, letting the razor take his time. The sink is full of his brownish-orange hair. As he watches his hairs go down the drain, he feels like he’s throwing away old school pictures, old memories. Those hairs and him have been through a lot together: they shared food and they shared showers. 

After about 25 minutes he is done. Wow, he looks like a schoolboy again. He feels his face, and it feels weird. His head looks much smaller. Hope they’ll recognize me he thinks and turns around to his desk. On it is a drawing; it had taken him over three weeks, but yesterday he finally finished it. The drawing shows a medieval man; he’s wearing a golden crown, a red cape, and diamonds decorate his fingers. Sitting on a golden throne, he looks confident and seems to grin towards the future.  John is proud of the result. He gets a pen and signs it. 

He gets down on his knees and uses the metal top of his pen to scratch a vertical straight line into the wall. It takes quite some time and effort before it is visible, but when he’s done it looks solid. He takes two steps back and looks at it. Fits perfectly, he thinks. A total of 2,412 lines fill the wall in a beautiful mosaic. All of them, except the skewed ones, look perfectly straight. 

“Put the last one down?” someone asks from outside the room. He turns around and sees Bernard who says: “Good morning, how are you today?”  
“I feel great, ready to go. You know those lame ads they used to have that said ‘today is the first day of the rest of your life’?”  
“Well, I always hated that sentence, but to be honest there is no better way to describe how I feel today.” 
The corners of Bernard’s mouth rise slightly, then they go down again. He sighs and looks at John: “That’s great. I brought you your breakfast; scrambled eggs, bacon and fresh orange juice just as you requested.” He hands the metal tray through the slide opening in the door.   
“Wow, it looks amazing. Thanks a lot, really appreciate it. Hey I’m sorry, but what time are you picking me up to leave again?” John asks, though he already knows the answer. He has already known it for months now, but he wants to hear it again. He has asked the question almost daily for the past two weeks.

“At one o’clock,” Bernard says patiently. He begins to walk off. A few steps later he stops, his shoes clicking on the floor, and turns around: “Oh, almost forgot.  Your mother is here.”
“Really? She’s already here?” but Bernard had already turned around and left. John hasn’t seen her in a long, long time. She doesn’t like visiting this place. 

He sits down on his bed and eats his breakfast. He eats quickly, taking few breaths. Before too long, he is finished. God, although today it tasted good, I will not miss the food in this place. Eating so fast has given him a hiccup. As a child, his parents often went to great efforts to scare him out of his frequent hiccups. One time, his dad hid behind the door. When John came in he jumped out and screamed so loud that the frightened John had to cry. It did dissolve his hiccup, though. 

He looks at his watch. It's 9:08. He still has a lot of time to kill. He takes the comics from his small wooden shelf, jumps on his bed, and starts to read. Archie always cracks him up.  The comics are almost falling apart; he read them what seems over a million times. Today they bore him pretty quickly though. He can’t stay still, and after some time, he throws them on the floor. He wanders around his room for a bit, still occasionally being startled by the hiccup. Then he decides it’s time to pack his stuff.

First, he folds his clothes. It isn’t much, but he had always enjoyed wearing these simple clothes. Some socks, some underwear with red hearts on them, some white shirts, and one pair of Superman pyjamas. It doesn’t take him long. Then he gets his comics and the two books he owns, and stacks them on his desk. 

He looks at his watch. It is only 9:32. He starts tapping his hands on his desk. He gets out a pen and tears off a piece of paper from his drawing book. The black ink draws shadowy outlines of a young man’s face on the virgin white paper. Then the pen remembers it’s out of ink. Damn pen. Well, no drawing for me today.
From his shelf he gets a deck of cards. Of course, like all cards in this joint, they have naked women on them. The queen’s crown is shaven into the hair under her belly button. He distributes the cards on his bed and plays some solitaire. Over the months he has become really good at this game, most games only taking five minutes. Too bad there’s no money in this game, he thinks.


He walks to the door, grabs the cold metal bars, puts his face between them and screams: “Hey Bernard, how long still?” For a second there’s a silence. Then there is Bernard’s voice screaming: “Three more hours”. He looks at his watch and notices Bernard is four minutes off; three hours and four minutes to go. His midriff contracts, a weird high-pitched uh-ee sound comes from his mouth; the hiccup is still there.

He looks around his room like there is something new to discover. Just a tarnished Michael Jackson poster decorates his wall. Carefully, he takes it off, rolls it up and puts it next to the comics on his desk.

He walks to the sink and takes his toothbrush. Brushing his teeth calms him down. He puts some toothpaste on the brush and looks up. He is surprised to see himself again. He almost doesn’t recognise his face. It is as if he is looking at a picture taken many years ago, before he came here. Then he smiles, he looks much better without a beard. 

He washes his armpits, his chest and his back. All ready to go, he thinks. Not knowing what to do, he jumps back to bed, folds his hands behind his head and looks at the ceiling. Since he got here some tiny cracks had started to decorate his ceiling. It seemed like it was starting to wrinkle. One day he woke up and noticed two cracks had united into something that looked, with a little imagination, like a small heart. He’d loved his ceiling ever since.

Once he heard a story about a man in South Africa who lived next to a mountain. Every morning when he woke up, he would go outside, sit on a big rock and look at the mountain. At night, before going to bed, he would do the same. Every day he would sit at the same place, on the same rock, for hours on end.

Passers-by often looked at him, wondering what he was doing. Then they looked at the mountain, but they never saw what there was to see, so they walked on. Occasionally, a different sort of passer-by would ask him what he was looking at. The man never answered. Instead, he would just smile and return his eyes to the mountain.

One day –the man’s beard had turned white by now– a small boy came sitting next to him. The boy didn’t look much at the man, but instead focused on the mountain. He did so before school and before going to bed. Every day the old man would greet the boy with a brief smile, but never did they exchange one word. For many years they sat side by side, until one day –the boy was close to being a man now– the boy took his eyes off of the mountain, looked at the man, and asked: What are you looking at?

To the boy’s great surprise, the man slowly turned his head toward him, cleared his throat with a soft uh-um, and answered: watching the mountain grow. For a few silent seconds they looked at each other. Then the man smiled and returned to the mountain. The next day the boy was there again, now even more motivated than before, but this time he was alone. The man had died during the night.

 John always liked this story and whenever he looked at the cracks in his ceiling he felt like he was that old man, watching the ceiling grow wrinkles. 

He closes his eyes. He isn’t tired, not at all. He is wide awake, but he has the talent to be able to fall asleep wherever, whenever. It has helped him many times to pass time and surpass boredom. He dozes off a bit, dreaming about grass. He smelled it and stroked it; it tickled. Then he was in a hot air balloon. Under him he saw bright yellow rye fields and a cow shitting an enormous pile, which made him laugh.

He got on the edge of the balloon, spread his arms, closed his eyes and jumped off. The spring air blew his face into funny shapes. Just before he hit the ground, earth turned into water and suddenly, he found himself in a lake, swimming on his back. It was one of those days where the sun seemed glued to the blue sky. It was nice and hot outside, and together with the cold water, it created the perfect equilibrium called summer. 


He wakes up. The crack in the ceiling hasn’t changed. His hiccup hasn’t stopped; it is starting to annoy him now. He looks at his watch, it felt like he only slept ten minutes, but the display says it’s 12:25. Half an hour left. He decides to do some more exercise. He wants to be in tip-top shape. He hopes his mother will be proud of him. He does push-ups and sit-ups till his muscles burn under his skin.
He looks at his watch again. The moment is almost there. He just sits on his chair. There is nothing left to do, nothing left to see-- he just has to sit and wait. It seems like the big hand on his watch has slowed down. He shakes it a few times, but it doesn’t help. He taps some beats on his desk. His dad taught him that. As a kid he wanted to become a drummer, and for his eighteenth birthday his parents gave him a drum kit. He never got to use it.

Bernard arrives. Finally. 
“It’s about time”
“Are you ready?” 
“What do you think? Of course I’m ready.” John puts his hands through the hole in the door. While Bernard puts the cuffs around John’s wrists, the corners of his mouth are lifted up slightly again. 
“You know, I’ll miss you. I really will.” Bernard says. Then he opens the metal door and gives him a brief hug, which is slightly awkward because John’s hands are cuffed.

John looks around his room for the last time. The place the poster had been hanging is much lighter than the rest of the wall. The comics and clothes are nicely organised on the simple wooden desk. His metal, squeaky bed looks squeaky as always. The toilet bowl looks cold and uncomfortable as always-- too big for his small behind. His sink is still sprinkled with his beard. The razor is lying on the floor. The mirror will never see his face again.  He turns around and walks down the corridor, followed by Bernard.

He walks down a few corridors, then through a heavy metal door. He enters a big, bright room, surrounded by windows. His hiccup stops at once. With curiosity he searches the faces behind the glass. Suddenly his dad’s smiling face flashes up, then it vaporises like a mirage. He looks on until he finally sees his mom. She is wearing a light blue scarf, her favourite. Her hair has turned grey, but it looks good on her, makes her look wise. Then he walks to a big brown chair in the middle of the room. The solid oakwood chair radiates power; it almost looks like a throne.

Then he sits down, and for a second, he feels like a king.

-by Robin W.


No comments: