I was looking at nothing for a long, long time before I realized that I was in fact looking at nothing. And then I realized that I wasn’t looking at nothing – I was looking at something! I was looking at the pavement from a range of about four inches! I couldn’t see much of it because I was too close. Just the little bit of it directly in front of my eyes.
With effort, I pulled myself up from the position I was in, which was lying down flat on my stomach, to a position where I was sitting cross legged. On the cold damp stone of the pavement in front of me there were various items distributed randomly around, but I couldn’t work out what they were. I looked at them for a while. I wasn’t really in any hurry to get up because I was trying to take things as slowly and as carefully as I could. I wasn’t sure about anything really and I didn’t feel like taking any unnecessary risks. I stared at the items on the pavement for a while longer. Mainly they were longish purple-coloured things, with a few pale brown things that weren’t like the purple ones, but which seemed to be somehow associated with them. There were other bits and pieces mixed up with the purple and brown things too. Here and there, amongst everything else, I observed a reddish type of a stain, sticky and wet-looking.
That made me think.
Somewhere, far away, something seemed to click. Something connected. I made a clumsy movement with my arm, not a very well-coordinated movement at all, and I jabbed my finger into a semi-coagulated pool of the red sticky stuff. I then brought the finger back to my mouth and licked it. It burnt! It burnt my tongue and my mouth and with that unexpectedly intense burning sensation there came a sudden flood of memory. The name of the red stuff popped into my head – it was hot chilli sauce! This was a substance which held clear associations with me, if only I could focus long enough on them.
My brain was starting to put things together.
Bits of the universe came drifting into my head and then drifted out again. Some bits stayed a while. I was in a street. There were cars going by. People were in the cars. Some people were men and some were women. Some of them were in the cars and some of them weren’t. Some of them were walking right by me.
For a while all of this made good sense. People were in the universe. Some people were men, others were women. This insight was in the nature of a thing about which one might say “Yes, of course. I always knew that. That is a normal thing to know…” And then as soon as I thought this it didn’t seem so normal at all. The notion swam away from me like a strange, vivid little fish that comes right up close and then suddenly and unaccountably darts straight back into the murky depths again.
The thought that I had just had swam away from me and disappeared back into meaninglessness. It didn’t mean anything to think what I had just thought – how could you think something that didn’t mean anything?
I didn’t think of anything for a while after that. I just sat there. I wasn’t in much of a hurry to think of anything in case the same thing happened again. I really didn’t want to have that unpleasant experience again.
Which was the experience of a thought unthinking itself, like a mouth gobbling itself up and then greedily licking its own lips before vanishing entirely. Kind of like the Cheshire cat in ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but much, much worse. It wasn’t comical or whimsical, it was malignant. Nastily malignant. Downright unpleasant.
I really didn’t like how that experience left me feeling so I just sat there quietly. As I sat I looked around. Without noticing it happen, I had somehow gone back to a lying-down position, only this time I was lying on my side. From where my head was I couldn’t really see very much at all. What I could see was feet – shoes to be exact, walking briskly and purposefully by me.
I could make out quite distinctly the separate existence of men and women from these feet, and the ankles above them. The men had grey trousers and – for the most part – various shades of brown shoes, which I found viciously unpleasant for some reason.
Why did I loathe those brown shoes so much? I can’t say. All I know is that they had lots of bad connotations for me. They spoke of everything I don’t like, of stuffiness and pomposity and power and authority and officiousness and all that sort of thing. At that precise point in time however I couldn’t have articulated why I didn’t like those abominable, despicable, revolting brown shoes – I only knew that they made me feel very bad indeed. They nauseated me to the core.
I was intimidated by those shoes. I was both diminished and weakened by their malign influence, but at the same time as feeling cowed I felt the tickle of red-hot aggression rising up deep within me – the desire to strike out violently and destroy forever the smug supremacy of those sickening brown shoes.
The women on the other hand tended wear either stockings or cream-coloured trousers and to have black shoes with heels that clicked as they walked by. I liked these shoes. I found myself deriving pleasure from them despite, or even because of, the fact that they came dangerously close to me at times. I was in no doubt that one of those sharp-looking heels would cause a lot of pain, not to say actual damage, if the one of the wearers of those shoes actually walked on me instead of by me. But as I say, that thought was not particularly unpleasant to me.
And then my perspective seemed to shift drastically so that the endless stream of feet, of both varieties (not just the ones I was partial to) were walking not by me but over me and through me.
I seemed to have undergone some sort of shift which made me both transparent and insubstantial. To put it quite bluntly I was no longer properly there – I was like a ghost, and the fact that nobody seemed to notice me no longer seemed surprising. Of course no one noticed me – I wasn’t really there. I felt like the man who stands for ages at the bar with a note clutched in his hand, trying in vain to catch the eye of the bartender whilst everyone else, including newcomers, get served first.
The bar in this case was the street, and I was never going to be served. I would be waiting there forever – an invisible man, a man whose very existence had been revoked. At first I didn’t really mind this – it didn’t feel particularly nice, but then again it didn’t particularly bother me either. It was just something else that was happening – different, maybe, but just another thing. But then after a while it started somehow to get to me, and I really wished that someone would see me. I yearned for someone to notice me – it became vital, I needed more than anything else for this to happen. But it wasn’t going to, I knew.
Just as this was reaching the level of out-and-out panic reality shifted yet again and everything totally changed. All the commuters were gone. I was still in a street, sitting up on the shop door-step with my knees up close to my face and my back against the door, but this time the street was deserted – it was utterly, spookily empty.
I was aware of an odd little creaking sound coming from above and when I looked up I saw a wooden sign swinging very slightly from side to side up above my head. It wasn’t directly over my head but slightly to the right of me.
The sign was suspended from a metal strut that came out from the side of the shop. It had been painted – and a long time ago too by the look of it – in a dark-yellow or golden colour and there was dark green writing on it. In the centre of the sign there was a crudely drawn emblem or picture, which I can best describe an oblate spheroid, brownish in colour, with a darker coloured line bisecting (or perhaps piercing) it in a vertical plane.
I couldn’t read the writing from where I sat, and I certainly couldn’t make out what the funny-looking, crudely-drawn emblem was supposed to stand for.
Although it did seem eerily familiar…
The creaking was getting on my nerves. I could swear that it was getting louder as time dragged by. It wasn’t even windy, for God’s sake. What was the matter with that stupid sign? Why did it have to creak so much?
Something popped into my head just then. The Golden… The Golden… the Golden… The Golden what?
And then I remembered!
I remembered another world. A world of swirling, scintillating lights and hypnotically insistent voices. A world where messages flash on and off from all sides, never stopping, endlessly changing, endlessly alluring. A world full of messages that try to sell you things, messages that lead you on and on forever.
I remembered a world where you are surrounded by a moving wall of people wherever you go, but where no one ever speaks to you or looks at you.
A world where cold rain hisses down from the dark sky onto the cars and bus shelters. A world where you keep on walking even though you are bone tired and don’t really know where you are going.
A world where finally, you do stop.
A world where you can go no further and where you stumble in slow motion, your legs tangling up impossibly together, crumpling beneath you, giving way entirely.
The pavement rising gently to meet you like an old friend.
The roaring sound building in your ears.
The blackness rushing towards you to swallow you up.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
Now that I remember that world, it passes away from me again – it is as if I no longer need to remember it. It is no longer important.
An instant kaleidoscope of lush, rich, velvety sensations erupts in my mind, like the petals of an impossibly dense and complex flower, forever opening up and yet never fully revealed.
At first the petals are voices, unfolding and unfolding forever.
These voices keep saying my name, over and over again, in as many ways as it is possible to say a name. There are lots of different voices. There are women’s voices and men’s voices. The voices of the old, the voices of children. Voices of those who love me, voices of those who hate me. Laughing voices, complaining voices, cajoling voices, shouting voices, screaming voices, whispering voices, murmuring voices. All sorts of voices.
And then the petals are faces.
Hundreds upon hundreds of intimate yet utterly anonymous faces pressing up close to me. More faces than I could ever count. More faces than I could ever imagine.
Some are shockingly ugly, others are heart-breakingly beautiful. Some are accusing, whilst others are supplicating. Some are angry, some are peaceful. Some are sad and some are joyful.
They come and they go in endless succession, bewildering both in their profusity and in their diversity. Wave after wave of faces, each coming up close for a brief moment and then falling away again, to give way to the next wave, and the next, and the next, and the next.
What does this mean, I wonder, when the visions finally stop rising up like strange flowers within my mind.
I feel as if I ought to know, but I don’t.
What is going on?
What is happening to me?