Citizen of Belgrade
By Ahmed Latif
He was a cloudy sort of fellow. His eyes reflected clouds that weren’t there. He had this overcast expression, not gloomy or out and out melancholy, just cloudy.
For a moment his dreams grew into something real; something he could see; something he could smell; something he could touch. But that was just a moment in a life littered with them. To him, this moment was a gem. And far too often these gems are discarded as remnants of a past we no longer wish to remember. He was desperate to remember, to drown in memories. Nostalgia was his drug of choice.
He hoped that he wasn’t the only scarred soul half-remembering and half-forgetting life as it happens. This partial amnesia hurt but in such a beautiful and purposeful manner.
He was taught to play the game, and keeps his cards close to his chest. Even hide his cards in that hole in his chest if it meant victory. He told himself that victory was not his to begin with; so he was playing to lose, always. They said it is better to have love and lost than never loved at all. So he set out to love and lose. He thought they were inseparable; you could not do one without the other.
He found a tree that looked how he felt: barren of almost all leaves but a couple writhing in the wind. One leaf caught his attention. That leaf hung there for such a length of time that he became despondent instead of hopeful. Isn’t that just the way things seem to go?
Life corroded him and yet in the face of it all he was not a rusted remainder but a dented door that can no longer open all the way. Oh to revel in something new with someone new in someplace new; but he had no appetite for any of that anymore. He still consumed all those days and all these nights, feigning an appetite for nothing in particular.
Everything had left him not so much numb and not so catatonic; not completely unhurt and not totally insincere. He was blind to tomorrow and deaf to his own dreams. He couldn't hear them call out to him. They weren’t dreams of grandeur but they were dreams of the past or maybe they were dreams destined for a past version of himself. He had no ownership of time and he staked nothing when it was time to bet.
He tied up the remnants of his heart and took a step towards a million more steps. The poison wasn't drained so much as he just developed a tolerance, but not a taste for it because that would be too convenient. His grip on his demons was tenuous at worst and friendly at best. Then, abruptly, his peace of mind fades in a moment that lingers when it shouldn’t.
He could hear cashmere smooth voices speak, the kind that rarely speak. The voices didn't admonish or taunt so much, they just spoke. He saw the picture and he felt the wind.
In the darkness, after the test of time, under the colossal weight of our lives, with all the pain and all the love, it all became one. A swimming pool of one luminescent mass.
Everyone always eventually took their freedom and made their escape. He was consistently left with all their empty shackles. But rather than love those shackles, or enchain himself with them, he hung them up on the wall. And he did it with such a permeable sense of detachment that he could acutely distinguish the individual moments sliding into one another to form the collective of time.
Most hearts yearn to say enough to fill entire volumes, but his was inconspicuously silent and bearing the inconspicuous drudgeries of it all. This stillness was not his enemy nor was it his executioner, it was his peace, his resolute and tortured respite from the chaos. At times the stillness was so thick he could slice through it smoothly and feel the pain become a mere illusion. The worst it could ever be was still the best it ever was.
It was cloudy, the kind that should make you sad but it doesn’t, it just makes you think.
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