In Rooms, Therefore We Are
The rooms we build define us, shape us, create and consume us.
To function as a modern human is to be in a room: offices, classrooms, waiting rooms, shops, bedrooms, gardens, cafés, libraries, trains, airplanes, theatres, cinemas and stadiums.
Alone or confessing, on holiday, marrying, working or transgressing. Watching or waiting, dancing, defecating or contemplating.
Our own heads are a skeletal room we stare out of; thoughts, ideas and words bouncing around the bony walls. Billions pray to be safely ushered into the everlasting room beyond these rooms, to be reunited with those who were once in our rooms.
The number of rooms make all the difference between a slum resident and a billionaire, freedom and imprisonment; rooms that can be built from waste material or secreted into yachts; rooms that only the most valiant warriors can ascend to while others descend to the deepest unreachable rooms.
To feel free, we leap over the walls to the open, roomless countryside, though we return to rooms at night or make them using tents. We stare deeply and longingly into the blinking night sky, wondering if there are rooms on other planets like our planet, which is one giant, spinning room, moving through an ever-expanding room.
Even the atom itself is a kind of theoretical room, built mainly of nothing, of potentially something through which hums the moments of energy that we use to build up all the matter around us.
Perhaps we love rooms because that is where we began, in our mother’s warm interior room; safe from everything outside and other. Perhaps it is the safety of this dark, nourishing room that is the shadow between every room thereafter.
As children we build pretend rooms, hide in them from the monsters that sneak into our rooms, that lurk in their own dark spaces in the corners.
As adults we spend days rushing in and out rooms. Now, confined to our rooms in fear of that which knows no walls, we are more thankful than ever for the walls. We stare at each other from balconies and buildings, all afraid in our rooms and wondering when the doors will open again.
Published in Borderless Journal, April 2020.
Late Saturday afternoon in Horní Náměstí, the Upper Square in Olomouc. A few drifting tourists. A moody, immature storm spitting threats. Swifts diving for cover, pigeons hurrying to roost. A wind trying to conduct something dramatic, long promised.
Without announcement or applause an orchestra appears from out of the Town Hall, as if bubbling out of the astronomical Clock, the one the Soviets rebuilt with a procession of proletariats. There used to be Saints but they were martyred in 1942 by the Nazis, not satisfied with suffocating the sounds of the city’s Jews.
The orchestra unpacks their cases around one of the baroque fountains, Hercules with his mace ready to strike, trampling the hydra, many mouths gushing water. Twelve violinists and three cellists, all of them teenagers of varying heights and ages. Organised in a semi-circle, they tune up without a fuss, confirm the first song and flash-mob into music.
Amazement leaps from bow to brow. The storm holds off. A crowd gathers in minutes, smartphones out, toddlers wriggling with joy. We, the middle-aged, witness the impossible: young people with something better to do. For us. Playing as well as any professional adults.
Julius Caesar, the legendary founder, would halt his ambitions watching these teenagers play. A white bird crowns Holy Trinity Column where Apostles, surviving Saints and even Mary nod along. The youngest – a boy with a mare’s mop of hair – shows his mature skills, skittering bow over strings, fellow musicians lined up behind, patiently gifting him this moment.
Now applause, applause for each piece, for each teenager’s moment of glory even when two bulging men, prowling for beer, walk through the orchestra, guts twitching. Nothing can deter the teenage spirits except time, which runs out, clock striking.
Published in Ginosko #23, 2019.
Above the Traffic
We stumble up the steps from the congested, coughing road. Up to the Sky Train, the floating arm of concrete and steel that moves when the arteries underneath are blocked by Bangkok cholesterol.
A band is busking: teenagers from a local school, dressed in blue trousers and skirts and pristine white shirts. A girl is the lead singer; she sings confidently and with talent into the microphone, leaning into it like she is sharing secrets. A boy strums an electric acoustic, head bowed. Another boy hammers an electric drum. A girl holds up a smartphone with the music score on it. Together, lost in music.
Other friends loiter while a larger group sit on the steps and applaud. We sit down and watch, letting the press of commuters pour around us, spilling along the different levels, stairs, elevators. Rain starts to fall, smearing the glass tube walkway with dirty tears. The girl sings and occasionally laughs like a tingling river, loosing the flow of lyrics. The band's bravery is infectious; they are entertaining the crowd after school when they surely have other homework to do.
We drop a few dripping coins into an open guitar case and that elicits a surprise from the entire band. They jump up, one by one, like reversing dominos and politely thank us, as if it’s their first ever tip.
Stories From China
Between 2013-2015 I lived in Guangzhou, China, with my wife. I wrote frequently short true-stories/life writing pieces for Internations. These were the '303' articles in which I only have myself 303 words to write about my experiences. You can find some of them here:
On his yellow jacket, Special Assistance.
He gives no assistance, let alone special, to the anaemic elderly man spewing up thick red spurts of blood on the shiny grey floor of Gatwick’s Terminal 2 Departure Lounge.
Special Assistance continues failing to fulfil his jacket’s motto, reading The Sun while sitting on the side of the information desk, one foot swinging in the air. The anaemic man’s daughter runs to and from the Information Desk, trying to hurry along a different man on the phone.
‘Medics coming,’ the man on the phone says.
A traveler goes up Special Assistance and interrupts his reading.
‘Are you aware there is man throwing up blood over there? Could do with some reassurance, if nothing else.’
Special Assistance slowly looks up and over at the chaotic, coughing event.
‘Not aware,’ he says shaking his head.
He folds his paper over and slips off the side of the Information Desk. He then spends five minutes wondering around the scene but never going up to the poorly man or his frantic daughter. He looks lost, useless, unimportant.
The medic arrives and takes over. Special Assistance goes back to his paper.
I have had short stories published in Bad Idea Magazine, Black Market Re-View, Brand Literary magazine, Dreamcatcher, Internations, Gloom Cupboard Print Edition, Pens on Fire, The Writing Shift and Zero Flash. In 2009 I had a mini-memoir published by Harper-Collins in Not Quite What I Was Planning.