The Void

Let’s call him M. No one knew him really, he was the kind who melted into the background, the kind of figure you saw everyday– in the cinema, at red lights, in grocery stores, in the parks. His suit was always carefully brushed, his worn boots polished, his tie a thin knot and just a bit crooked. He walked at a medium pace, while the bustling, busy city hurried past him, footsteps that chanted hurry, hurry, hurry. No one gave him a second glance; he was any man, everyman. No one would know what he did all day; let’s just pretend he worked for a company that specialised in lead pipes, no one really cared. I am sure he cared though, he spent a third of his day inspecting and testing lead pipes; I am sure he knew his job well.

He would sometimes go to the bar across his office and three paces to the left. The barman said he would always order single malt; dutifully pay his bill with a modest tip and leave. But he might be confusing him with the man from the insurance agency or the clerk from the bank two streets away.

He seemed to have no friends; and no relatives seemed to remember of his existence or vice-versa. No one invited him for Thanksgiving, and he received no presents on Christmas. His post consisted mainly of bills and advertisements sent by companies who sent numerous such letters everyday, to names they associated with addresses and not human faces.

So was M unhappy? There is really no way to tell, what was it that he wanted, what was it that he yearned for; was there really anything that he desired but did not get? We might assume that he wanted friends; he did not want to be overlooked when strangers’ eyes glanced his way perchance. Maybe he wanted a dog; maybe he was too afraid of dogs to want one. Maybe a dog had bitten him in childhood and left him frightened of them ever since?

Psychologists declared that all men craved company, and the most solitary of loners had some living being or the other for solace, for company. Everyone needs something, did he listen to music? Maybe he’d learnt the violin as a youth and played the instrument every evening, with the lights out, alone in his room. But say all he did was come home to stare off in space, or worse still, go through a regular routine of odd jobs– clean the laundry, take out the garbage, wash the solitary plate and scrape the oven which was still surprisingly clean after years of use. What of it then? Did he put off his lights at precisely ten thirty and fall asleep, the alarm set for six a.m.? Did he fall to sleep immediately, did he dream, and if he dreamt what did he dream about?

The evenings did see him sit in the parks at times, he would always sit alone, he would always walk back home alone. Children screeched as they ran after one another, and sometimes a child would stop to look at him, maybe expecting a toffee but run off immediately, because his smile would not change his face, and no one looked closely enough to notice the smile.

Maybe he wanted to be noticed; maybe he wanted to fly, just once, to see how it felt. Maybe he wanted nothing of the above, but if so, he could have remained in his room and ‘accidentally’ have taken an overdose of the unused sleeping pills in his room, to die a quiet, insignificant death, like the life he led?

Someone said he giggled before he jumped; the woman across the building in her twenty-fourth floor office said he looked strangely exuberant while he squatted before leaping. But the woman could be lying, the building was too far away, and her optician was frustrated with her refusal to wear the glasses she so required? But he jumped, and he died, and the midday traffic stopped for an hour as police personnel took note of the incident. The evening tabloid printed a piece on it, but they couldn’t include a picture, for the pop princess had a new scandal that needed to be written furiously about.

Indrani Basu