“Vastest Ocean”

“I am a cage, in search of a bird.”
Franz Kafka

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Edited: 06/14/2019

A man sat on the bench, the sun setting before his eyes. He sat there, until darkness surrounded him. I thought, at first, he would never stand up. He held the same posture, and hadn’t moved a single muscle.

I was ashamed to have been watching him for so long, but eventually I just became captivated. Granted, I was also looking at the sunset, when I noticed him. I wanted to go outside, to greet him. But he was alone, and I didn’t think it would be appropriate to just approach him.

I’m not sure I could come up with any reason to just sit there, so calm and still, like him.

I went to make my evening tea, mint with peach. I poured it over ice, and watched the water liquify. The ice, and how it waited there peacefully, reminded me of the man. I thought that maybe, maybe he was still there! But, wouldn’t that just be absurd?

I decided to take one last look. I wanted to know, I really did. So, I pulled up the blinds and my eyes immediately locked on to the bench, where he was. He still sat there, in the same position.

There hadn’t been a single difference. How was this possible? I pulled out my notes, from the morning weather forecast. Every morning, I wait until I see it on the television. I can’t go anywhere unless I know the weather.

That night, the winds were fast, and it was truly frigid. Frankly, the darkness made it hard to make out the man. Perhaps he was shivering, and I couldn’t even see it. Now, I could not stop thinking about him.

What if the city had installed a statue there today? How did I not notice this? After all, it was a Saturday evening and I had been home all day. And if this was the case, then “he” had been sitting there much before the sunset.

It was now 6:15 in the evening, and I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I didn’t have the patience to watch him all night, but I felt as though I had to. I had to know what would happen to him. Would he just leave? Would he even stand up? Could he?

I decided I had to ask. I had to know for certain. I was convinced that perhaps this man had lost something, and that nature was his only escape from his own world. Maybe he was even someone from the city, looking to get a break from the lights that never sleep. It makes the thought of darkness peaceful.

I put my boots and jacket on, and as I opened the door, a feeling of dread overwhelmed me. I was paralyzed. Did I fear this man? Did I fear the darkness? It felt as though I might die, or even already be dead.

I regained control, and stepped outside. The wind dried out my lips, and they cracked as I yawned. I could taste the blood in my mouth, and then the dread returned. From my doorway, I could see the bench, and I could see the man… sitting there.

Trudging through the frosty grass, I almost slipped. I could hear the crows, calling to each other. Eventually, my thoughts overwhelmed the sound of wildlife. I wasn’t even sure what to say to this man… I had been too preoccupied wondering what his purpose is.

I was now about fifty feet from the bench, where he sat. Suddenly, the crows became louder. They wanted something, from me. They knew I was coming; they had perhaps predicted it. They too wondered about the man.

As I approached him, he turned his head, so he could see me from the corner of his right eye. I immediately froze. I was terrified. Not by the man himself, but by the sharp movement of his neck. He didn’t say anything. Then, he moved his hand onto the empty space on the bench. He patted it, like how someone calls their pet to sit beside them.

Now, I became apprehensive. My mind was empty, and I was in shock. I had no idea what to say. In fact, I wasn’t sure I could even speak. And I wasn’t convinced that he would respond, anyway.

I walked around to the bench, on the side opposite of where the man sat. Was he waiting for me the whole time? If he intended to stay alone on this bench, he would have sat in the middle. Instead, he sat far on the left.

As I sat down, I looked to the man. His head was still turned, and he was still looking in the same direction, at me.

His eyes were closed.

Had he closed them when I came? Or had he sat there, possibly all day, with his eyes closed? I still wasn’t sure what to say. I wasn’t sure what to think anymore. But, I didn’t regret leaving my house. I felt fear, but that fear came from a deeper feeling. Curiosity, which had overpowered me.

I looked away, as there was nothing to be gained from staring at the man. His face was dull, he had no smile, but also no frown. I stared into the distance, like he had before. Eventually, I heard him turn his head back too, and his hand returned to his lap.

I sat there, like he did. I just saw, saw what was beyond me. There was some kind of glow, as if the sun was peeking above the horizon. It was hypnotizing, and I felt my mind trying to escape reality, perhaps into a dreamy sleep. I forgot about the man - now all I knew was the sky.

Eventually, I just closed my eyes. Time stood still, and then it was gone. I opened my eyes, and people walked in front of me. Mothers, children, in the darkness. I looked beside me, and the man had gone. I hadn’t even heard him go.

These people felt like silhouettes, outlined by the colorful glow. I thought, in that moment, that they were real. I knew they were, but I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t ask them why they walked outside, in the cold, at night. Although, frankly, even I didn’t care what time or how cold it was.

The darkness told me everything. I was truly in a trance. What was real, now? I wanted to close my eyes again, to see if perhaps it really was just a dream. Maybe the man meant to show me this, or maybe I was just meant to see it. I will never know, because the man had gone. Or, was he a dream too?

I looked at my watch, but the hands just spun. There was no time, and there was no me.

Finally, an overwhelming feeling to stand grabbed me. I jumped upward, expecting to simply land on my feet. At first, I think I did. I felt the grass between the toes, with the frost melting on my skin. I remembered that I had left with boots on. But now, they didn’t matter. I couldn’t care less.

And then I fell, and just kept falling. The glow accompanied me, and never left my field of view. The whole sky was laid out in front of me, like a feast for a king. I saw no stars, I saw no airplanes.

I was convinced that if I closed my eyes, perhaps the sky would come with me. I could have all of this space, for myself. It was like an ocean, the depths of which nobody had explored. So, I shut my eyes. Once again, I felt the grass between my toes. I tilted my head upward, and saw the sun. And then, I saw myself. I saw my soul. I saw the depths of the vastest ocean.

I felt like I was free. I felt no burdens, and I had no desire. I let out a sigh, and my voice sounded like that of someone I didn’t know. I had escaped time, and I had escaped the bench.

I was alone now. No man, no glow, nobody. I stayed there, for a while. I didn’t want to leave this place, because I knew that I would never see this man again. But he was nothing, he was just a sign on this road. He just got me to where I needed to go.

Copyright Avi Glozman, April 2019