I didn’t sleep last night. Or, maybe, it had been a week now; it is impossible to tell the difference anymore. The clock reads 5:00 AM, but I don’t know what that is supposed to mean. From the balcony, a thin beam of searing light pierces the veil of used towels I’ve erected in attempt to block the outside from coming in. The Sun, laughing at my feeble attempt at resistance, intensifies its assault and takes the horizon. I look once at the steaming smog raising from the busy streets below, as if the very life of this world was being sapped away. I shift and roll over in my bed, facing the familiar musk of soiled laundry and expended cigarettes, a preference taken any day over that God forsaken disk in the sky and the world it promises.
Staring at the wall, I ask myself a random question. At what point did the wall become a wall? Was it a wall after the first brick was placed, or after the last? Was it a wall after its creator called it so, a wall after a family was kept within its protection, or was it a wall after the smell of antiseptic and death was held within its form? Maybe the real question that no one had ever bothered asking was whether the wall wanted to be a wall. Or, maybe, what I stared at every day was just a wall because it’s a physical construction that confines a room. I don’t know.
Pulling me out of inquisition was the archaic ceremony that occurred every morning at precisely 7:00 AM, as the roses that used to grow on the balcony did every start of spring. A cacophony of misplayed keys on a piano greets me in the form of 3 alarm clocks throughout my room. A pagan song to a dance long forgotten, with screams of ‘WAKE UP’, ‘THINGS TO DO’, and ‘PEOPLE TO MEET’ go unanswered. The dancer is too tired and awake. I slump out of my bed, and silence each of the instruments one by one in my own ceremony. I do not disable the clocks, but merely reset them till the next morning; a eulogy for something, but to be honest I can’t really say what. I stare at the clocks. I don’t know why I don’t just unplug them permanently or throw them away. They have no monetary value. The dollar store they were bought from went out of business last month and the clock on my wrist serves enough for my needs. The alarm clocks’ existence remains without justification. I need them, but I don’t. They just are.
Unsatisfied and perturbed by my dilemma, my mind called for fresh air, and I approach the balcony with a pack and lighter in hand. I slide the rusty door, and expose my lightly clothed body to the elements outside. It was a mild temperature that, despite the caustic bath of the imperial Sun, leaves you shivering. I lit my death stick and took a hit, just to cough and realize there was an immense pain radiating in my throat. I was new to smoking, and my throat was raw. Ever since I was a child, I was always fascinated by cigarettes. The ability to hold fire at the tips of your fingers said something about the nature of man; however, I didn’t realize that nature was doubly until my father laid on his death bed. He kept telling me that had he just smoked more he wouldn’t have had such difficulty dying. Since then, I’ve taken his advice. I’ve come to the conclusion that you are most alive when you hold your death in your hands, because it is only in those moments that you may resist the universal truth: Death’s inevitability. For once, you handle Death on your terms, not his. I smile as I exhale. Finally, I understood why the camel in all those old cigarette ads was smiling. He really was in control.
I peer over the eighth floor balcony, and stare at the streets below. Last week a woman jumped off a building with her child in her arms. Both died instantly, or at least as instantly as gravity can take you. Hundreds had witnessed the event, no coincidence since it happened during the middle of lunch at 12. It’s interesting. People always say that those who commit suicide should have been ‘brave’ and ‘strong.’ They should have had ‘the courage to live.’ Yet as I peer over this ledge I think to myself that it takes courage to jump, uncertain of what exactly happens below. Not the part where you die necessarily, but what comes next. The news reporters called her crazy and selfish to do such a thing to her child. Yet at the same time it could take lots of resolve and reason, and I think that bothers people in the inside. They don’t want to know that logical thought could rationalize one’s own death. The idea of being rational with such a concept is then seen as irrational, an assumption that can ironically overlook rationality. They never mentioned why she jumped, now that I think about it. For all they cared, what mattered is she did it. I look at the horizon and shiver. The Sun’s campaign has dominated the cityscape by now, but the frigid air remains at this height. I’m sure the street below is warm by now, 82 feet below where I stand.
I ash my cigarette and watch the flakes drift, just as my attention drifted to the traffic stewing below. With rush hour, I watch and see miles of ants marching to a diluted beat of horns and yelling. Every morning, at the same time, the same thing happens to the same people, and yet it’s all different at once. With enough time, anything will and can happen, and then will happen again. Depending on your presupposition, this can be either terrifying or beautiful. For those with regret, I know the former. I watch the Sun victoriously rise for a moment, a labor it has performed every day without questioning. I look at my watch. It’s 9:00 AM. I’ve wasted, or spent, two hours on this balcony already again. I lean over the rail, tapping to a tune I can’t name. Time is God to some of us. Clocks are the prophets, the alarms are the commandments, and we the disciples. We’d like to think Time is perfect, but it’s not. What’s interesting to me is that Time can slow down and speed up, stop and falter at its own will, but it can’t go back, and for a brief moment, Time is human. For no matter how similar events may befall reality again with Time, nothing will ever be the same. Even Time has its own limits that it can’t defy or escape. I wonder what that woman was escaping. I wonder if her child cared to know. She only had six seconds to realize what was happening, after all.
There’s a chair next to the railing that’s been there since my childhood. It’s made of wrought iron, and has begun to lose its coating. To be honest, I can’t tell who aged better: the chair or myself. I think my father bought it at a garage sale. I can’t recall. When I was a child, I would stand on that chair and peek over the rail to see the looming fall below. Like any child, I was simultaneously enthralled and terrified by the view. I would stay there standing, feeling as if I challenged fate itself by being near a fall so perilous. Now I don’t need that chair anymore to see over the rail. I’ve grown since then, but the intrigue never quite left. I’ve on more than one occasion stood on the rail itself, balancing on the old metal bar and anchoring myself by grabbing a hook drilled into the overhang, which held tomato plants years before. The terror of my childhood was no longer to be found, and my fascination with the spectacle had only intensified. A possible relic from my days with the chair. Reminiscing this old sensation, I jumped on the rail again, grinning at the unnamed strangers below. They were completely unaware that a man was inches from raining, quite literally, on their parade. One bad gust, and I could well be on my way. I’ve always thought that if that’s so, then let it be. Or not. What’s the difference? I let go of the hook, using one hand to take a drag, the other to check the time. It’s 11:00 AM, and the Sun watched me, while I watched all below.
I lean over, wobbling on the inner arches of my feet. I was straining to hear a radio whispering from a few floors down. The poignant voice that wavered up to my condo was none other than Billie Holiday’s, a dead person. She was singing her rendition of ‘Gloomy Sunday.’ Was it Sunday? I was never good with dates. The weather was starting to get hot, as I felt the Sun pushing me from above. Sweat began to form as dimples all across my face, filling creases from the grimace I was making. I hated the heat, and longed for the chill from moments ago. A drop of sweat fell off my forehead, falling into the oblivion below. Down 82 feet on the sidewalk, an elderly man felt a raindrop hit his head as he walked to work. He looked up at the burning Sun. It wasn’t supposed to rain today. He shrugged his shoulders and moved on. After the song finished, I swiveled around on a single foot in order to face the balcony door. I lost my balance, and my foot slipped partially. I grabbed the hook without thinking and stood there: one foot and arm dangling, the other two taught from the force of my body leaning over the rail. I laugh hysterically, realizing that there is no way this hanging hook was meant for the job it was being given right now. Any second, any moment, it could easily give out from the tension, just like that. Instead of red ripe tomatoes plopping against the cement this time, however, those below would be endowed with a much different experience. I think. I haven’t seen a body smash into the pavement before. Maybe it would be just like tomatoes, just bigger and louder. I check the watch on my free hand for the time. It was 11:30 AM.
I take one last huff at the stub I have and flick it behind me, a burning ember alone, indifferent to the world below. Time cannot go back. Even God, in his omniscient and potent state, cannot kill himself. Does that make humans weaker or stronger than God? How about Freer? In her brief flight, that woman was in control of everything in essence, and at the same time wasn’t. Regardless of her former wealth and influence, she was momentarily above everyone else. A blatantly fatal decision. In exchange, she made a decision Death could not retract. No one, Death included, ever expects the captain to take out his own ship on purpose. Her jumping wasn’t written in the contract, per se. Meanwhile, her child didn’t get a say. I wonder, is God scared of his creation? I flash my watch. 11:55 AM. I read it aloud to the world. Do you hear that God? Better question: Does it matter? A breeze whipped by, and for a moment I closed my eyes and indulged. Hanging by a thread to be cut by whatever came its way.
The Sun was burning my shoulders as one last charge before it dropped behind my building, exhausted from its daily endeavor. I was tired, too. I want to sleep, and my eyes are getting heavy. My hand was damp from the effort I was exerting to hold onto the hook. It was annoying. My watch chirped to mark the hour, which, for some reason, made me angry. I was done. I let go of the hook and jump, a knee jerk decision. I didn’t really think about it, I just did it. I was free after all, and now, for a brief moment, I was invincible as well. The landing was violent and unnatural, as my body sprawled on the ground. There I was, limp and silent. I was always bad at pretending. I stood up and adjust myself. Before going back inside, I thought about the rail now behind me. For a brief time today, I lived in two entirely different worlds, both of which were exactly the same. I walk inside and slide the door close behind me, the curtains filtering out the light once more. I go to my counter and finish a cup of coffee I made the previous night. Drowsy, lightheaded, and with a new cigarette in my hand, I fall into my bed. The three clocks around me simultaneously blinked 12:20 PM, but I don’t know what that is supposed to mean. A thin wisp of light escaped the curtain and was hitting me in the face. I shift and roll over in my bed, facing the familiar musk of soiled laundry and expended cigarettes, a preference taken any day over that God forsaken disk in the sky and the world it promises.
Staring at the wall, I ask myself a random question.