Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Leviathan

A God Dances Through Me

“I betcha don’t believe a word am sayin’. Betcha you one of them city boys who believe God won’t push the button no more.” The old man said. “Well, you betcha sorry ass He has.”

Crazy people tend to pray on the fears and vulnerabilities of the other people. Most of them could smell that in their prey like no other animal.

I told myself not to panic. A single click of the ignition could be all I need to put it behind, and a bit of faith that broken down vehicles in the middle of a highway have a way of sorting themselves out on the first sign of trouble.

And the old man was trouble. He was trouble all the way.

Feeling nervous, I asked. “And when do you reckon He did that?”

“It’s been two days straight, or a little over. When did you last switched onto your radio?” He pointed to the car radio. “Or does the damn thing work?”

The damn thing that the old man referred to did work. My Sony car radio looking a touch too battered by years of neglect.

He began pleading, as if reading my thoughts. “Yo’ sti’l plannin’ to head north, arentcha? Like the rest of them fools.” He paused, half expecting me to panic and race off. “God’s finally made up His mind to get back on us you see. You ever seen people meltin’, that’s what it looked like to me back there. And most of the newborns lookin’ half finished too.”

“You been in some kind of trouble, old man?” I asked, losing my patience. “Back there where you from.”

“Huhn. What didcha say?”

“Up to something no good back there perhaps? Got too drunk and whacked a fella, or touched a wrong girl or somethin’. Got an old limpin’ fool like you scurryin’ off like that.”

The old man stared at me, long and hard. “Now look here, young man. Don’tcha go smartin’ on me now. I ain’t tellin’ you to do nothin’. Dig your own damn grave if its fits ya. All am doin’ is telling you that back north, things ain’t the same no more.”

I reached for the ignition, praying for a miracle.

************


My initial reaction was to run the damn thing down, and I probably would have, had it not been for a broken down car in the middle of a fucking desert. And no, I ain’t crazy, I ain’t the killing sort of man. It was just this thing, you see. Something about him that … that just didn’t quite fit in. Looking drunk, starved and running as if to escape God’s little planet.

Or to ruin it.

A desert noon playing tricks, that’s all. I told myself.

Stranded on the highway, I couldn’t help but notice a figure running in the middle of a heated noon, waving about at the speeding vehicles, though there were none to speak of. The old man hardly had any clothes on. He cut a lone figure on the long deserted road, lingering a shadow longer than I had ever seen.

Fell for the worm as they say. Curiosity makes a fish of us all.

“Car trouble?” The old man asked once he got close enough, standing next to the car window with his eyes squinting, staring down at my face. “You headin’ north?”

He looked a forlorn drunken figure, probably in his early 70s, long hairs and sunburns. Yes, plenty of them, and they looked a lot worse up close.

But sometimes, you miss out on something that is right in front of your eyes.

I replied in affirmative.

“I ought to warn you off. Been doing that since I got off them towns, and none of those fools on the wheels payin’ shit to anything I said.” He paused. “Seemed to me that the whole world is headin’ north them last couple of days.”

Around us, nothing else seemed to move. Nothing else seemed bothered. The whole universe had dipped its fat round head in the intergalactic pit of sand against the face of this intruder.

I asked him to explain himself. Quietly telling him he was making no sense.

“There ain’t nothin’ in them towns but trouble.” He croaked. “You can’t be headin’ north. No one in his right mind should. Need you to turn around, and put as many miles behind ya as ya can.”

A crazy doomsayer on a highway wasn’t something I would have made my bets on when making up my mind for a trip back to my hometown after a decade of keeping distance, a decade of cold heartedness on my part borne of an unhappy childhood. Though the fact that my distant father has passed away recently made it a lot easier to go back to the things left behind. The trip wasn’t just about visiting him, but to bury him, and hopefully the memories that came with it.

I noticed the empty bottle of whiskey in one of his hands, knowing where exactly all of this was going.

The man looked back north, contemplating. “I been livin’ one of them towns. Them’s all too ugly now. All of them folks down there too. The whole bunch of towns’ lookin’ like scattered swamps, swarmed with bunch of creeps who once looked like men.”

He pointed down his feet. “Lookie! I got a bit roughened up ma self. Down the riverside I walked yesterday morn’, Got ma feet all nastied up in the water there. Ain’t looked like no water I ever seen in ma life.”

I needed to move on.

************


I told him that the radio worked just fine. I recalled listening to Cold Play’s Viva La Vida, Bill Withers’ Aint No Sunshine, and even to gruffly voiced Dylan getting feverish about death and dying. Telling us it was ok to die if you only put up a little fight, made it long enough and hard enough against the dying of the light.

“Been listenin’ to the news lately?” He asked. “It ought to be in the news by now.”

“Yes, I have.” I lied. “There ain’t nothin’ in them that I noticed.” I haven’t specifically been hunting for news on my trip so far.

“Hmm, well, maybe the news hasn’t reached them ears yet.” The old man didn’t reply. “Or maybe they ain’t no believers no more. Little city boys like you busting their asses off for a livin’ while the world’s running short on time.”

I took a moment to stare deep down into his bushy eyes, and saw nothing. Nothing of the madness pouring out his mouth.

I pointed at the empty bottle dangling on his left hand. “You been living of them cheap whiskey for too long, old man.” I managed a smile. A right amount of whiskey in the veins could bring the whole world crumbling down.

“Whiskey my ass”. The old man crooned. Smashing down the bottle on the road as if to prove it. “I been runnin’ down this road for two days straight and this damn bottle ain’t licked liquor for the best part of it.”

“You expect me to believe that?” I said.

“I expect you to turn on that darn radio.” He replied. “That’s what I expect you to do, good and proper.”

I looked at him, keeping a straight face. Thinking how crazy I would have to be to actually reach out for my radio, if only to make sure if the world was still round enough since I last checked in.

“Turn it on, wontcha.” A wide grin appeared on the old man’s face, unveiling the dark holes between the random set of crooked teeth and bad gum. The expression on his face seemed to be one of invitation. Daring me to accept the challenge.

“Turn it on and believe, city boy.”

He is from some other planet. A crazy thought occurred to me.

“Whatcha lookin’ at me for like that”. The grin just got wider. “You ain’t no smart city boy are ya. Can’t ya tell that a God dances through me? Can’t you see nothing beyond the busted cars and sunny radio sets.” Paused. “Can’t ya see nothin’ yet?”

I half expected the old man to change. To watch him waver and blink as a hologram would, failing to hold on to some mysterious relay gone momentarily stray, channeled off by some cosmic plateau none have heard of; a deep dark hole in space responsible for all this.

And I have fallen for the worm.

Looking back at the radio set, I watched my hand reaching for the little red button, trying to hold onto the part of me saying that all I have to do is to turn the damn thing on, switch to one of those news channels, and that would be the end of this whole crazy episode. Same part of us that laughs about things we don’t understand, pats us on the backs, and tells us that it’s nothing at all.

I froze. My fingers against the cold dreaded button, itching to home in. Telling myself I ain’t the crazy one here. Telling myself that all I needed is a little push.

© Javed Baloch 2012

Though a software engineer by profession, Leviathan tries to spend almost all of his time reading and writing down whatever comes to his mind. He enjoys brooding over and seeking inspiration from writers such as Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon, John Steinbeck and Stephen King.

1 comment:

  1. I can certainly see the McCarthy influence here - very atmospheric piece with some good phrases - I especially liked "lingering a shadow longer than I had ever seen".

    ReplyDelete

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