Friday, May 1, 2009

The Time Travelling Spectre

When I was a young man of 17, I used to enjoy very much simply walking about town on my time off. It was not that there was that much to see or do anywhere out there. After a few months, the environment essentially became like a set of gears, shifting here and there, changing -- generally. At least, during those days, I still believed the people made a difference. That no, they were not also just part of the mechanical scenery. Coming to think of it now, this was probably one of my motivational factors -- to observe their variations in the scenery as I walked. After all, I was one of the people myself, too.

In any case, I liked travel in general, and it was expressed mainly (due to budgetary and logistical factors) by walking around town. I would walk long distances, I remember, from one end of the limits to the other. East to West, North to South. Diagonally. A lot of things were happening in my life, those days, and walking on my time off basically provided me with the coordination -- mentally and physically -- to deal efficiently with these matters that seemed to bubble into cognizance.

Let me make it clear, lest you are envisioning some kind of loon, that this was not the case. I was very popular in college despite my younger age compared to peers -- a lot of the guys were my buddies, and I knew a good number of the girls enjoyed my company. I was even made President of the Student Body for a couple of terms. During that same period, I also started writing more seriously, and through this endeavor won $800 from the Chief Minister of that state for a class essay of mine, which I only submitted because the professor literally begged me to. In those days, $800 was a lot of money, and although the fleeting vision of the professor jumping in joy for her student at the ceremony was very heart-warming, my achievement also brought me tangible joy and self-affirmation -- finally, I was able to purchase a math co-processor for my 486SX -- something I had desired for so long.

It was as this upright young man, then, that I one day happened at a bus stop. I would sometimes do this -- 'teleport myself' (as I imagined it at the time) from a place that was boring me to a place I felt may seem new -- take buses. It was not really cheating, it was just because I wanted to be somewhere else faster than bi-pedal locomotion may allow, especially given human muscular architecture. Buses are also usually quite cheap, affordable by students. This bus stop had an orange and cream awning, which was unusual for the time, but known to me as a matter of the town's trying to 'spruce itself up'. Apparently the gentleness of the orange and cream mixture could produce good feelings inside citizens, and I suppose I leaned towards agreeing, having had an orange ice lolly with a cream filling, once. I had no reason, before reaching that bus stop, to disagree with the theory.

You will notice I said 'before' reaching that bus stop. I highlight this because this is where I met a most bizarre old man. He had been talking to some girls, seemingly of my age, and when I arrived, made a sort of random gesture at me, before continuing his speech to them. It was only as I leaned against the wall on the other side that I noticed the girls were in fact huddled in a corner. Their faces were mixtures of ambivalence, discomfort, and outright fear. The man kept leaning into their corner, arms waving about as he gave his speech, leaning closer and closer unto them.

This was unfair. Being at the time quite a sturdy youth, and full of self-confidence, I approached this man, and taking his shoulder, pulled him back from the girls, as one may do in setting an automatic gear shaft into reverse. But my hand was thrown off by his sudden, rabid shiver, and he turned at me, his eyes blood red and glaring.

A bus arrived, but a quick glance informed me that it was not my bus. Fortunately, at least, it was the bus for the girls, and they quickly filed into it. I kept staring into those bloodshot eyes, even as I heard the bus pull away. This man seemed dangerous, and it would be unwise to leave sight of him, at this point. He did not seem to have any weapons, but I knew all too well from old BMX stunts how fragile the human body can be, and, valuing my health, was not taking any chances with this fellow. I had never seen such ruby red eyes in my life. It was hard to differentiate where his irides even began. He was also staring back at me. Finally, it was he who broke the ice, in spectacularly unsurprising fashion.

"What you looking at?" he demanded.

I was, honestly, broken from my trance of studying his oculars. "Huh? Oh. No, nothing." Not turning, I walked backwards to get to the other side of the bus stop, but he advanced. Of course, I was not going to let this guy corner me, so I just stopped in the middle. Then, making a decision, I sat on the bench.

This seemed to elicit some glee from the madman. He giggled, and sat down next to me. I pulled my head down, and started rubbing it with my hand -- the body signal, to communicators, of somebody completely disinterested. This was one of my first revelations that such body signals do not work with the completely insane. The fact still chips away at me now, in the state that even I am, can you imagine? I don't mind the crazy people who talk at nothing, you know? They're just there, and they feel like talking, expressing maybe. Who cares? Who are they hurting? But to do it when your brain is receiving commonly decodable signals via sense organs. It is assault. "Where you going?" he asked.

I shrugged. "I go wherever I please," I added, for reasons unknown.

"Ah, you see," he said, and he tried to take my hand. I snatched it away, and looked angrily into his face. Those eyes did not waver, I tell you. "You see, it is not where you are going that is important. What matters is where you have come from." When I had first looked into his eyes, the question had automatically raised itself: how much had this guy had to drink? Was it drugs? What kind? What could do this? Tears were one of the many options, but I had invalidated that possibility early in the deductive process. Yet now, a single tear squeezed out from this man's left eye. Both of them had become glassy, trembling in what sunlight seeped past the orange and cream awning.

It is natural and healthy for a human being to empathize. Obeying this maxim, I began to feel sorry for the fellow. Perhaps I had been too harsh, too ready to judge. "I see. Where are you from, sir?" I asked, trying to modulate my tone and pitch on levels equating compassion.

This relaxed the crazy man a little, and he leaned back with both hands on the bench. "Ah, me. I come from Singapore."

I smiled. "Yeah, I've been over there. I saw the lion fountains, and there was a cable-car trip to an island. They put mirrors far in the jungle so it looks like people from World War II are shooting you, on one of the rides."

"Oh I don't know anything about shooting. I told Ram Gupta, my childhood friend in my hometown Ponnani, that I don't know who had shot them. But it was not me, certainly."

My smile trembled. "Ponnani. That doesn't sound very ... Singaporean." Singapore, a country competing in size with most cities of other countries, surely cannot have a 'hometown'. I mean, I guess one could say "Alexandra Road is my hood, yo," but it's not a 'hometown'. The hometown is Singapore.

"No man," laughed my new friend, waving a hand in the air at me. "That's in Kerala."

"Ah. I see. Of course" All empathy had just drained from my being. I took a breath, figuring, at least he seems a little less malevolent now.

Then, suddenly, he lunged, grabbing me by the collar. "There is no 'of course'," he rasped, the booze from his breath pouring into my nostrils. "There is only one course." In his deep red eyes, it seemed I could just about make the balls swimming around, crazily unaware of each other. "You have to know where you came from!"

"Wh -- Where do you come from?" I asked desperately, as he choked me with his bunched fist.

"You ever heard of Jesup town, down in Georgia? You go there, near the Savannah-Brunswick Waycross, and you go find this tattoo parlor." For a moment, his crazy eyes, seemed to actually focus. "You find that tattoo parlor, and then you go down to the basement. It's all changed now, since they made that place up, but you go to that basement, and you'll see where I came from." He choked me some more. "You hear?"

"Where are you from?" was all I could sputter.

"Have you heard of the pyramids? Egypt?"

Even then, as he was choking me to death, I found fallacy in the logic. "Which -- gasp -- which one? There are many ... "

"No damn you, the pyramid!" he screamed, saliva landing on my face.

But finally, mathematics won over. I had been carefully saving my breaths since he began choking me, letting only small spurts out as necessary to placate him. Now, I had enough, and I could feel the energy pulse through me. I am not a man given to violence for the sake of violence. But this time, I was at the very threshold of causing more than necessary. I reared my leg stealthily, staring into the mad man's eyes to distract him.

I only released enough of a kick to set him fallen half-way down the bus stop, and even then I worried, as he lay there sobbing, face down, whether I had really hurt him. But then a bus came, and it was my bus. As it drew near, I looked, between the bus and this crazy man, whose puddle of sorrow was pooling beneath his face. The bus door opened, squeakily, as they did in those days before pneumatics, and I was still looking at him. Should I stay, help him out? Finally, I simply turned and walked up into the bus. We pulled away, and I only strolled through the middle, holding on to the railing above. There was no reason to sit on the side, looking back into that ... that oblivion.


After that day, as that cocksure young man, I had only had to shake my head a couple of times under a blue moon, and the spectre would be gone. I was still confident, at that age. It was easily resisted, and such facility made me believe that there had been no lasting effect. In fact, it was not even until just this morning, upon waking up crumpled and debilitated on a bus stop bench, then noticing the orange and cream awning, that the realization hit me. That man ... the crazy man in the bus stop, with the deep crying red eyes ... he was me. Is me. Like pulling at a fraying thread, believe me, I so want to know that this is not true, that it cannot possibly be true. Yet in these tired old eyes, the situation looks very grim. Understanding this extent, I have moved on, past the incredulity of such a thing possible, to strategizing my best possible approach to the vector. I'm not going to end up like that guy. I mean, what did he even give me? Some two-bit pragma about capacity to originate from multiple locations, with a corollary regarding the importance of retaining data on those points of origin? It's like ... living for the past.

I have contemplated telling my younger self that he could be anyone (instead of simply being from 'any place'). This will tie in nicely with his current (and my past) appreciation of the variability and unique range of the human experience. "You can be anybody," I could tell him. Naturally he would challenge me, asking me who the hell I am. And I would state the obvious. "I am Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Sans unknown diseased death, of course." He would laugh in my face, and I state that "I am the culmination of all Faith and modes of life." He would point at me, laughing with those young girls, for calling myself God of everything. I would tell him how I've drunk hemlock, simply to illustrate my stern rigour, and simultaneously how trivial this coexistence with this so called world really seems to me. He would become grumpy then, and tell me I am no great philosopher. This would be the corkscrew -- the fly up the straw. The twist in the lemonade, the firecrackers in the pants. The Greatest Revelation. I would, finally, tell him, explaining in painful detail until it gets through that damn upright, cocksure, self-confident, self-assured pigheaded fuck of a mind I know so well, that I am him! And there would be no buses for him until I achieve success.

But no. That still reeks of such ... malice and self-hatred. These are not things I shall teach ... myself. That boy, he used to crave variation. Crave mutation and mutability -- of self and peer (but only peers who understand the same things he does). He woke up weeping in the middle of nights, because any dream he brought into mind (lucid dreaming, you see), would eventuate in such pitiful outcome. 'Be all you can be' may seem exciting for people without imaginations, but for those who do possess this gift, you so many times only end up in areas derived from the common mechanisms around. What is there? Drive to multiply. Fear (primarily of death). Love, which seems oh so mysterious to everybody, but to him, quite a rational thing (which is probably also why I can never have it). Me -- my version of the crazy red eyed demon from the future -- will teach younger me how to let go, from time to time. That his imaginations are actually real. That that one girl actually stills sleeps with him at night. That planes sure had looked like they'd crashed into the Twin Towers, but it was an optical effect by David Copperfield, and the public will only be told after our sun explodes. That the only reason he does not course photo luminescent blood like he would prefer, is merely the massive, massive amount of things that suggest otherwise. And that all of these things are also a part of his imagination.


  1. So, did you find out who that man from Kerala was?

  2. doh. it wasn't a man from any real place -- the geographies are just a device. maybe it was a man from U.N.C.L.E.


  3. So, the man was you........with those red blood shot eyes?
    My next question would be,'why were you bothering those girls?' LOL

  4. hee hee. i don't know? he was probably just tired. love and kisses ;)