Andrei awoke from a long, dreamless sleep; the kind in which one closes one’s eyes and then opens them, as if it were only a blink, only it seems that a great amount of time has passed. The rest of the world may have changed, but inside everything remains the same. Andrei got up and looked out the window of his lonely second story apartment, gazing intently at a slight ray of sunshine breaking through an otherwise cloudy and dreary morning. His eyes followed the light to a young sapling, one of few among a sea of stone and concrete. Withered and tiny, the sapling could be seen as barely a whisper, almost reaching toward the light, clinging desperately to life.
Andrei washed his face and filled a glass of water from the faucet and downed it quickly; he did not mind the faint taste of rust from the old pipes. As he got dressed, he remembered that he had forgotten to eat, but he didn’t have much food anyways. Andrei put on an ordinary pair of slacks, a worn out black in color, and an old, unwashed shirt, it’s once bright color faded to a sleight grey with age. He examined himself in the mirror; his hair was unkempt and getting long, and stubble had come to surround what had once been refined, handsome features. Taking it all in were his eyes, gray as the clouds outside, teeming pools of a long held sorrow. One could tell; he seemed to have fallen on hard times; Andrei didn’t mind.
He had descended the staircase and was about to pull open the door to leave when he was interrupted by a loud crash. He looked up and saw nothing; figured it must have been another tenant dropping something. Only momentarily disturbed, he opened the door and walked outside, becoming all but indistinguishable, blending so perfectly into the grayness, the (anonyminity), of his surroundings.
Like himself, the city had fallen on hard times. Beautifully constructed buildings and avenues had run into disrepair, and slums had emerged. The wealthy citizens avoided this growing cesspool of drudgery and sorrow as best they could. As Andrei walked along the dank streets he passed rows of invalids and watching as well to do citizens turned their heads at the sight of these pitiful degenerates. But among all the men and women of the city, Andrei crept on like a ghost; a silent observer nobody would have noticed or missed. His eyes took in everything without even a flicker of opinion, as if callously processing information and storing it somewhere in the deep recesses of his thoughtless mind.
His walk brought him to a park he knew well. He often came here on his walks, never through a conscious effort… his meanderings always brought him, there. Grass, a sickly green in color, grew in patches to the sides of a grayed cobblestone path that led through the park, once great trees now old and shriveled, without leaves and with haggard branches littered his field of view… looking almost like a cemetery. “This park once was beautiful”, thought Andrei, “and yet I come here all the same.” Along the path stood a small group of stone tables, where old citizens spent their days playing chess, hunched over with age and the weight of concentration; rarely conversing, just idling away, decaying with time.
Andrei stopped at the chess tables, and a sparkle could be seen in his normally passive gaze. He thought back to a time where he had played at these very tables in his youth, absorbing all he could from the old sentinels, always knowing that with the park, they woo would soon fade away, engulfed by the machinations of the city which had no room for these ancients, and of time itself. He remembered a time when he had been the chess champion of the city, having harnessed the secrets of these old men of which few now remained, secrets which undoubtedly by now were lost. How long ago it seemed, those days of the past. Try as he might, he could not remember exactly when these events had occurred, everything was a blur of continuum. The embers of remembrance died out, and Andrei continued along the pathway, as the grass, the old trees, and the chess tables soon faded away in the distance.
Upon returning home, Andrei found a letter waiting for him, “manager must have left it while I was out,” he though. The letter simply read:
Unable to do much good: Father has passed away: deepest regrets.
– Uncle S.
He stared blankly at the letter for some time, then calmly sealed it and placed it back on the table.
Andrei boiled two potatoes and ate the last of his apples for dinner. As of yet he had had no reaction to the news of his father’s death. He had been sick for quite some time. Andrei had used all the money at his disposal to secure the best medical attention he could afford for his father; his chess winnings and the proceeds of his published poetry. He had even taken to pawning the trophies and medals he had accumulated over his short professional career. And yet, this help had proved inadequate, the gout had slowly crept along, devouring his father as time devours the fruits of man. Andrei knew there should be a feeling of sadness and loss at this tragic occurrence… Instead there was an empty void, a vast expanse in his very being and inside it lay… nothing.
Now that his father had passed on, Andrei was left with no one. Estranged from his remaining family, and after he had lost his mother and younger sister in a tragic accident, there was none to turn to. In a city surrounded by tens of thousands of people, Andrei was truly alone.
What was occupied by emotion and feeling was now vacant in his soul. A once vibrant and bright young man had been reduced to “me,” Andrei thought. He had once been, in what seemed like an alternate reality, a happy man and a top university student; a champion of chess and author of compassionate and loving poetry. “Now I cannot even bring myself to write of sorrow,” he murmured to himself. “When did this all occur? That all trace of life and humanity have been reduced to a grey nothingness. Was my previous life only a pleasant dream, or this life merely a horrible nightmare? When will I wake up from this dream?”
Andrei drank another glass of water with the same taste of rust, and walked again to his window, staring out at the city. The grey clouds had been interrupted by the setting sun, whose sinking orange glow reflected off the clouds, creating shadows and an eerie light about the city. None in the city took heed of this ghastly, yet somehow strangely beautiful sunset. The glow quickly faded and soon all light from the city was extinguished, and a blanket of darkness was cast upon it while the grey clouds obscured the silvery moon. Andrei looked about for his young sapling, but now where was no trace left of it, it had simply disappeared amongst the stones.
There was no sparkle now, or sign of life in his eyes. “There is no place for me here, living in the world’s indifference. Maybe soon I will open my eyes to find that this life has been naught but a dream, and when I awake my memory of this dream will be gone, and life will continue as it has been.”
Andrei took a pen and quickly scribbled a poem on a sheet of crumpled paper by his bedside.
My dark and dreary dream prevails
My soul snuffed like a flame
The path of my life has been derailed
Who am I to blame?
I spread my wings and take flight
Leaving behind all of my plight!
And with that, Andrei closed his eyes, and went to sleep.