Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Adlib to Fade

It all began, as the more cynical of us always knew the end of the World would, in the most innocuous of places.

Having been forced to abandon my morning cup of coffee due to a combination of having those extra ten minutes in bed and a cat/pot plant collision, I wasn't in the best of moods as I sat on the subway. I'd also rather stupidly left my iPod on the kitchen worktop and the only thing in my bag to stop me having to acknowledge the existence of the commuters around me was an old free newspaper. Still, the pamphlet on a newly opened teeth whitening clinic was four pages long so would keep me busy for at least another five minutes, especially if I mouthed out the really long scientific sounding words.

I smelt him a few moments before I heard him. That pungent fresh tramp smell, generic in as much as all dustbins smell the same regardless of their contents, crept through the train carriage settling neatly on the unshaven hairs below my nose. I gagged and gulped for air momentarily before I heard that beautiful sound over the noise of my own coughing.

As one we commuters, we work-bound comrades, turned to face the tramp to find the source of this noise. He was dressed in an old woollen overcoat, a tapestry of strains charting the history of both coat and owner. His eyes were fixed skywards towards the ceiling of the train, and the faint sounds of music were emerging from behind the grubby net of his grey-veined brown beard. What little could be made of his expression was odd, as though he were humming a tune that he only vaguely knew. But such beautiful, exotic, alien music...

I felt a drop of water splash onto the back of my hand and was startled back into reality. The tramp had now shuffled off the train and was walking away from it, beginning the process of accosting a wealthy looking businessman who was pretending to speak on his mobile phone about something fictional, yet suddenly very important. Somehow three stops had passed for me in mere moments - luckily none of them were mine - and I put my hand to my eyes to find that the liquid that had roused me were my own salty tears.

Embarrassed and confused, I dabbed at my reddened eyes, gathered my meagre belongings back into my bag and stood to get up. Only then was I aware of my fellow commuters, and, from them, a subtle difference in the air, a faint shift. A young woman had been sitting opposite me all along and was openly crying into her closed fists. As I propelled myself towards the door, I tried to avoid eye contact with those I passed. A pinstriped gentlemen was laughing loudly to himself as he sat alone - each time his raucous laughter stopped to allow him to breathe, it was as though he were reminded of the joke he found so funny, and once again descended into hysterics. A woman and her young children were all huddled together in their seats, arms linked as they all mouthed a silent prayer.

This was indeed a valuable lesson that no day should never start without coffee, I thought to myself as I wandered through the office to my desk. Strong, strong coffee. I'd open my emails and look at whatever lack-of-planning-on-your-part-does-not-constitute-an-emergency-on-mine jobs I'd been lumbered with today, and try to put the events of this morning behind me. The trivialities of employment should have cleared my head, and admittedly achieved exactly that purpose for most of the day. It was all going so well, my head immersed in the tedious smog of office life, until I heard it again - that sound.

A colleague sitting a few desks away had his pen in his mouth - an iconic gesture from him that meant, far from concentrating on work, he was trying to compose a particularly barbed facebook reply - and his fingers were drumming absent-mindedly on his desk. He had a far away look in his eyes, a distinct thousand yard stare. The tapping was unmistakably the same rhythm that I'd heard from the tramp on the subway, and the drumming began to increase in both volume and speed and I

saw the dazzling sight of the gentle waves of a bright turquoise ocean reflecting a dark purple sky. Grass was at my feet; rich, verdant, bright red grass gently swaying in a honey and vanilla scented breeze. The sound of childrens laughter echoed from behind me, and I turned to

find myself staring at a screen proudly boasting that I had 13 unread emails. I'd only been daydreaming for a few moments, surely? The time blinking away at the bottom right of my PC desktop didn't agree. 40 minutes had passed and my office was now two thirds empty. The few that remained were hard at work, glazed expressions on their faces. My hand was still poised on my mouse which was waiting in eager electronic anticipation for the left click that had never came.

I was oblivious to the world around me as I made my way home. I barely registered the half-empty roads, the distinct lack of people. My subway station was closed when I got there, with no indication of any reason. Simply a large battered looking padlock on the gate I'd normally use. Still, at least the walk home gave me time to think - or more to the point worry myself into a hypochondriac frenzy about what could possibly be wrong with me. The possibilities were that the whole world had gone insane, or more likely, given the odds, that simply I had. A good nights sleep would help, and If I still felt odd in the morning a trip to the local doctors. Yes, sleep would be a good thing.

My night was a restless one. My bedside clock was the first victim of my insomnia, thrown into a cupboard under some old cushions so I could be spared its broken staccato rhythm, and in the early hours of the morning a car drove past my flat with its windows open, the occupant loudly and tunelessly la-la-la'ing the tune. It took a herculean effort to block it out and force myself out of bed to close the window. I sat on my bed for the remainder of the night, my head both empty and yet paradoxically full of random thoughts - of cosmic shores and impossible oceans.

Another day dawned, but one which saw no television. All the channels were white noise and static, and the radio stations the same. I opened my curtains and window to a beautiful sunny day, the humid air brushing against me. Everything was different - there was little traffic noise, and the only sound being carried through the morning air was bird-song, their avian chorus welcoming the day - a recognisable tune - that tune - and

spotted that the children had found a shell, a blue contoured thing the size of a large melon. They were excitedly yet gently trying to coax out its inhabitant, an beautiful exotic yellow crab-like thing with bright blue eyes. As it emerged, blinking its four eyes against the cyan sun, it sang. I heard myself laughing, laughs which turned into joyous tears. The song was beautiful - no, the song was beauty itself and

I walked out onto the street, my bare feet against the concrete. Others were doing the same - many in pyjamas or nightclothes, a few fully dressed. Some had been out there for hours, waiting for us. Cars drew to a halt, their occupants stepping out making their way into the now busy street. The odd naked neighbour even stepped into the road, but it didn't matter. It wasn't important how you looked - it was just important that you were there. The bravest and most confident started first, a rich baritone that reverberated through the air. My pensioner neighbour, naked as the day as he was born, looked briefly to smile at me and then without further pause threw his head back to sing. I filled my lungs with air and did the same, as did everybody else. As did everybody else. 

If you liked the verses, you'll love the chorus.

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