SlumberThe morning sunlight cast my eyes in tangerine hues. The sky was clear with no trace of clouds.
The morning sunlight cast my eyes in tangerine hues. The sky was clear with no trace of clouds. The sun’s rays made the black-topped road ahead look like it had been paved with a layer of copper. February had been generous for a couple of days, bequeathing more warmth and less chill in its mornings. I was out on a stroll, downcast by the force of nature that towed me into another futile day yet again. I was a balloon let go by a whimsical child after losing interest, fluttering in the endless sky without purpose.
After a few minutes wandering, my parched throat craved water. I noticed a convenience store at a distance, so directed my fast-paced steps towards it. All of a sudden, everything around me became elusive. My vision became distorted. I started swaying back and forth. The world around me became fuzzy as I stood in the middle of the street trying to make sense of everything happening to me. Before my brain could contemplate or understand what was happening, using my assumptions, reasoning and logic, I lost consciousness.
I woke up to a panorama of clear blue sky and the sound of birds chirping. The sun was mild and in the middle of the sky. I was on a endless field of grass. I scanned the place dubiously. There were no shrubs or trees, only grass. On inspecting the grass closer, I found each blade had a barely visible leaf. A little further, I saw a round wooden table and two chairs nearby. One chair was occupied by a busy man ferociously tapping the keys of a golden typewriter. I walked towards him. In his writing he was totally transfixed, completely unaware of my presence.
“Excuse me, sir,” I murmured.
He glanced at me abruptly. He nodded without uttering a word and pointed at the chair, gesturing me to sit. The round table was the exact size of my kitchen dining table. It was made of dark cherry wood. In the middle, stood a terracotta pot with a Himalayan crane’s-bill in full violet-blue bloom. A champagne glass sat next to the man’s golden typewriter, with a yellowish fluid sparkling bright as the light kissed its surface.
The man must have been in his early fifties, with a receding hairline increasing the size of his already rather large forehead. His thin silver hair, combed backwards, shone in the temporal area. His dreamy eyes reflected his calm demeanour, his salt-n-pepper, bushy moustache complimented his round face. His pale khaki shirt looked like it had decades of stories to reveal. It suddenly occurred to me—it was Ernest Hemingway. He looked every bit like the picture of him I had seen on the internet, a few days ago.
“Behold the vista of endless grass, young man. These all belong to Walt Whitman. Did you notice the leaves? These are Leaves of Grass. Everything you see is a vista of tomorrow. This is free land, much like in the verses of his poems. This is land of hope, this is a land for tomorrow. ” he raved in an orotund voice. His voice resembled Henry Fonda’s character, one of the jurors from the film 12 Angry Men.
“Death in the afternoon?” he then thundered, breaking the pregnant silence.
“Pardon?” I exclaimed bewildered. He raised his shallow champagne coupe with a cheeky grin.
“I’m offering you a drink, young man.” he explained, sipping from his glass. He continued: “Ah. This is a mixture of one jigger absinthe mixed with iced champagne until it takes on a glittering milky complexion. A wine cocktail, if you will. I call this: death in the afternoon. It’s nothing but a reminiscence of good ol’ Paris days. Ha!”
“No, sir, I don’t drink…I have always been intrigued by your,” I say, before being cut off.
“Hear me, young man”, he interrupted. “I understand some of my characters always intrigued you. A Hemingway hero, you say. Well, let me tell you, I always envisioned a protagonist, a hero, who lives correctly, following ideals of honour, courage and, above all, endurance in a sometimes stressful, abysmal and always painful world,” he said ponderously. “Come what may, the hero shall face it all, stick to his values and endure its end. The world will bring him down to his knees, whips of hardship and chaos shall rattle his bones. But, you see, the hero shall face it all and rise. Do you remember, young man? When you were a teenager, you had pasted an excerpt from The Old Man and the Sea on the wall of your room: ‘But man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated’,” he regaled.
“Indeed, indeed, young man. I don’t know how much your teen brain made sense of that in your younger days. But, today, I will tell you what it means. Today, you are in the prime of your youth. You need it more now than in any other stage of life—the youth perplex me—and I’ll tell you why. The muddy road of worldly troubles await, and they quibble over the colour of their tie not matching their blazer while leaving home before the journey itself. A wee speck of mud and they go into a frenzy, as if mud vanishes with words—it won’t. Just keep walking. A few splashes of mud and a few falls will do no harm, it makes you stronger. Don’t worry about getting your clothes dirty, hard work is no cause for shame. It’s a reflects how far you’ve come.”
He gulped the remaining tincture at once and continued: “Hear me, young man. The difference between destruction and defeat, you ask? Well, destruction is about your body, it’s a physical form and defeat is in your head, it’s mental. A man can be wrecked, shattered, burned, or even killed but you see, no one can tumble a man’s inner pride except the man himself. No one rob you of hope like yourself. Even when you have nothing, when the world has taken everything away, you can always salvage honour, integrity and ambition. These are yours and only yours. They’ll be yours forever.”
His ears turned red but eyes remained unmoved. He continued, after a long sigh, “I’ve got to break this to you: I’m a figment of your imagination, and so is this grassy vista, this wooden chair, this strange flower and its pot. This golden typewriter, every word I’ve uttered, every thought I’ve conveyed—it’s all in your imagination. I sound like Henry Fonda because you have never heard me utter a word. I’m all in your head. And so is every one of these creations of yours. Everything’s in your head,” he said, as his voice distorted.
My vision became hazy again, sending me reeling like whirling leaves in turbulent winds.
“Young man. Hey, hey, hey, can you hear me? Young man, hey, hey… Are you passing over to your physical world?” Hemingway’s voice became inaudible.
The next moment I was plummeting down a dark chamber of slumber with faint music ringing in my ears. It sounded like a classic rock song. As it grew louder, I could hear the song clearer.
“Lord, I shall navigate the ocean of time in my ship of valiance. Four winds shall someday guide me to my island of dreams. Storm await in briny deep and many more along the way. Abandon ship, I shall not, and never shall I sway”