Peer

“Bring your meditations, I’ll have a great bowl of fruit.”

At the cliff, the two sat, legs dangling from the edge but feeling neither worry nor agitation. It was far enough to the bottom for fate to pronounce its name–but not so far that people lost their detail. Waves rolled toward the base of the cliff but lacked the ambition to reach it. Jack and Kathi, looking past their feet, could see people approaching the boxes below. From her great bowl of fruit, they spat seeds.

It was originally Kathi’s idea to watch. It would be a thrill of sorts–he couldn’t disagree. They watched, Jack, with an eyehalf on Kathi. Other than twitching her nose occasionally, she looked on like she’d been carved from the cliff. Content with silence–but never for too long, he expected her to say something soon. It made the scene all the more uncanny that she didn’t.

“They seem calm; expressionless.” said Jack
“Before or after?”

“Both, I guess.” He missed her wit sometimes,

when she wasn’t close. He could think of these things himself, in her style even, but it wasn’t the same. It didn’t have the same playfulness and the bite was wrong coming from anyone else’s mouth.

Part of a person’s world becomes strange once in a while, another part exists to think it strange. A recent period engaged everyone in changes of their own form: tattoos and piercings.

“They don’t see it as different than a piercing.”

“It is.”

“I think, sure if people call me a freak, I can ignore it, embrace it, or I can take out the rings–but these people, why they don’t have that as an option.”

“I guess they have to figure it all out in advance. Besides, in their case nobody will notice.”

They were referring to the prosopagnosiacs. That and the nondescript black boxes, which had appeared one day. Like a religion bursting its beliefs open all in one night–a great announcement of its huzzability to the world’s fanatics.

It started with a columnist. He’d written twice about his walks along the beach and finding the bizarre row of black boxes. Perhaps his readers were curious after reading the first article even though he’d given a complete description of the boxes’ plainness. By the second article some of his readers discovered the spot themselves. Like sharing a secret, many knew the place but none made it a point to divulge widely. Even the columnist kept the exact location secret. He knew better than to reveal it to everyone. People are like this. We all count on word-of-mouth for the sweetest baklava, the most quarrelsome curry, and the smokiest jazz. Post-no-bills to keep it so, for as soon as the world knows, the sweet and quarrelsome disappear with the smoke from a door that’s opened to accommodate the crowd. Why are we like this? Hoping to share the world with the world, just as long as it doesn’t bring its friends.

After writing a second article on the subject, the columnist disappeared. The newspaper reprinted old articles and apologized for the lack of a fresh voice. The columnist’s disappearance was poignant, it was the shock that flung his words into the wider public consciousness. He had an audience, devoted readers that sometimes shared his articles with friends. Soon everyone knew he’d disappeared. The devoted readers: friends or kindred spirits, had already found the source of his articles–the location of the boxes.

A week later, the newspaper discovered that the columnist hadn’t really disappeared. He had however, been busy toying with his discovery. People peered into his face. They’d see, or at least try with fascination at the novelty of the experience, and then laugh uneasily when they failed to comprehend his appearance. The truth was that he still had a face. His mouth tasted; his nose discerned licorice from roses; his ears, while rejecting radio clamour were keen on birds; and he navigated the streets with his eyes but nobody could make out exactly what his face looked like. Thus, through an incorrect use of the term, he’d been labeled the first of the new prosopagnosiacs. Everyone else experienced a particular prosopagnosia in his presence. Not a soul could recognise the columnist’s face.

An ionic breeze entered their nostrils; the sea was under the lazy rise of a moon handling itself coyly.

“The cherries are good” spat Jack.

“They’re from the farmer’s market–I’d grow them myself if I had the space.”

“Of course.”

“Look at that girl, she mustn’t be twenty yet, what does she know? I remember when I was twenty, I thought I’d be married the next year. You can’t be like them if you’re getting married.”

“Why not? Just because your fiancĂ© would care? it’s not as though that makes a difference–the point is the absurd way they make themselves stand out by making themselves unrecognizable.”

“That’s what you think. I remember. The difference is that you’re making plans–those aren’t absurd. The difference is that you’ll be doing something else in a year and your whole life will be different, even if you don’t know that it might not be. People see you this way and it matters. They can see it in your face, your face changes because you’re making your face. It’s like, you make your face in how you live–it shows it all.”

“You do things now but you’re not married, it’s obvious you’re living. What else do you need to be yourself?”

“All I’m saying is your plans, especially the big ones, put you out there, you, with everyone else; and now these people are too alone to be themselves.”

Every once-in-while a person feels our world has left him with the raw pulse that is being alive in our world and also, strangely, apart from the beat of this pulse. It is more often than we admit, and we recognise expressions like “a face in the crowd” for the banality of being one among many. Perhaps when we recognise it, the expression dignifies the one.

Kathi mused on the columnist “usually, when you discover something, they put your picture in the paper.”

“He’s certainly not one of the crowd anymore.”

The two watched as one person after another strode toward a box. The only clear choice on which box to use must have sprung from the individual gut; each box appeared identical. They watched a man of medium height negotiate the sandy beach in his rust-colored running shoes. His tongue flicked across his top lip and then, gently dipping his head inside an open box, he fit its lid in place. In the measure of a blink, he propped the box-lid open and walked away from the queue, unrecognisable, save the shoes. The boxes’ edges, defined by sea-spray, glistened with moonlight.

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