Benjamin Hewitt: Flatline(s)!

The black kid in the Oxfam charity shop is firing two toy machine guns into the air. Rat a tat tat. I watch the woman behind the counter talk to her friend. She looks at me over her friend’s shoulder. I can tell she is also concerned. She also sees how insane and ironic this scene is. In the window of the shop is a big picture of a child soldier as part of a campaign for free education somewhere in the African continent.

Everyone is dying but I don’t feel a thing.

My cat died two weeks ago, but it’s like the cat I saw on the table at the vets wasn’t mine, so weak and powerless, breathing so strangely, eyes half closed. There were bits of muck around his eyes and his nose was leaking cat snot everywhere. I haven’t been waking up with a meow or a cat’s paw to the side of the head. I know this is the case, but I don’t feel what that means yet, it’s just a change, just a different way to wake up.

I haven’t cried in a long time. It’s like there’s this idea of death and loss lingering around, but it never becomes a big deal, never significant enough to stop me functioning.

I found out that Li’l Chris hung himself this morning, and I laughed.

I read recently in The Guardian that BB King was dead. I love his music and almost cry when he sings, but as a person he’s just a sound on an MP3 track. I didn’t even think he was a person who could die, whose body could shut down and expire. I’ll miss his fingers, maybe. And his voice box.

I feel sick and my stomach hurts. I feel like i’m going to cry, but there are no thoughts attached to the urge, just a dry physical sensation in my throat.

Me and her used to come in here all the time. I used to come up behind her and put my arms around her waist while she looked at books in the art section. I would kiss her neck and nuzzle her cheeks and she would smile, and I never wanted to let her go.

The black kid’s dad is taking the guns off him and putting them back on the shelf. It is only at this point that I realise the plastic toy guns weren’t brought in by the kid. They are being sold by the shop itself. How fucking crazy.

I think of the cute, cool things she used to buy. Books on mushrooms and trees. Books on this amazing fantasy art that she could probably do herself if she had the time. All this comes to me in this environment, away from the room where we argued so viciously. For two days i’ve been depressed, sure, moping around, but mostly I have been confused. Disorientated. Bewildered. When you spend two years with somebody every day, the first full day without contact just seems bizarre more than anything. Like you’re in a parallel universe, where you are a human being, the same human being, but you have a constantly painful stomach ache and a dry throat, and you don’t have the ability to succeed in relations with other humans.

These new thoughts, these emotions that come to me in the Oxfam charity shop, I don’t like this. I much preferred listening to sad music and feeling empty, and unusual. ‘Confused’. ‘Disorientated’. I try to stop it. I look at the politics section to get some kind of idea of a bigger picture, one where interpersonal relationships don’t mean as much. It’s just not the case, though, is it.

I realise that the shared concern I thought I had with the Oxfam woman behind the counter is meaningless. In the glance we had shared I thought she, too, saw the political irony and insanity of Oxfam selling toy guns, of the black child and the campaign poster in the window. Maybe she felt guilty for putting the guns out for sale. I can’t read people’s looks. I don’t know what any of my interactions with other people mean, or why they happen. Does the Oxfam woman even want me here, in this shop? Am I taking too long?

My legs feel weak. Me and her would come in here then go for a coffee a few doors down and talk about everything and anything. I need to give her a huge hug and a smile and a kind word. All I want is the past to be frozen and go on indefinitely, for time never to move and things never to change. I know it won’t. It can’t. I feel dizzy. What are we moving forward into? It’s not the unknown that bothers me, it’s the fact that every day since I was born I should have known that I would never be in the same place with the same person, in the same moment in time, ever again.

I am stood by the Religion section, and right then I have the thought that all the blood might fall out of me through the holes in my body, gush out over the Oxfam Bookshop floor and ruin the carpet. My stomach might decide it’s had enough anxiety and fall right out through my ass.

I panic. I start to sweat. I’m in crisis. I think the woman behind the counter is looking at me, knowing that I shouldn’t be in a public place right now. Her friend is looking at me too. I should be at home, mourning. Mourning the loss of everything and everyone to death and break-up and the passing of time. She’s on to me. Oh god.

I fall into a book shelf. A few books on spirituality fall to floor, and I slip quietly down with them.

I try to get up but I can’t. Hopefully no-one will see. I curl up into a ball against the bookshelf, ready to disappear. The ball gets tighter and tighter. I pull my knees into my chest.

“Are you okay?”

The Oxfam woman has come over to me and the black kid is looking at me strangely. He is unarmed. The woman kneels down and puts an arm on my shoulder. I shake it off and groan.

I want to die but I won’t, and can’t. This floor is just fine, the bookshop is comforting, so many words from anguished and enlightened people towering over me. The girl i’ve spent the last two years of my life with is out there somewhere, and that is a good thing. She is still alive, still having little bits of happiness every day, a nice sandwich or a funny video or a fond memory that can’t be erased. This is a good thing, I tell myself. I groan again, louder. Want to let it all out. She’ll be happy. I’ll be happy, maybe. There are a lot of good YouTube videos to watch, it’s a big website. I hope she finds all the good ones. I hope we both do.

“Get a first aid kit,” the woman says to somebody else, then to me, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

Yeah but what about all the people that black kid has been made to kill? What about all the black kids that our country has killed? Fucking hell…I groan louder again, this time more like a wail.

The black kid is looking at me like he realises all the bad he’s done, like he realises that he never wants to kill anybody ever again. It was never his fault, and he knows it now. They made him do it, and somebody else made them do it…The cycle is broken! Throw away your toy guns! Realise the finality of death and create a better world!

I’m going insane. I won’t. I can’t.

I’ll definitely regret this embarrassing display in the morning. The thought of having to wake up tomorrow is horrible. Maybe they’ll let me sleep here. I am unable to move, shaking,  balled up like a fetus about to be reincarnated as exactly the same human they were before.

Just then, I remember that my cat is dead.

“Can you stand up?” The Oxfam woman asks.

“I don’t fucking know…” I say. Yeah. But not just yet. Let me lie on the floor for a while.

black tree

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Photo by Tomek Dzido