Every day I wake up someone different.
When I woke up this morning, I knew who I was. Knew I was an average guy. Knew my name. Had a sense of what I do for a living – something ephemeral. Knew the sort of person I am.
I walked to the bathroom, bleary-eyed with sleep, contact lenses not yet in. I showered first, knowing instinctively that I’m a person who showers first. Felt a little strange – detached and disoriented – when I was soaping myself up, but back to normal by the time I rinsed the foam off.
Took a towel already hanging off the rail from the day before, and wiped my face. The towel smelled weird. Not damp. Just not like it belonged. When you visit a friend, and you use their bathroom, and you get that uncomfortable feeling in the instant that you’re reaching out for somebody else’s hand-towel. It was like that.
I just figured it was time to do some laundry.
Then I went to the sink. Ran the tap ready to brush my teeth. There’s a large mirror behind the taps, opaque with shower-steam, and I realised I’d left the windows closed as I washed again.
Ran the flat of my palm in an arc across the glass. And for nearly thirty seconds, I didn’t know who the man was that was staring back at me from the other side of the mirror.
But as suddenly as the confusion arrived, it left again. Of course I knew who the guy was. He was me. That’s how mirrors work, I admonished myself. Must have slept funny again. I knew with certainty that was something that happened to me sometimes.
I brushed my teeth. I couldn’t seem to find my contact lenses, but there’s a pair of spare glasses in the cupboard under the sink, so I retrieved those, and put them on. Took another look at myself in the mirror. Laughed at my earlier foolishness. Moved to open a window.
And for a short time – no more than five minutes – I looked out of the window that I had opened.
An inoffensive garden: green, bordered, average. Near identical to the ones that stretched off to the left and right. Beyond the boundaries, streets and streets. A perfect, typical lattice of terraced streets. I could hear people out there somewhere, but couldn’t see anyone. A moment of wonder and surprise at how clean the pattern was.
Towel wrapped around my waist, I went back to the bedroom.
Once I was dressed, I picked up my phone, and underneath it, put there so I’d remember it, was one of those photo-print envelopes. In marker on the front, but not in my handwriting, it said “This is us”. I thumbed it open and slid the first few photos out. Each was a portrait of a different person – men, women, young, old, different cultures and ethnicities – but each with the same slightly off expression on their face. Lost. And the same lousy wallpaper behind them. I recognised it.
I ran down the stairs, taking the envelope with me, suddenly quite afraid. I burst into the living room, and there on the facing wall was the same wallpaper. I stood there, wondering what to make of it, but something itched me, made me decide to turn around.
On the wall that I’d had my back to, the same wallpaper, but here covered in thousands of words. Even from the middle of the room, it was clear that they were written in hundreds of different hands. Scrawls, script, bold line, nervous scrapes.
I read a few. What had seemed like chaos resolved itself into a sort of organisation. It was actually composed of single paragraphs, like a giant “goodbye” card put together by workmates, with each greeting a brief synopsis of a personality. Footprints of dozens of single lives – “I am a young woman who likes cats and video games”, “I HAVE BEEN RETIRED AND LIVING HERE ALONE FOR TEN YEARS”, “Please help, I very frightened”.
Each signed off with a name – forename and surname – and I quickly realised that every single one was familiar.
I spent an hour reading the wall. It painted a picture. Informed a ritual.
I don’t know how long this has been going on. How many people I had been before one of them had got enough of a sense of what was happening to take a photo, and write themselves down on the wall. But the person I am right now isn’t one to make waves, so I wrote a few words about myself – as much as I knew – and stepped back.
Later, with only the first part of the day gone by, I picked up the keys on the table by the door, and went outside.
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