Edward Sands woke up one morning to the sound of drilling. It seemed to be coming from the apartment either above him, next door or across the courtyard. He lay in bed for time contemplating; where the devil was it coming from. The whirring penetrated right through his skull, going effortlessly through the soft matter inside and out through the hard surface on the other side. He stared at the plain white ceiling above, blank and stark, though as he blinked he thought he could make out a perfectly round shadow of a circle directly above his head. He stared hard. The drilling intensified and the shadow circle multiplied into two. This was not normal.
Edward sat up in bed and considered. The drilling continued. The twin shadows had moved down from the ceiling and were now dancing about between the vines on the wallpaper directly opposite his bed. He blinked. They were still there. And so was the damned drilling.
He sighed, threw back the covers, slipped on his slippers and made his way to the bathroom. As he ran the water tap to brush his teeth and shave the drilling noise became muffled and turned to static, like a radio stuck between two channels. He looked in the mirror and thought he looked more tired than usual. His fair hair seemed to be taking on a darker hue. Was it dirty? He ran his hand through it and decided no. He squinted at his angular face and once blue eyes – now slightly graying – and frowned. Was that a strange blotch on his cheek? He moved his head closer to the mirror on the small cabinet and began inspecting his face up and down. No. It seemed to be the twin shadows prancing about on his face. He blinked and they disappeared. As did his face, admittedly. But at least the shadows had gone for a moment. Still half asleep, he blundered into the shower and turned it on. As the water splashed down onto the crown of his head, the drilling intensified into the sound of tiny hammers boring all over his scalp. He turned off the tap and looked up at the shower head. The low drilling hum resumed. He turned on the shower and again the hammers leapt back into full action. He quickly turned off the tap and hurried out of the bathroom.
He dressed in a daze and for the first time wondered, was the noise coming from inside his head? He looked out the front window of his small aparment and cocked his ear, trying to determine which direction it could be coming from. But with every direction he turned, the noise continued with a constant hum.
Perturbed and confused, he got into his car, as he did every morning, and made his way to work. As he went into the brightly lit open plan office, he nodded with a smile of recognition to the receptionist sitting in the entrance way. She ignored him. She often did, though he wondered if there was something unusual about the way she ignored him this morning. He sat at his desk, switched on his computer and looked about the office. He was early. Only a few people had arrived at the far end of the office. He raised his hand to wave good morning, but they didn’t see him. He stared at his monitor screen and saw the twin shadows dancing before him. He sat that way for quite some time before he felt a tap on the shoulder. He looked up and saw the receptionist looking down at him, steely faced, overly made up with savagely plucked eyebrows and dank brown hair scraped back into a French twist that looked like a protruding seam enclosing her head. Something like the folded seam on a Cornish pasty encasing all the hot meaty potatoe goodies inside. Her shimmering pinky lips were moving though he couldn’t hear what she was saying above the drilling. He winced and moved his head up closer to her. She looked away in annoyance, looked back at him, moved her lips again, rolled her eyes dramatically towards her thin black eyebrows and then clip clopped with her heavy heels, vibrating thunderously loud, back to her desk. From this distance he thought he could see her giving him a dirty look but he couldn’t be sure. He looked around him and saw that the office had filled up. People were all typing and talking away and he considered it odd that he hadn’t noticed up until now. He had been preoccupied with the drilling and the twin shadows that seemed to be hanging about him like a giant dark cloud. He looked at the young new starter who sat at the desk closest to him. The boy was deeply engrossed in some kind of chart printed onto a large sheet of paper. Edward coughed to get the boy’s attention. Nothing. He leaned forward and grinned in what he felt was a friendly way. Nothing. To which Edward leaned back in his swivel chair and started whistling. Nothing.
Except the whistling grated against the drilling and hurt his ears. Edward winced, held his ear and stopped whistling. He looked around him at the colleagues he saw every day and started to feel irritated by them. He couldn’t hear properly above the hum but he started to feel vibrations when they made large movements – such as when a hefty man across the room started laughing with his whole body, or the new starter pushed a desk stapler through a thick wad of papers, or when the receptionist slammed her desk phone down. The additional vibrations gave him a headache. He looked up at the blazing strip lights on the ceiling and thought he could hear the electricity buzzing inside the glass cylinder like a trapped wasp.
He looked around. No one seemed to be put out by this noise. He wondered if it was just him. Was he going mad? Did something happen while he was asleep? Did the world change overnight? Or did something happen to him? He tried to remember the events of yesterday. Woke up. Bathroom. Car. Work. Lunch. Work. Car. Home. Cooked dinner. Ate dinner. Bathroom. Bed. Nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinanry. It was just the same as every working day. And as every working day had been for several years. On Saturdays he did his laundry, went for a jog and then went to the grocery store. For lunch he liked to choose between one of several busy cafes and pubs near his street. Saturday afternoon was a good time to watch people going about their day, enjoying their lives. He had to be back home by 6pm though. Partly to get the dinner on in time for the Saturday night film on TV. And partly because it started to get too rowdy in the streets by then. It was less easy to just watch people without people watching back and complete strangers feeling the need to interrupt his solitude by asking him stupid or personal questions. Anyhow, most important however, was not to be late for the Saturday night film. It was the highlight of the week and a ritual he tended to religiously. On Sundays he went to visit his mother in her home. They read the papers together. Ate lunch. Drank tea. Had biscuits (gingernut or shortbread) or a slice of cake (madeira or fruit) – depending on which he had brought over. And then he drove home. It was very simple. And it was always the same. Last weekend had been the same. As had yesterday. Nothing unusual. Nothing out of the ordinary.
He looked up at the strip light and wondered if perhaps there was actually a wasp trapped inside. He leaned back in his swivel chair and couldn’t make out much aside from the glare of the light. He stood up, climbed onto his desk and peered at the light. The new starter was now looking up at him. The hefty man from across the room was looking up at him. He couldn’t be too sure with the drilling, but he felt that the other noises in the room had quietened down, there seemed to be less interference anyhow. The receptionist with the pearlised lips was sashaying back over towards him. Her frosty little mouth was moving exaggeratedly. She stood under him by his desk, gesticulating with her bony arms, her face contorted into a scowl. As he looked around, he realised most of his colleagues were all staring up at him. He slowly climbed back down onto his desk and mumbled that he had a headache, perhaps he would go out for a drink and some fresh air. The words oozed out as though he was speaking under water. He couldn’t hear them and hoped that they had all understood. The receptionist stepped back as he sheepishly picked up his jacket from the back of his chair and slowly walked out the office again, feeling all eyes burning into the back of his head.
He was most confused and now a little upset. This morning he had half thought he was still dreaming but the hostility from his work mates made it quite clear he was not. He trudged to the local corner shop and took a cola bottle from the buzzing refridgerator. He stuck his head inside the door looking to see whether there were wasps inside there too. He couldn’t see any. He sighed as he shut the door and plodded to the counter. The small man behind the cash till was speaking to him though he couldn’t hear the words. The man repeated slowly what might have been: Ahh yooo zeeek maan? Ahhh yooo seeek? Are you sick man?
Ah. Ah ha. No, no, I don’t think so. Edward tried to respond.
He handed over some cash but the till man shook his head, pushed the bottle into Edward’s hands and shooed him out the shop. Edward couldn’t tell whether this was an act of kindness or disgust, perhaps the man had been trying to get rid of him as quickly as possible.
Edward ambled further down the road a little way and then stopped by a bus stop. There was a low wall stood in full glare of the midday sun, so he sat down and began to drink from his bottle of sweet syrupy cola. It started fizzing and stinging, setting his teeth on edge. He clamped and unclamped his jaws, putting the bottle down on the ground. He wondered whether since going to sleep last night and waking up this morning, some strange conspiracy had been cast against him, he had been singled out for a government experiment and was now stuck in its midst. Or perhaps life had always been this way and he had only just now noticed. Something had shifted, that was for sure. Whether it was him, or the world, that was the major quandry. Whatever it was, it was strange and somewhat hellish. People kept walking past, oblivious to him and what he was thinking. They seemed to be having normal conversations with each other or smiling absentmindedly at nothing. He was sure they didn’t have constant drilling in their heads. He looked out at the road in front of him and suddenly felt an overwhelming loneliness.
He sat there for some time, watching people get on and off the bus, walking about, meeting friends, crossing the road, going about their day. He wasn’t sure how long he had been sitting there when he became aware of a small, rounded woman in a brightly coloured turban, beige raincoat and patent burgundy loafers. She was on the other end of the bus stop, standing in front of a stout, dark green leafy bush. Every now and then she would turn around and start shouting towards the bush. Obviously she was talking to someone, but Edward couldn’t see whom. Not wanting to stare, he allowed his eyes to glance sideways at the woman. She was looking ahead staring into the space in front of her. She turned and shouted at the bush again. Obviuously there must be someone there. Edward got up and tried to walk disinterestedly past her.
“Leave me alone!” the woman shouted so loudly he heard it clear as bells above the drilling.
He turned towards her but realised she had been shouting at the bush again, completely unaware of Edward being anywhere in her proximity. He continued walking away from her and then decided to loop back around the bush. He walked slowly and in a manner he hoped was inconspicuously.
“Go away now! I said you leave me alone!” The woman bellowed in the direction of the bush.
Edwards walked around the bush twice but he couldn’t see anyone hiding behind it or anywhere near it, apart from the woman. But it was clear, as far as she was concerned, she was talking to somone, that someone was real, and that someone would not leave her alone. As he tried to nonchalently walk past the woman a third time, there was still no flicker of acknowledgment from her and he felt this time he really had to keep walking, it would be peculiar behaviour not to.
And so he walked. He considered his morning: the drilling, the static, the receptionist, the co-workers, the vibrations, the muffled noises, the wasps, the shop man, the cola, the people walking, the bus, the turban woman, the shouting, the bush. He saw he was approaching his office and he considered it all the more still. He came to the office entrance, looked up at the door, looked at the road ahead, chuckled and kept walking.
Copyright 2018 Joon Haque. All rights reserved