One morning J. woke up at seven as usual without any knowledge of what that day had in store for him. After finishing his morning duties, he had a simple breakfast, checked his necktie several times in the mirror and stepped out. The office was just around the corner of where he lived. He has been working there for the past 17 years in the same position, doing the same paperwork day in and day out. His father worked in that same firm, sat in that same chair, in which he sits now, before passing away prematurely one April morning. J. stepped into his father’s chair. The next April his mother was gone too. J. was alone for the first time.
At first he did not care much for the job. He worked just because it was the only work he had, it was the only thing he knew how to do. In fact he was considerably good in his work as he grew up watching his father do the same for all his life. J. was so good that he would finish his day’s work before noon. The monotony gave him swiftness and also boredom. In the afternoons while the others in the bank still ploughed their way through files J. would sit in front of a clean desk not knowing what to do. That’s when he started reminiscing.
He went back to the days he spent with his father and mother. He started remembering the dinner table conversations, the early morning silence in which the household worked on its own, each of its members working separately in silence but to a common end, taking care of each other. The white cheeks of his father as he lay in the deathbed. The pat on his back by father, which was his usual way of greeting someone, he was not a man for handshakes. The image of his father with his spectacles hanging low on his nose while reading a book or peering into the files. The one year of confusion following father’s death in which mother lost her mind eventually. As he started to dwell on things of this sort he realised that he was becoming more and more gloomy. He almost did not recognise himself as he looked into the mirror to adjust his necktie. He decided that he would increase his work range, club his department with another and do the work of that too. In this way he busied himself with more and more files and gradually these reminiscences stopped. He got a promotion, got a bigger office and a heftier sum as salary. He completely remodeled his house, leaving no trace of the past, got a car, which he drived himself to the town every weekend where he would watch a movie, do some shopping, treat himself to a grand dinner and return home for the week that waited ahead. However today this routine was to change.
After having completed his regular tasks it being a Saturday he returned home early and took his car to go into town. He went to the marketplace first, bought grocery that would sustain him for the next week, gave into the temptation of eating an ice-cream while buying two large packs of it for later refrigeration. He next went to the beach, sat looking at the repeating waves till sundown, finished dinner at a fancy restaurant. Then he took a decisive action.
There was an old abandoned cinema hall in the darker, dirtier parts of the town. No new films released in the theatre, the local gossip was that adult horror films with a kinkier flavour were played there occasionally. J. thought he could do with a kinky ghost movie right now. He parked his car outside and got himself a ticket from the aged person at the box office and stepped into the theatre.
It was darker inside. He groped his way and found a seat. The screen remained blank for several minutes during which time he looked around. One or two bats, owls or such creatures flew from one side to another. As he began to see more clearly he saw that he was the only person in the hall. Although it was small with very limited seating capacity he found himself a bit frightened to be alone in his seat in the dark with bats and owls. He thought of getting up and going. He realised his back was trembling against the chair. He used to sit up straight in his chair back at the office, never has he stooped, he felt sure of himself in that office chair. He stood up to go at which moment the screen flickered into life.
White to blue to red to green to white. An illusion of colours. He saw a boy riding a bicycle. Someone was holding the bicycle from behind, an older person. The older person took his hands off the back of the bicycle, the young boy turned around and was bewildered for a moment at having found his father not holding on, he knew he was going to fall, yet his legs pedalled continuously, in his fear he held onto the handlebars tightly and realised that he was riding the bicycle all by himself. He laughed, gesticulating at his father. His father smiled approvingly. The sun was blinding, its light, orange, yellow, white. White. The screen went plain again.
J. sat rooted to the chair. His back was straight. His legs firm on the ground, hands by his side. Tears rolled down his cheeks. He couldn’t understand what was happening within him. At some moment during the film he realised that he was watching himself. He is that younger boy. The one who taught him to ride the bicycle is his father. This happened for real in his life. This film is like a projection of an episode from his life. He got up and quickly went out to the box office. He went to the old man who was the only person other than himself in that dilapidated cinema hall. He tried to explain to him what he saw. He said that it was like someone filmed everything with a camera on the evening he learned to ride the bicycle. He asked the old man how he came by that film. All that the old man did was smile with a nod of his head. J. thought maybe the old man did not understand him or maybe he was deaf. But he took another glance at him and something within him changed suddenly. He thought the old man understood him very well and that he understood the old man very well too. Some kind of invisible thread linked both their minds.
J. sat the whole week in his office puzzling over the incidents of last Saturday. He couldn’t bring himself to give a meaning to it at all. But that old man’s smile conveyed something to him. Something that he understood very well. Something that he once remembered and long forgot. He came back to the same cinema hall next Saturday. Just like last week the old man was alone in the theatre. J. realised speaking to him would not be of any use. He bought a ticket and went in. Empty hall. Bats flew. The screen flickered. This happened week after week. After a point J. didn’t wait until Saturday to come there, he came whenever it was possible. Eventually he made it so that it was possible for him to come whenever.
The evening walk from school to home, the chilled milk bottle with water droplets on it, the trembling sweat on his mother’s nose tip. Rain falling on the teak tree that stood in front of their old house. His bedroom shelf in that old house where he hid a wristwatch that got broken while playing football with the boys. Left leg of the girl showing its reddish pink flesh, the first time he saw blood. Early morning when his grandparents woke him up from sleep to say goodbye. The mark on the wall where he used to aim the arrow with his toy bow. The song in that foreign language which played every morning at six on the radio. The day he almost swallowed a coin. The texture of the dust on the window sills. The afternoon he saw the dogs fight. The bathroom that smelled of soap.
Hours, months and years of memories. He lived them all again moment by moment. One day the screen went plain and did not light up ever again. J. was confused and scared. He started to run to the old man at the box office. But he couldn’t do so. He felt his legs weak and his pulse racing. He accidentally caught his reflection on a glass nearby. He couldn’t recognise himself for a moment. But it was he. It was his own eyes, sunken. The nose, a big blob hanging. Mouth, very much like a straight line. Wrinkles like the roots of a tree, all over his face. The skin on his neck was dangling. He creeped up to the old man and looked questioningly at him.
The old man said, ” You have been visiting your past in every moment of the present. Only if you had lived in your present will there be something as the past in the future. But you were only in the past and have failed to create new memories. The film roll has run its length. There is no new footage to see.” The old man let out a long breath. “It’s time to leave now.”
J. walked back to the screen incredulously. He clutched on to his seat. He hoped to see something on the screen. He couldn’t accept that the film was over. He wanted it to continue, he wanted to continue watching. The screen flickered. J. sat up delighted. The screen began to come to life. He pressed the sides of the chair tightly. Colours mixed and unmixed on the screen. Then he saw himself on the screen watching something. He couldn’t discern what it was he was watching on the screen. But he clearly saw himself sitting on a chair watching something. Long hours passed, the image of him on the chair was static on the screen, it was almost like a painting on the wall. He couldn’t sit anymore staring at that immovable image. He walked slowly back to the box office. The old man was not there. He got into the office and sat on the old man’s chair. He saw a file in front of him with tickets in it. He sat straight with his back pressed flat on the chair. His legs firm on the ground. Arms by the side. He felt home.