July 5, 2019

Fell in fiction

This life is fiction, in fact.

I’m not exactly certain when I began to understand this. I’m not exactly certain which ethereal song, movie or book was the last drop that spilled my mind into fiction.

But now, my days have a hazy, story-like aura to them.

I feel like as though what I see around me, and the people I interact with, are a part of an elaborate set that has been following me all my life.

I relish this feeling. It goes well with one of few beliefs I have about life: people are acting whether they like it or not.

People are actors, whether they are at the store, in a job interview, in school, or riding the bus. They assume roles, based on how they think they should act, how they want to act, and how they are forced to act. Not that this acting makes people not themselves. Opposite in fact. It makes them who they are, because they start committing harder to roles they either relate most to, or are required to play more often.

So, I’ve taken it upon myself to always remember that I am an actor, specifically, the protagonist of a fictional story.

This feeling gives a weightlessness to my decisions. No matter what I do, I simply exist as part of a narrative. Making decisions is as easy as turning a page, reading the next chapter. I am simply doing what is asked of me, reacting to the written words.

And in this setting, every song I listen to matches my mood perfectly. Each meal is succulent. Each book I read is significant. Each glance is reciprocated.

And when I simply stop and observe what is going on around me, the moments are always lighthearted: a young girl’s yells match the rhythm of the cobblestones under her scooter, an old couple laugh at children’s chalk drawings on the ground, a dog can’t stop playing with the sprinkler, a busker bows to the passerby dropping change in his guitar case.

The colors of the story are more much more vivid as well. The grass is greener on this side. The water is turquoise, when it shouldn’t be. The bricks of old buildings are cherry red, as though they are brand new.

And each conversation I have with another actor is purposeful to the rest of the story:

“I can’t believe you are still reading this book.”

I looked up. It took me a second to step out of the novel, but I recognized her in an instant.

“I stopped after the 30 pages.” she continued, adding ‘the’ where it wasn’t necessary. English wasn’t her first language.

“How so?” I said, smiling, playing the part.

“It was so slow,” she said.

“That’s too bad. It gets very good on the 31st.”

And when I’m not speaking to other characters, my human imagination can run wild in this romantic state of mind, coming up what next chapters could be like:

I’d hear a song playing in a cafe, and I’d decide to ask the woman inside what the band is, and she’d tell me, and I’d fall in love with the album, and then I’d depart from my current life and learn how to make music, because I’d want to create the same kind of dreamy feeling that I had been searching for. I would never tour the world, but I’d be able to make enough money to get by.

Or I’d stop writing, return home, get a stress-free job washing windows, and for the next 63 years of my life being content with my simple way of living, while having plenty of time to spend with my family.

Or I’d be reading along the river, and she’d recognize me. We’d start talking, and we’d have to speak using two different languages, because she doesn’t know English well, and I only know a fraction of her native tongue. But even though our shared words would be from two different jigsaw puzzles, we’d understand each other. After a wonderful marathon of a conversation, she’d convince me to move into her tiny, old, charming flat in the city I’m visiting, and we’d spend days listening to music, and writing short stories, while we support ourselves doing odd jobs.

Or I’d become a monk.

And while those chapters are still possible, the current one has me acting as a writer, making this story as I place my surrounding haze into words. The words are coming with ease, and I begin writing about what happened a few days earlier:

July 1st

I’ve been here for a few weeks. The city is calm, and I’d gotten used to people walking slowly along the winding Vistula. The river bends around Wawel Castle, a cherry red structure that isn’t glamorous, but confident. The building knows it belongs in its place, giving calm to the surrounding area, exactly as it did 400 years ago. The caste reminds people of its presence every hour, when the tower bell chimes.

I was about to cross the bridge over the river. Right before the bridge was a bus stop.

And let me tell you, I’ve always liked to make eye contact with people on buses. You can’t speak to the person behind the window, only look, as you acknowledge your shared second of time together.

And sometimes, a second is all you need.

As the bus came to a stop, my habit made me look at the passengers on board.

She was one of them, of course. She was looking at me through her glasses.

Our curiosity led us to a long, and comfortable stare. We were separated by a bus window, but really, there was no space between us.

Time returned to normal once I looked away, having to avoid bumping into oncoming actors walking in my direction. I stepped onto the bridge, moving past the bus that was fixed in traffic.

Letting the aftertaste of a reciprocated glance linger in my mind, I was trying to imagine what she was like, hoping she lived in fiction the way I was. I wondered where she was going, wondered if she was calm, wondered what music she listened to, wondered if she’d have a similar sense of humour. I was writing the next chapter in my head, drifting deeper into fiction.

I looked right, and saw the river bending away from me into the sun. The water was absolutely still. I kept walking forward.

Then, as though giving me a sign, the tower bell began to chime. The sound directed my gaze left, toward the castle.

And as I did so, the bus pulled up right in front of me.

The bus driver knew his role. He stopped exactly where he needed to, because her eyes locked with mine again.

And here is a human moment.

We both laughed.

I cannot explain why, but we laughed.

And as long as the bus stood still, we kept smiling.

We had exposed ourselves to each other. She lived in fiction, too. And as the bus drove away, I’ve never felt lighter.

This life is fiction, in fact.

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