There is a quotation somewhere at the back of Tallow’s mind. He remembers it from a book, he remembers the large, gold letters that glimmered in the sun when he could still sit by windows. But he doesn’t remember the words, he doesn’t remember much these days. Tallow thinks they spoke of ‘walking’ and ‘stooping’ and ‘never giving up’ — or something of such sort.
The memory of it is very inspiring nevertheless. Tallow tries to remember life before the rider brought him here. He thinks the rider was a woman. He remembers her perfume and breasts. Or maybe he was a man with aftershave and a flat chest. Or a man with breasts. Or a woman with a flat chest. The more Tallow tries to remember, the less he’s sure.
Maybe it’s my genes, he thinks — the way he withdraws like this. He has the entire room to himself and he tucks himself away in the corner away from the window! But what’s the use? he thinks, watching light come and go just reminded him that living is another way of dying.
The meal he’s ordered is passed through the door. Tallow doesn’t remember ordering it and doesn’t have the energy or interest to fetch it. He watches it getting cold, watches the steam taunt and whisper to him, and then disappear into the shadows of the room.
Tallow wants to relieve himself, but he fears the grimy toilet. It looks like it’s seen better days. He thinks of getting up, imagines gorging himself on the cold meal, imagining its aromas, its succulence and the way it feels as he swallows; he imagines himself sitting on the toilet, trousers around his ankles, afterwards. He imagines everything but does nothing. Thoughts never translated into action anymore. They just hung there then faded. At one time he would think, move your arm, and his arm would move, or jump on the spot, and he would jump for hours. No such thing happened now. He’ll probably soil himself and go hungry again.
Another thought or feeling. Tallow grabs it, takes it like a malleable ball and pushes his fingers into it, turning and examining it in his mind. But the ball curls up tighter and shifts about each time so he lets it go. Whether they came from the heart or the mind, such things were just tricks; meaningless babble disguised as revelations, that proffered insight into his condition before dispersing back into thin air.
Tallow has a game he likes to play. It helps when he can’t sleep. He thinks of random words — although he questions whether anything is really random. He challenges himself to think of lovely things with them, he makes up stories, with different characters who become his friends. He thinks of a green meadow with fresh mountain air and pretty flowers — and then it’s there in his mind — of a fresh lake below it, for he’s heard such things are very nice.
Disappointment, Tallow thinks, is the foundation of everything. It is the firm ground upon which we crawl. Once you become disappointed with everything you hear and see and touch and smell and taste, there is nowhere else to go but forward, upward, diagonally into the air. You just spread your wings and fly — it’s just a matter of knowing how. And why.
A singer stands behind the door, Tallow can’t see her face but imagines it must be as beautiful as her voice. She tries to rouse him with some popular music from his youth. To his surprise, his foot beats along without him thinking. Tallow wishes he can remember the words, and thinks they have something to do with ‘burning houses’ or ‘flowing rivers’. Or both. Or neither.
They told him when he came that he was a candidate for change, ripe for it they said, practically bursting to emerge, any day soon, things will be different, they said, and he’ll live an ordinary life again — whatever that was.
They had stuck a disc onto his chest. They didn’t mention what it measured. But when the levels lowered enough, they’ll fetch him, they said. But it hasn’t changed. And they didn’t come. Perhaps its broken, he thinks, perhaps I’m broken. Or maybe his life has already begun again, and he doesn’t remember. They said the door was unlocked and he could leave at anytime, but he doesn’t feel like opening it.
Tallow thinks of some more words now, thinks of being high above in a city, the sun is warm on his skin, he’s sitting on something; somebody releases these things, he can’t remember what they’re called, but they flap and fly and sing into the air.