Craig had been acutely aware of them his whole life. Who they were wasn’t easy to define.
They were everyone.
They were everywhere.
They’d persecuted him for as long as he could remember. When something bad happened to him they were involved. And when something good happened they were there too, lurking in the shadows, intent on ruining the moment any way they could.
They’d always hated him – even at school. They’d mocked him, and ostracised him. They’d called him a loner and a weirdo. They’d excluded him from their parties. And even when they hadn’t, they’d treated him like a bad smell. Even then they could see that he didn’t want to be one of them.
At university, it was always he who asked the hard questions. It was always he raising his hand to point out the flaws in any given theory or school of thought. They hated him for that too. He was too clever for their liking. In their eyes he had pretensions above his station. It had come as no surprise to any of them that he chose not to follow the tried and true course of finding a woman, and spawning.
If the true objective of life is procreation, as biology suggests, then he’d signally failed at life. Among living organisms, he was the least likely to ever reproduce.
Love had no allure for him. In fact, neither did status or money, for Craig was driven by something greater. He wanted to ask the great questions of his age, and interrogate the great minds of his generation. He didn’t simply want to succeed in the conventional sense, or engage in the same small struggles for material wealth and recognition that they did. He wanted to make a contribution to history, and live a life of real significance. He wanted to outshine them for all eternity.
And so he became a writer. And though he was just a humble journalist, he hoped that one day the universe would reward his efforts. One day being an outsider would pay off. One day the path less travelled would take him to a place of wonder.
If those efforts weren’t appreciated yet it was only because they didn’t like it. Given the choice, they would always opt for the status quo. They would always take the path of least resistance, the thoughtless path, the path that confirmed their vacuous views of life. To them, he was a threat, as was anything and anyone that tried to transcend the ordinary. Little wonder they were always phoning his editor to slag him off, for he could write nothing that did not raise their ire, nothing that did not offend their common sensibility, nothing that did not cause them to erupt in hot fits of outrage.
They, Craig came to realise, were merely sheep, merely lemmings – in hopeless denial of reality. While he was engaged in the service of the truth, they were merely mindless automatons shuffling to a dirge, living meaningless lives of mental slavery.
Worse still, they were always getting in the way. At every twist and turn in the road of life, they were there, ruining everything for him. When he got to his train in the mornings, they were in front of him, taking up all the seats. And when it was raining, they crowded him on all sides, brushing him with their umbrellas. Sometimes they would soak him from head to foot as they drove past by the busload.
In a world of mediocrity, they were in their element. While he flopped around like a fish on the shore, they thrived like monsters of the deep. They may have been stupid and ignorant and dull, but this world was made for them. One of them would inevitably get the promotion that had eluded him for years. One of them would inevitably get the winning ticket, or that unexpected windfall, or be lauded employee of the month. They blissfully did exactly what was expected of them, unaware of his travails, and his dreams, and the extraordinary vision he had to offer the world.
He turned around to behold the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her teeth weren’t straight, and she had freckles in all the wrong places, but there was a light in her that blinded him on the spot, even though she was one of them.
“You dropped this,” she smiled, holding his train pass.
“Er, thank you.”
“What’s your name?” he asked awkwardly.
Her name was Cheryl. She lived in his apartment block, on the floor below him. She was also on her way to the city. And she hadn’t seen Pirates of the Caribbean 2 yet either.
A year later they were married.
They honeymooned in Bali, bought a small apartment in Ashfield, and light flooded into his life the way dawn floods into a dark, damp cave. She taught him to cook rhubarb. She educated him in Feng Shui. They cuddled up to watch Breaking Bad every Thursday. They made sweet love every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday.
And then one day, cancer took her. And in his inconsolable grief, they consoled him.
“I’m so sorry,” his landlady hugged him.
“We’re here for you, mate,” his editor told him.
And in an instant, he understood that they were doing everything they could to help him. They were paying his salary. They were baking his bread. They were growing his food, and distributing it to the supermarket down the road. In fact, they had built the road, and they had even built the supermarket. They were impossibly kind to him. They were generous beyond all reckoning. In fact, all his life they had doing things for him that he’d never even noticed.
And for the first time he could see that he’d been one of them all along.
© Copyright Ron Lawrence Anderson