Fred is an arsonist—and, Fred is not an arsonist. Let me explain: Fred has thought of fire, its power and grace, for a long time. Perhaps since he was a child. He often watched fires, mesmerized ... [+]
72 percent of adults never leave their hometown. Some don't recognize it as a choice. Some don't have the means. Some stay to take care of family.
I, on the other hand, live in a world where I don't need to leave. In this world, I can have everything I want and stay in one place.
My venture into this world began when the pandemic hit and I started to work from home full-time. I lived alone with my cat on the 3rd floor of a complex. The studio was tiny. I could roll out of bed, take two steps to the "kitchen" to make coffee, and take another two steps into the "office" to start the work day.
The only respite from my sort of sedentary life was the two six foot windows that overlooked a grassy courtyard with neatly lined trees, manicured flowerbeds below, and two narrow concrete paths traversing each direction. It cut straight through the complex, connecting the city's neighborhoods.
Every day I'd force myself to walk through it. Like a stagnant reservoir, I needed movement to prevent decay. But at some point I did something different. Taking my cat's lead, I stayed home and people watched. Each day on my lunch break, I'd turn my armchair 90 degrees, drift my eyes away from my screen, and gaze into the greenery and the people in motion below me.
There was a constant flow of people I'd never seen before. No one ever stopped, and anyone chatting was on the phone. People came and went, like a persistent leaky faucet that dripped water into a sink and down the drain into the ocean. It felt transitory because it was. Everyone was coming just to go somewhere else. If they were physically here, they were mentally somewhere else. It did cut through the neighborhood.
The more I watched, the more I noticed the details as they walked by. I'd sense their dispositions. I'd choose walkers and create a backstory for them, typically with an occupation or a lover. As they came and went, their story would start and finish, like a show with no recurring cast.
There was one recurring character, though: the delivery man.
I only recently noticed him, as I'd typically be in the office. I'd only pay as much attention to him as my cat did. His eyes followed the delivery man's path. Each day at 2 o'clock, the man would roll a cart to apartments at the ground level. It was a big cart with maybe four or five large paper bags and a black suitcase. He'd walk over with a smug disposition like he was happily about to deliver bad news. He'd plop the paper bags at each apartment and pick up his speed as the cart became lighter and lighter. When the job was done, he'd roll off scene, only to come back the same time the next day.
After seeing this exact same scene day after day, I began to wonder what he was delivering.
2. The dream
I didn't sleep well. My cat woke me up in the middle of the night. He'd scratch the furniture, deliver what can only be perceived as frantic "meow," then sprint in a circle around my room, touching every piece of furniture he could get his paws on. I joked that he's more active at night than I am during the day.
In my dreams, there was the delivery man. I dreamed of his powder blue vest, navy cap, and large rolling cart delivering items to the apartments below me. I dreamed the courtyard was drained empty of the walking commuters, and I floated outside my window, soaring above the delivery man to get a bird's-eye view of what he was delivering. In the dead of night, I hovered over him as he plopped every paper bag one by one at each doorstep.
At his last stop in the courtyard, the apartment door handle turned slowly and the door creaked open. The night was dark, but the figure who opened the door was darker, like a shadow. The delivery man reached out for his last delivery, the black suitcase. He lifted it, and handed it through the slightly opened door. Like a wilted plant absorbing light, the shadow enveloped the suitcase and masked it unto its shape. Like a black hole that devours the energy and mass surrounding it, my gravity was consumed by the shadow's figure. To prevent my imminent death, I reached out to grab the delivery man, but he was gone.
3. The motionless
After three months of working from home, I realized I'd never seen anyone else who lived here. I had assumed the people I saw in the courtyard lived here, but I never, with my own eyes, saw anyone enter or leave their apartment.
Did any one of people dripping in and draining out the courtyard ever stop moving and enter their homes? To find the answer, I obsessively watched people.
In the morning I tracked a nervous woman, a recent widow, or so I conjured. She had tucked a folder in her left arm which contained her late husband's will. In her right hand, she swiveled her keys between her index finger and her thumb. Aha! A resident! But she never stopped. She proceeded carefully through the courtyard.
That afternoon, an urgent man who was just offered a partner position at his law firm bolted 100 feet down the concrete courtyard path then darted right towards a ground level apartment. He reached into his pocket to grab his keys, but instead pulled out a receipt, looked at it, then turned right out the way he came as if to decline the position he was just offered.
Then came the delivery man. He was making his first stop at apartment one. The blinds were drawn and the lights were off. Surely no one was home. Like every preceding day, the delivery man dropped off the large paper bag and adjusted himself for his next stop. Despite the empty facade, the door to apartment one slowly creaked open just enough for a small hand and then a forearm to sneak out of the darkness. It grabbed the paper bag, then swiftly pulled it back inside.
The delivery man dropped off the paper bags one by one, and forearms of all shapes and sizes reached out to grab their precious delivery. When the delivery man dropped off the last delivery, the black suitcase, there was no creaking door. There was no forearm.
I looked to my cat, who was on his side playing with a ball. He hadn't left my apartment since I got him from the shelter. His unchanging environment and his imaginary world kept him happy.
I looked back outside, to see the black suitcase unmoved. I had to know what was inside. My ambition drove me out of my apartment and into the courtyard. The air was eerily still, only gently flowing with the sea of walking commuters. Through the stream of people and with my whole consciousness fixated on the suitcase, I reached out, opened the zipper, and peeked inside.
4. (Don't) Stay home
Did you know that all living things move? Even the simplest organisms move, albeit slowly. That fact disturbs me because I haven't moved in weeks.
Those packages, they were filled with items needed to live. My neighbors do live there. They never leave. The delivery man now comes to my apartment and I've become sedentary like them. The lack of reason to leave keeps me grounded in my armchair, fantasizing about the made up lives of walking commuters below me.
My world is now a screen, a window into the lives of those who move for those who don't. That screen, which became impenetrable the day I decided to never leave home, formed a rift between those who move to experience the world firsthand and those who stay home to have the world delivered to them.