A day in the Life
The previous evening’s rain had cleared and the morning air was cold and still. Anthony stood on the beach, alone as far as he was aware. Looking towards the sky he could still discern the shimmering stars through the dim light of a winter’s dawn. He had awoken this morning well before the time needed to walk to his place of work in the seed factory on the other side of town. Occasionally on his way there he would divert from the main road and take the old gravel road that ran along by the pebbled shore. He was always alone when this impulse overtook him. Normally, if he arose at his normal hour he would have company as the factory was the main employer in the area and being naturally reserved in his character he would never reveal his deeper thoughts or meditative type activities to but a few. Even then it was with a constant watchfulness to determine the level of real interest in what he was disclosing. He was long able to discern the difference between those who were interested and those who were just curious or even those who might wish to demean or belittle another’s experience of life just because it was different to theirs. So he had developed a humility that accepted everybody without judgment but also held most others at abeyance. He inwardly admired those who seemed to have no trouble in speaking their mind in such a fearless forthright fashion even in the face of ridicule or rejection. He didn’t really know if his reticence was a fear of disapproval or better judgment. Generally though his inner being was at peace although he often wondered how this came about in his life. It certainly wasn’t due to his foresight or intentions as through the years if his success was based on these arbitrary desires he would have floundered long ago. It was as if he had been guided, at times like a most reluctant child towards that which always turned out for the best and for this fortuitous guidance he would be forever grateful.
At a certain point along the pebbled road he took a little used path across a low-lying sand dune that led to the shore. When he awoke this morning it was as if he had been awake for hours. There was clarity in his mind and brightness in his eyes; he was relaxed but not at all sleepy. He had felt no discomfort when getting out of bed into the cold dark air. Yes he felt it, but it was as if he were just part of it all with no sense of separation. It was a good feeling that he wished he could retain forever. But then he thought if that were so he would have no appreciation of how wonderful this felt. Perhaps that was the purpose of pain in this world, so as to make us aware or appreciate the beauty of where we stood. It didn’t seem to matter what circumstance surrounded him, when this feeling occurred then little else mattered. He had not taken any breakfast as he somehow knew that this would diminish the experience.
The sounds of the sea shore now invaded his mind. He raised the collar of his coat and pulled down his knitted cap to meet it, as the cold breeze seemed to get more intense along the edge of the waters expanse. His breathing became a little heavier as his feet trundled across the soft-pebbled beach. He heard the lonely cry of a heron but couldn’t see it anywhere. The tide was full and perhaps on the point of turning judging by the drag of the gentle waves across the pebbles. He glanced to his left and saw some birds stretching their wings on a large boulder protruding from the sea some way off. In the dim light he couldn’t make out what kind they were. Here he stood for a while with no thought in his mind except to take in the scene before him with all its sensual beauty. He removed his cap so as to better feel the cool air on his head. The walk had made him warm again. He unzipped his coat and sat looking out to sea at the gigantic boulder with the birds. He closed his eyes for a few moments and listened to their cries, along with the breaking waves and the rolling pebbles. He took a deep breath and felt the cool air go deep within his lungs, his hands balancing his body against the cool stones. Opening his eyes he noticed some of the birds taking to flight against a brightening blue sky. He smelt the seaweed, its red hue lacing some of the sea froth on the edge of the water. A sign that summer was at an end.
He wasn’t sure just how long he was there when he suddenly became aware of the passing time. It jolted him out of his trance with the realisation that it was so much brighter. He quickly glanced at his watch and was relieved to see he still would be able to make it into work on time. He looked left and right checking the beach but he was alone. He knew that the special feeling had come to an end and that soon the day’s activities would pervade all of his consciousness. Before continuing his journey he stood for a moment for a last look out to sea. He found himself repeating the words “thank you” several times.
When he was younger he had always accepted the traditions of his parents without much question. They had taught him to always thank God and pray to the saints, the angles and the holy souls and never to give in to the temptation of the devil. So during his earlier years he just took on board the status quo, not really bothering to question anything. Luckily, he thought, he had never formed any hard held beliefs. They were just the environment that he found himself in. He wasn’t at all sure just when the transformation began but slowly over the next twenty years of his life his beliefs had been shattered one by one. Perhaps it was his willingness to consider any idea, concept or dogma as worthy of exploration that opened his mind to the ultimate illusions. After perhaps another twenty years thus tearing away the veils of false perceptions he now had no beliefs left. Not that he was bereft of opinion or analytical thought but rather that thoughts and concepts were merely to be weighted and considered. He often gave more importance to his own knowledge and intuition than to the teachers, priests, lawyers or indeed any so called experts. They seemed to always have an agenda. Be it to present a corporate view or as a paid representative of some authority. It was rear these days to come across an individual who would give his own pure thoughts on anything or to be even concerned if what they were presenting had anything to do with truth.
Anthony by now was nearing the main road to the factory again and for the moment he left behind the experience of the morning. There was no time to dally as he joined the queue of workers that were striated along the side of the road. There were few cars any more although the road was built in times of abundance when huge car parks were necessitated to accommodate the hundreds of vehicles that crowded the motorways. Some referred to them as the good times and although Anthony enjoyed the very same privileges he was never happy in the way these things were exploited and how people in general judged each other according to their acquisitions. Then there was the ever increasing need to produce more and more to maintain this profit producing regimen. It was as if the companies became greater, more essential than the purpose for which they were created. He wondered just how big and destructive they had to become before they’re utter futility would become obvious to the population at large. Perhaps those enjoying the opulence of working in the upper ranks of such organisations would not consider it futile as they looked to the future of their children and their careers. He wondered if these overgrown monsters would ever get to consume this elite as well. Although aware of all this Anthony’s faith was not subdued. He remembered the sound of the waves and the flight of the gulls. Perhaps in a more universal sense the purpose of these dark days of pain and desolation was to somehow awaken the appreciation of the beauty that lay all around us.
A fifty-foot grey, windowless wall loomed ahead and the road veered right towards a large gate through which the people filed through several turnstiles. A hush had descended now as one by one they filed into the open courtyard beyond. All that could be heard was the vague hum from working machinery inside the factory walls and the clicking noise from the turnstiles that counted the stream of workers. Anthony pulled a small credit card sized piece of plastic from his pocket as the turnstile gave a half turn locking him in position next to a clocking in device. He slid his card through the slot and the turnstile clicked loudly as it turned another half revolution allowing him to step forward into the inner courtyard. He greeted some of his colleagues as they waited for eight o’clock when a door would automatically slide open to allow them access to their respective workstations. It was all very military like, with everything geared for maximum efficiency and productivity if indeed minimum humanity. As soon as the doors slid open they made their way to their lockers where they donned their white protective clothing including a breathing filter to minimise any respiratory problems caused by the clouds of seed dust. It was especially dangerous as the genetically modified seeds were also impregnated with broad-spectrum pesticide. About ten years previous the government of the day had run a campaign to get everybody working in the agricultural business using these wonder seeds. They were touted as the wonder food of the future requiring little maintenance and promising high yields for the farming community. An info-war followed but the population at large had little chance of escape as highly financed lobbying groups bombarded the public with their agendas of power and profiting. Now, ten short years later, the lands were showing signs of failure, unable to sustain the intensive crop production. In the meantime the company had gained a strangle hold on most public leaders and laws had been implemented to allow only the use of these type of seeds to the detriment of most other natural types. Anthony often wondered how the public leaders could be cajoled into promoting this monstrous agenda when it was so obvious to his simple intelligence that the path they were on was so fraught with ruination. He also wondered if there was any escape for him. Somewhere he indeed had learned humility and he had ceased taking the high moral ground as he found himself depending, like so many others on this very organisation for his income and livelihood. This uneasy ambivalence was his constant companion, reminding him to accept his lot patiently. Nothing about this situation was right yet he had learned that for his own peace of mind he must walk the path he was given. It was, he thought, a bit like the child soldiers he had read about, somewhere in Africa. They had little choice in what the experience of life had laid out before them. He on the other hand had a life that was comfortable enough and he really had little to complain about. Sometimes when he prayed he felt as if he was standing on a high precipice. On one side he looked down on the most beautiful and wondrous vista full of the magic of life in it’s myriad of forms. On the other side he imagined there was a barren landscape with great human cruelty and desolate suffering. He could see the movement and development of both and somehow it was as if he was dwelling in both worlds at once. If he was drawn into either worlds and experienced their contrasting affects first hand then it was never too long before he once again stood on the precipice musing over the lessons of the day. But this made him feel ashamed when he thought of the gutsy way these children who had no chance of having this somewhat heady, privileged, if not totally soft way of life, dealt with their tribulations. Anyway today he was thankful and hoped that he had in some former life already had his initiation completed.
At around six thirty that evening he was glad to hear the alarm which signified the end of his shift. A similar regimen to the morning ensued except in reverse order. Once in the outer yard it was pleasant to hear the jostle of activity and the hum of voices and general banter of the workers. There was an air of contentment as the light of the evening sun stretched shadows across the pavement and the cool air had the promise of a dry walk home. Someone called him to join them as they filed through the gate but he declined saying to go ahead and he would catch up. He shuffled in the pockets of his coat and took out a phone and pretended to be sending a text message. He was looking for someone. Out of the side of his eye he saw the dark red coat he was looking for. Leaning against the wall he now gave sufficient time for that group to get to the other side of the gate. He then made his way through the gate himself and began his journey homeward. Nodding to a few acquaintances he walked alone keeping a subtle note of the familiar shape of the woman in the red coat. Her name was Geraldine and she lived with her husband and her two children on the other side of the hill where his own house was situated. She was walking with two friends. She never looked back directly but on at least one occasion he observed her glancing to one side just that bit further than was warranted. He guessed that like himself she was keeping a subtle eye on his whereabouts. He walked slowly so as not to catch up with her group too soon. A little further on the road divided and Geraldine would take the sea road. Further on, the road would divide again where they both would part to their respective homes.
About three years previously Geraldine started to work at the factory. One wintry evening they had accompanied each other on the way home. He had asked her about her boys and how she liked working in the factory. There was nothing unusual about the conversation but right from the start she was attracted by the serenity in the sound of his voice. He had a distance about him that didn’t overwhelm her or make her feel pressured in any way. His gaze seemed sometimes to be fixed on some distant point or perhaps he was digesting some inner thoughts. Then he would turn and gaze at her and his eyes would smile. And so it was that their friendship began. Sometimes weeks would go by before they would meet but then they had all the more to talk about. Something deeper was happening that both had cognisance of. Though some would say that their stories were ordinary and banal somehow their deepest values, their philosophies, their appreciation and acceptance of life’s continuous unfolding dramas resonated deeply within both..
As expected Geraldine said goodbyes to her companions at the sea road cross and walked briskly down the road. Anthony wasn’t far behind. He didn’t call out or run after her. She stopped and turned to face him. Their gaze now openly engaged, their eyes betraying an inner smile of greeting. Anthony quickened his step to join her. She turned and they began to walk together. The evening though with clear skies had a crisp and cool feel to it. They both kept their hands in their pockets.
“I had an early start this morning. I must have spent a half an hour down on the shore before work. It was unusual.”
“I wish I had time to do that – by the time I get the boys out to school I barely make it on time for work, but this is nice. Mum has collected them this evening and Jim will collect them later. Where did you go exactly?
The pace had slowed to a more casual stroll.
“I can show you if you like – we could detour by the shore.”
“That would be nice”
They hadn’t done this before and he glanced at her side face and noted her tone of voice. Her demeanour was calm and relaxed and more at ease than usual. That’s the way he always wished her to be, happy and at ease but he found himself at times searching her eyes for signs of approval or rejection at his presence or the things he said or did. He noted each time she touched his arm with her hand or when she bumped against him as they walked. He hoped she didn’t notice his scrutiny for that would surely upset the confidence that they both had developed in each other’s company.
They took the pathway to the shore and for the while walked in silence. Then he began to tell her of his experience that morning. He felt a little awkward and wished he could find the words to express the experience more adequately. At the same time he trusted her to listen without judgment. There was a gentle sound of the lapping water. There was no song from the birds. Geraldine stopped walking and sat down on the pebble beach. Anthony sat beside her with a comfortable space between them. He realised fully that Geraldine loved her family very much and wished that she never would feel that he was a threat to that life. Sometimes he could detect loneliness in her voice as if some part of her was subdued, unable to give expression to an inner weeping. There were moments when he would catch her lowered gaze or when she looked at something out to sea. At these times he would take the opportunity to look straight at her face and sense a wave of feeling course through his shoulder blades and into his chest, albeit for a second or two. He hoped she didn’t notice.
“It’s lovely here” she said “but I better be getting on my way in a minutes or so – you stay for a while if you like”.
“Just for a while so – I really enjoyed this evening.”
She turned to him and smiled.
“Thanks for that Anthony” she said and leaned over and left her cheek for a moment against his, her lips whispering the hint of a kiss, before rising to her feet and brushing down her coat and jeans from invisible debris.
“I enjoyed this evening too”
He sat there motionless watching her walk away. He continued to look after her until she reached the track crossing the dunes to the road. She turned to look back and they both raised their hands in a small waved. He thought she was smiling.
After a while he got up and started homeward. The previously calm sea had changed and become a little more agitated. The tide was turning. Anthony had a perfect day. The thought ran through his head that in truth it was no different from any other day but somehow a profound peace had found him and touched his heart. It was a wonderful feeling as if a load had been lifted from his shoulders allowing him for the first time to straighten his posture and see his world from other than the few feet in front of what at times seemed like a stooped back and head.
He stood in the driveway of his house for a few minutes. The trees and shrubbery that normally rustled a never ending hymn, stood silent and motionless in the dusk. There was a death like emptiness in that silence that seemed to follow him through the hall and into the kitchen. Filling the kettle with water and turning on the radio only served to accentuate the feeling of void. There was an interview on the radio too banal and egocentric to have on, even as a background noise, so he switched it off and just busied himself setting a small fire. He wasn’t hungry. Later he sat in front of the fire deep in the silence of the evening. It was dark now and the flickering flames danced on the walls of his living room. There was just the faintest glow of the evening light through the window. When his parents were alive there was an “aliveness” about the house even when they were away on their regular trips to Sligo. It was as if their spirits and the spirit of the house danced in this trip of life even when they were apart. Last year on a beautiful summer’s weekend he had set upon a task of reviving this life force, this vibration. He had tidied the garden, cleaned the windows, cut the lawn, but the emptiness remained.
Beside him on the sofa lay a loaded shotgun pointing away from him towards the wall. He stroked the trigger guard and the wooden engravings with his hand, aware of the smooth sensation on his fingertips, his wrist resting on its edge. He mused over its power of lifdeath. Lifting the gun he turned the muzzle around and tucked it under his chin and there he sat wondering how close to the portal of death one can wander before it snatches it’s pray from whatever this thing is we call life. His thumb stroked the trigger. Suddenly he was startled when a coal fell from the fire.