It was a sort of way station. Is that what it was? It was a type of warehousing unit? No perhaps not. It was a place beyond the edges of the metropolis where the poor and downtrodden went. It’s complicated, nuanced. Why? Because the poor and the downtrodden are not all secretly good and just down on their luck. Some of them practice malevolence as a matter of course. Most do not. Most are too sensitive for the world that holds ambition on the eye level shelves. And the people that work with them are not all one way either. Most of those are also an honorable sort at the end of the day. Some, well some were not so great. It was found that their egos are often only hidden, having acquired the guise of humility. No, the world was not what it seemed, tenses aside. I used to go to shift at that place and many others. They had me for, well if not a mark, then something, because I had a sign on my head that said, I’ll do it, whatever it is. Just ask. I am not afraid. If it all sounds a bit cryptic it’s not. It’s just the way it is. Many of the workers were craven. I was not.
One time I walked in there and they asked me to go up to the top floors that led to a roof. A guy had gotten access to it, and was going to kill himself. The police had dropped him off and the mental health team was nowhere in sight. People can take a long time to get to the places at the edges of cities if they don’t really want to go there. I was his last hope right then, or so they told me. I went on up there, and I had this weird thing, or lack of a thing. Though they were full of cowardice and excuses every time, it was not that I had valor. No, I just lacked the some inner mechanism or meter that told other people to stop. Maybe it was a lack of self-preservation. Maybe I was secretly like those I helped. I never knew. There is a try, but not really such a thing as objectiveness. In any event, up I went.
He was eastern European, which is neither good nor bad. I only mention it because that is what he was. In fact, though he was in distress, there was something about him that I liked. It was apparent that he was a good man, maybe better than good somehow, that had found himself in a difficult situation. I could see he was serious about the suicide part also. There were a few reasons for that. He wasn’t making any dramatic shows, threats, or the like. He was just going to do it. Now, he was not a small guy, but the windows were small, and he needed some time to get himself out onto the roof. We could see then the inside of his room from where we were. He had, just by chance, and I hadn’t really seen that before, and mind you, you can’t write this as they say…acquired myriad books. There wasn’t much else such as empty pill bottles or a knife or things like in stories or movies. When I tell these things to people they listen out of politeness but don’t really believe it. The funny thing is that it is true. Truer than true if such a thing could be. So there we were. Cheap aged industrial grade lights with metal nets around them shining down here and there. Pale yellow glows. Something always lurid everywhere. Everything always as if receiving a C or C+ mark there. Hot summer night as they say. Verdant thickets down summits around there. A place where the urban has lost track and verve against the grand rural landscape. At first he was quiet, so I spoke.
The police dropped you off?
Beautiful people, he cried, I love them and only wish the best for them. Really good guys.
Good on them, then.
I don’t know you.
Then he said, in a slightly left-handed way way, I thought you were an Indian. I saw you around the hallways.
I am going to jump off of here soon. But that is a beautiful little town across the way.
And it was. And we looked at it. The town was named after a place in the Netherlands. It had old roads, small but character laden and rugged dwellings, a nice one story library that you could not commit suicide off of, and even a few places with horses.
You like to read books…
I couldn’t find anything in the books I liked. You don’t seem like an Indian.
Listen, if you come in, we can find some new books, or get something to eat, or smoke. Do you smoke?
Yes I smoke. But there is no smoking inside.
We can smoke inside right here right now. It’s on me. Let them do what they want with me. I’ll smoke in front of them to show you how much or how little I care.
You are crazy, he said.
But I am not Indian.
No, you are not Indian.
I wish I was Indian.
This culture has nothing.
But your little town!
It’s not my town, I told him then. I don’t know anything about it.
And he had stepped in at some point. One foot in the window. I told him I could help him get in and he nodded that it was okay to do so. We sat and smoked, I having gone in first, lit up first. The books I never looked at again. We talked about a few things. Something had gone wrong in the last year, and though he tried to explain what it was, I could not understand. The larger idea was that he had no family around. We walked down the hallways and down some flights of stairs. The place smelt of mildew, alcohol, and the spirit of sadness. There was a door where actual spirits lived, in the wood grain, for anyone to see. But when I told people about it they laughed uncomfortably and said things like, Surely you are using a metaphor or something like that. But I wasn’t and am not. That place in fact was filled with spirits. They weren’t untoward phantoms, and they weren’t gracious spectres. They just were. They vibed and existed and sometimes watched. The man did not become a spirit though perhaps he almost had. Who is to know? I don’t know what his real deal was. For that you would need a shaman or a swami. Maybe an Indian one would be best.
Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer (more of a poet) and has a book of short fictions published with Fowl Pox Press (2013) called Chalk Lines. He has written over one thousand vignettes and some other works also, but work mostly with short forms. He recently took up landscape photography (as an amateur).