For two months, a bird’s been attacking my window with gusto. In fact, I now call the bird Gusto because I’ve never encountered a creature with such tenacity and mindless courage.
The first time Gusto slammed into my window, feet, and headfirst, I almost shat myself because I was doing the dishes and the window in question is about two feet from my face. When Gusto hit, I did that thing from Jaws where Brody sees blood in the water and the camera performs a dolly zoom, AKA a Hitchcock shot. That’s when the camera is dollied either forward or backward while the zoom on the lens is pulled in the opposite direction. A bit like life. Easy!
After ten seconds I reached for the bottle of whisky that’s no longer there because I’m a recovering alcoholic with a ghost addiction. I regard these reactions in the same way that amputees claim to still feel a missing limb. I sometimes wake up with a phantom hangover on Saturday mornings.
Apparently, Gusto is a Pee Wee and part of the Magpie family. In the realm of birds, I’ve always regarded the Magpies as the traditional 1920s mobsters and the Indian Myna Birds as the Eastern European gangsters. So, Magpies and their ilk are getting fucked over by the Mynas and that’s why I’m not too bothered by Gusto. The poor fucker’s the last of his kind and I feel a bit like that too.
And why? Because I’m drowning in a sea of miserable absurdity. I understand why Gusto is smashing himself against my kitchen window because he’s done with it all. It’s an existential crisis, poorly disguised as a reflective territorial dispute. We all have territorial disputes in our minds. Think paranoia versus reality, seasoned with good old-fashioned vitriol. But life’s not bad, it’s just problematic. Well, that’s what I tell myself in the dead of night as Gusto continues his attack on my kitchen window. Neither of us knows what’s next. My dreams absorb his attacks.
But we are at one, that concussed bird and me because I get his absurd task, and I hope he never stops, or at least stops before he breaks his neck. Before he does break his neck, I want to invite him in, have a sneaky whisky with him and tell him all my hopes and fears.
Maybe that line of communication will make him realise that all is not lost, it’s just a wee bit out of reach for now.
BTW this is a dolly zoom: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5JBlwlnJX0
It was pretty much as I expected. When the apocalypse came he was a liability …
And when things got bad, he came to me because I was his friend. He trusted me. I’d always looked out for him I suppose. When you’ve already had experiences together you get a good sense of what they’ll be like, whether they’ll panic, stand their ground or run away maybe. Whether they’ll do the right thing or take care of themselves. The coward’s way or the right way.
He knew me pretty well in that sense. But soon we were playing by different rules and he just wasn’t cut out for what was to follow.
We spent the first wave at my place. It was still busy and there was lots of confusion. It wasn’t too dangerous back then. He showed up on my doorstep with a backpack, a torch and a box full of canned food. I could see there was a part of him that thought this would be an adventure, but I knew better than him, and that’s why I was worried. Keep away from the windows, I told him, and never leave the door unlocked. Not even for a second. Not even if you take only five steps outside.
But the writing was already on the wall. He wasn’t cut out for it and he was going to cause problems.
When the second wave came we had to leave town. The killing had begun and it was too dangerous to stay put. We moved only by the night, sleeping whenever we could during the day. He was already starting to struggle then. Weight loss, sleep deprivation and threats of ambush. The first man I killed only got near us because he fell asleep during his watch. I told him not to fall asleep. Never fall asleep during your watch.
Sorry, he told me, I’m so sorry, I only closed my eyes for a moment.
It wasn’t long before he became desperate and brought a group of survivors to our camp. He wanted food and they had some but you can’t trust people anymore the way you used to. I stayed calm and let them sit down. They told us how they’ve been moving about, not staying in any one place for too long.
Yeah, I said, looking them over. I tried to press them for some answers of where they’d been but they wouldn’t tell me.
“Just around,” they said, and I nodded back. Before long they took what we had and tried to kill us.
“You can’t do that,” I told him afterwards, “Not even if they look like good people.”
He just cried and said he was hungry, but now we had to move on. I was angry at him for that. Everyone is scared of what’s out there but the real danger comes from within. People aren’t good when they’re confronted. I was tired of being the one to pick up the pieces and I was tired of being right all the time.
We walked for days. We’d hear gunshots, distant screams, a car revving somewhere and then silence. We came across a plane wreckage, we saw a house burning on the horizon, signs of muted horror we’d never know.
We’d both lost things since it happened. I know I can keep going, but it will get worse. No one gets to live like this and keep on being the person they wanted to be; or thought they once were.
Three more times we came across survivors and each time we had to fight, the first two as night ambushes, the third when he let slip that we knew of a nearby stash of military rations.
The writing had been on the wall for a long time. We’d find bodies hanging from trees or lampposts and he would just look at me silently.
I said goodbye to him in my own way, and then I let it happen. I looked out to the distance and held on as tight as I could. It was over quickly.
There are no more barriers to cross. I’m a passenger in my own body now. But I’m glad it was me who did it and not one of the others. I wouldn’t want him to go that way.
I’m alone now, and I’m a different person, but somewhere down there I still exist. My purpose is survival but it brings no or less meaning than it did before. The hunger distracts me from the danger, the pain numbs the loneliness. And the sky still turns blue from time to time.
Perhaps people will come across the scene at the top of that hill and maybe think of what happened there that day. But they’ll be busy fighting their own battles which I will never know. And I know mine is no more important.
Cam’s a very good friend of mine and a great writer. He has a dog called Mickey and he gets up at 04:30 every morning to run. Cam’s strength of character is an inspiration to me. One day he hopes to have a Peregrine Falcon.
And just as the zombie apocalypse kicked in, I quit my job. I’ll tell you why later in the piece. So, now I find myself unemployed at 50, in the middle of a pandemic. This is a concept that should scare the shit out of me but I’m strangely calm about my state of affairs because hysteria only leads to anxiety and anxiety ends up leading to expensive counseling sessions, with somebody who speaks softly and does a lot of nodding.
For the first four weeks of unemployment, I was holed up in my flat because I went over on my right foot and stretched a few ligaments, meaning I spent a lot of time sitting in my IKEA chair with my foot up on the coffee table, watching depressing stuff on the telly. Just what you need when you’re unemployed and injured. I also drank a lot of wine even though I have the word ‘Sober’ tattooed on my right wrist. Meanwhile, the coronavirus was seeping into our collective unconscious around the world, and I was already self-isolating.
Self-isolating, when you’re not sick, is fucking awesome. You don’t have to deal with the ocean of idiots who exist beyond the front door, endlessly bumping into each other while they stare at their phones like cretins caught in the headlights. Why the fuck should I be responsible for their spatial relations? Every day I suppress the urge to knock their phones out of their hands and explain the laws of physics to them. The other upside of self-isolation is that you have time to reflect upon your life.
However, in the wrong hands, self-reflection can be a dangerous venture. It can lead to suicide, a mental breakdown, and the agonising realisation that life is meaningless. Not so for me. I had a great time picking through my ‘reason to be’. It was an existential holiday in my wee flat. I worked out that my life was meaningless because I’d made it that way. In short, I’d spent the last two years hating my job, which was akin to having somebody take to your soul with a potato peeler. Hence, the decision to quit.
I live in a state of chaos and my workplace could no longer accommodate this. A sense of order had been installed by top brass – project management software called Slack, the worst kind of corporate mind control. There was even a stream called #wheremyhomiesat, where you had to let ‘the team’ know where you are at all times; cue Orwell and that cage with the rat in it. So, in short, dishes were done. Plus, I have recently diagnosed PTSD (PCL-5 – 63), so something like #wheremyhomiesat is about as helpful as dropping me in a K-hole and telling me the paranoid hallucinations are all part of my new reality.
But let’s get back to being unemployed at 50, amidst the zombie apocalypse AKA the Coronavirus AKA Covid 19. What’s next? Will our hero ever ride again? Every once in a while you have to make a stand in this life and tell the people who don’t add value to get fucked. That’s what I did. I quit my job in the middle of a pandemic and strode, sorry limped, into the unknown. Now, I’m going to concentrate on the things that matter to me, the things that don’t make me feel like I’m an injured hamster on a wheel, spinning recklessly into a void of chocolate-coated diarrhea. In essence,
To love oneself is to truly understand the secrets of the soul.