The screams on 5th street could be heard miles away as Nathe flopped to his side and pulled his pillow above his ears. It was no use – he was forced out of bed at 3 am again. His heart had also fallen out – third time this week. He got up and picked it up off the floor. The redness was wearing off – with all the dust invading it beneath his bed. He blew upon it till the redness became somewhat more visible and stuck it back into his chest. He would have to get better tape, he thought, as he pulled at a strip of brown paper tape and stuck it above his dusty heart. It’ll have to hold till morning, he wasn’t about to go out and grab a decent adhesive at this time of night.
When he awoke – was it 7:45? His eyes were still blurry to tell as he picked up his watch and stared at it for a whole minute. He sighed when he looked down and saw that his heart had bled through the tape again. It was turning into somewhat of a hassle – and if only it weren’t so hot. The heat just made it sticky and smelly. It might have frozen in place till he got a decent night’s sleep had it been winter. But it was summer and had there been any air it might have blown through the open window which inhabited the dreary wall two feet away from his bed.
At 8, he was finally out of bed and standing in the shower. He laid his heart out on the side – one could never be sure what should mix with water. Even the cold water was hot. Getting dressed afterwards only made him sweat. He had to wear long sleeved shirts to work. They had air-conditioning at the office, but the walk there beneath the sun was unbearable. It was still early, but that summer they were experiencing heat like never before. He covered his heart with fresh tape and hoped it would hold till the store near his office opened so that he could get the better kind.
His feet splashed in a pool of crimson as he walked out of his apartment building and onto the street. The stench was unbearable. He covered his mouth and nose with his hand – the smell of other people’s blood made his stomach queasy. He wished people would bleed somewhere else in the middle of the night – in private. This was just ridiculous! He’d have to use the water hose to clean up his shoes; otherwise he’d be sick all day.
It was a cubicle in which Nathe spent eight hours of his day, typing away in front a computer screen. One day he’d go mad and smash it into pieces he figured. He’d seen it happen before. His old colleague, Jep, had “cracked” (as they had referred to it) last summer– he never found out what happened to him after. “He needed some quiet,” was all that they said pitifully. Everyone had their breaking point, he figured. His would come one of these days – he was already falling apart, somewhat.
At 10 O’clock, Nathe was sure the store across the street would now be open as he walked out of the building and ran quickly to the other side. He picked up a thick invisible tape and some tissues and was back inside and in the men’s room before anyone really noticed he was gone. He cleaned up what mess had been made and sealed his rattling heart into place again. Luckily, he was wearing a dark shirt and whatever leaked through would hardly be visible unless one stuck their head right into it – which no one was likely to do.
It was quite hard for one to really focus on the work itself when the environment invited his mind to wander and head off in different directions every now and then. The good thing about his cubicle was that he had enough privacy to sit back and stare at the ceiling if he wanted – as he often did, and could hear approaching footsteps and resume to look busy at work when need be. The air vent above him also made it more tolerable on some days – just enough to breathe when he really needed to. That was all he could ask for at times – for it all to be tolerable enough. Just enough to keep his heart in place.
His wasn’t the only heart fumbling inside his chest – he knew this for a fact. But one could never really be sure who else was troubled by it. He assumed the mouths of the screams throughout the night might have had difficulty with theirs. His never really pained him as he assumed theirs had – to result in screams. One never wanted to be out so late as to know why theirs made them suffer to such extent. Alcohol must have been involved, (it makes it burn like crazy) no one really wants others to know that their heart’s not quite in its place otherwise. Sometimes he’d see someone with a spot here or there that had gone unnoticed – but he could never be sure.
It usually snaps when one felt something inside it beat differently for the first time – he remembered reading when it all began and wasn’t too sure how normal it was for his heart to behave in such a way. “After the initial snap, it never falls into place again” – he recited quietly to himself as if it were a speech he were about to give. His parents had insisted that no child of theirs had such a feeble heart when he began to tell them of his. It was all part of his imagination – his heart was well in place and would always be where they were concerned. “But listen…” he would say as it snapped violently inside even as they spoke and begged them to press their ears against his chest, “don’t you hear that? It’s coming apart!” He would try to persuade them, but they wouldn’t have it. He was sure they heard it, but they never wanted to acknowledge it – not of their son anyway. A man’s heart was supposed to stay in its place.
Such a thing led him further away from them than he had ever thought possible as a child – when he thought the world of them. He couldn’t imagine what his heart would have turned into otherwise. It was already out of place too soon – he didn’t want to be seen as those kinds whose hearts bled uncontrollably in public. He hated what he’d heard others say about them. There’s only so much one could control to stay in – “they can’t help it,” he’d try to say, but they’d shake their heads in disgust. Once it begins to fall out, the blood flow just becomes worse and worse. He supposed that that was why he couldn’t handle the sight of too much of it all that well himself. It was just something he had grown up with.
Something wasn’t sitting right in his stomach as his lunch break was approaching – that morning’s smells had not left his recollection. It wasn’t too bad at first, but something inside had just gone wrong all of a sudden. He was starting to feel sick. He couldn’t bear staying inside any longer and left earlier – not that he had much of an appetite for food. He just needed to get out. The uneasiness that had grown in his stomach mixed with the soft hums of the office, the telephone calls, the voices and the air-conditioning above him, that had usually been a good thing, only made him feel worse.
He was outside and vomiting in a pile of dirt before he could regain a normal sense of being. He hated getting sick where others could see him, but what was inside had really wanted out. Luckily no one came by then and he managed to clean it up. No one else should be made to be sick just because he was.
He felt a little better as he found some shade beneath a tree and sat there for a few minutes to allow his body to calm. There was no air still, but the shade was more comforting than anything had been all day long. He put his hand over his heart. The tape seemed to be holding well in place he was re-assured and only sat in silence. He leaned his head back and tried to inhale a bit of air that seemed non-existent. “There’s only so much one can take.” He said quietly to the heat mostly as there was no one in hearing distance and sighed as it invaded every part of his body.
Looking up, he noticed the people walking back and forth in front of him. He noticed their blood slightly dripping. No one seemed to care that it did. He was sure they felt it – how could they not? But they did nothing about it. People didn’t care for such things as much in the city. He watched as they took the lead and let it fall right behind them – right where anyone could see if they looked. It wasn’t as horrible as the morning’s. It was a drop here, a drop there – the kind that had no choice but to fall where it may. One could not be expected to spend their day cleaning up the traces they’ve left behind, he thought. It wouldn’t have mattered to them either, he figured, if his was doing just the same. It was just that he felt his insides need not be displayed for everyone to see if one could help it. Maybe it was his parents’ traditionalism that unconsciously seeped into his way of thinking. He didn’t mind that his heart fell out, personally, but he could not allow his blood to drip so bluntly for all to see – not yet anyway.
The sun had somehow disappeared behind a sea of grayness as he sat there, unconscious of how long he’d been outside since it seemed to him he was incapable of any sort of movement. The heat seemed to have melted him into place. It was late afternoon according to his watch, but the clouds that had crept up from nowhere made night seem a more likely possibility if one threw logic aside.
If it had not been hot enough before, he believed that it was actually becoming worse as he began to unbutton the top half of his shirt and roll up his sleeves. It seemed to make no difference that a bit of his sealed heart may be revealed. It was just too hot! The air was imprisoning him into a stuffy corner, where had he been the least bit claustrophobic – he would have simply gone mad, he truly felt. It was far more suffocating than anything he’d felt in his life. And just when he thought the world was sure to burst if anything in that instant, a drop of warm water touched his forehead. And then another, and then another until all that was heard was a loud tapping on the ground that eventually drenched him and everyone else around.
No one really moved as people often maneuvered in reaction to the rain – in an attempt to find cover from it. They welcomed it any more gladly as the clouds rid themselves of all that they could not possibly contain and offered the steaming bodies below a chance to cool down. He was the only one, he felt, who had not yet allowed his heart the freedom to drip when the now soaked tape and tissues could not hold it in any longer. He was the only one that still hung onto that which had snowballed into something that not only needed to drip, but to burst and splatter anything in sight. It would have come apart all on its own, if he waited, but he could not any longer.
He reached into his shirt, pulled at the strip of tape and grabbed his hot and sticky heart with all his might. He tossed it out in front of him and watched as the water soaked it clean. And as he sat there with it out in front of him and a hole in his chest for all to see – the rain continued to fall.
By Shirin Kamal.
Check out Shirin’s blog here.
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