“One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
The noise in my head was deafening. It was like a static white noise that would just not quit. I could swear that I’d live with it, only that I could remember myself promising myself to break this.
I was walking to work when my eyes caught a bunch of white chrysanthemums. I really wished I didn’t have, but my mind was soon filled with the memories of my mother’s funeral.
It was 12th August, 1995. It was a rainy Saturday and the band was playing incorrectly a rendition of Beethoven’s ninth. The third violinist from the left was a note too low all the while. I could still recall the scent of the embalming emanating from the casket. My mother still wore her pearls, and the forty-six guests noticed that too. The priest started the note with an extract from the Bible, Ecclesiastes 3:1-2: For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted.
The bitter aftertaste of peppermint still persisted in my mouth, cumbered by my uneasy tongue. Uncle Wainwright sat six chairs to my left, and wept unabashedly. I remember him whisper goodbye into my ear, the whiskey clearly noticeable in his breath, before he drove back home, where he died exactly nine weeks and six days later, on 20th of October.
I had now reached the qualms of reality, trying ever so hard to decide whether at that moment, as I stared into my office building, was the past or the present. If man had problems in life, mine was a perpetual one. I had the ability to recall everything since I was eight. Doctors call it names; people God’s gift. And I could only call it noise.
I could never be too careful. Because anything and everything brought something to mind- a sight, a face, a scent, an essence. Even words. I usually restrained myself from getting too overwhelmed, sometimes losing my already lost mind in a chemical daze of doctor’s drugs.
I was trying to balance my head when a voice broke me.
“Us boys are going to an office party tonight. You want to come?” said Nathan, my friend. Although I wouldn’t call myself a socially amicable person, I still had a friend or two. Social obligations almost always forced me to attend to parties, but I’d often excuse myself out of it.
“I don’t know, really. You know I don’t like them,” said I.
“Boy, there’ll be girls!” he said with a wink. I still shook my head but told him I’d take a rain check.
I knew what the people thought of me- a sullen, unenthusiastic mop. Most times it didn’t even matter to me, because I hardly ever had the space in my head to think of that. But the truth was that I didn’t want to add any more to the already blazing mess of memories. I’d never let anyone in long enough to leave a lasting mark. But that was effortlessly delivered anyway.
16th June 2003, Monday was a quaint day. It was a big day at work, because our company’s stocks skyrocketed unexpectedly. Although it’d been a long time coming, the actuality of it was still shocking. I was sipping coffee from the same cup that’d stained my shirt just three minutes before. The office was a mess because of the electrifying joy in everyone’s body. I remember Nathan sliding his chair across the space, and swearing to never be sober again.
That was the day I first saw Beth Harmon.
When Nathan lifted his coffee mug to smash it, my eyes followed the cup till it’s peak and as my eyes followed its descent, they caught the calm shade of malachite that was Beth’s top. She was standing at the corner, away from the action, sipping cold water.
The radio was playing the 80s Straits that day.
Her voice summoned me to the present.
“Hey, Tom. Aren’t you coming to the party?” she asked me.
I moistened the chaps of my lips, and pursed them. “I don’t know, really.”
“You should. It’s a good party.”
I noticed her eyes travel from the waste basket at the corner of the room to my desk, my chest and then to my face.
“It’ll be fun. And you never come to such things. It’ll be good for a change,” she said and decided to leave.
I could feel words trying to escape my mouth. But I could also find myself biting my lip.
But not before she spoke again.
“You know, you could at least show your face around here. You might be a really nice guy. Come for me at least. I made the first step,” she said and disappeared behind the doors.
I must admit now that I had always tried to maintain my distances with her. Because as much as I wanted to know her, I knew I couldn’t. My life was already a tangle of memories I knew I would never be able to come out of.
26th April 2007, Thursday. Though it was spring, it rained that day. Furiously. Some said there was a storm coming. I really regretted that I’d forgotten to pick up my mail that day, because going back would only cost me more. The sky was grey and the clouds thundered. The boss feared the storm and let everyone go home early. I remembered that I was struggling with my umbrella; the third collapsible was stuck.
“Crazy weather, huh?” asked Beth to me. We never actually had spoken before in conversational terms, but only in office-talk.
“Yes. It is,” I replied, and the umbrella opened taut.
“I guess you will be going now,” she said.
“Yes, I will.”
I walked away from her, and regretted that I didn’t ask if she wanted help. And I remember turning back to see her; she waved me goodbye.
“The price of a memory, is the memory of the sorrow it brings.”
Although I did take a decision, it took me a long while.
I entered the now-defunct party. There were paper-cups lying around. The light was still a dim red and orange, and the disco-light still scattered the light around. Some people were still sliding across the dance floor. I noticed Nathan, drunk beyond recognition.
Beth was waiting in the balcony.
“Look what the cat dragged in. Welcome. You are kind of late,” she said to me.
“I have something to say to you,” said I and I took a deep breath.
“I remember everything about my life since I was eight years old. Every single detail of every second of every day. I remember what my mother said to me right before she taught me how to fly a kite, what my seventh grade classmate told me in the middle of a math class, and I could tell you everything about what happened on any given day.
I remember things forever, and I cannot do anything about that. Even the bad memories. And God knows I’ve had them. I cannot allow myself to love you, because I am afraid that I will end up with the worst of all. That is why I’ve never fallen in love before, because the only thing people tell me about love is how it all went wrong. I admit I am a coward, and I have spent ten years just looking at you,” I said, finally.
Her eyes glistened in the faint red light still exhaling from the room.
“What if I told you that we might never make a bad memory?” she asked me.
“Then you have a coward in front of you who will never ever forget your birthday.”
27th October 2013, Sunday. I made the greatest memory of all.