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The Last Winter

6 minute read

The last winter was one of discontent. Don’t worry; I won’t quote Shakespeare or anything, well maybe a little at the end. Anyway, I will acknowledge how I was broken at that time.

              There was one day, a weekday, in the middle of that dreadful season after Christmas, I recall when I stood at the centre of the Circus, a roundabout at the top of a hill under an ancient tree; its leaves plucked themselves off like feathers, its roots thrust into the earth, and blackened branches like wrinkled fingertips held the heavens aloft as if it were alone the titan, Atlas.

              I remembered how hard the sun fought to warm the dry, barren earth where hazel browns replaced the fading greens. They say despair is the absence of hope as much as they would say darkness is the absence of light, but in a world of black and white, dots and dashes on computer screens day and night, all I felt was used like grazed pastures turned fallow.

              A day passed in a minute, a year, an hour and all that shone grew pale. I had become cursed in a land without sunshine.

              My hands held out wide threw me into a spin, around and around in the middle of a carousel or a fancy cog that turned the wheel of a giant machine, constantly moving as if friction would bring the forsaken land to life.

              I used to walk from the office to the hill, the hill to the office, every lunchtime in some need to reach the sun’s warmth behind the blanket of thick heavy clouds. It became quite a Sisyphus task in the winter when each particle of heat I sought for comfort at the top froze into shiny dew on my decline.

              That day, my ears prickled with the twitch of familiarity, the nostalgia of a tune from a passing car that brought me a split second of warmth that lightened my hearts-burden. It was our favourite song, and it reminded me of her—she who shall not be named.

              Days had passed since I had last thought of her, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about her. She was in a dream, you see, a forgotten dream of a ghostly mirage.

 

              When I met her, I was a clean slate, new to the city seeking romance and half expecting heartbreak, especially after my previous experience with love. It was a short-lived love affair during a global pandemic that started on video calls, then became long walks in empty fields and dances under the moonlight after home-cooked meals. I didn’t believe using the word ‘Love’ could mean anything, just a childish fantasy from watching too many romcoms growing up. I was wrong. To say the words sealed an invisible sacramental chord of ethereal union which cursed me. The spell of love that was never broken made me forever enchanted.

              Perhaps she did think of me when I thought of her because I couldn’t explain how she continued to haunt me on those frozen days a year on. It was crazy thinking like that, believing in such a fantasy, yet she came to me in innuendos from the universe, and I was unsure if they were real or in my head.

              The breeze stroked my hair, and that revelation soothed me. I wondered how I could break the spell, looking down at the city. I had already erased the photos and removed her from my social media. What else could I do to remove her from my mind? I had expected to get my heart broken, but I had forgotten about the scars they would leave. I thought they’d heal as they did with the previous love affairs. But those wounds changed me. They are all haunted. I was their romance novels, and each story came to an end sooner or later.

              I scoffed at my watch and shuffled down to the foot of the hill back to the office. Crossing the river on a cobbled stone bridge, crossing the threshold between the illustrious Roman ruins to the abandoned workhouses converted into offices for finance, legal management or industrious architects who disguised themselves as engineers.

              In the end, we were all engineers in the country’s machinery. Old and rusty but still functioning. Through the indoctrination of discipline comes stability, wealth and happiness. At least, that’s what I was taught.

 

              How else should a middle-class wannabe from a delusional working class think? I wasn’t sure if it was like this because of my upbringing or the bringing up of the world around me through celebrities and believed freedom of opportunity that fed my insatiable desire for grandiosity.

 

              I wasn’t alone; of course, everybody wanted to be somebody or invent something that changed the world, like our champions of capitalism: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk. The titans of our time. Herculean in their feats yet relatable as those no better than you or me, they were just in the right place at the right time, took risks, suffered the consequences of hardship, and learned the lessons of failure, unlike me.

              My sweat turned dry in the bitter breeze, exchanging my body temperature for wrinkled skin. I listened for the birdsong above the clatter of roadworks and beeps of cars. What intelligent creatures, the birds! I thought if I could fly, looking up at an aeroplane passing over with its vapour trail revealing its destination southward bound, I would be like the birds and never spend a winter in this land ever again.

              I walked back into the office and plugged myself back into my workstation. Emails and emails for meetings, preparations for meetings, presentations, demonstrations and so on continued to pulverise an already impoverished soul.

 

              Tapping on the keyboard, ticking of the clock, stamping of steps and thumping of my lead-like heart made me panic. I got a raised eyebrow from a neighbouring colleague and an awkward stare from a passing manager. ‘Is everything alright?’ she asked.

              ‘Everything is fine,’ I lied. My life was on an automatic pilot, steering a derelict ship through frozen waters pushing icebergs. I had been freezing to death, and I was ashamed to ask for help; even the slightest warmth would do no good but give me false hope that things would get any better.

              The afternoon light disappeared in a blink of an eye as if somebody flicked a switch outside. It made little difference; the greyish day turned to a bluish night lit by amber-lit streetlamps scattered along the roadside like frozen fireflies.

              I left the office at five o’clock with a thick scarf, a long coat, leather gloves, and a woolly hat pulled down to my eyebrows. It made no difference, although I wouldn’t have liked to imagine how cold it would have been if I didn’t wear all those layers. The artic winds pierced a breeze through metal as I watched those in cars stuck in queues of traffic shiver.

              A whistle lifted my gaze to an array of lofty stars dangling above like distant glittering shards of a shattered sun. The night was always clearer on the colder days as those in the distant northern hemisphere leaned closer to the abyss of space.

              I didn’t have an elder to ask for advice, no rival tribe to fight, nor distant land to explore. I had shed all meaning of what I once wanted to be and transmuted into the vapour I was breathing out into the night.

              My thoughts returned to the birds, far beyond the frozen realm in the summer sun of the southern hemisphere. I promised to make the last winter the last winter of my body, heart, spirit and mind. What’s past is prologue, and what’s to come, who knows?

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