A Short Story
By Feeya Asmal
In the Hollow
I turn off the faucet and towel off my face. The pipes quiet down but a groaning echo can still be heard from… somewhere. I look up into the square mirror above my sink and try to make sense of the blurry image. Amidst the haze, something familiar looks out, but it’s too far away to notice with any clarity. Something new glares at me too. I almost reach for my glasses, but decide, lazily, that I still wouldn’t make out what I’m seeing.
I drop the towel on the sink, creep into the kitchen and peer around. I should probably eat. But the very thought of deciding what to make out of a half-empty fridge and even emptier spirit is about as appetizing as a plate of ash. I inch my way into the living room instead. Or at least what resembles a living room, with my blank-faced laptop in the corner, and cushions that are currently passing for a couch.
I wonder vaguely about what I had seen in the mirror and with a sluggish and reluctant cognizance, I realise that what I had seen was… nothing. The physical presence of that sort of… hollowness… that occupies the spirit when the mind is too overwhelmed to perceive any more of its own emotions.
I am… empty.
I involuntarily glance around my apartment and grudgingly acknowledge that I am also alone. These are the two facts that I now have to admit I’ve been running from for some weeks. Suddenly bored of surveying my cheerless living room I search for something to do. Even in its emptiness, some automatic part of my mind searches for a way to make meaning of its time. I wonder if I’d feel differently about this place if you were in it with me. Then again, if you were, I’d put in a little effort. Make it a home. Weave us a place of safety. Refuge from the rest of the world.
I slink out onto my balcony and gaze about. The view is rather beautiful.
At least – I know I would usually find it beautiful on a different day. The sun is about to set for the night and there are hues of pink and yellow among the clouds. The whole scene looks like a panoramic photograph in a travel brochure, complete with architectural wonder in the background. On a different day the heat coming off my balcony wall would wrap itself around me. On a different day I might be moved to feel something while looking at the scene before me. Today I am barren. Today the multilayered sky might be a grainy two-dimensional backdrop in an underfunded government building.
I turn my back on the view and lift myself onto the ledge. It’s nice out here; the breeze on the third floor offers some reprieve in an Asian summer. It’s probably quite dangerous to sit like this, but the gentle wind manages to round out the echo inside me. I inhale deeply. As I empty out my lungs the weight of my expired body settles into the knowledge that its insides have begun to rot away. Some time ago I noticed a tiny wound, opened my mouth to say so, thought better of it and closed my mouth again. I kept my secret. I thought it might be easier that way.
I was wrong.
Sometime later an insect worked its way inside the hole and began to eat. Now that there is only rot, there is nothing left for the insect and it too has left. I wonder now, if I had said something, would it have changed anything at all? Would the wound have healed over and would I have remained upright, with you aloft in my branches?
Tell me… would you have stayed if I told you how I felt?
If I were alone before, I am twice as much now having grown used to the company of the pest that has killed me – never mind the bird that once sang to me. I suspect that I should have said what I meant to say back when it mattered enough to say it. It’s too late now. I think that soon I will collapse inward and perhaps some parts of me will rot out of existence. The thought has no impact on me in my current state. I sigh it off.
A second breeze catches in my hair and somewhere deep inside the hollow of my spirit I feel a tug. The pull is warm. Perhaps this is the place from which I will grow anew, as I inevitably must. I smile, recognising that automatic process that always looks to validate itself.
The sun sets and, with it, my brief feeling of contentment. I slide off the ledge and back into my apartment. The groaning echo becomes sharp again. I wish that my impending collapse would assert itself here and now… but the automatic process won’t allow me to give in so easily. Faintly it recalls the feeling I experienced on the balcony wall. And so like a vine I reach out for that place. A rare moment of belief that here I will find my rebirth. For the night, I will curl up in the hollow, around a new sense of hope, on top of all my doubts and under the weight of my memories of you.