The realization that solitude was a prerequisite for the flourishment of his craft was caught by James in the infancy of honing his talent. And being the sort of person that could be in the midst of company while he simultaneously drifts into a world that exists solely inside of him, a habitation that creates exceeding delight within him, it therefore came without qualms for him to abundantly savor every moment he could spend alone, brooding. But rev of automobiles, the hum and roar of aircrafts, siren from ambulances, desire to socialize, the need to roam the internet and other varied intrusions made it a struggle for James and seclusion to enjoy unfettered access to each other. As a bachelor, he had devised his home into a sacred turf where he and solitude would hold their exclusive sway to fraternity. Therein, meals, television, company or companionship, and other elements extraneous to his innate lure, were allotted appointed times, so that when all was said and done, his time alone with quiet would suffer no intrusion. But because he had to eat, he must earn a living; his hours at work were thusly encroachments he could not deter.
A permanent sense of loss descended on the sacrosanct balance he has toiled to sustain the minute he took a bride. Even trivial errands, like grocery shopping, they must run together. ‘It’s called spending quality time with your wife,’ Pamela has lectured him. When in the loo, all by himself, dumping toxins his being has rejected, when it seemed the condiments were finally present for him to garner solitude and to savor it, no matter the transiency of that experience, ‘Honey! Don’t forget to pick up my clothes from the drycleaner,’ Pamela’s impingement will prevail over his walls of privacy. And this would send James everywhere in a frantic desperation, searching for his lost pearl.
He chose the street on which they now dwell while on the verge of tying the matrimonial knots. For many days, he had patrolled it for interminable hours during the quest for their new home. Not a single human being had showed up on it on those times. One or two cars drove by; and that was all. Whir of leaves from tree tops when the wind was about, occasional drone of a car, and the rare barks of some dog in the distance, were the only noises present. He had stood on one end of the street, and spread out in his unencumbered vision all the way into the horizon, were snug bungalows, manicured lawns and arrays of flowers. They were resplendent in majestic beauty and engulfing in quiet. Thus he made it an obligation to convince Pamela that they must make Craven Street their home. And she, caring for everything him, including his happiness, and because she derives joy from him being happy, had acquiesced.
Faces of people and their voices; presence of pets; cries and the giggles of children on swings and slides; hollas of football coaches and the cheers of fans—the busyness and noisiness of it all—shooed solitude away from the park intended for their neighborhood, hence he chucked it. The abandoned railway track became one of the varied arenas where he embarked on his long walks, seeking solitude. And on this deserted path, crunches of stone pebbles underneath his trod were all he had for intrusion. Yet his phone would ring; ‘Mine’ will pop out on its screen; but James is not a foolish man who will ignore his wife’s call for reason of a solitary wander. Even the thought of extinguishing the device when not in Pamela’s presence was a whelming taboo; like the mere lustful gaze at another woman, it could destroy a matrimony.
He longed for those days when he had the freedom to step into the infinite space inside of him at will, where he could shut himself therein, shut out the world outside, and delight himself with brooding. Inside that boundlessness, like a whiff of smoke in ecstatic tumbles in the wind, he could swirl and twirl in whatever manner he desired, becoming soggy with the abundant euphoria of commingling with the Muse.
Well, ever since he threw solitude out of the bounds of his own liberty for values that demanded unmitigated devotedness, he had sought reconciliation with it in the loo, sought atonement for its neglect on that forlorn railway track, went on its rescue expedition on the lonesome street on which they now reside, and even dug for peace with it inside their garage—that space jam-packed with a hodgepodge of belongings which they no longer have a need for, but which Pamela would never agree for them to dump. Everywhere he had sought for this ally, an arm, a leg, a fraction of its face, a bit of its torso, and a blanched memory of its hue, were the most James could find of solitude.
On his many haunts for quiet on that their lonesome street, he would from time to time run into intrusions. The Watwoods, the Carters, the Collins, the Williams… courteous neighbors. They would often indulge him in pleasantry exchanges and then he would continue on his way. It took about six months for him to realize that Pamela and he were the only people of dark hue with a home on Craven Street. Of the rest, who were of a pinkish complexion, there was one man who neither made eye contact nor acknowledged his presence whenever their paths crossed. James once approached him on the same side of the street, ensuring it obvious that his eyes were searching the man’s face. When their paths collided, with his gaze still set on the other’s face, James delivered a nod. This man teetered on as if no one was there. James would say ‘Hello,’ on an occasion different; the neighbor floundered past as though deaf. ‘A bit nippy today,’ James had remarked during an encounter in the alley, where they had both gone to dispose of their garbage. A yay nor a nay neither came from this man. He simply took care of his business and wobbled on. So James concluded: he must abhor black skin.
His wasn’t white per se, though. A tanned pink. Baldheaded, he wore thick lenses that made his eyes seem pressured projections from the recesses of two orifices. His visage was of a serious temperament, like the one on the bust of Aristotle’s face; compacted with forlornness, it was also sullen with melancholy. A wobble enveloped his gait like a toddler who has just began to take steps. When observed walking from afar, arms extended, he groped the space before him as if in search of something to grip, a support that would prevent him from crash-landing on his rump. So unsteady was his tread that it seemed the pavement on which he walked, was laced with spikes that pricked his soles…James and Pamela had their opinion of this man: a character to be regarded with inexplicable suspicion.
A few days to the festival of love and Saint Valentine of Terni was all about James’ sensibilities, urging the Muse to tease a romantic odyssey out of the fancy of this raconteur of tales. Pamela, too, has been about him as usual, everywhere in his space, imbuing the day with ingredients of romance. But the denouement yet to cast on the romantic saga will not vacate James’ thought. So he was patiently craving for that momentary presence with solitude, so as to give expression to his musing. Thus, after the cinema and the candle lit dinner, after a hand in hand walk on the beach, and after he had made Pamela shudder with the eruption of nerves only a man can endow his wife with in the bedchamber, in the eternal cuddle that ensued, he read her My Heart, a poem, he had dedicated to her for the occasion. And when Kenny G had soothed her to sleep, James knew that, though he had fulfilled all righteousness, Pamela could wake up in the middle of the night and demand that he returned to her in bed if he was found in the study. So he eloped to the garage. He did not even bother to open its door. Facing the alley, he simply sat on the floor before it, and took his being inside himself.
‘Another lonely soul on Valentine’s Day.’ These words broke into James’ meditation and made him looked up.
He didn’t hear the man’s footsteps. When he opened the dumpster’s lid, and when he dumped his garbage and shut the lid, James didn’t hear either. On that bare floor, gripped by the Muse and immersed in himself, James must have either presented the visage of some lonely figure, or exuded the impression of a forsaken soul, because the man continued in the following manner:
‘I’m just like you, young man. No one to hold on Valentine’s day. I have been nice to women all my life. I take them out to eat and buy them stuffs. I do everything they want for them at my work. They call me a nice guy. But when I ask them for something, they won’t talk to me again.’
Those gingerly steps brought him closer to the one on the floor, and save for his boxers and lenses, he would have been stark naked. Even his feet were bare. And under the glare of light that flooded the alley, James beheld a being covered in hair, neck down, as if the clan of human beings had progressed on, abandoning this creature behind in an uncompleted latter stage of evolution. Having being left to inhabit that space between primate and man all by himself, the man reeked of dejection and wallowed in a wretchedness that was abject in loneliness.
‘I was in a hurry to meet up with an appointment the other day,’ he was saying, one of his groping arms pointing in the direction of the road he had gone. ‘I got myself into an accident, my car was completely wrecked. If fractured four ribs and broke my legs. I was hospitalized for three months. The prostitute I was going to see never called to even find out why I didn’t make it.’
James had slowly risen onto his feet by now, his laptop, still on the floor. Both men were now about three feet from each other, wrapped in each other’s attention.
‘Nobody at my work place came to visit me at the hospital,’ lamented the man. ‘None of those women that I have done everything for cared. They just use me and dump me…’ When, after the pause, he said, ‘No woman has ever liked me,’ a teary tinge was at the fore of his voice. ‘They’ll take my money. They’ll take my food. They’ll take my time. They’ll take everything I have, and when I ask them for something, they will not talk to me again…’
He had wiped the mucous on his hand, from the nose he blew, on his boxer when he introduced himself as Jack Loner. It was when he asked for James’ name that the writer was at once struck with incredulity, realizing that his person was registering on this his neighbor’s consciousness for the very first time.
Jack then spoke about Laura. She, who would hold his hand when they are in the mall, but would never let him touch her once they are inside the house. He had more to say, but the surge of tears became a hindrance, and throwing both arms in the air as if to say, don’t let me bother you with my plight, he turned around and wobbled away, leaving a chunk of his forlornness behind with James.
James would come home from the source of his daily bread a week thereafter, and as wonted, Pamela was about his air, hounding him with love. The shower was running runnels down their glistering skin when she said, ‘The paramedics came to pick up Mr. Loner today. The mailman had seen him through the window. He was lying face down in his living room, butt naked. The paramedic said he must have been dead for at least three days.’