He was built just like any other man, except that he was invisible. He often staggered on the cobblestones streets of Paris, delirious after a succession of sleepless nights, sometimes with a flat can of beer in one hand, which sloshed and dribbled down his arm. On some days he would just sit on a discarded piece of cardboard and glue his gaze to any passerby, an outstretched open palm begging to be seen.
Nobody knew him because nobody chose to see him. Instead they’d look past with discomfort as their eyes filtered the unusual and unpleasant from the norm and continued past like horses wearing blinkers going about their day. And so he remained faceless, an unwanted smudged shadow unsuccessfully fully erased from society’s canvas; an error in the system.
Every now and again, a head would turn towards him and accidently meet his desperate eyes. His body would lift slightly and his eyes would widen with a faint glimmer of hope telling him,
“maybe you do exist.”
But just as the stranger’s eyes would fall upon his, they would depart and awkwardly avert back to their road ahead, the sudden fear too unbearable as they recognized themselves reflected back in his darkened pupils.
He sought warmth in the deep veins of the city, in the underground metro stations. There he would almost feel like everyone else, a passenger waiting for a train that did not come. He was a ghost drifting through spaces, only recognizable by the trailing odor he would leave behind, painting scrunched faces and wrinkled noses on those in his path; a stench stemming from years of lacking privacy.
He wasn’t always invisible. There was a time when he moved within the acceptable structure of society. Just 43 years of age, he had a name, a job in a big firm, which he woke up to five days a week. He had a wife and a daughter he doted on with wispy curls and bright eyes the colour of wonder. He slept in a warm bed, which was his, in a house just outside of Paris, which was his, with a window that overlooked a small garden, which was his. On Saturdays he’d proudly play football with some buddies from work and look forward to evenings creating worlds with his daughter on the kitchen floor as his wife danced around them preparing dinner.
But then came the day when it all malfunctioned. His company was downsizing and he was let go and with it went his confidence. Shortly after, his mother passed and unable to cope and mourn the loss, he struggled to find new work. In time, the mortgage and debt became unmanageable and what once was home became nothing but cold white walls made of echoes for someone else to fill. Finally, his wife left him, taking his young wonder with her. From there the dominos kept falling and slipping through his fingers as he fell into a bruising darkness; the layers of what he once was stripped from him with each passing day.
“I still have a name”
he’d mumble repeatedly to himself in an attempt to remember. But the streets were cruel and what was once human, transformed into animal in the fight to survive the viciousness of the jungle. He saw no way out, his former self growing more and more faint got replaced by a shadow of self-loathing and soullessness.
With time, he gave into a faceless state. Dignity had no meaning as he existed in indifference outside the world of the other.
He was a body contorted and slumped into an unrecognizable shape, alien to the people of the day. The heavy night on his shoulders, swallowed him whole.
A distant murmur arose from the darkness, muffled by habitual silence, he couldn’t make out the words.
“Are you alright? What’s your name?”
He slowly lifted his head to where he thought the voice emerged, still unsure of its existence. Glassy eyed, he blinked, his soul so far beneath the surface stirred slightly and as his mouth gapped open, he released nothing but air.