Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Rainwalker

So here it is. Admittedly it didn't turn out quite the way I thought it would. I wanted something deep, something thought inducing, but couldn't come up with anything; one of the reasons the story got delayed as much as it did. So instead I've written it in a different way, more of a 'sights and sounds essay' than a real 'story'. Instead of big drama, we have just some dude taking a walk in the rain. Not to say this is a bad thing. For once, instead of asking you guys to listen to some drama, or idea, I'm asking you guys to just come take a walk with me in the rain, and see what we could see.

The Rainwalker

    Around this time of year, it rained almost everyday. Every afternoon, just before the mad rush of commuters getting home at about the same time it would rain. Sometimes you would get a light drizzle, the kind nobody paid attention to, and sometimes you would get a full thunderstorm, with thunder crashing and lightning flashing across a grey sky. Most of the time, though, it was heavy rain with little or no thunder, with just a soft breeze blowing the rain to and fro.

    Always, Russell would walk when it rained.

    He would usually already be off work by that time, and armed with his trusty orange umbrella, he would set off from his apartment home and walk around town, a blip of brightness against a grey world.

    He found it strange that a change in such small details led to a different view of familiar places. Right now he was walking along the wooded road that led from his apartment into town, and he marveled at how different the woods looked with an overcast sky. The woods in sunlight would be unseemingly bright and cheerful, yet plastic and unfriendly, somehow like a postcard picture, or a travel agency advertisement. In the faded light of the grey sky, the woods looked mysterious, foreboding, yet somehow more real. The muted palette made it seem more vivid, and less like a cardboard backdrop to a scenic drive.

    At the end of the road, a huge storm drain flowed from the eastern end of town, gathering all the water that spilled uselessly onto a concrete jungle of tall office buildings that did not drink or breathe, and redirected it elsewhere. During very heavy rains the flood gates would be opened, and the storm drain would appear to be a river. The road formed a bridge into town, directly towards the tall office buildings that formed the town's skyline (if it could be called that), and as Russell walked onto it from the north side, he felt the raindrops grow more frequent, and by the time he had reached the middle of the bridge he had to open his umbrella and continue his journey protected by a thin sheet of polymer fabric.

    As he came to the end of the bridge the rain was in full swing. It drenched the dry asphalt, causing small puddles by the side of the road, flowing towards the drains like small rivers with their own tributaries and small flotsam floating by. It pattered on his umbrella, drowning out all sound and surrounding him in a calm, droning susurrous of music. It covered the large buildings he now walked by, humbling their normally proud visage and turning them into bastions against the elements.

    Russell walked on the sidewalk, the tall offices to his right, the storm drain to his left. As he watched more water had begun to flow into the storm drain both from the city's roadside drains and from the rain itself. Briefly he wondered what it would take for them to open the floodgates. A lot more than this, maybe, he mused, looking up at the dark sky and its relentless showers.

    He took a turn, and it was like stepping into a new world.

    This was where he and his colleagues from work ate lunch everyday. It was a long row of restaurants and cafes, parking up their chairs tables and folding table shades illegally into the road, effectively obstructing traffic. Now, though, it was as if it had been abandoned in the wake of a disaster. The tables and chairs on the street were folded away haphazardly in front of now-closed doors, lights off except for the bright flourescent bulb lit signs above their shops. No cars were parked here; at lunch time, parking was a nightmare. Now, in the grey veil of the heavy rain, Russell felt like he had stepped into an alternate universe where the people of this town had just packed up and left, leaving him the only person left.

    Walking down the road with his umbrella, all alone in the rain in an empty space he was used to seeing crowded, he could almost believe that. He smiled, and walked on.

    He came to a busy street, which he knew led to the highway if one was headed south, and to the next town if one headed northwards. He smiled as he saw how different cars looked like in heavy rain. Their engines muted by the sound of water beating on his umbrella, the only warning any pedestrian would get from the speeding vehicle was its headlights. If you could see it, or hear it, you were too close. Russell looked both ways and saw that there were a lot of cars going either way, so he stepped a little further back and lit a cigarette to wait until traffic had cleared a bit.

    As he smoked, he glanced up from time to time, and smiled at every flash of lightning, and at every boom of thunder. Perfect weather for a Thursday, he thought, watching the grey smoke disppear in the wind into the blue dusk, changing colour from grey to blue as the day faded into dusk.

    Russell sat watching the traffic for a time, wondering if the people commuting knew what lay at the ends of their roads, until he realised he must have sat for hours and checked his watch. Sure enough, it was almost dinnertime. As much as he wanted to stay here until the rain died, like a loyal son on an ailing father's deathbed, he had to turn back: life demanded it.

    He sighed, lit another cigarette and got up, retracing his steps. He passed by the row of restaurants and cafes, marveling again at how different the place looked in the rain, and even more so as night approached. The waning light threw shadows at odd angles, hiding some things and concealing others. Now the unspoken-of-disaster that left him, Russell the last remaining human on earth seemed more distant, farther back in time, as if it had happened millions of years ago. Yet he could not shake the feeling that he would be able to see the inhabitants of this world alive and well the next day, at lunch time.

    He left that road and came again upon the storm drain, now running wild with water and roaring like its namesake, rivalling the one in the sky. The floodgates were still closed, but already the drain looked like a river, brown water rushing and forming white foam leading to The Great Unknown. He glanced to the left, and again saw the tall office buildings stand proudly against the elements, oblivious to the adventures of a man with an orange umbrella in his hand and a soggy cigarette in his mouth. Russell took a drag, raised his cigarette in salute, and turned right, crossing the bridge slowly to appreciate the storm drain which but moments before, was nothing but dry concrete blocks.

    He watched the water rush by patiently, waiting at the center of the bridge, thinking that with this kind of rain, they would open the floodgates soon. He climbed over the guard rail and sat down, hooking his legs behind the bars for support. He took a drag and marveled at the river running beneath him. If he closed his eyee he could almost imagine the drain as it were hours ago, dry and empty. He opened his eyes again and saw a river.

    Such a wonder, what small changes bring. Tall, boring buildings became shelters. Empty storm drains became raging rivers. Dry asphalt would run thick with tiny rivers on a huge map.

    Just add water.

    As he watched the river flow, counting down the minutes until they opened the floodgates, he saw the tiny drops of water that had been spattering his umbrella, changing his world, fall into the storm drain and join the raging, unstoppable body of water rushing beneath his feet. By themselves the drops of water had changed his world; they turned his lunch spot into a haunted, dead world, and turned rushing cars into moving lights. Russell wondered what would happen if the floodgates opened, and all that change came rushing down into his town.

    All the small changes, gone unnoticable until one is finally swept away by the flood.

    "All the small changes," he said to himself, "All the tiny details you'd never otice before. All the late night phone calls, the messages left unanswered, and all the times the one other person you trust looks away." He took a long drag, and before he flicked the butt into the water, he said, "I should've seen it coming."

    As the cigarette butt left his grip, dropping down into the river of change, a loud roaring sounded. He looked up.

    The floodgates had opened.

By Hafiz Tajuddin with No comments


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