When I look at a city, I see shards of imposing grey-glass fragments shooting up into the sky. They are impassive monoliths. Devoid of feeling. Human constructions, like metallic hives. But what I never thought about were the bees. The people, that is.
The people who inhabit the skyscrapers and apartments, people tucked into various metal niches, playing out their lives, their sorrows, their fears, their joys, hundreds, thousands of them, all in these multitudes of catacombs like a mass of bees clustered in a magnificent and endless tessellation of hexagons.
I guess this post may seem pointless, but I just wanted to share this feeling of wonder. All those people. We never think about it, do we? And all those houses in the suburbs, quiet, windows grey and empty, lawns neatly trimmed. Filled with families, filled with people, whose lives are being enacted right this moment, hearts cracking behind bedroom doors, hidden fears curling like black steam in bathrooms.
All the fights. The arguments. The moments of suffering, curled up on the kitchen floor, or tear-stained face smashed into pillow. The bathroom moments, of brushing one’s teeth, singing in the shower, staying in the silent bath until our fingers wrinkle. The love, the kisses, the sex. The laughter, sitting before a television. The delicious meals that make life suddenly seem okay, and the not-so-nice ones that make us want to escape to a land of sweets. Dogs and cats winding their way through rooms and around legs, bringing a furry kind of comfort to the people. The quiet hours at night, while adults talk about life and finances and hopes and dreams and fears in the dark beneath the bed sheets, and children read books beneath their blankets with torches or stay up late on their computers and chew over their own dreams and pains.
You wouldn’t think this flurry of activity occurred behind glass, metal and plain brick walls, would you? It’s astounding, when you really think about it. Why is it that all the violence of life happens behind an emotionless façade? Why do our heated and toxic emotions squirm behind still faces, and suffering festers quietly within the hearts of smiling people?
Home sweet home. There is more than meets the eye. Don’t judge a book by its cover. All of life is an iceberg. The clichés accumulate, meaningless individually, like shards of broken glass, but, together, create a clear window through which to look at life. We see the tip of it, the front of a house, a smiling face, and assume that is at all that is there, not seeing the looming bulk that stretches fathoms beneath the waters, down into the dark depths of a world older than the sun.
Let’s step back further, pull away the microscope, shall we? Zoom out. Did you remember the first time you went on a plane, and saw the land spread beneath you like a motherboard of streets and houses? The green swathes – grass. The clusters of red – houses. The blotches of dark grey – cities, skyscrapers. How insignificant did it make you feel, to think that most of your life occurred in that black or red dot, so small you could squash it like a bug. That’s when you truly realized how tiny we are, looking down at the homes of humanity from an equally tiny plane, a metal fly. My god, we’re so small, we’re so small, and look how big we make out our lives to be. The worries evaporate like smoke, and suddenly all that matters is the sunshine setting alight the wisps of the clouds, like glowing candy floss, and your sense of aliveness.
I wonder what it’ll be like after people have disappeared from the surface of the planet. I know people say that the sun will swallow Earth up, like some fiery white blood cell consuming an invading microbe, but suppose it’s something different, like a disease, and all the people just…disappear. It’s happened before. It’s happening right now. Animals are dwindling to extinction every day. I feel frightened when I think about the end of everything, but strangely peaceful as well, without knowing why.
Yes. Suppose the people disappear. And all that will be left are our monuments, our infrastructure, our bridges, our dams, our statues, our churches, our government buildings, our tombs, the pyramids, the Champs-Elysee, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Taj-Mahal, all the man-made wonders of the world and…our homes.
It would be like Ray Bradbury’s short story, ‘There Will Come Soft Rains’. Empty hollow shells of plaster and brick, or perhaps some futuristic substance that can withstand unimaginable temperatures and ferocious elements but are no match for the tiny things that can squeeze between the cracks of the world’s armor, the wriggling germs, the blackness within human hearts.
The wind might rustle the curtains of an open window, grassy tendrils curling their way into beds and the cutlery, sprouting from electric sockets like green hair, twisting around doorknobs as if Mother Nature wanted to open all the secret rooms of the murderers with a morbid curiosity, like ransacking a psychopath’s briefcase.
Birds might roost in pillows, deer make themselves at home beneath kitchen tables, butterflies alighting in the nursery. The air once filled with Pine Air-Freshener now smelling of grass and spring and living things. The buzz of appliances replaced with the hum of insects. All of it sunshiny and quiet and lovely.
I think there will be echoes inside the homes. I think that if Mother Nature takes a good long look inside some of them, after a while the ghosts of past times will fill the rooms. Negative images, shadows, of people eating at the table, watching television, making beds, playing with their pets, sleeping, reading, loving, laughing, hating, crying. Living. Crayon scrawls on walls. Notches showing the increments of height over the years on the kitchen doorpost. Little markings of a by-gone organism, like the hearts notched into the barks of trees that will eventually be worn away by the wind, filled out by bubbles of new wood growth.
And perhaps the aliens will come, and see these after images, these nebulous people refracted beneath the waters of time, floating in a dream. See our homes the way we see the hollowed-out dark caves of the Neanderthals and the red and brown paintings of ocher and dirt on the walls, and, like us, for a split second, their psyches will blossom with past shadows, just as our vision expands with fleshiness and the smell of smoke at the sight of these caves, with images of bulky humans cooking hunks of meat over a fire, dressed in fur. And we wonder about the world seen through the eyes of these past people, and their secret fears and dreams and joys and loves.
I wonder if the Neanderthals ever thought about their homes before they disappeared, and the ghosts and echoes they would leave behind, as we do now.
Whether they did or not, I hope they were happy, living inside their homes. I hope the caves kept them warm, and were the birthing grounds of good memories.
I hoped they enjoyed their little pocket of existence, a tiny bubble on the frothing waters of Time in the sea of the great Something.