The Past

July 25, 2015

Singapore 1999

‘Why did you leave Uganda?’

‘There was a war.’

‘It’s like that over there isn’t it? It’s all messed up.’

‘I guess.’

‘Did you see any action?’

(A long pause)’No.’

‘Cool! You got to tell me more about what you did there one day.’



‘The man who returned did not want to remember his past. He did not. He worked the shift and the rest of the time he walked the streets of the city like someone who only wanted to put as much distance between himself and his haunting past.

He liked walking. Or maybe it was the sensation of movement that comforted him. He wandered around the malls, into art galleries, he saw movies alone usually when everyone else was at work, but mostly he sat on park benches all by himself.

He wasn’t tied to time and necessity in the way other people were – there was a detached quality about the man who wanted to forget, like a flotsam surrendering itself to the ebb and flow of the river, it wasn’t the spirit of listlessness that betrayed him as someone who belonged nowhere….he was simply an aberration in cityscape where everything proceeded at a frenetic pace while he sat there impassively on the park bench like a man who was not beholden to time or the need to be any where like most people.

That didn’t mean the man who wanted to forget his past wasn’t firmly in the grove of life. He was….he was productive….dependable….a model worker, only there was a quality about him that suggested, the division between the present and past had crumbled to such a degree that one could scarcely tell whether he might perhaps be somewhere else even when he was there.

For the man who wanted to forget. At times the past would stream forth like a torrent and engulf him in a storm of memories. During those moments, a lingering sadness glazed his eyes as if he could see nothing before him except maybe Africa.

But for most of the time, everything fell into a happy litany that required so very little of the man who wanted to forget. He enjoyed being in the gyre of litany where each day would unfurl exactly like the last. The only variation being the diminishing tube of his toothpaste or that it his nails required clipping.

To the man who simply wanted to forget – the everyday ritual of litany was his balm against the pain of remembering….walking to the train station before dawn, watching Mr. Bean with the sound turned off in the cafeteria during break time in the factory, waiting all alone for the bus under the flickering wan of the flourescent light after the second shift, standing in line to pay for groceries. All these resembled a series of slippery prayer beads, each exactly the same being slipped over and over again – there was no beginning or end, only the assurance of the never ending continuum – this was all he ever wanted. All that he desired to since his return….to forget by being in perpetual motion.

From time to time, the past would creep up on him and shout out ‘booh!’ A fleeting reflection in a shop window. A familiar scent in a crowded elevator. The texture of rough unpolished stone on the quay which fascinated the man who only wanted to forget, but was unable to resist it’s raspy feel. The taste of electricity in the air just before a thunderstorm. The first stanza of birds at daybreak. The unusual way the dying light renders moss a bright emerald opalescence after the rain.

During these moments, the man would stop. As if a cord had been struck somewhere deep in his being like a solitary bell cutting across the aching silence of the desolate plains of his heart. Somewhere in this imagined waste land. The man remembered again and as if struck by some indescribable pain…he would look up at the godless sky and close his eyes.

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