Today I had a revelation, as if waking from a long dream that resembled reality all too closely, right down to the fine details.
It was an ordinary day, like any other really; I woke without the overly-enthusiastic assistance of my alarm, hovering in bed for a stew of hazy minutes, unsure of what there was worth getting up for, or what possible disadvantages there may be to staying in my makeshift incubator. I eventually slipped away when the bed wasn't looking, gliding quietly from the magnetic sheets, seamlessly merging with the comfort of my already worn-clothes on the other side. The few steps between the bedroom and the kitchen went without a hitch, bringing me parallel with the sink where I immediately filled my glass with the local brew, emptying the cool fluid into my awaiting gullet in 10 smooth gulps, counted out consecutively in a satisfying rhythm. Slam! The glass breaks the late-morning silence as it connects with the startled worktop, signalling the real beginning of another day.
Between the daily de-cluttering and breakfast, I heard a faint sound, at first like a silky whisper brushing gently against the ear, hinting at words and phrases as if building to a peak, but then suddenly dying again. I thought nothing of it, and so returned to the chorus of chores patiently waiting for me in various pockets of space around the house. After rallying the emptied cups from the remnants of yesterday, somewhere between the living-room and the kitchen, I became conscious of the sound again. Initially it just appeared to be noise, but the more I concentrated on it the more I heard, and the more I understood. It slowly dawned on me, like a dense grey cloud bringing with it the certainty of storms, that this noise, this constant background radiation had been here all along, contentedly resting in a safe corner of my mind somewhere. Like looking down at your arm to notice blood dripping from an unacknowledged cut, to both simultaneously ponder its origin and awake to its effect at the same time, this moment brought with it the sudden and horrifying realisation that these seemingly benign sounds were in fact voices. And there were lots of them, with no single locus, no definitive ending, chattering away in turns, each one as eager as the next to recall their stories, spill their guts and bare their disembodied souls to me as if I had enquired.
Understandably worried, I immediately called up my doctor who mistook my malady as merely English idiosyncrasy. Exasperated, full of, but nevertheless lost for words, I mustered one of many emergency French sounds that was undoubtedly invented for such an occasion. And like a sheep protesting the removal of its wool at the start of a long winter, I said “….baaaaaaaah!”. Apparently, my nasal objection was a hundred times more effective and comprehensible than any of my previous word-strings had been, and so in the condescendingly polite and impatiently calm manner that they only teach at medical, school she asked me about the voices.
“Describe them to me” she said. “How many of them are there?”.
“Well, hmmmm....first there's...the Party Man”, I tell her, almost accidentally articulating a question mark on the end of my sentence. Silence at the other end of the phone.
“Ze party man?” came the confused reply, as if I had slipped into an alternate dimension, one in which I was cold-calling potential customers in hopes of selling my services as a low-budget children's entertainer.
“Yes”, I replied reassuringly, “he doesn't stay long, but when he comes he's usually in high spirits. He tells me that it's my birthday, but at the same time, he says that the party we're going to have will be as if it's my birthday. It's quite confusing. Maybe it's a sort of riddle, or one of those 'if a tree falls in the woods' philosophical questions”. A longer bout of silence. I remove the phone from my ear to check that the battery hasn't died on me or that I've lost the connection.
“I...see....” came the voice eventually, like some trapped gas skeptically escaping a rather comfortable imprisonment.
“Who else?”, she probes, as if the infamous Party Man's tricks had once again failed in keeping a group of eight-year-olds occupied for the five simple minutes it takes to prepare a birthday cake, thus flunking his audition with the doctor.
“Well, there's another guy, equally as friendly as the first, but even more cryptic in what he says. He tells me to come down from the mountain, implying that I've stayed atop this mountain for some length of time, and that now Spring is here I should return home, wherever that is. Do you think I should interpret these voices like dreams? Is it all metaphorical and emanating from my sub-conscious? Repressed feelings perhaps?”
I begin to imagine that my multi-tasking doctor is struggling with a particularly fiendish crossword puzzle during my consultation. “Baaaaaaa....”, came the reply, half-expecting me to help her decipher what six letter word beginning with D, might be a large sea animal with thick, greyish skin, and live mainly in the Indian ocean, surviving on a diet of plantlife. I continue:
“There's the bright and cheerful woman with an often piercing voice, who uses martial arts to obtain her dinner, a man who refers to me as 'baby' and repeatedly requests to see my thong, a melancholy woman with her heart on fire and another who talks to rocks for moral support. There's a man who recounts his road trip through America following the Mississippi river, who appears later on to tell me that I can refer to him as 'Al' if I wish. I hear another, who always talks so quickly, but who apparently has the lungs of an old woman. He tells me that it's better to be sick in the head than sane in the city. On occasion, a rebellious young man who refuses to accept the ways of modern society tells me the story of how he expresses his non-conformist sentiments by throwing objects on the floor. They are numerous, faceless, unforgiving and relentless, they greet me with exuberant cheer the instant I awake in the mornings, and they interject when I am mute. They follow me, in their hundreds to the four corners of the earth, nagging at me like a rabble of needy children, making unreasonable and incomprehensible demands. I am powerless to make them stop or even to stymie their stories, they are stripped of sympathy, unanimous in their interrogation, and wholeheartedly heartless. I don't understand them or why they insist on talking in code, or why they even talk to me at all!”
“Wait just on one minute please, Mr Sing, I have someone else on the line.”
Before I could conjure another one of those emergency French sounds, a second bout of dumfoundedness was interrupted by the tinny, upbeat melody of some ska, beamed down via a distant satellite to ease my pain, while the ever-intrigued doctor set about reading the winding Wikipedia entry on the manatee. Sea Cow redirects here.
“Mr Sing”, I say to myself, trailing off. At that exact moment a voice chimes in over the music as if all along he had been calmly waiting to give his personal diagnosis;