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Mirrors/Oglinzi

You work a regular nine to five and step out of the office tired and annoyed with colleagues; you wait in traffic and sweat, and sweat internally thinking of the duties waiting for you at home, a nagging wife and kids, maybe a girlfriend that you don’t know how to break up with, and then the same work the next day, the routine. So you park the car somewhere and, from the same apathy and mental exhaustion that has prevented you from leaving your wife or your girlfriend when you still could, you start to walk. You walk into it and the dusk hour stretches towards you, a time away from time, on the other side of night but also of day, filled with colors and the long shadows of buildings. You feel nostalgic without being fully aware of it, because you are not thinking much but just mechanically walking along, driven by some motor impulse or maybe something else. Driven by suppressed nostalgia, let’s say you end up in the most nostalgic part of town which happens to be the Xin’an River.

You become vaguely aware that it had rained. “How strange… I had not been aware of the rain.” You scratch your head and then check the watch. It’s ten after eight. This means nothing but you can ascertain that it’s ten after eight and it had rained. “I must have been so caught up in the work.” And yet, there was a whole storm in town because you see, for the first time, that there are puddles and that there are also raindrops in the ironwork of the bridge. And you also notice not only that you have sweated but that the atmosphere is uncommonly humid. You realize that it’s uncommonly hot for June and that you’re late for home.

Chen Zhi was walking up and down the bridge with an agitated pace, trying to understand what had scared him from the relaxed apathy that seconds ago had him contemplating the river and thinking of himself in the second person. Suddenly, his present state and his past thought clicked into place and he realized that he, Chen Zhi, had just seen the outlines of constructions across Xin’an, rooted in clouds above its waters.

“Amazing, those mirages. Aren’t they?” said a man that had appeared on the bridge and was watching Chen Zhi with amusement.

“You see it too?” asked Chen Zhi.

“In Huanshan there are mirages like these almost every summer, if you stand in the right angle along the river. It’s something to do with light projecting itself off the…” the man did not finish his sentence, he was thinking something.

“I don’t remember seeing this before. In any case, not this clearly, not in those proportions. It’s an entire city!”

The man smiled wistfully.

“You see there that light?” The stranger pointed his walking stick towards a light that had just turned on at one of the windows in the other town. “That must be a light that really turned on somewhere, in another town.”

“But maybe this is real,” said Chen Zhi.

“How could it be? Does it make any sense to you other than as a refraction in this hot weather?”
Chen Zhi didn’t know what to answer and shifted uncomfortably his body weight to the other foot. He felt stupid and also a little disappointed.

“That light,” said the stranger drawing closer, “is merely pointing out that it’s late, and that people like you and I must go back to our homes, have our meals…” He touched the tip of his hat with the index for goodbye.

“We live in a world of mirrors. Who knows where we end up at the end of all this motion between one surface and the next. That is my conclusion.” He spoke over his shoulder as he walked away.
There was a loss in the old man’s departure because, Chen Zhi thought, they had shared this bizarre moment and the man’s words were adding to it depth.

“Wait!”

The old man turned, wearily, and waited for the other to make his demand. Chen Zhi didn’t know what to say; the night was starting to fall all around them and he could only make out the man’s silhouette. He moved towards the stranger, forwarding his presence rather than the question.

“What did you want to ask me?”

Chen Zhi panicked and felt stupid again. Right, what was it that he wanted? The panic grew, the old man seemed impatient. “I’m sorry, you must think I’m strange.”

“Don’t be embarrassed. I think I understand. You work a regular nine to five and step out of the office tired and annoyed with colleagues; you wait in traffic and sweat, and sweat internally thinking of the duties waiting for you at home, a nagging wife and kids, maybe a girlfriend that you don’t know how to break up with, and then the same work the next day, the routine. So you park the car somewhere and, from the same apathy and mental exhaustion that has prevented you from leaving your wife or your girlfriend when you still could, you start to walk. You walk into it and the dusk hour stretches towards you, a time away from time, on the other side of night but also of day, filled with colors and the long shadows of buildings. You feel nostalgic without being fully aware of it, because you are not thinking much but just mechanically walking along, driven by some motor impulse or maybe something else. Driven by suppressed nostalgia, let’s say you end up in the most nostalgic part of town which happens to be the Xin’an River. You become vaguely aware that it had rained. ‘How strange… I had not been aware of the rain.’ You scratch your head and then check the watch. It’s eight. This means nothing but you can ascertain that it’s eight and it had rained. ‘I must have been caught up in the work.’ And yet, there was a whole storm in town because you see, for the first time, that there are puddles and there are raindrops in the ironwork of the bridge. And you also notice not only that you have sweated but that the atmosphere is uncommonly humid. You realize that it’s uncommonly hot for June and that you’re late for home. At this point something strange, like this mirage, wakes you from your torpor; you don’t want it to be just another regular event, in the series of life’s monotonies. So what will you do about it, Chen Zhi?”

A shiver ran down Chen Zhi’s spine. “Did I meet you before?”

“How else would I know your name? Since you don’t remember, introductions aside, let me remind you that you wanted to ask something.”

Chen Zhi was confused by this feeling of déjŕ vu that the words were inducing in him…like at the back of his mind there was a great recognition, just waiting to emerge.

“Perhaps you will ask your question later.” The old man handed him a card which Chen Zhi took with an automatic gesture and placed in his breast pocket. “Now you must excuse me. I have a wife and a meal to get to and, I think, you must have something you must do.” The man took out a pocket watch. “It’s eight o’clock already!”

Chen Zhi would then try in vain to recall the old man’s face. No distinguishing marks. If he had ever looked like anything, that budding thought of an identity had vanished before Chen Zhi could understand that this stranger was looking increasingly, frightfully familiar.









Iulia David    6/24/2012


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