I started coming up with something else before I realised this was week 26, and so I wrote this instead.
26 weeks into a yearlong project, and what have I learned? Doesn’t feel like a lot some days, and often feels like it’s worse than when I started. Definitely feels like I’m doing the same thing over and over. But, then again, it also feels like I’ve changed a lot.
Same but different. Different but same. Same but different. Roll film.
I sat next to a man in a helmet at the bus stop today.
Night was beginning to fall, amber light peeling away from the horizon. The sun was still hot, even as it disappeared casually below the skyline on its way to burning somewhere new. The air remained muggy and thick. The wooden seat of the bus stop still held in warmth from the deceptively cloying day.
All of which made it even stranger to see such a strange man in such a strange helmet.
Full face and made of heavy iron, thick bolts and frosted glass. Old, rusted, discoloured. Round, twice the size of the head it presumably encased. I couldn’t make out his face; I couldn’t, indeed, make out any of his features. The helmet was screwed into an elaborate neckpiece, which gave way to a full body suit that wrapped the figure in thick, sweaty plastic. A traveller emerged from the sea, perhaps – waiting for a bus to take him home. Like me.
I picked something from my teeth, flicked it to the ground. Hoped, in truth, to get a reaction from the masked man. Nothing. He sat, still as cold stone, perhaps melted into the seat, perhaps turned to wood by the vanishing daylight.
I smiled, for some reason. A smile from somewhere, far back in my head. A neuron firing, a chemical bleeding through sodden flesh. But I reached out and grabbed that smile, and gave it to my nautical friend as a gift, let it pass from me into the world unto him.
“Bit hot for that, isn’t it?” I tried. Nothing again. So aloof, this metal plastic glass man.
“At home,” I ventured, “it gets so hot that I can sit there watching television in shorts and nothing else, fan blowing in my face, and I still drip with sweat.” I smiled again. “But maybe I should try the helmet?”
Stillness. What must it be like, to be such a strange person, such a vibrant anomaly – and not know it?
So, I reached forward. Now I was concerned that this visitor had, in fact, died there on that bus stop, packed in his self-imposed furnace. Maybe it wasn’t self-imposed at all; perhaps this was a punishment. A ruling from an ancient god, deep within the inky black of the ocean. He’d been sealed into a waking tomb: justice wrought upon him for some incomprehensible folly. Wrapped in a tiny metal and plastic prison and left to rot at the number 9 bus stop.
Either way, it was worth checking, in case I needed to call someone. So, I pushed my fingers through the air toward the copper-coloured spikes of rust that edged over the helmet’s surface.
And as I did, a gloved hand shot upward and gripped my wrist. Held it tight.
I couldn’t move my arm. Felt the blood start to drain from my fingers, caught in a vice. I grimaced, but said nothing; couldn’t speak, even, as the helmet finally started to shudder and clunk and turn towards me, rolling around like forgotten machinery.
A soft glow from the tiny, frosted window. I looked, hard, but couldn’t make out any features through the ancient, scratched sand. I imagined bright blue eyes, and then realised that bright blue eyes were a lie made up by Hollywood phonies, and that chances were that the guy inside this fucking weird suit had dull, grey eyes. Lifeless and real. And a little battery operated torch, maybe.
But my wrist hurt, and I could feel the pain lance through my motor neuron system, feel it fire shudders up my spine into the back of my head. I felt my body contort, my face try to turn away from the approaching helmet. A storm was coming. Rolling in off the coast, bubbling up from under the quiet, cool ocean and filling in around my ears.
I relaxed, and waited for the rain.
And as I did, the strange man in the helmet let go of my wrist: instantly, like clockwork. Blood coursed through my arm, the feeling coming back piecemeal as it always did. I wouldn’t feel that hand properly for months, but that was nothing new. Hereditary.
The man in the helmet stood up, looked down on me with the glowing glass.
So, I stood too. I should have been standing to run, or to at least back away warily like they do in the movies. But, instead, I stood in order to stand perfectly still, and wait patiently for something to happen. As always, always waiting.
The man raised both of his gloved hands to his neck, and started flipping hinges and bolts over. A hissing and then a rumbling, billowing out of the widening gaps between the helmet and the rest of the suit. A quiet cacophony: captivating and terse in equal, malevolent measure.
Here come those bright blue eyes, I thought. Try not to say anything too stupid.
Rain, indeed, began to fall. Summer rain, refreshing steam. Real. I hadn’t expected that.
And with one swift motion, the stranger pulled off his helmet, and looked to the tumbling heavens.
And in that moment, I saw not a face, but bleeding shards of vibrant colour being pulled up into the fading sky.
Sweltering swirls of saccharine. Blusterous blades of bafflement.
Erupting from a neck of plastic, pushing past nothing more that a gently dimming shape of light, came forth a spiralling explosion. Pieces of tangible colour, wafting on the wind. Sharp, angular shapes, like frozen light. Coloured shards of two dimensional ice, billowing like a fountain from the suit, drawn ever upward. A mesmerising, kaleidoscopic display. Uncanny, like the shapes that form on the inside of your eyelids.
The pieces continued to break up, fractal, as they floated upwards, pushing against the light rain. Some fractured so finely in the precipitation that they formed smoke, twisted and swirling. Organic and steadfastly geometric.
Meaningless, all of it, but mesmerising, dragging my sight upwards, ever upwards, over the horizon and into the deep. Down, down, down into the sky.
The helmet cluttered to the ground, rolled dead to my feet. Banal and real.
I didn’t care about it. I kicked it, even, kicked it away from me. I let it roll away somewhere else, and turned my attention back to the piece of my focus that was becoming encased in colour.
And as I did, I caught sight of the bus stop sign, and realised that I was already half way home.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.