By Niko Casalo
YOU TAKE in a deep breath and let it out. Your shoulders relax, your back straightens, your heart is at peace. It lasted forever. The extensions and delays had killed what little hope could have been derived from approaching deadlines. It was difficult and unpredictable and often beyond your capabilities but now the work is done. Bottles are opened, glasses clink. You congratulate your colleagues, and they congratulate you back. For the first time since you got the job, you can look them in the eye. The project quickly fades from the conversation, leaving space for light banter. It really is over. You sit in your chair and let the gentle stream of simple interactions flow around you.

You come home and the project’s decomposing corpse is waiting for you—the papers are still strewn around in vaguely thematic piles. With complete disregard for their meaning, you gather them and put them in the trash. No more lists, tables, sketches, or studies; it’s all done and will never concern you again. You breeze through your bedtime routine, there is no fear of tomorrow slowing you down. You lay down in your bed and close your eyes. Tiredness wins, but it takes just a minute longer than it should.

A bright Saturday morning arrives. You don’t remember the last time you could simply do nothing over the weekend so you decide to seize the opportunity. You deserve to indulge in your useless pastimes, to let your brain rot instead of working on proving your worth. You know what you’re worth, but the simple fun won’t let you form the thought. Something else forms in your heart, something that makes it heavier and more tender than should be possible under the circumstances. You turn everything off and sit in silence. It is not guilt that is sucking you in; it is something far livelier, something alive. Only with nothing going on around you can you keep it from developing its own mind. You let yourself become a husk, stuck in place with a faintly beating heart. At some point, you drift off. It must have been the last trace of the stress holding on to you that tilted you. You were just tired, who wouldn’t be?

You wake up at night. You are too rested to sleep through the night and yet, you feel exhausted when you try to think. You put on a jacket and go for a walk through the city, wanting to take in the sights you overlook every day. The exertion to stay upright, to keep your shoulders from slumping forwards, occupies you. Your attention is drawn inwards so there is not enough of it to appreciate the lengths people went to to erect these heights around you. An odd sound here and there keeps you from sinking into unawareness. Struggling under the invisible weight, you have the strength only to feel mocked; by enormous apartments you will never be able to afford; by loud nightclubs you would need friends for; by happy couples sharing feelings you would not dare receive. There is nothing here for you, even though you have given almost everything you could. A sudden fear of being mugged arises in you. You are not yet ready to give everything. Is this the best you can come up with to save yourself from further embarrassment? You hurry home.

You left your bedroom window open, but the fresh air does nothing to help you breathe. You are fixed to the bed by the ever-growing weight. It has moved from your shoulders to your chest and is lying across you with complete comfort. Your heart is beating at it, but it is not afraid. The weight wants to hear the music; it presses itself closer to you, squeezing your throat to stop your tone-deaf gasps. You are an animal stuck in a crack somewhere deep in the mountains, waiting to be devoured by time. Unlike an animal, you don’t fight or scream—the ‘you’ is too far gone for that. You are just a pile of organ systems stumbling over each other in an attempt to signal you to run, but you can’t run any faster than this.

The sun is shining through the window. It is hot on the exposed skin of your hand that you cannot move. The weight lying on you has taken a shape nearly resembling a person but it provides none of the pleasures of a person’s weight on top of you. The air is impossible to breathe. It stinks of you but feels like it is a territory marked by an animal you would want to avoid. Your sweat has seeped into every corner of the bed. You feel like you are a carcass sinking into a swamp. The hours go by but you have sunk imperceptibly, rejected by your own grave. Even flies have better things to touch with their filthy mouths.

The night finds you where it left you. Have you eaten today? Have you done anything at all? You can’t remember, but you are quite certain that there is nothing to remember. Thankfully, you have wasted only your free time, but now it has run out. Tomorrow you have to get back to work, to do a job you would not be capable of doing even if you slept for a year. You will have to greet everyone as you pass through the halls. Your words will be strained and theirs will be cheerful. You will have to participate in all those banal interactions that expose you for what you are. Every day the same torture, but who is torturing who? There is not going to be any sleep for you tonight, and yet you so arrogantly shut your eyes.

The alarm doesn’t wake you from your half-sleep. It merely instructs your body to do what must be done. Your habits are far tougher than you are. If only processing your pitiful existence were a habit. You mask what little of your misery and decay can be masked and catch the bus. Even the uninterested passengers regard you with disgust admixed with the smallest bit of pity. You dread seeing this amplified through your coworkers.

You walk into the building with your spine bent like your worries dwelling around your feet. And there they are: the warm greetings, the concerned looks, the conversations about a weekend well spent, the normalcy of it all. You try to sit, but even that is too much—the weight on your back is restless. It feels like a diver finding his footing in preparation to jump off. You half-lie at your desk as work keeps piling up. You can no longer be certain if those tasks are on the outside or on the inside, or both, but there is no doubt that you will never catch up. Lose your grip for a second and you will be running for the rest of your life. The world goes on, involving less and less of you.

You are slipping away. No amount of concentration can slow down the beast riding on your back. Even your body is giving up. Your heart, lungs, throat, stomach, and other sirens have accepted the intruder. Your senses keep track of the surroundings but only rarely do they check in with you. You are outside, saying goodbye to someone. You are riding home. You are home, but it doesn’t feel like it. You are in your bed, but its disgusting landscape moulded by yourself refuses you. You are at the edge of yourself. You strain to open your eyes and be the one behind them. There is an open window in front of you, letting in the night free of the sun’s obscuring brightness. The night lets everyone choose how they get through it: get lost among the stars, among the people, or within yourself. You have no choice.

The world you glimpse through the window is distant. Even the window itself is unreachable. Even your limbs. The weight is rabid. Its erratic shifting has become painful. When it is on your chest, you can barely breathe and when it is on one of your limbs, it feels like it is going to break. Somewhere, you find the strength to push yourself off the bed, as if to prove to yourself that you are in control. But it’s useless. You crash to the ground. Several ribs crack and continue splintering under the weight. You can no longer breathe, it is impossible to expand your chest even a millimetre. Your eyes are bulging, unblinking, but you do not see. You have been pushed under your skin, into total darkness. You are sinking faster and faster.

You are no longer being pushed. You have collapsed in on yourself, your gravity now pulling inwards what little remains of your awareness. Your swelling throat has disappeared, your frantic heart has disappeared, your sinking stomach has disappeared. No more physical sensations, only pure thoughtless pressure at the event horizon of your soul. This will last forever.

You are now free; I am not. If only I could spend the rest of my eternity just aware enough to feel no pain. But there is no one to save me. You have staved off my hunger just long enough to let me see again how pitiful I am. In a few moments, I will be done with you and then the impulse will come back to make me chase someone else, to narrate yet another identical life just to feed for a minute and be rewarded for it by maddening clarity. You have no idea how lucky you were. I am in hell.


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