Maya sat on her bed looking at the wall in front of her. The space inside her head that was supposed to be occupied by various thoughts was curiously empty. She marvelled at this weird void, which didn’t feel like empty space at all - no, it felt more like a thing, a shapeless grey lump of something that resided on the inside of her skull and, at the same time, also in the middle of her chest, right behind the sternum, from where it stretched upward to the very base of her throat. She could see it with her mind's eye, like some foreign object that grew out of her organs and positioned itself right at the very centre of her being. Sometimes, when she knew she should be feeling something, she would poke at the thing, hoping it would show some signs of life, but it never did. She hasn’t felt anything move inside her for a very long time.
She knew there was a time when the thing wasn't there, or at least she thought she knew that, but when she tried to focus on any specific memory from her past, she saw herself only in third person, from a distance, living out that event like a character in a movie. She didn’t feel like she was that same person anymore, and the harder she tried to recall what she actually felt in those moments, the sooner the memory grew blurry and fell apart, like a dream that was perfectly sharp and lucid just a second ago falls apart and fades from your consciousness as soon as you open your eyes and rejoin the waking life.
Finally, a solitary thought appeared from the back of her mind, slowly making its way forward until it became clear enough for her to grasp its meaning. The thought was wondering what time it was and how long she has been sitting there. Maya turned her attention to her body and a dull heavy sensation in her leg told her that it has been longer than she was aware of.
She held on to the thought like it was the only thing connecting her to the outside world - she imagined it as a cord stretching outwards that she could grab and it would pull her out into reality, where time didn’t stand still. It seemed to work, as other, smaller and less important thoughts started to appear from that first one, slowly spreading around and filling the deafening silence inside her head, accumulating, until there were enough of them to collectively compel her to move.
She slowly wiggled her stiff body off the bed and managed to stand up. The cramp in her leg wasn't as bad as she was expecting. She stretched her arms upwards and felt the usual tightness in her shoulders that was always there, only made worse by the prolonged periods of immobility that she subjected herself to. Maya sighed and made her way to the kitchen. Another day was already scurrying forward at its usual speed, and she was left to her familiar routine of half-heartedly trying and desperately failing, as always, to catch up to it.
She watched her hands move independently, without any conscious input on her part, shuffling around, filling this and moving that, until the strong bitter smell of coffee was in the air, and she felt like the thick white fog that was spread over the day ahead of her started to clear. She could make out a few tasks that she thought she would be able to manage and she wondered what kind of day this was going to be, as until now she has believed herself more of a spectator in the story of her life, who had little to no influence over what happened in it. She was not entirely wrong.
Her life wasn’t a bad life by any stretch of the imagination - a fact of which she kept tirelessly reminding herself for the sake of that elusive thing we call perspective. Whenever Maya started to feel sorry for herself, she would tell herself all the things that she knew she had to be grateful for, checking them one by one off a mental list of privileges she was supposed to be enjoying.
She was relatively young and relatively healthy - check. Not a picture of perfect health by any means, but she was able-bodied and mobile, experiencing pain only occasionally, from one thing or other, and free to go about her life largely undisturbed by any biological malfunction to which our fragile organisms are so incredibly susceptible.
Loving and supportive parents - another check. And even though one of them was dead now, she knew she was lucky to have had the upbringing that was given to her. In her 30 years of life Maya has been exposed to the world enough to know not to take that for granted. She has heard all kind of stories, from close friends and strangers alike. Kids being kicked out on the street the minute they turn eighteen. Kids being deprived of all sorts of things, from love and attention to education and medical care. Abuse, so much abuse, of all kinds - and that's just the parents who actually mean harm. Then there are the ones who mean well, but often wind up doing nothing but damage - you’ve got your idealists, your disciplinarians, your coddlers and vicarious livers, religious fanatics... And of course there are the ones who are simply not there, wether by choice or some twist of fate, an accident perhaps or a deadly disease. No, Maya knew that to be loved and supported by the people who brought you into this world wasn’t a given, and she counted her family as an advantage, despite their many, many flaws.
Friends - she had some. Most of them lived far away, and the natural progression of life has pulled them all apart somewhat, but in the rare moments she was in their company, she still felt a kind of unity and a sense of belonging that exists between people who choose to care about each other without being obligated to do so. Another check.
Health. Parents. Friends. Money. Travel. Education. Experience. Choices. Opportunities. She went through the list over and over, mechanically, like checking items off a grocery list.
It didn’t help at all.
That's the thing about perspective. No matter how objective you try to be about your position in life, it's no use. We are all trapped in the world that only exists to us and not to others, we are doomed to experience life from our own personal view, we live and die with it, and if it makes living unbearable to you, no amount of contemplating the woes of the world will make you feel any better than the way you feel.
You live only your life and no one else's. On the threshold of the fourth decade of her existence, Maya was still figuring out how - but she was determined. She was getting tired of letting herself be carried forward by the river of circumstance and ending up in places she didn’t want to be. For the first time in her life, she was taking charge. She finally had some goals, ambitions even. Only in moments like this, they all seemed impossibly far and unattainable.
Maya took a sip of coffee from her mug, savouring the bitterness, and closed her eyes. I have this coffee, she said to herself. I'm drinking it after sleeping in a warm bed, under a roof, in my own home. I am safe. I have my family, friends, money, health. She kept trying to convince herself she should be happy.
She was grateful. And she wasn’t unhappy. But that's not the same thing.
Today was the day to go outside. Not every day was an outside kind of day, but the walls have been closing in on her a little too much lately, so Maya felt that rare but surprisingly urgent need to leave the house.
She had a few errands to run in the city and she decided to make a day of it. She loved being outside, it was just so difficult to get there sometimes. But on the days she managed to break through that initial resistance, built up of various anxieties and general indecisiveness, she would end up enjoying herself immensely. Maya had discovered long ago that outdoors existence was somehow easier, and sometimes when she was there she would even experience something so close to joy, it might as well be the real thing. She found weird pleasure in having her body move in a way it was intended to, in feeling the aching in her legs from walking too much, in seeing real sunlight and the way it permeated everything, she was fascinated by the assault of colours and textures and noises that the city always offered, and she welcomed the much needed stimulation.
It has been almost a year since she moved to the Capital, and she liked it a lot better than the city she lived in before. It was quite old, and it had a very peculiar character - it felt metropolitan and provincial at the same time. It wasn’t very big and the population density was generally low, which made it look almost completely deserted at times. But it was still the Capital, so it had a modern and progressive feel that comes from being exposed to the international community, a kind of feel that is lacking from larger but more isolated and less important cities.
This gave the place its unique personality and a visual style that was unlike anything Maya had experienced before, and she was an avid traveler. Parts of it reminded her of some small European towns, while others were reminiscent of grand industrial structures of big cities. It was also the first time Maya lived by the water, and when she walked along the coastline, the wind and the warmth of the sun on her face would bring distant echoes of childhood holidays on the Mediterranean or by the Black Sea, when her father was still alive and real life was still somewhere far ahead, and it could be anything.
But now, a large portion of her life has already happened to her, and it was thoroughly disappointing.
Maya walked along a sunlit street and thought about the day her father died. She thought about the blood flooding his brain, wondering if he had a chance to realise that there was no more time left for him, and that all the things he was planning and working towards would never happen now. She thought about how the very same thing could happen to any one of us at any moment. She imagined her own brain filling up with blood, and how with her final breaths she would finally understand and appreciate the importance of time, but it would be too late. She thought about how even with this terrible knowledge she still continued wasting her life away.
She walked aimlessly around the back streets of the old town with death on her mind and she could feel the seconds of her life slipping through her fingers and disappearing in the abyss of the past, along with the thirty years she had already thrown in there, and she felt utterly helpless. She felt as if she'd been left out of some important race, which she now had to join, only she was too far behind and there was no point even trying anymore. She walked until her legs were on fire and she couldn't feel her feet, but her mood remained the same.