I’ve been gone for a long time, and there’s a reason for that.
A lot of times, my writing is a mix of personal and broader subjects and I think that adds a narrative feel to things without getting too self-indulgent. But today I will be flexible on that rule.
Because I have a story to tell. Of sorts.
And it begins at what is now my old apartment.
Like most writers, I am not a particularly happy person. I live a bleak and traumatised existence, I am comfortably depressed.
Or, perhaps, so I was. Now I am not so sure.
But as of the beginning of this story, I was in my usual stay of depression. My life was a cycle of hard work, poor health, and a struggle for self-improvement.
But like so many stories, this one starts with how such a cycle was broken.
As I fell asleep in my fashionably tattered bed at a fashionably unconventional hour, just as the sun was rising, I had no idea what I was in for.
I remember the exact hour I woke up. One ‘o clock in the afternoon. Except I thought it was midnight. It was very dark and unseasonably hot. I saw no sunlight and assumed I had slept until evening.
That is until I noticed yet another fashionable detail. My studio apartment had become quite upscaled as of recently, having a quaint little fireplace nestled in the corner of my room.
What made the situation all the more peculiar was how, in my negligence, I had thoughtlessly left the fireplace burning as I was going to sleep, and in early spring no less.
And that is when epiphany strikes, as it dawned on me that I had not in fact left the fireplace unattended, for I had in fact not been in the possession of a fireplace. Moreover, I looked at my phone and saw that it was one in the afternoon. What was blocking the sunlight I came to realise was in fact smoke.
At that point, I was lying in bed. And the next five seconds felt like minutes. Because I had an inner existential struggle. Like any comfortably depressed person, I had no reason to get out of bed. It was quite tempting to go back to sleep and simply let the smoke take me away once and for all.
But the good thing about emptiness is that it is a very self-defeating thing. Sure, I had no reason to get out of bed, but likewise, I had no real reason to go back to sleep either, as tempting as eternity may be.
So I finally decided that, perhaps, it was time to wake up.
And so I did.
I was quite cavalier about the whole incident. Having far too much dissociation to consider my own self-preservation, the first thought on my mind was my neighbours. I’m fairly certain I’d heard children play outside on occasion, and just because I have no reason to live doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be a good citizen.
But alas, I had an inner conflict. On one hand, I sensed an urgency in the matter at hand. To alert people and to evacuate the building.
But on the other hand, my ego, having been stirred awake after spending years in a coma, decided to grab me by my shoulder and remind me of modesty. I was sleeping in my underwear you see. I wore little besides a pair of what was hopefully presentably clean boxer shorts.
So for a while, I scrambled in the smoke and the dark, trying to put on an outfit.
But then, another thought struck me. The lights weren’t working, and the door was shut. I use an air conditioner for ventilation, and without electricity, I was introduced to a whole new meaning of the term hotbox.
As the smell of freshly cooked plastic occupied my nostrils it dawned on me that I had roughly two minutes left to live unless I figured out where the front door was.
Thankfully my sense of locality was unimpaired, and I managed to open the door.
Some would imagine that I would then proceed to exit, but I figured the open door bought me some time, and the fire didn’t seem to spread all too aggressively. So I went back inside again.
Sadly however I forgot that right next to the fire was a shelf where I stored a series of aerosol containers, including pressurised air, contact glue, and as many as two bottles of paraffin lighter fluid for added measure.
And there I was, two metres away from this ticking timebomb, trying to figure out what a man would have to do in order to get a pair of decent trousers around here.
But as I began to cough my priorities changed, and I thought to myself “Perhaps my neighbours will be understanding if I seem a bit ungentlemanly, after all, this is a matter of some urgency.”
And so, impolite as it was, I proceeded to knock on people’s doors in my daring Al Fresco line of spring wear.
Luckily for me, it was a Sunday afternoon in a mostly Catholic town. Most people were having dinner with their families at some bodega or other. Only a couple of people were home, and, as I suspected, they were quite sympathetic to my predicament. Someone even offered me a bottle of water. I didn’t quite understand why, but in retrospect, I think she was a care worker who understood the necessity for renal cleansing following a case of smoke inhalation.
I didn’t have a working phone, but thankfully, there were plenty of balconies to shout at as I reached the quaint little courtyard. Finally, an elderly couple responded. They were quite kind and proceeded to contact the authorities.
I sat down on the stairs near the doorway and contemplated my situation.
I remember how I kept thinking about how cold it was as I was sipping on the generous offering of water.
Eventually, however, my situation was about to change for the better, as, for the first time since childhood, I had a friendly encounter with a police officer. He asked me about the situation in a language that — as it turns out — I still struggle to understand.
But thankfully a helpful billow of smoke appeared around the corner to offer him directions to the fire.
After a brief inspection, he asked the elderly couple who called the authorities if I could wait inside their flat. I agreed to this arrangement.
And it was there that, much to my delight, I would finally get an upgrade to my wardrobe.
As I enjoyed the rest of this spectacle in a somewhat tight-fitting women’s bathrobe, eventually, the ambulance arrived. And much like Cinderella awaiting her magical chariot, so did they proceed to drape me in a festive shawl crafted from the most reflective polymer that modern science has to offer. It clashed a little bit with the bathrobe, but it still made me feel quite special.
I watched as the medics and the fire brigade darted back and forth out of the building until eventually, I heard the sound of what was strikingly reminiscent of an aircraft. It was some manner of industrial extractor fan used to clear out the smoke.
Eventually, after a series of onsite medical examinations, I was told that it was safe to return. One of the firemen brought me some clothes. A pair of blue jeans and a striped telnyashka. I found it to be quite the bold commentary on the divide between east and west and applauded his avant-garde sensibility.
Following that, I went inside, took my jacket and my shoes, and left the apartment behind.
Then, following a brief interview with the local press, I made my way to a hotel.
That is when I lost access to my PC and by extension, keyboard.
Today I tested my PC and it works quite well. Hence my writing this.
A lot of people will tell you that they get a new lease on life after a near-death experience. But to be perfectly honest, I feel strangely the same. I guess it gets old after you’ve done it a few times.
But I will say this, as I live in a new part of town, in a nicer (and less homicidally negligent) apartment that is far more central to the shops and the city itself… I have noticed something.
There are a lot of people sleeping in the streets. A couple of whom I’ve befriended since I got here. You may have some sort of misguided impulse to offer me sympathies, but truth is that my month of homelessness included a full satellite TV package and room service.
If I see anything, then it is how ungrateful I’ve been. How I’ve stopped appreciating the smaller things. How, in my desire to be a good writer, I’ve sheltered myself from life in the comforts of depression. Hopelessness is a tonic for the alienated soul, it brings rise and vibrance to one’s detachment and misery. It gives flavour to lifeless air. But it is also the folly of the privileged.
As I was stuck in my hotel room with nothing to do, I took to the streets and spoke to her denizens, and I see that there is no democracy in places where people go cold and hungry.
I should count my blessings, and I should be glad. But I am ever more forlorn. It is not the fire that haunts me, but rather all those faces of the people that I saw and spoke to. That is a far worse tormentor than any fleeting corporeal suffering. It cuts to the bone to know those faces, to know what a cruel and wicked thing that landlordism is. How it punishes the gentle, the innocent, and the virtuous.
As they suffer, and shiver, and hunger, the only recourse they find in their desperation is to politely ask for help. Over and over again. As days turn to weeks, weeks turn to months, and months into years… each day worse than yesterday. But do they steal? Do they take what we refuse to give? Do they confront us in our sheltered and negligent state of affairs? No. Instead, they resign in shame. Barely able to look us in the eye.
But I ask you dear reader, who is truly the shameful one here? You do not need to wear a shawl like mine in order to see one’s reflection in the presence of such a shame. Landlordism is one of the most barbaric and superfluous relics of the middle ages, it rewards those who take, and punishes those who give. It is a callous, ruinous, and miserable thing that robs society of its humanity.
It is the last gasping breath of a dying class of people who imposed themselves upon our status quo by means of bayonet, sword, and cannon. It is the spoils of centuries of violence, conquest, fencing, theft, and war. Ratified in a law built by warlords and aristocrats.
On behalf of those with whom I have recently become familiar, I urge you to consider the future. To consider democracy. To consider an end to landlordism and a beginning to land reforms. To guarantee by legal decree the rights for all citizens to have a home. The criminy of landlordism puts people into a cold and miserable existence, and it does so in more ways than just one.