The Sound of a Longing

The more I think about the construction man, the more convinced I am that deep down, at the far reaches of our cores, a type of pool sits unmoved, quiet, it’s form held in place by its own inertia.

It took a long time for me to see this. To understand that that pool is a primal longing buried deep inside us, sitting patiently, waiting to be stirred by an external force. And that when that happened, and the ripples emerged, they’d stop at nothing until they reached the source of that disturbance.

It was many years ago since I met him for the first time. And that night, as we spoke, he struck me as someone caught in a tragic story of redemption; a type of story in which a resolution was always a breath away, but was forever eluding the main character, so that at every moment, he was always arriving too late to catch the silver linings of his life.

He told me he’d worked at a large construction firm for twenty-five years. In all those years, he said, he’d never seen a single building collapse, until a year prior to our meeting. He said when it happened, tests were carried out, analyses done. The results showed that the collapse was caused by an estimation error in the tensile strength of the building’s pile foundation.

His job on the day of the collapse was to carry steel rods from a truck to the entrance of the building. He was only a few meters away when it happened. He said the shock of the collapse overrode his senses, so that he lost his balance at once and fell unconscious.

An ambulance carried him off. Tests were carried out, analyses done; and in the end, he was deemed unharmed and free to return to work.

Three weeks passed and one night he sat at the balcony of his apartment, smoking a cigarette and listening to the sound of the city. That night, as with other nights, he said the air was heavy with mist and the rattling of trains and the voices of noisy neighbours. He listened to the city that night, until at some point, the city fell silent.

And in that silence hung a memory.

He thought of that day at work. Of steel rods and the shadows of an error spreading through the building like a virus. The memory lingered in his mind until he felt his breath quickening, a dark cloud slowly growing around his thoughts and wrapping everything in a blanket of shadow.

He watched the building fall in his mind, piece by piece, and just as it hit the ground, he collapsed again.

When he awoke later that night, he felt something like the final traces of a memory lingering somewhere at the corner of his mind. It was like the voice of a bird trapped underground, chirping away with laboured efforts in the dark and silence.

As we spoke, he tilted his glass towards his face and looked inside it. I imagined him watching time and memories swim in a minuscule at the base. After a while, he shook the glass, swigged the remainder of his drink, and then continued his story.

He asked me if I’d ever worked in a construction firm before. I answered in the negative. He asked if I’d ever been in a noisy place; heavy machines pounding, traffic bustling. I answered in the affirmative.

“I’m not a superstitious man,” he said, staring blankly into space, “but I’ve always been able to find a kind of rhythm buried in the noise, whether it’s machines pounding or traffic bustling. Most times at work, I’d be nodding my head and moving my feet to the tune of Coldplay’s Adventures of a Lifetime coming from the diesel generator, or to Claude Debussy’s Reverie playing softly in the background of a stone crusher.”

The man took a pause. He was about to continue with his story when he stumbled over his words, went silent again, then continued speaking after a while.

“But since the collapse,” he said, “it’s been different. I no longer hear that music, not like before anyway. Whenever I think of the building and the rubble and sound of chaos digging into the ground, I’d hear the lingering melody of a song emerge from all the noise. I’d try hard to concentrate, but all I’d catch are its final notes already ebbing away.”

I asked what the name of the song was, but he shook his head and said he hadn’t a clue.

That’s why he quit his job. For him, there was no point working if he couldn’t have his music. He said he’d been traveling the country, making stops at different cities, listening to the sound of traffic and the rattling of trains and noisy neighbours, hoping that one day, he’d find his music again.

Eventually time passed, and around midnight, he stood up, shook my hand and left.

Some minutes after he was gone, I went outside the bar; a dense heat hung over the city and a lazy crowd floated the sidewalk — all of them shuffling, moving back and forth like paper balls at the feet of lonely children.

I wondered if there was some type of rhythm to that, too. If between the shuffling of feet and the dull conversations, a type of music lay buried, waiting to be discovered by a man whose many years of handy work had taught him to listen past the noise in search of some form of meaning.

But it was only recently that I came to realize that perhaps what he heard in his mind was not merely a song, but a yearning for something deeper, yet simple. Perhaps it was something he couldn’t find in all the traffic and the machines, because it was something he already had.

Perhaps it was a pool, which, having sat gently at his core, had been stirred and triggered, ripples pulsing, in search of a source that was already within itself. And it was not until I met another man that I realized this, but that’s a story for another time.

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