Boredom

1

At one point in my life, things had become so monotonous it was becoming hard to tell the days apart. I woke up every morning, went to work at the bank, fastened elastic bands around wads of money, came home, had lunch and dinner and went to bed to wait for morning to come. My ‘friends’ were just as monotonous as the life I lead; the people I had for family even more so. I had shared the same room with the same sister, in the same house, on the same street and neighbourhood ever since I was born. We didn’t have a pet and we didn’t go on vacations. We spent our summer holidays sitting in the front garden and watching the world go by; no barbecues, no Frisbee games, no chocolate chip cookies or lemonade. My parents were neither stern nor easy going. They were, however, as much like each other as any two people could possibly be; both were as dull as cardboard and colourless as old wallpaper. It had come to a point that I would’ve welcomed getting hit by a bus just to have a little action and a change of scenery; be it a hospital room or a grave. I believe it was around my 23rd birthday that I realized I was losing my mind.


2
I met Sarah the morning after my birthday when she sat next to me on the 7:40 bus I took every morning to the downtown. Different people sat next to me everyday, but I had stopped taking notice of them when it dawned on me how desperate it was that I depended on checking out other people just to have something to do with my mind. As it was, I took minimum notice of the red-haired, pinstriped-panted, pink-shoed diversion that appeared in my field of vision and deposited herself by my side. I took even less notice as she pulled some chewing gum from behind her ear and start chewing it loudly, making sucking sounds and popping balloons noisily. I did, however, take some notice as I looked at our reflection in the window I was sitting at and realized she was staring at me avidly; had been staring at me for quite a while now. She caught my eye in the window and turned around quickly in a failing attempt to pretend she hadn’t been looking at me at all. I stared blankly at the window, wondering if this small, meaningless yet astonishing feat I had just witnessed had actually occurred. I wondered if, had it really occurred, what its significance could be. I wondered what impact such an event would have on my day, week, month or life. It was a sign of how dulled my senses had become that such questions hovered around aimlessly in my head with no interest or motivation attached. I came out of my modest reverie to catch her eye in the window, again. This time it took her a few more seconds to realize I was looking at her, after which she gracelessly turned her face away, again. I turned around and looked at her curiously, but she kept her face averted, staring at what seemed to be an excitingly interesting something on the back of the driver’s head. It did occur to me to say hello, how do you do, what the hell is your problem?, but suddenly none of it mattered in the slightest, and, sighing, I turned back to my window to gaze aimlessly out of the window. She didn’t look at me again, or, at least, I didn’t catch her eye in our reflection again. My stop arrived, and I got up, stepped over her feet without looking at her and got off. By the time I had reached the dull, grey stoned building, I had already forgotten about her.
3
One o’clock was lunch break at the business district, and, being part of the business district myself, the rule applied. Every day I sat obediently behind my miniscule desk, already crowded with counting machines, scraps of paper to mark the amount of each pile, a number of dulled pencils and blue-tipped pens and a seemingly never-ending supply of elastic bands, waiting for the lunch cart to bring my cream cheese and lettuce sandwich and carrot juice. Though it did sometimes occur to me to try something different just for fun, when I did muster up the courage to do so, one look at the different, colourful other varieties was enough to scare me back to my usual meal. Today was to be no exception; or so I thought. As I pondered the different piles on my desk, mentally organizing my post-lunch program of banknote-wrapping and labelling, it suddenly occurred to me to eat out. Just like that. Eat out. Eat. Out. Simple as it may seem, such a change of heart was as familiar to me as a balloon to a porcupine. It just didn’t fly. The stern monotone embedded in me just didn’t allow such things as a simple change of routine. I sat silently staring at the corkboard in front of me, fearfully regarding this new, outrageous idea that bounced around playfully in my mind. How about I eat out today instead of my usual cream cheese and lettuce sandwich and carrot juice? How about that?
'Lunch.'
I jumped in surprise, looking at the blue stapler that had just talked to me. Then the rustle of plastic and paper from behind alerted me to the presence of the lunch cart in the vicinity. I turned slowly around; regarding the few people flocked around the cart, choosing out their meals for the day, discussing their opinions on the different looks and tastes, encouraging their colleagues to try out a certain combination or inquiring about a certain favourite of their own. Slowly, barely aware of myself, I stood up and walked stiffly into the small crowd. The small, blue-haired lady who was in charge, on seeing me, immediately dived into the cart and pulled out my usual. I looked at the transparent plastic with its passenger of brown, green and white. It seemed to speak out to me, asking me if I really did want to throw away such a familiar taste and quality, such an old friend, to go fishing around in the unknown territory of restaurants and cafés and the unfamiliar world of fast food and outdoor cooking. I couldn’t take it.
'Not today, thanks, I'll be eating out.'
Silence. The small, blue-haired lady stared at me with a look that suggested I had spat in her face rather than declined her food. The few people standing around the cart paraded similar, dumbstruck looks of their own, as if I had just pulled off a wig to reveal a warty scalp or grown an extra eye. The several employees who were within earshot, sitting at their own desks, blinked in awe, wondering if they had heard right. Eat out? Nadia? Nadia the monochromic pillar? Nadia, the girl with the predictability of the municipality clock? Nadia who wore white socks every Sunday and Tuesday, who sneezed at exactly 1:47 every other afternoon, who never, never ate anything but cream cheese and lettuce sandwiches and carrot juice for lunch for every day of her life? I looked around me in mild alarm, wondering if I should feel flattered for the attention or annoyed at the disbelief; after all, people did change their routine every once in a while, what was it to them? The little blue-haired lady cleared her throat, opened her mouth and found her voice on the second try.
‘Nadia, dear, I’m sorry I must have heard you wrong. I thought you just said you didn’t want your cream cheese and lettuce sandwich and carrot juice. I must have forgotten one my pills this morning, aha-ha… so, here it is.’
I looked down at her, wondering. I distinctly recalled saying that I did not want my cream cheese and lettuce sandwich. I distinctly recalled adding that I would be eating out today. I wondered what was wrong with everyone today, or what was wrong with them everyday. I wondered if I had always been portrayed as something of a freak amongst these people, so much that they were so engrossed in the fact that I had chosen to abandon my usual cream cheese and lettuce sandwich and carrot juice and try something new, something not provided for by the miraculous lunch cart pushed by the little blue-haired lady. Looking down at her, I wondered where all this was coming from. It was as if line after line of illuminating text was scrolling down in my head, coming from God knew where. I took a deep breath.
‘No, thank you. I won’t be having the cream cheese and lettuce sandwich and carrot juice today. I’m going to the café around the corner.’
The already double-sized eyes of the little blue-haired lady managed to expand a little more, is the reality of the situation dawned on her and those around her. Suddenly it became quite unbearable for me to stand there a single second longer, and I turned around, marched to my desk, plucked my grey, fake leather purse from my grey- fake leather handbag and, resisting the urge to run wildly down the hall to the elevators, made my exit, leaving behind me a mass of baffled surprise. How I made it to the café around the corner, I have no idea. My feet, apparently so unused to taking a track other than that to the bus stop, seemed to have some trouble walking me down the pavement towards the bright blue awning, but eventually I made it, aware every step of the way of the faces pressed against the glass of the third floor of the bank following my progress until I had disappeared from sight into the small building. I ordered a cream cheese and lettuce sandwich and carrot juice, and ate it with a relish I had lost long before. One change a day was enough for beginners.
4

Over the next 3 days, I pulled myself out of my chair every afternoon at lunch break and, with a parting glance at the discarded lunch cart, made my way to the café at the corner. I always ordered the cream cheese and lettuce sandwich and carrot juice, but I had a feeling that I would find myself changing that order quite soon. It was on the return trip on the 3rd day that I saw her again. Sarah. I wouldn’t have noticed or remembered her if it wasn’t for her ‘special’ dress code. There were the pin-striped pants, the pink shoes and the unmistakable red hair. She was already sitting on the bus when I got on, and since there were no other empty seats I found myself at her side once again. I looked closely at her as I sat down, waiting for her to look back at me and maybe show some recognition, but if she had recognized me I had no idea of knowing. She kept her face firmly averted. This time I was near the aisle and she was at the window, so I had no way of spying on her or knowing if I was being watched, and, being the polite person I was, I kept my eyes ahead of me. Two stops later she got up, stepped over my feet without a glance in my direction and hopped off the bus. I followed her with my eyes, warily, waiting for her to look at me. As expected, the minute she was on the pavement and the bus started moving, she looked up at me through the window, staring into my eyes even as we moved away. I looked down at the receding figure, standing in the middle of the passing crowd, a miniature nightmare of screaming colour, the weirdo who had appeared in my life and simply stood there doing nothing but existing.
5

I tripped over the broom on the way upstairs to my room. I tripped and hit my head on the banister and blacked out. When I came to, I was still lying on the stairs, and no one but my 2 year old brother was around. He stood on the landing, sucking his thumb and looking down at me curiously. Then my mother, holding a stack of laundered towels and bed sheets, appeared on the landing behind him, coming down the stairs, manoeuvred her way around him and started down towards me. I don’t know why I didn’t call out to her; I suppose I thought she could see me already. It didn’t occur to me that, as predictable as my family was, my mother already knew my brother would be on the landing and her side-stepping was just out of habit; she didn’t even see him there. My presence on the stairs, however, sprawled on my face with my legs sticking out, was not in the daily routine and was not foreseen. As it was, my mother did not see me lying on the stairs and stepped right into my hair, flinched, tripped and fell over me down the remainder of the steps into the parlour, towels and bed sheets and all. She didn’t cry out; all the air had been knocked out of her lungs, and I think the shock had a role in her silent scream, but the sound of the crash was enough to bring the whole house down us. Everyone was shouting. My mother was bleeding slightly from her nose, and the girls were screaming that she had broken it. My father, ever-solid, through a quick series of bending and tweaking, announced that she was in fact unbroken, anywhere, but that we should take her to the hospital anyway. I lay silently on the stairs, regarding this unfamiliar scene below me, my 2 year old brother leaning on the banister behind me, sucking his thumb and looking down with that same look of curiosity on his face. Later that night, I lay in bed staring at the ceiling, feeling the lump on my head from my contact with the banister. My father’s heavy snoring penetrated through the walls to my hearing, but that wasn’t the reason I was awake. At least not the only reason. To the 'normal' individual, such an incident would be tragic yet meaningless. It could happen to anyone. It did happen to anyone. What was one woman tripping down another and falling down a flight of steps? What was so weird about that? Nothing, I assure you. But yet, such an incident was unprecedented in our household. In our life. In my life. Things like my mother falling down the stairs just didn’t happen. And if they did, they were part of a routine. For example, my mother would fall down the stairs every other Tuesday, or something. My head throbbed terribly, and I rubbed it ever so slightly. Earlier at the hospital, as we were waiting for the X-rays, the doctor noticed the swelling and took a look at it.
'Nasty little thing you have there. Fall down the steps yourself?'
I honestly had no idea what he was talking about until he touched the bump hiding below my hairline and I squealed in pain, bringing back the memory of my own fall in a rush. I didn’t need an X-ray, the doctor thought, but I did need a good bit of what he called 'anti-septic measures'. A nurse showed up and declared that, if I was brave enough she wouldn’t have to resort to the anaesthesia residing in the hypodermic needle lying innocently in the tray by her side. The very idea of someone sticking a needle into my head was terrifying enough, and I graciously declined the offer. It hurt mightily, but felt as cleansing as anything, and while she was at it a great number of ideas were jostled into view. Now, lying in the dark, I inspected these ideas, but whatever way I looked at them it seemed more and more ridiculous that they should mean anything at all. My tripping on the broom and hitting my head. My mother tripping over me and falling down the stairs. My eating out during lunch break for the past 3 days. Each on its own apparently insignificant, yet all together the most exciting thing that has ever happened to me, and the fact that it all happened in less than a week was by all means downright crazy. And the fact that they were happening to me? Well, there is only so much one mind can take.

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