I sit, watching him; a literal and, i daresay, literate fly on the wall. I've lived a long life, for a fly...have started this journey, my last, with hopes of watching something worthwhile before going out with a bang. I knew I'd chosen well when, during the three requisite fly-bys, I watch his reddened eyes follow my trajectories with deadly intent. Come on, man, do me proud.
He won't disappoint me.
He doesn't want to talk about it...think about it...even acknowledge in any way that it's hanging like some gigantic Rock of Gibraltar around his neck. What would it solve, anyway, to talk about it? There are only two possible outcomes: either he finds that job that will make the years of study and isolation worthwhile...or he doesn't. No one really understands anyway; when was the last time any of them went from a "remarkable, promising doctoral candidate" to going, hat in hand, having to sell themselves...their very souls...to be given a foot in the door? ihhhh, he needed coffee.
"It would help to talk about it"....."there are so many others going through this exact same process that it would be both cathartic for you and encouraging to others...just dot down a few words" ... would these Seleda people ever relent? Encouraging to others how? It's not like he has any solutions to offer; no solid maybes to hang his hopes on, no potential leads that he thinks have more than a minimal chance of success. Is this what others would want to hear? Hardly. At times he toys with putting down exactly how he feels. In those dark, sarcastic moments, he delights in what he would say: that there is no one out there who could remotely tap into the limitless potential of his seemingly contradictory two-halves (or were they three? sometimes it's hard to tell); that he would rather return to the eternal sarcasm of counting out the years in Addis than accept a mediocre job -- if he's going to wither and blow away like yesterday's gum-wrapper, he'd rather it be in that familiar environment where pretending he is living is not a requirement.
Then there are those 3:00 am moments of heart-palpitating crisis, when the doubts start to pour out from the hiding places where he has carefully entombed them. The voices of every nay-sayer he has ever run into resound in his head at maximum volume: "M'tssss, you could have been an engineer with that brain of yours." "What a waste of a brilliant mind -- why didn't you go into medicine like Ato Intoné's son Intina?" "You mean after nine years of university study you're just going to become a teacher? You could have easily done that here at the TTC in two years, and would have been an administrator by now!" One last pitying voice sneaks in before he can pull the wooden handle on the mental metallic cord and flush them all away, "DinQem, English major -- demmo Sewasiw bilo timhirt!" Who said postal workers have cornered the market on tangible retaliation -- he looked around for an Uzi that someone may have left handily in the corner of his cubicle. Goddammit ...don't you just hate it when you can't find a handy semi-automatic weapon nearby?
Walking to the sink, he goes through the usual gourmet preparations for dinner: one pot, two cups of water, one package of chicken-scented Ramen noodles -- mmmm, now that's some good home cookin'! Now, should he have the pasta, too? Those misguided folks who prefer doro weT or QateNa probably have never had the unique pleasure of dining on week-old uncovered pasta: half-mushy from old age, half-crunchy with freezer-burn, and faintly tasting of the half-onion and the single sock that has somehow turned up in his fridge. All that this culinary innovation needs now is a liberal dousing with the extraordinary just-out-of-the-jar taste of Ragú (yeah, right...wish they had put in a pinch of anything resembling an herb instead of spending the extra money on the jaunty accent). And now...what to drink? Again, the bile rises in his mouth, or was it saliva responding to the mouth-watering aroma? Hard to tell, sometimes. He almost laughs out loud at his hand's mutinous refusal to pour out the Jim-Bob Root Beer, bought on sale at the Winn Dixie for 59¢ last week. Come on, hand, gimme a break. He then takes a swig of the flat, warm liquid. He'll have to remember to put it back in the fridge this time -- the cap is nowhere to be found, so if he's really lucky, it'll taste like the pasta by tomorrow. Oh, the excitement of it.
Walking over to the area he calls the Wall of Infamy, he looks at all the ding letters he's carefully papered over the entire area between his bed and the front door. His personal favorites are the ones that have so obviously taken the time to really know him, that have studied his strengths and weaknesses, and have carefully weighed these against those of others. Not. These eulogies all start "Dear Applicant, ... We regret to inform you..." [sarcasm not included]. He keeps those in front, at eye level.
Across the room is hung the solitary picture of the lovely young woman to whom he'd given his heart, well...a bit of it, and a little bit, too, of his time...well...whatever was left between courses, comps, alcoholic binges with fellow penitents at the doors of Academe, and moments of self-imposed solitary confinement. The glass over her face is arranged in concentric circles and has evenly spaced lines radiating from the point in the middle where his favorite childhood biy had hit its unerring mark (the triumphant little biy lies where it landed right below, next to a few shards of glass recently liberated from the frame above). He is sure by now she regrets having hung up on him when he called to say that he wasn't going to be able to make it to Baton Rouge for the elopement they'd planned ages ago; hey, he was busy -- had letters to put up on his Wall. Women! Can't live with 'em, can't make 'em wait nine years on a lick and a promise (actually, just a vague "Yeah, sure, whatever" at various moments of weakness). He almost bends down to pick up the marble, then thinks maybe he should save his strength for other, more important things, should they occur. Miracles do happen.
He goes back to the unopened letter staring up at him from the writing desk from hell (he frequently wakes up covered in sweat from the recurring dream where this same damn desk is chasing him around the room, belching out one ding letter after another while it simultaneously chews up the only copy of his dissertation). He does not short-circuit the ritual that he's followed religiously since these letters started coming in. He sits upright and righteous in front of the table where the letter sits, taunting him. He looks at the front, the back, and puts it down again, stamp side up. Lifting it by the top left corner, he brings it to his nose and takes a loooong whiff ... no reason, just because. Then he flips over the letter, takes the dull bread knife that has been relegated to this task, and slides it under the flap, slicing the envelope open slowly and carefully. Down goes the knife, and he holds the envelope between his palms as he blows into the newly sliced envelope to separate its sides from the letter inside. He takes out the single folded page, closes his eyes and chants "Mariam Mariam Mariam" before opening it slowly.
"Dear Applicant, ... We regret to inform you..."
He pushes back unhurriedly from the desk, chooses a tack carefully from the colorful array in front of him, and walks over to the Wall .... yes, right there would be a good place. The phone rings...and rings...and rings. He hears her voice on the machine but cannot answer right now... hey, he has letters to put up on his Wall.
Once he has the letter situated just right, he returns to the task at hand. Dinnertime. A distant buzz captures his attention.
He won't disappoint me.
His hand, now holding a moldy dish-towel, moves with lightning and deadly speed.
Come on, man. Do me proud.