there are still some things about this bothering me, but i can’t quite put my finger on them. constructive criticism is always welcome (:
The Beige Man
Every weekday I see him on the subway. The beige man. We get out at the same stop. This a very small town, yet I never see him anywhere else. He’s always dressed entirely in beige, shapeless raincoat, pants, shoes, baseball cap hung low over his bespectacled eyes. I’ve caught a whiff of his smell and even that, beige. Old beige to be specific. He’s rather tall, pale, always hunched over, never looking at anyone. He carries nothing but a dirty beige tote bag. No one else ever seems to notice him. To me he’s remarkable in how absolutely unremarkable he looks. I have never seen anyone with such determination to be invisible. He could be a ninja. Or rather, he could be educating ninjas.
Only once did I glimpse his face, tucked away under that baseball cap. He has a particular shade of light grey hair, like some of the beige had melted into it, with a matching mustache. You’d think he was really old, but if you managed to get a good look at him you’d be surprised. His face was barely lined, like he’d never smiled or worried. He couldn’t have been older than 35.
He always got up right after the stop before ours, swiftly positioning himself in front of the door that would be closest to the stairs, finger already on the button. I was usually the second or third person behind him. As soon as the doors opened he flew out like the devil was on his heels, not stopping for anyone or anything. We have to walk in the same direction and sometimes I’ll try to keep up with him for fun. I never succeed. By the time I’ve gotten through the gates he’d already be a couple of hundred meters further, his head sticking out like a turtles from his beige shell.
More and more I wondered who the man underneath all that beige was. So much that it was turning into an obsession. Every time I saw anything beige I imagined he was near. I could barely eat or sleep. My schoolwork was a mess. Never mind my friends. I even got pulled aside in class by our mentor. He was around the same age as the beige man, very nice, the think-of-me-as-your-friend-not-a-stuffy-old-teacher type. He didn’t say anything about my low grades, my complete lack of participation during the lessons, the circles under my eyes or new habit of wearing the same clothes days in a row. He only asked if there was something I wanted to talk about. I saw some of my friends shooting furtive glances at us from the other side. For a moment I considered telling him. I’ve seen him reading ‘The Stranger Beside Me.’ Maybe he’d have understand somewhat. Maybe he could help. Maybe he’d talk me out of my obsession.
“No, there’s nothing.”
The logical solution seemed to be to give in to my curiosity. Once I had some answers surely I would be disinterested. A plan started to formulate in my head.
The day after my resolution I stayed home from school. It was the only way this was going to work. The whole day I was restless, thinking only of what I would do later that day. A quarter past five I couldn’t wait anymore. I raced to the subway station on my yellow bicycle. I waited at the corner past the entrance. Those twenty minutes seemed the longest of my life. Finally, after the third subway stopped, there he was. I watched him fly down the stairs through the glass window. I wasted no time in mounting my bicycle. I had only averted my eyes for a second and he was already through. I didn’t give myself time to be surprised, I immediately went in pursuit. Even on a bicycle I still had some trouble keeping up with him. I followed him past the elementary school, through the park, past the lake, the first couple of apartment buildings, through a shopping center. In the shopping center someone yelled at me that I couldn’t cycle in here, young lady. The beige man didn’t seem to notice. At least, he didn’t look back for any fraction. He just kept on striding. With every stride my curiosity deepened. How far did this man actually live? I was getting out of breath.
Then, after another couple of apartment buildings, a highway and a golf club, he made a sharp turn left. We were in a neighborhood of dilapidated townhouses. He walked right up to one of those houses at the end of the lane. Like him it looked utterly unremarkable. Beige, unclean, rectangular, unkempt little garden. I ditched my bike, hurrying to some semblance of cover. I found it in a hedge on the side of his garden. I impressed myself by how quiet I could be.
The beige man was slowly sliding a key into the lock. I wished I had a better view of the door. He turned the key even slower. My heart was pounding. I never noticed anything strange about the slow, deliberate way he was opening his door. Then he sighed. I almost fell through the hedge. It was the first time ever I heard him make a sound.
“I wish you hadn’t followed me,” the beige man said softly and turned his head to the very spot where I was hiding. Blind panic. How had he known? No, that was not the disturbing part. How had he not let anything on? I decided that he must be a ninja after all. Or a Buddhist. .
He kept on staring. I really didn’t want to, but I rose from my spot. Sheepishly, might I add. The sky had already darkened and I could not make out his face at all. “I’m so sorry. I just–” I had no idea how to finish that sentence. My gaze fell to the ground.
“I understand. Eventually there’s always someone who follows me.” He sighed again. I was confused. What was this? Was he disappointed that he wasn’t completely invisible? I heard the door open. “Come have tea with me.” My head snapped back up. He was standing in the doorway, framed by a faint light from inside.
“That’s okay, I really should be off. My mother-”
“I insist.” I could feel his eyes bore into me. Something felt wrong. Still, my curiosity was as powerful as ever. So I accepted his invitation.
Once inside I felt a powerful sense of anticlimax. It looked just like any old male’s bachelor pad. There weren’t even cobwebs. The beige man didn’t pay me much attention. He just went along to the kitchen and put the kettle on like he did this every day. Thoroughly disappointed I sank down on the nearest couch. A puff of dust rose out of it. It was something, I suppose.
I scanned the stack of DVD’s on the coffee table. The Phantom Of The Opera, Judgment At Nuremberg, Kabinett Des Doktor Calligari, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde… All perfectly ordinary and legally purchased.
Something brushed against my leg. I yelped and quickly raised my feet. A faint miauw answered me. A cat. He had a cat. It was also beige.
There was a faint whistle in the distance. Shortly thereafter the beige man appeared, carrying an old tray with all the necessities for tea. I noticed that he was still wearing his raincoat and baseball cap. I vaguely wondered if he slept in them too. He poured me a cup.
“Thanks.” I quietly added sugar and stirred unnecessarily long. The beige man didn’t say anything. I was still very confused. “Why did you invite me in?” I blurted.
“To give you the opportunity to ask me anything you wish,” he said casually and took a gulp from his black, fresh off the kettle tea without a flinch.
“Because you deserve it.” It sounded so ominous, especially in that toneless way he spoke. “Very few people notice deliberately invisible men like me. There is something very special in those people.”
I wasn’t quite sure how to reply to that. I took a sip from my tea, instantly regretting it.
“What did you mean when you said ‘there are always people who follow you’?” I asked thickly.
“Exactly what I said.”
“Huh. How many people have?”
“About twelve, thirteen.”
“They were driven by the same curiosity as you.”
“Why are you deliberately invisible?”
“It suits my interests.”
I took another sip from my tea. More pain. “What about friends?”
“What about them?”
“Do you have any?”
“I prefer solitude.”
“What kind of work do you do?”
“I work for a boxing company.”
My legs started itching. “Really? A boxing company?”
“Yes, it makes boxes.” I’d say that it looked like he was getting bored, but he was as expressionless as ever.
“You haven’t always lived here, have you?”
“No, I just moved here a couple of months ago.”
“Where did you live before?”
“The U.S., France, Poland, Russia, Spain.” His lips might have twitched.
“So you move around a lot. Why?”
“To avoid questions from people who make it their business to control the world.”
“What did you put in my tea?” The itching had crept all the way to my neck by now.
“The kind of muscle relaxant they use for major surgeries. Effective, isn’t it?”
“I’d say so.” I fell sideways on the couch, unable to control my muscles any longer. The cup I had been holding in my hand shattered on the floor. The hot tea seeped through my Converse. Darn.
I could only move my eyes now. The beige man drained his own tea and stood up. He carried me to the back of the house in his arms like a rag doll. I looked up at his face. He looked exactly the same as he always had. Expressionless, slightly shifty, utterly unremarkable. His old beige smell filled my nostrils. It was as lovely as it was repugnant.
He laid me down on the cold stone floor. Then he turned on the light.
“This is why I move around a lot.”
Here it was. Everything you wouldn’t find in any old male’s bachelor pad. A chandelier made of human bones, intestines preserved in glass jars, skulls used as bowls, chairs made from human skin, a table full of metal instruments. And in the corner… I would have smiled if my lips had allowed it. In the corner was a large metal box, kind of like a coffin, thrown open to reveal the spikes in it.
Right before he stuffed me in the metal box he said, “I hope your curiosity is satisfied.”
thanks so much for reading!