What Evil, What Unspeakable Crime?
Photograph by Tomer Ifrah, Story by Ray Franz
I’ve been coming here awhile now. I was here when my first life ended. I really was very happy.
They had come to my office and told me she wanted a word, which was the kind of experience that I used to fear. ‘It’s really hard to fire a teacher,’ I would say.
‘Near on impossible,’ they’d say but I’d still worry when she’d call me in without telling me what it was about. I didn’t like her because she was young and so remorseless and she wanted to change everything. Saying this to her face wasn’t something I did but I would say it to the older ones who’d been around awhile like me.
I’ve always worn a mask. I got things done and I had worked there for a long time. I thought I’d see my career out there before I collected my pension and moved down the coast. That day it had been good news though. She told me that William had handed in his resignation and that the job was mine, if I wanted it. Desire for the ladder had never caught me. People in power usually made me suspicious. All those futile victories, all the vain discoveries, they must be so tiring. I don’t know why they do it because there’s just more to lose in the end. Or more to preserve.
She shook my hand and I walked out of there feeling as if I was worth something. Worth enough to break some promises I had made not long before. Success is such a selfish thing. I would hear the younger ones in the staff room say things like, ‘You’ve got to be selfish,’ but I don’t think I ever heard my old man say stuff like that and he seemed to have meaning in his life. Not that I think everything was perfect back then. I can’t tell the future though and neither could he.
When I left work that day I was on what some of the younger ones would call ‘a high’. That’s why I was so ready to break those promises I’d made. Happiness is evil because it makes your mind dawdle. It’s happiness that makes you break promises. I was very happy at the end of the day before the night I threw away my first life. Since then, I’ve often tried to remember that night. I didn’t throw it away because I was sad or anything. I was very happy when I walked out of her office, got my bag and walked to my car. I still live just down the road from here. It’s a small place now. I had a bigger place then and I still have to walk past it to get to my new place. The old place was big enough for the three of us. I can’t afford a place like that now, although I don’t need a place for three anymore. At the time, I didn’t think that the amount of people you could fit into a place was something I’d miss, but I can’t tell the future. I’ve got less of it now – the future. I’m sure of it. It doesn’t seem like I actually exist.
So I came here for a drink after getting the good news and I said to myself, It’s only going to be one or two, but I was happy and deceitful and without the strength to keep promises. People had always told me to stay away from brown spirits and for a while I had. Part of the reason I taught for work was that I’ve never really liked being told what to do. When I look back on it now, I can see what a mistake that was. I’d had more than two drinks when the thing in the toilet happened.
I was just there, back through that door. The toilets were cleaner then; everything seems cleaner in the past though. I was standing in the cubicle filling the bowl with more than two drinks and I saw this little midge climbing up the wall. It was struggling. I think it’s wings may have been wet and it was struggling up the cubicle wall towards something and I stared at it and tried to describe what it felt like to be God. I was so happy and I didn’t feel sorry for it. I felt in charge of it. It’s life belonged to me. I didn’t have the words to help describe what it felt like to be God, although I really was very happy. So I squashed the midge with my thumb and I’m sure that I was smiling when I did this - a supreme, unending, God-like smile. I felt so powerful then, powerful enough to believe that I could tell the future.
I think that’s what I said to Maureen when I went back to the bar. We were sitting right there. I think I said, ‘Maureen. I can tell the future and I promise that everything’s going to be okay.’ Her ugly cheeks rose into a smile. It was a different kind of smile to the mighty one that began in the toilet. I bought her another drink although I should have gone home. I had promised I’d be home. I said, ‘I promise you I’ll come home tonight. No, I promise.’ I’ve been told I bought a lot of drinks that night. Some of them were brown and some of them looked like water but tasted like chemicals. I remember having a good time before I don’t remember anything. I broke a lot of promises.
When I staggered home I wasn’t wearing my own clothes. That was the night I threw away my first life and all I can remember is feeling happy. That’s the funny thing about it all. I was so happy. You’re often happy when you throw away things you care about. Happy, weak, and soaked in conceit.
Ray Franz is a writer based in Durban, South Africa and London, England. His work is centred on the legitimisation of imagined identities. The initial short stories in his forthcoming collection 'Myopia' have featured in New Contrast Literary Magazine and Kinda Weird Magazine.
Tomer Ifrah Born in Israel in 1981, Tomer began photographing documentary stories in 2007, after his first trip to Ethiopia. Since then he become committed to documentary photography, taking on long term projects while addressing social issues and daily life stories. He has won several awards for his documentary work in Israel – representing a variety of issues. Along with working in Israel, Tomer frequently travels around the world for assignments and independent documentary projects.