He was weightless as he fell. All the years of blood, lies and tears merged together into a giant wave that washed over him, cleansing his body, his mind, his soul. There was no capacity for air in his lungs; and he was knocked out of breath by the pressure that made his eyes bulge, his veins throb, and his brain swell up; but how was this any different from the suffocation he had felt all the same with two feet planted firmly on the ground, when he was trapped within his own fate? And though his head felt like it would burst, and he could feel his intestines swirling around in his abdomen, there was a lightness to it all, a blurry gloss over his senses that made the wind ripping through his body feel like a caressing draft, mercifully enveloping him like a mother’s arms. Death was the mother of beauty, he read once.

So, what was beauty? To this he pondered, and as his weight pulled him closer and closer towards his final destination, he was finally able to appreciate the idea. Ah. Terror. And he also realised that despite what he had endured in life, he had never really felt scared before, never even neared what “fear” truly embodied, as now it was so vivid and piercing that he wanted to laugh at his former conceit for thinking he had known it. It wasn’t as if he hadn’t faced death before; no, survival was a matter of hours when you walked the streets; but never before had it been so definite, so set in stone. The greek philosopher was right, though; there was a certain beauty to be found within a sense of terror so intense that his mind numbed and became no longer his own; when his entire being was dictated by the stoic menace that gripped his thoughts – at last, it was quiet. Down down down he went, through the silken nets of regret, tearing through the delicate webs of his fragile simulacrum life with each second, straight back into the waiting arms of fate herself.
The city was not friendly to strangers at twenty-five, Jude thought. But when was it ever? It was certainly no better when he was twenty, or even eighteen, when he still possessed the luxury of youthful fervour and indefatigable resolve. In a place such as the one where he was living, the distinctions between people were divided strictly by wealth, status and influence. One’s skill, past skill, or potential skill were all empty shells of wasted opportunities here; and passion, once a blazing flame, had long been reduced to mere embers. After all, it was but foolishness to play with fire—being burned was only a matter of time. These thoughts circulated within his head as he lay upon the solitary sheet of the battered, dirty mattress, which acted as his makeshift bed positioned hastily in the middle of the dusty room. Albeit a pitiful attempt to justify his own failures, these sentiments of Jude were not completely without truth; too many eager-faced young fellows such as himself have come to this city, full of expectation and vigour, only to lose their sparks one by one.

Beside him, the drop of a couple of feet down, the rough concrete floor was littered with cigarette butts and crumpled aluminium cans. He had been meaning to work on it; clean up a little, but somehow time always found a way to slip away from him. This deflated mattress was Jude’s only piece of furniture, unless you counted the dozens of easels scattered around the room, each canvas enclosed by their own vibrant garden of brushes, half-empty paint containers, and mixing oils. These cotton boards were always shrouded behind thin bedsheets of blended fabrics in the presence of others, a magical, unbroken secret of Jude, shown to no one but himself. Of course, this did not stop Jude from satisfying his insatiable crave for intimacy; and indeed, a great many others have entered this room: men and women alike, in both daytime and night, for one reason or another.

There were no windows in the flat where Jude stayed; and often, when working on a project, days and nights blurred together, and he was only aware of one collective everlasting trickle of time. This was good, as one, it offered privacy, something that for Jude, must be cultivated at all times; and two, it gave him a sense of security, another habitude inherited from the things he had done and the things that had been done to him. Sometimes, as he lay still and insomniac in the dark listening to the steady breathing of his partner of that particular night, the familiar leering smirk would materialise in the empty blackness before his eyes; the smell of lingering lust and cigarettes would morph into burning flesh, and the comforting, even breaths into the sinister hiss of hot metal against skin. He would feel the small wooden cross digging into his body (its very existence an irony), would glimpse the scintillating chain that attached the holy symbol to its owner: a thick, fleshy, perspiring neck, and the sound of heavy breathing would mix with his own ragged gasps, suffocated by the crushing weight that pinned him down. And then the beast would emerge, as it always did on such nights: and he would drive away the sleepy, disoriented companion, slamming the door behind them.

He knew he was lucky to have gotten out, more than lucky: a divine miracle even (ha!), but during these moments when the past haunted him, Jude would wonder whether it really was worth it. Of course, it would not be easy; nothing came without a price, but to sell one’s soul! And for what, a dream to come true? A nightmare to dissipate? He had left one hellhole, only to enter another. A different sort of hell; the same type of misery. The kind where he had no one to blame but himself: an endless cycle of anger, pain, despair, and finally, a glimpse of opportunity, of elevation, only to be met with bitter disappointment. He now had the power of choice: the ability to decide his own fate; yet, he was still immobile, still drifting through life without a trace of zeal, of gratitude for the life he left behind; yet, he hasn’t taken one step forwards since the day his social worker left him at this trashy excuse of an apartment. Sometimes he liked to think of himself as a piece of marble; smooth, beautiful and whole, but at the mercy of a sculptor, who chipped away at him, leaving tiny dents at first, and then small ones, and so forth, until eventually when nothing would remain.

He was aware that he may never be happy in this city, may never walk out of the dark room with no windows, may be forever trapped within this meaningless life; but what right did he have to be angry, to be dissatisfied, to be “so ungrateful?” All he had ever known was fear and misery, the absence of fear and misery, and the latter state should be more than enough for someone like him. What was happiness but a frivolity, a luxury that cost more than he could afford, because it was so delicate, so fragile that a single movement could shatter its entirety? And the city! It was impossible not to fall in love with the city itself, despite the hostility of its inhabitants, with their shattered dreams and bitter, broken hearts. Or perhaps it was precisely this element of the place that pulled him in; the feeling of contingent camaraderie in the sense that they were all broken people, trying to forget and forgive, trying to struggle on as if nothing was wrong.

There was a spot at the top of the five-story parking lot next to Jude’s flat whose quiet sanctuary he often sought. During the small hours of early morning when the entire city was asleep and the air was heavy with aftertaste of the night-dwellers’ nocturnal pursuits, he would slip noiselessly out of his concrete room and float through the ghost streets, where scanty bands of artificial golden light looked down at him, a meagre, pitiful imitation of its daytime counterpart. So, it was only Jude who was there to witness the journey of the stars across the vast, black canopy, sitting at the edge of the concrete ledges bordering the lot, feet naked, legs dangling over the side. Alone, above and away from all the things he associated with his past, he would be able to pinpoint the problems in his life with the precision of a practised surgeon, and every time, coupled with these harsh and accurate summations would be his utter inability to provide a solution for any one of these diagnosed afflictions.

But he knew the answer was much simpler than his mind made it out to be; and he supposed that his revists of this place were, in an ugly and bare respect, driven by the subdued yet ever-present awareness of the easy out. In fact, the truth may very well be that his unwillingness to ponder the possibility of revival, of fixing himself and “starting afresh” all stemmed from twisted conception that he didn’t need to; a reassurance that he wouldn’t ever have to face reality and bear the brunt of its graphic truths, because if one day he was driven into a corner with no way around, he could always choose to push off.


Grace Zhan, a current upperclassman at King’s College in Auckland, NZ., has been playing competitive golf and reading voraciously from a very young age. The desire to express herself creatively through writing has come quite naturally and lends balance to her everyday life. Grace has attended Interface Education’s “Writers Workshop.”