It wasn't any one event which made Andersen decide to
withdraw from the world, just the weary accumulation of knowledge that
loneliness was a state he desired, rather than wished to avoid.
He felt hemmed in by the seething tide of life. All around
him people walked, shouted, jostled, staggered, lived. He smelt the hot
animal stink of their sweat, he felt their spittle when they spoke, warm
wet drops landing on his face like soft rain. Their noise oppressed him,
hemmed him in, made him feel small and insignificant, one whispered phrase
in an endless roaring conversation.
Wherever possible he avoided company, certain that everyone
he met was a member of a club to which he could never belong, and as a
result he was always lonely. He avoided people and in the end, because
of this, they avoided him. The only way in which Andersen could cope with
this solitary existence was to turn his loss into an ambition. He turned
loneliness into an goal, a religion, his salvation. Where others were
ashamed of their solitude, as if it were a dirty, shameful secret, he
celebrated his. After a time, those few people who attempted to include
Andersen in their lives, or who tried to show him some kind of friendly
gesture, abandoned their attempts and left him as he wished: alone. Or
rather, as alone as was possible. For Andersen that was not enough.
It was for this reason that he decided that he would withdraw
from the world as completely as he could. He stayed in his shabby room
for nearly three days, sitting in a wooden chair in the corner farthest
from the window, doing nothing except thinking, planning. On the morning
of the third day he pulled a crumpled few bank notes from the crevice
behind the blackened, tarry oven. He didn't have a list, he didnt
need a list, he knew everything that he needed. Andersen stuffed the money
into his pocket, and set out to the shops, braving the agonies of human
contact more cheerfully than he had done for some time, protected by the
knowledge of what he was about to do. Even so, when he returned home from
the last of four separate trips into the town, aching and weary from carrying
materials, he spent the better part of half an hour washing his hands.
Not of the wood and plastic he had bought, but of the grease and skin
of those others who had handled it, touched money, sneezed and coughed
and breathed over it all in the never-lifting human miasmic fog. Then
he curled up on his bed, still dressed, and slept for an hour.
Before he began work, Andersen sat and drank tea. He pulled
his wooden chair over to the window and sat there for ten minutes, watching
the never-ending movement on the streets outside. Cars started, drove
away, pulled up, people got in, got out, clustered in laughing groups
upon the pavement. An old man with a brimmed hat that shone in the sunshine
as if it were covered in plastic wandered slowly along the pavement, stopping
to rummage through litter bins, occasionally plucking some item out and
dropping it into the large canvas bag he carried. He wore a large overcoat
which almost trailed along the ground. The day was far too warm for such
a coat, but Andersen suspected that the old man never went out without
wearing it, no matter how hot the day.
Andersen drank some more tea, swirled the cup in his hand
and watched the delicate bubbles spinning round and round in the last
half inch of copper liquid. Outside, the ever-moving patterns of life
continued, like a stop-motion film of insects at work in their colony.
Andersen finished his tea, and set to work without looking out of the
He worked with a slow and steady determination that countered
his lack of natural aptitude. The tools felt heavy and clumsy in his hands,
the wood and glue and heavy card and thick wads of insulating foam refused
to take the shapes and properties that he wanted them to, but he persisted
with steady patience.
Piece by piece, his vision began to take shape. Light
was his pathfinder. Where light came in, it was light which had shone
over the world, light which had shone onto the people Andersen could still
hear laughing in the street outside. So he started with the two windows.
He stapled large sheets of black card against the window frames, and then
lined their edges with black insulating tape. When he was finished, he
stepped back into the room,reached for the switch of the table lamp, and
turned the light off.
All that he could see was blackness. After a time though,
this diminished and he could make out the vague shapes of his few pieces
of furniture. That was just from the light coming in under his front door;
no matter how much he squinted at the windows, he could not make out a
single point of light. Andersen switched the table lamp back on. Now for
the sound, the sound of cars and laughter and shouts and dog barks that
were transmitted so easily by the thin glass of the windows. He taped
thick slabs of insulating foam to the inside of the card sheets that blacked
out the windows, and then covered the foam up with yet another layer of
black card. He cut more foam to fit the gap under the door, and carefully
stuck a trailing strip of black tape along the bottom to prevent the slightest
glimmer of light from coming in.
It was only then that everything was as Andersen wanted,
only then that he felt that he had control over his world and could narrow
its boundaries down to the limits of the stuffy room, excluding everything
- everyone - else. He sat in his room, making final preparations, conscious
of the fact that he was now more alone than he had ever been in his life.
He was far from saddened by the thought; he was filled with a fierce joy.
As he worked, he felt as if he was an explorer who had spent months battling
through insect-infested dank jungle. Now the trees were beginning to thin,
and the air was starting to taste of salt, and he burned with excitement
at the knowledge that in a few more paces he would come out of the trees
and see the shining ocean, and all around him would be cool air and space
and a freedom that stretched as far as he could ever see, or ever think.
Finally, Andersen was finished. He put a cushion on the
floor, and next to it he placed the table lamp, a small radio, a pair
of head phones and a length of black cloth. He sat down on the cushion,
plugged the head phones into the radio, put them on, and then tuned it
to a frequency which far away from any station, a warm, constantly shifting
hiss. He turned up the volume until it was almost unbearable; he would
get used to it. Andersen made sure that he had the black cloth safe in
one hand, and then switched the light off, dropping the room into darkness.
He wound the cloth around his head, covering his eyes first, and then
wrapping down so that it bound the headphones closely to his head, giving
an added layer of protection from any sounds from outside. Darkness within
darkness within darkness. He could see nothing, and the deafening hiss
in time appeared to subside, become comfortable, comforting, totally without
"I am alone," Andersen said. "For the first time, I am
alone." But he couldn't hear himself, just the hiss of the static, music
of the universe.
He lost any conception of time very quickly. It seemed
as if hours, days, had passed, but he was concerned that he might be mistaken,
that it would only have been minutes, that if he left his solitude now
he would open the window to the daylight of the same day falling on to
his skin, the same laughing voices, the same old man trudging over-dressed
down the street. The room began to feel oppressively warm and Andersen
felt that for every breath that he took, he only gained half a breath's
worth of air. He ignored all this, and sat on his cushion, trying to remain
as still as possible, listening to the constant random hiss and swirl
in his ears. The heat and the airlessness closed in around him, and after
a time he sank into a deep sleep, still sitting upright.
When he woke up, he decided that it was time. He unwrapped
the cloth from his head, switched the radio off, took the headphones off
and left them on the floor. His hand roamed about like a spider until
his fingers touched the table lamp. Even though he shut his eyes when
he switched the lamp on, the glare still seemed to penetrate deep into
his head. After a time, he dared open his eyes to narrow slits, looking
away from the lamp, and gradually his eyes adjusted so that he could see
what he was doing. He spent some time striding awkwardly around his room,
trying to regain circulation in his arms and legs, and then he stripped
the materials from his door and left his room, walking down the quiet
stairs of the building, meeting no-one on the way.
Andersen walked down the street. The air was fresh and
clear, the sky an even cornflower blue. He turned the corner into the
main road. Cars stood deserted in the middle of the road, doors hanging
open like broken wings. The yellow awning above the café flapped
above empty wicker tables and chairs. Shining in the sunlight, the plate
glass doors of the supermarket stood wide open, and aisle after aisle
stretched out towards the back of the shop with a geometrical beauty that
Andersen had never really noticed before. He wandered into the deserted
supermarket, picked out an apple, and then walked down the empty road
towards the silent city.
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