A short story "Pacman"

  

 Pacman                

 
The big red mouth was incessantly opening and closing with a steady rhythm, regardless if there was something before it or not. Its profile was jagged, creating an incogruous right angle which broke the perfect circle of the rest of the shape. In every opening, in every movement, the same exact sound repeated itself, but, as time passed, it became all the more threatening, all the more nightmarish.  
        Head and body were one. He was undrawn after all, he had no shape, he was ugly. This made him even more threatening. His moves were stiff, but he was sliding fast in the claustrophobic corridors, he turned the corners with agility, moving quickly his unbending profile and avoiding efficiently all the obstacles that appeared in his way; and his only care was the monotonous annoying sound from the opening and closing of his red mouth, anxious to annihilate all obstacles, to eat, to win. The pale blue and grey light of the corridors outlined the flat red merciless and shadowless mouth more distinctly. 
        Miltos was running hard without stopping, his breath was shallow, and when sometimes he thought he could take a short look behind him, he paid a very hard price, as he heard the big mouth rattling even closer behind him. On the other hand, he himself was not making so much noise, in fact he was not making any noise and this was numbing him quietly, a covert fear of inexistence was spreading inside him like mist. Due to his stress and terror, he wasn't able to avoid the obstacles set in the narrow corridors; he was falling on them, he was losing points, he was running non stop, he was trying, he was sweating, but the distance between them was narrowing. The opening and closing red mouth was coming closer and closer.
        A racket from falling pots and pans, the insatiable male cat of the neighbour that always came back at this time full of scars, blood and pride, or the last obstacle he fell upon and hurt himself? Deafening noise. Miltos jumped suddenly up with his eyes wide open, screaming “What? What? What?” He violently unplugged the silicon ear plugs he was wearing every night. His breath resembled the mad tempest of a muddy lake. He hastily drank from a forgotten can of Coke he found on his nightstand, “Yikes! Since when is this piss here?” He looked around  like a stranger trying to recognize the place. His room always had a heavy smell, but today it was literally stenching. He never aired it, fearing that, if he opened the window, the slight personal bad smells would vaporize, and if he lost them, he would lose very important information about himself, his existence, forever. And even the front door, he opened with tremendous speed, as if he wanted to prevent the escape of a wild and probably fast animal, lurking sleeplessly behind him. He felt very threatened. He was very absorbed within himself, and mainly with what concerned him, and he had built a system on and around his body, which had no room for anyone else. Besides, all these absorbed all of his energy and there was no reason, he believed. He needed noone. Anyway, the old Coke and the stench worked their miracle and Miltos woke up and thought, What the hell, it now haunts me in my sleep as well. He lifted the yellow stained quilt, full of laces drawn from previous and recent sweating, and a strong sour smell filled the air. I have to do something about it. He walked barefoot in the bathroom and, after looking at himself in the mirror with a serious and determined expression, almost heroic that is, he got into the bathtub and turned the tap on.    
        It's been more than three weeks since he subjected himself into something like this, maybe even four as he was not counting, and he knew that today it would not be easy to avoid it again. Anyway, a ritual like this was not happening for no particular reason and most definitely without a future sacrifice. Miltos had his reasons, even though these were not very clear to him so far.
        He rarely bought clothes, as he usually had no money, and either way he never was in the mood for shopping, so he felt satisfied with the few he had; he found his last clean sweat shirt in the closet, an ancient purple cotton one. He wore it and then put on his not so clean jeans, but jeans deserve to be dirty even more so than any other piece of clothing, and it is even somewhat necessary, as dirty means stylish, or was stylish for many decades.
        Fresh, clean and hungry, he hit the strets at 5 o' clock in the afternoon. He wanted to spend his day differently today. He would first have a bite to eat, then he would go to have a fight with his tenant who was delaying the rent: “what will it be, mister, how are we going to live, what do we have to wait for, don't you understand that this is my only income, you have your job, your little wife, your children, your friends, what do I have?” He was practising his speech, while eating, but his mood got darker and darker by doing this. He dealt hastily with the matter of the rent, ordered a second hamburger and went on planning the rest of his day; he could go to the cinema or something like that, even though you need company for these things, but anyway everyone makes his life as he pleases; because he had no friends left at all, as it's been a long time since he gave up on his last one, a retired seaman, he called friend, just because he wanted someone to call friend, so as not to feel bad in front of everybody else. 
        Today he was determined – just like every day – not to go to the fruit machine place. He bet he would keep his promise today. That was it! He wouldn't go, not even for a few minutes, not even to see the others addicted to the machines. He didn't talk to anyone anyway, when he entered the place. He lost himself in there, he travelled far, to another planet, he completely forgot himself, he forgot to eat, to drink, to stop, and this was very relieving, but no, today he wouldn't even go past the place. The reason for this was not only self-discipline, but his financial status, going from bad to worse. And the money he spent, stuck so many hours in there, every day, without a single break, was much, too much. He  started owing money to various people and he had no other source of income, except for the small two bedroom flat he had inherited from his mother. He had to do something. The thought of getting a job wasn't even crossing his mind. His mind was completely stuck. It was always blurred by the cigarette smoke of the players – he wasn't smoking himself, he believed in healthy living – palled upon so many hours of hard battle with his noisy opponent. And he was always losing in the end. It was impossible to think clearly.
        He was pointlessly roaming the streets, until it got dark and he started feeling cold. His soul felt cornered. Only for a little while, he thought, only for one game. I will win some money and go. I will immediately walk away, he thought, and started rubbing his fingers on his palms until they felt sore.   
        He started to go there. He bumped on a young man with baggy jeans and red hair, who looked like a rooster; “watch it”, he said, but he didn't answer, he didn't hear him. He was walking with his eyes fixed on the ground, following the vision. He went in the cornershop, just a block from the place, put a coin in the payphone and he wrapped his left hand around the receiver like a funnel: “Good evening, are you the owner of the place? Listen carefully then: for about a year and a half, my brother comes there every day and spends a lot of money and a lot of hours in your machines, in your pacman machines, and he has no mind to get a job or anything else, he is weak and makes promises he never keeps all the time, we have no money left, he is on the verge of losing his mind. What do you care? Watch it, friend, don't tell me it's not your job, it is very much your job and it will be even more so, if you don't do as I say. Don't let him play again. Turned him around the moment you see him. He will come there in about a moment, I saw him, I understood where he was going even if he said so otherwise, he got all dressed up to come there. I beg you not to let him set foot there again. He is the only one I have left in the world, I have no other and I am losing him. And be careful, I know very well that your little shop works without a permit. Be careful, because others might find out as well!
And one more thing so as to easily recognise him. He wears blue jeans and a purple cotton sweat shirt.”
    
                                                          Translated by Vassilis Manoussakis
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Παρ, 04/24/2015 - 10:34