The following was written in anticipation of my thesis. The final copy was heavily edited.
When the scarlet red ribbon was cut revealing the naked gray building shaped no different than any of the other cement tombstones from the past, a murmur of hesitant disbelief crept through the large crowd.
Ten years ago, the planners said that this decrepit place was going to be the forefront of the future. No longer would they be the home of childhood fantasies, suburban mediocrity, and grandeur delusions of uniqueness. With new technologies, advancements, and inventions that were akin to magic, this city was going to be different and the people were going to be like magicians themselves.
Not because they would understand the science behind the robotics, computers, or hovering apparatuses – that was reserved for the other people, the researchers which the city themselves would hire – but because they were going to be agonizingly alive in a culture that was anaesthetized and dying.
But as the crowd gazed at the metal abomination in front of them with its seemingly endless spires looking as though they were praying to the sky and its nonsensical abstract art suggesting to the unaware observer that this was the place of false modernity, they wondered if the builders and the planners and they themselves, a crowd of mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, business people and homeless people, might’ve made a mistake in the construction, the blueprints, or the idea itself. They tilted their heads left, then right, then left again, and seeing that nothing changed, they decided in a tacit agreement that something went awfully wrong and the best part was that it wasn’t their fault.
“Oh, it looks great.” One woman muffled through an invisible barrier that choked her words. “Yes yes, Maurleen. Just splendid. Look at those … those… you know, those things over there on the left far wall. The black, pointy uhm…” “Incredible.” A man who worked as an office clerk added in a voice that commandeered an understanding of all things architectural and constructional, “Now that’s craftsmanship.”
They all nodded in near unison to corroborate the office clerk’s claim. A second man, whose grizzly beard suggested the mystic of an all-knowledgeable vagrant, “No,” he paused with the forced timing of an amateur actor causing all the eyes to fall upon him, “That right there is a building.”
The planner hit the microphone with his finger just a bit too hard. Many in the crowd who were still practicing their plastic smile for anyone who would care to look were interrupted from their reverie. Though it wasn’t hot outside, he was sweating. “Well, folks, here it is.” His voice was strained and the few audible claps from the crowd failed to mask the pitch of his rocky vocal chords. “Here, today,” he said, “is the future.”
The crowd looked, and the planner looked too, and they wondered if they might’ve missed it. Eyes darted everywhere except the building. A black roof tile on those things fell to the ground and shattered, bringing everyone’s attention back to the barren, unveiled manifestation of their hopes, their dreams, and their wild, wild aspirations.
“Beautiful, just beautiful…” Someone’s voice trailed off just as the wind rattled the opaque, already-dirty rafters.
Eventually, people left. Either the news was coming on or the babysitter was only paid for so much time or wasn’t there that one thing we had to do, Gertrund? It was a hurried mass of excuses and sweat, and in no time at all, except for the scattering of forgotten pieces of red ribbon, miscellaneous trash and bright yellow pamphlets showcasing all the wonders of the building, it was as though no crowd was ever present. Even their footprints seemed stomped out and erased.
While the crowd dispersed with eyes faded and hands awkwardly drumming a broken tune to some song they heard long ago, I stood there aimlessly. I wasn’t sure how I got there nor what I was supposed to do here now that everyone was gone. Whistling leaflets brushed against my legs as I stared at the monstrosity in front of me. What it lacked in grandeur, it certainly made up in plain, grizzly honesty. Like a stubbed toe caught when shuffling furniture around, the building was neither heroic nor trivial; it was an agonizing reminder of the pain of being alive.
I remembered the implicit promise this building held. An echo of ebullient praises and encouragements and untold successes was its legacy. Somewhere among the clutter of rectangular squares that impossibly fit together were hope and its eventual delusion.
Yet too many fingers had influenced the blueprints, too many opinions had led to its construction. So sometime in between the “if only this was put there” and “that was put here” and “this most certainly belongs somewhere”, something went awry. A bolt must’ve been left unscrewed. A nut must’ve loosened. Because in a flick of a wrist and twinkle of an eye, ten years were gone and this was all that remained: an ugly, flat-topped grayed blister that blocked out the sun.
It was going to rain. Big menacing clouds that could bring down an entire country blossomed in the sky unexpectedly. Whatever sun had previously brightened the day was now being eaten away. If possible, the building looked more horrendous in the dark. The few recognizable structures – a window and a door – were swallowed up in the nascent mist. Overtop, the clouds formed themselves into an army of sprawling mushrooms.
Without a raincoat and no other building in close vicinity, I would have to walk inside. From where I was standing, it wouldn’t take long to pass through the courtyard. A breeze, I scoffed, but my joke was taken by the steadily increasing winds.
I began walking hesitantly towards the door, but all of a sudden it was cold like winter, then warm like spring, then hot like summer, then cool like fall, and I was sure that a lifetime passed me by.
Ten years flashed as I stepped forward. Promise, growth, construction, praise, failure, stagnation, and decay in that order continued on and on as I moved. Part of me, I was sure, was decomposing with the waning and waxing memories filtering by. I tried to remember my own thoughts ten years ago to this date, and what came up instead was this morning’s breakfast, if only barely. Something about eggs. My nose tinkled, I almost smelled them… I was at the door, wondering how I got there.
Converging lenses for door panes grossly exaggerated my appearance. I was twenty-one, that much I was sure, though at that moment I was certain I was near 65. My bones ached, my mind was wild, and my eyes didn’t see what was in front of me but what was behind, and so, I saw nothing at all. I failed to see that the door was already ajar as if to invite me in. I didn’t see that the building’s bricks were composed of my own various childish accomplishments, from artworks to trophies to Lego masterpieces. And I was blind to the white text on top of the blackened main entrance, blind to the words I had spent my life saying, “I wish I tried harder“.
Unlike the dreary front, the inside was eerily clean. A simple pattern of white and black stripes glossed the room effortlessly and besides for a desk where a woman sat with a fern to the right of her and a white door behind her, the place was completely empty. The rhythm of a typewriter creaked then paused then creaked again. The woman, dressed in a green sweater, a furiously tight ballet bun, and donning thick-rimmed black glasses, coughed as I stepped in.
Feeling awkward that I had already entered and unable to turn around without making a scene, I walked towards what felt like the only other living person for miles. Squeaking shoes gave my movements away. Briefly the woman looked at me, and calculating my distance along with my slow, laggard approach, decided I probably wasn’t worth her time. She went back to typing.
I shuffled forward. In absence of a plan, I needed to make a viable excuse as to why I entered the building. A grand opening? Where was everyone else, she’d probably ask. An appointment? With whom, her teeth would grind. “I was hoping to get more information about what this heck this place was all about.” It was the best I got because before I knew it, I was at the desk.
“Hi. Can I help you, hun?” She stressed hun like a 1950s spinster; the “n” seemed to roll endlessly.
“Sorry. You’re going to have to speak up.”
“Yes, I’m sorry for being…”
“Sorry? What was that? I can’t hear you over the typing.”
My plan was falling apart just as quickly as it came together. “OKAY. IT’S JUST…”
“Sir, there’s no need to get angry at me. This is a business, not a wrestling arena.”
“MAM, CAN YOU PLEASE STOP TYPING, THEN?”
Tick. Clank. The typewriter nosily squealed to a new line with a brief pause. The secretary hands rested for a moment but they looked awkward and out of place; red worn flesh and slim fingers, her hands seemed to be tirelessly wishing to be working again.
“Yes, honey, but only for a minute. You see we are very busy here.”
My chance rapidly resurfaced. “Busy? With what? I was looking to get some…”
“Oh.” She interrupted.
A trouble expression crossed her face and her brow sunk depressingly as if she has a headache. At a quick glance, besides for the disarray of her hair and her eyes being caked with makeup to hide middle age, she wasn’t all that bad looking. The green sweater flowed nicely with her blonde hair and the white blouse underneath offered a sense of politeness despite her slurred mannerism. With looks like hers, I guessed to myself, she was probably a model at some point. Maybe in some other place or some other time, her and I would have a drink or a night on the town. Standing there, my mind trailed to her body’s curves…
“Sorry about that earlier annoyance,” she continued, “We’ve been expecting you, Mr. Niburski. Please follow me.”
The daydream of her and I at some beach on an infinitely sunny day immediately washed away. “Wait, excuse me?”
She shuffled her papers. “Excuse me, but how did you know my name?”
Again, the frown greeted my incredulity. “Hun, everyone here knows your name, Mr. Niburski.”
“What?” My voice strayed from its usual nonchalance into a bordering anger. Not because I was actually mad – there was certainly some mistake – but because like this building itself, the people in it were equally asinine. She was no different. In fact, on closer inspection she was just as ugly as the delusional avant-garde architecture in the front. Though she was trying to look good, her hair visibly waning – dyed probably – her hands were wrinkled and poorly taken care of, her shoulders were masculine and broad, and tiny, microscopic hairs peppered her lip. At some point in my life, I probably met her, realized her overtly hidden flaws, and forgot about her, and now she was playing a joke on me. I tried to think of where I had seen her before…
Her small, stupid voice ringed again, dismaying me from filing through my memories, “Quite simply, Mr. Niburski,” she stretched her arms as wide as possible, “You’re the reason for our future.”
As the words escaped her lips, she swiveled around in her chair and stood up as if nothing of importance was said at all. “Follow me,” she repeated in a droll, unexcited strain as if to suggest whatever she was saying was no different than a cliché: overused and thus incredibly true.
“Sorry but I don’t understand what you’re saying. You see, Ms… Ms… actually I don’t know your name.”
“Ms. Niburski is my name.”
“But you’re not my sister.” My sister was certainly not working in this building, though I wondered what she was doing. It had been a while since I had spoken to her. In a brief moment, I hoped that she was doing well, or at the very least, was less confused than I was.
“I know I’m not, hun,” she laughed, “Though I could really use the fashion advice from her. My lip hairs are as crazy as a safari, if you ask me.” She smiled suggestively just as her worn hands began to gently brush her upper lip.
Had she known I was looking at them? “Then… are you a relative of mine?”
It was certainly possible. Besides gentler features and the makeup applied with a spray can, her face was similar enough to mine to make it plausible. She was about my height too, high heels aside. As far as I knew, however, only one other girl cousin existed and she was in Poland.
“Can’t you tell?” She patted herself down, showcasing every limb that folded into muscle that folded into into bone. In her mind, she was a blueprint and I was just a bumbling, incompetent technocrat trying to read it.
“No. Uhm, sorry I can’t”
She spun around with and her skirt spread to its limits like a stretched tapestry of ancient hieroglyphics that, when carefully uncovered, deciphered, and understood, contained all the clues I needed. She smiled.
“I’m you, Mr. Niburski. I’m Missus Kacper Niburski.”
The s’s of Missus seemed to echo throughout the plain, diminutive lobby. Both of us stood there staring at each other, her blinking childishly while I gazed into mirrored globes; she had my eyes, my hazel, green eyes with their wide pupils, their myopia, and their careful, hesitant movement on all things. She looked down at the fern, touching it so some of the dust would fall off. My eyes followed hers, and rather than digest what she had said, I wanted to say that it needed watering and what the heck was she saying anyways and I’m me and she’s she and I’m just going to turn around now. But I said neither, and we both looked at the ancient plant that was slowly shriveling without any other care in the world except to get water now and again.
“Follow me.” She repeated for the third time. The click of her heels quickly filled silence of the room as she moved towards the door. I ran to catch up. The sudden adrenaline of forced movement poured into my words, “No you’re not and that makes no sense.”
And it didn’t. Really, none of this did. The incredibly simple room and the complex, ragged outside architecture, the woman beside an ancient, wilting fern, and the typewriter in a building reserved solely for the technology of the future – all of it was illogical and nonsensical.
“Do you know how you got here?” She continued to walk towards the door, though slowly her pace as she spoke.
“No. I was just here with everyone else when this building opened and that’s the last thing I remember.”
That wasn’t exactly true. Granted I couldn’t recall how I arrived at this building, but the very last thing I remembered was working on a rusty-bike, trying to fix it together as a summer chore. As far as the bike went, I had to do a complete overhaul. Gears were rusty. Tires were flat. Brakes were nonexistent. It was to be a task reserved for childhood-like curiosity with its fixing, breaking, and fixing again.
Yet frustration got the better of me – this chain didn’t fit, and I had purchased the wrong inner tubing again, and where the hell did this thingamabobber go anyways, and on a particular sunny day after fiddling with the back wheel all day and the sultry sun beating against my naked back, my hands ached too much, my knees were red-stained, and I had grease warrior-scars under my eyes from being far, far too careless. I had given up. Sometime after, I must’ve went to sleep unwashed, unkempt, and unsuccessful.
“Are you sure?” She turned around to look at me, halting the clickidy-clack of her heels ever so slightly.
“Are you sure you weren’t tired of trying to fix your bike, Mr. Niburski?”
“… I’m sorry?” I paused, caught somewhere in between an inhale and an exhale.
“That brown bike, the one we never finished, oh well you don’t know that yet, but golly was it a mess – the backyard rife with tools and grease and discarded rubber tires.”
“How… how do you…” I looked to my hands, they were clean – no blackened oil gave my incompetency and lack of persistence away.
“I’m you, remember?”
“But, but… I’m me.”
“We both are. I’m just you ten years into the future, honey.”
“But I am a boy.”
“Yes. So was I ten years ago.”
“This doesn’t make any sense, this doesn’t make any sense.” Suddenly I was just so tired. I aged fifty years in that moment, and with a back that I was sure was going to ache and hands that were most likely crumbling away with arthritis, I needed to sit down. If only I could sit down, everything would be alright. I’d be back in my bed or home or anywhere but here. I’d wake up. I’d shave. I’d wash my teeth. I’d shower. I’d eat breakfast. And the day would wear on under a two-syllable rhythm until it did again the next day and the one after that.
How did I get here in this endless nightmare?
“Mr. Niburski,” Ms. Niburski crooned, “Sorry for being so mysterious before. It’s just that we’ve all been waiting so long.”
My head hurt. Pressure was coming in from all sides; my brain was trying to explode from the confines of my head. “We’ve?”
“Yes, we’ve.” Another voice, a rat-like voice exhausted of all emotion and character save for its volatile pitch, stated from behind me.
Turning around because I believed nothing else could surprise me, I was met with a man about my height with balding hair terribly masked by a trimmed yet inexplicably ragged comb over, grand-oval glasses that screamed high functionality but inescapable boredom, and a bold scar carefully hidden but all the while visible on his pale, shaven face. I was met with a surprise.
“This is you. This is we. And welcome to the Kacper Niburski Center.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Mr. Niburski.” His voice was cold, calculating. He had the look of an accountant – stressed, overworked, and burdened by an infinite amount of homely problems. As he outstretched his hand, he looked perfectly uncomfortable in his clothes; neither nervously sweating nor coolly at ease, he twitched softly and his jaw slacked as he spoke.
“Let me guess,” I took his hand, “Hell, I’ll run with this joke: Mr. Niburski, right?”
I was brazen and my handshake, strong and embittered, would crush his stupid, tiny, little hand. With all my might, I’d convince him of his idiocy and he’d give in and tell me all about the gag, and about how he was paid to do this, and how this woman, this middle-aged phony, was part of it all, and how she knew about the bike, and maybe she’d tell me where was that bike now anyways. I mean, I wouldn’t mind a second go.
His hand crumpled like a leaf to a tsunami; they were so incredibly gentle, afraid even. Almost as soon as I stared squeezing, though, I decided to let go. A sigh of relief escaped him just about as he was reddening embarrassingly. Let the joke go on, I thought. This is too complex to give into now. Let them have their fun, and let me have mine.
“Right on the nail, Mr. Niburski.” He sounded almost nasally, as if even breathing was too laborious and too complex of a task for him.
This meat wagon couldn’t be me. Look at how weak and how lifeless and how incredibly pathetic he was. And look at how revolting and bovine he seemed as he beamed after he spoke. He was not me not because I wasn’t necessarily those things, but because he most certainly was. He was barely human, and I, on the other hand, was very much alive.
“So,” I needed to prove my vivaciousness, “if I’m hearing correctly – and I am almost certain I’m not – you’re both me.”
In unison, “Yes.”
“So, you’re both Kacper?”
“And you’re both Mr. Niburski?”
“Missus Niburski,” the woman said.
“Mister Niburski,” the man said with a nod directed her way.
“Okay. Sure. And I’m still Kacper, right?”
“Then, excuse me, but who the fuck are you?”
“Kacper also, just older,” they repeated in a robotic fashion.
“So, if I’m following, you’re saying I’m in the future, then?”
“Yes, the home of it. Didn’t you hear the planner?” The woman grinned madly.
How long ago was that? I couldn’t remember exactly, nor could I bring to memory what was said. “That all doesn’t matter. What doesn’t make sense is that there, by definition, given the time I was born and the time I grew up in, is only one of me. One Kacper.”
“Time.” The man murmured the word, tossing it around in his mouth. “Again Mr. Niburski, you hit it right on the nail.”
“Hit what? What the fuck did I hit?” Now I was getting mad. There was no talking to these people, whoever they were.
“It’s hard to explain, but we’ll certainly have the time, if you mind the pun.” The man had taut wire for a smile. His lips cracked, and from afar, it looked as if he may have begun to bleed.
That’s it! I had it. I knew what I was going to do to dispel this ruse. “Okay. Fine. What’s my blood type?”
The man, about to dab a handkerchief to his chapped lips, chuckled, “B+.”
“Elizabeth.” The woman answered.
“Other side of the family?”
“Brona.” The man now.
“First pet’s name?”
“Speedy.” The woman.
“First girl kissed?”
“Liliana.” The man.
“Date Mocha died?”
“December 25th.” Woman.
“-3.00 dioptres.” Man.
“Green when you were young; red when you were a teenager; nothing when you were twenty one. You’ll start to like white, though, if that could be called a colour.”
They both answered the long, exhausting, deeply personal question without the slightest hesitation.
And I, having my whole life spilled in front of me in little snippets, having looked into the mirrors of myself with two different lenses that neither superimposed nor were radically different from one another, crumpled like a liqud and began to cry.
A spiny yet subtly masculine hand patted my back. “It’s alright, hun. It’s alright.”
The man stood awkwardly, if he could be any more awkward than how he already was that is. “Don’t cry, Mr. Niburski. Too much to do, too much to see.”
“Kacper,” the woman slapped his arm, “Do you always have to be so damn impersonal? It’s a lot to take in. Sh, sh. I know.”
Confused and afraid, I continued to cry into the arms of myself. Unlike my own limbs, however, her hands were moisturized and a painful permanence of perfume oozed indiscriminately. I couldn’t believe it. None of this made sense, but somehow, everything did. In every sense of the word, I was by myself.
“We’ll, Mr. Niburski,” social insecurities echoed in each of his carefully chosen words, “if you can pick yourself up, everything will be understood in time.”
“In time…” I repeated the phrase.
“Yes, in time.” He said devoid of any emotion.
“How much time? Ten seconds? Ten years? A lifetime?”
“That, Kacper, is entirely up to you.”
“You. Don’t you mean Me or Him or Her or Us.” I was exhausted and my voice faltered before finishing.
“No, we’ve already made our choice.” His eyes looked at me intently as if to say, ‘Don’t worry, Kacper. I know it’s not much but I like this job and you will too one day if this is what you want.’ His eyes reflected a globe of languages saying everything yet nothing, speaking a million little things that only I would understand.
“So, then, what now?” My voice was weak as a child’s.
“You get up and move.”
“But I feel so weak. I’m so tired.”
“We all are, Kacper. That’s part of growing old; growing up is moving beyond the tiredness.”
“And besides, didn’t we write, ‘stand taller’ a long, long time ago?” The woman smiled the most beautiful, careful smile that would’ve brought world peace if only people could see it.
I thought back to when I wrote those words: it was a beautiful day and I felt so unquestionably miserable. I was fine, sure, I just wasn’t happy and I felt I had no reason to be. I was rejected from a job, my best friend had gone away, and for the first time in my short life, I only knew and saw my own failure. But as I sat there in my bed, cradled by the warmth of sheets in what I felt was an inarguably cold world, I decided that if I were to fail, if I were to know only the misery for the rest of my life, I’d do so standing up. I’d raise my chin. I’d clench my fists. And I’d try to keep pushing because it was easier to just wait for the storm to past in the safety of one’s bed.
“Okay.” With her help, I shakily got up, and the three of us, three of me, began to walk towards the white door.
Beyond the door was an avalanche of complete darkness. Before waning and disappearing into the inky night, the dim lighting from the lobby shined on nothing at all. All three of us stood at the edge where the light met the darkness, our shadows stretching into the nothingness beyond us.
“Is there a problem?” I said with fear and confusion. In front of me, it looked as though there was no floor even. One more step, and I’d sink like an anchor caught in the Mariana’s Trench.
“No. It is exactly as it is.” The man said, his voice reaching unimaginably high pitches.
“Sorry, but I don’t understand.” The light in the other room seemed so distant. How long had it been since I stood outside?
“Kacper, you are in control of what you do next.”
“But you guys brought me here.” Still emotionally volatile, I was quick in my reaction.
“No,” the woman said. “You brought you here.”
The man added, “We just reminded you that when you stand, you see the world much more than when you sit.”
But even though I was standing now, I saw nothing at all. Within arms reach was an all-consuming emptiness, the kind that wretched one’s heart late at night or that caused a person to be unbelievably cold during the summer. It was a space of nothing, of something, and of everything all at the same time. Every small problem, every insurmountable uncertainty and confusion, the narrow approximations and improbable estimations, all the successful failures and failures becoming successful, the aggregate of reasons why I convinced myself that something was important and why something else wasn’t, happiness, sadness, anger, joy and every day forgotten and remembered, somehow fit in between the infinity of me and the darkness “What am I supposed to do now?”
“It’s your choice, Kacper.”
For the first time since I could remember, a smile creaked out. “It always was, wasn’t it?”
Before he answered, before he confirmed or denied my free will, before he could suggest that I was anything but an organic result of nature versus nurture, I took one step forward and was swallowed whole by a heavenly light.
Was I dead? I didn’t think so. I still felt, did, and moved if only barely. I could feel a pulse as strong as a car engine rumbling. I was so nervous that my breath was caught in my throat. If breathing was a voluntary action, I’d be dead.
Due to the immensity of the light, I closed my eyes. Much of it still flooded to my eyelids, hurting them slightly with their otherworldly radiance.
“Don’t close your eyes, honey. You’ve closed your eyes for most of your life.” The woman’s voice sounded almost angelic.
“Now, for the first time, you will see.” Even the man, who was a pathetic consistency of slurs and congestion, spoke like the divine.
For some reason, I felt light. My problems, whatever they were – I could barely remember them anyhow – seemed so distant, so impossibly small in this mountain of whiteness. I opened my eyes for I had eyes of the sun and there in a room that once held an infinite darkness, I reflected my world.
All of them.
In what was once a microcosm of empty space, now instead busied a million of bodies moving, doing, laughing, shouting, playing, working, sleeping, eating, peeing, wondering, crying, running, flying, jumping, and feeling millions upon millions of different emotions for different reasons at different times. As the scales of my eyes fell, I saw millions of Kacpers.
“Welcome to the Kacper Niburski Center,” the man said just as he had before with the same twisting undertone of sarcasm.
“So, those are all me?” The words stumbled freely from my mouth almost like accidents.
“Every last one of them.”
“How did they all get here?”
“Each of us live the life you chose.”
“Whenever you chose it, silly.” The woman laughed.
“And I chose to be you?”
“Yes. When was it now?” She tapped her wrists trying to overtly express a feminine charm. “June 2016. San Paulo, Brazil. It was a wild few weeks.” She stared off into the room, remembering all the things I didn’t remember, reliving the life I had once lived.
“And you too?” I looked towards the man, almost more disturbed that I could turn into such a spineless wreck of pity and emotion and cowlike tendencies.
“Yup. You enrolled into the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2018 after exploring a lot of backwater career options.”
“And I, I’m sorry, became fat too?”
“Well,” he let out a rare laugh that sounded foreign as it escaped his mouth, “I blame that on the nachos, not so much your choices.”
As he chuckled, his dimples rose just as mine did. In the quick, fleeting emotion, his eyes dilated and bounced around as mine would when I found something funny but others didn’t.
“And them?” I pointed towards the millions of people in every direction.
“For different causes and different effects, you chose them too.”
I looked at them, at me, and there were so many different actions going on at once. A man in a cowboy hat sat on a horse wrangling an invisible pig in front of him. Another man without an arm was passing butter at a picnic to a woman with bright red hair who sat beside a clown and an ascetic Jew. A tattooed Picasso smoked a long, spindly cigarette, the smoke curled around his mouth like speech bubbles in a comic. “Will I meet them all?”
“You don’t have to, if you don’t want to.” The woman nodded as she spoke.
“I’d like to.”
And we did.
I met Kacper the Orthopedic Surgeon who sat nimbly, at ease, and told me that I should enjoy myself before becoming a doctor, “Because,” he wore a smile reserved for both the happiest and saddest moments, “I’ll have my whole life to save lives”. I met Father Kacper, the Roman Catholic Priest, who laughed at my initial look of revulsion of a clerical collar. “God works in mysterious ways,” he chuckled and pointed towards Gothic Kacper, who hummed some incantation of black magic against the priest.
I met single-Dad Kacper who had suitcases under his eyelids and yellow crayon scribbled on his black business suit. Librarian Kacper was next, though he couldn’t be disturbed from his book no matter how much I implored. I bumped into Fat Kacper, a blob of undifferentiated mass who sweated profusely and was confined into a wheelchair. “Stay clear…” he heaved, “of processed foods…” Spit dribbled from his mouth as he spoke.
Homeless Kacper wandered towards me, saying that the best decision I had ever made was to make no decision at all. Litigation lawyer Kacper interjected bitterly, declaring that because I was logical and lawyers are logical, I should continue to move to the path of the law, the righteous path. Philosopher Kacper scoffed, arguing that law is not infallible nor noble for it comes from a priori conclusions. “Empirical hogwash,” spinning his hands into nothingness. Ph. D chemist Kacper, after inspecting a test tube that bubbled with a beat-red liquid, added, “I’ll spray this liquid at you and you can tell me if it doesn’t exist.”
Thousands of Kacpers came to greet me, though some of them were too lazy or too indifferent or too busy to notice me. “How does two weeks sound for a meeting?” CEO Kacper asked me, checking his watch then hurrying to file some papers or another.
Mr. Niburski after Mr. Niburski after Mrs. Niburski flooded the room that expanded endlessly. Each Kacper had a different story, a different number of choices that led them there ten years later. Whether it was a resultant war or unyielding peace, the decline of civil liberties or equality for all, this girl at a bar or this feeling of being alone with so many people around me, I had become the person I chose to be. Some instances, future Kacper was planned, and the blueprint designed on coffee shop napkins, late night musings, and embarrassing cyclic thoughts, was followed perfectly. Other times, my lifestyle had become a cluster of confusion, uncertainty, and hilarious accidents. In both instances, though, I had become Kacper and I had learned what that meant to me. I was either sad or happy if I chose to be, mad or glad just the same. In the end, no matter what may have been, it all came down to me, my, and I.
Hours passed. Days ebbed. Years went through my fingertips like water. Comedian Kacper had cracked a hole in my spleen; Cynical Kacper had cut it deeper. I was a new man cut into a million of tiny, different pieces strewn across the world like ash.
Throughout it all, the accountant assumed his hesitant yet orderly manner, trying to walk as quick as I did. The secretary woman jived in with the other Kacper’s when she could, calling them ‘silly goose’ as needed or ‘oh dear’ when she was visibly shocked.
“We’ll have to be leaving soon,” the accountant said all of a sudden. “It’s getting dark.”
Though I didn’t notice it before, the incredible light was dimming just as it had in the beginning and almost as quickly as it came, it left, leaving the three of us to wonder whether darkness or light was faster.
It was horribly cold in the room. I felt impossibly heavy, my arms unable to move and my breath suffocating in my throat.
“This, Kacper, is the future where you don’t make it ten years from now.”
“I died?” The words croaked out weakly. I was surprised at my own voice in the darkness.
“Yes, a billion horrible, painful, agonizing, little deaths.”
Suddenly, I tasted dirt in my mouth. My lungs were little grapes being squeezed of all their life. Everything was becoming fuzzy. I wanted to scream, to release all this pressure from my lungs, but nothing came out.
“Kacper. It’s okay.” Who’s voice was that? The woman’s? The man’s? Mine?
“We all die one day.” Their vocal chords blurred into a fundamental harmonic, crashing and twisting and wrenching together into the voice of absolute death.
“You died March 17, 2014, June 18 2014….” The dirge poured on and on and on like wailing screams, and I reached for my ears to somehow block out the sound, but my hands felt like they were decaying slowing under some invisible weight. So instead, I listened to screams, wishing I could scream myself.
I was going to die here, wherever that was.
Death was supposed to happen to other people. Friends’ families of a distant friend – a near nobody – who I expressed simple, empty words like ‘It gets better.’ I was supposed to be an unsinkable buoy in the worst tempest, cascading the troubles with a gracelike consistency. This, right now, was not supposed to happen. I was not supposed to die. But I did, some time, maybe even now. I crumbled to the ground for a second time, the dirt now overflowing from my mouth.
I saw Father Kacper, dressed in ebony clerical clothes, swinging a thurible, mist spewing from its golden mouth. He was whispering incantations and looking at me with dismay and pity. From afar, though I couldn’t see or hear correctly under the trove of hymns and heavenly fog, it looked as though he was crying.
There were so many things I didn’t do, so many things I wished I could do again. Wouldn’t I study harder if I got the chance and wouldn’t I have more fun while doing it? Wouldn’t I hold her hand and not wait until she was mad? Wouldn’t I tell my parents I loved them more because didn’t they like hearing it and didn’t I like hearing it too? Wouldn’t I go back and do things differently, and yet somehow the same because it was those things – those things I did consistently wrong, right, and not at all – that I thought about now as I died.
“Over your tombstone,” a voice screeched, “you wrote this, ‘In a world that you can’t say worthwhile goodbyes, why waste your time with decent hellos?’ “
I closed my eyes, accepted the darkness, and tried, despite the dirt, to mouth the words, ‘See you later.’
Suddenly, I felt nothing at all. A consuming numbness had swallowed me whole. My mouth still had the aftertaste of soil, but besides that, my limbs were free to move. Father Kacper was gone. So was everyone else. Only I was there, somewhere, alive and waiting to be given a reason to move.
“Isn’t that reason enough already?” The man sparked into existence from the darkness, a loud flash followed his entrance. He looked different, but the same. The once unsightly features seemed nuanced, as if shaven and tidied. His hair was neatly combed, his glasses sat perfectly on his face, and in a way, he even looked dashing besides the potbelly bubbling overtop of his dress pants.
“Excuse me?” But I already knew what he would say.
“It’s your choice, Kacper.”
A few clumps of dirt hung to my t-shirt. I wiped them off, I looked at him, at me, and I moved in the darkness towards nothing at all. For the first time in a long time, I was alive in a drugged world that wasn’t.
I walked forever. To the end and back, I saw the edge of the universe, my universe, and sat on it rocking my feet freely like an energetic child on a swing. Beyond this edge, there was nothing. Behind, everything. And I was the middle, everything and nothing all at once, so I became something. I became Kacper.
I learned what that word means to me. I knew all, had seen all, and decided that I could be all if only I gave everything I had to some idea, some plan, some consistency. When I grew up in ten distant years from now, I was going to be a doctor and a lawyer, a clown and priest, a soldier and a pacifist, an accountant and a secretary, a father and a mother and a single parent all at once not because I was those things, but because I could be. I always could.
Knee deep in the universe, I rolled my sleeves and began to work. I rearranged this planet or another, this star and this galaxy. I created whole worlds and destroyed them the next second. I saw, I did, I felt, and I repeated. I became god before death, not after, and I lived as a human with innate paradoxes and failures and successes and I was happy.
Happiness hadn’t found me nor did I find it. Instead, I created it before others could.
I built my future – the Kacper Niburski Center.
The lights turned on.
Grease was untidily caked onto my fingers. Drool stuck my face to the pillow like glue. It was morning and I was in my bed.
I smiled. The bed was warm, inviting.
But today would not be one of those days. I looked outside and saw my reflection in a small, dilapidated bicycle frame. I was shining.