The fly had been living in my keyhole for a long, long time. So long that I had gone through annoyance, despair and finally settled on ignorance.
The first time I heard it was on the day she left. I couldn’t place it at first. I walked in and out of rooms, as if the sound was one second in and one second out. Then it was in the door, jammed, right in the fibres of wood, growing, feeding on itself. Puzzled, I leaned into the keyhole and I stared right at it. The fly looked back through thousands of glass beads, stopping for just a second, before resuming its chant.
The buzzing was maddening. Like it was never going to end. At times, it sounded desperate. One would think it was trying to stop and it couldn’t. As if buzzing was the only way in which it could go on, regardless of the pain. I’d wake up and it would be there. At night it would be there. On weekends and weekdays, same.
I expected at some point it would shoot out for food or alternatively, it would die out of hunger. One time I jammed my key inside the lock, wriggled it around and waited for that slight bit of resistance before I managed to crunch it. It escaped me like a world-class fencer. When I considered more drastic measures, the rental agency refused my request to change the door. I offered to cover the costs, yet they denied that too. Still, were that not to be the case, I had the sense it wouldn’t solve my problem. The buzzing would accompany me from a distance, relentless, lingering dimmed, humming. Whatever I tried, it never stopped. And it never rested.
The story starts earlier. I would tell it properly were it not for the fact that the city annoys me. I can’t concentrate with the constant ringing percolating through my walls. Tools are used to build and repair and yet the city looks like shit. Decaying shit, its freshness shine lost to the sun. Constantly patching. Constantly building. Forever decaying.
When I moved here, they told me it’s a place of opposites. Or, rather, a place where the opposites attract each other. You’ll get high but brace for when you’ll drop low. Only the tough make it, they told me with pride, as if I didn’t know it. But if I’m honest, I can now tell that’s just something they tell each other to make themselves feel better. It’s not a place of opposites, it’s just a collection of who we are, of who they are. The majority. A mirror. A mirror one finds hard to accept as ugly only because it frames one’s face. We’re small that way.
I close my windows to silence the streets. I don’t live for, I live despite them. The light still comes in, somehow artificial though, plastic, like it’s not real light, but a yellowed-out neon sun. My window a screen. I could switch the channel to a forest.
Even then, the drilling finds me. Day or night. Even when the wind rustles the trees, cracks branches or slaps a leaf against my window, it carries with it the drilling from beyond the grey slabs of concrete.
I moved here out of love. I had been a rolling stone for too long. Through an unfortunate set of circumstances too delicate to outline here, I convinced my wife to follow me. I didn’t even know she could do that (you’d understand if you knew her). But she did. And I arrived. Reunited at last with the land I had long ago abandoned. I walked as the son returned. All my power had grown. I had upgraded and was ready to spill my goodness onto the place I used to call home. Of course, there was no waving of flags and no groups at the airport carrying whimsical comments scratched on old cardboard. Especially so since we arrived in a beat-up van, loaded up with all our stuff. But I did meet old friends, colleagues, people. I experienced the oscillating glory of living the dream. I’m happy to report it was good for a while.
My wife left me because I was, she said, “unbelievable”. Not a “liar”. That’s not what she meant. For her too, English is not her native language. She just meant to say that she couldn’t comprehend me or more accurately, my behaviour. I was “unbelievable” because I kept finding excuses to this place, not seeing it for what it was. “Slum”, she wanted to say. Or “shithole”. Or “hellhole”. Words she never uttered, yet always transpired through the creases of her face. And it’s true: I couldn’t have it. Maybe I’m biased, but it’s like being forced to acknowledge that your mother is ugly, or stupid. Something so fundamental, so un-rewindable, would snap in you that your entire universe would turn to rubble. You would instantly become a different person, divorced of your past.
In the end, she really left because of the baby. She had also stayed for that long because of the baby. It was buried here, this part of her. For once, she understood how torn I had been through all this time living abroad. Maybe that’s why now I took it so easy. For the first time, all parts of me, living and dead, were in one place, in one country, kilometres apart. Late at night, when any illusion of conscience would vaporize, all the parts would meet, talk to each other. My dried-up skin would lay at the feet of my boy. My grandma would be picking my fallen hairs off the baby’s shoulder. My past loves, fears, would be bluish ghosts that my baby would laugh at until they passed through him with a chill, making him cry.
Violet was pregnant for ten months. It’s rare. But it happens. She was so miserable towards the end that I dropped any sort of faux-manly pretences and acted like a slave for her. I cooked, cleaned, did the groceries. At night, I would massage her body with argan oil to prevent stretchmarks. In the mornings, I would lay breakfast and get her vitamins. She’d bitch if I forgot to take out one thing she liked out of the fridge. I’d smile. She was having a hard time. I knew that for her I’d do everything. I had matured, enough to tell these things.
At the end of the tenth month she was huge. From the wiry girl I had met long ago, still thin, she looked like an anaconda having swallowed a boar. I didn’t tell her that.
The doctor cut her up. They said something about the heart and oxygen saturation and that the baby had to come out. It couldn’t wait any longer. There were risks by now, both for the mother and the baby. We both cried at home when we decided to do it. Then we went to the hospital the next morning for the procedure. That night she slept sedated. I envied her. I was wide awake when the doctor told me what happened. He cupped my shoulder and pulled me to a side like a father.
‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘you’re both young.’
I nodded, I think. Then he said some more stuff that I didn’t hear then and I don’t remember now.
They were very understanding at work.
‘Take as much time as you need,’ they said. ‘Just let us know if we can help.’
What a dumb thing to say.
So, I took the time. And I haven’t gone back since. I didn’t like the job anyway. There was enough money left in my savings account to rest and digest the past just so that one day I might be able to envisage the future. The present was nothing. Barricaded in my flat, I just sat, waiting for something to click or a muscle to move under my skin, urging me in some direction.
A white bird flapped its wings and disappeared behind the building beyond the window. A caramel coloured bug floated helicopter-like in place. The drilling was on. And the buzzing too.
I boiled some water and made coffee. My back bones burned as I stretched them. In the mirror I sized the purple rings around my eyes. I looked like an artist. My hair was all clumped up and I patted it around to flatten it. I rinsed my mouth with water and I spat. I read my reflection in the metal drain and the image was absorbed by the swirl.
Ten years I had spent abroad. I met my wife during a summer internship. She thought I was full of myself. I just wanted to sleep with her. Something happened on the way and things turned real. We spent the last year of uni together, then moved back to her country and got a job. That decision was less of a decision and more of an ultimatum. She wouldn’t like me saying this. We were in a bar in my hometown. It was summer and we had a few drinks. For months we had postponed the discussion of where to move after graduation. Now we had been discussing every day and this week strangely felt as the one when we loved each other the least.
‘I can’t do it,’ she said. ‘I can’t move here.’
Before there used to be arguments, debates, comparisons, persuasion, perspiration. But now it was clear, just in those few words. I stood up and went to the toilet. I had to pee, but I really wanted to cry. I managed neither.
‘This is it,’ I told myself in the smelly silence of the cubical. ‘I’m going with her. I’m going with her? I’m going with her.’
When I returned to the table she tried to smile. We finished our last beer in silence. At home, in my parents’ flat, I told her I’d come. We made love that night. Things were good again.
Seven years later she woke up dazzled and asked for her baby. I was tasked to carry the truth. I had said it so many times in my head that it came out all flat. She looked at me, mouth-gaped, for many many seconds. I sat next to her on the bed. I told her the same phrase again. I only remember her upper lip spasming out of control before she started crying. Hours passed like this. I almost smacked a nurse that came in and asked her to be quiet.
We had been trying for a long time. Finally getting pregnant was as awe-inspiring as the immaculate conception. Godlike. We were finally given a chance for our toils. We felt something beyond gratitude and my wife did the best she could for the baby. In return, he liked it so much he didn’t want to leave her, afraid of what laid outside.
HDN. Hemolytic Disease of the Newborn. In short, the blood of the fetus gets mixed up with that of the mother. She was RH-, he was +. He lost. It’s supposed to be a routine check, we found out afterwards. Something they should’ve known. Something that was in her file.
A week later when we went to the hospital, looking for vengeance or redemption of some sort, the gynaecologist shrugged his shoulders.
‘It wasn’t meant to be,’ he said. Can you believe it? ‘It wasn’t meant to be.’
Months later I realised nobody even said sorry. They kicked us out. Violet screamed at him in English until they called security. I doubt the doctor understood her. The pot-bellied security guard grabbed me by the arm. ‘Here we don’t touch women,’ he said, as an explanation for manhandling me even though I was the quiet one. I took a swing at the guy and he shoved me into some bushes next to the hospital entrance. Violet came after me once the doctor disappeared behind the glass doors.
At home we busied ourselves with finding the right means of punishment. We talked lawyers, midnight attacks and setting fire to the surgeon. As long as we had something on our hands, we could avoid the sound of our breathing, the terror of our pinked eyes meeting unprepared.
Soon after everything became difficult, as if the entire city was plotting against us. The neighbours were loud. Cars would almost run us over on the crossings. People wouldn’t keep their appointments. There was dirt all over on the streets. The mailman would drop the letters in front of the building instead of the mailbox. Things piled up. It was hard to swallow.
It was my fault in the end. That’s how our discussions would conclude. It was me that insisted we should come here. I should’ve known. And truth be the told I wasn’t defending the place anymore either. I felt betrayed, tricked even.
Violet and I argued until all the venom spilled out, turning the air toxic, burning our skin, crushing something deep in us that we would never manage to repair.
A few days later, after a weekend visiting my father, I came home and Violet had packed. She wasn’t home. I paced our small flat, now more silent than ever. Everything she had, literally everything, was neatly arranged in boxes stacked on the wall facing the door. As if the movers were outside waiting to load them up.
When I called her she didn’t pick up. I tried again.
No words came out of me. I was only breathing, in and out.
‘Let’s talk home,’ she said.
She arrived within the hour. I was sitting on the couch, shoulders slumped, staring into nothing.
We argued again.
‘I don’t love you anymore,’ she screamed at the top of her voice. ‘I’ve fallen out of love,’ she added and curled up on the bed weeping.
I felt my eyes moisten and stared at the white wall of our room, barely containing the urge to hurl my head against it.
I slammed the door to our flat and went out. October. I went to the closest store and got myself a pack of cigarettes. I need to think, I told myself, I need to think. I started walking the streets of the city as it got dark and smoked more than half of the pack. My throat singed. A dull headache started thudding from the underneath. Soon I was shivering with only a light shirt on. On the entire way back home, my teeth clattered out of control. A few passers-by watched me as if I was demented, the scum of the earth.
When I reached the door, I paused for a long time, uncertain of whether to enter. I twisted the key in the lock trying to create the least sound possible. Violet was sleeping on the couch, our bed empty. She looked tired, her eyes puffed up and red. For a second, I thought there were fewer boxes, one of them maybe unpacked, but it was just in my head. I undressed and slid under the covers. I only fell asleep towards the morning, crafting in my head the words that could make it all better again. I was sure that if I were to fix that puzzle of words, she might have a change of heart.
In the morning, the headache was glorious.
She said hi as she came into the room to get some clothes from one of the boxes. She was covering her bare breasts with the towel. As if those breasts weren’t as familiar to me as my own chest.
After I went to the bathroom, I put the kettle on and turned towards her. I played the tape I had in my head. How we both said things we didn’t mean, how horrible it was what happened to us, how we must be strong.
She didn’t look at me as she finished dressing.
‘I’m leaving,’ she said. ‘The movers are coming today. I have a flight in the evening.’ She left, closing the door behind her.
She kept her word, as always. By the end of the day she was gone. Empty spaces, asymmetrical in the flat, swollen up to attract attention, were the only traces of her presence. I walked from one room to the other, absent, my mind a blank, as if looking for something. Everything seemed fractured in a way that could never be mended, like a porcelain piece dropped from high above, pulverized by the concrete. She was resolute. She was never going to come back. And I never believed in running after.
As time passed by, the buzzing in the door slowly filled the space within me. The cracks and the crevices. It occupied them. At first, I heard it just when I closed the door to the flat. Then down the staircase of the building. Then on the streets. I blamed my ears at first, accused my mind, but truth be told, sooner or later, I had to accept it. It was me buzzing. The sound was no longer in the door, but within me.
With time, the anti-slip plastic carpet in the shower had grown fluff around the sides with our hair. Mine black and hers blond, intertwined, thatched between the plastic bubbles of the mat, as if hair off the animal we once co-existed in. I felt no disgust at leaving it there for weeks after. It grew thicker, darkening as my loose hair strands stuck closer on top, turning the dark blond shade into a dark brown and soon enough I could barely tell them apart.
It was winter and one morning I picked the dried up moss pile of hair and pulled it apart to find in between all of mine those golden strands of hers. She was there. She had never truly left. And yet, I let her go, fast and liquid, absorbed by the drain. It was then that the fly swallowed its own sound and became forever silent. Soon after I moved out and with time, I got well enough to write this.