6 min read

Fiction: The Man at the Desk

Fiction: The Man at the Desk

There’s a man at the desk I’ve been peering upon for quite a while. He isn’t very attractive or appealing from any point of view, but there he sits. His desk is worn out with chipped paint and the chair he sits on seems to be the sole reason for his aching pains every morning.

He rarely sleeps anymore — although that’s what I assume he does when he leaves his desk — but merely sits there. The desk was once painted beautifully in pearl white, covered with books, plants, and images that I could not comprehend. His neck bent down even more than it is now, being attracted by the magnetic words in each page he opened. I also recall his thin and shaky voice shaking the leaves of the plants which sat across from his desk — “One day my friends! One day…”

Each day — which is marked off by him allowing some blinding light into the small square room — the man sat at the desk. The desk acted like a conveyor belt delivering text after text to him, and like a hungry cub who was left alone, he snagged at the words that swam across him. He seemed eager to be nourished by the words that presented itself to him, hungrily chasing after each book.

When he opened a book, the spread pages usually extended beyond the width of the man's head — so I could grasp glimpses of the plump black ink which ran across the creamy pages. None of the curls and edges of the ink displayed any concrete meaning to my unsophisticated mind, but I learnt to gaze upon it’s intentional and lucid shapes. The great contrast between the books and the back of the man's head was stark — the former being full of life, the latter being a still, ballooned, hairy ball.

After gazing upon the book for a while, the man — without lifting up his arms — would blow at the book with all his might and the pages would flutter in response. Like dried leaves shaking at the wind, the plump ink on the pages lost its complexity and the book expanded itself to replace it. And as if nothing happened, the man began to gaze upon the open book again. After repeating this a few times over, he would lean back on his wooden chair with a movement that indicated extreme satisfaction. He would let out a deep sigh of relief and marvel once again, “One day my friends! One day… it will come!”

After this orgasmic phase of his reading — which always came after the pages have been closed — he would reach out once again to the pile of books on the right side of his desk. With precision and accuracy, he would spread open the book just like the one before, and stare.The plants on his desk — which were never watered and always outside the reach of the light — remained green as long as he sat there. The images that were displayed also remained the same — black and red pictures of a fist raised high, attempting to break through the frame in which he locked them inside.

But of course, these plants and images were only there to glorify the movement he performed with his books. Partnered by the caged image and rooted plant, his heavy breath continued to flip the pages and his desk flourished with life.

He continued to comprehend the books in his own manner, revealing something new with every breath. The man in no way seemed satisfied with the desk, but he was incredibly satisfied with the process he’s created for himself. It didn’t seem to matter to him the day in which he spoke of ever came — although I hadn’t the slightest clue of what that day was — as long as he muttered the same words of the forthcoming day.

I grew eager to learn of this day of coming — so any minute change on his desk caught my attention. A page with a different stain on the corner, a day where the light was not as strong as the one before, or some days the plants looked greener and the fist stronger.

But in one instance, I was certain the day in which he spoke of came. The man gazed upon his book as usual, but without the breath to flip through the pages. Although he breathed — I could tell because his shoulders rose and sunk slowly — it wasn’t enough to turn the pages. The weak wind only picked up the slightest edge of each page, only to drop down again. The black curls of the man's hair blended in with the ink on the pages, creating their own new story. What a curious sight this was! The ever static man seemed even more still without the movement of the pages. I still waited, for a single blow of the pages could ruin my entire hypothesis of the coming great day. The light slowly dimmed, each slow breath of the man at the desk continued to ripple the pages, and the plant and pictures grew dull with the absence of light. And in a sudden burst, the man’s arms flailed out —knocking over the pile of books that covered his desk. I never saw the man sitting up straight, towering over the desk and obscuring the view of anything else. He remained in that domineering stance for a while, with his breath heavy — probably enough to flip a page or two if he remained close to the opened book.

“Was… I asleep?” He seemed to ask someone.

“I… fell asleep! How could this be? I waited for the day to come, to prepare for that day here on this desk. Yet… I am here asleep!”

The man dashed towards the entrance of the light and stared out. It was the first time seeing the side of his face and body, but more interestingly the entirety of his desk.

I saw that underneath the book there was a piece of paper — half full — as well as a pen. The ink on the paper was lifeless, beautyless, and seemed to be devoid of any life. It resembled the ones in the books greatly, but without the flick of mastery at the end of each symbol.

At a distance from my attention, the man mumbled, “Did it happen? Have I missed it due to my physical need of rest?”

But my gaze was caught by the open book. For the first time I saw the entirety of a page, which was even more magnificent than I could have possibly imagined.

“I was bored… I was bored of waiting. Bored of the preparation. How could I have been! The world left without me, what do I long for now?”

I couldn’t comprehend what he was claiming — bored? Bored of these intertwining strings of shapes? I reached as far as I could to get closer to the dancing figures on the page, my heart pounded with excitement and each letter presented itself to me like a Victorian ball.

“I have nothing. The past 700 days I committed to this single occasion. For the people, for us! What am I to do…? I am forever stuck here — I will forever be stuck in this time, the only one I can experience. I have missed the day, they have all gone without me. Look! It’s so dark and barren out.”

The man slowly made his way back to the desk. His large head again covering the view of the book. This time not gazing at the book, nor the plants, nor the pictures. His gaze was fixed ahead of him. The slow breathing of his shoulders settled and for the first time his body seemed to comfortably fit into the mold of the wooden chair. His posture covered all of the book, blocking the one view of life from me.

He never spoke of the day again — as it had passed away from him. The green hue of the plants and the powerful fist caged inside the frame had more life than he, reducing the presence of the man at the desk to nothing more than an object, a still being, a thing.

And soon, him and his possessions were gone — only leaving a trace of his life behind. Was he to be displayed in an antique store? Would he make his way into a museum?

The empty desk remained. Barren and dark. I gazed upon the desk, imagining the shapes on the book which the man once read. I eagerly longed for the sight of the dancing letters again.

“One day my friend, one day!”

The disappearance of utopia brings about a static state of affairs in which man himself becomes no more than a thing — Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia