He looks just like me. It’s as if we are the same. But we’re different. We are two men walking underneath a sky so polluted with halogen that there are no more stars to guide us. Our feet pound at the concrete; our hands are jammed deep into pockets and our shoulders are hunched to avoid the rain that’s already soaking through our coats. We pass so close that our shoulders almost touch. I take a sideways glance and scowl, but he smiles a smile so pure that it cuts like glass through the chambers of my soul.
We’re wearing the same coat, the same pants, and have matching rain soaked shoes. But where my brow is furrowed so deep that rain water runs through channels and leaks down my face; he grins like a Cheshire from ear to ear. It’s as though this stranger is completely oblivious to the tears of the gods splashing against his features.
We are so alike. So similar, but different. He looks happy. And I’m…
…I’m not even sure what I am anymore. But I know that I’m not like him. I didn’t get that promotion today. I never wanted the position. I just needed the money. I never even wanted to be a businessman. I never wanted to sit tethered to a desk crunching numbers or filing complaints until my hips seized up and my wrist began sounding like a cement mixer whenever I tried to move it. I wanted to be a free spirit. As a child I wanted to be an artist and an astronaut; I wanted to change the world. As a teenager I wanted to travel. I told myself that changing the world wasn’t nearly as important as walking across it with strangers by my side.
But when I became an adult I screwed everything up. I made stupid decisions, ruined friendships and accumulated debts. Before I knew it I was trying to convince my employer that I gave a damn about their strategic vision and business objectives. I started selling my soul for a paycheck that would inevitably be whittled away on material possessions or by my ever amounting irresponsible choices.
But I bet this man before me never had these problems. I bet he got the promotion. He probably didn’t go searching for happiness at the bottom of a beer glass or by eating himself into a stupor.
I raise my hand and flex my fingers, feeling the tendons in my arm pinch as he mimics the movement; except he does it pain free. He looks like a family man. One of those successful self-driven types who manages to balance a day’s work with raising a household whilst still finding time to stay in shape. His kids would love him. They’d call him daddy and throw their arms around him when he arrived home from the office. My children don’t even exist. They’re part of a dream that I pray will one day become my reality.
He straightens his shoulders while mine hunch further to protect my tired body from the heavy rain. We’re so similar. But we’re so different. He’s just like me. But a better version. A doppelganger walking the same streets as I am, only he does so with a heart swelled by providence and emotional wealth. Whereas mine feels like a stone sinking towards the bottom of a sea so black that not even light can reach it.
‘How?’ I ask in a voice so weak that I doubt he can hear me above the sounds of pedestrians jostling around us. ‘How did you do it?’
He cocks his head and throws me another disabling grin, as though my question perplexes him.
‘You’re just like me. We look alike. We dress the same. And yet you’re happy. You’re caught in the pouring rain and you’re smiling. But I’m standing here and I can’t even tell whether the water on my cheeks is from the rain or because I can’t hold back my tears. You look so happy. I’m so fucking tired.’
I raise my hand and pull back the sopping wet fringe that has fallen against my face and try to wipe my eyes. He mimics my movements, pushing his hair from his forehead until it’s semi-styled and dries his eyes for a few precious seconds before the rain assaults them again.
‘I bet you have a great job. You probably followed your dreams and travelled the world. You’re in love. It’s obvious. There’s a euphoria in your eyes. You idolize her. She wouldn’t ever dream of loving someone else. You’re fulfilled and confident. You’re intelligent and respected by your peers. Shit, you are truly happy and I just don’t get how you did it. You found the secret to contentment and I need to know how. You have to tell me. Please, I need you tell me.’
A passerby strikes my shoulder and causes me to stumble. My feet slip against the rain-slicked footpath and I have to use my hands to catch myself. I stand slowly, and wipe my filthy hands against my coat, catching eyes with the stranger once again. He has taken two side steps so that we are still facing one another. His smile has tightened in the corners of his mouth and he looks down at my hands. There’s blood on my left palm. I’ve grazed it trying to stop myself from colliding with the concrete.
‘Please,’ I beg again. ‘Please tell me how you did it?’
‘I didn’t do anything,’ he says slowly. ‘I work a job that leaves me unfulfilled. I have no children, and I have dreams that I have spent my life making sacrifices for. I struggle and strive, and sometimes I feel like giving up, just like you do. There’s no difference between our lives. How could there be? I am you. And you are me. I just choose to look at things differently.’
He steps towards me, and this time it is I who replicates him. We’re barely a foot apart now. We are so close that if I were to reach out we could touch each other. I give it a try and feel the coolness of his wet fingertips and the sensation of his palm press against mine.
‘I don’t focus on the negatives. I don’t look at my behind the scenes and try to compare them to the highlight reels of others. I hate my job. It hurts my hips and screws up my wrist. But I’m healthy. I have a family that loves me, and I have a roof over my head and food on my plate. I don’t have kids, and I haven’t managed to achieve all my dreams. Not yet. But I have a girl who looks at me like I’m her hero. It doesn’t matter to her whether I’m worth a ten million dollars or ten cents. She loves me. And I love her. We’ll have a family one day. I know it.’
He steps closer again, and raises his spare hand to meet mine so that we are standing palm to palm, staring one another in the eye.
‘Life is about perspectives,’ he says. ‘It’s about whether you chose to focus on the good stuff or let yourself be eaten alive by the bad. It’s about celebrating your strengths and accepting your weaknesses. And it’s about allowing yourself to be vulnerable and afraid. Those same people that love me; they love you to. They want to see you succeed. But they are there for you when you fail. You just have to be prepared to let them know when you’re not OK. If you can learn to do that you’ll be truly happy.’
I open my mouth to respond but before I get the chance a door flies open and a woman in her early forties steps out from her business and looks at me through concerned eyes.
‘Sir, are you OK? You’ve been talking to yourself for the last fifteen minutes. You’re scaring my clients.’
I turn away from her, startled by the intrusion. But the man is gone. The open door has disturbed the lighting and I can no longer see my own reflection. Instead I can see through the plate glass window where her client’s faces watch me with fearful eyes. To them I am just a crazed man with his hands pressed against the glass talking to himself while the world passes him by.
‘Sir,’ she says again. ‘Are you OK?’
‘No. No I’m not,’ I say with a smile. ‘I’m really struggling with a lot of things right now. I feel lost. And I feel alone. But I have friends and family, and a beautiful partner who will listen. They want to see me happy. More than anything, they want me to be happy. So no. I’m not OK. But I will be.’
With that I let go of the shop front window and continue my walk down the street as the woman watches me go. The rain no longer bothers me. It makes me realise how lucky I am to be alive.
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