The Man Behind the Mask

And Suddenly It’s Nightfall

Everyone stands alone at the heart of the earth
pierced by a ray of sunlight,
and suddenly it is nightfall.

The Man Behind the Mask

His introspective journey began when the unexpected smell of brine reached his nostrils, and his gaze fused with the line at the horizon where the sun seemed to dip into the ocean gilding it with shimmering rays of molten gold.

From his balcony, he could see people stop entranced before the splendour of the evening sky, but he felt no stirrings within him. “Who am I? What’s wrong with me?” he asked aloud, knowing no one could hear him and question his sanity. He sat on a chair and put his head between his hands feeling an undertow of yearning for himself, as he once was. With the thumb of his right hand, he trailed his facial contours as if expecting to find something that did not belong there. “I’m exhausted…exhausted from trying to keep the mask intact in its place. I’ve been hiding behind it for too long.” The swerve of thought hurled him across the thorny landscape of his memory.  Treading upon it, a gallery of ghosts emerged before his spiritual eye as the film of his life unrolled.

For the past twenty years he had been serving his country, taking part in numerous missions, playing the role of a warrior whose shield was woven of fortitude, toughness, and unwavering belief in the causes he fought for. In his mind, memories gathered and swirled, memories of the horrors he had witnessed, of the blood that stained his uniform dripping on the parched earth, of the physical and spiritual ruin of his fellow soldiers. He vividly remembered a child that could not have been older than six sitting on a wall, a boy he held in the crosshairs of his rifle scope not certain if he would have to kill him in listless indifference if he discovered the child was being used by an adult to bait him.

Amidst the cut and thrust of missions and deployments, he somehow lost the sense of who he was. And he could not even recall when it was that he first became aware of feeling impervious to the sight of shattered childhoods, ravaged lands, and the infinite pain and sorrow surrounding him. Dissociation from reality was a skill he had mastered all too well.

Gazing at the sunset he felt his heart beat faster. At the same moment, from the balcony next to his the sounds of Vivaldi’s “Summer” oozed out. The melody brought back a memory of a church concert where a small orchestra played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and he listened to it spellbound, with every cell in his body pulsating with aesthetic pleasure. But that was the time when his heart was still soft, porous and large. Now, it was fenced with barbed wire and shackled in ice.

The night sky was now bleeding crimson across the clouds. The blazing hues reminded him of wildfires dancing to the celestial music, but it was only a thought, a mere concept, and not a feeling. And evening tumbled down suddenly veiling the sky. A solitary tear rolled down his cheek and with his finger, he followed its wet trail. He mourned the loss of who he had been before life changed him, before he had made a Faustian pact trading a soul that could be moved by beauty for the cold valour of a professional soldier. He wondered if his heart would ever thaw enough to be pierced with the aching beauty of sun rays, before the final night fell.

Jana Begovich

Jana Begovich is a writer, author and contributing editor to Ariel Chart.

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