I walked too close to the wall, and when I cut the corner the passerby collided with me. Or I collided with him. He started to profusely apologize, asking me if I was okay, but all I do is meekly reassure him and retreat. I hope the interaction does not keep him up at night. It had nothing to do with the innocent passerby. I should have known better. And I should have handled him better. But I am too tired to handle any human interactions. Sighing deeply, feeling the disappointment filling in my thoughts, my hand automatically readjusts the strap of my bag. It’s a nervous tick of sorts but nothing could be done to fix that. I have no clue why or how I get hired at places so unsuitable. Something about those job interviews I had mastered. And I shouldn’t have. It was going to be a clothing store. The pay was good, and the location was close enough to walk. There would be colours too, clothing of different materials and styles. It should be inspirational for someone like me. Someone who is artsy. Someone who always looks for inspiration. It truly wasn’t. I dread the day my training begins, and more so I dread the people I’d have to serve. Yet there weren’t many options splayed before me. The rent had to be paid, and I needed to eat once a week too.
The inner monologue was getting worrisome as my thoughts never ceased to darken their shades. There wasn’t a single positive thought I could focus on: not the calm weather of today or the warming of the seasons. The oncoming spring — the third one I’m wasting — is just the signal of the unfolding year before me. The year I accomplish nothing and do nothing but exist through the drudgery of adult life.
The cars had stopped moving, and a train of people crossed the road like a menacing dark cloud. My feet carried faster, getting desperate with every step as if triggered by an unconscious habit that can’t be fixed. There wouldn’t be enough time for me to cross the road even if I broke out into a sprint. And I knew what was going to happen before it happened, yet I still found myself disappointed. The light had turned red. The cars started to move. A pathetic whine erupted from me as my hand slapped the call button without even thinking. And then an idiot appeared. A tall man wearing a sand-coloured coat stepped on the crosswalk as the cars started to accelerate. I watched mutely, feeling my heartbeat accelerating to the speed of the cars, as the idiot on the other side of the road walked into traffic. I opened my mouth without having a single thought to voice, watching as a commercial van passed the man, leaving him completely unharmed. The man passed through the moving vehicle like a ghost.
Something about human eye contact is both enthralling and terrifying: you know when someone is looking at you just as you know when that contact happens. I did not know the idiot in the middle of the road yet knew what he knew. He was a ghost. Of course, he was a ghost. A ghost was already dead. It knew no fear or dying or pain of an injury — those were distant and hazy memories. It simply knew it hurt before and that now it couldn’t. I close my mouth and feign ignorance by never looking away from him. I could see him, but he could only know that I was looking at him. He moved in my direction and only then I started to notice that nothing could touch him. The shadow didn’t follow him, the wind did not ruffle his hair or coat. He moved as a frozen image against the moving and changing background. In a way, he was one.
Ghosts weren’t terribly common despite what anyone believed. They were not tied to the place of their death nor were they able to posses or cause harm. Those who died unexpectedly or wrongly or violently did not always linger past their death. It just so happened that those were the kind of deaths that elicited strong emotions or state of mind. That’s what a ghost was: a residual feeling, a remnant of a mind. A ghost was an old skin the world had yet to shed. They disappeared, all in due time, as nothing was meant to last forever be that souls or minds. I just so happened to see and hear them. And once I was naïve enough to think I could do something about death.
But the man did not falter as he came to stand right before me. Naturally, he didn’t make a sound as he came close. But I didn’t waver either, looking ahead, staring past his chest, ignoring his presence. The only problem with seeing ghosts is that they weren’t transparent to me. They looked like normal people from the distance. The eery stillness to them was only ever noticeable and uncomfortable when they were close.
“I know you can see me,” he spoke chirpily. “And if you can see me, can you also hear me? Hmm?” He lowered himself to peer at my face. He had brown eyes when he was alive. And a mop of lovely brown hair. There wasn’t any light reflected in those eyes, nor was the sunlight playing in his hair. He couldn’t throw shade on me, yet I couldn’t see the damn traffic light change through him. Our vision is heavily filtered through the mind. In a way, a trick of imagination is added to everything we perceive through our eyes. I just happened to be most inconvenienced by the joke. I forced a sigh, feigned normalcy, plastered a bored expression on my face as much as my skills allowed. I checked the time, sighed again, and made two deliberate steps forward. It couldn’t be much longer for the signal to change. And no matter how real my eyes perceived the ghost to be, he wasn’t corporeal. I walked through him. There weren’t any odd feelings attached to the experience of walking through a ghost. Not if you were completely unaware of it. There wasn’t a mystic chill running down your spine, the air wasn’t heavier or colder, and there weren’t any smells. Nothing physically could bother you if you happened to walk through a ghost. The problem arose when you could see them as vividly as I did. It wasn’t easy to take a step forward when my mind screamed there was something ahead of me. But I did it.
A laugher erupted behind me. It was the ghost. It wasn’t sardonic or sarcastic. It wasn’t even maniacal. He laughed with sincere amusement. Almost alive.
“I know you can see and hear me,” he said. Gone was the chipper tone he used before. He spoke those words as a warning. But I persisted in my ignorant act, refusing to be scared by something that could never harm me. And then the signal changed. I started to walk, acting unbothered by the menacing words, forcing myself to walk as any human in the crowd would. I wanted to run away from him because he was a bother. It would be foolish to try to outrun a ghost. It wouldn’t tire or run out of breath. It didn’t breathe anymore. It didn’t care for running into strangers. It couldn’t touch anyone ever again. And then it grew quiet. As I turned around the corner and left the main road, all the sounds of human activity started to die down until they were so quiet I could ignore them.
“Are you really going to pretend not to see and hear me?!” the ghost nearly shouted. I almost broke my facade. I nearly squeaked and jumped in surprise. It was too soon to believe he had left me alone. Then he started to walk before me instead of behind. He was frowning as if hurt by my act.
Ghosts were bothersome. It wasn’t just the seeing and hearing something that wasn’t truly here that was so troubling. It was their existence itself. Those remnants of feelings and minds lingered past death without experiencing living anymore. And that often pushed them to seek out whatever it was that made them stay in the first place. I didn’t know the reason. They themselves often didn’t know the reason. But I was appealing to any ghost as the one who could see and heard them. And that made them greedy for little living I could offer.
“I will follow you home,” he stated simply. I almost replied and nearly told him he couldn’t. I wasn’t appealing to his human decency. Assuming he had any while alive, he was dead now. And I had seen ghosts all my life. Would you keep your doors unlocked after meeting a burglar? I doubt it. Any place I ever lived in was protected from intruders of incorporeal sort. I made sure of it. Perhaps it was a troublesome ritual since I had to rent a place, but it was worth it.
I saw the tiny apartment complex I rented in. It wasn’t long before the ghost would leave me alone. He’d be forced to. He’d have to accept the fact his assumptions were wrong. He’d have to accept my performance as a fact. He wouldn’t be able to enter my house, and I would be left in peace. I entered the building, he followed. I walked up the stairs, he was still following. Assuming he had human decency when alive, it was just as dead as he was now. I opened the door of my apartment, and he jumped ahead to enter before me. Whatever force had bonded his form to this torturous existence, it had no domain in my apartment. It looked to me like he walked into an invisible wall. It was funny, and I almost laughed. My composure didn’t break, and I passed through him to enter my home.
The ghost laughed again. Just as he did on the street. There wasn’t any sarcasm or mania behind his laugh but very simple amusement at the realization. I was about to close the door and rejoice when our eyes met again. Dumbly and involuntary I hesitated for a second. Because he looked human. There wasn’t any sound to his steps or a shadow that outlined his form, but he looked human. He was human. The ghost offered me a melancholic smile as he tilted his head back as a display of superiority.
“I know you can see and hear me,” he repeated once again. It wasn’t as airy as the first time he asked, his words weren’t a warning or a threat. The ghost said so in compliance as if yielding to my ignorant act. I close and lock the door.