Karma – Anthony Ward

Bernard had heard the local news that brought to attention the tragic events that had befallen the lives of others, often feeling a sense of resentment that it should have been him. Him who was barely able to occupy the same room as himself! Him, whose face he found staring back from the glass, consoled by the consternation of the expression, as if the image didn’t agree with him. Him who could not stomach the appetite of the mirrors that tended to gnaw at his reflection. Such was his reflection that he would ridicule it through self-loathing. Unable to accept it for what it was. Often wondering if it would benefit from some sort of disfigurement. Some kind of characteristic scar that would give it more definition, or at the very least, distract any attention from his undistinguished countenance.

Though this sentiment was not so apparent to others who would refrain from offering any semblance of a compliment through the notion that it would appear surplus to requirement, as although he was not overly handsome, he was not otherwise neither. Though he wasn’t very adept with compliments, taking them as insults, as if they were mocking him, this creating a rather neutral environment for him to gauge what others would see in him, which left him completely indifferent.

Nor was he the most popular of people either. Although he had a few friends, he would often deprive himself of their company so as not to impose himself on them. He actually enjoyed the company of others, but did not feel as if they enjoyed his, to the point where the highlight of his night was the part before he went out, when he was getting himself ready, imagining the night ahead where he would captivate people with his insightful philosophy, hold them to understand things as he understood them, win their adoration, be the man of the moment. Though despite his best intentions his nights out would often bring back home how inferior he felt.

After some considerable time, all this self-degradation took its toll upon Bernard. Often rendering him into feeling down, but also angry, with plenty to say about everyone else. Often blaming himself then blaming others after rationalising his actions in his head. For he was certainly a remarkable man who had an opinion on many things! Though it is one thing to have an opinion and quite another to have an opinion on everything. But in public he had no opinion at all. Rarely was the conversation steered in any direction for him to converge, and when it did, it happened so fast that he would miss the opportunity, so that his mind would wander off in another direction and he would have to drive himself back in order to merge back into it. Though by then his confidence would run so low that he would seize up and had to lubricate himself with more and more fuel in order to surpass those who liked the sound of their own voice. Who liked to hear their self-satisfied conclusions, that made him feel somewhat inferior, with all their personal exaggerations making him feel incompetent and impotent of sexual allure.

Of course, Bernard could not reveal his resentment for himself, since he would be ridiculed and ostracised from their company. Thinking to himself how we often compare our lives in order that we may feel bad for being down, while comparing our situations. How this stifling comparison does not embody the problem at all, but merely scales it into importance, and how we ought not to pass over problems with comparison, but approach them all with compassion.

He didn’t view society as an ongoing thing, he saw it as a set thing. Believing that the way we lived was set in stone. As if that’s the way it was. Rather like a child without any logical course just picking up all the pieces and placing them into order. It never occurred to him that it may merely have been someone’s idea. A good idea at that, but not necessarily the way it had to be. He was often so engaged in his assumptions that he never really questioned the reality being constantly drawn to assume the world he inhabited.

It was at these times, when alone, that Bernard would conjure the spite that had been brewing inside him. The bitterness that often quenched his rage, which would leave him simmering, feeling such compassion for life that he wished it would end, hearing the news report the tragic road accident that would invoke within him such sympathy that he wished it were him.

Such was this sentiment that Bernard’s wish would eventually be granted whether he had actually wanted it to be granted or not- for he couldn’t be sure. The car had careered off the road so suddenly, and without any warning, that it seemed almost intentional, either from the far heights above or the inner depths within, swerving into the barrier while another car collided with the rear, killing instantly those within.

Although Bernard could not be certain of himself, he was certain that he had never wanted to cause anybody else any harm. He had wanted so much for others to embody his soul with sympathy that he now felt himself gradually fading away to nothing.

Days would pass him by without him even knowing where they’d gone, while lying there, not at all sure at first whether he had just woken up or whether he was about to go to sleep. For what had he been doing with himself in that apartment? It seemed like he was doing nothing but decay into whatever was the matter with him. Disintegrating into the darkness. Concealed behind the curtains as if daylight would unearth him and people would see just what a wretchedly ugly person he was. He couldn’t stand the body he was in let alone the frame of mind he inhabited. He was far too tall for his own satisfaction. His physique elongated beyond any masculinity as if it hung off him like clothes that were out of fashion. He was only happy with his face from one particularly un-gratifying angle that he would often punish himself by staring out his reflection for periods at a time with plaintive self loathing, staring at himself through the opaque window at the disfigured carcasses of chrome punctuated upon the road until he became reconciled with remorse.

Bernard had not taken into account these selfish wishes before he had been involved in that car crash. Which he believed was no accident. That event that could have taken others who did not care to share the karma of his fate! And yet they had shared the fate that he had enticed upon himself by no longer wanting to be alive, since it was them that had suffered the consequences of his self pity in wishing he were no longer alive. Thus, his wish, having been granted to him, he was now living everyday in purgatory, feeling as if he were dead.

And as the days amalgamated into weeks, Bernard remained in his tomb, lost in darkness, the light having evaded his senses long ago. His memories travelling through him from such a distance as if they were from a former life, as he meandered through time and space, only being brought back into proximity as he heard a somewhat intrusive thudding resonate through the timbre of his mind, as if someone were knocking upon wood. He lay there hoping it would go away. Then there followed a pause, and he held his breath for a moment, thinking it had passed. Though it continued and continued until eventually a penitent curiosity caused him to open the door, allowing light to pour into the passage, which at first obscured the identity of the figure stood before him. It turned out to be an old friend he had not seen in a while. Not since before the incident. Although he was reluctant to invite him in, he felt compelled to do so, finding it difficult to look at him directly, in that he suspected that he would be able to see right through him.

“Hi Bernard,” said his friend, “I just thought I’d call round and see how you are.”

Bernard looked at him to see if he knew how he was before inviting him in.

“Come in Jason,” he said leading him into the living room and telling him to sit. To which Jason complied while inquiring how he was and how he had been. Bernard sat adjacent, watching him as if he were upon a stage and he was in the audience, before submitting to an overwhelming operatic climax to his torment. Releasing a great torrent of guilt upon his friend that he was sure he would throw down the spade and leave him to rot.

“Was it all my fault?” he asked, not waiting for the answer. “Was it me that caused the accident to happen? By wanting to die? Be careful what you wish for, that’s what they say. I certainly got what I wished for. I’ve been dying ever since. I can’t even remember what it was that initially made me want to die, but I certainly know now,” he said lifting his hands to his face. “But I’m not dead like those others. Those that I killed! They didn’t want to die. But they did die. They’re dead. And it’s all my fault?”

“It’s not your fault Bernard,” Jason reassured him. His compassion and sincerity catching them both by surprise. Bernard had expected him to tell him that it was his fault and that he had got what he deserved. Though Jason went on to explain that he believed we were all defined by our actions, not by our thoughts, and that he didn’t intentionally cause the car to crash. And after all, why would some benign power take the lives of innocent people just to teach him a lesson. Bernard lifted his head, his face alighted slightly after being submerged in darkness for so long.

“You know,” said Bernard, “I did read something the other day about a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that can infect your brain and affect your behaviour. Even make you suicidal. You can catch it from cat litter trays,” he said motioning towards the cat perched upon the arm of the chair, its eyes looking disdainfully at him. “It increases the dopamine in your brain or something. Can cause psychotic episodes and all that.”

This incensed Jason somewhat, almost making him want to take back his words. But although he did resent him, and did blame him to a certain affect, and although he felt like telling him all this and sentencing him to life, he regarded his own responsibility towards him. That by reinforcing his guilt, he could cause Bernard to suffer further, which in effect may cause further harm to himself and others, while imagining the guilt that would transcend upon him if he were to chastise his friend and cause him further grief, by doing something inane.

Instead, Jason just smiled back at Bernard, like the cat before him, and reassured him that everything would be alright. For after all, he thought to himself, where would it all end?

Image via Pixabay

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