City of Ruins

Shaun wandered around in his home. All the shelves were dusted, the beds were tidy, the carpets were aligned, the floors were clean and the closets were arranged. Everything was meticulous. Everything was in its place.

The cupboards and fridge were overstocked with food and beverages. Shaun knew that if the apocalypse would ever happen, his family would be safe with enough food and liquid storage to last a long time and survive it.

Shaun lived with his mother and younger sister Sarah. They lived a tidy life in their small home. The mother was a teacher in a small school in the neighborhood. Sarah was a high-school student.

Shaun always felt the family was leading a safe life – especially after his father passed away a few years ago. That night is still with him in memory, even if it happened so quickly and so suddenly. The father was a victim of a heart attack, although a week prior to the incident he and Shaun had gotten back from the doctor’s with a test sheet filled with positive results for an annual checkup. The doctor had assured them both that the father – who had just recently hit 60 – would have many more healthy years to live. But the doctor was no master of fate.

So after the father’s passing the mother – now tasked with raising two kids on her own – decided to navigate through the seas of life as safely as possible. There would be no more chaos, there would be no more risks, there would be no more surprises. She’d set the sails for a smooth ride and was keen to avoid any more setbacks life was intent on throwing at her family.

That explained the tidiness of the house and the rhythmicity with which the family operated, Shaun analyzed. But in spite of their situation and their financial struggles, a part of the boy demanded some chaos, some mess, some coloring outside the lines.

Everything was so synced and coordinated that he felt smothered by the predictability and habit the family had slumped in.

Exit the house. Enter the city. The city was an alternate realm of escape for Shaun: a true junkyard where all the different parts were thrown around randomly into unequally large piles.

Sets of people and cars and buildings and institutions and wild animals and street crossings and industry smog formed a chaotic blend the boy reveled in.

Shaun detained a bit of that messiness in him: he was an English major in an American college in an Arab country. He had gone against the will of his family and decided to play against the odds of studying something more practical and making a decent living in favor of something that offered him enough recklessness and freedom to be himself.

That decision weighed heavily on his mother who kissed her dreams of seeing her son become an engineer goodbye. But for Shaun, it didn’t really matter what he was setting himself up to become. It was all about the moment, about circulating in zigzags instead of walking on straight lines. He had seen enough tidiness at home to realize he craved chaos, and experienced enough of it in the city to need some order re-instated to his life.

So was this the balance he was aiming for? Was this the correct mix he wanted to strike? No, that would be rational thinking. Shaun had long steered away from it ever since he understood he couldn’t plan for life or read its next maneuver. He learned to trust his heart, to feel it, to think with it. A foolish move some would say, a suicidal behavior others would label it.

But Shaun didn’t care. He had developed the sort of nonchalance that shielded him from life’s uglier sides – from blisters and backfired pranks and nasty heartbreaks and rainy evenings trying to catch a cab all the way from college back to his house.

That nonchalance would hurt him as well, often driving him to gloat and treat others with his familiar air of superiority. That pushed people away from him, especially women. Through high school he had coasted being a ‘bad boy’ and even earning the reputation of ‘player’ with the ladies, but after that it seemed as though women stopped liking him as much. Maybe they were going after the rich kids now with stable careers and fancy cars. Maybe they started to see through his bad boy attitude and found it pathetic. Maybe he had lost his touch or a part of himself growing up. In all cases, he had taken a different turn, a different direction, and he had forgotten the last time a woman had laid a delicate hand to feel his rugged cheeks or the thick beard he was now fashioning.

Studying English as a first language in an Arab country was seen as unusual, similar to arriving to your 8 o’clock class completely drunk.

But something about the language and the poets and the writers and the words they used spoke to Shaun and helped him establish a connection with them. It amazed even him sometimes at how they used the same common words everyone else used but with a much greater impact. Some part of him wanted to be like them – to break free from the bounds of society and limitations of country and rise above it all, to become untouchable – and some other part of him just wished to settle for writing poetry to help shape the world a little differently and make it more in line with the way he saw it.

There wasn’t much sense in writing really – or revving up the past with all its glorious writers – since we had to accept that times change faster than they previously did and they erase past events and people at even greater pace. Shaun knew that well and he knew that his writing wasn’t going to change the world in any way – hell, it wasn’t going to prevent electrical cuts from occurring twice or three times a day in the neighborhood, it wasn’t going to cure cancer, it wasn’t going to make sure all the bills will be paid in due time every month, and it wasn’t going to make any one of the ladies that left him a while ago come back and fall into his arms.

So why did he do it? And why did he keep doing it? Well, there were questions that were asked for the beauty and melancholy and sake of things that were best left unanswered, and there were actions the heart took control of that the mind couldn’t break through and understand. And for Shaun, he saw it as the added spice and hint of chaos he took with him from the city all the way back to his tidy home.

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