December 21, 2020 / Jayashree Ganesan

This piece is inspired by Franz Kafka, a writer who prides himself on creating surreal worlds with illucid authorities that characters cannot interact with and are controlled by. His nightmarish works depict the nature of invisible bureaucracy and structures which seem to put people in games that they do not know the rules of in order to show the absurdity of human nature. Kafka plays with the concept of free will, so much so that things in the world we live in today seems to be closer to the nightmarish and mindless world of his than ever before. Quarantine, especially, appears to be a modern day picturization of Kafka’s fantasies through mechanisms beyond our control, making living in today’s world a contemporary purgatory.

She heard irrevocable silence resonate around her, encapsulating her in a panopticon that she knew not to escape. Her eyes glazed over, staring at the popcorn ceiling above. Each dot seems to connect to another, but never drawing anything of importance. A cat! A lopsided portrait! A bird on a picket fence! , she thought, but she never knew, so she let it be. Feet dangling an inch to the ground for the monsters underneath her bed to grab, she reached for her laptop.

Screen into screen into screen, a constant parallel emerging, going deeper and deeper into an abyss. Information lost in heaps and stacks, never redeemed and fully understanding where it is going. The vagueness of it all operated in a zone of control: she never really knew what the prism of squares and floating numbers entailed, but she stared all the same. Her hands felt almost mindless, typing in 9 digits and entering a universe of screens and unstructured slides. White noise and printed names, glistening with yellow and dimmed to a black as silence became a cadence rather than sporadic. The click of the red button signaled the beginning of a new set of cadences. Her cursor travelled in diagonals, down the same straight line path, an imprint of sweat left to wet and dry on her trackpad. What once held meaning, became fruitless -- but she still succumbed to tracing the dotted line she created over again.

Her heart beat slower now, her sleep was longer now, her voice was quieter now. She was a shell, forced to live in a four-walled room that opened to erratic footsteps, resounding chatter, pans clattering, and lights flickering on and off to uncover broken shutters. She couldn’t go outside, for fear that she would become ill -- that her grandfather that had permanently draped himself on the cushioned rocking chair in the living room would become ill. But she was becoming ill; her family didn’t believe her but she took shallower breaths sometimes, and sometimes she’d just leave her body to rest while her mind wandered to a sunken state. She opened compartmentalized boxes more often than she ever did and forgot to close them. Her twenty minute strolls saved her and dug her deeper all at the same time. A constant that became heedless, but kept her feet on the ground. But, a timer rang and she was called inside through the same scratched doorway, the rhythm of her heart beating the same as it had been -- the beats slower and longer than ever before. 

The sound of the news when she entered was desensitizing, declaring the same lockdowns and safety measures that selfish people would be too occupied to follow. “Scientists have found another breakthrough!” The news stated: what seemed like good news was a never ending cycle of never knowing when the end was coming. A microscopic substance, with no joint support seemed to be puppeteering her. Joint resolution seemed impossible as institutions failed her once again, hiding in ivory towers and behind feathered caps.

She found solace in the little things: a rinse and repeat cycle with a neverending rhythm she unwillingly tapped her foot to. Brushing her teeth at 9, breakfast at 10, work at 11, eat at 12, proceed. They numbed her; she knew them like an old friend. The calls in dark rooms with her friends through pixels and the strolls seemed like escapes, but the echo chambers slowly constricted her, hugging the silence around. The more she attributed meaning to their consistency, the more she grew prisoner to their ways. Invisibly being held through mechanisms beyond her control.

She told herself the silence would come to an end, that the whispers would quell eventually. She told herself that the rocking of her grandfather’s chair would slowly become erratic and his walking would become her new cadence. She told herself that her heart would beat faster, and that her eyes wouldn’t unfocus so quickly. But, inside she knew that the silence was just as it was and will be for a while: irrevocable and resounding in these four walls. ■

video: Ethan Tran

models: Rodrigo Coluna, Danae Rivers, Roman Calderon

stylists: Karen Yang

hmuas: Cam Kelly

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