My eyes open, the blackness of night fills the room.
'What time is it?' I wonder to myself.
I sit up and turn on my phone. As I expected. 4 a.m. 'Why?' Every night at 4 a.m. my body awakens me. Is this my time for revelation? I long for something to spark in my mind, even a simple idea or name.
My name is Edwind Blackhall, born in 1963 in Las Vegas, Nevada. All my life I've had this persistent interest in writing. As a child I wrote all kinds of adventure stories with the most daring characters I could think of. I studied literature in school and dreamt of being a famous writer, spending his days imagining new stories and characters everyone would love. As it seems, my own life happens to be more bizarre than any fictional story I could conceive.
I'm writing my next novel now, so my days are free to wonder into the deep crevices of my imagination to envision something wonderful and life-giving. I needed to get out of the familiarity of my hometown to get some fresh ideas. I planned out the whole trip, and pulled all my money out of the bank with a year trip planned to Asia's best kept secret: Taiwan.
So far from giving me new ideas, I'm so overwhelmed that I appear to be shell-shocked, so speechless as to not retrieve even one sentence since coming here.
My name is Edwind Blackhall. 'Why does this sentence keep ringing in my ears?' I ask myself, knowing not the answer. Brushing the idea out of my mind, I pull the covers off my bare legs and stand groggily. I stumble my way to the bathroom to relieve myself than catch my image in the mirror. Recently, it's been so hard to recognize myself. My past slowly fades into memories, but my name remains intact: Edwind Blackhall.
The light flickers. I don't believe in writer's block, but I do believe in culture shock. I wonder, 'Can I stand in a world where nothing is familiar?' And if I can't even stand, how am I supposed to write? So I tell myself, 'Get up. Get Up! Just get up.'
I find my way to the kitchen, though I haven't bought any food. I sit. My table is off-color white, with little chips randomly placed like an alien message waiting to be decoded. Perhaps I should try to write a science fiction novel, although I've never had interest in writing one; simply reading others always seemed enough for me. But a superhero theme would make for a dazzling spectacle. 'Masked flying superhero revealed to be the ordinary Edwind Blackhall.' Maybe not.
After about an hour of delusional self-thought I decide I'm too sleep deprived to write anything worth meaning, so I head outside.
My front door has another alien message waiting to be decoded. An emerald grey-green background contains a gold rectangle with the shape of a cross inside. The upper half of the vertical axis has a series of six black circles from top to bottom, and the lower half is solid black, all with the same emerald color as its border. The horizontal axis is a solid emerald color. Between the cross and the gold rectangle is hundreds of thin black bars moving horizontally.
Is there any meaning behind all of this? Is it a random design conjured up by someone just crunching his time card and saving up for his next big buy? Or perhaps it has a particular meaning for me that escapes anyone else without the name: Edwind Blackhall.
The door opens: more blackness. I don't bother to lock it, it's too early for anyone to rob me, or at least that's my rational. The stairs have become so familiar that I wouldn't be able to pick them out of a line up if you offered me your retirement fund. I creep down, my mind still flooded with a hazy fog, but the city awakens my imagination.
The beauty is unreal, every piece blends together unintentionally to create so many areas of stimuli my mind flashes to overdrive, still unable to take in the whole picture. The design of the city is composed of perhaps thousands of different people's creativity and overlapping influence blended into each street, building, and tree, but it appears to me to be about as random as my front door.
Was my front door's designer a very confused woman? Or were there perhaps multiple agents involved? Or maybe one woman's mind was flooded with the inspiration and creativity of thousands of people, resulting in something of perplexing beauty, but what I've simply taken for granted as my front door. The truth is, It's harder to appreciate these things in which you need not buy a ticket for.
This is my city, as much as I'm regarded as someone foreign and temporary, I still proclaim: 'This is my city'. This city will be the location of my next novel. Suddenly it occurs to me, I haven't had any real human contact in a while, unless the convenient store clerk counts. At this rate I could move into academia and record the stages step by step from sanity to insanity. Of course, no one would buy my book, but an academic breakthrough would be worth something...to someone.
There's a deep rumbling from deep in my stomach. The sound reverberates out into a cat-like squeal. It's time to scrounge for some food.
I try out a new place to eat when I can, although I've found there's not much difference between them. The style may be slightly different but the content is the same. I'm not buying for the experience though, I just want something to fill my stomach; preferable cheap and tasty.
I find a cheap place a few blocks down the way. It's not very hygienic, but that just means the flavor is alright. Why else would they still be open if not for the taste?
I mumble some broken string of I'm not sure what language and point to something that looks alright. The food arrives in less than a minute, and in less than 10 I'm full. It's not fast food, but it can't get much more convenient than this. I finally take a chance to look around. The ground is stained with black marks, probably years old. A small cockroach scurries its way across the floor. The walls have various decorations for good luck, fortune, and long life, all faded to a dull reddish color. The owners are probably related somehow. They move with such ease, extremely familiar with the kitchen that they've spent most their lives in.
I wonder what their names are. I wonder if they wonder what mine is. Are we worlds apart? Or would one translator turn us into long lost kin, somehow disconnected for a generation. I quickly pay and hurry out the door. I like this place. I'll be back sometime.
The streets become busier as the hour passes by. It must be close to six now, but I don't want to know. I already know my next stop: the local park. In a concrete jungle, it's hard to find enough trees to breathe fresh air. The park is my best shot at finding such a spot. It's morning exercise time, not for me though. I prefer to exercise at night, but I'm usually too tired. Work comes first, but when no ink's hitting the page it's hard to rationalize taking time off.
'Edwind Blackhall, what has become of you?'
One of the most interesting parts of a foreign land isn't the strange customs, estranged habits, or bizarre occurrences that never get old. What's more interesting than anything you could discover here is the foreigners who come here.
Some come for work, some for play, some to survive, some to escape, and some for adventure, but all have taken a risk to leave familiarity and enter into strangeness. It's this strangeness that marks us all, and its often so strange we feel alienated from each other, more close even to the locals than each other. Some of us have to both speak second or third languages to communicate with each other, but if you find someone from your country, there can be an instant connection. The strangeness, if only just for a temporal moment, can leave, and a lost familiarity is suddenly regained.
I've met many strangers since coming here, but few have been capable of connecting with me, or me with them. One of the most bizarre of strangers has become a fond acquaintance and someone I genuinely enjoy spending my time with. His name is Ferdinand Lynch. An American himself, he came here on accident. He got on the wrong plane or bought the wrong ticket or something, but a two hour flight turned into a twelve hour flight and stranger still, he simply called it fate, feeling this was where he was supposed to be.
He opened a restaurant selling barbecue chicken wings, clam chowder, and Cajun rice. It's quite good, but such a small selection can only get you so far. Business is okay, but I feel if he doesn't change something then eventually it's going to go under.
Another day of no work. I walk along the median to go back home. The weather is hot enough this early to sweat from just sitting down. It's late spring in a sub-tropical climate, but I don't mind the weather; I've gotten used to it.
When most people are waking up, I'm falling asleep... again. I sit on my bed... again, remembering waking abruptly a few hours ago. I stay hopeful, telling myself all this time is building up to some big breakthrough that will finally bring the inspiration I've been longing for. Yes, something big is about to happen, I'm sure of it, because I'm Edwind Blackhall: world renowned author and acclaimed speechwriter.
The clock strikes four; I'm jolted out of bed. Suddenly I feel like sleeping on the beach. I can go swimming all day, and at night count the stars. Perhaps I need Ferdinand for this feat. I head to the kitchen, walking on my tippy toes so I can stretch my body. My only glass occupies the sink. I quickly rinse it out and pour a fresh glass of water that is quickly finished. The echoes of the water surging back and forth down my throat is easily heard in the silence of my apartment. It's almost dinner time; I feel it best to get a bite at Ferdinand's to discuss my new ordeal. First, I must get cleaned up. My own odor permeates the apartment like a dense fog after a cool rain.
A cold shower suits me, and I feel refreshed, opening a window to let the outside air replenish my space. Ferdinand's restaurant is close enough to walk to. At this hour, the city is fully alive with streets flooded with the coming rush hour traffic. The smog is unavoidable, much worse than breathing in my own body odor.
Ferdinand's restaurant is more like a stall, since he doesn't need much space. Four small tables line the front walkway, all blue and white. The counter is a now faded white with a small handwritten menu under the restaurant's sign:
Taste in the America
Barbecue Chicken … 75
Clam Chowder … 75
Cajun Rice … 25
Iced Tea … 10
I'm always bothering Ferdinand to diversify his menu. “I'll take an order of hot wings please, sir. Thank you very much for your kind service.” I yell my order as I approach the familiar.
“We have a wait on hot wings, probably be ready by next year. Will you still be here?” Ferdinand jokes back.
“I might have to stay just to see if that actually happens. How are you today? Business good?” I ask.
Ferdinand is shorter than myself, and bulkier. He is always clean shaven and is usually covered in flour from breading the chicken wings. His blue eyes give off a warm feeling that helps customers come back. He doesn't have much hair left, so he keeps it buzzed short. For me, he is my familiar, and a good friend.
He answers quickly, assuredly, “Business is well, today is going just fine. Will it be the usual for you?”
“Can I switch it up today?” I ask, knowing the answer.
“No, you may not, but I left some hot sauce on the table for you.” He winks as he motions to the table for me to sit down.
“Thank you very much. Do join me when you have a minute. I have something I'd like to discuss with you if I may,” I say as I walk off to sit down.
“Finish your food first and I”ll join you.”
Two more customers walk up to the stall. I can tell it's their first time because they start discussing the menu between themselves, as if there's much to discuss. It's hard to tell how much they actually understand, but it's a pretty simple menu after all; easy to order and easy to keep supplies fresh. This restaurant is quite a lucrative idea for that reason. I'm just not sure how long it can last being that simple.
Ferdinand delivers my food and suddenly I feel very hungry. The tangy barbecue smell lofts into my nostrils. The clam chowder is always thick and creamy, with plenty of seafood in a beautiful white soup. The rice is seasoned with simple spices, fresh tomatoes, peppers, and eggs, that blend well with the other foods. The iced tea is sweet but not sweet enough to give you a sugar rush. The whole meal is fattening but tastes light enough to not notice.
I start with the soup, dipping my rice inside and leaving a crimson stain from the spices. I save the chicken wings for last, the best part of all. Again, I get the feeling of familiar.
Sure enough, as soon as I finish, Ferdinand finds his way to my table. I look up and realize everyone is eating, the dinner rush is over for now.
“Alright, the big rush is out of the way. How do you do buddy? How's the novel coming along?” Ferdinand asks as he wipes his hands on his apron.
“It hasn't come, yet,” I respond melancholy. “What do you think about heading off to the beach tonight? I have this sudden urge to spend the night out there... see the stars... go swimming.”
Ferdinand laughs, not surprised at my newest proposal. “It has been a while since I've enjoyed the beach. Let's see..." Ferdinand thinks it over in his head. “Sure, that could work, I'll just have to leave before the morning's over.” He looks over to see customers approaching and quickly jumps back to his feet. “Come back here before I close down. We'll talk later.”
“Okay, deal. See you then.” I quickly reply as to not delay him.
'Is the beach the spot for my next breakthrough?' It's a hope. At least a change of scenery will be nice.
I have some time until Ferdinand gets off work, so I decide to explore some new parts of the city, maybe find a new park I've never been before. Every block the streets change. Sometimes they're concrete, sometimes they're brick, and the sidewalks never last too long. Often the streets become the sidewalk. You can tell where a restaurant is from seeing what color the walking area is. Dark black stains are a good indication many meals have been served from that store front. The buildings are placed so close together its hard to see any separations. It's one long line of concrete on concrete, but there are plenty of trees and plants hidden in discrete ares to keep the atmosphere fresh. It surely is a concrete jungle.
I'm careful to watch my step, since every block has new inclines, steps, cross ways, and obstacles that need to be maneuvered. I stop at every book store I come across, purely on instinct. Books are like a magnet for me, luring me in the instant my eyes comes in contact with them. I see one I've never been, or at least I don't remember ever walking in. I first check to see if they have an English section. Sure enough, there's is a small one in the back. I browse through the titles, all familiar and widely acclaimed, and I read a few pages here and there. I've gone through lots of seasons of my life where I've preferred one genre to another, but now I can pick anything that's well written and take my time on it. Snuggling with a book makes me feel warm. I can enter into a new world, meet new characters, discover new perspectives, challenge myself, and get motivated and inspired. Most books seem pretty average, but I enjoy them. It's my past time, my hobby, and my love. I'm still surprised every now and then at a title that can blow me away. These are worth keeping and re-reading, but they come few and far between.
Could Edwind Blackhall bear to write such a novel? It's not something I'm intending on; I just want to create art that allows people to disappear into my world and see life from my angle. I want to share what I've experienced with the world. I want others to feel my heart and soul in my art so they can say, 'He put his all into this one.' I leave the book store and feel I've walked far enough in one direction. It's time to head back; no parks today.
I cross the street and make my way back, seeing the same streets from the other side of the aisle. This side is harder to travel on. There's less 'clearly defined' walkways and more 'make you own way' walkways. The city is getting dark. The lights have already come on. The beauty of the night awaits. It's time for a night out in the wild, at least from a city dwellers perspective.
When I get back to the restaurant, Ferdinand is already cleaning up. He assures me he's almost done, but I get comfortable anyway. I didn't realize how long I was on my feet for. My feet feel sticky from the sweat and humidity. I fear the smell if I take them off now. I can't wait to hit the sand. The weather is perfect. As long as the mosquitoes aren't out, it will be a very comfortable evening.
I'm interrupted mid-thought.
“And... done.” Ferdinand says as he throws his apron into a corner basket. “Let's go, shall we?”
“Let's do it.” I say with added dramatic tone and hop on the back of his scooter. I just have a small backpack with me. It's enough for the next day. Ferdinand will probably leave during the night sometime. I'm excited to get out of the city's constant smog from non-stop traffic lines. We zip past rows of cars, weaving between scooters: left, right, left, right. At the red light a cloud of smoke from a nearby exhaust forms, making its way towards us, like a snake charmer charming the beast forward. The light changes green and I hold my breath as we disrupt the shapeless form of smoke that will soon rise into the atmosphere, further depleting our precious ozone layer.
The traffic becomes more sparse as we get closer to the coast. Suddenly Ferdinand turns his head to talk to me, “Do you need to stop for anything before we leave the city district?” He yells to make sure I can hear him.
“That's a good idea. Some snacks would be good, and I have to hit the bathroom too. Did you bring water?”
“Of course.” He turns his head back and forth to keep track of the road.
There's a local convenient store up ahead. I'm sure we'll stop there. We get closer. He slows down and makes an easy turn into the parking lot. We leave our helmets on for convenience' sake. The convenient store is similar to any other I've been to here. The front is loaded with counters of ready to eat snacks, meals, and fruit. In a sea of endless choices, I grab a bag of chips, hot flavored, and a bottle of green tea. I didn't look to see what Ferdinand grabbed, perhaps nothing since he's already outside on his scooter ready to go. I put my items on the counter. The cashier stares blankly at me, unsure of what language to speak. I look at the computer screen in front of me and give him a hundred dollars. He thanks me and gives me my change. It's just another of many odd encounters that I quickly forget.
I jump on the back of Ferdinand's scooter again and we're off into the countryside. There are still lots of cars everywhere, but nowhere near as congested as inside the city. The smells are different too, changing from waste water to crops to manure from pig farms.
My mind clears as we approach the coast. The water in view, my senses heighten; the hair on my neck stands on end, and goosebumps form on my arms. My anticipation rises with each meter until we finally hit the border between road and sand. The sky is lit up by hundreds of stars and a moon that appears bigger than I've ever seen before. No one is in sight. The temperature is warm with a light breeze.
“Wow! I can really breathe out here.” Ferdinand takes a deep breath as he stares out into the night sky.
'It is something else,' I think to myself. We pause for a moment to relish in the purity and peace we're both experiencing. “This is God's creation,” I say, “how great it is.”
“And so are we,” Ferdinand replies, complimenting my words.
“Shall we experience it first hand?” I reply, nodding to the water.
“You bet.” Ferdinand smiles as he answers and immediately starts taking off excess clothing. I follow suit and soon we start running towards the calm torrent. The sand is like a massage for my feet, soft yet gritty, allowing myself to feel the beach, and live it first hand. With every step, millions of particles flutter around our legs, sticking to anything they can. I feel so innocent, running free and racing towards my destination. My first step in the water soothes any worries I had. We continue on, splashing into the water until we lose balance and come crumbling down into the waves as we both start laughing hysterically at the silliness and pure fun of what most people would think of as strange or quirky.
“This is too much fun Edwind!”
“It's so freeing isn't it?” I reply with pure joy on my lips. “Shall we go out further?”
“Let's go!” Ferdinand says and turns towards the deep ocean mystery expanding out before us like an endless quarry waiting to be unearthed of its treasures.
We walk out until only our heads stick out of the water and look back. Everything is so calm out here. It's a stark difference compared to the city life we're immersed in.
“Let's race back to shore.” I say as if its some great idea waiting for attention.
“Okay, ready, set...” Ferdinand waits a moment, building the tension until...
“Go!” I shout and dive into the water, flailing my arms as fast as I can and forgetting to breathe. I'm not sure if I'm winning or losing, I just keep heading towards the coast. I'm tired but I press on until I hit ground and lift my head out of the dark waters. Ferdinand is steps behind and sees I've stopped.
“All the way, Mr. Blackhall!” He screams and makes a beam line towards the sand. I try to get up but trip and fall against the waters and suddenly burst out in laughter. Ferdinand must hear me because I can hear his voice cackling through the air, echoing against the waters. I turn around and see him waste deep in water. Both of us can't stop laughing. Finally, I pick myself up and take high steps towards the sand, offering my hand to Ferdinand to help him up as I offer peace. “Let's call it a draw.”
“Agreed,” he says and takes my hand to get himself out of the waters. We walk together until we hit dry sand and collapse on the beach floor. The stars our so bright, reflecting off the vast waters and expanding into new lands.
“Any ideas for your novel?” He asks me.
“My novel? I forgot about that. Maybe coming here wasn't the best idea for inspiration after all.”
“Maybe not yet,” Ferdinand replies.
“Maybe I needed to clear my head out here, forget about all the stress over there.” I motion with my head towards the city.
“Why do you have so much stress anyways? You get to do whatever you want all day. I'm stuck in the kitchen all day and I don't mind at all, not even bickering customers complaining that the menu's too small.” Ferdinand laughs.
“That's exactly why!” I say. “I don't accomplish a single thing all day; for six months in fact. We need to have accomplishments or we won't feel like we're actually living this life. God gave each of us different capabilities; duties to perform without which we feel disconnected and lost. Ever since coming here I've been more lost than ever, and I can't seem to pick myself out of this muck.”
“Hmm...” Ferdinand gets lost in thought, pondering my words carefully.
I wait, unsure if he's still thinking or moved on to some other thought. My curiosity grows until I gasp out: “So what do you think?”
“I think,” he starts... “I think you're right. There's a reason why we came all the way to this place, and it's not something we merely have to find. It's something we need to believe. You will live out your purpose here, no matter how dark the days appear and how hopeless the nights seem. Don't forget, you're Edwind Blackhall!”
I finish his sentence with my trademark line, not even missing a beat, “...World renowned author and acclaimed speechwriter.”
“That's right, and your inspiration is coming, you already know. If you can't catch it, then let it catch you.”
“You mean stop thinking about it?” I say trying to guess at his meaning.
“Hmm... Yes, maybe that's it; just stop thinking about it. It's your purpose here and it will come to you, without a doubt.”
“So coming here really was what I needed all along.” I say, optimistically.
“You're really going to spend the night out here then?” Ferdinand asks me.
“Of course, I'm going to set my mind free to wonder about the cosmos, and see what comes my way.”
Ferdinand laughs at me as he sits up, his back covered in sand. “Not me, I have to work tomorrow morning. Do you want me to pick you up?”
I sit up next to him as I answer, “No, thank you. I can find my way back. I've got no plans tomorrow.”
“Well thanks for inviting me for the adventure. I need to head back before the sun comes out.”
“Thanks for the lift out here, and seriously, thanks for thinking this through with me.”
“Anytime Edwind.” And with that he's on his feet and walking towards his scooter.
“Later!” I shout after him.
“Good night.” He shouts back and throws on a shirt before jumping on his scooter and hitting the road, assuredly much more empty now then on our our way out here.
It seems rather obvious to say I feel alone, but I do. I lay back down, staring into the sky, feeling small but refreshed; weightless but sturdy. I don't pay attention to much and feel myself start drifting.
I wake up to children playing. The sun is out, which means I've slept past 4 a.m. It also means I'm covered in sweat and need to find some shade before I seriously burn myself. It's hot out but the sun isn't fully up yet. I'm guessing it's about 7 a.m., but I don't really care. I remember the snacks we bought last night and start walking to find my clothes. I quickly throw my things together, get dressed, and start munching as I walk off towards a spot of shade. I find a bus stop nearby and sit down. I wait a good twenty minutes until a bus comes my way and I'm on my way back to the city. It seems my adventure is quickly coming to a close.
I stare out the window the whole way back. I'm not sure where this bus goes, but I'm hoping to see a familiar landmark somewhere along the way. The nature is beautiful. The island is filled with green and plenty of lakes, rivers, and mountains. The clouds eclipse the green on the mountain peaks in a misty fog that gives an eerie and ancient feel. There's so much life here, so much beauty to capture, and plenty for each of us to be satisfied.
I see the people around me and wonder if they're thinking the same thing. Can we be connected through the creation all around us? Was it the Creator's intention from the start, to make creation our connecting point and allowing us to transcend culture, language, space, and time? Although we're from different generations and nations and races, can I use this backdrop to say, 'I'm a child of our Creator and I'm in this world to experience the love placed in every hill, tree, shrub, and grain of sand together with you. To share my love with the love placed within you, and together to enjoy the originator of it all: God.'
I reach out to touch the seat in front of me, longing for that connection to be made and I whisper to myself, 'The love of God.'