Written for Build Your Own: Weekly Writing Challenge.
Loneliness is an interesting feeling.Take Jan, surrounded by signs that he is unable to read. His feeling of loneliness makes him act like an addict.
Jan is compelled to collect signs, to stack them up. I’m talking about big signs that take a lot of energy to move out of the city. He struggles with them, drags them an’ pulls them up the dirt hill. He uses a trolley an’ ropes sometimes. At the top of the hill where his den is he pushes them an’ tips them, nudges them into place. Then he looks at them. Then he returns to the city to find another. So that is his loneliness.
Jan makes rooms out of the signs: walls to lean against, shelves to sleep on, platforms to sit on so that he can survey the ruined city. Watching him sit amongst his palace of Highway Gothic, his Helvetica ramparts an’ Gill Sans corridors; seeing him press his face against the cold faded plastics an’ rusted metals, pushing his eyes shut an’ pressing so that his nose goes out of shape; you sense his feeling. It doesn’t matter that it’s not your feeling. Everybody here can get inside everybody else, it’s familiar. I don’t know anybody else collects signs, but what Jan is doing is familiar. Everybody does something to try to keep busy.
Loneliness is familiar an’ it comes in all kinds of varieties here. It’s like we all know each other so well – we watch each other, take interest in how others pass the time – but we can’t get close. No one seems to remember what we’re supposed to be doing.
What would Jan say the signs mean to him? I don’t know. Perhaps he likes the colours in them. Perhaps, although he can’t read them he senses that they were made by people who wanted to say something. Does he know what wanting to say something means? I don’t know. We ain’t never spoken about it. Maybe they just seem to have a noise about them or something.
“Algiers Hotel”. That’s what one of his favourite signs says. I would guess it used to have a red background, but the sun has turned it a soft chalky puce colour. The letters are thick an’ wavy and Jan likes to run his fingers around them. Watching him, it’s like he’s practising conducting an orchestra the way he stands there an’ flicks his wrists up an’ down those letters.
Well, sometimes Jan finds individual letters. This can make him anxious because he doesn’t know what to do with them most of the time. The other day however he found the letters ‘B’, ‘A’ and ‘R’. They were like letters on a lot of the signs he already had, he was keen when he could put them in an order they appeared elsewhere. His excitement seemed like a break through for him, but then it died away. In the evening I saw him kick the letters over; then he regretted it an’ I saw him gently pick them back up.
No, I don’t talk to him. I just talk to myself mainly. Got to keep going. But it don’t seem right to trouble Jan, he’s kind of in a zone an’ it doesn’t seem right to tamper with it. I talked to him once, maybe twice, when I arrived but that was it.
Most of us here can read. We do occasionally talk. The funny thing is though that it does us no good. It doesn’t do us good in the way that Jan’s sort-of-reverie for the signs seems to do him good. You know, it’s like he’s on to something better by not knowing what they say. That’s probably why I like watching him, it seems important, but I don’t know why. Like I said, loneliness is an interesting feeling.