Sound of Footsteps in the Snow

By Faruk Ulay

All rights reserved.

     “We are about to leave. I hear nearing footsteps.”

     “Don’t get your hopes up in vain; to get out of here will take longer than we anticipated.”

     “I believe so, too, but I am trying to keep my hopes alive.”

     “You are right. One thinks of weird stuff not to go crazy when bored.”

     “Is it too hard for you to imagine that we are about to leave here?”

     “Yes. I can’t do two things at the same time.”

     “What else are you doing? We are both sitting here waiting.”

     “Waiting. Since we were brought here, that’s what I have been doing.”

     “It is impossible to stay in waiting lounges without waiting.”

     “Where we are waiting is not even a lounge. Just a room without a window.”

     “Why do they paint the bottom half of the walls in places where public uses frequently in an oil paint with a color reminding of death?”

     “They paint those places in a color that won’t show dirt and that can be wiped out easily.”

     “Have you ever seen a wall the bottom of which has been painted gray and remained clean?”

     “No, I haven’t.”

     “I wonder why.”

     “Because we are all dirty.”

     “So painting doesn’t solve anything. Does it?”

     “I think walls would remain cleaner if they haven’t been painted. Maybe nothing would’ve changed. As I said, it is because we are all dirty.”

     “When rooms are windowless, they lose their room quality.”

     “I doubt we are waiting. We are kept waiting.”

     “Yes. They are keeping us waiting.”

     “We are waiting without even knowing what we are waiting for.”

     “Since we can’t know it, although we want to, we are more like kept waiting rather that waiting ourselves.”

     “I am glad you are with me. If I were alone, I would not be able to stand this waiting.”

     “I kind of knew what was to happen, that’s why I did not leave you alone.”

     “How did you know that?”

     “Nothing. Just an intuition.”

     “I thought people who have good conjecture could guess at what is to happen rather than know it.”

     “Since my intuition never fails me, I don’t waste time guessing. Because it always comes true, by knowing what is to happen before it happens, I am spared a transitional phase.”

     “So what do you think will happen now?”

     “I have no idea.”

     “Can’t you even guess at it?”

     “My guesses don’t work any more. I can only know but I don’t see why it would be of any use to know what is going to happen to us as long as we are here without being able to do anything.”

     “Of course you can guess something if you wanted. It is not important whether it will prove to be right or wrong. We are only playing a game to kill time.”

     “I can’t. I quit guessing a long time ago.”

     “If you try to know, if you know what will happen in a little while, then I will consider what you know as a guess.”

     “The limits of what I know does not go beyond the fact that we will be kept waiting in this room.”

     “Then we won’t be able to know what will happen to us.”

     “I won’t be able to know but I don’t know about you.”

     “I guess I can’t know, either. I can make a couple of guesses but I don’t think any of them will come true.”

     “That means you don’t trust your assumptions.”

     “If you want to know the truth, I don’t feel like assuming because this room does not let me make guesses with happy endings.”

     “I think the problem is not with the room but with you. Try to be more optimistic.”

     “I am like you. I can’t do many things at the same time.”

     “Then there is no other way but to wait.”

     “How about if we think of other things?”

     “Like what? What else can we think about but ourselves in a situation like this?”

     “Of those who have brought us here.”

     “Are we brought here or locked in here?”

     “I don’t even know that. Everything happened too quickly.”

     “Sometimes everything is a matter of interpretation. He who can interpret something in a most convincing way becomes the one who knows best.”

     It can also be guessed at: we might either been brought here or locked in here. We can choose one of our guesses and put it in the focus of our guess.

     “I don’t want to play this game any more. I am getting really annoyed.”

     “I think they wanted to bring us here and we just followed sheepishly.”

     “They did not let us think.”

     “And when we arrived, we completed our blunder by letting them lock us in.”

     “Are you saying that it is our fault?”

     “Yes.”

     “But you said that you knew that we were going to be brought here. While you sensed something was to happen, why didn’t you stop them?”

     “I wanted to prove that my intuition was right.”

     “I thought I knew you.”

     “Do you think you have guessed wrong?”

     “I don’t know. I will never be able to know anything unless I get out of this room.”

     “Don’t you see they are trying to turn us into enemies.”

     “But they don’t even know us.”

     “We don’t know them. They might know us. And it doesn’t make any difference if they don’t know us. They needed two people to fill this room, they reached into the crowd and pulled us out.”

     “Really?”

     “How can I know? I am just guessing.”

     “Just a little while ago you were saying that guessing was history for you.”

     “Someone is playing a trick on us.”

     “One of those, who brought us here, had black marks on his hand.”

     “I hear sounds of slippers outside.”

     “You are making it up again. There is no sound outside.”

     “You are scared, aren’t you?”

     “No.”

     “Do you still feel hungry?”

     “No. I haven’t felt hungry since we were brought here.”

     “Then you are scared.”

     “If you want to be afraid, you can, but you don’t have to coerce me into feeling the same way.”

     “I remember reading somewhere that since the defense mechanism redirects the flow of blood to other areas in one’s body instead of the stomach to avoid the experience of fear, when the digestive system stops working, one does not feel hunger any more.”

     “I am not scared and I am not hungry.”

     “That’s good, then. It proves that what I have just told you is correct.”

     “If you want me to get scared, I can, if you can’t manage to get scared by yourself, I can help you.”

     “What scares me is not those who brought us here but you. You were not like this before. You were friendlier and cared about your relationships to work smoothly.”

     “I am telling you that somebody is playing games with us and you don’t believe me.”

     “I don’t believe you. I don’t believe anything you say. I know that you don’t know what you say that you know and that you can’t even imagine them. I have started to sense that you have something to do with them bringing us here.”

     “What are you talking about? I put up with being brought here so that you would not be left alone.”

     “I don’t think so. You wanted us to be brought here.”

     “What was my gain then?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “Then guess at it.”

     “There isn’t anybody playing with us. You are playing with me.”

     “Don’t be ridiculous.”

     “I think I haven’t known you well.”

     “Fear makes you utter these things. If you have never known me well, I am not the one who is at fault.”

     “If only the room had a window.”

     “Then we wouldn’t be kept waiting.”

     “We could see something outside the window that would help us forget that we were waiting.”

     “Then we would be brought here for no reason.”

     “They would have done something wrong by trapping us here.”

     “Opening the window would mess up their plans.”

     “But we are in a room without windows.”

     “All is working the way they have planned it.”

     “What do you think they are going to do to us?”

     “Make us or do to us?”

     “What does it matter?”

     “They are not going to do anything. We will be released soon.”

     “Are we arrested?”

     “No.”

     “Have we been kidnapped?”

     “No. We fell into this trap by ourselves.”

     “What can they ask of us anyway?”

     “It depends on what we are going to give to them.”

     “What can we offer them?”

     “Nothing. I have nothing to give.”

     “Me, neither.”

     “Do you think they knew that we didn’t have anything when they decided to bring us here?”

     “Maybe we are carrying something on us that we are not aware of.”

     “Or in our minds.”

     “We are talking nonsense. In a little while someone will walk in, say that there has been a mistake and let us go.”

     “In any case walking out the door will not answer what we are doing here, why we have been brought here and why we have been kept waiting.”

     “Are you thinking about asking them what they want from us?”

     “It depends.”

     “On what?”

     “It depends on how we are going to be set free. If they kick us out, I wouldn’t have the courage to ask. But if they let us go in an apologetic manner, then I will gain the courage to ask what has been going on.”

     “Even if they have made a mistake, they would not admit to it.”

     “Then we won’t understand why we were brought here.”

     “We will never know why we were kept waiting.”

     “I can’t believe how the bottom half of the wall is so clean.”

     “That means this place is not open to public.”

     “Or only the cleanest people are locked in here.”

     “Or maybe when fear overcomes them, nobody thinks of messing anything.”

     “Do you think there is a relationship between fear and cleanliness?”

     “Do you know what I just thought of?”

     “How can I?”

     “When I was a fifth grader, I used to take accordion lessons. It was bothering me to wake up at dawn to go to these classes when everyone else in the neighborhood was sleeping. To ease my discomfort, I had convinced another friend of mine to come to these classes with me. My friend used to live on a street going through my house and the school. When I reached his apartment building, instead of ringing the bell, I used to yell his name. Each time I did this, a moustached man with thick rimmed and color lensed glasses and a hat would stare at me from his car while waiting for the engine to warm up. A relationship doomed to end with a bad taste was beginning to form between the two of us. While yelling my friend’s name towards the balcony of their apartment, I would eyeball the man without making it obvious, and he would always be staring at me. I always hesitated to greet him. On early Saturday mornings nobody was there on that street but us. I used to wait for my friend impatiently and when he finally came down I would grab his arm and pull him away from the car. My friend never understood why I was always in a hurry. I could never tell him that I was terrified of his neighbor. Maybe he was someone he liked. Maybe he was a family friend or maybe he was his father’s closest friend. In fact I wasn’t even sure if the man lived in the same apartment building. As a kid would, I was trying to put the man on a pedestal and making up stories to my friend to hide my fear. One morning when my friend came down, I drew a circle on the rear window of the car covered in snow with my hand in gloves. I don’t know why I decided to do something like that but it made my friend happy that I did something different that morning and he drew another circle around the circle I had drawn. When moving away from the car, I saw the man opening the car door and started running like crazy. My friend followed me without questioning. When I looked back without stopping, I noticed that the man was following us. I can understand that my running away was an expression of the fear I went through every morning, but the fact that my friend was also running made me conclude that the man was not a family friend. I remember feeling happy thinking that. Although we were running with all that we had, the man was keeping up with us. What’s more he was able to do this without even running. We turned into other streets with the hope of making him lose our track but we couldn’t. At last we entered the yard of an apartment building and found ourselves at the foot of a wall too high for us to jump over. We weren’t surprised when the man showed up soon. He approached us with steam coming out of his mouth and pulled our ears. Then he walked back and disappeared. We were so terrified that we stood there for minutes without talking. Thinking that the man was waiting for us on the other end of the street, we tried to jump over the wall again, but couldn’t. After a while we gathered enough courage to pass through the yard, charged onto the street and ran to school as if the man was still following us. When we finally arrived at school, we were late for class. The music teacher asked us where our instruments were and we realized that we left them by the wall. We sat in the back of the class quietly and waited for it to end. Later, on our way to home, we almost cried when we found our accordions where we left them.”

     “What did you do the following week when you went to pick up your friend?”

     “I asked the same question to myself but couldn’t remember what I did.”

     “I don’t understand.”

     “I can’t remember if I continued the music lessons or not. Even if I did, I forgot if I ever saw the man again.”

     “Did you really experience what you just told me?”

     “Of course. What happened that day is the biggest fear left over from my childhood.”

     “You take music lessons all year long but you only remember the Saturdays in winter and the memories stop where your ear was pulled.”

     “Yes. They stop right there. I remember running to school like crazy with my friend, trying to reach our class walking on our tiptoes afraid to make a sound in the school hallways and the joy that we felt when we found our instruments. The rest is not there. I don’t even know what happened to my friend. I remember one more thing: my accordion was red and my friend’s black.”

     “How many of us know what happened to our grade school friends?”

     “How long have I known you?”

     “You have been telling me that you have not really known me since we came to this room. So in that case, never.”

     “But I just told you one of my fears that I have never shared with anyone else.”

     “What does it mean?”

     “That I want to get to know you more than anybody else.”

     “You know, the feeling of being kept waiting is not that bad after all.”

     “If they let us, I could tell you a lot more.”

     “Don’t. It doesn’t mean you know me enough now.”

     “But I am not really opening up to you.”

     “You are. You want to tell me things that you have never shared with anyone else before.”

     “What’s wrong with that?”

     “It doesn’t harm me a bit. Think of yourself.”

     “How long do you think we will stay here?”

     “I don’t know. I really don’t know.”

     “They are playing with us, right?”

     “I don’t know.”

     “One of those who brought us here had dark stains on his hands.”

     “I didn’t notice.”

     “How many people were there?”

     “I could not notice.”

     “Why are you laughing?”

     “I thought you said how many persons were there.”

     “Why is it so funny?”

     “Nothing. It isn’t at all.”

     “Shhh.”

     “What?”

     “Do you hear something, too?”

     “Yes.”

     “They are coming, right?”

     “Yes.”

     “We will be out soon.”

     “You never know.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “My intuition tells me that we shouldn’t trust the sound of the footsteps.”

     “I also remember seeing a sled pulled by horses on that winter day.”

     “In the middle of the city?”

     “Yes.”

     “Do I need to believe what you are telling me?”

     “It depends on what you want to believe.”

     “I don’t know.”

     “You do not know anything since we were brought to the room.”

     “I told you that the boundaries of what I know doesn’t go beyond this room.”

     “You told me not to trust you.”

     “Apparently I told you more than I should have.”

     “Me, too.”

     “Maybe the best thing to do is to remain quiet.”

     “We are talking in vain anyway.”

     “Yes. Waiting is the best thing to do.”

     “We have to put up with waiting.”

     “We can bear it as long as we believe that it will not have a bad ending.”

     “What can happen? What can they do to us?”

     “I don’t know, but probably nothing.”

     “Are you sure?”

     “Yes.”

     “Then we can wait.”

     “I don’t hear the sound of any footsteps any more.”

     “We will hear them later anyway. We should wait now.”

     “Yes.”

     “You are right.”

Faruk Ulay was born in Istanbul, Turkey and now lives in Pasadena, California, where he works as a graphic designer and photographer, and maintains a literary web site, Locus Novus. He is the author of seven collections of short fiction, two novellas, and a novel.

This story is included in issue #43: Walls. Copyright © 2010 by Fiction International. Authors of individual works retain copyright, with the restriction that subsequent publication of any text be accompanied by notice of prior publication in Fiction International. Please contact the editor for reprinting information.

Posted on: September 2nd, 2013 by admin No Comments
`