‘A story I wrote specifically to post on Twitter (each paragraph is less than 280 characters). It’s about alienation from one’s work, more or less.’
A man is walking along the highway because he prefers not to travel by car, and he tries to keep the irritation from his voice as he asks, “Where’s the sidewalk?”
He has the idea to make a footpath, himself, and gets to work. It proves tough, work without clear end in sight. Dirt under his nails, soles thinning, sweat on his brow: he progresses little relative to the cars roaring by. At times he wonders why he began. He keeps going.
When he’s finished, more and more people begin walking the path, and he chalks this up as amounting to an universal proof of concept. He wasn’t looking for validation, but there it is.
Soon there are paths all over, and his is one among many. Nobody knows that he was the one who made the first. He’s not sure how he feels about that.
He walks with eyes up and roaming, and comes to know every bend and fork and intersection. He’s finding joy in seeing others, whole families, make days out of their adventures along the paths, but there has grown inside him an anxious feeling he cannot place.
His eyes fall. Downcast, he walks for days, striving to understand his discontent. It was this: the work he did, which was so personal to him and which took so much time, had been rendered insignificant by the pace and scale of the droves that arrived, to build after.
He looks up, and sees a booth at which a vendor is selling binoculars. The booth wasn’t there even a few days before. He walks over. “What are these for?” the man asks. The vendor replies, “Bird-watching, why not?” And he repeats the man’s question, “’What are these for?’
“What are these paths for, if not to find me, who can point out your next turn? Eh, good sir? I mean, in this wide open country? Glorious panorama, far as the eye can see. T’is my wager there’s more even farther than that.” The vendor winks, indicating his binocular stand.
Some more chitchat, or shooting of the breeze, and the man decides to go ahead and buy a pair. “That’s the ticket.” the vendor says, pocketing the money.
The binoculars hang on a string around the man’s neck, as they do on many others, but he’s not so eager to use them. He hears a honk behind him, and steps aside just in time: two, three, a whole train of scooters blurs by, with passengers holding tight to their handlebars.
Their shouts of glee linger even as night falls. The man finds a quiet bench to settle down. Looking up at the sky he gets an idea, and fumbles for his binoculars, to peer closer to the stars.
When he wakes, he discovers with wide eyes that the path beside which he sat has been turned into a road—no, another highway. Again there is no sidewalk: just a bench beside the road, and he on it, dumbfounded. He looks to his left, then to his right. Cars shoot by.
What a change during the night, when the stars filled his dreams and appeared so close. Recalling the vendor’s wink from the day before, he fumbles again for his binoculars. He turns them up the highway. He wants to know where it ends, but the binoculars can’t see that far.