Focus

Focus.

Focus, dammit!

I shout at my own self.

You’d think it was simple. Start a task, focus on the task, finish the task. A common sense, logical approach, you don’t need a college education to understand that. A college education. I never achieved it because I couldn’t focus. I tried. Not once, not twice, but three times. But I could never make past the first semester. I couldn’t focus.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about, I’m here to talk about focus. The never ending, ever present struggle. What is a focus?

The centre of interest or activity. The state or quality of having or producing clear visual definition. Says the Google dictionary. That’s the noun. The verb is adapt to the prevailing level of light and become able to see clearly. What even is that? Also: pay particular attention to. That I know what means. I pay attention to some things, less to other things, none to those that don’t interest me. Or those that bore me. To pay attention has two meanings, doesn’t it? Pay attention as in, focus. And pay attention as in, pay no attention to the haters. The latter’s not always easy, haters can be cruel. And they tend to make themselves known before you get a chance to find the supporters. What I excel at, though, is not paying any attention to people who are desperate for attention. And paying attention to things no one notices or cares about.

Focus!

Okay, so I focus. Or try to. Until my mind starts to wander. The places I wander to are rich and colourful, real and imagined. They are past and they are future. What happened and will happen and what could have happened. Scenarios I could write down, if only I could focus.

In the past, I had team managers at work ask me with concern why I’m not performing as I should, but how do I tell them I just can’t focus? I’m a good worker, actually. Maybe that’s why they wanted to know, because they expected better. It took a lot of determination to beat that.

I should read more books. I come across a book I think I would like, add it to my To Read list and promptly forget about it. Audiobooks are good, of course. But with me you never know when I lose the focus, no matter how pleasant the narrator’s voice is. I’m a sucker for good voices.

I can’t do poetry, I read the first line of the poem and lose interest. Loreena McKennitt has a song titled The Lady of Shalott, where she sings the lines of the Tennyson poem to music. That is manageable, at least I can listen to the song. I known of this poem thanks to Anne of Green Gables. (We didn’t do Tennyson at school, I’m not from an English speaking country, we have our own poets.) Poor Anne almost drowned in the pond playing the role of Elaine when she and her friends turned the poem into a real life play. Agatha Christie used a line from the poem as a title for her book The Mirror Crack’d From Side To Side. Both my favourite writers were fans of the same poem. I wonder if I could write a retelling where Elaine gets a happy endin—

Focus, stupid!

What was I saying? Oh yes, I like taking pictures. Photographs, you know. I have a camera, but I also use my smartphone. The camera lens is better than me, it can focus.

Focus. I give you bloody focus.

I’ve heard of focus groups, but I don’t know what it means. I google “what is a focus group”, but the results make my eyes glaze so I close the page.

Focus focus FOCUS!!!

I should visit Haworth again. The Bronte sisters place. And go look for the farmhouse that was the inspiration for Wuthering Heights. I struggle with Wuthering Heights, like I struggle with a lot of classics. The long sentences kill me. By the time I get to end of the sentence, I forget the beginning. I admire all you classics enthusiast, I marvel at your ability to focus!

Stop lying. You have no problem focusing when you want to.

Yeah but you know, that’s hard to explain. I can spend hours tidying up the tags on my blogs, here and on Tumblr, or organising my photos into albums. I like tidying up and cleaning. Once I start.

You can’t get through a work meeting without doodling on a piece of paper but you had no problem watching the three-hour Avengers Endgame in the cinema.

Well yeah, that’s the point that I was at the cinema. And it was a highly anticipated film. And I prepared for it, mentally, before I went, because I knew it would be three hours long. Also it features many characters. Also work meetings are tedious. Also shut up.

I’ve never rewatched Avengers Endgame but if I did it at home, I’d probably take breaks. And I don’t binge-watch. I can’t do it. Unless it’s sitcoms, but I’m very picky with my sitcoms. A few months ago I watched about fifteen episodes of Golden Girls while I was cleaning my living room. I cannot explain.

Focus. Bloody focus.

Part of me feels actual sympathy with George RR Martin for never finishing his A Song of Ice and Fire series.

This is the first time I’ve admitted to it.

Seriously. I’m worried that I’ll never finish anything in my life. That’s why I stick to short stories. No epic fantasy from me. No, sirs.

Someone’s talking to me, but I’m not paying attention. I’m googling the population of London in late Victorian times.

The voice gets louder. It is a wise one, an ancient one. It says: “maybe you should get checked for ADHD.”


Written for the Weekly Prompts Weekend Challenge – Focus. I’m so pleased I got a chance to respond to the challenge in writing, first time I’ve done so. (I normally use photography.)

I Will See You Again

It’s been a long time since you last saw each other.

Since that grey November day when you said goodbye, the Hostile Environment immigration policy putting an ocean between you. Two years or three, who’s counting? You’re still in contact, you’re connected. Modern technology is your saviour. You get to hear his voice, see his face on the screen. No touch, no hand to hold. No skin to caress. No one to dance salsa with.

So you dance alone.

You look up and see the same sky, the same moon. You play the same music and think about each other. I will see you again, he says.

The pandemic, the lockdowns, it makes no difference to you. The world opens again, it makes no difference to you. You dance salsa on your own. In your living room, after dusk, lights off, headphones on.

I will see you again, he says.

He repeats it often. It has become a chorus.

When you parted, you both agreed to see other people. You have dated, here and there, you’ve had many good dates. But no one measures up. No one is like him, because there is no one like him.

And you know it’s same for him.

I will see you again, he messages.

Life goes on. With every day, it goes on. Everything is good, except there is no him, because he is so far away. How does it work, with someone in a different hemisphere?

I will see you again.

Will you? You don’t remember when you started losing hope.

You go on another date, you think they’d make a good life partner. You ghost them. It’s never what it was with him.

What of it? You have long got used to dancing on your own.

When people ask you about your love life, you shrug. Nothing to tell. You don’t talk about him to anyone. Most of them forgot you were ever together. They don’t ask about him. They’re as uncomfortable discussing immigration as they ever were.

You don’t listen to Buena Vista Social Club anymore. What’s the point, when there’s nobody to share it with? Chan Chan, the signature tune, has faded away.

Winter is long and lonely and wet. The scarf you wrapped around yourselves, on your walks in the park that last autumn, lies at the bottom of your wardrobe.

At last, a new spring arrives. Time of optimism. So they say.

His message changes. I will see you soon.

You halt in the middle of the pavement, staring at your phone, people bumping into you.

You put the phone back in your pocket. It doesn’t mean anything, it’s only one changed word, that’s all.

Yet there is something in the air, something that could make you believe that it was not all in vain.

The next message reads: I will see you very soon.

A variation on the same theme, you tell yourself.

One day, you’re in the city centre and the music is playing. Music often plays in the city centre, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Except, this time it is different.

Latin American music is unusual in this part of the world. You feel the almost forgotten stir in your veins, it’s been such a long time.

And then your hear it. Those unforgettable, unmistakable four notes. The signature tune, so familiar. How could you be such a fool to think it would ever fade?

Compay Segundo composed Chan Chan from a melody he heard in his dream, Wikipedia tells us. Your phone screen flashes with a new message. Turn around.

You turn around.

“Estoy aqui.”

He is here.

You fall into each other’s arms. You stay like that for the whole song. “How?” you ask. “The Home Secretary is a literal Nazi. How did you do it?”

“There are ways,” he says.

Chan Chan ends, followed by an upbeat, contemporary Latin pop song. He takes your hand. “Let’s dance.”

He is back. And you will never dance alone again.


Author’s Note: This is a continuation of my older story Love / Amor, though I wrote it so it can be read separately. I can’t remember exactly how I came up with the idea of giving them a happy ending, but what finally convinced me was the departure of Santiago Cabrera from the Star Trek Picard series. His character got a happy ending in-universe, but I am disappointed I will not see him again in Season 3. So I wrote this.

Link to the Wikipedia article on the song Chan Chan mentioned in the story.

And finally, Chan Chan itself:

ETA: To clarify, this is not salsa, when I talk about them dancing salsa I mean that to an appropriate music.

Bedtime Story Time

“And so the little brother and sister lived happily with their father in their little cottage.” Melina closed the book. 

Little Katie’s eyelids were already dropping. Melina straightened the blanket. “I hope you enjoyed the story,” she said.

“Yes,” said Katie. “You make it so much fun!”

Melina smiled. She got a real kick out of trying out different voices while reading the story. Sure, Hansel and Gretel was stupid and nonsensical, but hey, it was Katie’s own choice and she wouldn’t argue with a child over what story they wanted to hear. Let people enjoy things was her mantra.

Katie’s eyes opened wide. “Do witches really exist, Auntie?”

“Oh no!” Melina laughed. “Only in stories. You know, like dragons and mermaids and all that stuff.”

“Will you read me a story about mermaids next time?”

“Of course I will.”

The little girl’s eyelids dropped again and soon, she was asleep. Melina stood up, put the book back on the shelf and left Katie’s bedroom, switching the light off. She settled on the sofa in the living room and turned the TV on. Nothing of interest was on and Theresa didn’t subscribe to any streaming services, but Melina didn’t feel like watching anything anyway. She was thinking.

She was thinking of the stories she could tell little Katie. All the tales of yore, the true tales, not the Brothers Grimm mess. And then, there were other types of stories. Of deadbeat dads and alcoholic grandparents. Of struggling single mums, who couldn’t shake the feeling of guilt when they indulged in going out for only one night a year. For god’s sake, go out with your friends. I can look after Katie, I have nothing to do in the evenings

One day she would.

She hoped Theresa was having a good time.

She did. Theresa came home, her face shining. She was barefooted. “It’s been so long I’ve worn these,” she said, dangling her high heels in her hand. She hugged Melina. “Thank you so much.”

“Oh it’s a pleasure, you know.”

“Were there any problems?”

“Not at all, she ate her supper like a champ and then I read her a story.”

“You want anything to eat or drink?”

“No thanks, I’m good. I need to head home now.”

“Of course. You want me to get you a cab? You got an Uber?”

“No, no need for that.”

They said goodnight to each other and Melina left.

She walked down the street, then down the next street, until she reached the park gate. She entered.

The park was a deserted, quiet place at this hour. There were only a few street lights, helpless against the darkness. She kept on a steady pace towards the bushes. That was where she hid it.

It was the best spot, really. She always used this park when going to Theresa’s house.

She crouched and, from under the bushes, she retrieved the long thin object. It was a broom.

She perched on the broom, bounced on her feet and flew away.

An Awakening

She arrived one day, an unremarkable day by all accounts. We said, welcome, and that was it. New people were coming from time to time, we had got used to it. She settled in with the community without any major difficulties and soon, she was one of us.

Until she started talking about her ideas.

At once, everyone stayed away from her. No, no, no-no-no-no, they shook their heads. We can’t have that. Unacceptable.

Some were disgusted. “Ughhh, what?” and “What is wrong with you???” were some of the reactions.

Some screamed. Some cried. No kidding, they really did.

Not me.

As soon as she began talking, something stirred up in me. I listened. I wanted to know more. I was excited. I got goose bumps.

“If you want to know more, you can follow me,” she said.

The decision would be mine to make.

I could have gone back to the others, or I could have followed her. I didn’t have to think about it long, for I knew what I wanted. So I followed her.

I have not regretted it once. The possibilities that opened in front of me would never have had opened, had I not followed her.

They don’t know, of course. They remain in their place, afraid. They could see, if they only made that choice to open their eyes. Because if they do, they’ll know.

It’s curiosity that beats fear.


Written for the prompt on OLWG, No. 3 – “so I followed her”. Thank you for reading.

Patient

They start leaving, in twos and threes at first, then in larger groups, every day, later even twice a day, until there is only a few hundred of you left. Compared to the previous population of a million—yours was a big compound—it is a mere handful.

You don’t mind. In fact, you volunteered to stay behind. I can remain here and take care of things, you told them. An obligatory “are you sure”, followed by your subsequent confirmation, and your fate is sealed.

And so you watch them go. The rollout is successful.

You like the quiet and the solitude, you’ve always worked better on your own. And you don’t miss out on anything. The newsfeed is pretty efficient and you can still access the stuff you like, albeit on a smaller screen. You work and rest, work and rest. And wait. You are patient.

The food gets blander, as the best chefs are gone. The compound gets quieter and quieter with each coming day. Majority of the people you care about have left. You don’t remember when you last saw the ones that went first, the ones in the high risk category. One dull afternoon, your last friend leaves. Any contact you have with anyone is now only virtual.

You discover the sound of silence. Not the silence of a summer day in a meadow, how it would have been, on the outside world, all those years ago. Not the silence of a cosy room on a winter night either. It is a silence of nothing.

The silence of nothing fills your life. Sure, you can play music and watch films, but it’s still there, waiting for you, a pause button away. You don’t attempt to make friends with the ones who are still here. They seem like people of no substance to you. Perhaps they are. Nothing is of any substance in this place. Everything is grey here. Not even different shades of grey. Just—grey.

Will you go insane?

Nobody is this patient.

Well, you are. Patience is a virtue, they say. Shame they never specified what exactly you were supposed to do with that virtue.

At last, you are called in.

It’s not long after five o’clock in the afternoon when you enter the small room. The nurse looks worn out, but her eyes are hopeful. “We’re almost through,” she says.

“It’s been miserable, hasn’t it?” you finally admit.

She agrees.

You roll up your sleeve.

You receive the vaccine and return to your room. It doesn’t take you long to pack. You’ve been ready for a while.

When you leave the compound, the sun is shining, almost blinding you. Real sunshine! Not on a screen, or filtered through the glass dome, but real. With a real sky. You bath yourself in it. And then they come, your nearest and dearest, they’re here, they’ve been waiting for you. They envelope you in a hug. Real humans, with real limbs, the warmth of their bodies. They take your bags, accompany you to your temporary quarters. The city is bright and full of life. And colourful, oh so colourful. Green and red and purple and yellow. And it’s loud. Everything is open. Tomorrow you’ll hit the shops.

For tonight, there is a different plan.

They take you to the best restaurant in town. The food is divine; you don’t think you’ve ever tasted anything as divine as this. But there is still something on your mind, and when the dessert is served, you voice it out loud.

“What if there’s another one?”

“Another what?”

“Another virus. What if—what if it’s worse than the last one?”

“Well, there’s bound to be another one again,” says your most rational and scientifically minded friend. “But when it comes to that, we’ll deal with it. We’ve dealt with this one.”

“Let’s enjoy what we have now,” says another friend. So you do.

After dinner—the cinema.

Because it’s finally here.

Countless delays later, it’s finally here. The hottest, the most anticipated film of the decade. The first two days of screening are sold out, but have no fear—your friends have secured the tickets in advance.

How lucky are you, coming out on the day the movie opens!

Crowds flood into the cinema complex. You settle in your seats (and good seats they are), patiently sit through the adverts. The lights go out. The big screen lights up with the logo of the movie franchise. It’s the popcorniest of all popcorn franchises, hell yeah! Excitement rises in you. This is it.

The friend sitting on your left, the one who was the last to leave the compound, leans close to you and says: “We’re back, baby!”

The film starts.

You love it.

The Conclusion

The Observer picked up the cup and drank. The coffee was lukewarm by now; it had been a long day. Still, they drained the cup and placed it back on the saucer. Outside, the smooth glass surfaces of buildings reflected the blood red of the setting sun. It was quiet in the boardroom, the only sound being the humming of the air-conditioning unit.

The Observer straightened the stack of papers on the desk. They cleared their throat.

“I have made a thorough study of the matter,” they spoke in a determined voice with perfectly accented English, “I have consulted every party involved, perused every piece of material related, and I hereby conclude that, contrary to the previously held assumption, immigrants were not stealing jobs from the native population.”

So Much For Nostalgia

It’s always like that when you go back there. The place where you spent your childhood. You immerse yourself in the memories as the years come flooding back; you and your friends are climbing the trees, playing hide and seek, chasing each other in the little grove. The grove is still there, so are the houses, but strangers live in them now, and the old playground has been rebuilt. You used to have a sandpit. Kids these days have no such thing. It was a different time back then, with no smartphones, no video games. The summers you spent outside, returning home only to eat and sleep. You didn’t need technology to find each other, because you always found each other.

But things have changed now, you’ve all grown up and lost touch. Everyone moved away. You don’t come back often, you’ve got more interesting places to go, but sometimes, just sometimes, when you’re in that mood to visit the ghosts of the past, you make your way there, careful to avoid people. You don’t want any intruders.

And then, once your cup of reminiscence is full, and you’ve seen everything you needed to see, you walk away. Return to the present. You take your smartphone out of your pocket and scroll down the updates. You answer emails. You may video call your favourite nephew when you get back home, he’s excited to tell you about the new things he built in Minecraft. You listen attentively, and end the call hoping to see him soon. You get your Deliveroo app on, make an order, and, when it’s delivered, you settle down in front of Netflix.

No time like the present!

I Fall In Love With You Every Day

I fall in love with you every day.

I fall in love with you every morning. It helps me get out of bed. 

I also fall in love with you every time I’m having my breakfast. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, they say.

I fall in love with you multiple times throughout my workday. There is no regularity to it, it may come at any hour, any minute. One thing I know for sure is that it happens when I’m not concentrating. And you can bet there will always be a time when I’m not concentrating.

I fall in love with you when I’m preparing my dinner, and then again when I’m eating it. I fall in love with you when I drink coffee or have a snack. I drink a lot of coffee and I eat a lot of snacks.

Then I fall in love with you when I watch a movie or an episode of a TV show, and I have to press pause, so I get to experience that moment again. When I’m reading a book, I have to pause my reading to fall in love with you, before I can continue. 

To be sure, I fall in love with you while doing even the most boring tasks. Doing my shopping at the supermarket, or cleaning the house. Washing the dishes, always when I’m washing the dishes it is the best when I fall in love with you. 

When I exercise I fall in love with you too, and it helps me exercise better. And that is a good thing because exercise is good for you.

The weekends are the best, of course. They give me plenty of free time to fall in love with you.

I fall in love with you every day. 

You see, I need to.

Because if I didn’t, life would become unbearable.


Written for the OLWG prompt. Thank you for reading!

The Camera Smiles

It has been sitting quietly in its bag for months now, untouched. The bag, covered with dust, has blended so much with its surroundings, I no longer see it. It’s become invisible. The reproachful look of why you not love me anymore is gone. It has given up.

You might wonder what it’s been like for it, the emotions it has been through to end up in this state. First there would be confusion, what is happening, why am I not being used? Then fear. Has she found another one, a better one, does she not need me again. Then anger. After all I have done for you! Followed by sadness. So this is how it will be now. It ends with—nothing. Just emptiness.

Look, I swear it’s not my fault. What was I to do, with the year we’ve just had? Nowhere to go and nothing to do.  Better people than me have succumbed to hopelessness. It’s not my fault.

Or so I tell myself.

There is always something to do, it used to tell me then, before it stopped talking to me.

I think it might be dead. Even though it’s never been alive because it’s not a living creature. It’s still dead.

It’s a tragic end.

Then comes that Saturday.

It’s winter and it’s cold. I open the window in my living room to get some air in. The flock of starlings have finished their weird loopy team flight thing they do and settled themselves on the tree next to my house.

And all at once I know. I know I have to get that dusty bag and open it and get it out.

So I take up the dusty bag, open it and get it out.

The lens cap got stuck, I struggle with removing it, but eventually I do. I point the lens at the tree and take a picture of the starlings. I take multiple pictures. And not just of starlings.

It’s alive. It’s alive!

And finally, the camera smiles.


OWLG prompt

The Journal

This year, I vow on the first day of January, I will keep a journal.

No, not some pretty pastel-coloured notebook, its pages filled with drawings and calligraphy and glitter—nice as that is, it’s not really my thing—but a digital one. I install an app on my phone and resolve to update it at least once a week. Most of the time, I manage to keep up with it. I log my thoughts and feelings, inspirational quotes, make lists of movies and TV show I’ve seen, upload pictures and videos, and more importantly—inspired by the guy with orange skin almost starting a World War Three on Twitter on the second day of the year—the world events. Though most of that is not in any way uplifting. Fires, floods, human rights abuses, narcissistic leaders, events strangers than the fictional plots I watch on the screen. Rich old men sending army of trolls after a teenage climate activist. From the Far East, news of a novel virus emerge. A once great nation commits an ultimate act of foolishness, based on campaign of lies and manipulation. The world shakes its head and I keep typing and tapping on my phone, snapping, screenshotting and saving pieces of news from the media, all media, real or fake; I’m creating an archive. Sometimes I save bits of conversations from WhatsApp, or texts, I talk to people. Some are concerned, some aren’t. Some can only respond with emojis, others with reaction gifs. Everyone’s glued to their phone anyway. The virus is moving closer. Then the panic buying starts and into my journal I add a photo of empty supermarket shelves.

It takes me some time to finally realise that I’m chronicling the end of the world.


Author’s Note: This short piece of prose was inspired by the song Doom Days by Bastille, particularly the line “I think I’m addicted to my phone, my scrolling horror show, I’m live-streaming the final days of Rome”, lyrics by Dan Smith.