I find it difficult to look at the history of colonialism and exploitation in the Western Hemisphere without paying attention to the internal experiences prompted by these overarching narratives. The anxieties that come with the erasure of culture necessitate a closer look into the mental implications of these afflictions in everyday life. With the world the way it is, it’s easy to close off and forget about everything that’s going on. This is why I choose to write about both the large and the small scale dilemmas to indicate their relations and how people from different backgrounds react to these issues.
Day by day
A middle-aged man swerves his vehicle across the university parking lot. He quickly whips his head in both directions as he exits onto the main street and barrels into traffic. The woman tucked in the back seat berates his manic driving with a sour nagging.
Passing the next stoplight, the man’s phone vibrates with urgency. His son’s name casually blinks at him from the caller ID on the screen. The man freezes in exuberant agony as the woman rolls her eyes in disgust. The last time his son contacted him willingly was when –
The man instinctively slams the brakes as he detects a lone student trudging in front of him. He honks frantically as the student raises his arm as a shield to the blinding light, exposing a billboard-like smile at the driver.
An older woman crosses her legs at a coffee shop across from the university. She nervously glances at her watch as her leg swings with feigned nonchalance. Her impatient eyes wander toward the growing crowd of students at the line. The woman flicks through her phone as the youthful but unsteady voice of the barista calls out names.
The next customer rushing to the counter had ordered after her. She rolls her eyes and scrolls to her newsfeed before jumping at the sound of her name. She regains composure and approaches the counter, snatching the latte from the barista’s shaky hands with authority without looking him in the eye. She will probably be late to work because of this.
He honks frantically as the student raises his arm as a shield to the blinding light, exposing a billboard-like smile at the driver.
A human head comfortably wedged between a pair of headphones bounces to the day’s music in the back of a college classroom. The professor idly sits at the front desk, grading papers with a stoic countenance. The student bobs his head in tandem with the jumbled lyrics of his choice song as his arm peppers with goosebumps.
His carefree motions are momentarily hindered by the recognition of his own test in the professor’s hands. The vigorously pencil-shaded corner of the paper serves as sufficient identification. Next year, maybe.
A foreign sound interrupts his rhythm. He cocks his head to the right. Another student hands a finished test to the passing T.A, pacing his breaths with the grace of a nineteenth-century locomotive...crashing into a cliff.
The chugging student flattens a stress ball between his fingers like clockwork as a billboard smile overtakes his face. One. Two. Three.
One. Two. Three.
A 20-something college frat boy slings himself out the side of a car as his party pulls up to the front of a towering residence. He lowers his neon-colored '80s glasses and raises his eyebrow as the host welcomes the posse with a frenzy of handshakes and bro-hugs.
Inside, a seizure-inducing craze of lights flashes around as unfamiliar bodies bounce against each other with indifference. The frat boy chews through his fifth piece of gum before noticing a familiar figure squirm past the chaos to the front door. Outside, his friend claims he doesn’t feel well enough to be around others at the moment.
“Please, you don’t know what it’s like.”
The frat boy disregards his stubborn friend with a disappointed wave as he turns to re-enter the ongoing diversion.
The doors to the pristine white bathroom burst open as a wad of wasted individuals nearly topples over on the porcelain floor. They giggle uncontrollably as they waddle over to the available urinals and ruggedly unzip themselves. The youngest of the party flounders to the occupied stall and leans against it, taking another sip from his bottle as he waits for his associates. The world is bliss and the stall has feet.
He squints. The stall has feet. Stalls aren’t supposed to have feet. They aren’t supposed to sniffle either. He bangs at the door angrily.
The stall yelps back at him. The feet shift. Better run!
The crew stumbles over itself as they rush out of the door in playful terror, leaving their youngest member trampled on the floor. He glances over to the lonely stall and, in an instance of lucidity, frowns in sympathy.
A girl in her early 20s treks across the hill at the center of campus and settles herself in the uncomfortable embrace of an angular table, reserving the seat. She should have come this way earlier when there was more light. More people.
She nervously fidgets with her hands until a dark outline emerges from the bushes. She reaches her hand into her bag, securely wrapping around an unspecified object in defense.
It must never happen again.
The figure pushes his timid, familiar face into the reach of the dim light, contorted with apology. But sincere? Who can tell. This is not the first time he was late. His face is etched with all the pre- planning of a billboard smile. She will not stay to find out. It’s been a long day, he says.
And so it will be.
The weekly lecture is interrupted by the steady rise of heavy breaths. A nameless student slides his assignment onto the floor as he struggles to remain upright. His chest heaves suddenly and mysteriously. His sweaty hands squeak against the surface of his desk as he finally crumples to the ground, concluding his struggle.
Several students rise to help, but remain frozen. Others pull out their phones. The professor squats by his side. The boy faces upward, his crazed expression composing into a grimace of resignation. He hesitates a moment for the world’s response, then smiles at the emptiness for all to see.
The day is young.
I open my eyes, staring out at the grass surrounding my pile of cartography gear, unprofessionally twirling the healthy green strands in my aching fingers. The hands of my compass spin wildly. I frown at it, mildly unnerved. I heave myself upright, shaking the tiredness from my skull. I peer at my objective below. The unmapped, abandoned city invites me from its impression amid the surrounding jungle. Dense foliage surrounds the gates of the city, arising concern for the navigation back to camp. I immediately brush off my worry to marvel at the beauty from my post once more before I am interrupted.
A graceful, gleaming, green animal rises from the side of the hill, feathers flowing behind it like serpents licking the wispy, clear air. The animal beacons to me, settling itself in my vision with its glare fixated on my empty, curious gaze. All around, the branches dance to an invisible, melodic chant. The stone buildings smile at me, mouths agape, stairs spreading out into the flat grass at the center. The creature’s willowy feathers point towards the towering edifice at the center of the city. The secrets of an unknown civilization lie within the vantage point of the city, where all the information necessary for triangulation must be contained and understood.
The secrets of an unknown civilization lie within the vantage point of the city, where all the information necessary for triangulation must be contained and understood.
I slide down the hill, confirming my suspicions of the bird’s intentions as it hovers several feet in front of me. It looks back as if making sure I was still following. The center structure falls out of view behind the walls as I descend the small hill, facing the entrance of the front gate.
I chase the bird to the gate and mutter a word in my own language as I strike the ancient mechanism. The fragile locks crumble and I eagerly follow the bird inside to the entrance of the first building. Inside the hallway, a thin layer of stagnant gray mist shrouds the first few inches off the floor. I step slowly, both to ease my swaying vision and to peer at the stone platform hosting several jars on its surface at waist level. Dried streams of crimson ooze from the center of the platform, disappearing behind the mist below. I brush past one of the jars, accidentally knocking it over. The clay container explodes on the floor without disturbing the mist. Intrigued and horrified, I stare down at the vapor, which parts as I step into it. I jog to reach my guide once again, who has already made a path to the other side.
As I reach another clearing, I spin full circle to view the magnificent architecture around me. A city’s worth of engineering marvel and artisan work. And there’s no one else to enjoy it. I pause and take a deep breath as if I could absorb the knowledge by this means alone. The bird flies aimlessly overhead, the sun illuminating its suave features.
I mindlessly reach into my pack and retrieve one of my mapping tools, holding it in the air with a static grip. As I take my first step, the ground beneath me undulates violently until finally cracking. The Tagus river erupts from the empty crevasse, washing away clumps of foliage and pellets of rock. I lift my hands to my ears to drown out the deafening roar of the raging waters, smiling madly.
The stones from the river coalesce into winding paths, dark as coal. I dart around the enclosure of space as a horde of metal frames wind through the city, bellowing at my presence. The earth flattens underneath them. I jump to the other edge of the river, the bird chirps uncontrollably as I cackle to myself.
A frenzy of hammering spews from all sides, large chunks of stone cascade from the surrounding structures, barely out of range. I reach for the gun at my side, only to grasp at empty air. I realize I must have dropped it while passing through the first building. I turn to see the structure falling towards me. I sprint away from the tumbling hazard, only to be sabotaged by a stray weed. I land face-first in the churning grass, eyes wide with hysteria. I take a handful of grass in my hand, only to toss it away at the sight of its discoloration. The animal flails wildly on the floor beside me as the grass shrivels into a black smelted mass. I hear it crunch under my feet as I kick frantically, regaining my footing. It spreads from my position, a circle of death expands from my fragile footing.
I finally stand, my senses adjusting to the chaos behind me. My stance remains unsteady as a colossal dimness overtakes the sky. The sun itself blots out for mere seconds as the behemoth passes overhead, the air shrieking inhumanly. Before I can cover my ears, the songs of a thousand birds nip at me from every direction.
The green creature reappears from its contorting state. It flies toward my paralyzed body, hitting me square in the chest. I wave it off, but the creature remains persistent. It charges again as I run towards the center structure. To triangulate, I must still reach the vantage point.
The bird rams me indiscriminately, even as I enter the building. With a massive shift, the doors swing shut behind me. The bird pecks the tool out of my unsteady fingers. I trace the unintelligible markings on the wall as the bird’s incessant attacks draw blood from my stiffening hands. I look to where the stairs would have been but find only crumbled remains. I collapse at the center and devolve into a fit of laughter. As my vision focuses, the images on the walls derive their meaning. Rivers. Mountains. The gate. The layout of the city. The entire city mapped out, measured with words I can’t understand.
I approach the towering doors and pound on the opening, but the mechanism stands resolute. I shout for them to open once more but nothing changes. I look to the empty ceiling and see a green feather drift toward me.
The vantage point has moved.