5 minutes

I left the bed and stumbled into the door, the feeling gone from my left leg. I took a tentative step, slowly allowing more of my weight to settle on the leg. It was as though I’d been amputated at the hip. I hobbled back to the bed and sat, engulfed in a sigh that ended in a silence, a dead calm.  There’s a moment where there is no thought, though thoughts swirl all around you, I was in the eye of the storm.

We forget how vulnerable we are at every moment of every day because that is what we need to live our lives, to move forward and achieve in reality what only populated our dreams before. And yet it takes only the atom of a moment to pass from gods, to men, to an infinitesimal speck.

I massaged my leg trying to rekindle the healthy pink glow, since lost to a cold white pallor. Connections from nerve endings sputtered and died in muscles alive in form but dead in function. And amidst cancerous thoughts that metastasized from one possibility to the next, my mind returned to a similar scenario still fresh with fear…

Two years ago in the town of Kota Bahru, Malaysia…

I imagined that death had come on wings so stealthy that I had not even heard the barest flutter. I felt no pain, there could be no injury to my body though I bled, my vision bled and the vivid street scene that had entertained my sights died in a pool of red that stained my retinas and left me slumped in a forgotten doorway. I continued to breathe, I could feel the rise and fall of my chest, I could hear the sounds trumpeted with the same disregard for the public peace, and the tickle of smells to enchant and disgust, the only difference (and it was a difference that stripped away all that armour we wear and exposes us like the innocent child gazing up at a nude emperor) was a void where once there had been colour.

An instant divided my happy, invulnerable state from a blind and groping, wretch besotted with fear. I spent five minutes of torture in that cage of darkness. The minutes were drawn and quartered, and then the seconds placed on the rack, lengthened and finally pulled apart so that each one was an agony, each time anew the burn of the ropes, and the scream of joints could be felt along with the echo of the last second’s wounds torn open afresh. Five minutes. Just five minutes.

And then light slowly spilled into the edges of my vision until I saw what I had seen before but with recovering eyes. It’s hard to be grateful when something that is taken from you is given back and yet you have no idea why it was taken in the first place, nor if or when it will be taken again. I shakily got up from the doorway, and headed back to my hostel. The truth is we see in colour and form, but we also see with a thousand different shades of emotion painted over every scene. So now, that very same street where flew the same bright yellow banners, the same rainbow of fruits it was all a bit duller, from glossy to matte, the emotional black paint cast a shadow on everything else.

This happened three more times over the next seven months.

Arbitrarily taken and then returned my sight (later tentatively diagnosed as acephalic migraines), my health (cancer) and now my leg (causes unknown). There’s a cruel irony to it, you think these experiences harden you, make you think that you are a stronger person mentally for all these trials and tribulations. And then you see the other half of the equation, that the mind is just as vulnerable to disease that that strength gained can be forgotten (Alzheimer’s), that that hardened emotional core that you have forged can be melted and made to flow high or low (Manic Depression) and in this helplessness you realize the value of the invulnerable state of mind though it is a false state. We are all simply skating over thin ice, every step, every creak in the ice belies the threat. I often think of those five minutes where the ice broke and I plunged into the cold waters of another reality. I could stay in those waters…but it is a cold place to stay and I inevitably climb out and begin skating once more. I think we have to continue skating, or else we’ll die of the cold…

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