Nicole Dimitriadis has five years writing experience including screen, short-form fiction and playwriting. She has worked as dramaturge for an independent theatre company with two plays commissioned. You can find her on Instagram (@cole_xx).
We had been walking for a while, chatting about nothing, well, not exactly nothing, so much was going on, we were just skirting around it all. Ben would go in and out of rapping random songs when we found ourselves in silence; it was hard not to join in when he did that. There was a feeling in the world, a feeling as we were walking, a feeling on that road, something was off. I couldn’t pinpoint it, but Ben could, “It feels pre-war,” he said, tying a knot in the drawstring of his hoodie. “I was just thinking something like that,” I had to say that, or else he wouldn’t think I was thinking something like that. “So what do you think’s gonna happen?” I asked him, I eased it out, I had to say it in that way, or else he wouldn’t have answered. Ben is this insane kid, in the best way. He is this tiny, Asian guy with glasses too big for his face, and he’s all face. He’s also all knowledge; I swear I’ve never heard someone say so many truths as Ben says. “Strength, mass amounts of strength,” he offered smoothly. I thought on that as Ben pulled out a verse of Gangsta’s Paradise. “Will it make a difference?” I had too much emotion in my voice here, but I thought he would let it slide; he did. “One day. And that’s all we’ve got, is one day.” He kicked a couple rocks off the road, “When the world is unsettled, the magic will appear.”
I met Ben while living it up in the sandbox in pre-school. I was building a pretty badass castle and he came up to me and said, “Watch out for bees,” and I just looked at him like he was some kind of freak and then the next second I didn’t watch out and I’m being stung by a bee. I was crying and sitting and waiting for Ms. Wallis to bring me a band-aid, and Ben came up and he didn’t say “I told you so,” or anything, he just sat and smiled at me and so I just sat and smiled at him. He’s been doing shit like that ever since, always telling me things to watch out for and things to go out for. He once predicted the lotto numbers four weeks in a row, that was crazy, but he doesn’t watch TV anymore. He only tells me stuff, too, says he can’t trust anyone else, and I would never do anything to be that anyone else to him.
He zipped up his hoodie and I did the same, there was probs a strong wind about to hit. “How do you know this shit?” I asked him, and I truly asked him, not just in a how are you doing this, type way, I wanted to know. He shrugged, “I was thinking the other day that we’ve been living in a non-descript time. Ruin is happening but we ain’t labeling it as war, but we all feel uneasy about it, don’t we? But we ain’t really labeling it as a war of sorts, but that’s what it feels like now, aye? Because terror isn’t really sinking into us, is it? Feels like the world’s changed in a blink, and now I’ve got stuff to fight for. I kinda feel stronger today, aye? Waking up knowing its all kinda different, super diff than yesterday. I don’t think it’s gonna be the same anymore, I think we’re in for the last of a-lotta stuff. But I’m not worried, but I’m worried.”
We had been walking for what felt like a good twenty minutes, my new white sneakers were getting a dirt layer on the bottom, that annoyed me a bit. “Why are we walking to the servo man? We could have taken the car.” He shook his head, “Yeah but then it would be an easy journey, gotta earn it.” I didn’t know what crap he thought we needed to earn from a servo. “What are you buying? Nothing heavy I hope.” He shook his head again, “Nah, just the essentials, cookies and cigarettes. Light stuff. You know Nostradamus right?” I did and I didn’t, I’d heard about him, but probably not at the level Ben had heard about him, so I just nodded.
“I’ve been reading all his predictions and stuff, it’s funny seeing shit from his mind, stuff like planes, he’ll be all like, steel birds and that. I’m trying to see if I’m in there, cause I reckon I’m the third coming. I’ve been meditating, I’ve been praying, fasting and crap like that. I’ve been getting visions of sorts and I’ll be the third coming and I’m gonna change a ton a shit. I’m gonna make it better, cause I’ve got nothing going on in life, so I’m kinda poised and ready for it, and I think he knows it and I reckon I could be great. Help the world, heal the world, bridge the divide, aye? Jesus Christ, Sun Myung Moon and Me.” From what I know of Ben, you don’t push the guy, you nod and ask him to tell you more, so I nodded and said, “Tell me more.” Truly I wanted to know more, if he wanted to tell me. What I’ve learnt is saying, “Tell me more,” rather than, “You sound like an idiot,” and Ben taught me that.
“I new baptized myself a while back, cause I was told to new baptize myself. I lay in the tub, blocking the drain and it filled up to my face, and I was saying, ‘Take away the sins of the world, have mercy on me,’ til it was at my chin and then I new baptized myself. I said, ‘Grant me peace,’ and the water went all up in my nose and shit and I was new baptized and I was coughing on water.” I nodded and made that noise that sounds like I’m nodding with my throat, and I knew he knew what I was thinking. “It ain’t like, religious,” he shrugged, “Not in the way you’re probs thinking. People are always labeling, but it ain’t religious. There is something there and it don’t belong to anything, or anyone. It’s just there man, it’s in everything and it’s for anyone to tap into. It’s sans religion, it’s like, pro people.” He always said the word sans, which I think is a type of font, so I just made more of those noises.
We walked a little bit further to the sounds of Dear Mama to the sounds of Ben. “You’re the third coming,” I said with some tone that sounded like belief, and I reckon it was belief. He nodded and shrugged at the same time, his classic move, and I couldn’t help but laugh, at myself more so, at my believing, which I think he knew. “You’re funny, that was funny to hear, you know that right?” He nodded and shrugged, “Yeah but like don’t we all need some blind faith right now? Some stupid belief in ourselves that we’re gonna do something about it?” He was right, but instead I said “Yeah but saying you’re the third Jesus . . . Jesus Christ. Are you even allowed to say shit like that?” He smiled, “I can dream. I can say my dreams.”
I wanted to know more, no shit I wanted to know more, it was super interesting, so I pushed a bit. “Meaning? What? You want that? You want to be a Jesus?” He sighed, a sigh that made me think he wouldn’t answer, but then he said, “Nah, I want to incite some change. I’m an empty vessel, I’ve got nothing much on right now, I don’t have any prospects or homework or anything. I could be great at it. Helping people all life. Fighting for people all life. I like the idea of that as my life. I’ve always been so scared of shit but I reckon I could be kinda fearless for this. The world’s changed. I feel the world’s changed, everyone probs feels it, I gotta do something.”
I nodded a little too fiercely, I think to make up for all my questions before, “Yeah but I guess you can’t just become the next Jesus, is that false?” He made that high-pitched noise that sounds like you’re considering stuff and said, “Yeah nah for sure, I would never. If he chooses me then he chooses me. If he don’t wanna, then he don’t have to. I’m just letting him know I’m up for the job. He knows.” We walked in silence, and I mean silence, no rapping, and I couldn’t quite take that. I wanted to know more, I needed to ask about it, so I eased one out, “What state is Jesus in right now?” He answered quickly, “Utter disarray.” I looked at him, nearly tripping over a Coke bottle on the road, “Why?” He shrugged at that, “Because it’s the turn.” He always shrugged, I’ve never seen someone who knows so much shrug so often, like he didn’t know it was meant to mean that you don’t know stuff . . . but I knew he knew that.
I was going to ask him what he meant, but he beat me to it, “We’re gonna see some technological shit, like advancements and stuff and at the same time a return to spirituality. Its gonna be the sixties into the seventies all over again, kinda with the politics too. But it’s gonna take some pure crap to get there, if we even get there. It’s the turn, and none of us are sure which way we’re gonna go. He don’t even know.” I sighed at the thought, at the fact we had to decide what was coming next, but I guess we’ve been doing that all along. I kicked a pretty massive rock off the road and shook my head, “Ben, my birthday’s coming up, feel free to buy me either a pug or a bomb shelter, mostly the bomb shelter.” He laughed, I liked making him laugh, cause he always made me laugh in return.
I could only see the side of his mouth from where I was, but I was pretty sure he was smiling and I smiled looking at it. “Get this,” his voice sounded like it was smiling too. “My Mom came up to me the other day and she goes, ‘Ben, tell me the truth, are my eyes small?’ And I said to her ‘I’ll tell you what; they are, cause mine are.’ And she wasn’t too happy with that answer, cause I reckon she wanted a real answer or for me to say no or something, so I said to her, ‘When I’m tired they’re practically Asian.’ And she just shook her head and walked away.” Ben laughed to himself and to me, which always made my laugh a little happier. “Small eyes, hey,” he sighed, “People hate having small eyes. But they’re just windows to see through, aye? Your minds the real eyes. Your spirits the real eyes. I met this dude the other day, says he’s gonna be blind, and I said to him that those are just pretty things; they’re just there to look good. He was about to tap into some special shit; I said ‘see me again when you have.’ And I meant see, he’ll see me, the most important part of me people can’t see with their eyes. He’ll see more than we see.”
I heard the smile fade from his voice, “Can I say something?” he asked. I wasn’t used to Ben even asking my permission, so I took a second to answer him, but instead couldn’t find any words and just nodded too many times. “Everyone makes everyone feel small.” He stopped and turned to look at me, right at me. “The mind needs to be ripped up and re-built, you know? Stop thinking fame. Stop thinking popularity. Stop thinking cash. Stop thinking looks. Start thinking fulfillment. Why’s it that people can be feeling ok about life, even good about it, then a Beyoncé song comes on shuffle and they straight away feel less than? What’s that about, aye? Feeling less than or something? So maybe you ain’t super special, maybe there’s like a million just like you living, but that’s nothing, you’re still one million in a billion and that’s small, yeah? Being even a million of something or someone’s is cool, that’s plenty to be sure that you’re something or you’ll be something. There’s a fight coming and I don’t think we even know our strength, we ain’t seen nothing yet, the magic is coming. People need to open up more, talk, even if it’s the stupidest thing, its still a thing. That’s how we start. That’s how we change, yeah?”
Ben paused, he was somehow looking at me even more than he was before, if that’s even a thing that can happen. I was thinking something must be wrong, or maybe I had snot hanging out of my nose or something, so I wiped at it a little. He smiled at that, probs because I looked like an idiot looking at him, wiping. His smile stretched, “Kate, we’re here,” he pointed to the servo across the street. “Oh!” I said, and looked at it for a bit, they are ugly things, servos, and then I smoothly said, “Cool stuff,” and then immediately regretted saying the words “Cool stuff.” Ben, being an absolute loon, tilted his head and spun around like a child, stopping and slumping his shoulders in an apologetic way, like he thought he was talking too much at me. I smiled and shook my head and he smiled back, knowing that’s not how I felt. “I like talking with sanity to you,” he said, “Wanna keep walking? I think there’s another servo down the road?” I did, I really did want to.
“So,” he said as he started on down the road, “What’s up?” I picked up my pace to join him and said, “You know what I find sad about movie montages? When the main character is working super hard to achieve something and their friend is helping them achieve it, and we see lots of hard work and happy music and everything, and then it skips to that scene where the friend is going to bed and the main character is left all alone at night to finish working on whatever they are working on, and the music keeps being super happy, but it’s actually super sad. Cause I know they’re about to spend hours working alone at night, and it’s all glossed over. I don’t like watching that stuff, I don’t like that feeling, it’s too real.” Ben nodded, big, agreeable nods, “Yeah, can totes relate,” he said, “That’s the worst!”
Jo-Anne Barton says
I enjoyed reading this story – but I missed something. I don’t get the ending?
Mike Van Horn says
This story would be a great topic for a late night bull session by a bunch of college students. Hints of politics and psychology and zeitgeist and spirituality. I know, because we used to do just that. Man, we’d argue till the sun came up, long past when the beer was gone. That’s when I lost the last shreds of my religion.
R. Allan Worrell says
I had a similar college experience, minus the beer. I lost my religion too.
Susan Finlay says
This is a fabulous story, Nicole. I loved every word of it.
It’s certainly topical. That’s exactly what I’m finding all over social networks – that combination of horror and fear at the likelihood of mass destruction, alongside the idea that this is the new Age of Enlightenment.
Having grown up in the 60s and 70s, I can say that was true then too. The Cold War, alongside The Age Of Aquarius.
Your dialogue and characterization are perfection. Ben is wonderfully unique.
In my latest work, I’ve been struggling with the question of switching from first person to third. But having read your story, you’ve inspired me to keep it in first person. And beyond that, you’ve inspired me to do it better. To “let it fly.” Or let “them” fly. Don’t you love it when you inspire others? 🙂
I think the ending is perfect. That’s the way it goes. That’s “real life.”
Do we say congratulations on being published in SFB? I do, because I’d consider it an honour. You are very accomplished. Thank you for this story.
Never Stop Writing! Sue