Who Are You?

They say people are the same everywhere you go. They say you seen ’em once, you’ve seen them all. They say deep down, we’re all the same. They say a lot of things. This, though. This is a new one.

He hasn’t said a word to me since he brought me here, since he dropped me onto this bed with my wrists still wrapped in electrical tape and a smelly old potato sack over my head. I was unconscious when he dropped me here, still out cold from when he came from behind me outside the pub, came up from behind and with a single blow he knocked me senseless…

Heh, Mel. She would always rant on about how it was a load, the way you see people in the movies getting knocked out cold with nothing but a bop on the skull and wake hours later with nothing but a headache. Getting knocked out is serious business, she said, it doesn’t always go right. Sometimes they suffer a concussion, or worse. Sometimes you can damage the brain stem, or cause a hemorrhage in their brain which can bleed out inside them while they’re laid out unconscious. You could wake up blind, or paralysed, or not wake up at all. The way they just wake up and shake it off is just shit.

Well, Mel ol’ girl, you were right. Maybe I got lucky this time if what you said was accurate. I’m definitely not dead, but I feel close enough like death to ache for the real thing. My head feels like it’s spent the last few hours in a vice, it’s like the worst hangover and the worst headache I’ve ever felt and then quadrupled. And I’m not blind, I can see the room well enough. I can see the cheap curtains drawn across the motel window, blocking the rays of morning sunlight. I can tilt my head straight up and see the filthy, smoke-stained ceiling of the motel room and the single eye of a light fixture square in its centre. I can look on either side of me and see a nightstand, one with a phone that’s had its cord chopped clean through, and on the other I see a wallet and some keys that resemble mine. They are mine, I figure, but my head pounds so much and my body burns with sharp, aching hell every time I move a muscle that I can’t muster the fortitude to roll closer and examine it.

There’s a digital clock radio there too, and from looking at it I see the time matches the growing sunlight beaming through the curtains. I’ve been laying here awake for over a half hour now, awake and confused and in pain and clueless as to where I am. I’m clearly in a motel, that much I am certain of. You don’t get to my age without staying in a few motels, and once you seen one you’ve seen them all. Where the motel resides in the city is another matter. Like I said, I was unconscious when he brought me here. He could have been driving for hours. Or I could be shacked up in the cheap motel just around the corner.

Last thing I remember, I was outside the pub having a smoke. I was shaking off my most recent interaction with Mel, which needless to say had left me on the ass-side of pleased with myself. She always knew how to rain on a fucker’s parade, and last night she was really pissing on my float as it were. Going on and on about how when we’re out on the town I could give less than two shits about her presence at all and that she might as well be invisible when my mates are around and I don’t care if she decides to go home without me. That last bit I agree with, at least a little. I’ve always been a promoter of women’s equality and the woman having the right to do what she pleases and go where she pleases without needing a man’s permission. But something changed on me when I got into a relationship and now I’m supposed to go everywhere with her and do whatever she’s doing, that we have to go as a couple all hours of the day and night and any less is some kind of sign of instability and weakness as a unit. Well sometimes I don’t want to go into her shops with her, it’s damn boring. Sometimes I don’t want to go home when she wants to go home, I want to stay out and if she doesn’t want to stay out with me it’s not my fault. I’m abandoning her on the streets by herself, she’s leaving me in the bar to fuck off on her own. But who am I to argue? I’m a man, which means I’m guilty.

But not guilty enough to deserve this. To deserve a couple days of the cold shoulder? Sure, if you want to side with Mel. But I don’t deserve to be slapped with something hard and heavy, dragged limp and quivering like a dead fish into some cheap motel room, bound and gagged and bagged only to wake up with the smell of old potato in my nose and agony in my brain. Then on top of it all, the bag’s ripped off my pounding head and I see… him.

I knew his face, I knew his manner. That, however, is all that I knew about him. I don’t know his name, probably have never known his name, but I am certain this man is a man I have seen all my life.

I believe in doppelgangers, but this is not it. I used to dismiss it as such, when I was younger and it was easier to fool myself, I used to simply think the man was just another man who shared somewhat uncanny resemblances to another man I had seen once upon a time. Someone perhaps with similar hair, reasonably alike in size or posture, carrying themselves with the same purpose, exuding the same manner, maybe even wearing the same clothes. But that is not it.

This man I have seen all my life, in a thousand different scenarios, in a thousand separate instances, in multiple moods and states of consciousness, at various times in my growth as a human being, and in a plethora of appearances.

I can for instance recall one night when I was twenty-six or perhaps twenty-seven – I was living in Toronto at the time, anyway, during those years shortly after my first marriage ended and I had moved east to “find myself” – and I was out at a baseball game with some acquaintances from work. I was finding the game unbearably boring and was choosing to concentrate on my drinking instead. I ventured from my seat to procure another ludicrously pricey beer from the vendor and to stretch my legs and relieve my bladder. In the bathroom, there was a gentleman who was in the process of washing up after doing what I had come to do myself. He was about my age if I had to describe his age, his build was soft and undisciplined, his clothes conservative and bland in my eyes but I suppose perfectly acceptable and proper to most other peoples’. He had dark brown hair parted one quarter to my right, three quarters to my left, with a duck’s tail sweeping off the back of his neck and a bit of stubble shading his face. Overall a very average-looking and unremarkable fellow, yet when we locked eyes for a moment, he at the sink and myself at the door, familiarity sparked in his eyes as I’m sure it did in mine. I was struck with the same impulse which hit as soon as the potato sack was ripped off a half hour ago: I knew this man.

When I was fifteen I saw the man at a corner store when I was buying a bag of nacho chips and a chocolate milk and he looked about fifteen as well and was flipping through a copy of some music magazine.

I was still married, graduated from college and was working a job at a restaurant to make end’s meet when I saw the same man – he had longer hair then, and appeared to be going through some kind of hippie phase at the time – come into my restaurant and order a salmon filet with steamed vegetables and a diet cola.

In Toronto, in London, in Vancouver, in Thunder Bay, in Wisconsin, I’d seen him here and there all over the place, wherever I was situated I would see him at some point. We would never talk, never exchange information, never hold eye contact for more than a second or two. There were even times when I would see him and he wouldn’t see me. It makes me wonder how many times he had seen me without me being the wiser. It’s unsettling. As unsettling as the thought that no matter where I went and whatever I did in my life this man knew where to find me. What did he want?

Who was he?

After uncloaking me, the man left the motel room without a word, leaving me in confusion and torment.

The man returns. He appears nervous, uncertain of me. I admit that I would recoil if I had more liberty of movement and if my head wasn’t still screaming insane choruses of blazing agony through my mind, but I simply hold my breath and watch him. I wonder if he will kill me. I wonder many things, but most of all I wonder –

Who are you? the man asks.

I hesitate. I take a moment to lick my lips which are dry as desert sand with a tongue that feels like a cat’s. Finally, I state my name, “Gregory Pearson.”

Who do you work for? the man asks, still exhibiting a sense of uncertainty.

I work for The Standard. I’m a senior editor.

The man looks intently at me, tightening his lips and gritting his teeth. He obviously thinks I’m lying, and he obviously has a hard time hiding what he obviously is doing. If he were a spy, or some secret agent who’s been following me, he’s not very good at keeping his cards close to his chest. My mind rushes to the next conclusion: that he’s a nut, a paranoid.

The man says, Why are you following me?

I’m not, I say.

You think I wouldn’t notice? Last week at the newsstand, a year ago at the train station, at the baseball game in Toronto, at the club on Yonge Street… You’ve been following me for years, ever since we were young. I even remember seeing you at my birthday party when I was a child. My parents invited everyone in the school, practically, and I remember not knowing the names of three quarters of the children who came – but I remember your face!

I remember the party, only vaguely. I was very young. Until this moment I never thought about the birthday boy’s face, it was just another meaningless gathering I had been forced into as a child. But now I remember. Was it really him? What could this mean?

So don’t lie to me, the man continues, his face becoming more focused and intense, and tell me you are not following me. Now, who do you really work for?

I think for a moment. That might not be the right move – I can conceive that taking a pause such as this might make this man think I’m trying to think of a lie – but I can’t help it. Never in my life have I been caught so off guard, so uncontrollably and sincerely bewildered by the events transpiring in front of my eyes. I scarcely believe I am awake, that I am conscious, that this is reality and these things are occurring. Surely, this is when some apparition floats in through the window and performs some otherworldly act that will snap my mind into the fact that all of this is only a dream, and that soon I will wake up and Mel will be there and she will still be mad at me and my hangover will persist for a few hours but then everything will be alright…

Answer me! the man shouts at me and breaks all hope of salvation. This is reality. I have no idea what is going on.

I say, I have no fucking idea what is going on.

They have no idea what’s going on. I’ve been watching them on my camera for hours now. I saw the one pretend to knock out the other and drag him to the motel where I followed them. I’ve watched them play out this little drama of theirs, trying to throw me off. They thought I wouldn’t notice them always being in the same place at the same time. They expected me to buy it, they really did. How do you share a space with another human so many times and never exchange a single word? It just isn’t done, unless you’re trying to hide something. These two have done an excellent job at hiding their allegiance from the world at large, from those closest to them – I’ll admit it, they are good. But they haven’t fooled me.

Who are they? Who are they working for? And what do they want from me?

I’ll keep watching for as long as it takes. Something has to give, sooner or later.

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