Alternative Lives

“Repetition. Things had begun to double. There must be a term for it. Is it a natural process or an historical one? Should it be encouraged or suppressed? Or simply endured? Perhaps every gesture will beget its twin, every action find an echo, every insight become a catechism, like some chain reaction that can never be halted. The concatenated universe.” ((Ivan Vladislavic, Double Negative (London: And Other Stories, 2013), p.77))


In the moving train there was a man with a hood over his head. He was sitting by the window. I saw him looking at his reflection. And then he smiled—every inch of his mouth seemed to show how deliberate this smile was, and how purposeful. I was curious. Had nostalgic happiness erupted, as is sometimes the case, from the past? Then I saw another train speeding past on the opposite track, which I perceived the man was also watching. I could now guess another reason for his smile: Someone sitting by the window of the parallel train, someone he loved, with whom he exchanged a conversational glance. Yet the improbability of this wasn’t lost on me.

When I turned away I noticed my own reflection. My lips were firmly pursed. The expression on my face could have been mistaken for an unhappy one, or the demeanor of a man who wasn’t remotely considering a smile.

Again I sought the hooded man’s face. He was now looking towards me. I could claim, that, at the moment our eyes met, the look on his face become similar to mine.

But faces aren’t mirrors. Supposing we can look long enough at others to discover their secret impulses, could we understand ours in the process?

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