It was ironic, her being there.
‘There’ was onstage, surrounded by actors, taking a bow. The most human humans there could ever be. Humans who not only felt, but caught their emotions like fireflies and kept them in little glass bottles to be relived another day. Humans who opened the stoppers to these most private of emotions and presented them to the world on cue—humanity as an art, applauded again and again. And she was standing under the stage lights as if she weren’t the furthest thing from it.
In this, she did not speak figuratively. It ran far deeper than that, and it was the simplest thing in the world. She came into the world twenty-odd years ago, born to a very human mother in a spic-and-span delivery room—unremarkable, of average size, no tentacles or appendages. She grew up in a middle-class family, survived an ordinary-to-the-point-of-dull childhood. Not a single UFO sighting. No dead people in the mirrors. But since she was old enough to grasp the concept of human beings, she knew, instinctively, that being human was something she could never aspire to.
She did try, at first, thinking that surely she was mistaken. She mimicked all the other children—clapped in delight when she was given little presents, looked suitably devastated when her dog died. She knew how to appear in pain when she scraped her knee, knew how to feign surprise and horror. When she remembered.
But she was so busy watching the rest of the world, that every now and then, she forgot. It was the other children, as keen and sensitive as only children could be, who saw through her. They saw how effortlessly she lied without the slightest twitch of guilt on her face.There was a little boy, Daniel, whom she called her best friend at some point. When tragedy struck and he drowned in a boating accident, she did not shed a single tear.
“She’s in shock,” said the adults. But the children knew better, and she never had another friend until she was much, much older.
She wondered if she was evil, like the villains in the films. But it seemed that even the two-dimensional caricatures in those stories did what they did for a reason, they did these wicked things because they believed in something with all their might, however wrong it was. Many of them eventually turned around or were haunted to their dying days on account of conscience. It was a concept that would completely elude her for the rest of her life.
And not for lack of trying. She recalled, in vivid detail, how wonderful and warm the day had been when she and Daniel had taken his rowboat, as they often had, out into the lake. There had been a pleasant breeze on, and they were laughing and chattering like two typical eleven-year-olds. She had closed her eyes and tried to pretend, for a moment, that that was what she was. For the very first time in her life, she had almost believed it.
Perhaps, she had thought eagerly, perhaps not everybody is born without a soul. Perhaps it grows into you, a few years late. Perhaps everything has sorted itself out, and I am now a human being with a heart and a conscience.
She had glanced at Daniel, who had taken out his fishing rod and was basking in the sun, waiting for a bite. She had crawled over to him suddenly and pushed him off the boat. She had always been a strong little girl. He had never taken the time to learn how to swim.
Startled, Daniel could not even reach for the boat, and she had rowed furiously away as he began to panic. The lake was deep but not so large, and she had reached the bank quickly. Quick enough to watch him as he splashed and struggled.
He had called out her name. She had seen the final look of hurt and bewilderment in his eyes before he went under. And she had felt not the slightest twinge of guilt. Not when she had had to twist the tale and claim innocence. Not now, many years later, recalling the scene in perfect, meticulous detail.
No, she reminded herself. She was not evil. ‘Evil’ was only the polar opposite of ‘good’, but she existed on a separate set of poles entirely. She wasn’t sure what she was exactly. But she realised that human ethics and morality stemmed from their innate sensibilities, which also dictated conscience and their sense of right and wrong. She was only a scholar of their culture, trying to imagine how these theories translated into the complex mechanisms of their emotions. She was endlessly fascinated.
If all the world were indeed a stage, all of humanity were the players, and she was the singular member of the audience. She was, perhaps, a fluke of the Universe, but she liked to believe it was the natural way it balanced things out- that for normality to call itself normality, it had to have, at least, one whiff of the bizarre. Perhaps, amidst humanity’s ongoing show, there had to be a Watcher in every era. And when she died, there would be another to take her place.
(If she died. But she would find that out, sooner or later.)
So she watched. Life was stranger than fiction, but things did tend to move in tedious cycles, every now and then. And when monotony set in, she liked to break things during these Intermissions. Routines. Pride. Families. Spirits. Hearts. Necks. She especially enjoyed breaking necks, almost as much as she enjoyed breaking hearts. Shock and grief were always so interesting to watch.
They’d discover another one soon- in the dressing room, after the curtain call. She always did believe in audience participation.