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The Meaning of Life and The Dragon Chaser
Russell T Flint

 

The drive north was long and arduous. Robert was sitting behind the wheel watching cars pass on the other side of the motorway. He was driving to Glasgow and had left Manchester a few hours previously. There had been a party held by a girl he had spent the summer with in Hungary, teaching English. There had been plenty of alcohol; vodka, Southern Comfort, rum, tequila and beer all mixed up with a splashing of Red Bull. Most of the night he had been dancing with a woman called Elena from Russia, but she had flaked out on the sofa by two in the morning so he had gone to bed alone.
He was heading back to his grey and tired bedsit, which he had been living in for the past six months. An old Edwardian building with stone pillars, an ornate front door, painted black on the outside and with twenty rooms of various sizes which people of all walks of life and nationalities called their home. Drunks, heroin addicts, artists, musicians, failed writers and city bums frequented this place. It was a melting pot of bohemia where the only people with a proper job were the foreigners; Poles, French, Romanians, Russians and Chinese while the rest were relying on the generous purse of the British tax payer.
The atmosphere in the bedsit was reasonably relaxed; nobody asked too many questions or the wrong type of question. Everyone knew that if you were living there and you were not from abroad then life had been unkind to you and now you had reached the bottom of the social and economic ladder; there was no rung below except life on the streets, prison or an asylum and so for some the only way now was up (if they were lucky). There was a mutual respect between the retired alcoholic, the part-time junkie, the struggling poet, the ‘up and coming’ musician (who always said he was about to make it big but spent most of his time busking in Ashton Lane) and those who feigned depression so they could take advantage of the benefit system. It was like the boarding houses of Paris in the time of Old Goriot.
All this suited Robert as the anonymity was perfect and it allowed him to pursue his quest for intellectual and spiritual freedom without any serious interference or distractions. For him it was a place to hide and seek refuge from the unpredictable vicissitudes of modern living, where there is a constant pressure to conform and to succeed in monetary terms. Those who do not adhere to the middle class model or aspire to the notions of a nuclear family, a well paid job, holidays in Spain, a suburban semi-detached with a mortgage wrapped around your neck like a ball and chain and the illusions of happiness that all this brings, are seen as losers or outsiders, or somehow abnormal.
Robert had been brought up with this ideal all his life. His family was the perfect middle class picture postcard, but he hated it. Robert thought that there was no freedom in social pressure or pressure to conform and so as soon as he could he abandoned all his middle class programming and pretensions, he gave up his place at University studying law and signed on. He told his mum, much to her abhorrence, that he was ‘searching for more meaning’. He had witnessed firsthand the machinery and workings of the capitalist consumer society in which he found himself and he felt it was pointless; if this was human existence then for him existence was futile. He had to find an alternative.
Regarding his income, he had managed to persuade the local benefits office that he was incapable of work due to severe depression. He had seen his GP and told him that he was suicidal and kept thinking about drinking bleach (a lie) and consequently he had been prescribed Prozac, which of course he never took. Also his GP had written to the Department of Work and Pensions outlining his concerns for Robert’s health and his inability to work. As a result Robert was now on incapacity benefit, £110 a week and most of his rent paid for. Guilt at scamming the system never bothered Robert, as he knew that Glasgow was the incapacity benefit capital of the UK and at least 1 in 8 of those eligible to work in the city, were claiming this benefit.
Thus now he was free from any serious financial commitments or worries and having little or no aspirations to join the rank and file of the bourgeoisie, he did not feel the intolerable social pressure to conform to the rigid and life sapping capitalist machine. He could now explore his mind and his pursuit of personal, intellectual and spiritual freedom.
Robert read Sartre and Camus and especially enjoyed the book Nausea and the helpless sense of isolation and detachment that the main protagonist had experienced through the book. Glasgow’s west end had second hand bookshops sprinkled about like droplets of rain on a car window, and this is where Robert would find himself most mornings, looking through the array of literature and hoping to find the book which would unlock the secrets of the mind and existence. Colin Wilson’s ‘The Outsider’ had a profound effect on him and for a while this book became Robert’s Bible. He worshipped the book and its attempts at explaining and illustrating the link between those living on the periphery of society and artistic integrity, bent and even genius.
What particularly interested Robert about this book was Wilson’s suggestion that the reason more men were being admitted to asylums was because men in the modern world did not have an outlet for their natural aggression and tendency towards violence and so were going mad. He noted that men in previous centuries and epochs would express this trait on the battlefield, whereas today men were unable to find a suitable way of expressing their inherent tendency towards violence and aggression within the confines of a modern civilised world. Robert’s cousin had been diagnosed with schizophrenia recently and had spent time in hospital and so the subject was close to his heart. Robert thought that Wilson’s argument was valid to a point; his idea was that the id, or shadow of male psyches, has few opportunities to fully realise itself or seek fulfilment within a moral world, and that perhaps this is why many men feel repressed, which then leads to forms of psychosis.
Another book which caught Robert’s eye was Marshall Berman’s ‘All that is solid melts into air’ which in the final chapter states that to be modern is to experience life as a maelstrom and to be a Modernist is to survive in this maelstrom. Robert wondered if he could define himself as a modernist; he had opted out but was still surviving. He could see the maelstrom all around him; social injustice, poverty, financial pressure, consumerism, homelessness, drug addiction, stabbings, murder, pressure to conform, police state, media hysteria etc. It wasn’t quite like living on a farm in Tudor England!
The writings of Karl Marx touched a chord with Robert. However, although he enjoyed and agreed with much of Marx’s analysis of the capitalist system, i.e. the capitalist economy would cut its own throat, implode in on itself, run out of markets etc., Robert thought Marx had missed the point about human nature and the fact that it is and always will be intrinsically competitive. So the idea that you could create a Utopia were all men are equal seemed rather absurd, for in Robert’s opinion, all men are not born equal and to create a society where they are all equal would mean massive state control, which was what happened in the Communist era in Russia. You would replace a Capitalist Oligarchy with a state imposed Oligarchy. This, for Robert, would suppress the human spirit even more than the present system.
In his quest for truth and understanding Robert began to study aspects of The Occult. First he studied Tarot cards and was now doing readings for some of the Polish occupants in the bedsit at £10 for half an hour. His accuracy in divination had astounded them and so every time they had a problem they came to him seeking his mystic advice. What he did learn from the Tarot was that it did not offer truth in the sense of a revelation of the meaning of existence, but what it did offer was a different realm from the mundane, an opportunity to discover the hidden forces at work in his life and the life of the world. Tarot was like a torch in a dark tunnel helping you to find your direction and the possibility of a way out.
One of Robert’s friends was a keen Astrologer and had looked at Robert’s birth chart which he had said explained his restless nature and quest for freedom (something to do with four planets and his Ascendant all in Sagittarius). His friend had suggested that Robert had been a priest in a past life and this was perhaps one of the reasons why he was angry at Marx’s dismissal of religion and its importance at shaping not only the lives of individuals, but the whole gamut of civilisation.
The idea of a past life intrigued Robert and he eventually came to the conclusion that the reason we are here is because our souls are on a journey. Each life a soul enters into represents a stage on its path of enlightenment and over thousands of lifetimes the soul will finally reach the zenith of eternal light and so enter Nirvana. Much like the Buddhist tradition Robert believed in reincarnation for humans, but where he differed from Buddhism was that human souls are separate from those of animals, for he felt that the human soul was on a spiritual trajectory way above that of the animal.
Evening was drawing in, Robert was nearing the outskirts of Glasgow; the high rise flats of Barlanark, the shabby and rundown estates of Easterhouse and the elongated towers of the business centre which could be seen on the horizon. He remembered in his childhood that there used to be a gigantic poster of a Mr Men character with the quote ‘Glasgow Smiles Better’ which would be one of the first things that greeted you as you entered this grand, dirty and historic city. He often thought it would have been more appropriate and even comical for the poster to read ‘Glasgow’s Heroins Better’ accompanied with the image of a Mr Junkie.
The car moved into the slow lane, ready for the turn off for the bedsit which was just off Great Western Road. Robert was thinking about the girl who lived in the room next to him. Her name was Mia and she was the part time junkie. A few weeks back Robert had heard a knock on his door at about two in the morning. He had been reading William Burroughs book “Junky” (he had bought it to read more about this lifestyle as Glasgow was almost overrun with heroin addicts). When he had answered the door Mia had been standing there in a Minnie Mouse T-shirt and white baggy shorts looking gaunt, her face was like a ghost in a Shakespeare play and her arms were bleeding. She had thrown them in front of him as if to say ‘this is what I am, take me or leave me’. Robert had immediately rushed out his room to look for some tissues and when he returned she was crying on his bed. While he patched her up with some Andrex she had said “I cut myself in the shower,” and Robert had given her a sympathetic look as if to acknowledge her pain and suffering. He had heard from one of the old timers in the bedsit (who had been there fifteen years) that Mia had been sexually abused by her father, had been put in a care home, had drifted into prostitution and heroin, had had her baby taken away from her by the social services and now she was alone in her room except for the weekly visit from some Big Issue sellers from Byres Road who would inject or smoke heroin with her. If life was a maelstrom then Mia was in the eye of the storm and drowning fast. Robert called her the Dragon Chaser and hoped that she was born one day to fly away, so she could escape her precarious predicament.
“There are insects and bugs all over my body. I can’t get rid of them. Can you seem them?” she asked Robert. Ever since the abuse by her father she had been convinced that there were insects on her body which everyone could see, this made her very uncomfortable and paranoid, as she thought people were staring at her. The psychiatrists said she was delusional and filled her up with tranquillisers which could knock out an elephant. Robert felt sorry for her but he knew the unwritten rules of the bedsit; you never burdened someone else with your problems, nor did you become involved in the personal life of your fellow lodgers. Mia knew this but she was desperate. Robert could see it in her eyes, the fatalism that breathes with despair.
“ Have you got any Valium?” she had asked almost politely. Robert shook his head and after the bleeding had stopped he said
“Mia, try and sleep, you’ll feel better in the morning and I’ll take you to Morton’s for a coffee.” She smiled and then left the room without saying anything, like she had never even been there.
Up Great Western Road, where the pubs were heaving with weekend drinkers, spilling out onto the streets and then to Kelvinbridge underground station, Robert parked the car which he had borrowed from a rich schoolmate. Then he walked the hundred yards to the bedsit. He could smell the solicitous air drifting up from the River Kelvin and as he turned the corner he saw an ambulance and a police car waiting by the entrance. As he approached he noticed that a few of the lodgers were standing outside, their faces ashen and filled with grimace. Then he knew in his gut it was Mia.
The only person he talked to in the bedsit was Fat Andy who spent his life eating KFC and watching Carry On movies while pretending to be depressed. He called Robert over and said
“It’s Mia. She’s deed. Hung herself last night. It’s tragic man, so bonnie. I blame those cunts who gave her the skag!” With these words Robert became aware of a sense of life’s futility lying there before him like a drunk dying in a street gutter. Here was a woman who through no fault of her own had walked on the path of existence, where she had been met by thorns, predators, storms, pain, and terrible injustice and who had felt her only recourse to any sense of hope, was to kill herself. ‘Where’s the meaning of life in that’ he thought.
As they brought her body out in a bag, Robert could see some of Mia’s blond hair falling out where the zip had come undone. He almost cried, but tried to reconcile himself that her life had not been in vain, and the last thought he had before they placed her in the ambulance was that there is no meaning in life and that’s the point, that perhaps only in death will life’s truth and purpose reveal itself. Once in his room, he cried and prayed that The Dragon Chaser had found her dragons and was learning to fly.



 

 

 

 

 

 

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