Past is an excellent place to visit, but certainly not a good place to stay. The Third Level by Jack Finney is an engrossing story set in the 1950s. The story is studded with many undertones of irony. It takes you back in time, in a world when people hadn’t seen two of the bloodiest wars in the history of mankind. It goes without saying that people find it hard to come to terms with the ups and downs of everyday life. At times, people tend to hallucinate things. These hallucinations end up providing some transient relief from the trials and tribulations of life. Continue reading “Revisiting ‘The Third Level’ by Jack Finney”
By: Gulraj Singh Bedi
Sketches by: Sumantra Talukdar
It was a warm and humid August morning, so warm, so bright. A young chap named Gerrard; barely 18 years old had started off late for his first day at college and was in a hurry to reach his destination. At first, he thought of running away and spending the day out-of-doors. It was all so much more tempting, the birds were chirping out there, the sky was clear and sunny. But fortunately, he had the courage to resist and made his way to the college. Gerrard reached his college all out of breath, sweat was dripping off his forehead and he was panting. With heavy steps, he made his way up to the classroom, which was there on the 3rd floor
When he reached his classroom up there on the 3rd floor, he could see a bunch of teenagers sitting on the back benches. They were staring at him in utter bafflement and Gerrard, as you can imagine appeared pretty baffled too. Then, as the day progressed, numerous new and rather unknown faces kept passing through his eyes. Throughout the day, Gerrard remained stranded in a queer sort of feeling. Neither could he befriend anyone and nor could he speak anything. The remainder of the day passed just as it should have passed.
What resisted Gerrard from befriending people was his past, a past that was painted with darkness, a past that had traces of mist all over it. What intensified Gerrard’s pain was the grief of separation. Gerrard feared that if he befriends people, he’ll certainly develop a liking for them and when a time would come for him to bid farewell and leave everything behind, his heart would melt away like snow and he won’t be able to bear the pain of separation. This was one of Gerrard’s most dreaded childish fears and the very thought of it made him unhappy and his heart sunk in an ocean of gloom.
The world had of course, never been kind to him. His years at school had been no less than a nightmare. Gerrard lived the life of a loner, perhaps because he was weak. At times his emotions succeeded in overpowering his sorts and wits. His meek surrenders under pressure during his school days had also played a spoil sport. Gerrard’s days at school were like a deep dark dream and the memories of those dreary days at school brought a sense of melancholy to his mind. His days at school were filled with solitude, boredom, failure and struggle. The reasons behind his miserable plight at school were largely unknown to Gerrard. But, somewhere at the back of his mind, Gerrard knew that his pathetic plight at school was primarily because of his disabilities. Disabilities had ailed Gerrard ever since his childhood. These disabilities were the sole reason behind his inability to play. But Gerrard summoned all his strength and decided to leave all those memories behind in order to make a fresh beginning
The college got over at 1 P.M. and in a matter of a few minutes, the entire crowd dispersed just like a lump of sugar melts in a child’s mouth. Gerrard too, made his way back to his house. His first day at college was filled with stark silence. During his 26 Km long drive back home, he thought of all the faces he had seen throughout the day. Some of the faces which his eyes had seen were bright while some were dull and wan. And then in his mind, although without reason, came a face, so simple and serene. It was a face he had seen in the afternoon, while attending the last lecture. Her face was like a winter landscape and her eyes were like those of a mermaid. Gerrard felt like drowning in her eyes.
Gerrard had his heart pounding in his chest. His mind began to run riot against his wishes. He had fallen so deep in this line of thought that he ended up jumping as many as 3 red lights. The entire evening of his was spent lying on a bed while being lost in thoughts. He kept gazing at the ceiling in his room. He just kept thinking about the girl he had seen. It appeared as though Gerrard had been hypnotized.
The following morning when he left for college, he was in a hurry to reach his destination. He rushed on his way to the college, colliding with a bicycle on his way. Minor bruises could be seen on his hands. His car was in the mechanic’s garage. He reached the college well before the reporting time. In fact, he was the first one to reach the college that day. When he entered his classroom, he was the only one present there. He walked towards his seat amidst stun silence. Only the sound made by the moving fans broke the shackles of silence in that room. He remained glued to his seat amidst indomitable silence. Slowly and steadily, the indomitable silence began to take its toll on Gerrard. It looked as though the silence was tearing him apart. It appeared like a never-ending wait, a wait till eternity for Gerrard. But Gerrard didn’t lose hope; darkness was beginning to descend over his thoughts,and finally, after an hour or so, he saw what he had been wanting to see over the past 24 hours or so.
She had a sculpted figure which was twine-thin. Her waist was tapered and she had a whitish complexion. A pair of arched eyebrows looked down on sweeping eyelashes. Her delicate ears framed a button nose. A set of dazzling, angel-white teeth gleamed as she blew gently on her carmine-red fingernails. It was a pleasure to see her flowing, moon shadow-black hair. She had beautiful constellation-blue eyes and a smiling face and a sugary voice. Not content to be just another drone she wore vibrant clothes.
Gerrard wanted to ask her name but, out of shyness, couldn’t gather the courage to do so. It was around 9:30 A.M. in the morning and Gerrard’s brain and heart were at sixes and sevens with each other. The professor was teaching but Gerrard was lost in a world of his own.There were a total of 4 rows of benches in that classroom. Gerrard was sitting in the third row from the left with his eyes glued towards his left. Gerrard wanted to jump off his seat and sit right next to that girl, whose eyes,by now,had completely overpowered Gerrard’s senses. The next 30 minutes were perhaps the most challenging 30 minutes of Gerrard’s life; he was in a constant duel with himself.
By 10 A.M., Gerrard’s misery was finally over. The lecture was over and so was Gerrard’s restlessness. His eyes were still searching for the girl, whose name was still not known to him. He saw the girl going down the staircase. In a fit of excitement; he followed her and ended up banging his head right into the classroom’s door.
Then, after a gap of 15 minutes or so, began the next lecture, It was a lecture regarding writing for media and its basics. While the professor was dictating notes and the students were noting them down, Gerrard had her eyes glued on that girl. She was searching for something in her bag, perhaps searching for a pen to write. 10 minutes had passed and her search for a pen had not ended. Then, all of a sudden, Gerrard took out a pen from his pocket and threw it towards her. She looked astounded at Gerrard’s action, but didn’t say anything and began to write what the professor was dictating.
After the lecture got over and the students dispersed like wild-fire, Gerrard finally met the girl he had been desperately waiting to meet. It was a big moment for Gerrard as a majority of his previous encounters with girls had been disastrous. Gerrard wasn’t popular among the girls. He was not at all a geek and neither was he bespectacled. He looked just like any other boy of his age would look like. Gerrard was not the best of physical specimens. He was neither tall nor dwarf. He was some 5 feet 6” tall . He was slim and lean and didn’t possess rippling muscles either. This was perhaps the biggest reasons behind his disastrous encounters with girls in the past.
But fortunately for Gerrard, It was an all new place and the people here were unknown to him. The girl he had been thinking about wildly over the past 1 day or so was right in front of his eyes. She thanked him for this small bit of help. Gerrard kept staring at her in utter bafflement, he kept staring into her eyes with his heavy eyes. It took around 5 minutes for Gerrard to regain his senses. When she smiled at him, Gerrard’s heart had already jumped out of his body. He quickly regained his senses and in a trembling voice asked her name and she, in the sweetest of voices replied: Hailey. Wow, what a moment that was for Gerrard. He felt as though he is flying in the sky, up and over the clouds. Both of them shook hands and then Hailey went away and Gerrard’s mind entered into a state of oblivion.
What followed Gerrard’s first encounter with Hailey was a series of encounters between him and Hailey. In a matter of months they had become the best of friends. In Hailey’s company, Gerrard had found peace and solace. He could see a lot of traces of himself in Hailey. But, the biggest difference between Hailey and Gerrard was the fact that Gerrard was a pessimist and an introvert whereas Hailey was a happy-go-lucky and lively young lady who enjoyed “being alive”.
Hailey too, had her problems, but unlike Gerrard, she had an optimistic perspective towards life. She used to say:
“Either wage war against a situation and change it or simply accept it, but always be at peace with it” And this is what she used to tell Gerrard. Gerrard, on his part, had a similar sort of belief,but he was a bit too tired of fighting aimlessly. He was depleted. Neither was he left with courage to fight for what he believed in and nor did he have the strength to stand up for what he felt. Gerrard was pretty much caught in the shackles of hesitation. He resisted befriending people because he feared that they would leave him.
But his bonding with Hailey had gathered momentum and pace. She used to be his partner in all sorts of crime. The reason why Gerrard loved Hailey’s company was the fact that everyone else whom Gerrard had come across in his life had used him like an expendable asset. The same was the case with other students in the class as well,but Hailey was completely different from others. She had accepted Gerrard as her friend not because Gerrard was perfect, but because of the fact that he was not. She never thought of exploiting Gerrard like an expendable asset.
Gerrard found relief in her company. Previously, Gerrard had escaped from every direst situation in his life but, after he met Hailey, he made it a habit to accept everything the way it was, On the face of it. Gerrard had finally found someone whom he could trust, whom he could fall back onto in the hour of need. Hailey, supported Gerrard in all seasons. As many as 5 semesters had passed and Gerrard and Hailey were still the best of friends.
Then came the most challenging chapters of Gerrard’s life, He was thrown into a pit that seemed headed towards hell. He was sent to work in the accounts department of a commercial banking company. The environment in that organization was pathetic; the place he was working resembled a living hell. The food so bad, the people so insensitive, they weren’t bothered about whether their employees have had lunch or not. They used to be breathing down Gerrard’s neck all the time. But he did not mind the pathetic working conditions which the workplace offered him.
The day Gerrard walked into the office, he realized that his stint here at the Bank would surely turn out to be an exercise in futility. Although he was being paid around 500 British pounds but he disliked what he did.
Hailey, as always was right behind him in this hour of direst need. Gerrard used to leave his home at around 10 AM and returned home at around 8 PM in the night. Hailey used to be the only person who would wish him good morning every day because she knew that her presence and involvement in Gerrard’s life instilled a sense of optimism into his life. Hailey knew that Gerrard would easily succumb under pressure. So; she made it a practice to be there for him all the time, like an elder sister stays with her brother.
Gerrard’s leftover taste for life was nearly depleted; at times he used to get into an argument with Hailey ,but to his surprise, Hailey continued to support Gerrard and never ever complained about Gerrard’s erratic behavior because she knew Gerrard was under a lot of pressure and that it was very important on her part to stay there with Gerrard.
For Gerrard, it was a test of his ebbing strength and decreasing patience. By now, Gerrard had already fallen for Hailey. During one their conversations of whatsapp, Gerrard had promptly told Hailey that she was the sole reason behind some of the most beautiful changes in his life. Gerrard stated that whenever she used to be with him, he felt confident, no matter how dire the circumstances were.
During one of their meetings in late February, Gerrard told Hailey that he had fallen for her . He told her that his love is true. Now, this was perhaps the last thing Hailey was expecting to hear from Gerrard. Gerrard’s voice was trembling with fear and nervousness. His breath had frozen like ice and his throat began to choke.
He looked scared. Hailey, on her end kept staring at Gerrard in utter shock. She had never expected this from Gerrard, her eyes seemed to be flooding with questions and so was her mind. Both of them kept staring at each other amid stark silence. Gerrard thought it to be the silence before the storm. It was looking as though their silence was creating a lot of cacophony. Their silence was screaming louder than their words.
Neither was he refused and nor was he accepted. And he knew it. Hailey’s eyes had said everything. He thought his heart is being squeezed.
At the end of their chaotic conversation that day, Hailey just smiled at Gerrard and went away. Gerrard appeared quite perplexed at Hailey’s strange gesture. That night, Gerrard kept thinking about Hailey. There was an entire ocean of conflicting ideas flooding through his mind. He was getting quite restless and that night turned out to be a largely sleepless night for Gerrard.
Over the next few days, both of them kept talking normally, perhaps because Hailey must have taken Gerrard’s words in a lighter sense. She appeared quite normal and was behaving just as she used to. But, for Gerrard, it was a question of his self-esteem and his identity. Gerrard feared that she would reject his proposal because he is weak and would simply leave him. Gerrard’s childish fear began overpowering him yet again.
It was here that he realized that he had become an obligation for her. He loved her madly and his love for her was pretty much true, though it was only known to him that his love for Hailey is true. He realized that if he continues to bother Hailey with his questions then, he might end up creating endless problems for her. Gerrard had grown Overdependent on Hailey. He was pretty much addicted to her.
There was an even bigger fear in Gerrard’s mind. He thought that he has become over dependent upon Hailey and that he might cause problems for Hailey by this gesture of his. He did not want to act like a pair of shackles in her feet. He felt he’s bothering her too much. He must go with the flow. Friends keep on coming and going. “There is love in holding back and there is love in letting go.” He thought to himself.
He must go with the flow. But, unfortunately for Gerrard, Hailey was to him what wind is to fire. “He woke with her name on his lips every morning.” He thought of ending this mayhem for once and for all.
During a warm evening in mid-April when the sun was about to set and the birds were flying back home. Gerrard went to the college cafeteria where Hailey was sitting with some of her closest friends. Gerrard’s eyes were heavy. Suddenly there was an aura of grey around him. It was a mist that was rising at a brisk pace. A state of depression had engulfed him. He couldn’t see himself through the rising mists. He felt a terrible weight on his shoulders. It was as if a giant boulder was lying on him and he couldn’t straighten up or catch his breath entirely.
He went there, on the last table where Hailey was sitting. He appeared to be lost in thoughts. He went there and sat right in front of Hailey, with is eyes glued at her. He appeared dull. Hailey had noticed the dullness present on Gerrard’s face and she could feel that something was wrong.
Then, out of nowhere, happened something which no one had ever expected. Gerrard took a cellphone that belonged to one of Hailey’s friends named Adam and silently forwarded Hailey’s chat with Adam on his email ID. But, before he could forward the chat to himself, he was caught red-handed. What followed Gerrard’s action was stun and indomitable silence. Hailey had her hands on her head and could not believe what Gerrard had just done. Both of them were standing like stagnant effigies of wax. Hailey didn’t say anything. She just waved her hand and Gerrard knew what she meant.
Gerrard’s heart sunk in gloom. He had done exactly what he had planned. He knew that Adam had not enabled his phone’s data connection. Well, that was the first and the foremost thing Gerrard had seen while using Adam’s phone.
Gerrard knew what he had done. And, reason behind his action was also well-known to him. He had snatched away all the links that he and Hailey used to share. It was here that Gerrard remembered his father’s words. Gerrard’s father had once said to him “Sometimes, in order to be kind, you need to be cruel” and these words kept echoing in his ears as he made his way back home.
The next few days of Gerrard’s life were covered with sheer ignominy and tribulation. At times, tears used to roll down his eyes onto his face like droplets of dew. He used to wipe them off and smile, but in vain. He wanted Hailey to know the reason behind his action, but he decided not to tell her.
And then came the big day, the day of the college farewell party. All the students were there exchanging pleasant words with each other. Some of them were asking for forgiveness in order to put an end to all the grudges and arguments.
Hailey was there at the farewell as well. She was occupied with people. She had a transient smile on her face. It was a cloudy day and a raging shower was certainly on the cards. Time seemed to be flowing away like an overflowing river of sand. It was 3 pm, but Gerrard was nowhere to be seen. The clouds were showering their wrath. Hailey’s eyes were staring at the hall’s entrance.Hope was fading away at a rapid pace from her eyes.
It was around 4 PM in the evening and the clouds were thundering aloud. Hailey’s mind too was thundering aloud. Her eyes were still staring at the entrance of the hall. And then, like white lightning, entered Gerrard. His clothes were wet.
Without wasting even a single minute, he went to Hailey. Both of them kept staring at each other for 10 minutes or so without uttering even a single word. Gerrard and Hailey hugged each other. Their hearts were screaming aloud. It appeared as though both of them would melt away in each other’s arms. And then, Gerrard left the place without even wanting to meet anyone else.
Just before leaving, Gerrard turned back to have a glimpse of Hailey for the one last time. To Gerrard’s astonishment, Hailey too, was staring at Gerrard. Both of them kept staring at each other. Not even an eye was blinked.
And then, Hailey smiled at Gerrard. Her smile resembled the rays of the sun on a chilly winter morning. Gerrard smiled back at her and went out of the hall, never to return .
On his way back, Gerrard stared at the sky, then he closed his eyes and smiled again. The clouds were nowhere to be seen in the sky.
I had started off late that morning and was in great dread of scolding.Ah, not because I had to reach early but because I had not completed the tasks given to me by my group mates. OK, let me start from the very beginning. The incident I am talking about occurred while I was pursuing a Post Graduate Diploma course in Advertising and Public Relations from the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. A majority of people like to use the abbreviation and call it IIMC, but I’ve always used the institute’s name in its entirety rather than using an abbreviation.