In the eyes of madness

The workshop was a tiny room. Colourful marks stained the walls, which were struggling to hold dozens of shelves filled with tins of paint. Brushes, canvases, and other useful material were scattered on the floor, as if a well-lubricated party had just ended.
The room was silent though. Through the small window, the setting sun was lighting up a young man facing a blank, untouched painting. Frowning at the canvas, he was motionless. By the look of his messy, short, brown hair and his stubble, one could see that care wasn’t his priority.
After a boring day at the office, the artist inside of him wanted to relax by practicing his favorite activity : painting. However, despite his firing urge, inspiration simply wouldn’t come. Actually, he had been sitting here for an hour now. Like a pendulum swing, his mind had constantly been going from the desperate search for inspiration to wondering why nothing had come yet. Suddenly, his shoulders went down, and he breathed out. He decided to free his mind, and let his instinct lead the way, unshackling his body. As he was about to raise his brush-armed hand, the smartphone rang.

“Hey, Hans ! It’s Sam calling. How are you doing ?”

“Hi Sam ! I’m fine, I’m fine. What about you ? How did your move go ? Have you finally chosen the colour for the walls ?”, answered Hans with a teasing voice.

“Oh, come on ! I told you already, blue is great, even if a light green could brighten up the room… but anyway ! Yes, I’m good, things are slowly coming together. Do you have any plans for tonight ? Let’s have a drink, you’ll be surprised at the progress.”

Hans put down the palette and stood up.

“That sounds great ! May I come right now ? I could really use a  beer.”

“Ok, do you want me to order some food ?”, asked Sam.

“Yes, let’s do this. I’ll be there in ten minutes. See you !”


Hans cleaned the brush, went to the bathroom, looked himself into the mirror, took a pack of beers in the fridge and walked out of his apartment in a light step.


After parking the car, Hans went straight to the third floor and knocked on the door. His friend welcomed him with a large smile and immediately began to show him all that had changed since Hans last visited. After having gone through the new furniture, especially the brand new leather sofa he’d fallen in love with weeks before, Sam explained proudly how he’d successfully fixed the leak in the bathroom.

“… and at that point, I understood where the leak was coming from ! So, I turned off the water supply, picked up my tools, took off the front panel, changed the damaged pipe, and the job was done !”

“How impressive ! I wasn’t aware you had such technical skills ! That being said, spending a week to do some shopping and repair a pipe isn’t the great progress you promised…”

Sam gave a faint smile.

“I have one last room to show you… may you open this door, sir I-am-not-convinced ?”

After a moment of hesitation, Hans reached for the handle and slowly opened the door.
The wooden desk was the center of the room, as a king’s throne, whose crown was the large screen professional photographers love. All of Sam’s previous cameras were resting in a long pristine glass case in chronological order. On the opposite side, a mosaic of photos covered the best part of the wall. With the dark shades of the wooden floor, and the brownish tone of the walls, the office was looking clean, professional, almost futuristic.
Hans made a quick whistle.

“Well, you have me convinced now ! This office looks so nice ! Clean, sharp, organised, it fits well with the character ! What about these pictures ?”

Hans walked to the wall of photos to have a closer look. Sam pointed out one of them. Two young teenagers were chasing each other in a overflooding inflatable swimming pool. The sun was shining an ocean of reflections on the surface, making this simple shot a receptacle of a long gone memory.

“Do you remember that day ? We had such a good time…”

“Summer holiday memories… but wait a minute, you cheater ! You’re displaying this photo, but it’s not even yours ! It’s your parents’ !”

Sam gave Han’s shoulder a push.

“You’re always so sarcastic ! They gave it to me ! I put whatever I want on the walls anyway ! Let’s drink those beers, shall we ?”

Hans smiled and agreed with a nod of his head.
Hans and Sam went back to the living room, where they settled down with some beers and their usual pizzas Sam had ordered. They spent the rest of the night on the sofa, watching TV and talking lightly about their respective lives.


When the alarm clock rang, Hans understood they shouldn’t have stayed up so late. With difficulty, Hans muted the loud ring and stood up. Like every morning, a warm shower would awaken him and clear off his clouded mind.
After that, time came to have breakfast.
Hans put the pan on the stove and turned on the cafetiere. After cooking the scrambled eggs, he fried some bacon. As always, the coffee was ready right in time.
Then, Hans sat down and opened his laptop. He knew that he now had about twenty minutes to watch the news while calmly eating and sipping his strong espresso.
Hans eventually went back to the bathroom to brush his teeth and made a last check in the mirror. As usual, he left the apartment at exactly five to eight to go to work.

As the office was on the opposite side of the city, Hans would take the tube to avoid the congested streets. He had to walk a few minutes to get to the nearest station, where he was to be taken directly to the closest station to his workplace.
During the ride, Hans usually listened to music with his soundproofing headset, without taking care of the lifeless atmosphere which was covering the tube like a darkening veil.
However, he sometimes liked to observe the passengers’ slow awakening process. Among them, one can distinguish different types of behaviours. There were those who were barely awakened, those who were – like Hans – focused enough to realize that they would have to work soon, and finally those who were completely fresh and ready. The sleeping ones were looking at the floor with that kind of surprize in the eyes, while the ones like Hans were checking their smartphones, or diverting themselves by gazing around. The ready-to-work often stared at a fixed point in front of them, already thinking about what’s going next, or they would actively use their smartphones, sending quickly-typed messages or even – for the most impudent of them – calling loudly in the tube.
As an inspiration seeking artist, Hans would spend hours studying all these dispersed eyes, all these disparate faces, all these miscellaneous driven citizens, regrouped for this mostly silent, short-lived ride.
“Maybe I could consider the passengers’ movements as a forced dance…” was thinking Hans. Slowly, a blurred and indistinct painting began to come to his mind. A painting staging a kind of dancing tube, where traveler and dancer would have the exact same meaning ! There could be curious contrasts between the usual boring atmosphere of the underground and the idea of dance… He was about to get it – for sure he would get it ! – when his eyes caught a stranger’s eyes from the platform the tube was serving. It literally stopped his mind.

What were those eyes ?

Hans came closer to the window and tried to identify where the eyes were caught, to whom they belonged ! But it was already too late : the tube was leaving the station.

Then, Hans felt hollow, empty.

Nothing, of all his surroundings, looked or sounded interesting anymore. He neither felt sad nor desperate, but he felt heavy and defeated, as if a sudden loss had occurred somewhere inside of him, and changed something, something deeply rooted within.
He couldn’t know how right he was…


As midday came, the colleague who was working next to Hans put his head over the dividing wall of the open space.

Lunch break routine.

“Hey Hans, my watch tells me that it’s lunch time, and my belly seems to agree, if you know what I mean ! We’re going to the pub downstreet for fish and chips, do you want to join us ?”

Hans stopped typing on the keyboard and removed his headset. Bill was the average thirty-five-year-old employee, careful of leaving his post as soon as allowed, who would rather spend his time eating and watching football. The kind of stereotypical lifestyle that repelled Hans’s artist nature. Hans looked at his watch, and pretented to be embarrassed.

“Well, sorry Bill I have planned to eat quickly to leave early tonight. I was actually just about to have a sandwich at the cafeteria…”

Bill seemed to take it well. He took his keys and smartphone from his desk and said :

“I think you’re missing out on something but well, enjoy your sandwich ! See you.”

“Have a good meal, see you.”

Now that Bill had left the open space – Hans noted Bill’s cheerful gait – Hans chose not to resume working and decided to have lunch right away.

Once sat at the table, Hans couldn’t help thinking back on his morning encounter.
But, was it really an encounter ? What happened exactly ? It happened so quickly that – or maybe it was Han’s memory ? – He wasn’t able to put words on what he saw.
On one hand, his brain was telling him that nothing actually happened and it was just the usual stuff of the underground. Every day, throughout a single ride by tube, Hans – like everybody else – would come across hundreds of strangers, of unknown faces, hundreds of pairs of eyes.
One the other hand though, it seemed like his heart had reacted to something. Although he couldn’t tell what he’d exactly seen, he felt that something had been changing since the encounter… as animals can feel danger somehow, Hans’ instinct had responded to those mysterious eyes.
The real question now was : did his instinct respond because of danger, or was it about something else ?
Hans, whose mind had been going in circles for minutes, was finally fed up with all these doubts and suspicions. His kaleidoscope of feelings had tired him and he decided to clear his head and go back to work.

To be continued…

Written by Mazouni Quentin and Moullec Yann.

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