Doppelgänger, by S S Haque

Art: Twin Peaks


The first time I spoke to Sebastian we were in the Griffin, on Leonard Street in Shoreditch, down the road from my place. He was drinking a pint and watching the football, as I was. It was a Sweden-England friendly. He did these things absentmindedly, as if he was aware of doing neither, thinking about something else. I realised I’d seen him in passing, going into the stone merchant on Mark Square in the morning. I work for a data company on the same square. We clasped pints at the bar. He drank Stella. I drank Guinness, since it was November and I couldn’t be bothered to cook. In the far corner, by the worn-out pool table a group of girls in strange-shaped hats and red lipstick were drinking and looking bored. Then there was the barman and Sebastian and I. There wasn’t much chatter. The commentator from the TV permeated the pub.

I spoke to Sebastian first. “I think we work on the same street.” He turned and looked at me for a few seconds, which seemed a long time. I thought he might be mentally unhinged for a few moments. Then he smiled. “Perhaps he’s just a bit slow,” I thought.

“Oh ay, I’ve seen you. I’m Sebastian.” He had very dark blue eyes and dark hair. “Would you like a pint?”

I thought that was generous and we chatted a while about the game and the area. We’d grown up on the same latitude – he in Scotland, me in Sweden. We also lived a few doors apart, but I’d never seen him leaving his flat. I drank more than I planned to as I bought a round in return, and then again.

We seemed to lead parallel lives. We were both living and working in the same streets; both single young men who liked a drink and watched football in the local pub. We became friends, of sorts.

It was a casual friendship that I thought would never venture further than the pub. But there was a comfort in it. After work, especially on a Friday, or on a Sunday afternoon during the football, I knew he’d be there so I’d turn up if I felt like it and I had no other plans, knowing I’d see a friendly face. Despite all the years I’d lived on Leonard St, the barman still only doffed his invisible hat when he saw me. He never said hello, or how are you. And I suppose I didn’t really know much about Sebastian but the familiarity of his face was company enough, and the odd witty quip kept us amused with each other.

Then I met Suhana. We started going out in the following Spring. It seemed rather apt for my affections for her to bloom at that time of year. We’d been colleagues for some time and I’d always thought she was very beautiful, with her long black hair and her big brown eyes, but I’d never really spoken to her. After a couple of months, one Sunday afternoon, following a romantic night at my flat, I decided to take her to the Griffin and introduce her to my local haunt and to Sebastian.

“Hullo, long time no see,” he said.

“How are you?” I said. “I know, I’ve been a bit busy you see.”

Sebastian was sitting at the bar on his usual stool. There was one stool free next to him, which he looked at in expectation because I always sat there. But instead I moved around slightly and avoided the stool to show him the petite Suhana, standing behind me. My large frame had eclipsed her and Sebastian didn’t see her until then. All this happened in a few seconds but it stuck in my mind in great detail.

“This is Suhana,” I said.

“Hello Sebastian, I’ve heard lots about you,” she said, smiling, stepping forward and offering her hand. Sebastian looked at it like it was a dead fish or something similarly inappropriate, and then took it in his rough hand. The girls around the pool table carried on looking bored and cool as usual and the barman came over and slapped a Guinness on the bar. The cream foam fell over the edge and dampened the coaster.

“Gin and tonic please,” said Suhana, and then, “You two look like you could be brothers!”

Sebastian turned towards the big screen. He didn’t seem to want to socialise and besides, there weren’t enough stools at the bar, so Suhana and I sat at a table nearby instead. It was so quiet we didn’t chat much. I felt conscious that everyone could hear us. That Sebastian could hear us. After our drinks I suggested we leave to get some dinner and Suhana said it was time she got home anyway so we left.

“Bye Sebastian, see you soon,” I said.

He turned and nodded at me and watched Suhana’s hair swing out of the door. “See ya.”

It was a few weeks before I found myself at the Griffin with Sebastian again on a Friday night. Things with Suhana had been going well and we’d been tied up in each other. That weekend she was away with friends on a girl’s spa trip and I found myself free and alone for the first time in a couple of months. I walked into the Griffin straight  after work, my feet easily following the familiar path to the bar where Sebastian sat, head down over a book, despite the loud Friday night drinkers around him.

“Hello, stranger,” he said.

We chatted easily again like before and for the first time Sebastian was quite animated. We talked about the new hotel that was being built behind Leonard Street and how he was going to move out of his flat as he was fed up with the noise and couldn’t listen to building works for another year.

“That’s sad, we’ll no longer be neighbours. Where will you go?” I said.

“Not far, I expect. I’d like to stay on Leonard Street,” he said. “What’s your flat like?”

“Probably quite similar to yours. I’ve got the top floor. It’s an airy loft space with a mezzanine and bathroom. It’s all open with beams in the ceiling. There’s a couple of huge mirrors in the living area that make it look even bigger than it is. They came with the flat.”

“Ay, that sounds lovely. I’d like one of those. Expect the rent’s rather more than I can afford these days though. Everything’s gone up.”

“It is big. Too big for one person, if I’m honest,” I said.

“A luxury in London.” We stayed in the bar for a few more hours, chatting to random drinkers and each other. Just like before. I hadn’t eaten any dinner and I felt quite pissed when I finally decided to head home.

I left the pub first, stumbling a little onto the street. The night was deep blue and clear and the moon was a big eye. I walked to my flat, fumbled with my key and went inside. As I went through the apartment door, someone kicked the back of my knees and I fell like a toddler. Then he kicked me in the stomach and punched my face several times. Sebastian’s face swam in my cloudy gaze. I tasted blood and blacked out.

Hours later I woke up in the dark. When I say dark it wasn’t just that the lights were off but it was pitch black. I was lying on a cold, rough floor and many parts of my body ached and stung. My stomach was throbbing from being kicked and my face and jaw hurt to move. When I tried to move my lips into a grimace my right cheek pricked with pain. I tried to stand up but it was so dark I couldn’t be sure which way was up. I could have been surrounded by a black wall for all the light I could see.

Eventually, I sat up and tried to get my bearings. I’ll be systematic about this, I thought. I sat up straight and stared in one direction. Shapes moved ahead of me and then stopped. I couldn’t be sure. Suddenly the temperature seemed to change somewhere behind me. Perhaps a door had been opened somewhere. Or closed. I couldn’t work out where the nearest wall was. I was too scared to call out. I don’t know why.

It could only get worse. That was why.

Yes, that was why. I had to carry on with my experiment. I shifted ninety degrees. Stared. Black, only black. And then, was there a movement, a glint of light on an object? I moved my hands in front of me and then quickly pulled them back. Afraid I had disturbed the air. Afraid I had disturbed my perpetrator and he would wake and come for me again.

Something, a breeze, something moving, far away. I sat still then. Didn’t move again for what seemed like hours. Maybe even days.

I fell asleep eventually. It was the dark’s or maybe the night’s doing.

I was woken up by a light. Or rather by an image, lit. The image of my flat on a cinema screen. It was the living area. It was morning and the blinds were open and the sunshine streamed in as it does every day because the windows face south. I had to put my hand up to my eyes. It was so bright it hurt. I struggled up and looked around me, careful not to move too much. I was in a bare room, as if backstage without the actors or props. All concrete, dark grey. No objects. Just me.

The flat looked so real but surely, just an image. A photographic image.

Then I saw him.

Sebastian.

He walked across the living room, wearing my pyjamas, holding a cup of tea. He put the radio on. I could hear it but only faintly. Not enough to make anything out. Then I saw her; Suhana. She walked across the room, her hair cascading down her back, wafting behind her like a dream.

I was bolder then, I ran to the screen and wrapped on it with my fist which struck something hard and cold. They didn’t react.

Then I realised, I had struck the mirror on my living room wall.  I struck the mirror on my living room wall from the inside.

#

Now Sebastian lives my life and I live inside the mirror, inside his reflection. He tricked me, you see. He only befriended me so that he could imprison me and take my life. I think it was his plan all along, even before he arrived on Leonard Street.

The days are dark, long and lonely now. I wait for him to come home and look in the mirror so that I can see something of life. But he’s working long hours, like I was, and he’s not often home. Inside the mirror it’s cold most of the time. Sometimes the weather changes and a chilling mist falls from nowhere that I can see and it hangs around me and makes the darkness even denser. I can’t see further than a few metres of ground ahead of me and it feels as if I’m on an endless stage that is lined everywhere with black cloth, and unlit. Never an audience.

Most of the time I sit down against a wall, if I can find it, and close my eyes until Sebastian wakes up or comes home.


S S Haque is a British Bengali poetry and prose writer and lives in London. She has had poetry and prose published in publications such as Catweazel, The Library of Rejected Beauty, The New Humanist and Oxonian Review. She has performed her work at a variety of events including StorySlam at the Royal Festival Hall, Blackwell’s in Oxford, The Society Club in Soho and Scratch That in Brixton. She has a master’s in creative writing from University of Oxford https://sshaque2000.wordpress.com

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