Why are there two of us? I look next to me in the backseat of a car I don’t recognize and notice someone who looks a bit like me, a similar version, perhaps somewhat more menacing. In front, a man and a woman are sitting having a muffled discussion I am not following because of my amazement at this own reflection of myself. The landscape we travel through is ‘rustic’ (as some Lonely Planet guide would euphemise rather than just saying it was ‘dull’, ‘boring’ and ‘downright ugly’), it’s mostly plains, old and withered houses, a surreal mixture of industry and countryside. The motorway we’re on is much like any other motorway: a scar in a landscape cut by an engineering scalpel in the name of progress.
But I’m looking at this alleged brother of mine. I have no brother, I know that. Are you sure of that? a voice gnaws at my heartbeat, making it rise uncontrollably. My point of view rapidly shifts for a split second to that of my reflection sitting next to me: my gaze is violent and aimed at one person only. I blink and I’m me again, looking at that brother with a confused look that’s beginning to alter into a look of realization.
‘We’re going to stop at the next petrol station,’ the male voice at the steering wheel proclaims in a harsh and stern manner. Who is this man? I look at the man driving and don’t recognize his face; it should be my father, but it can also be my stepfather. We are one! is what I hear shouted in my head, don’t you see?
The car stops at the petrol station, and our driver, my (step)father, grunts and steps out, forcing us to stay put. He says he’ll beat us up if we don’t stay where we are. My brother, unbothered, steps out of the car after him, nobody saying a thing. The woman in the passenger seat is not my mother, I don’t recognize her. She doesn’t say anything when my brother disappears into the little shop of the petrol station.
I see through the eyes of my brother for a split second: he is following my (step)father into the lavatory. As soon as I blink, I’m me again in the car. The empty woman in the front is saying nothing, she could be a blow-up doll for all I cared. But she’s not the subject of this hallucination, is she? Go on, step out of the car too, I dare you. With shivering hand, I grab hold of the door handle and listen to the door’s screech as it wilfully opens. Look at the car and recognize it: it’s a beige Ford Taunus my mother owned after her divorce.
I am forced to investigate, but I also feel that this is the last place in the world I want to be right now. I enter the small shop and notice the balding man running the petrol station not looking up from behind his counter. I can hear noise coming from the lavatories. As I blink I see someone kicking my (step)father so that his head falls into a toilet bowl; one that hadn’t been flushed in a while, are you enjoying the details I let you see? I blink again, and I’m me again, walking towards the men’s lavatories.
I open the door and I see my previous flash being confirmed as my brother is kicking this father-type; I look at my brother doing this and I don’t do anything. I just stand there, and you are enjoying it, admit it!
Your view is shifted, you are your brother: I had followed my father into the petrol station’s lavatories because I felt like it had to end. When he was peeing, I banged his head with a metal bar I appeared to have been holding the whole time. It needed to end, my brother needed to be rescued from all of this. I banged the guy’s head, but he was still conscious. I wanted him to be conscious: he had to give resistance, otherwise there would be no gratification. The cries this man let out were icing on my cake. I was grateful when I saw my brother coming in. He is now watching me.
You are you again: This young guy who looks so much like me grabs our father by his hair, dragging him out the toilet bowl. From his mouth, you could see he had been vomiting while he was being submerged in shit. I notice how neutral I feel when this reflection of me, my ‘brother’, is tying up my father who’s sitting on his knees, with his head bent over a rubbish bin my brother had placed there for him (I don’t ask myself why). My nameless brother is now covering our father in toilet paper, mummifying him while continuing to kick and beat him. Vomit and blood come out of his mouth and nose, but neither of us is particularly moved by this. I am leaning against the sink in the bathroom, looking at the reflection of the scene in the mirror. The terror from before is being replaced by anger and aggression. You’re a chicken! You haven’t got any aggression in you! Come on! Prove it, pussy-boy! I breathe in and take a step closer to my father; he looks up expectantly, and all I want to do, and subsequently will do, is hurt him so bad, more than he ever hurt anyone. I kick him a couple of times until the old balding guy from the petrol station storms in to stop me from finishing what we started. He’ll be back for revenge, you know it, he will always be back. You simply haven’t got the power to end it.
We’re sitting in a backroom of the shop on some improvised bed the solitary man from the petrol station slept on, there is no sign of the woman in the car. I assume she’s just too petrified to ignore my father’s order from before. I am sitting in the middle between my brother and my (step)father, holding my brother’s hand. But are you holding his hand? Is your brother even there? My (step)father looks surprisingly unhurt by our beating, something that freaks me out as I look at it.
‘I don’t know who attacked me,’ my (step)father speaks softly to the guy from the petrol station who introduced himself as Martin.
‘But your son, he was the one who…’ Martin tries.
‘No no, my son tried to save me, it’s the other guy who attacked me.’ Is he afraid of you now? He’s bluffing, and you know it.
‘But sir, there wasn’t anybody in there but you and your…’
‘I’m telling you it’s fine!’ My (step)father is now getting up, gesturing at me to get moving, which I reluctantly do.
But you couldn’t tell Martin what had really happened. You couldn’t tell anyone. All you knew was that the torture would continue.
As we walk away from the shop towards the car, my father has silently made clear to my brother that he isn’t allowed to get into the car with us anymore. I see him taking this in stride. Helpless, I step into the old Taunus and look at my brother who I see walking away in one of the fields adjacent to the petrol station.
Your point of view changes again: I had no intention of ever getting back into the car with my (step)father, I already knew I was going to walk here. For the first time in my life, I feel liberated. I don’t turn around to see a car get smaller behind me. I can see the horizon ahead of me. And look at the colours! What a wonderful landscape! No way that this is dull or monotonous!
And one last time: As the Taunus aggressively drives away, I see the image of my brother fading behind us, deformed in the corners of the back window. His back is facing us and all I want is to be him.
Just let me be him.
But you aren’t, and you never will be.
It’s a disturbing dream that haunted me this morning to which I added fictional details to make sense of it. It’s not me any more in the story, that’s what I was proving to myself.