As the door to the building closes behind me with a resounding click, I look back to see the poor souls still trapped inside illuminated by the ultraviolet light. A specter looks down at me, dreams ablaze in his Bunsen burner, with a single gloved hand against the window as though both encouraging and envying my escape. But his vacant eyes tell me he no longer remembers what he is seeing out there. The gesture is a vaguely remembered movement, a mere mimicry of a former life.
I pull my jacket tight to me against the howling winds.
Ignoring the rumbling of my belly I persevere against the memory of my day’s forced labor with no sustenance. I can no longer remember the path that brought me here. Establishments, normally serving nourishment to weary knowledge seekers and travelers alike, now with doors boarded against the worsening storm.
It is just us shadows here now.
The light of the approaching train spurs my weary feet onward; it is my only hope of rescue from sure death of starvation in this place. Keeping my face low, I steal guarded glances at my fellow passengers. Are they escaping too? A whooping, hacking, wheezing cough echoes down the train car and reaches my ears and I am alerted to the presence of a fellow postdoc. For who but those sallow-eyed, lost souls chained to their benches day in and day out, would have attended work in such poor health?
As the city lights begin to dot the horizon, my pulse quickens. This is the moment I have imagined! I disembark the locomotive and I dare say there is a spring in my step. But then. The Hill before me looms. For I must climb all the way to the top to reach the solace of my home. Home. Is it still there? Will my room mates remember me?
As I begin my ascent I know I will soon perish without water. This single thought so consums me that I fail to notice the rain that has begun to fall around me, an irony in which I would normally delight. Water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink. And so mine is the plight of the Ancient Mariner. I put my hand to my neck, sagging under the weight of my albatross. But lo! It is just my neck scarf grown wet and heavy with rain.
I begin to think I am imagining the sound of distant laughter drifting to my ears. Another game of my enfeebled brain grown weak from the abuses of a day in the hood. But soon I come upon the source; a restaurant full of smiling, happy faces exuding vitality and vigor. Who are these cherubs delighting? How did they get to a feast at this hour? They must work in those fabled 9-5 offices of lore. Sometimes there are whispers of such places among us postdocs when we think we are alone. “Each office has a window!” “I hear they get a break at midday during which they eat their lunch”. Could the stories be true?
I rest, just for a moment, and come to again some time later. In the quiet of the night there is no way to tell how long I have lingered. Visions of my youth dance before my eyes; merriment with friends, the embrace of a lover. These fantasies seek to mock my current ghosted self but I have come too far to be defeated now!!!! With renewed resolve I crawl the last few paces to my homestead. With a sense of purpose that pales all previous experience I reach my bed chamber. I collapse with exhaustion, my legs no longer able to stand.
As I use my last ounce of strength to close mine weary eyes, a final thought closes the day:
Did I remember to split my cells???