May 22, 2015: Ashes, or, Letting Go: The Art of Freeing Oneself

I watched from across the street, in the middle of a growing crowd.
The man stood in front of a trashcan fire, taking his clothes off, and talking to himself.

He pulled his shirt off and threw it into the flames. Sparks flew and the crowd held its breath…waiting for something. Anticipation rippled, people leaned in.

Nothing happened.

I started to feel restless, then the guy screamed and I snapped back to attention.
He was holding onto the rim of the trashcan, you could smell his skin burning, and he screamed into the flames.
Long, animalistic screams of anger.
Something black was coming from his mouth. Black as tar, sending sparks and ash into the sky.
The louder he screamed the more he spat out the black.

The crowd applauded. Their cheers grew louder and louder, matching his screams.
His face was turning red, his knuckled turning white.

He screamed until there was no more noise, just strain and his open mouth.
He collapsed onto his knees, breathing heavy.

The crowd threw flower petals.

He pulled himself back up, his legs shaking.
Wiping sweat from his forehead he looked over at us, gave a smile. A big smile that slowly faded.
He began to further undress. His pants and socks and underwear going into the fire.
He stood naked before us. Vulnerable.
He looked up to the sky, then back at the flames. His hand seemed to be clutching something over his heart.
The crowd moved forward, trying to hear the words he was whispering.

The flames were caught in a reflection on his cheek. He was crying.

The crowd moved to their knees. Putting their heads down. Silent and still.

His tears moved slowly. He ran his hands through his hair and let out a deep sigh.
His body began to shake again, the tears coming more freely.
The crowd was swaying.
His sobs started muffled and then grew louder and louder.
He pounded his chest. His fists leaving red marks.
He wailed.
A single note that hit me in the gut.
He wrapped his arms across his body.
He curled up, wailing into his knees, his whole body convulsing with emotion.
The tears had stopped, but his face was still contorted in anguish.
He let out curses and promises, I love yous and words of hatred.

Slowly he began to clam down, his body growing still, the wailing just an echo.
The crowd stopped swaying.
They blew him kisses.

He stood up and wiped his face with the palms of his hands.
He smiled to the crowd again and rubbed the red spots on his chest.
He stood still, his eyes closed.
He looked even more naked.
His hands were making motions like he was counting on his fingers.

He began to laugh.
A chuckle at first.
Then it grew and grew until he was overcome by laughter.
The crowd jumped to their feet and cheered, rushing towards him.
They ran in circles around him, each taking turns throwing something into the fire that made it shoot up in bursts and changed the colour of the flames.

Pink. Green. Blue.
The flames grew higher and higher.
The man laughed more and more, holding his stomach., his shoulders bouncing.
The crowd laughed with him, danced in circles and with each other.
They hugged each other and kissed each other.
The flames kept changing colours.
The man laughed, and shook hands with everyone.

As the flames died down, the crowd dispersed, leaving just the naked man and me alone with the fire between us.
A breeze caused the flames to flicker and nearly go out.
The man pointed at the trashcan and motioned me over.
He smiled, stepping away, allowing me access to the fire.

I placed my hands on the rim of the can and looked at the man. He nodded and began to walk away.
I stared into the flames.

I started to scream.

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