It’s another perfect day of a wrong autumn and I’ve woken up late after another night under the water. I was trapped inside SOMA.
Soma was known once for being an extremely grateful Vedic & intoxicating plant: it gave birth to ephedrine, it was synthesised into a sticky green and blue juice of divine and perennial power, and became the mother of all drugs, from anticonvulsants, to anxiolytic muscle relaxants. Aldous Huxley sucked that root and used it to inoculate the Brave New World, where Soma was the key of virtuosity and decadence, “Christianity without tears”, as he put it. Today Soma is its past, and it’s also some videogame. An existentialist nightmare underwater, one that you start playing as a confused Canadian, and that you end up engaging with like an everywhere fox roaming the busiest of rubbish heaps.
Late is kind of early when you’re an insomniac. Just like left is kind of right when you suffer from dyslexia. And I suffer from both. But I wouldn’t use language that harsh to describe my condition. That is to say that I’ve never experienced my dyslexia or my insomnia as a disease I suffer from, so much as a routine.
The day is so perfect and the autumn is so wrong that I’m walking through my kitchen barefoot with no T-shirt on. It’s dazzling sunny. Feels like waking up inside a chunk of melting butter. I look outside and I see William holding a steamy mug between his massive hands. It’s the government one, the one with the seal on it, the one I hate. But it doesn’t really matter now. William is so dark that all the sunshine seems to emanate from his skin. I wave at him from the inside and then I trip over one of his classified archives. It happens all the time: there’re no secrets between us. Next thing, I pretend to pour myself some coffee, slide down my trousers and piss in the mug instead. I drink the urine and walk towards his dark light with the secret liquid burning in my throat. Leaves are as crunchy as my stomach is empty. I see his back, those imperial shoulders that are sustaining not only the security of this country but my whole existence, and I stretch to reach them. The backyard flowers are swaying like algae and the grass tickles my soles so softly that I don’t know if I’m walking or floating. And then it happens again. I check my ankles and they’ve turned into flippers, and everything starts to vibrate, like an analogue TV struck by a lightning bolt. The universe darkens as fast as my fear deepens, and William starts pulsating as my vision begins to blur, and before I can reach him he slowly turns around. Or more accurately, his neck starts rotating 360º. By the time he makes eye contact with me he isn’t William anymore and my convulsions are deadly.
Your name is Simon Jarret. You were involved in some kind of deadly car crash in Toronto and you have an on-going brain haemorrhage and a dead girlfriend. You just wake up in your apartment. You are Canadian, your house is neat and spacious and has the personality of a republican politician. Likely Canadian. And dead. Your computer is a PC, you have cheesy photographs awfully pinned along your Canadian notice boards, and your wallpaper is wrong. Yes. You are Canadian, but at least you don’t have Margaret Atwood novels on your shelves, you have science essays and dystopic fiction. It takes less than 10 minutes to figure this out. You scan, search and interact with mugs, chairs, cupboards, envelopes and desks. Graphics are sharp and your movements seem to cover any possible range of the human body language. There are hints everywhere you look. You check the computer and discover that you have an appointment with a brain specialist called doctor Mushi. You are a Canadian waiting for a scanner. This could be a Cronenberg movie or Trudeau’s worst nightmare, but you’re about to find out that it’s an epic trip. This is SOMA.
I wake up again into the same wrong perfect day. The grass softens the back of my head and tickles my temples. There’s a spoon in my mouth. I’ve only swallowed my tongue once since I first got together with William. William is on the phone. He cancels the ambulance as soon as I wake up and wipes the white foam from the corner of my lip. “William, love, let the ambulance come.” I say. “You never know.” I add.
Now William gives me his piercing glance. He is like the main figure of some remote Ethiopian revolution. I could adore him forever.
“I fucking hate you. I’m sick of this. Are you fucking pretending? Is that it? I’m not going to get you a personal nurse and a wailing siren just for the sake of your injections. I’m not doing this again!” He shouts. I blink and he keeps going, which is the story of our relationship.
“Your T-shirt’s upside down and you are wearing my shorts on top your trousers!” He shouts.
I check my torso and I see no T-shirt. And I check my legs but I don’t see his trousers. I see the flippers again. And then I extend my arms and my limbs are covered in neoprene. I wonder why the clouds just look like bubbles and why there’s a glass dome above of us. William reads me as easily as a junkie swallows yogurt.
“You were on the right path, but this videogame is fucking with your brain. You are unable to fucking distinguish reality from fiction.” He says.
That is some statement. I won’t deny it. I tell him that my nightmares weren’t so vivid since I was a kid and that I’ve been longing for those nights of terror, for that sudden fear before my mum’s hugs, before the glass of warm milk and that massive moon hanging in the countryside sky like half a pill. William says that he is not my mother, but my boyfriend+. “For fuck sake!” he shouts. And then lowers his voice and says that I should take my pills and forget about the milk.
“I’m ringing doctor Esperanza.” He says.
I repeat his line “forget the milk and take your pills”, and it sounds to me like a Broken Social Scene kind of bridge, a bridge between Canada and Soma; the trembling little thread that connects my dreamless nights with my full on daydreaming. Obviously he doesn’t think it’s funny. He gives me the weird look again. And then I tell him not to judge me. And then the bell rings and Alfred is shaking his hands under the threshold. He is as dodgy as Christianity without tears. And he is badly soaked, even though it’s so sunny that I need to put my sunglasses on. Alfred looks at me, checks his left and right, or the other way around, and asks me why I’m wearing a pair of shorts on top of my trousers. I stare at him stunned and then he asks why the hell I need to wear my sunglasses under this lashing rain. I blink and then ask.
“Did you find it?”
“Indeed.” He says. And adds: “This is Soma. Pure. 90 quid, 1 gram”.
David Mushi is waiting for you inside a half abandoned lab. His surname is much better than his face. No one is around, and you walk towards him like a little Japanese girl being offered a sweet by Hitler. Mushi asks you to sit in some kind of electric chair. He looks like a reptile with hemorrhoids. You don’t want to follow his orders. He says that he really wants to help you and that he is your last chance if you want to save your brain. What a beautiful liar. There are other doors in the lab. You try them all looking for a way out. Nothing works. So you sit in the damn chair. In it’s worst moments, which can be awfully good, Soma is as exasperating as reality can be: for all its endless possibilities, you always end up taking the same narrow-minded decisions. Mushi asks you to cover your head with a helmet and everything starts vibrating again. Lights go out and will never come back.
Soma really begins now. You wake up again inside some kind of abandoned facility, likely in the future. Doctor Mushi has vanished, the chair is rusted, everything is dark and all the walls are steel cold and steel-based. It’s like being inside the Nostromo, Alien’s spaceship. There are cosmonaut suits hanging on the wall, a big sign that reads Pathos II, a couple of computers, wires hanging from the ceiling, liquid splashed all over the floor and no sign of fucking Mushi. You find an extinguisher, you throw it against the glass screen that’s in front of you and it shatters. Now you can walk around Site Upsilon, which is the name of the Pathos II terminal you’re in. Now the echoes of your breathing start to funnel through the empty rooms, and the music starts to whisper the score of some dystopic mayhem. The fluorescent lights flicker in anguish and a sense of immediate disaster gasps along with your erratic steps. I’m scared. I mean, me. Simon is scared as well. He is so lovable and so convincingly lost that the multiple foreign traces of your identity are starting to align with his. This is called empathy and it feels very strange. Don’t know what time it is, but I feel like celebrating. I open my wallet and swallow another of Alfred’s bombs and dive carelessly into Soma.