Raphael Farmer is a storyteller, gamer, YouTuber, RTRFM presenter and quite possibly Stephen King’s biggest fan. Raphael was a participant in the 2018 Indian Ocean Mentorship Program with the Centre for Stories, and most recently, the 2019 Centre for Stories Inclusion Matters Hot Desk Fellowship.
Get to know more about Raphael here.
A Thousand Doors by Raphael Farmer
It took all of Jadhin’s courage not to cry. He straightened up in his seat on bus 890 heading towards Wellington Street in the CBD. The bus wasn’t packed but there were enough commuters around that his tears wouldn’t go unnoticed. He did his usual trick where he yawned and quickly rubbed his eyes. He scanned his immediate vicinity and felt some relief as nobody paid attention to him. Leaning his tired forehead against the window, leaning into his receding hairline, he did his best to think of other things. He remembered that a new role-playing game was coming out in just a week. He had put down a deposit for a pre-order at his local EB Games store. Pre-orders are a scam, he thought. But then again, he wanted to make sure he would have a copy on release day. He was often criticised on his most-visited gaming Facebook group for purchasing games on day one. Everybody else, the real gamers, waited at least a month for the price to go down. Many were vocal about their anger concerning the massive difference in pricing when it came to games in Australia. Americans got the same games for half the price on release day. It also made no sense that JB Hi-Fi’s prices often were at least a third cheaper than EB’s.
Jadhin’s spirits were on the up and up as he went on a loop of thoughts about gaming. But when a fellow passenger wanted to sit next to him, he was reminded of just how much space he took up on the bus. Jadhin estimated he was about fifty kilos heavier than his recommended healthy weight range. He stopped using the scales a long time ago. His weight could be in the absolute danger-red now for all he knew. Jadhin short-circuited that thought process by going back to gaming debates in his head. This new role-playing game offered character creation. That made Jadhin happy. He rarely enjoyed games without that particular feature. Clenching his fists, he maintained a grip on those thoughts. Fortunately, ten minutes later, he was off the bus and walking to the train station. Walking kept his insecurities at bay. He couldn’t wait to be out of his work shirt. That awful green colour made him sick as much as constantly smiling at customers who asked him, without at least some smugness, about his career plans. Thank God it was Friday. He had two whole days of gaming ahead of him. Freedom, he thought.
It was past seven o’clock at night when Jadhin finally got off at Daglish station. He hated this commute back and forth to work. He had asked for a transfer to the Subiaco branch two months ago and he was still waiting. He was cold, he was hungry but was glad that he had about a kilo of fried chicken with his name on it back at his share house. It was a shit-box that belonged to the 70s but it was within what he could afford. At thirty-eight years old, it was humiliating to live in a share house, but he had lost the meaning of the word dignity a while back.
His walk to the share house was about fifteen minutes. Walking in Daglish was creepy, especially at night with the trees looming over and seemingly hungry for something. To occupy his mind, Jadhin pictured himself heating up his fried chicken, the crispy skin crackling under the heat and aromatic spices. He could see himself getting comfortable on his single bed that seemed to have been picked up from an abandoned hospital in the 60s. He would load up a movie on his laptop (he would’ve turned it on before doing anything else as it took roughly twenty minutes for it to be ready to run even the most basic application) and he would numb his brain. A smile broke on Jadhin’s face, void of warmth but filled with relief.
The share house was in view now with its lack of lights at the front, a rusty mailbox and an exterior in dire need of a brand-new paint job. Then again, the interior wasn’t any better with its often-wet carpet. Jadhin heard the landlord say he would work on the house but he had been saying that for the past four years now and nothing had ever been done. And as if to lighten the guilt on his conscience, the landlord would drop bags of fruits at the house. Some of them were close to rotten usually. It’s the thought that counts, Jadhin said in his mind, not without some bitterness.
“Excuse me,” said a voice all of a sudden.
Jadhin froze, startled. He looked around and couldn’t see anyone. Damn streetlights were not helpful one bit.
“Good evening,” said the voice again. This time Jadhin turned as soon as he heard and saw its origin. A woman. She was dressed in a light cream and red saree and had a gentle smile. “So sorry to scare you, beta.”
Jadhin smiled back, feeling his heart loosen its grip on his chest. “That’s okay, I was daydreaming.” Jadhin remembered all the times Indian women like her would seem to appear out of nowhere. They were stealthy like Batman.
“It’s good to have dreams,” the Indian woman said. “What’s your name, beta?”
Beta. Jadhin hadn’t been called that in years. He wasn’t a boy anymore. “I’m Jadhin. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Jivani,” she replied and offered a smile that seemed to provoke a cool breeze on Jadhin’s face. ‘I like meeting dreamers,’ she added.
Jadhin’s smile became uneasy as he nodded. His fried chicken, his movie and his numbness were not far behind that woman Jivani. “Well, it was nice talking to you. Have a good evening.” He waved his hand but he barely made a step when the woman spoke up again.
“I have an opportunity for you,” Jivani said.
The almost forty-year old man knew what that meant. Some pyramid scheme probably. He had been given that line before. He smiled politely and replied, “Thank you but I really need to get going.”
“I guarantee that you will find it interesting, Jadhin Binshair.’”
The man froze, eyes widened. “How do you know my last name?”
Jivani smiled bright. “I know many things about you, beta.” She gestured with her hand, making her bracelets cling musically together. It sounded nostalgic. “I know you always regretted not confessing your true feelings to Ryan, your next-door neighbour when you were thirteen. I know you saw your Auntie with another man but said nothing to anyone. I also know how unhappy and miserable you are.”
Jadhin involuntarily took a step back. “What the hell is this? Who are you?”
Jivani smiled bright again. “I told you, beta. I’m here to give you an opportunity.” She looked at him straight in the eyes and the man could see something else behind the Indian woman’s unbreakable stare. “I feel for dreamers and I can’t help but come forward.”
“What are you talking about?” Jadhin asked, his voice growing with concern and confusion. “I don’t have money, if that’s what you’re after.”
“Oh, I’m not after your money,” she said. “Even if I was, there wouldn’t be much I could do with $452.58.”
Jadhin’s heart began racing like mad again. “You’re freaking me out. What the hell is going on? How could you know the exact amount of money in my bank account?”
Jivani held out her hand. “If you take my hand, I will show you,” she said. “But if you don’t take my hand, I will not come back again. This is a one-time only offer.” Her eyes never left his. “You can keep on walking and live out the miserable life you have chosen for yourself. Or you can choose to take a risk for once and see what wonders you can discover.” Her smile turned into a sunlit grin. “The choice is yours, beta.”
Jadhin’s skin shivered as his heart kept beating so hard inside of him that he felt he might have a heart attack. He thought of what waited for him behind the thick smelly wooden door to his shit-box share house and then thought of that boy next door from years ago. Ryan. To have a next-door neighbour of the same age was lucky but for him to also be hot was something utterly rare. Jadhin never said anything. The most he ever did was to nod at Ryan if they happened to cross paths at the local deli or something. Ryan always smiled back, even greeted him a few times. Jadhin could’ve been friends with him easily, the set-up was there. But Jadhin didn’t take the risk. Jadhin never took risks. Ryan’s hot face was on Jadhin’s mind.
“Okay,” he said. “Show me.” He took her hand.
All it took was the blink of an eye and Jadhin gasped out of shock. One moment he was standing on the street to his shit-box share house and the next he was standing in the middle of a dirt path surrounded by trees as tall as the St Georges Terrace’s building. The trunks were massive, as wide as roundabouts. The air lingered between stillness and a fresh breeze. Jadhin felt small and insignificant amongst such majestic beasts of nature. Then his eyes noticed the woman standing a few metres in front of him. Her smile was even brighter than before. Jadhin swallowed as he felt his hands moisten from nerves.
“Where are we?” he asked.
“Home,” she said. “But to you, I suppose, it will be a place where you get to change your life.”
“What are you?” Jadhin wondered. “Are you a witch or something?”
Jivani laughed with heart. “Oh, beta, no, not at all,” she said. “I’m merely a pathway to opportunity. I told you so already. Now, let’s get down to business, shall we?”
Suddenly Jadhin heard a whistle-like noise from far up above and before he could react, loud thuds splattered all around him. Rectangular shaped frames, made of wood and metal. As an echo of those thuds rang throughout the forest, Jadhin heard hard slaps. Hard metallic slaps. He quickly noticed that the frames weren’t empty anymore.
“Doors?” Jadhin’s voice cracked.
“Doorways,” Jivani explained. “Come closer,” she said as she walked towards the closest doorway to them. It smelled like mango.
Jadhin’s heart filled with nostalgia as he stared at the mango-scented door. “Does this lead to somewhere? Like in Narnia?”
Jivani skimmed the frame with her fingers, her bracelets ringing with an echo he hadn’t heard before. “Each of these doors offer you an opportunity at happiness,” she said. “For example, this one right here is about your beloved Ryan.”
“Touch the door,” Jivani said. “Don’t open it yet, just touch it.”
Jadhin rubbed his fingers nervously but did as he was told. He barely pressed his index finger on the mango-scented door that his mind flooded with images of him and Ryan kissing in the rain, on the beach. Ryan giving him birthday gifts. Ryan and him going to Pizza Hut, laughing together. Ryan and him in bed staring at each other lovingly. Then, like a band-aid, Jadhin was ripped from the sequence of images back to the forest. He was out of breath.
“What was it like?” Jivani asked, smiling.
“I felt it,” Jadhin replied. “All of it, I felt everything.” His eyes filled up with tears. His heart had known intense love for a moment and now it was gone. There was a hole in his heart. “I need to go back,” he said, reaching for the door.
“Hold it,” Jivani replied as she stood in the way. “You have only seen half of it.”
“What do you mean?”
Jivani stepped aside. “Touch it again and you’ll see.”
Jadhin didn’t hesitate this time and touched it as soon as she said so. This trip however was not filled with intense love and kisses. This time Jadhin saw Ryan screaming at him. He saw Ryan in tears. Ryan and his parents. Ryan leaving in a car. Jadhin saw the disappointment in his own parents’ eyes.
Out of breath again and this time tears ran down Jadhin’s face. “I don’t understand,” he said. “I thought this was about happiness.”
Jivani’s smile didn’t waver. “It is,” she said. “But there’ll always be balance. Through this door, you will have two years with Ryan. It will be a dream come true. But eventually it comes to an end as you are both caught by his parents. They take him away and you never see each other again.” She looked at Jadhin in the eyes. “You will know misery but through this door, you will also know what it means to be in love and loved in return.”
Jadhin shook his head. “That’s not what I want,” he said. “That’s sick. That’s cruel.”
With a nod, Jivani walked to another door not far from where they were. She stood next to it and waited for Jadhin to join her. The thirty-eight year old man ran a hand over his thinning hair and sighed. He walked over to where the Indian woman was.
“Each door has an offer,” Jivani said. “The same process applies.”
“Wait,” Jadhin said. “So, each of them has a pro and a con? Is that what you’re saying?”
“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Jivani replied. “Balance.”
Jadhin’s eyes stung. “That’s just cruel. That’s not a gift. That’s not even hope!”
Jivani’s smile seemed to brighten at those words. “Beta,” she said, “I said opportunity. I never said anything about gift or hope.” She almost chuckled on that last word.
“Oh my god,” he said. “Are you evil? You’re evil, aren’t you?”
Jivani grinned. “I am not good or evil,” she said. “I am what I am. But if you’re unhappy with this, you can return to your shit-box share house, as you call it.”
Just as Jadhin asked for confirmation, a loud thud was heard. Louder than all the others. Jadhin turned in its direction and saw a white and silver frame with a glass door.
“You go through that door and you return,” Jivani said. “If you do return, you will never be given this opportunity again. One-time offer, as I said.”
Jadhin wanted to walk towards the glass door but his eyes turned to the one closest to him. This one smelled of rose-water. Jadhin could feel the aroma penetrate his pores giving him goose bumps.
“What’s my time limit to check out what those doors have to offer?” Jadhin asked.
Jivani shrugged. “Time limit?” she asked. “There is no time limit. You can stay here as long as you want. You sample each and every door if you wish. But you only get the glimpses once and when you’ve made your choice, you simply go through the door.”
Jadhin turned to the glass door again. His ticket back home, back to reality.
“And the glass door will remain here too? I can go through it anytime?” Jadhin asked, remembering many episodes of The X-Files and Angel he had watched over the years.
Jivani laughed. “Yes, beta.”
Jadhin nodded and approached the rose-water scented door. He took a moment, rubbing his fingers nervously. He touched it. He saw himself learning the piano at a young age, like he always dreamed of but never said a word to his parents about, and he saw himself learning how to sing. He saw his journey to becoming an incredibly successful singer-songwriter. He saw himself on red carpets and being told it was an honour to meet him. A band-aid rip later, Jadhin stepped back and grinned. He felt exhilarated. He took a moment, felt the sweat build up on his face. He rubbed his soft chin which was beginning to feel a bit fuzzy. Once again, he touched the rose-water scented door. He saw his mother in hospital, lengthy stays, and her body slowly decaying over time. He saw his Dad, after she’s gone, a mere shadow of what he used to be. Jadhin saw himself before a concert at Madison Square Garden in New York, it was packed, but his heart was empty. He felt himself wish that his parents were in attendance to see him. He was on the verge of tears as the lights went out signalling that the concert was about to begin. And once he was on stage, he saw himself fake smile the whole way through the setlist of songs. He felt hollow even as he heard the crowd chant his name and sing along to the music he had written himself. He heard himself wish for more time with his parents.
“Oh God,” Jadhin fell to his knees, crying. “That’s not fair. Why are you being so fucking cruel?” He was sobbing, clenching onto the muddy earth.
Jivani’s face was alight with a surreal glow underneath her skin. Her smile was the smile of someone who had a good meal. “This is not cruel, this is balance. You are free to choose, beta.” She stepped away. “I have merely brought you opportunity. It is up to you now.”
When Jadhin looked up, she was gone. In his heart, he knew he would never see her again.
It took him a while to get back on his feet. The remnants of how he felt when he touched the mango-scented door and the rose-water scented door still lingered within him. Once again, he stared at the glass door but did not make a step in its direction. Instead he looked around and saw doors upon doors upon doors in between the massive trees. The glass door wouldn’t go away, as the Indian woman had said. Maybe one of these doors will be the one, Jadhin thought. He could feel his face, his whole body for that matter, begin to heat up. He was sweating as he approached yet another door. His eyes darted around. He thought and thought about it. In the end, he touched the new door with his index finger. His face lit up with ecstasy for a moment and when he stepped back, he placed his hand down on his crotch. He breathed hard and heavy. And after recovering, he placed a finger on the door again. A moment later, he was writhing in the dirt, a guttural scream escaping his mouth. In that moment, he was ready to crawl to the glass door. Jadhin began to do so but as the door’s impact on him slowly diminished, and he stopped. He took a breath and thought that he could still try one more door. Just one more.
“I’ll be fine,” he muttered to himself, not seeing the colour fade from his skin. “It’s not that bad, maybe the next door won’t have such a high price to pay. There’s got to be one good door around here.” He staggered towards another door that smelled of hazelnut chocolate. “Maybe the trick is to have stamina. To endure.” He was heaving. “It’s okay. I’m a survivor. I can do this. I can.”
And as Jadhin wandered around touching the endless stream of doors with the tip of his finger, being invigorated and then drained, he thought, I deserve to be happy.