This week’s short story is dedicated to Jo Rodrigues, who sent me the prompt: “Centred Pete, The Centipede”
Pete stood at his window, watching the world go by: the park that stood opposite with the dogs bounding happily, the gardens with the washing blustering on the line, the cars idling down the road at a Sunday speed, the children playing with a ball and the adults lounging around. It was warm as the sun landed on his face, and he sighed with contentment. He was at peace, he was finally centred. Centred Pete, they call him today. Centred Pete the Centipede. He smiled as the warmth of the sun sank into his soul. Today is going to be a good day, he’d decided, daring not to move from his centre-perch.
Centred is a tenuous place to be, you see. Just a touch to the left or a hop to the right, and suddenly you are off-centre, perhaps even a little bit wonky. It’s also mightily hard to maintain. You have to move in order to go about your daily routine – down for a bit of food, up when you meet a friend. As he watches the rest of the world enjoy their Sunday afternoon, Centred Pete ponders this, and wonders to himself.
What would life be like if I were always centred? He asks as he soaks up the warmth of the sun and dozes, heavy eyelids tipping the balance between open and closed. What it would be, he thinks, is boring. Could he ever truly appreciate the joys of his peaceful Sunday afternoons if every afternoon were the same? Because of course, he’s not Centred Pete every day.
On Monday, he is Tired Pete, dragging himself up from a long slumber and preparing for the long day ahead. His many legs move at the speed of sludge and his brain isn’t much quicker either. And after his working day is done, he tries meditation on the advice of his colleagues, in order to calm and quieten his mind. A way, he hopes, to bring back the Centred Pete of Sundays. He rises up on his back half, arranges his front little legs into vaayu mudra, and ‘om’s for peace. It may work for a few moments, and it may work for other centipedes, but every Monday, Tired Pete realises that meditation is not the way for him.
On Tuesday, he is Stressed Pete. Anger wells up inside him, frustration and irritation bubbling over. He feels as though he’s crawling through a tonne of fallen bricks as the pressure of work settles on his back, breaking each of his one hundred little legs. He wants out. It’s on days like this that he thinks back to the Centred Pete of Sundays and wonders whether he will ever get back to that (for unlike us, he forgets that Sunday is always less than a week away). So once he gets home, he tries to centre himself again – this time with affirmations.
“You are a marvellous centipede,” he says to himself as he looks in the mirror. “You are calm and centred and wonderful.” But he only succeeds in misting up the mirror, whilst remaining unbalanced himself.
On Wednesday, he is Hungry Pete, and off he goes in search of food. He hunts down his prey and pounces on the juicy spiders and worms, munching them down with delight but still, he is not centred. And so, in an attempt at mindfulness, he alters what he eats – for a healthy diet leads to a healthy mind and a healthy mind brings centeredness with it. But as he spits out the apple and the orange in disgust, he realises that just like meditation and affirmations, fruit and vegetables are not for him.
On Thursday, he is Fed-Up Pete. He’s fed-up with the world and all that is in it. He’s fed-up with mourning the loss of his centeredness, and he’s fed-up with his attempts to get them back. So on Thursdays, he tries a different tact. Exercise, he’s heard, is good for your mind. He puts on his little sweat bands and his one-hundred tiny trainers, finds his aerobics video, and steps in-time to the cheesy 1980s pop music whilst the woman grins at him wildly from the screen.
“1,2! 1,2!” she declares with joy as she pounds out the numbers on her own step, but that happiness doesn’t translate to poor old Fed-Up Pete’s heart. His sweat band is soaked, his many legs are full of aches, and he feels completely off-centre. Exercise, then, is getting him nowhere too.
On Friday, he’s Hopeful Pete – hopeful that he’s going to find the way to centeredness today. He trots to work with a merry smile, his little briefcase swinging and his little bowler hat bobbing as he greets the passer’s-by. Today will be different, he thinks. Today will be the day. He’s heard about community being the path to enlightenment – relationships and friendships and love. So he joins a group and meets with other centipedes. He tries to engender some friendships. But all these chatters and niceties make Hopeful Pete remember one important thing – he actually doesn’t like other centipedes. He thinks them full of false platitudes and irritating habits. So community is not for him either. With a sigh and a nod, he plods his way home, still hopeful that tomorrow will bring something better.
On Saturday, he is Excited Pete, for he knows that his long working week is almost over. Only one more day to do before his regular day of rest, the day when he can watch the world go by from his little window. He’s Happy Pete too, with a grin and a wink, going about his daily duties with joy. Still though, he strives for centeredness and when he arrives home late on Saturday he tries what he thinks of as his last-ditch attempt. He gets out the pipe and stuffs it with pot before lighting it and watching the smoke twirl up and away. As he inhales, he lies back, letting his eyelids droop and his smile grow and he moans “yeeeah man,” with a smoky, croaky voice. He’s content – momentarily – although he soon realises it’s temporary and hardly worth the effort. So maybe the drugs don’t work either.
On Sunday though, on Sunday he is Centred Pete. You see, Centred Pete the Centipede is only really centred on a Sunday, when he can sit in the centre of the centre window, of the centre flat in the centre apartment block. And of course, that block sits just in the centre of his street, which is right in the middle of town. It’s only here in the centre that Centred Pete the Centipede is ever truly centred. He clings to his window and watches the world go by: the adults lounging and the children playing, the cars idling down the road. The washing blustering and the dogs bounding through the park just across the way. Today, they call him Centred Pete. Centred Pete the Centipede.