‘At first pass (= shot) some ten or so Numbers from our hangar were caught napping beneath the engine exhaust – absolutely nothing was left of them but some sort of crumbs and soot. I’m proud to note down here that this did not cause a second’s hitch in the rhythm of our work, no one flinched; and we and our work teams continued our rectilinear and circular movement with exactly the same precision as though nothing had happened. Ten Numbers – that is scarcely one hundred-millionth part of the mass of OneState. For all practical purposes, it’s a third-order infinitesimal. Innumerate pity is a thing known only to the ancients; to us it’s funny.’
We pulled up in our rented vehicle, dwarfed quite comfortably by the incumbent coaches ferrying tourists from sight to sight, and prepared to disembark once again as travelers in a foreign land. In reality the location reminded us, perhaps more grandly than we remembered, of our own homes and the landscape therein, the coast battered by salt-fused waves whilst brash accents announced a population who had become ingrained into the very land they lived on. Our identities remained the same half the world away and we became a self contained unit, a family of friends.
I found myself waiting in a small white room, the generic kind that is omnipresent in publicly funded buildings that leaves the visitor feeling cold. The kind that leaves the visitor with a distinct feeling that time passes slower inside here than it does outside there. I was here for myself, that much I knew, but I was also with my wife who had gone off to get some coffee. Although I had noticed that she had been some time by the time I noticed that she had left. This frayed my already nervous temper somewhat some-more and I found myself clutching the broadsheet newspaper with a tighter grip than usual, so much so that I could see the spots of whiteness in my pallid flesh, the pressure of over-exertion, of the body not quite being able to push around as much blood as it would like.
Although the room was small I found myself seated on one row of twenty chairs, which was one of three or four. I was sat directly opposite the double brown doors that I had come through to reach this waiting room. At the other end of the waiting room there was a corridor which I knew had the offices stationed in discreet intervals. The only entertainment to be had was to view either a dull aging telly whose monotonous outpourings couldn’t be heard or to read through the much fingered magazines and papers, which happened to be some years out of date. I couldn’t imbue the feeling that the papers were out of date for a reason, that this calmed the reader down because he knew ahead of the papers what would happen the day after what they had stated.
The room shifted again and appeared smaller and I larger. There was no telling where this would end.
The information packet that I had received before the appointment entailed little of use, no discrete instruction or direction. Just a time and a date. Of course I knew why I had to come to but not the reason I needed to come. The building was suffocating and it was suffocating my thoughts. I thought that if I had to stay longer, without my name being called out, without an actual person pointing towards me, without wanting me, that I then would leave this place of my own free accord. But of course I could not put a time value on the present moment, I just knew I had to feel it to enact it
Again the room shifted, lurched on its axis and scrunched inwards and became smaller still.
I didn’t mind, I had a seat and a paper and my wife would soon be by my side. I reasoned that my name, whichever it happens to be today, will soon be called and I will be designated another temporary space to call my own. This was the routine, this was how it was organised, and we all had to play along.
I put down my paper and surveyed the other individuals who had been called here, on the same day as me no less. I took a quick head count: 24 people. 13 male and 11 female, none under the age of 19 or so and few over the age of 60. I was approaching that boundary myself. This did not give me hope. The double door shunted open with a protest and I was delighted to see my wife again. Although she appeared irritated and was not carrying the cups of coffee I had so hoped for.
The room shifted once more, this time compacting down to a minute size. It only just allowed myself and my wife the space we needed to sit down next to each other, to look at each other in the eye, and to hold our hands together.
My name was called.
I lost my way today.
I prowled the aisles seeking neither comfort nor nutrition.
The harsh light reflected off the heated glass, the avian carcasses slowly turning for the adulation of the masses.
The thunder of the cars passing by outside could just be heard above the clattering of feet and the chattering of the masses.
I thought that every aisle looked the same, the same vacant stares and the same senseless hands caressing the same old produce. I felt a faint tremor, a flutter in my belly, as I walked slowly up the main arterial corridor.
I caught myself. Was I so cast adrift in my own thoughts and feelings that I could not at least emphasise with these people?
Further up the store, mid section in fact, I saw a crowd gather. The closer I got the thicker it became. A single cry went up and quickly another individual answered in reply and then yet more answered in turn.
I distinguished the quick flick of silver amongst the dour greys and greens of winter jackets.
Then I saw it. The recently much oxidised blood contrasted greatly to the clean glisten of the tiled floor and the harsh white light. A single man had taken to slicing his body open in protestation of life itself. Aiming only for his lower body he scythed at himself and writhed in reply.
Some of the shoppers stopped and tried to help the man, others passed with barely a flicker of their eyes in his direction and yet still more continued on with their shopping, determined not to become a part of this sad sorry scene.
The pools of blood that littered the shop floor snaked from the middle to the exit in irregular lakes, each one representing an individual pump of his heart. The police had apprehended him, calmed him down and led his outside without further incident.
The bloody prints became sectioned off although at least one shopper had absent-mindedly wheeled her cart into the blood and left a trail from one aisle to the next.
I stood rooted to the spot. My legs became iron pillars and a small tear formed at the edge of my right eye as I looked at the trail that the man had left behind.
I walked out of the store, neglecting to purchase the item what I had evidently thought I needed.