Thursday, October 19, 2006

IT goes without saying

Only one knows how far he’s leapt,
And where his darkness turns into light,
But where nothing but left is left…
…Is it right to yet look for a right?

As seagulls laughed in the sky with their haw – haw – haw – haw – haw – haw, perhaps sharing an inside joke, the Prospital drew closer and M655321 simply looked up in disgusted awe at the residence of sickness that lay before him. The building was raised to such a great height that it seemed to dragoon the normality of the normal world into believing that it was false. Here lie the broken spirits of masses, it seemed to say, and you are invited. This invitation was made blatant by the motto of the prospital, Let Your Prospects Prosper, scripted all along the glassy walls of the entrance. All around stood ambulances which looked like chariots of expiry, escorting the ill to their bill. M655321 looked about and saw some Fs in the gardens, walking together and yet alone, each in their own path of tomorrow. Some of them didn’t even bother hanging in groups and simply sat on benches under trees and seemed to gaze into the zeroes that buzzed inside them.
No sooner had he walked into the atrium when he felt the sanitary slap that places like these readily hand out. The air was thick with a chemical reek which was the forte of this fort of disease. It was a bitter-sweet smell that had always made itself at home here at the prospital and dashed around in omnipresence, proud of its input in barricading the viruses and bugs that the customers played host to. He had never liked the niffs here but wasn’t going to be intimidated by something out of reach because all too often, the senses have a sense of their own. He turned his senses to take a more visual account. There were loads of customers either sitting, standing, walking or waiting. There were queues outside several doors, queues longer than the ones you see inside airports, as if these sick customers had intended to fly to a holiday resort but had instead landed at the last resort. As wheelchairs wheeled and stretchers stretched, M655321 made his way to the customer service helpdesk and pressed a buzzer to summon the genies behind the counter. No one appeared so he buzzed again. A F attendant appeared from a room behind the counter carrying some files and stationery. She seemed mildly irritated by his presence and looked dryly at him to ask, ‘Yes? How may I help you?’
‘I’m here to see Doctor 390,’
‘Do you have an appointment?’
‘Then you can’t see him,’ she said and went back to the land of files.
M655321 had come a long way to see the doctor and faintly peeved at being told of the appointment business. He had thought of fixing an appointment before making the long trip down to the prospital but had dismissed it thinking that if one was severely ill, one could hardly be expected of getting an appointment slot. It was common sense but when such sense dissolved into the common masses, it ceased to be common and got the nuance of a noxious nous.
‘Uh, ‘he hesitatingly began, ‘I am really ill,’
She looked up at him all serious, ‘the doctor is busy. Like-I-said. He is busy with Lovers and Actualised customers today. No Physios today. You want to see him, then go make some money,’
‘But I’m going god. I hear voices in my head,’
‘Really,’ she looked him up and down, inside and outside, ‘What do they say?’
The F thought over for a second and then spoke, ‘Have a seat in the Physio ward’s waiting room and I’ll see what I can do.’
M655321 didn’t quire understand the stir in her attitude but heard her tapping on the phone as he walked towards the lift. The prospital’s main lobby was large and misleading, like it was diverting the sick from their own body’s failed design to a more grand construction but he knew this diversion would end when he would step into the Physio waiting room. It was on the nineteenth floor and very small. It was so high up in the building so that the poor would suffer in their pains as they were shelved, and could utilize that time to think of ways in which to make money and not repeat the stigma. Fortunately for M655321, his pains were not so critical and he could bear them easy enough. He could wait long because he had always been a patient patient.
As he waited for the lift, which was on the tenth floor, a stretcher pulled up next to him. Strapped to the stretcher was a little M who had a profusely bleeding hand and a loosely heeding sponsor standing beside him. Both of them had the familiar traits of a family and watched each other with an invisible tension. The little M was still conscious but it was easy to tell that he was in some other place in his head from all the painkillers and drugs given to him. M655321 looked at him in pity because he was perhaps in pain but surely a Physio. Even with the expensive watch on his bleeding wrist. As if reading his mind, his sponsor said, ‘He wouldn’t let anyone take it off. He loves it too much. Swatch. Got it for his tenth birthday,’
As M655321 nodded his head, the lift tinged its arrival.
Once inside the lift, M655321’s initial pity turned to a horrified empathy as he could smell the menace of the young M’s blood in the enclosed metal cage. The bleeder though, simply looked up at the ceiling of the lift, oblivious to the emotions he was planting in others. His sponsor looked worried.
‘Car accident,’ he abruptly said, ‘he was running on the street when a vehicle came out of nowhere and caught him,’
There was a clunk as the watch fell from the wrist of the young M and hit the floor.
‘Pa-pa,’ the young one said slowly and moved his eyes to the floor. His sponsor picked the watch and slipped it back on the wrist carefully. His produce looked satisfied by the touch of the silver watch. Before M655321 got off on the nineteenth floor, the watch fell twice and twice the sponsor picked it up and slid it back on the wrist of the tiny one. M655321 was quite taken in by the whole thing but had his own maladies to attend to.
The first thing he saw when he walked into the waiting room was the high number of customers who were huddled in the tiny space. All the chairs were taken. Observing them at a second glance each, he could tell that most of them were Physios because most were single. Their attire alone gave them away because they were all dressed in cheap CESCO clothes only different in colour and though their feet would all be taking different paths, their shoes only differed in sizes. However, there were a family or two in the midst. There was a young customer who looked like he was quite sick and his sponsor, only a bigger version, sat next to him. In another corner sat a F with her produce in her lap, a little F who appeared to be healthier than her parent. M655321 leaned against a wall and waited. The parent of the M kept looking at his watch like he had somewhere important to go, they always did because they always did. Impatience was a virtue of the rich; the poor had all the time in the world. M655321 kept thinking to himself about what he would say to the Doctor and what he would do after getting out of this place. Nothing came. He had nothing to do; no one to meet. The only customer he had an appointment with was the one standing in his shoes. He carefully aligned his hearing to overlook the general chatter and banter in the room and focus on the ever voluble television mounted in a corner.
‘…And now for some entertainment news on this sunny day of 29th July 2084… the chairman for Coca-cola says that the company’s advertising campaign this summer is going to focus on young customers between the ages of 17 and 23. The advertisement has been hailed by customers everywhere as a work of genius. It features young customers who are suffering from thirst on a hot day. They had been playing football in a park but their thirst makes them stop playing and they sit sadly under a tree because they have no money. But then who should walk into the frame but the football player Pele himself! Pele is playing in the current World Cup and is a major goal scorer in the tournament. He walks to these customers with a crate full of Coca-Cola and hands out bottles to them. After the Coca-cola logo flashes on the screen, Pele and his new associates are seen playing football together. The advertisement is set to go down in history as an effort of instinct because it accurately portrays the pains of the middle-class young customers and identifies their interest in sporting personalities. And what better way to combine the two than have them sip on Coca-cola together? Some critics have compared this ad to the whisky-giant Jack Daniel’s popular ad where George Best, another leading player in the current tournament, is shown vomiting in an alley with a bottle of milk in his hand until some fans walk up to him with their bottle of JD and offer it to him. Best throws away the milk and takes huge gulps from the bottle and walks away into the night, arms around his fans. This was the entertainment news brought to you by Sony. Next, F1901 with the weather. Brought to you in collaboration with Jumpsy umbrellas and L’Oreal sunscreen…’

He spent three more hours in the waiting room. And just when the chemicals that constitute patience dried up in his head, the PA speaker came alive with a reference to him. There was no comfort or console in the mechanical voice as it said, ‘M655321 – Doctor 390’ like it was a verbal marriage afforded by a higher hand. So he picked up himself and walked to the metal cage that would take him down seven floors to his prescriber.
In the lift again, he stared at the curious creature in the mirror. Sometimes he would forget that it was him in the glassy abyss and pretend that it was an alien reflection looking back, one over which he had no control. But this pretension would not last for more than a few minutes when he would see the same strange stranger in another mirror. Reflections are funny like that; they seem to stamp an identity onto you. One can be down and out or up and in but in the mirror, he sees exactly what he is – hopes, fears and desires wrapped in flesh. ‘Twelfth floor,’ the voice of the lift snarled and parted the gates for him.
He walked through the azure corridors as the smell of disinfectants infected him. He knocked on the doctor’s gate and was invited in by a falsetto. He had been to Doctor 390’s office a lot of times but each time had found it different. The doctor was into architecture and changed his office around each week, moving the desk and chairs and examination couch in different angles. But one thing remained the same and it was the huge amount of stick-it notes that he had planted on the walls, so much so that one could be forgiven for thinking that the yellow walls were actually green.
‘Hello M655321, is all well? Have a seat.’
M655321 had a seat and began, ‘All is not well, doctor. I feel quite troubled and anxious these days and of late I have been getting some dark thoughts,’
‘Dark thoughts,’ the doctor repeated and noted on his notepad, ‘What sort of dark thoughts?’
‘Well, to begin with I hear voices in my head and they tell me to do things I do not want to,’
‘I see,’ said the doctor and moved closer to him and examined his ears.
‘What are you looking in my ears for?’
‘The last patient who complained of voices in her head, an old F, had forgotten that she had a hearing aid in her ears and was overhearing her neighbours. Those were the voices in her head. You’d be surprised the number of times customers say they have voices in their heads when they’ve forgotten to take off the Bluetooth.’
‘There’s nothing in my ears. There are real voices. In my head.’
‘I see,’ said the doctor, although it was certain he didn’t, and went back to his chair mumbling, ‘What do these voices say?’
‘They say things like “take a bath” and “tip the waiter”, even when I clearly don’t want to. And when I’m around Fs, these voices increase to a horrifying frequency. They tell me to simply fall in love, even though I’m aware that I’m a Physio and am clearly not entitled to love as yet.’
‘That’s good. You need to remember that you are a Physio and are clearly not entitled to love as yet. To love, M655321, you need a full wallet. You need more than voices in your head. Voices are hardly a substitute for currency. Are you greatly troubled by these voices?’
‘The thing is, I realize that these voices are of my own making but I hardly remember making them. They seem to come from somewhere else entirely. They tell me that sex is bad. They tell me that there is something rotten in the state of the mall. It’s like these voices disagree with everything I see before me.’
The doctor grinned a little and coughed to make his voice more sombre, ‘M655321, M655321. What you have can hardly be labelled as sex. Sex is intercourse with a breathing, live, F. You are a Physio and hence in the nation of masturbation. That is not sex. It is merely playing, literally, to your own tune. To have sex, one must be a Lover and to be a Lover one must have adequate money. There is no romance without finance.’
M655321 was a little disappointed by the doctor’s comment. Of course he knew he was a Physio but what he came to hear was that there was the slightest chance that he was in love without the money thrown in the equation, that the disease that makes customers hold hands at bus stops and walk around drowning in each other’s eyes was what had infected him. Apparently not.
‘Then what should I do? Simply make more money?’
‘Yes, simply make more money. Actually, it is your prescription to make an extra two hundred pounds this week and show it to me in cash the next time you come over. Money makes everything all right M655321; you should know this by now.’
‘But I have problems with the knowledge that somewhere out there is a F who may like me but won’t fall in love with me because I don’t have the right amount of money. And I don’t like masturbation. Doesn’t it trouble you that customers cannot even indulge in their so-called desires without money in hand? ’
The doctor propped his head forward and said, ‘The Corporation has strict rules and you know that. You must have a minimum of 30,000 pounds in your bank account before you can even think of love. And as for masturbation, it is a seedy endeavour but one that customers must participate in to keep themselves busy. Don’t knock it off; it is love with someone you love. It is,’ he stopped for a chuckle of sorts, ‘very handy.’
M655321 was suddenly very disgusted and had a wave of nausea travel in his being. He pictured himself from a higher plane and saw all those desperate, broken nights when he had silently tugged at himself, furiously pumping for love like there was no tomorrow and then find simple, unattended, unassisted, love bare in his hands. There was something not quite funny about the whole thing and even when he had shrugged his shoulders at the realization that he was alone, it seemed that there was no end to his shrugging, like his shoulders wanted to get away from him and simply shrug all the way to freedom.
‘So that’s it. That’s all you want me to do, that’s all the Corporation wants me do, simply make money and then find a nice little associate to spend the rest of my life with?’
‘No it does not stop there M655321. The Corporation wants you to reproduce and fill the Mall with the customers of tomorrow. It simply wants to make sure that the customers of tomorrow are better customers and who will actively engage in give-and-take like you and me. We don’t want customers going god and responding to voices in their heads. So take care M655321 that you don’t respond to these voices in your head because I do like you and would hate to see you go down in confusion. You know what the Corporation laws are, if you indulge in sex with a F, she must earn equal to you or else there are bound to be marital problems because of the cash factor. A very important factor I might add.’
‘God knows,’
‘No god does not know M655321, remember that. The CEO knows and he will leave no stone unturned to make sure that he knows which is which and who is who. Get some rest or better yet, get some money. Don’t forget the prescription, two hundred pounds, I want to see it on you the next time I see you. Now disappear, I have some Lovers and Actualised to take care of.’
‘But what about the voices?’
‘What about them?’
‘How do I make them go away?’
‘You can’t make them go away but what you can do is bribe them. Make enough money and even the voices are silent because they know what’s good for them. A sound body lives in a sound mind and a sound mind lives in a sound wallet. Goodbye.’
M655321 looked at the doctor in a disagreeable manner but knew that the goodbye was rigid and had the tone of certainty.
‘Bye,’ he gave in with a disoriented mumble and made to the door.
Walking to the lift again, M655321 was barely aware of the disinfectants because he was much too lost in himself. The encounter with the doctor had left a bad taste in his mouth because there is something quite disturbing about someone telling you things you already know. Advice seems nothing but advertised vice when all it fulfils is the advisor’s own purpose in the suggestion. Advice, especially from a certified understander of the mind, needed to be something that would calm his mind and make him see things from a different perspective. But the perspectives of these certified understanders were themselves haunted by fears beyond their own comprehension and there was some fizzy catch involved in their working. They were landlords to their own ghosts and as such inclined to make everyone subscribe to the same ghosts.
Maybe, he thought, I should see an Intellecturer again. He had seen them before but as disappointed as he was in them, he knew that they were a different species of suggestors. The Intellecturers were lecturers on the intellect and they made you lie down on a couch while they made various suggestions about this and that. They seemed to think it made an awful lot of difference which way you acted once they had given you a direction, but in the bigger picture they were simply unneeded pixels crowding the frame for their own talk. Shrinks shrinking the poor general mind to borders of their own. There is no border to my mind, he thought, no border at all; I want to go all the way. Is that such a crime? He thought of visiting some Cocktors as well but dismissed the thought as soon as it had appeared. Cocktors were doctors of the cock, but he knew what they would tell him, they would tell him all sorts of rubbish about how genitals have a mind of their own and how one must go hand-in-hand with them so as to satisfy one’s urges; as if existence was merely a horny game of hide and seek. One had to be crazily stupefied by genitalia to devote a lifetime to them.
Laughter ran inside of him, a menacing but self-sufficient laughter that seemed to finish on the edges of itself but laughter was good. Laughter was fine. Laughter usually meant that the weather inside of him was not too bad; it meant that there was still hope. It meant that after the tempest inside of him there was still an untouched, unhampered place that was pristine and available for ridicule. Laughter was a favourite of his and many a night he would hunt at something to laugh at because it was just so wholesome and nutritious. He loved laughter because of the way it always seemed to disperse the unfriendly bacteria in him to make room for the friendly ones. Laughter was so beautiful. Every chuckle, every smile, every grin seemed to contain layers and layers of mood that no one else would understand, entire spheres of irony and sarcasm that were beyond the reaches of another mind, trapped for eternity in a skull for the simple pleasure of making his mouth go wide. Beautiful.
‘Thirteenth floor,’ the elevator said and went silent, as if expecting a riposte.
M655321’s mind was now full of dirty animation. There were spaces in his mind that needed to be cemented with knowledge of some sort. Substitutes to what the doctor had said needed to be accommodated in favourable departments. M655321 simply poured new knowledge into old and watched the brew. Too many cooks may spoil the broth but in the broth that was boiling under his watch, the more cooks the better. Such playful demeanours rested by his conscience that he felt obliged not to act in another way. As his brain ticked in rhythm with the ultimate clocks of fate, he was suddenly alone no more.
The sponsor and his young M from before came into the lift, one on feet and one on a stretcher. The sponsor had tears welled up in his eyes – filthy chemicals that seemed to represent disregard, disappointment, fear and the end of some illusion. There is nothing more painful than the end of some illusion and it was easy to see which illusion of this customer had passed away – the fantasy that his son would walk away from the accident intact. His son was broken, broken for good or for bad, either way it made no difference. He was broken. His arms were taken away and under the green prospital sheet, where there should have been arms, there was now a vacancy that could never be filled. The son was unconscious, of course, as drugs had lulled him with their synthetic lullaby and delayed the prising surprise that lay for him to understand. Before pity could plague M655321’s mind in its entirety again, the sponsor spoke, perhaps, to barricade the tears swimming in his eyes. ‘They said that it had to be done,’ he said and added, ‘they said that it had to be done.’
M655321 looked at the M and thought of something to say but words could only make things worse. Words were impressed with their own meanings and distributed empathy, pain and accord like hot cakes and didn’t, couldn’t, bother with the abjectness of real life. Language is at the best of times merely what it intends to be – a simple communication device. It overlooks all those unmentionable depths, those unutterable pinnacles and those unspeakable understandings that channelled between speakers. A prolix bouquet was at times not received well, even if it was arranged well. At such points, things seemed to go without saying. It went without saying. No one knew what it was, they couldn’t trap such mediums in their tongues but all they knew was that it went… it goes somewhere.
M655321 invited it into the lift as he thought of something to say to the saddened customer before him. He saw the Swatch watch in the M’s hand and suddenly there were tears galloping across his own head. There seemed to be something tainted in the very nature of existence, for, isn’t the cosmos flawed if it contains one broken heart? This one broken heart was a finite proof of the failings of the higher order. Case closed. The omnipresent seemed to be omniabsent and taking a vacation in some corner of the pathetic creation he had created; a creation desperately in need of repairs and maintenance. If the Supreme Being worked for him, he would have fired him. He would have dismissed this shoddy creation of childlike design, with all its cancers and phlegm flying around, with all its cruel paradoxes and inadequacies at the core of it, with all its things that went without saying.
The Swatch watch simply hung in the M’s hand like an unnecessary garland, demanding some sort of explanation for it being away from its original owner; the young M who would perhaps shy away from time altogether. M655321 finally made the attempt of arranging solace in expression, ‘It is all for the greater good, they must have done it with good reason.’
The M looked at him like he was miles away and said, ‘Some good it has done, the poor boy can never play tennis, can never drive cars, can do nothing ever again–’ he stopped to properly display the watch in his hand, ‘he can never wear a watch again.’
The lift could have slid faster. This exotic encounter was making M655321 unbearably uncomfortable. The dazed M, fresh from under the surgeon’s knife, looked like some wrangled cabbage. The vacancy of his arms made M655321 quite aware of his own arms and how they casually hung around, minding their own business. He thought of the young M’s severed arms and pictured them sitting in a jar somewhere. He shuddered. And then an awful enquiry came upon his head – what would the young M ask for when he opened his eyes? Would he ask for his watch or a wrist to place it on? Suddenly M655321 saw the accurate climate of the mishap waiting before the innocent produce. Money can’t buy everything. There he was, with a prescription for making two hundred pounds and there he was with his subtracted arms, incapable of anything. Underneath the sky there was now an added burden, an extra grumble. Opportunity may always knock on the door but calamity had a way of sneaking through the back door till it stared you in the face and usually it was you who blinked, pulling some stupid face to come to terms with what lay before you. But something told M655321 that no twist of face would comprehend the urgency of the handicap that lay before him; unconscious and dreaming of fairies and angels.
These were passing thoughts and he knew they would disappear as soon as he walked out of the prospital but one thing, one thing that haunted him more than any other was the sheer uncommunicative air with which he could ignore the whole situation and move on and get busy making money. Within a fortnight, he would hardly remember a thing about the day and forget all about the cruel stabs that fate made on those who least expected it or worse yet, deserved it. With a temporary sadness, he looked once more at the kayoed child and waited for the lift to hit ground zero. Whether the child wanted a watch or an arm to watch was in the folder of some higher supervisor, all he wanted to do was walk away from the catastrophe and forget about it. Forget about it all.
When the lift said it was ‘going down’, for the first time in the day he tasted certainty; no matter how down… no matter how out.

(to be continued...)

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