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Serious Man (a Sartrean experiment)

Writing by Will Penkethman-Carr. Image via Unsplash.

From an iron sky the wind cuts into protesting bodies; winter occupies April. The crowd not far off will break itself up in under an hour. We will not involve ourselves, our orders tell us to keep our distance, but from the muted glances thrown our way it is obvious that our presence is felt. I momentarily look down at my heavy boots, and think once more: they are protesting me. The thought lingers, and its end is simply that all this will blow over in a couple of weeks. They are only kids anyway, and one day they will stand here too. They will grow up and understand. They will be accountants, councillors, lawyers, psychologists, traffic wardens, businessmen, just like everyone else.

Another chilly gust; the crowd shivers. I bury my hands deeper into my pockets and glance over at Sarah, who has not stopped looking at them for a moment. She stands like I do, a mirror image in the same uniform, and once again I realise I have nothing to say to her. For some time now I have been wondering who would win in a fight - me or her? I look at where she is looking: there cannot be more than a hundred of them. Most of them did not even bring placards; their heart must not be in it. Yes, I think again, they will come around eventually, they must sense that they cannot last. Well-meaning, but shortsighted. The only messages that I can read from a distance are ‘Kill the Bill’ in all the various accusatory ways of saying it. Another burst of applause that dies followed by another speaker taking the stage. The tannoy loudspeaker is muffled, and only the occasional word can be made out. ‘Police’, ‘Govern’, ‘Murder’, and so on. They have no idea. Fucking arrogant uni students always think they’re right.

‘This will all be over in an hour’, Sarah suddenly says without turning to face me. ‘Yes’, and I quickly add before she forgets that I am here, ‘it will lead to nothing’. Sarah goes quiet again, and I seethe in silence - I cannot get a rise out of her. This is why I prefer being with the Boys. Not that I think they make better officers, everyone must be equal and all that, but Christ you’re allowed to laugh sometimes! But nothing, there is nothing more to it. I grudgingly stop that thought even though the taint of irritation remains.

They have started chanting. Feebly too: there are not enough of them to make a racket and all that happens is that the mums and dads with their prams turn their heads, then go. It will lead to nothing. The bloke who kamikazed himself will be locked up, hopefully get a good shrink, and that will be all. Some of the protestors leave - a little too cold for justice, eh? Upon seeing that, I lean back on my heels and feel the wind. Everything is on our side. The thought is warm and solid; I plant my feet more firmly into the turf.

Arthur comes up to join us. I smile at him: Arthur is eternally well-meaning to the point where he is sometimes soft. Even though he is only a year younger than me, I will always see him as a new recruit. We chat, but already I cannot escape the feeling that I am not really there: Arthur speaks to me like he speaks to everyone. Sarah does not speak, she is still staring at the protestors. I notice that from her profile she almost looks beautiful. For some reason she looks Australian to me: her skin is somehow slightly tanned even in winter. She should be smiling, but no, she looks at them with the same serious face as mine. When I asked her about the other Sarah once, her face did not change then either. All I did was agree with her responses: that woman should have taken better precautions. Not to excuse that officer, of course.

Me and Arthur cease talking. We now just stand there, three pillars, there to the very end. If it were not for us, they would lock everybody up. It’s them who want to hurt us, and it is our duty to stop them before they do. Stop them from doing anything stupid. I glance at Arthur and Sarah to see if I can tell whether they are thinking the same thing. But their faces are serious, like mine, and I cannot tell. Another burst of applause; a short-lived uproar like the rest. More people leave with that, and the crowd continues to slowly dwindle. Those that remain look lonely.

I silently laugh as I wonder what it would be like if I gratuitously stripped off my badge and joined them - just to help out with their numbers a bit. The faces on both sides would equally regard me as a traitor for stepping outside my allotted role. The fact is that such an act is impossible: it does not even bear thinking about, even if it is strictly speaking physically possible. One decisive rip then the walk, the walk into their midst, and from there I would not be able to return. It would be like jumping off a cliff.

And suddenly I begin to fear myself, because I can destroy my life in an explosion of other people’s shock. Vertigo enters my body: I can shout, scream ‘Heil Hitler!’, and punch Sarah in the face, I can take up a placard and shit upon my life. I quickly glance at the others again to see if they have noticed anything. No, their faces reveal nothing to me of their thoughts: I am alone. And being alone, they cannot stop me.

I manage to calm myself down a bit, but even in the calm there is no certainty that I won’t start thinking those strange thoughts again. Another burst of applause - a sweep of mild relief filters into me because it is another signal that my destructive possibility is withering. Soon I won’t have any room to choose to join them, it will be a mere memory. Let it end soon because my feet no longer feel as planted as they were.

Christ, is it that easy? It is that easy to lose balance, to betray? I’m sweating bullets; to send a line back to Earth I utter maliciously, ‘Fucking protesters!’. ‘Easy mate,’ says Arthur, ‘they’re only kids’. Yeah, just kids, and with that Arthur pulls me further back to reason. I channel that calm respectful authority of our office, I channel the world of clocks, signposts and tax returns. I must think of nothing but that: the protest has no hold over me, it is merely vertigo. Why then is it so firmly wedged in my legs to carry me off? It has got inside; it is welded into and become me. I could do it, and it is not about whether I want to do it or not: it is a sheer possibility, and it should never have become possible. How dare a thought betray me like this! It must have been the very sight of those protesters that set it off.

Well, no more of this, I will not have it. I will follow you - I silently address the crowd with newfound hatred - I will follow you. I will watch your movements, and forever be there to stop you: you are offensive to me. My future I will determine to make yours, there will be order, oh yes there will, there will be no more of this, No No No!

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