In the Belly of Guile
by Pedro Blas González
Part 2 and Part 3|
appear in this issue.
|part 1 of 3|
Paper is the strongest material ever invented by man. Stronger than stone, scissor or sword, it has always held the fate of the world within its modest dimensions.
Paper is also a whore.
Prostituting itself to the greatest common denominator, paper begs the question as to the nature of good and evil. How else can it cover its ulterior motives, its stealthy tracks? Unfortunately, few ever notice this taking place under the very entrails of some of the institutions and morals that they cherish.
Paper is a cheap, unbridled harlot.
Even though most of the time it looks virginal white — its purity undoubted — paper is Janus-faced. It will rip the righteous apart like a serial killer in a moonless night.
Beware, paper is a lowly whore.
I met Gusiflax Agrimur on a sunny day. It was the kind of day that I thought nothing could go wrong. I remember him to be a quirky man. My first impression of him was that of someone who reveled in a kind of existential sophistication, if not complexity, that makes one work for its meaning.
Gusiflax was charming, however. He always had a smile for everyone he met. The man smiled incessantly. Working and, I suppose, living to a certain extent amongst what are best described as mostly joyless people, I found him to be a very happy guy. I was very impressed with the very first thing he told me: “People no longer believe in evil because they no longer have it in them to pay attention to detail.”
Gusiflax came to occupy an office three offices away from mine. For the first year of his employment in our department, I had occasion to speak with him only sporadically. For one, he traveled a great deal. When not teaching, Gusiflax was never in his office. And come the weekend, I heard that he would travel to very far places in what I imagined to be short periods of time. Immediately he attained a reputation as something of a swinging hedonist. I found the man to be tireless.
I went home and thought about what he said. While watching a baseball game several nights later, I sat staring at the television and pondering about the meaning of his words.
Gusiflax always managed to say some very striking things. On one occasion at the start of our acquaintance he told me that the greatest evil is that which passes itself as good. Deception, without a doubt, he went on to say is the vocation of the devil.
Interesting, I thought. But being forty-two years old and being formed in the 1970’s, I found it hard to believe any of the things he told me. I simply found him to be a rather peculiar guy. Yet there was something about him that I couldn’t help but to take seriously. Well, actually, there were two things.
You see, Gusiflax had these penetrating eyes that, once they made contact with others, clung on like the tentacles of a ferocious octopus. He certainly had this effect on me. But I noticed how this was also the case with other people.
The other remarkable thing about Gusiflax is that he seemed ageless. No matter how long I talked with him, I still could not decipher his age. I was always amazed at how nondescript he looked. To this day I cannot say if he was old or young.
Once in his office, I noticed that he had many diplomas, certificates and awards on the walls. The walls in his office were filled with these public accolades of brilliance and public service. I was stunned to see how many there were. He seemed to have traveled the world over.
He took a quiet delight in watching me looking at his collection of trophies. His Mona Lisa smile gave it away. And everywhere that he went, sure enough, there was a trophy celebrating his genius and moral goodness.
“You seem to be taken in by my awards,” he said, getting up to point one out.”
“Congratulations,” I said.
“I don’t make much of it, but everyone else seems to.”
“You have attained so much in such little time, it seems.”
“It’s funny you should say that, because I actually feel quite ancient.”
“You certainly don’t look it.”
“Ah, but you see, the secret is in learning to rejuvenate ourselves.”
“You’ll have to share this secret with me some time.”
“Any time. For now, let me just say that it is only what we have inside that matters. Don’t pay too much attention to all of this stuff. It sounds like a cliché today, I know, but this still holds true as always. The world is ancient, and since the beginning people have been moved by appearances. This is its downfall, you know. I personally find myself in the odd situation to be given these things,” he said, referring to the awards. “It is another thing what I actually think of the people that give me these things. But I’ll spare you the boredom. That is another story altogether.”
“You mean to say that you do not enjoy all of this?” I said, pointing at one wall.
“I do on at least one level. But between you and me, I have to tell you that I don’t have a great deal of respect for the people that give me these things.”
“That’s odd, wouldn’t you say?”
“Without a doubt. I only tell you because I know that you are an upright man, a man of conviction. We must remember that people like to regard themselves based on their perceived idea of doing good. It’s a really funny thing, this goodness, you know,” he went on, his face now animated and his eyes piercing as ever.
“We ought to get together some time. I like to hear more of your ideas.”
“Ideas? Not ideas, please. The world is no more moved by ideas than it is by five-foot tall Martians with laser guns. Come now, don’t be so easily deceived. The world, my friend, may I call you friend?”
“Of course. I don’t see why not.”
“Good. I like flexible people. Like I was saying, the world is run by a primitive thing called will. That’s all. It’s all pretty animalistic, dare I say?”
“I’ve never heard it said quite like that before. You are making me think about this.”
“Do yourself a favor and don’t think. Ours is a pretty unoriginal, tow-the-line kind of business, don’t you think? You may lose yourself in the process.” When he said this, I noticed that he took his eyes from me, and instead rolled them back into his head like one in a trance. He then began to pace about the small office.
“Are you understanding me?” He then asked.
“I think so.”
“No. I mean not with ideas, but with your will. Can you see what I am saying?”
“I understand you perfectly well, Gusiflax.”
“Not with the mind. Can you see what I am telling you? I mean just that, can you see?” He was getting worked up.
“I apologize, but I sometimes get excited when I engage in this kind of talk.” He now began to talk incessantly.
He went on talking, no longer addressing me, but looking down at the floor. I was becoming bored by all this talk. I was about to return to my office, when from under his breath he uttered: “Come on in, Dutch.”
I was frozen in my tracks. At first I thought he was joking or mere coincidence. He was now sitting, looking down. This man was looking to be a handful. Quickly, I came to notice an underlying emotional instability that I became uneasy with. “Come on in, Dutch,” was what my mother would say when she poked her head outside the kitchen door and called me in for dinner.
As he went on talking, two of his plaques and diplomas stuck out. One was from a division of the United Nations for his “untiring dedication to world peace.” The other, even though less ambitious, nevertheless registered in my mind as well. Interesting. This was a diploma issued by the Vatican for, “his faith and conviction.” Rather odd, I thought, because for I personally knew Gusiflax Agrimur to be an admitted atheist.
I then asked Gusiflax about his degree in “World History.” I had to do something to make him come out of what now I saw as his mesmerizing, narcissistic and self-consuming trance.
This man loved to talk about himself.
“That one,” he said, referring to the degree. “Yes that one. Oh, that’s a special one indeed. As you can see, I received that one from a university in Israel. I had a terribly enjoyable time there. I really did. Israel is such a nice place. I have very fond memories of my time there. But then again, I always have a great time everywhere I go.”
“How did you find time to study?”
“Ah, study! It’s always best to live our history rather than study it, don’t you think?”
“I suppose so,” I said, not really knowing what he meant.
* * *
One morning at around 9:30 a.m. I was sitting at my desk writing some bills, when I noticed how the dial of my watch became reflected on the wall, as the light of the low, southern autumn sun hit it. I played with this reflection for several minutes. Pointing the light at some of my family pictures that hung in front of me, I became aware of how striking this light was on the faces of the people in the pictures. I highlighted faces at random. The features became prominent, like Christmas ornaments reflecting light.
The next morning Gusiflax came to my office. He offered to treat me to lunch. It was a light day for me, so I conceded. The university cafeteria was bustling with students. Some ate alone while others were rowdy, expressing their emotions according to the highlights of the sports news.
“Raymond you intrigue me,” he said, as soon as we were seated.
“Me? Why is that?”
“The way you live, I mean. You’ve lost so much, to so many bastards, and for what?”
“Haven’t we all? And how would you know, Gusiflax?”
“No not everyone suffers the same. There I will have to disagree with you. How do I know about you, you ask? Natural psychology, my friend. That’s the thing. The winners all have it. The losers don’t have a clue. Nothing else in the world of men, you know. Everywhere I’ve been people, damn people are all the same, don’t you agree? Originality is not a common staple of man. Have you ever thought why such profound inequities exist? It’s a scandal, don’t you think?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, look at you. You’re a good man. You’re constantly minding the well-being of others — and sincerely too, may I add. You can say that I can tell the good from the evil. It’s a special gift of mine.”
“It’s also a matter of conscience. Don’t you agree?”
“But of course it is,” he said, pounding on the table. “Excuse me my friend, but I get excited about these things. The students all find me strange. Some even fear me. Imagine that. I, who always try to be so accommodating. I’m sorry. I’m digressing again. It’s a bad habit of mine. But, as I was saying, ah, yes, conscience. Conscience. I hate to bring up the topic during our peaceful meal, but would you agree that people suffer for having a good conscience?”
“Without a doubt. But it lets those who know better do what they must at all cost.”
“Well, that’s all very easily said. Am I being too forward? You’ll have to excuse me. I know that sometimes I am a bit too curt in my approach.”
“No, not at all.”
“The way I have come to view conscience is in keeping with how most people see it. I guess you can call me an underachiever. During my youth I was given to pangs of conscience, good will, that kind of thing. But as the years passed, and how slowly it all seems to me, I came to understand what a waste of human vitality the whole thing is.’
“The whole thing?”
“My friend, haven’t you learned that the world is fantasy? A veiled fantasy, actually.
“Veiled, no less.”
“Oh, but where have you been all your life?” he asked, his eyes wide open now and seemingly surprised.
“I suppose I’ve missed some of what you are saying.”
“Perhaps you have. I think you have. But it is not too late for you to learn to see.”
“Too late? I don’t follow you.”
“Will, my friend, will. It’s all about will, and not exactly how you may have come to think about this.’
“Now don’t take all of this personally. We must remain charitable in our dealings with each other. Don’t you think?”
“But of course. How else will the charade, the fantasy as you have called it continue to thrive?”
“You don’t know how much I agree with you. Now, you see, you are giving me hope,” he them let out a roaring, coarse laugh. Students at nearby tables turned and looked.
Copyright © 2007 by Pedro Blas González