by Kallirroe Agelopoulou
No one man can hold the world. The sky was falling. Kane’s head kept turning round and round, desperately looking for a spot of normalcy. There was none.
It wasn’t just the heavy clouds, the dark blobs reaching down, touching the ground. They looked like factory fumes, as if they were rising up to the sky instead of the other way around. It wasn’t just the feeling that one could reach out and touch the very top of everything, the galaxies and the stars if you wanted to; it was the strangeness of it all: the smallness, the lack of scale. Proper scale.
It was as if the whole world, the Earth and the clouds and the universe had all been put inside a box that somebody had smashed repeatedly from all sides. The angles of the blows were reflected on the ground, in the sky, everywhere. Soft blows: no destruction. Just a quiet shifting of all the beautiful things: of the towers and the clocks, of endless skyscrapers and pristine roads, the statues of marble and gold. A nudge had transformed the reality of the City into something else: another world, coming closer and closer.
The meeting was almost ready to begin. The area inside the building should have been comfortable; heaters were buzzing their warmth and permeating the atmosphere. But Kane still felt cold as he walked down the corridor toward the main hall. Everyone did; he could see it in their faces, in the way they dressed, the way they camouflaged their true demeanor under big smiles and heavy pullovers.
Even Mr. Rogers, their awfully tedious supervisor, seemed anxious to get this over with. “Are we ready to begin?”
They all nodded eagerly.
“First in today’s line of business, the new shipment of squatters. I’m happy to say that after this last batch has been taken care of, the whole northeastern area will finally be considered clear.”
The monitor in the center lit up a stock picture of smartly dressed people looking straight at the camera, smiling down at their real-life counterparts. Bright words hampered their avatar foreheads, bursting with positivity: Successful Relocation! Mr. Rogers kept clicking his controller, moving from stock picture to stock picture. Successful Rehabilitation!
Another click, and the new images took them all by surprise. Piles upon piles of not-so-intact cases; cassettes, CDs, DVDs, sitting comfortably next to endless rows of books and tomes of every kind.
“Hard to imagine how they could have lived in such a place for so long. Imagine; actors, directors, lightning experts. Music experts, producers, everyone’s spouse and kids and family... The writer of every tattered book, with everyone thanked in the back pages.”
The audience remained glued to the screen, as more and more pictures came out, all depicting the same filth: small beds buried under dirty sheets, facing small television sets in tiny, claustrophobic apartments. Kane couldn’t resist a remark. “The mess seems to go on for ever.”
The supervisor agreed solemnly. “Three hundred years. They were born there, they lived and died there. Four generations, a lot of time to create this huge maze of absolutely nothing at all.” As the screen turned to pictures of the actual people saved from the mess, Mr. Rogers turned to look at the rest of them, brow furrowed. “These people are naturally our first priority. Then, we must figure out the best way to make use of their former habitat.”
The audience took in the pictures, the unkempt appearance of the crowds, young and old, the way their eyes seemed to sparkle in hope. “They have a long way to go.”
“They’ll be fine, they always are.” The supervisor pointed at a man sitting among them, a fresh face at the far edge of the table. “And he knows this better than any of us, don’t you, Jim?”
The marked man got up slowly and took a quick look around. “Of course. I was one of them.” His words echoed mechanically, but he seemed earnest enough. “It wasn’t an easy transition, but... here I am now. Among you, in the real world.”
Mr. Rogers’ teeth flashed bright. “And we wish you the best of luck! May you go on and find the success you deserve.” Everybody clapped vigorously, most of all the permanent members, all of whom secretly hoped the new guy wasn’t after any of their own guaranteed spots on the board. Soon, there were more pictures on the screen, and the supervisor was all business again.
“As for the property they occupied... There is no doubt the place holds a lot of interest. Not far from the cities, surrounded by a crystal clear sea... Right beside all their chaos, an unpolluted oasis guaranteed to sell. But first of all” — he turned back to face everyone — “we must talk to them. As always, it has to be swift and painless. This is the cutting of the cord, the most decisive moment of their entire existence.”
He trailed on and on about the meaning of this single action, about how it could shape someone’s destiny forever. And then he assigned them their duties.
Most of them had probably heard the same spiel hundreds of times before. They looked bored; they knew what it all really meant: Let’s get these squatters out of the way fast, so we can move the property.
But it was only the second time Kane had been inside this office during the relocation period. He was still understandably susceptive to the marketing. He wasn’t surprised to be picked; the dirty task of telling was always one for the newbies. He walked out of that boardroom excited, still unsure of what he’d have to face.
* * *
Kane rushed to the safety of his house, a run-down building in the outskirts of the Center, far from where the destruction had begun and where it continued. There were holes. There had to be; he could hear them spewing their message somewhere close by. But the houses still stood here; they were almost as he remembered them.
Under the soft glow of candle lights, Kane put on the table the provisions he had been carrying and started sorting them out. Canned meat and some half-spoiled vegetables he’d have to eat really soon. His eyes kept shifting to the darkness outside, which was sporadically illuminated by huge flashes. A storm was coming.
“That’s not good.”
Sound traveled: the booming offering an unexpected comfort, smothering the call. It had been getting stronger and stronger lately, no longer a slight nuisance in the back of his head. Now, Kane felt it all during the night, sometimes throughout the day. Now, he finally understood what they had all been talking about just before they started disappearing.
The small CD-player beckoned to him from across the room. Soon, the atmosphere was filled with the rhythmic bap-bap-bap of Wagner’s tunes. It was the same music he’d always loved under different circumstances. The same music, but now, in a cracked world under an empty moon, the marching beat sounded more alien than ever.
Copyright © 2015 by Kallirroe Agelopoulou