Friday, 13 February 2015



The Job Ahead


Government trucks painted in the national colours rumbled through the streets of the city and its suburbs. Mounted loudspeakers repeatedly reminded citizens that the Overlord would address the nation at eight o’clock that evening. It was time for the country to get down to business, to tackle the job that lay ahead.


Magda returned home from her Saturday errands laden with bags and parcels. There was no convenient place to set them down for unpacking. The table in the kitchen was covered with plastic figures. Her two men were seated at opposite ends, absorbed in the diorama they’d created. ‘What are you doing?’ she asked.


‘We’re re-fighting the Second Punic War,’ Stefan replied smiling. ‘That should be obvious.’ He picked up a crumpled pyramid of aluminum foil. ‘An Alp.’ He pointed to a line of toy elephants. ‘Your son is Hannibal, a master tactician who utilized surprise and unconventional methods of warfare. Alas, I am the Roman legions and things are not going so well for us.’


‘You’re mistaken, Stefan. And why haven’t you told me?’


‘Told you what?’


Magda retrieved the weekend edition of the Nation’s Eye from one of her bags. You’re front page news. The Department of Heritage has announced your appointment as National Librarian and Curator of the Mall of Heroes.’


‘That’s impossible. I’ve not agreed to anything. You and I have not even properly discussed it.’


‘There’s more. The Chancellor of the Institute says you’re a credit to the school and a shining example of,’ Magda waved the newspaper, ‘something or other. I’ll have to read it again.’


‘That clown? We despise each other!’ Stefan stood up and approached his wife. ‘Let me see that.’


‘Are you famous, Dad?’


The librarian paused, his hands in his trouser pockets. ‘Unfortunately, apparently yes. Everyone gets their fifteen minutes, as the old saying goes.’ Stefan gazed at his son. ‘In this country, in these times it’s better to remain anonymous.’ He turned to his wife. ‘I did not want this job.’


‘Well, they’ve given it to you.’


‘I was asked. I didn’t expect to be told.’


Later in the evening Magda turned on the television. She ensured that the drawn curtains in the front room did not quite meet. It was prudent that certain neighbours saw the blue analogue glow through the window during the time the Overlord was scheduled to speak.


Stefan sat in his customary sagging, armchair cradling a large drink. ‘I suppose we should turn the volume on,’ he said dejectedly. ‘I must learn to be a Capitol parrot.’


‘Dad? What’s a parrot?’


‘An extinct bird, a beautiful bird with a gift for mimicry.’


The Overlord appeared on screen. He was dressed in extraordinarily casual clothing for a world leader and was posed comfortably, his legs crossed at his knees, in a rocking chair before a warmly crackling fireplace. The projected image was intimate and informal, a contrived grandfatherly one-to-one chat.


Sisters and brothers, the Overlord began. Greetings! From the Great Flood of Genesis to the Great Crash of recent times, Mother Earth has sometimes proved a fickle parent. The conduct of humanity has warranted disciplining and we have been dealt with harshly: plagues and famine, natural disasters contrived and inflicted upon us by our own stupidity and greed. We can never give up in defeat nor accept doom and despair. We are strong, resilient and hardy. Together, my friends, united by a single purpose, we are unbeatable.


Sisters and brothers, the future is unwritten. It is my duty and yours to be scribes, to bear witness to a new era of abundance and prosperity. Tonight I pledge to you the initialization and the completion of a five year plan of great public works. We will reclaim humanity’s lost knowledge and ensure everything that was once known is known once more and made available to all. We will rebuild bridges to our close allies; we will construct new ones to reach out to our enemies. Every citizen of our great country, from an infant newly born today to the lowest common criminal will be transformed into a hero because together we are capable of great deeds! Sisters and brothers, we will make peace with Mother Earth and construct the Great Society! Our future begins now.


‘I’m ready for bed,’ the librarian muttered to his wife. ‘Lots of work to be done, it looks like.’ Magda laughed. Stefan said to his son, ‘I think I’ll take a ride on that rocket ship with you tonight.’


‘We’ll come back, won’t we?’


‘What goes up must come down.’

(Part five of 10)

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