I am sitting at my window, a stiff drink of whiskey and tonic water in my hand, waiting for them to come on swift horses. Yes, their horses are swift. Like the Savannah wind that plays banshee in the upright strands of yellow grass. The tick-tock of the hooves is hurried, but less spontaneous and more mechanical, like the new inventions these days. Someone told me that a man demonstrated a cart which could move without horses, just by boiling some water. To me it seems like blurring the lines between technology and sorcery. But again my opinion has always been antagonistic. They have a word for such behavior these days. They call it anti-establishment. Well, I am still not sure if this is an epithet to be worn with pride on one’s sleeve or an insult to be frowned upon. Whatever the word may mean, I have learnt the hard way that being anti-establishment has its consequences, hence the horses.
I first heard about the consequences when they took Mac, a small, brittle man with falcon beak nose and black goatee. They took him in the middle of the night, in his striped pajamas. They did not even let him change into his bourgeois silk shirt, dark grey flannel tail coat and the top hat. What a shame? Seeing flamboyant Mac without his sharp tail coat would be atrocious. But we all were spared of this atrocity. We never saw him again, not that night and not in the days following it. Mac had been the most vocal of us all; he was the first to go. I remember his first lecture. It was in a school auditorium. Five people attended it; I was one of the five. His last lecture was attended by seventy three people.
The seasons change. Flowers wilt and leaves turn to brown. The soft fragrance of paradise is followed by barren vapors of the summer. The pitter-patter of the rain is followed by homogeneous landscape of snow. There is no eternal spring. Maybe we wanted to create that, a Utopian vision of society of James Harrington. Yet our visions were different within the unified ideology. Mary Higgins was an idealist; she could take nothing less than perfect. She rallied hard and spoke louder for the values and ideals that mattered. She did not realize that even perfection was imperfect because of absence of imperfection. In that way she was like the Government we opposed, never wavering from the rules and rigorous in their implementation. Dr. De Wit was a pacifist. He studied medicine in London and philosophy in Paris. He painted in his backyard using long brush strokes with vibrant orange oil paint, splattering the canvas with semi impressionist visuals. He once painted a beach of Baie d’Audierne on the west coast of Finisteré with sunlight gathering silently on the horizon in saffron bunches. He had been there only once. But he said it was like he remembered it. Tranquil and pensive.
I was just a follower, at least at the start. I used to attend the meetings in Dr. De Wit’s back yard. Sometimes for Mary Higgins’ scones. The meetings were usually loud debates about policies and history which turned into aggravated demonstrations of one’s ideology. Once we had a meeting in Mac’s house late at night. The candles fluttered in the breeze that seeped in from below the door. I wondered why Mac never started his fireplace. Very unusually we kept our coats on even while being indoors. Mac showed no concern, neither for our discomfort nor for our faux pas. He managed to be immaculately Beau Brummell–ish and engrossed in his theory of revolution.
“Guns,” he said, “we need guns. We need to prepare for the battle.”
This was the first time the idea of revolution had been expressed. Up to now we were just dissenters, people unhappy with the policies and generous with criticisms. We theorized and debated. We discussed among ourselves the better way to govern and some of us like Mac and Dr. De Wit gave public lectures. Zachary Badeaux wrote articles in newspapers with covert criticisms. His variety of subtle satire had gained quite popularity in the southern provinces. And maybe that is why Zachary was the second to go.
Every Wednesday, Zachary started his day with a walk by the lake shore, feeding the pigeons. Dressed in his flannel trousers and cashmere morning coat, with a woolen muffler wrapped carelessly around his neck and a bowler hat covering is curly silver locks. He would go up to the row of wrought iron benches around the boulevard, benches facing away from the lake, interspersed with wooden lamp posts. I wonder how many times he felt the urge to not stop and keep walking, till the stone ledge at the lakes edge, to climb on it and take a deep breath and let go, to jump into the dark cold water and submerge into the unknown realm of Styx. Maybe he had that feeling when he saw a group of uniforms walking towards him as he dispersed millet grain for the pigeons. I heard that they held him by the elbows and guided him in to the waiting cart rather forcefully. For a person who had become a sort of a celebrity this kind of public humiliation would have been an anathema of their whole life.
My manservant disturbs my silent contemplation. My dinner is ready, soup and celery sticks. I cannot digest meat nowadays and bread gives me swelling in intestines. They say it is something to do with stomach gasses. Oliver Kahn’s son has become a physician. He once gave me a concoction for my persistent cough. It was potent enough to stop my cough but it gave me an upset stomach. So Robin my manservant gets me my soup and celery. I wish Andrea was here. Andrea, the woman I almost married. We would have had blonde, blue eyed kids and we would have settled by the shore. I would have been away from this turmoil paying my taxes silently to the Government. There would have been no horsemen coming for me.
Finally they are here. My manservant lets them in and asks them to wait in the atrium. They are impatient. They pace up and down as their captain keeps a watchful eye on the door. I wear my white silk shirt beneath the tail coat. My pocket watch is in my waistcoat and my monocle at my eye. There is no hurry now. The golden oriole sings at a distance as the sun descends the final steps into his bed chamber. The journey ends here. The road goes no further.
“Mr. Minister “, the captain says, “The carriage is here.”
Mr. Minister, it sounded nice, and it wasn’t a bad reward for betraying my friends. Do I still call them friends?