This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Something's Different

I come out of the front door, and straight away it hits me. Something’s different.

I don’t know what it is. Everything looks as usual. The trees lining the street are the same, the houses are the same, the damned dog next door is yelping as usual. But something’s changed.

“Have a good day, dear,” my wife calls from inside, and that’s not usual with her. Our mode of communication is more filled with hate-filled glances than by endearments. But I shouldn’t grudge her when she’s being nice.

Mr Crabby Oldman opposite is washing his car, also as usual. Mr Crabby Oldman straightens up and wipes his face. With his red face and white beard Mr Crabby Oldman would make a fairly adequate Santa Claus, if he weren’t so crabby. But today, he wipes his forehead and smiles and says hello, and that is odd indeed.

I say hello back, stupidly flatfooted, and he begins talking about his granddaughter who has just got married. I did not even know he had a granddaughter. Maybe the news has unhinged his mind. I say how nice and back away, slowly, and get into my car. You never know with these nuts.

My car is the same, the dashboard is the same, the odometer reads the same, but in it, too, something is different. I drive automatically, glancing around quickly, as though the strangeness will be visible from the corner of my eye if I look quickly enough. But there is nothing I can put my finger on.

The streets are crowded as usual, and as I near downtown I am forced to slow down. People are spilling off the pavements on to the road. Of course, this is a public holiday, but not for my office. My office is never closed.

I think back: I have overslept this morning, after a night full of roiling, unpleasant dreams. Is it the hangover of disturbed sleep? But I have overslept before, and have had nightmares before. Never quite like this.

It is while I’m turning the circle before the train station that I see him. He’s just stepping off the pavement and walking across the street, without a care in the world, as though he was not the Enemy. Short, black-haired, slant-eyed, yellow skinned, every man and woman’s hand should have been against him. But he’s strolling through the morning crowd without a care in the world.

I curse. I stop the car, wind down my window with one hand and scrabble furiously for the automatic pistol under my seat with the other.

It isn’t there.

I gasp with shock. Not just the pistol, even the holder isn’t there. What the hell? It was built in with the car. How can it have gone? I twist round and reach over the back of the front seat. The sniper rifle with the scope that should be there is gone too.

When I look around, of course, the enemy has disappeared in the crowd. I have no idea where he’s gone, and nobody seems to have noticed him.

The horns are blaring behind me. I can’t stay here any longer. Cursing, I drive on to the office. When I enter I’m already in a foul mood, so I keep looking down so that my angry face doesn’t antagonise anyone. I have problems enough at work as it is.

Bullyboy in the next office – my superior, for heaven’s sake! - is waiting for me. He has a sunny smile on his face. This is awful. What trick is he planning? I have never seen Bullyboy smile unless he’s got something really nasty in store for someone; and this isn’t a smile so much as it is a face-cracking grin.

“How are you today?” he asks. “I have a little job for you.”

A job. And I haven’t even told him yet about the missing guns. “Yeah?”

He looks slightly taken aback at my tone. What does he expect, a hug? “You’re to meet a delegation from…”

“Look, I’ve got to tell you something. It’s about my guns –“

“Guns? What guns? What are you talking about? Now I was saying about you meeting this Mongol delegation…”

“Mongol delegation!” I am flabbergasted. “I saw one of them down on the street. Just walking along!”

“Yes, from the Khanate of the Golden Horde. They’re here to explore trade ties.”

“But we’re at war with them, aren’t we? We’ve been at war with them for centuries.”

“War? What war? What’s wrong with you today?”

“This war, the war we’re fighting.” What is he, insane? Is everyone insane except me? “The world war,” I explain, “that we’re fighting. The war we’ve been fighting against the Khanate for near a thousand years now. That war!”

“But there’s no war,” he says, stupidly. “There hasn’t been a war in I don’t know how long. History isn’t my strongpoint. What does war have to do with this office anyway?”

“We’re the Department of Internal Security, aren’t we, charged with destroying Mongol spies?”

“We are,” he says heavily, “the Department of Trade Relations. Now stop this nonsense and go and meet that delegation. They’re in your office.”

And right there I begin to laugh, and I find I cannot stop.

Something's different, all right. And how.  

Copyright B Purkayastha 2008


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