‘Pitchdarkshitfart!!’ I shouted as he jumped up jubilantly.
‘You felt it, right? You see, man, how much pain I have inside? And today I’m actually having a good day, still it freaked you out!’
‘This was not your pain, mate, this was just a good old-fashioned electric shock, like the one you get if you fiddle with the Christmas lights!’ I said, not sharing his jubilation.
‘No man, no, this is how I feel inside, this beauty works! Did you feel that latent anger?’
‘No, just an electric shock.’
‘How about all my frustrations?’
‘Nope, just a shock.’
‘I have a mild case of diarrhoea, what about that?’
‘Nope, just a buzz!’ Seeing that he can’t be persuaded, I decided to wrap this interview up as quickly as possible. ‘What applications do you see for your machine?’
‘Oh, there’s no limit to that; it will be useful all around the world, man.’
‘Is this device capable of transmitting the good . . . ,’ vibes, I was about to say, but I reconsidered, ‘the good feelings as well?’
‘Yes, this is a genuine nerve cell, everything will go through.’
‘Have you considered how many dreams this might shatter? I mean, no one will be able to fake true love for example,’ I said as I couldn’t help getting ironical here. ‘Or the fact that no one will be able to get out of work faking a sudden stomach pain. Your manager will just hook you up to one of these, “I can’t feel any pain, get your silly ass back to work!” Have you thought about it?’
‘This is not the way to think. You should imagine being able to feel the joy of an Olympic gold medal winner right after crossing the line.’
‘But that joy is made up of all those years spent with training and all those sacrifices coming to fruition, it just won’t be the same through this machine.’
‘It would be exactly the same!!!’ he shouted. ‘Don’t tell me it won’t be the same, man, it would be 100 percent accurate.’
‘And you think that getting pinched and shocked is the victory ceremony that every Olympian dreams of?’
‘I think that they could be persuaded for the right sum. And I’m thinking about adding more connections on the receiver end, thus I’ll have more customers.’
‘Oh, so this is about money?’
‘Is getting angry now!’ he said, and I thought better to ease up on him, didn’t want to start a fight among all these pointy gadgets and shocking devices.
‘Have you been working on this for a long time?’ I asked.
‘Yeah, this is only a hobby, I work in silviculture. At least until this picks up.’
‘Have you thought of a name yet?’
‘Yes, it is called Empty.’
‘I’ll spell it out for you, man, you don’t seem to get it. E M P T E.’
‘Oh, I see it now, is that short for something?’
‘Naturally. It stands for Emphatic Process Transferring Equipment.’
‘Emphatic? But that means something totally different.’
‘Listen man, I didn’t name it EmPTE for nothing.’
‘Oh, I never doubted that. OK, I think that's all. Thank you for your time, Bernie.’
'You’re welcome, man, it was a successful test. My machine is flawless.'
'Something does flow through it,' I tried to joke, but he wasn't interested. He walked me out. I looked for the closest station and set off towards the gardener. I was really hoping that he would be the real deal. He had been invited to take part in the most exquisite bonsai display in Japan with a strong chance of receiving the main prize. While on the train, I wrote my article about Bernie, and I didn't think he would find it flattering at all. I concluded by saying that the readers can judge for themselves if this machine is working or not, but I feel no empathy whatsoever for its maker. Then I thought about his concept. It might look good on paper, but I doubt that it would change much. The hurters, as he put it, the hurters of the world know the pain they're causing. Physically feeling that pain would probably just fuel them even more.
As I got off the train I realised that it was quite late so I was determined to finish quickly and run home, maybe there would be still time to do something worthwhile with Esther. I arrived at the gardener's house; it was next to a water tower that for some reason was built to look like a milk bottle. Probably the city planners thought that an oversized bottle would look better than a normal water tower. Waiting for an answer to my knock, it flipped my mind that he must be awfully busy with his little trees to have a front garden as derelict as this. Finally a middle-aged man opened the door.
'Hello! I'm from The Rotham: Times, my name is Azeu . . . ,' but I couldn't finish as he interrupted me.
'Someone from the media. Finally! Not that I care too much about it,' he added as I frowned, another modest subject.
'Yes, we are very much interested in your bonsai and your fine prospects.'
'A fine prospect is nothing but a hope, a butterfly in the wind,' he said as he led me in his house and I couldn't see the point in that saying. The house was littered with Eastern nick-knacks and unfinished Chinese take-away boxes. He suddenly stopped, put his hand on my shoulder, ' Can you feel the flow?' he asked, but all I felt was the pinch from that bloody Empte machine. I just shrugged and we walked on. I thought that I should wrap it up even faster than I planned as this guy seemed to be the same as the other two.
'I will take you to my treasure right away as I know that she is the reason why you are here,' he said, almost reproachfully. Although that was true I still attempted to ease his distress.
'We are equally interested in the bonsai and its maker.'
'That is nice of you to say. This way to my back garden.' Mr Sedown said. Seeing that he had saved some time on his front garden, I half expected a nice little back garden with small trees and tasteful paths, waterfalls and whatnots, but all I saw was another derelict garden with nothing more than some brown patches of grass and a half rotten pine tree that was reaching for the sky. He stopped abruptly and turned towards me with a big smile, so I thought that he stopped in front of his famed bonsai and he was concealing it for dramatic effect.
'What does your heart tell you?' he asked.
'It tells me that it’s mighty curious to see the tree.'
'Can't you see it?'
'No, I assume you are standing in front of it.'
'One man is hardly enough to conceal my tree.'
'I don't really understand.'
'You want to see all of it then? Permission granted.' and he stepped aside, but all he had behind him was a three legged chair. So, I realised that he was talking about the only other thing that was in the garden: the 30-feet-high pine tree.
'Are you talking about that?' I pointed towards the tree.
'Isn't she perfect?'
'Isn't she a little bit . . . , too big?'
He looked back to check that we are talking about the same thing, 'no, this is her normal size.'
'But I thought you have a bonsai!'
'This is a bonsai, an informal upright full size bonsai.' he said knowingly.
'Full size bonsai? That is like calling a horse a full size pony or a skyscraper a single-story building with a vertical extension.'
'I can assure you that this is a bonsai, and it has been accepted in the contest.'
'As far as I know, the biggest bonsai is two meters tall and that is quite rare. It’s called imperial bonsai, if I'm not mistaken.'
'That is the size of an imperial bonsai, that’s right, but this is a full size bonsai.' And he said "full size bonsai" emphasizing every syllable, like an army drill instructor.
'Doesn't bonsai mean potted plant? I can see the plant, but where is the pot?'
'You are standing on it.'
'You mean the garden is the pot?' though I had a feeling that he might be using a different kind of pot.
'A garden for one man is a pot for the other.'
He seemed awfully sure of himself, so I thought I might as well shake it a bit. 'Have you thought about the transport? From here to Japan?'
'Every problem’s got a solution.'
'So I assume that you haven't thought about it. How much does it weigh?'
’Weight is just a mass. A number.’
’You don’t know? Well, let’s see then. If we look at its trunk, it’s got a diameter of, say, five feet, if we were to divide that by two, we’ll get the large radius, which in this case would be 2.5. Then, higher up, the small diameter would be around one foot and that would make the small radius 0.5. The height is about 30 feet. The formula to calculate its volume is Pi x L / 3 x (R2 +(R x r) + r2). Pi is, as you know, 3.14, L is the length, R is the large diameter and r is the small diameter. That would make the volume of the tree . . . , let’s see . . . , around 240 cubic feet. Now, we need the density of a pine tree, I can search that on my phone... that is around 35 lbs/feet3, that would give us 8400 pounds. Add to that the root system and some soil that you’ll need to take as well, and you got yourself two elephants.’
'That is quite impressive. How do you know that?'
'I'll be honest with you, I have no idea how I know all this, but suddenly it seems so easy to work it out. I don't know how.' And I was genuinely surprised where all this technical knowledge came from.
'Every answer has its question, but not every question’s got an answer.'
I was really fed up with these meaningless aphorisms but still found some patience to ask him a few more questions. Hopefully questions with answers.
'How come you were invited to that contest? How did you apply?'
'I had to fill out a form.'
'Did you send a picture as well?'
'I was wondering, did you take the picture from, say, where I am standing right now?'
'Yes, probably I did.'
'Have you mentioned the size? Full size bonsai as you call it?' and I tried to bark the full size bonsai part in the same manner.
'They had no such category, so I ticked the imperial size.'
'So you sent them a picture in which your tree is right next to this milk bottle shaped water tower and that low joke of a fence you've got there, and they thought that you have a bonsai that's smaller than a milk bottle. I think they are in for a huge surprise when you show up.'
'I'm sure they will be all staggered, they have already congratulated me on how lifelike it looks, but that's not important. Even if I win the big prize, which is highly likely, I'll still cherish the making of this tree more. Those 23 years I spent nurturing my baby.'
'And it kept you so busy that you couldn't spend a minute on the garden?'
'I left the garden as it is because I'm not taking that to the exposition. Purposefulness is relaxing.'
'Were you preparing for this exposition all along?'
'Yes, I was.'
'So, you studied the subject for twenty-odd years and this is what you came up with? A full size bonsai?' l barked
'Nobody else thought of it, and seemed the obvious thing to do.'
’This might be quite expensive, do you have the funds for it? Do you have sponsors or savings?’
’What you don’t spend you save.’
I wanted to tell him that he shouldn't spend all that effort and money to take this behemoth to a mice gathering as he might scare them off, if he is somehow allowed to enter, but I didn't find a sensible way to say it so I couldn’t be bothered. All I did was take some pictures and leave.
Esther was already at home. While we were eating I told her about my day, and then she proposed that we go to the abandoned factory. That was a place where we spent some time every now and then; she would test her installations and make pictures of them. In the meantime I used to doodle, just sketching all the disused machines and other rubble that was there, trying to capture their former glory. The place seemed more derelict every time we went there, but we still enjoyed being there. Blasting music in the empty hangar made the place sound like a concert hall. All the entrances were locked and sealed, but we had found a secluded fire door that we’d forced open. The first time we did it the fire alarm went off, we ran away but nothing happened, so we found a way to stop it, and we used that door as our private entrance. We usually went to a big central hangar because we needed the space for Esther’s projects, and it had a majestic feeling, we called it: the hall. We went there that day as well. We were halfway in the hall when Esther suddenly stopped. I looked at her as she was looking towards something. I followed her gaze and spotted a grey horse lurking in the shadows on the other side. Though it was half concealed by some rubble, we could still make out its flea-bitten pattern. We looked at each other, turned around and started moving slowly towards the exit. I don't think we had any doubts about the identity of the horse, but even if we had, they were shattered instantly as he shouted at us.
‘I know you spotted me. Don’t walk away!’ but we kept slowly inching closer to the exit, so he continued. ‘All right, I admit, that was a bad joke, I was spotted since birth, but you shouldn’t walk away. Dare not to walk away!’ but we still kept on going, encouraged by the fact that we didn’t hear the sound of his hoofs. Then, much to our surprise, he said, ‘A little more than kin, and less than kind!’
Although we were trying to escape without angering him, Esther couldn’t help whispering to me while still looking ahead with a stone face. ‘Is he reciting from Hamlet?’
‘Yes, I think he is,’ I replied in the same manner, ‘but this line is an aside anyway, we are not supposed to hear it so let’s just keep walking.’
‘This is not a stage,’ he shouted, ‘and I know you can hear me. But since talking isn’t enough, I’ll just resort to force.’ And now we heard the rumbling sound of approaching hooves. We both turned around and instantly realised that we wouldn’t be able to reach the fire door before him. So we held each other waiting his arrival. He ran past us and positioned himself between us and the door. Scared as I was, I had to admit that he was an imposing site, standing at least 16 hands tall, beauty and the beast mashed into one.
‘So you think you are better than me? Just walk away and pretend you didn’t see me?’
I saw a few of the videos and was aware that he talks but seeing it face to face still seemed incredible and strange.
‘No, no,’ I managed to squeeze a few words out, ‘we would never do that; we just didn’t want to disturb you.’
‘But you did!’
‘Unwittingly, I can assure you,’ Esther said with a trembling voice, ‘we come here quite often, we were not aware that you were here.’
‘And when you saw me there you just decided to look through me and leave. It’s just an animal.’
‘We don’t feel that way at all, why don’t we try and reason,’ I said, but he interrupted me.
‘Reason? Reason? Just because I’m intelligent I have to reason as well? You’re no better than that fool Hesp!’
I didn’t want him to put us in the same pot with his owner, his first victim.
‘No, no, we are not like him at all, we are your friends.’
‘Friends? I have no friends, I have no one, and I care about no one, no segregation, separation just me in my world of enemies.’
‘Wait, isn’t that a song?’ asked Esther.
‘What, can’t I listen to music? I have ears too, see?’ and he started turning his ears around. I knew that he was quoting from a song; I was also aware that Esther can move her ears as well, though not in the same manner, but that was not going to be helpful now. So we just watched in awe as he was slowly walking up and down between us and our way out of here.
‘Yes, I do listen to music and I don’t care about you. The philosophy of a king.’
‘A King?’ I asked.
‘That’s right. Now, what should I do with you?’ he asked, though apparently not us, so we didn’t reply, instead we tried to move towards the door every time he wasn’t paying attention. Sadly, he did keep a close eye on us even though he was busy ranting. ‘I’m so hungry, I haven’t eaten in a long time. It’s impossible to find any organic grass out here, even Hesp had trouble finding it from time to time, but no one wants to eat contaminated food, right? Oh, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse!'
'We could go out and bring you some hay or something,' said Esther.
'You two are going nowhere,' the horse said as he was walking up and down, which made us slowly inch backwards, even if that meant getting further away from the exit. 'I’ve had enough of people helping me. Hesp always insisted he was there to help me, but he never listened to me. I think he considered me a talking horse, not an intelligent one. Once I told him to alter a cart so I can push it, but he said that is unheard of, to put the cart before the horse, but that was the whole point. Then I told him that I would like to try out more things, since I am able to. And what did he do? He organised a race, brought this freaking four legged race car who beat the hell out of me, then he consoled me that at least I came second. But there were only two horses racing! I was so annoyed. It's never good to finish second, except when you’re mating.' And he threw a cheeky look at Esther, but she wasn't impressed. 'I realised that I'm no good at running and wanted to do other things instead, but he insisted, brought all sorts of trainers, and they made me run all day long. I didn't mind if people rode me, I never tried to deny that I'm a horse; I just wanted to do something with my brain as well. He knew I was an intelligent horse; still usually he focused on the horse part. Then one day we were watching the D-day commemorations followed by hours of documentaries, and that was all right with him. A horse watching a documentary of people slaughtering each other mindlessly, that was ok with him. I remarked “it was awfully nice of you, humans, to leave us out of it,” and he liked that as well. Then, after all this I felt that I want to express my feelings by saying a couple of lines, you know, like a sort of poem or something, and he freaked out. He said it’s not for horses to do that and so on.’
‘What were those lines?’ Esther interrupted him.
‘That’s not important,’ he replied, ‘that is not the point.’
‘I beg to differ,’ she insisted, ‘I think you ought to share your thoughts with more than just one man.’
‘Listen young lady,’ he started, but Esther cut him off.
‘Young lady?? Who are you calling young lady?’ she shouted. She was able to forget everything when she got upset; forget about neighbours, passersby or murderous horses. ‘Now listen, Six Ways to Sunday, I could be your grandmother, you five-year-old stallion, so don’t call me young lady!’
‘Five-year-old? That is another of your stupid customs. I’m not allowed to have a birthday; instead at the beginning of each year you just add one more year to my age, it seems that according to you every horse was born on the 1st of January. Must be a busy day for the vet, and a hell of a New Year’s Eve after party. For your information I’m actually five and a half years old.’
‘What day were you born?’
‘Erm, I was born on the 1st of January.’
‘No, really, when is your birthday?’
‘It is the 1st of January! That is my actual birthday, but that doesn’t mean that you have the right to make that day every horse’s birthday.’
‘Even if you’re five and a half years old you could still be . . . .’
‘Whoa!’ I interrupted them seeing that things got out of hand. ‘There’s no need to argue about this. Why don’t you, Six Ways to Sunday, tell us those lines and we’ll tell you our honest opinions. You must have learned by now that she doesn’t care about . . . the circumstances so you can be sure that we won’t lie.’
The horse looked at Esther with piercing eyes; it took a while until he said something. ‘I guess I can share it with you, it won’t matter soon anyway, nothing will,’ which diverted the immediate danger, but wasn’t reassuring at all.
‘We spent most of the day reminiscing about the D-day events, and late at night I told him that I tried to picture myself in those poor devils’ place – not shoes –, and I said something like this: I don’t want to be here, soon I will either drown or get shot, though I would rather live, there’ll be more color movies, TV shows will be commonplace, and I could watch a small step for man, giant leap for mankind, then there’ll be contraceptives and progressive rock, and if I manage to live through all that perm and leggings there’ll be PCs and internet, and my grandchildren can laugh at me as I make a fool of myself on Skype. So I run for my life, but it got away.
‘But this is beautiful,’ blurted out Esther. I felt the same way, but I was afraid that in the current situation he might take it as cheap flattery, so I just nodded.
‘You think so?’ the horse asked, ‘well Hesp hated it, and I think that you are lying as well.’
‘You shouldn’t judge everybody because of Hesp,’ I said, ‘especially with these kinds of thoughts, some people may hate it and others may love it. The rule of thumb . . . .’
‘Rule of thumb?’ he cut me off, ‘rule of thumb? Don’t you dare bring that bone deformity up to me, that disgusting dangling thing. The opposition of the thumb, the reason why you were able to rise from the animal kingdom.’
‘We needed intelligence as well,’ added Esther.