Monday, January 26, 2004

From Thomas F's Last Notes to the Public:

The riot
by Kjell Askildsen

When I read or when I'm occupied by solving chess problems, I often sit and look out the window. One never knows if something will happen that's worth attending, even if it's unlikely. Last time it happened was three or four years ago. But then again it could offer some diversion to everyday life as well, and outside the window there is, at least, movement. In here it's only me and the hand of the clock.

But three or four years ago I saw something remarkable, and that's the last remarkable thing I've seen, even though, as I've pointed out, I'm not indifferent to more ordinary acts, such as people fighting, who are beating and kicking each other, or people falling over on the sidewalk and remain there because they're too drunk or ill to get home, if they have a home, many of them probably don't, there's not enough homes in the world.

But what I saw this time was different. It must have been during Easter or Pentecost, since it wasn't winter, and I remember that I thought that these kinds of acts were reasonably connected to one of the churchly high seasons.

From my window I look down upon a short, intersecting street, it is short enough for me to see the end of it without any difficulty, my eyes are good.

I had been keeping an eye on two flies mating in the windowsill, so it probably must have happened during Pentecost, it was a kind of diversion to me, even if they practically didn't move. I wasn't aroused by watching them, although I remember I often did when I was young, oh, yes, I remember it well.

So I was sitting there watching the two flies, and had just carefully touched one of the female's wings and then one of the male's wings without them taking any notice of it -- which I found a curiously strong commitment, it was after the male had sat on top of the female for at least ten minutes, I am not exaggerating, I should have spent more of my life studying insects, but, then again, why? -- when I caught eye of a man at the far end of the street behaving quite remarkably. He kind of waved his armes and then he cried out something, at first I didn't perceive exactly what it was. In certain ways he was systematical with a peculiar sence of geographic order, because he walked or dashed from the first window on the right hand side of the street to the first window on the left hand side, and from there to the second window on the right hand side and on to the second window on the left hand side, and so on, and he knocked on all the windows and cried something. It was unusual and strange, and I opened my window, it was before the hinges broke, and I heard him cry: "Jesus has come." But he cried something else, too, and I perceived it as: "I have come," and when he came closer I realized that it was correct, that was what he was crying. "Jesus has come, I have come." And all the while he dashed from one side of the street to the other and knocked on all the windows he could reach, it was upsetting to behold, religious lunacy is upsetting.

The first reaction was as surprising as it was adequate: a stool was hurled towards him from the third floor somewhere in the middle of the street. It didn't hit him, that was not the intention I would hope, but it broke into pieces, of course. It certainly was a waste of effort, the man only raised his voice, perhaps he needed a confirmation of his business being important.

The next reaction was related to the first, but less tangible, and not without a whim of comedy. A window burst open and a furious voice screamed: "I think you are stark, raving mad, my good man!" Only then did I realize that the man on the street actually was dangerous, that he triggered dispositions latent in some of his fellow people, and I thought: isn't there a sensible person with fresh legs that can go down there and end it all. Many heads were now sticking out of the windows along the street, but down there the insane man was in solitary charge of the ground.

I was facinated, I must admit it, but to an increasing extent more by the whole street scenario then by the main character. People had started making noises, they laughed and yelled to each other over the poor man's head, I have never seen such a sudden social encounter, there even was a man in the house closest to mine that called to me. I could only hear the last word, "blasphemy," and I didn't answer, of course. If he had, at least, said something reasonable, like "Emergency ward," then we could perhaps, who knows, have established some kind of exchange of greetings from window to window. But a grown- up man, he was old enough to have been my long departed wife's eldest son, with nothing more reasonable to say than "blasphemy," I have no need to exchange greetings with, I'm not that lonely yet.

Anyway. As I said, I sat there fascinated by the buzzing window-life, it reminded me of my childhood, it was probably better to be of old age at that time, I think, less lonely, and, first and foremost, one usually died within a reasonable time, -- when a man emerged from a gate. He was in a hurry and he was heading for the lunatic. He grabbed him from behind, spun him around, and hit him so hard in the face that he flailed sideways and fell. For a moment the entire street was quiet, as if everybody held their breath. Then the cacophony broke loose one more time, and now it was apparent that the disagreement had turned on the attacker. Subsequently, it didn't take long before people started emerging from the gates, and while the immediate cause of the entire commotion sat speechless and apparently immovable some meters away, a heated discussion was embarked upon, the singularities of which it was impossible to perceive, where it was obvious that the attacker also had his supporters, because all of a sudden two youths flew at each other. Oh, it was a black day for reason.

In the mean time the lunatic had gotten up, and while the youths were fighting, probably because of him, but possibly for entirely different reasons, and while some tried to go in between, he pulled further and further away, backwards, until he reached the street- corner closest to me, then he turned around and started running, it was a relief, and I can tell you that he could run.

When the flock down on the street became aware of the man's disappearance, it slowly calmed down, and one window after the other was closed. I closed mine as well, it wasn't a warm day. The world is full of unreason and confusion, unfreedom is deeply rooted, the hope for equality and a common worth fades, the powers that be are too great, it seems. We must be glad that we are as well off as we are, people say, since most people are in a worse situation. And then they take a pill for insomnia. Or for depression. Or for life. When will a new generation come that understands the meaning of equality, a generation of gardeners and foresters that can cut the large trees that put the lesser in the shade, and that can remove the suckers from the tree of knowledge.

[Translation by Torgeir Fjeld of Kjell Askildsen's "Oppløpet", first published in Thomas F's siste nedtegnelser til almenheten. Translated from the collection En plutselig frigjørende tanke, Oslo: Oktober, 1991, 199-202. A Sudden Liberating Thought available from in Sverre Lyngstad's translation.]