Yellow leaves coloured cobblestones behind a stone wall. The open shutters on a building facing the cobblestones resembled listening ears. The cobblestones glowed as parting celestial vapours revealed blue immensity.
“You must be petrified,” a joking woman asked Eugenio, “being with so many women?”
He was with nineteen, waiting to enter the building to see an exhibition.
“Men are less interested in culture,” another woman said.
“They prefer football,” another one added, heads rocking in agreement.
The black-and-white photographs of early-twentieth-century Paris revealed the city’s compositional delicacy, each photograph a harmonious unit in an exquisite whole.
The women chattered before the photographs, fighting to win the Battle of Insight, Paris before the twentieth century really arrived irrelevant in comparison to acknowledgement.
Morning mists softened the photographed facades. The infinite shades, Eugenio realised, between black and white yields dramatic depths.
Parisian shopwindows indicated the entrepreneurial skill behind the marketing of craft in a world made by men.
The fifty-three men Eugenio counted in the gallery admired those infinite shades between black and white. Some gay; but gay men don’t count. Some short; short men count even less. Some plump and bald. Can plump, bald men be men?
Many of those men were carrying expensive cameras. Although “less interested in culture,” and maybe not being “men,” they faced the infinite shades. The women often faced each other.
Later, under gold leaves and black branches, that intensified each other, this symbolising for Eugenio the gallery’s events, he watched the women’s gesticulations and their eyes’ whites whitening when believing they had hit some nail’s head with perspicacity’s hammer.
“Excuse me,” Eugenio said.
Sixteen went quiet. Someone insisted the three others stop talking, a passing car droning into silence.
“A question,” Eugenio said.
The silence emphasised the rustling of leaves from a gust of breeze that swept across the neocortex-convolution cobblestones. The women, with white-eyed wonderment, stared surprised, the quietude so vast it seemed to hit the whites, greys, blacks, and blues above, bouncing off them, reverberating, booming, hushing, swishing, silence, too, having infinite shades.
“How many people were inside when we entered?” Eugenio asked.
Two of the nineteen recalled uniform nodding in agreement. One worried: A rash generalisation?
The penetrating silence seemed to prise open their mouths, yielding striking ignorance.
That expression, Eugenio thought, precedes the trip towards empiricism.
“No idea,” one said. “Why?”
“Fifty-three,” Eugenio replied. “How many were men?”
“Maybe half?” another asked.
“Why would half have been men if men prefer football?” Eugenio asked.
“Maybe they were with women?” another one asked.
Possibility murmurs wafted from their mouths. French-style palaces designed by men lined the street. The voluptuous wrought iron topping the wall beside them was also designed by men.
“They were with each other,” Eugenio replied.
“You mean?” a twosome member began. “You sure?”
“Shall we wait and see who leaves?” Eugenio asked.
Two men left the gallery. Their black-framed glasses suggested intellect. They were deep in conversation. Camera bags hung from their shoulders.
“There were no women when we went in?” one of the women asked.
“None,” Eugenio replied. “All fifty-three were men.”
Eugenio had to be either a liar, a misogynist or stupid. So they didn’t wait to see who left the gallery.
But ridiculous belief isn’t the preserve of any group or sex. Inspired by unjustified superiority, it eases difficulties. Freedom means eliminating difficulties. We even create heaven–and illusions of clarity that create satisfying identities. Surely this can’t be reality? we cry.
The tavern sold craft beers that ranged from yellow to dark brown to black, like, Eugenio thought, belief. Some people preferred soft yellows, others hard, dark brown. Black outlooks also existed. Froths decorated those colours that tasted nicely, like accuracy, our common hope.
“People are so stupid,” Rob said.
He was facing Eugenio.
“They’re oblivious,” Rob continued, “that immigration stimulates economies.”
“Is it intellect,” Eugenio proposed, “or emotional disturbance?”
“Stupidity,” Rob replied. “They believe the rubbish in the press.”
“Belief,” Eugenio replied, “helps them confuse their xenophobic narrow-mindedness with cultural superiority. You’re assuming reality interests them. Reality obstructs xenophobes from justifying their bitterness.”
“So Cameron underestimated that bitterness?” Brian asked.
He was beside Rob.
“Cameron and his cohorts,” Eugenio replied, “manipulated that bitterness.”
“So why did he offer a referendum?” Brian asked.
“Maybe,” Eugenio replied, “he wanted to lose it?”
“What?” Rob asked.
“Do you think,” Eugenio began, “he wanted to win?”
Cameron had declared himself a remainer.
“Why would someone who avoids tax want to win a referendum that would have kept Britain in an institution that wants to eliminate tax havens?” Eugenio asked. “Did he ever mention real problems, like Northern Ireland, before the referendum?”
“I can’t remember,” Rob said.
“Northern Ireland appeared as an issue after the referendum,” Eugenio said. “And there was no mention by the press of Brits being kicked out of Europe or the difficulties of exporting goods to the continent.”
Brian believed Cameron had been “naïve” in offering the referendum. Everyone else on the table, except Eugenio, had agreed. An ex-British Prime Minister from an elite family, with access to privileged information, had been “naïve.”
“What’s your point?” Rob asked.
“I’ve already said it,” Eugenio replied. “He wanted Britain out of the EU.”
“Why didn’t he just say that?” Rob asked.
“Because Merkel made him agree that financial transparency should take place across Europe,” Eugenio replied. “That is, eliminate tax havens. Where do you think he and his social class have got their money?”
Rob’s chin rose, struck by an uppercut of disbelief.
“You’re saying,” Rob said, “it was a conspiracy?”
Eugenio called Rob an “anti-conspiracy theorist.”
“A cover up,” Eugenio replied. “That’s humanity’s story–one cover up after another.”
“How do you know Cameron has got his money in tax havens?” Brian asked.
He wanted to trap Eugenio into saying: “I don’t know for sure.”
“I know one of Cameron’s cousins,” Eugenio replied. “Guess what we spoke about when we met?”
“How did you meet this cousin?” Brian asked.
“During a wine tasting,” Eugenio replied. “So what do you think we spoke about?”
That silence Eugenio had “heard” so often thickened, giving sounds a cracking roundness.
“Tax havens,” Brian said, drolly.
“And what else?” Eugenio asked.
“Brexit?” Brian pondered, ruefully.
“She’s also got her money in the Isle of Man,” Eugenio said.
Rob was disbelieving because he suffered from a rare affliction called “too nice.” His psychology hid from him the magnitude of human corruption. He had excessive faith in humanity. His probity, he believed, had to be universal. It just had to be. How could members of a hallowed institution like The Commons be tax-evading criminals? People of Rob’s ilk couldn’t be so bad. Such tendencies weren’t British.
“Britain,” Eugenio said, “is the world’s most corrupt country.”
“What?!” Rob snorted. “What about Afghanistan or India–and hundreds of others.”
“Chickenfeed by comparison,” Eugenio replied. “Do you think every rich bastard on earth has got their money in Afghanistan?”
The silence whiplashed above the auditory spectrum.
“Why do you think that you didn’t know that every rich bastard on this planet has got money in British tax havens?” Eugenio asked.
“How do you know that?” Brian asked.
He still hoped to expose Eugenio’s “unfounded speculation.”
“I worked for twenty years in taxation in Britain,” Eugenio replied. “That’s how I know. I made the rich richer.”
Brian should have been grateful for receiving enlightenment. But virtue often sinks in the mud of dubious chance.
“So,” Eugenio asked, “what’s the answer to my question?”
“What’s the answer?” Brian asked.
Brian sought a chink in Eugenio’s argument. He had been so pleased with himself when saying that “Cameron was naïve,” people having nodded like puppets manipulated by their intellectual deity.
“Because the world’s media mongrels have got their money in British tax havens as well. They wanted Britain out of the EU.”
“They all wanted to destroy Britain?” Rob asked.
“That,” Eugenio replied, “is infinitely less important to them than people finding out the reality.”
“What reality?” Brian asked.
He needed that chink.
“British politicians receive piles of cash from companies to either change or not change legislation,” Eugenio explained. “The invoices are raised from tax havens where politicians have shelf companies; its legal because, of course, politicians make the rules. Shall I continue?”
Because this savagely compromised Rob’s vision of universal values, the so-called values of his clan, Eugenio’s ideas resembled personal attacks. Surely decent people were in power? There were–but not many.
A woman on Rob’s right said: “La Vanguardia claimed that there is enough money in The Isle of Man to pay for the salaries of thirty-four million nurses in Spain. That refers specifically to unpaid tax.”
“I read that too,” Eugenio said. “There’s enough money in tax havens to eliminate poverty. But the danger to the rich isn’t great enough for that to happen.”
“You mean social revolution?” she asked.
She wanted to learn, not save herself from having a belief exposed as absurd.
“That, too,” Eugenio replied. “But what I really mean is that people just don’t want to know. This saves the privileged from exposure. If people knew what I know–and especially if they had the psychological capability of knowing that–the rich wouldn’t be able to appear in public. But they can because the press protects them, so what I know will remain largely hidden. They know people believe what they read, like Cameron being naïve, without understanding why such lies are printed.”
Brian’s scornful silence magnified before the amusement rippling across the woman’s face.
The church’s walls displayed angels, clouds, and cherubs and friars performing miracles: fish multiplying on a lake’s edge before a priest’s raised, fish-attracting palms; a man’s severed foot reuniting with his leg; a blind man receiving sight, his left hand reaching towards a sun that symbolised rebirth, the bandage once covering his eyes falling off. Men with long beards and open arms, and curvaceous women in loose dresses, were floating beside white clouds. Bearded kings, clutching staves, graced thrones under winged hominids. Supernaturalism abounded, eternal annihilation apparently impossible, the laws of physics dismissed.
The church was full. People Eugenio knew were seated here and there to guarantee seats for a free Bach concert after the service.
A little surrealism never hurts, Eugenio quipped to himself.
A priest appeared from a side door. His satin, pink ensemble fell from his neck to his feet, a white cross sewn into the pink from chest to stomach. The table before him supported candles in medieval candelabra. Candle flames flickered when the priest moved as if a spirit filled the nave. Everyone got up except Eugenio who rose as everyone else sat down. A friend of Eugenio’s–Olivia–on seeing Eugenio’s disorientation placed a hand over her mouth to hide her smile. Absurdity discomforted Eugenio. For the sake of listening to Bach in a beautiful church he had to endure “unbelievable belief.”
The priest raised his hands towards anti-gravity cherubs who floated in a stratosphere of flying hominids. Presumably, the priest could zing requests across fifteen billion light years of space to a server of unimaginable dimensions. Latin left his lips.
This beats the Cyclops, Eugenio thought, for unreality.
Hamlet claimed there were more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt in a rational man’s philosophy. Great, Eugenio thought, now prove it.
The priest seemed to be talking to ghosts. Is he, Eugenio thought, the only who sees ghosts? Are the rest of us are blind? Or is it the other way around?
Again Eugenio was the last to stand and sit. A person beside Olivia, suspecting that Olivia was non-flock, sneered with disdainful eyes as Olivia’s titillated stomach bounced. Repressing her hilarity, she lowered the hand that had hidden her giggling face.
The real churchgoers floated in facile goodness. Maybe, Eugenio thought, they’re so afraid of imperfection that religion must crush the evil spirits of self-knowledge? Church attendances halt self-analysis, while suggesting that death is dead.
Bach created relief from a gravity-free world of flying primates who mocked permanent obliteration. Why does truth frighten some people and others not?
Olivia’s dentures, seemingly connected to the electricity grid, flashed as Eugenio approached.
“Have you seen the light?” she whispered.
Her eyes gleamed. We love seeing our friends suffer from things that won’t affect them for long.
“Somehow,” Eugenio replied, “the light avoids me. I lurk in dark scepticism.”
Olivia had a big laugh. Her throat and stomach put everything into it.
“Imagine,” Eugenio said, “wearing fancy dress and speaking to a ceiling of fantasy creatures. That only happens on earth. It’s too surreal for other places.”
Olivia spasmed with laughter. She wiped tears from her eyes.
“Too bad,” Eugenio added, “he wasn’t attached to ropes so they could pulley him up to the ceiling.”
Olivia’s head tilted up as she fired staccato guffaws into the cool, night air.
“The older I get,” Eugenio continued, “the more I see absurdity. Apparently I’m a cynic for recognising what is patently ridiculous or impossible to know.”
“But,” Olivia asked, “don’t you think there’s a force?”
He admired her sarcasm.
“Someone should tell them,” Eugenio replied, “that, yes, there is. That’s why we’re not floating in the stratosphere. Imagine giving an electromagnetism a beard and an ethical disposition.”
“My God,” Olivia said, sarcastically, “you’re such a cynic!”
“Isn’t it terrible,” Eugenio replied, “that cynics need that dreadful thing called evidence? Why can’t they just be stupid and believe anything? You won’t believe what happened to me yesterday.”
He told her about the exhibition.
“You mean,” Olivia said, “that there are hardly any memorable men?”
“It’s incredible,” Eugenio said, “because it’s just simple statistics. How can you arrive at a conclusion related to what is a statistical question without having the slightest interest in statistics or observation?”
“Or,” she replied, “in men? It’s beautiful being a superior victim.”
“Most men,” Eugenio said, “aren’t beautiful enough to be remembered.”
He appreciated that Olivia’s sarcasm came from justified anger. This, he thought, is the other reaction besides discomfort that the rational have towards fact crushing.
“Get this,” Eugenio remarked. “I was with Brian and Rob last Monday. Brian thinks Cameron was naïve in offering the Brexit referendum.”
Olivia stopped walking.
“Weottt?!” she said. “I can understand Rob believing that, but Brian?”
Eugenio was amazed by how gobsmacked she looked.
“Brian believes that?!” she asked.
“Yes,” Eugenio replied. “That shows you how bad the anti-truth problem is.”
“My God,” she said, not ironically.
They entered a bar with people from their classical music group. Down-to-earth realism abounded: A TV showing football. Legs of ham hanging from the ceiling in unashamed demonstrations that people kill animals despite attempts to sanitise reality.
We want, Eugenio thought, to believe that only birth and regeneration exist without deterioration and death.
“Too bad,” someone called Adrian said, “that the church’s walls weren’t painted with abortion scenes.”
Olivia rocked with laughter. Adrian was another “cynic.”
“But,” Eugenio said, “that would upset the Lord.”
“I wonder,” Adrian said, “how they know that universe creators detest abortion.”
“Believing anything,” Eugenio replied, “saves time and money on research.”
Olivia’s eyes were awash with tears of joy.
“Olivia believes they can tell women what to do,” Eugenio said. “Isn’t that right, Olivia?”
“Of course,” Olivia replied. “Women need guidance from higher forces–like men. Why else are we here?”
Everyone laughed except a woman who said: “Please–I’m religious.”
She was young and white-faced with black hair. The black, emphasising the white, made her look innocently angelic.
“And?” Eugenio asked.
Everyone faced her. Did her “superior vision” allow the “uninformed” to speak?
The silence resembled a soundless tsunami, sweeping across the ocean of human mindlessness, to destroy obstacles to objectivity.
“And,” she said, “I don’t appreciate your comments.”
“Are you telling us what to say?” Olivia asked.
The woman became frightened. They had belittled her self-ordained moral superiority.
“Believe whatever you like,” Eugenio said, “but if you impose your ideas upon others through politics then that exposes those ideas to analysis.”
This had never occurred to her. She slunk into her seat like soapy water disappearing down a drain.
Later, Olivia said: “That stupid woman thought we were going to say: ‘Oh, so sorry, we shouldn’t express our opinions because you confuse mythology with reality. How inconsiderate of us. Why don’t we just let the church tell us what to think? It must be 1AD. I thought it was 2022. How silly of me!’”
Eugenio mortar-round chuckles struck the icy air. Vapour puffed like indignation from their mouths. Neon lights glowed in a darkness of dead leaves and bare branches. A wind wand made yellow pellets shower from twigs that resembled black wiring against a dark-grey sky.
“We could really advance,” Eugenio said, “if corruption didn’t exist and people could think.”
“We’d have to become a different species,” Olivia replied.
“Absolutely,” Eugenio said.
A different species, Eugenio thought. I feel like a visitor from elsewhere. My discomfort before absurdity suggests I arrived from outside the Solar System. I feel disquieted by what many people believe is sacred. Religion confirms for politicians that believing thrives. They manipulate people’s trust in institutions that provide a sense of cultural superiority–that generate pride in assumed superior affiliations. They enhance that pride by associating it with appealing visions of purported truth, for hope outweighs objectivity in human imagination. People confusing mythology with reality reduces standards of living, obstructing progress. We dislike empiricism. Consequently, I will continue to be pasted with puerile labels.