Mr. Angry
by Ian Mullins

staffordshirefire.gov.uk             



Today the lights were shining green, Daniel’s favourite colour, so he stretched his legs across the street trying to walk the way the green man on the street-sign walked, with his legs long and straight. But halfway across he saw a man in a car look at him as though he was disabled and ought to be admired, so he slipped back into his regular walk and saw the driver’s face turn from pity to shame.
    But it didn’t matter to Daniel, he was already over the highway and looking left, looking right, there must be somewhere where nobody was watching. He crossed at another set of lights, saw a promising doorway, deep and dark, but no; his trusty eye spotted a camera across the street, then another high above. He reminded himself not to look directly at them; it was like staring into the sun, not good for you if you did it for too long. Though as a boy he’d done it for minutes on end, snapping his eyes open and shut, black then red; surely there must be a secret in the sun the world didn’t want you to see?

Keep walking, keep looking, put a plain smile on your face, but not too much; the people behind the cameras were trained to spot anyone smiling strangely, especially that strange, rich smile that meant look at me I’ve got away with something, I’ve crossed on red, I’ve waited on green, I’ve barged a citizen out of my way and didn’t say sorry, I failed to feel glad that I live in a free country.

I can’t hold on much longer, he thought. Try a left, stop fucking smiling! And stop fucking swearing! They say when you swear in your head there’s a certain look on your face the monitors can’t fail to monitor. There’s another detector, glowing like a ruby in the sidewalk. Mustn’t step on it, but mustn’t be seen not to step on it….

“Citizen!”

The voice was a barrier he couldn’t cross. The Social Crimes Officer only held up a hand, but that hand had was a wall made of rock and steel, and behind it there was law, there was re-education, there was the long boat out to sea no-one ever sailed back from. He’d never see his loved ones again.

Why did that thought fill him with such joy? “Yes, Officer?”

“You seen to be in a hurry.” The man’s face was long and lined. Daniel wondered why they were all so pale, when they spent so many hours on the street.
“I’m taking exercise, Sir. My monthly evaluation required  -that is, recommended it.”

The Officer frowned to exhibit a quizzical, but concerned, state of mind. It was frown number 14, his favourite. “Your garments suggest work. Are you working today, citizen?”

“On my way home Sir. Thought I’d walk the last stretch.” Without thinking, he stretched out his hand and the officer passed his palm over it. The devices implanted in their hands bleeped and a social transaction was added to Daniel’s file.
    “I see you take the bus.” The officer inspected the screen grafted into his palm. “The 714b. Is there a problem with the 714b? An insincere smile from the driver?” He used smile 27. Friendly, but insistent.

“No, no problem.” Except the pain in my gut, the throbbing in my head. Next month they would show up on his health check, but today he was free. Somehow that made him feel unaccountably happy.

“You smile very happily, citizen. Why is that?”

“Well; I feel good. I worked hard today; it was very satisfying. But not, of course, without all the usual minor annoyances we humans are heir to.”

“The government are working on that,” replied the officer brightly, seeming to relax a little. “Soon a man will work all day long without one burst of anger, not one missed smile…I see you’re taking paradoxin.”

“It was req-recommended that I do so. I think too much, apparently. I get confused; a little angry.” Daniel wondered why he was telling him this, then decided it was a strategy he had unconsciously settled on. The ultra-normals sometimes found old-stylers a little sad and romantic.

“You’re thinking now,” said the officer. “I can see it in your eyes. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking how wonderful it would be not to feel so upset every time I get passed over for promotion.”

“Why do you get passed over for promotion?”

“Too human, I guess. You can see my evaluation on your screen. I try hard, officer; I want you to know that.”

“Why do you want me to know that?” Blank face seven. I know things about you even you have forgotten. Can you guess what they are?

“Why? I want approval; everyone does.”

“I don’t. I am satisfied that my superiors are satisfied with me. Ego is a dangerous thing, Daniel. Just look at you, getting off the bus to walk the last few miles home. Did you do it to improve your health, or to re-assure your ego that you are taking steps to improve your health?”

“Can’t it be both?” He could feel Mr. Angry in his bones. -Look out for Mr. Angry!- the TV warned him every night. Sometimes Daniel thought that if he ever met Mr. Angry he would shake him by the hand. “Too human?”

“You said it, citizen. It’s sad the way we are; left to our own devices we’d live like dogs in the street. We’d never smile, we’d only grimace. And look at you…” He looked at the screen on his palm. “You’re struggling, citizen. You swore at your boss last week. You failed to return a smile. You looked sharply at a monitor on Eastbank Street when it picked you out in a crowd.”

“I was doing nothing wrong,” Daniel protested. “I was only thinking it.”

“Don’t you know that that’s the worst crime of all?” Judge 17; softening to Father number 1. “He tapped the citizen on the head. “It all starts in here, son. If there’s dirt in your head there’ll soon be dirt on the street. You picked your nose in public last week.”

“I was in the park, I didn’t see anyone around.”

“There’s always someone around. Someone that loves you. Last year you urinated in a doorway. Luckily a scent detector on a street corner picked up your scent and cross-matched it with your sample.”

“Those detectors are hard to spot aren’t they?” He tried to laugh, but cops never laughed. Daniel felt faces 16, 24, 31 and 172 wash over his cheeks. He couldn’t hold onto a face for long enough to decide who he was meant to be at any given time. His head was shouting ‘me, me, me!’ like a little child longing to be picked for a game. Daniel was never picked until last. That used to make him feel ashamed; until he learned how to use it to make himself proud.

That was when schools still had games. These days kids played work-games. They frightened him by not screaming on the street at three am, by not getting drunk, or eating bad food. The government called them rebels. Sometimes Daniel went onto the empty street at 3am and pissed on the street corner, just to be human in the old way; to remember things he couldn’t remember, forget things he never wanted to forget.

“Never forget we love you,” said the policeman suddenly.

“I won’t.” Curiously, Daniel found that he believed him, though he knew in his heart that he was lying. There was something so noble, so human, about wanting to believe in people so much that you lied and lied until the truth was just another lie and a lie was something you desperately believed to be true. It’s the wanting that makes us human, he thought. That why all of this will never work. He smiled at the policeman; a simple, genuine smile, a baby’s first smile. Yes, I am really glad to be here; and even if I lived the life you wanted me to live I would still smile up at you. “You should smile while you can,” he told the cop.

“Nothing better than a smile,” agreed the officer. Smile number 2; mostly genuine. “On your way, citizen.”

 

Daniel walked slowly until he was out of sight, then took a  sharp left and picked up speed, casually greeting strangers as they passed him on the street. His home was a good ten minutes away, and while he was convinced he could hold out until then, he had decided he wasn’t going to. Down a deserted side street he spotted what he was looking for. A corner store had been demolished and the rubble had never been cleared; the weeds had sprung up and taken it back, the way a river will take a dead body and shape it to its own ends. Daniel marched straight into the green and unbuckled his pants. And there it was, the fart to end all farts, pouring out of him like water from a drowned man’s lungs, a wonderful rush of gas leaping like a little boy leaps when he plays a game he’s not supposed to play, for the simple joy of knowing he’s not supposed to play it.

And down in the rubble a little glow started to shine. Daniel kicked over a rock and yes, there was a detector, sucking in his fumes; and even as he re-buckled his pants a coded analysis of his gas was being passed through a satellite hanging over the city like a kite blocking out the sun. Soon it would be on its way to earth, and soon the cars would be rolling.

Daniel tried to laugh as he pushed his back through the weeds and out onto the street, but somehow he couldn’t make it. They’ve trained me too well, he thought sadly; they’ve split me in two. They have a me, and I have a me. So which one is really me?

He waited on the side of the road, watching while all seven of the cameras on the street turned their head towards him like wading birds tenderly addressing their prey. Soon the Officer came. “I’m more human than you will ever be,” Daniel told him.

“That is your tragedy,” the Officer replied, tightening the cuffs. Frown number one; we’re going to put you in a box and post you out to sea.






The Harem Guard by Ludwig Deutsch, detail.            



Ian Mullins hails from Liverpool, England. His poetry collection Laughter In The Shape Of A Guitar was published by UB(undergroundbooks.org) in 2015.



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