…relating to the difficulty of measuring the ground beneath you feet as it extends outwards in all directions, consequent of its imperceptible curvature
Walking with more purpose now, the ground firm beneath his feet, his feet no longer sinking into the mire, a spring in his step, no matter which way Oscar turned, it was all a matter of rolling down hill. Not that he was going down hill in the usual metaphorical sense – he had reached rock bottom already, so the only way is up, he could go no lower. But in another sense, also metaphorical, he was going down hill, all the while he was building up speed and acquiring more and more momentum, almost falling towards his true destiny – he would crash upon success, and it was only a matter of rolling now, though he must always be careful not to veer off course.
Arriving at the unemployment office and bumping into Susan, this time actually bumping into her as opposed to simply coming across her, actually knocking her to the ground, resulting in her sitting in a puddle, looks of shock and consternation struggling with each other on her face, Oscar was not at a loss to explain why he was here.
He smiled, a look devoid of any bitterness. Why should he be bitter? He had been set free, released, thrown down and hit rock bottom, so meeting Susan here, meeting the person he most associated with his past life built upon delusions and lies, was no cause for embarrassment. Because being embarrassed would be yet another fall, another step to fall down, when he had already been thrown down the whole flight. It was inconceivable that he had only fallen to another landing and that another flight of concrete stairs was still beneath him, just around the corner. It was inconceivable – Oscar either would not or could not conceive of it. And what was inconceivable, Oscar was telling himself, simply could not be.
Oscar graciously picked Susan up from the ground, out of the puddle into which he had knocked her, affording her a gracious smile and a gracious nod of the head and even a gracious apology.
Susan’s series of quick glances upon gaining her feet – a quick glance at Oscar, a quick glance at the sign above the door of the unemployment office, another quick glance at Oscar, her lips curling into a barely perceptible smile – prompted an arching of her eyebrows and the words, “Doing some research Oscar?”
Oscar smiled graciously in return. But his reply was curt. No, he said. He was not doing research. He was here to sign on, to claim unemployment benefit, because he was one of those unemployed people.
“I am unemployed.” Oscar managed to inject this simple sentence with more than a modicum of pride. “Not only am I unemployed,” Oscar stated in an arch manner, “but I am unemployable.”
Susan was caught without words, but not without another of her smiles.
But Oscar simply turned and left her, entering for the first time the centre for the unemployed in order to register his inability to become employed in any way and to claim his unsuitability for gainful employment.
And immediately on entering the building Oscar felt at home. The grey walls, the grey people, the grey carpet, the grey flickering fluorescent lights – this was the underworld into which he was constantly sticking his foot, the underworld into which he was always sinking into up to his neck, this was the underworld against which he was always struggling, which his father had warned him about when he didn’t do his homework, which he had lived in fear of, which was always around the corner, which tainted failure so darkly. And it wasn’t so bad, now that he was fully submerged, his eyes, mouth and nose beneath the fetid waters. Looking around him now, Oscar had to admit that the stink of sulphur and the suffocating heat weren’t all that bad, not so stinking and not so suffocating.
“Name?” was the entirety of the greeting which he received at end of the first queue, the first of many queues.
And while Oscar was queuing up, queue after queue, saying yes or no in response to various questions he was asked at the end of each queue, the world was revealed to him in all its actuality – “this is the world”, Oscar said, before correcting this statement to a “yes” in order to move on to the next queue.
When at last Oscar got to sit down and entered into an actual conversation with another human being, he relished the chance to discuss the nature of the world and to open his heart.
“I am a writer,” Oscar told the middle-aged lady. “I am an unemployed writer.”
“Have you ever done anything else?”
“Not properly… not with a full heart. I have made half-hearted attempts at teaching from time to time.”
“So you’re a qualified teacher?”
“That’s all in the past.”
“I am disqualified. I never was qualified. I am qualified only to write down on paper the truths which underlie life… to forge in the furnace of my mind the unformed conscience of humanity.”
Of course this middle-aged woman didn’t understand. A lack of understanding is only to be expected and should not get you down. He should not, thought Oscar, hang off the approval of others, especially those who’ve not read a good book in their lives and who hang thick gold necklaces from their necks, so heavy that they can’t raise their heads and look upwards, see the world in all its glory.
“The world stretches out before us,” Oscar confided to this middle-age woman, “in straight lines. The horizon is clear. Nothing really lurks there – you’d be able to see it, if there was anything lurking there. There’s nothing to fear. I can see clearly… and you could if you could only look, if you could just raise up your head and stop looking at your shoes, just raise up your head and look forward – what do you see?”
This woman didn’t reply. She saw nothing, Oscar knew.
Upon assuring this woman that he would look to the future and strive ever harder to make what he could of this life, Oscar was permitted to go out into the world once more. And form now on, only walking in straight lines, Oscar would walk towards that horizon without fear of failure, without any anxiety whatsoever.