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by Jerrold Soh | Oct 15, 2013 | 2506 views
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Old newspapers littered the street. Cars which once sped effortlessly across interconnected superhighways sat empty, motionless in perfect alignment on either side of the road. A gust caught a mess of flyers and sent them airborne into the open windows of nearby houses. On each flyer was a picture of a perfectly rectangular, palm-sized object.

A man holding such a palm-sized object sped effortlessly down the walkway, his gaze locked on the soft light emitting from the object he held in front. At the top right corner of the object an icon the shape of three parallel, curved lines flashed and flashed. The man continued walking, pausing every now and then when the icon grew brighter, then carried on walking as it faded into oblivion. One would almost think the object was a compass, and in some sense it was. And sometimes, it really did point the way.

But not now, because the icon was flashing.

The man with the palm-sized object entered a house. Two people were in that house, a man with a slightly longer, yet similarly palm-widthed object in his hand, and a woman who held under her arms a metallic rectangle resembling a file. The palm-sized man asked, are they getting anything here, to which the palm-widthed man said yes, but only a little, and he wasn’t sure how long it would last. The first man’s eyes lit up, and his gaze once again lodged itself into the object in his hand. The icon stopped flashing. Very quickly he drew some patterns on the object, and its surface came alive with symbols and words. Message received, from 2 weeks ago, said the object, and the man holding the object tried and failed to hold back tears. It was, after all, what he had been searching for all this while. A glorious moment. Then, before he could do anything more in his state of jubilation, the woman with the file let out a shrill, piercing scream. The palm-widthed man sighed. And the parallel-curved icon flickered, and flickered, and faded away, and flashed and flashed. The words on the object vanished, and it was like it had never been there at all.

Oh well, said the man with the palm-sized object, onwards and upwards, and may the search end one day. As he left the house he was joined by his two new acquaintances, and together they individually found their way down the street with their compasses-that-were-not-actually-compasses.

Purely by coincidence, or perhaps by fate, or both, for the two are not quite different, they found themselves headed the same way. A tall, elaborate sculpture loomed ahead, and would have proven quite a proud spectacle, sitting atop its grassy pedestal, had it not quite obviously fallen into disrepair. Long, parallel lines in the sky joined the triangular sculpture’s apex, which seemed to unravel itself into ten thousand smaller, adjacent triangles painted red, white, and black, dotted every now and then with irregular patches of brown.

A tower, said the man with the palm-widthed object, if there’s any left it’ll be here. Wouldn’t you have known if there was, asked the other man. Not really, I was only here since yesterday, me and her, and we stopped by because the icon stopped flashing. Same here, said the palm-sized man. And the trio began climbing the grassy slope.

Presently the woman found a good chance to speak, for the men were done with their talking, and quickly added, I wish things were like they used to be, and our icons were never flashing, but more like lighthouses sending out lifelines in the sky, guiding us, pulling us back to our docks. With this point the men disagreed, for it was their obligation, clearly, to push on and look forward, and not to allow the group to stay fixated on the comforts of the past, and even though they could not have said it better themselves both innately dismissed the woman’s nostalgia and reminded themselves to be a better man than that.

As they searched for an appropriately masculine reply, the spotted another group of five individuals climbing the hill not far away. They carried in their hands rectangular objects of varying diagonal measurements. The man with the palm-sized object studied them momentarily, paying particular attention to their rectangular instruments.

Big-screens, he concluded. Better to keep clear, added the palm-widthed man. And why should we, asked the woman. Because the big-screeners use it all up, you never get any when you’re near them. Really, asked the woman, and how do you know that. Because in the old days, the ones you were just waxing lyrical about -- one statement is barely waxing lyrical, interrupted the woman – let me finish will you, cried the man, the ones you were just waxing lyrical about, the company which made the palm-sized objects told us about the big-screeners. They don’t just use it all, no, worse, they’re the reason it’s all gone now, because it just couldn’t support screens that big. But the company making the big-screens didn’t listen, and continued telling the big-screeners it was alright to keep on using it all up, and the big-screeners, suckers of company statements they were, bought it all. One might think it wasn’t their fault, indeed the company was the mastermind, but ignorance, the man declared with a confident smile, is no excuse.

And having finished relating a piece of solid history, which even considered counter-arguments before concluding with a witty maxim, and proven himself the most learned in the group, the man with the palm-widthed object scanned the other two for signs of admiration and respect, which very quickly, though a little too quickly, surfaced on the woman’s countenance, and the palm-widthed man suspected she was merely offering rehearsed patronage, but quickly decided it was better not to think too much about it and take a compliment as a compliment.

Keeping their distance from the other group of individuals with rectangular objects, our group of individuals with rectangular objects reached the top of the hill and the foot of the tower. Eagerly they raised their objects to the sky, or more accurately, the apex of the tower, and waited. And waited. The icons flashed. And flashed.

It must be those big-screeners over there, thought the man with the palm-sized object, and he stole a glance at the other man, whose look of disappointment mirrored his exact thoughts. The woman fell cross-legged onto the grass, ostensibly exhausted, but it was unknowable whether from the ascent or from other things. The men’s eye contact broke on the sight of the woman seating herself, and the palm-widthed man took it upon himself at that moment to drive the big-screeners away. The palm-sized man offered to help, without intending to help, of course, for it was customary, especially for males, to offer, and the palm-widthed man quickly dismissed this offer, much to the other’s relief, although such relief was likewise unwarranted, for it was equally customary to decline. After all, he was the one with the longer object.

Which he left in the care of the woman with the metallic file before taking those bold steps towards the other group. You never know what those big-screens’ll do to you, he had said, but each step he took without his occasional-compass in hand was a step back into himself. Bigger screens, bigger screams, the company had told him, or, An extra inch is an extra pinch. There were also Big users, Small hearts, and, he struggled to recall, of course, how could I forget, All object to big objects. Ingenious, the man thought, as he considered which ones he would deploy.

Then he was there, and the big-screeners regarded him for a moment, without his object. Looking for it too, sir, asked the biggest-screener. Yes, in fact I am, replied the man, and may I, kindly, request you and your group find another spot. Why, is there some of it here? Oh not quite, we were just, wondering, if, perhaps, maybe if your group left then maybe there’d be some. Why, you’re not one of those men with the palm-sized objects now are you now? And what if I am? Then you are the one who should leave immediately, sir. Well I don’t get why I should be the one leaving when you big-screeners are the ones who –

At the mention of that tri-syllabic identification a gasp chorused from the group, and the woman amongst them seemed particularly offended, her large, accusatory eyes leaving her object to latch onto the palm-widthed man. Sir, said the man with the biggest-screened object, I won’t have you coming here and telling us so rudely to leave, even though I must acknowledge that you most likely have a palm-widdthed object, for that is no excuse. If, as you said, there’s nothing here, then we’ll pick up our objects and be on our way, but I’ll have you know it wouldn’t be on your request, nor have your insults worked in the way you hoped they would work. We’re all just looking for it, and you don’t have to resort to such means, even if it’s been weeks since you found the previous spot. It’s equally bad for us, sir.

With that the palm-widthed man was annoyed. No wonder they say the bigger the screen the smaller the spleen. These people don’t even know they’re the cause of all this and they’re acting all rational and hello-sir-don’t-you-go-around-insulting-others and I’ll-have-you-know. Well I’d rather not know. Ignorance is bliss. But I’ll just have to put up with these big-screeners while they realise there’s nothing here anyway, why are they even bothering to stay.

The icons kept flashing, and flashing, then the people with the big-screened objects picked up their objects and were on their way.

Took care of that, said the palm-widthed man as he rejoined his group, now hopefully we’ll get some of it. They stared at the surfaces of their objects, so intently one might think they truly believed if they stared hard enough it might work. And to some extent it did, for no later than the instant the big-screened group reached the foot of the hill the icons on the palm-sized objected stopped flashing, the three parallel-curved lines shining steady and bright onto the trio's faces. Frivolous as this might be, we cannot quite blame the palm-widthed man’s immediately arising belief that, for one, asking the big-screeners to leave did do the job, and, for two, that his strong gaze and sheer willpower helped revive, for such is the nature of cause and effect, and who are we, mere narrators and readers of the events transpiring here, to decide whether such a seemingly tenuous link actually held? Better, for us and for them, to leave it to the simple adage, we’ll never know.

For there was no stopping them now, anyway. The trio rejoiced in the deluge of words and symbols now propagating across their objects. There was a message from the palm-sized man’s wife, saying where are you, I haven’t seen you in such a long time,  I miss you, this whole system being down is really horrid, no one’s getting anything anywhere, we’re all nomads moving from one spot to another like it’s the only thing that matters, to which the palm-sized man quickly replied I don’t know where I am either, I’m at a tower, I miss you too, been walking for days just to find a spot now, and my best guess is I’m somewhere north of where we lived, gosh I don’t know how we’ll survive this it’s only been a month since it happened and look where we are now, tell you what, let’s meet at the lake, alright,  I’ll head there and I won’t leave till you’re there, I might not be able to get a reply from you now, so just head there and don’t leave till you find me, alright, I’ll be at the part of the lake where I took you out the first time, we’ll meet there, yes, I have so many things I need to tell you, in person, love.

There was also that photograph on the woman’s file-object which displayed prominently a sumptuous breakfast, on which she added her thoughts of how important it must be now to continue having good breakfasts despite the horrid situation they were all in. The palm-widthed object, presently, displayed, far more curiously, a moving picture of another palm-widthed object, slightly longer than this current one, with words and more pictures dancing around the screen in alternating shades of gray.

Then the words stopped dancing, and the icons flickered, faded, and flashed and flashed. Oh well, said the palm-sized man, I’m going to the lake, who’s with me. The palm-widthed man seemed not to hear his declaration. The woman shrugged her shoulders and looked at him. I need some more, the palm-widthed man concluded moments later, you go ahead, I’ll see what I can get from the tower. So the palm-sized man left, and the woman thought for a while before following along, saying she remembered what a beautiful view the lake offered. The palm-widthed man took no notice of her, his gaze again glued to the object.

An hour passed and the icon kept flashing. Maybe up there there’ll be some, yes, there must be, the taller the better. As it went, the palm-widthed man held the taller, palm-widthed object in one hand, and began his ascent of ten thousand triangles with the other. And he climbed and he climbed, the rough, brown spots on the tower handy spots to grip on to with his one free hand.

The taller the better, as the tower creaked and creaked.


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