AWAKENING THE SELF
1129 words by Stanley Lieber
If there is a test, chances are he will pass. But he is never quite sure if he really understands the answers, or if he has merely derived them from some calculus of the movement of language. Has communication truly taken place? And if so, how does he know that he knows? This problem of knowledge goes deeper for him (he suspects) than for any of the other boys; he is certain that the others are secure both in their answers and in the thoughts which (he is also certain) inform them. Much unlike himself, unfortunately. What good is the right answer if it still doesn't make any sense?
He is provided a worksheet. On it are inscribed a series of symbols he does not understand. Above the symbols are situated photographs of the room he has just vacated. He studies the paper and notices that, in one of the photos, a mesh transceiver has been placed behind the couch. The angle of the photograph is such that the placement of the transceiver is clearly intended to be noticed. But what is the transceiver for? That information is not provided. He begins to wonder if, perhaps, there is some other, more salient detail of the photo that he is missing. What is it he is meant to be looking for? Perhaps the mesh equipment is not the item of greatest importance. He scans the paper again but notices nothing new.
The other children have all been issued this same sheet of paper. Most of them are dumbfounded. Discarding their worksheets, the children proceed to enact a miniature, organized conflict. They count off into strike teams, execute insurgencies, repel counter-insurgencies, invade and defend arbitrarily defined territories within the room's finite perimeter. It is clear to Plinth that they have all but forgotten the problem on worksheet. Had the exercise confounded them all the same way? Each of the boys, including Plinth himself, have only just turned sixteen. So, some unfamiliarity with printed matter is to be expected. But still, Plinth wonders, What are these boys seeing when they look at the photographs? Indeed, what am I missing?
At the one hour marker the children are led back into the waiting room. Further instructions are not provided.
The children begin to bicker. It is apparent now that the waiting room has been stripped of standard entertainments. Plinth waits until two quarrelers obscure the main surveillance camera (thinly disguised as an inoperable telescreen) and ducks quickly behind the couch. Seconds later, he pops back up and feigns participation in the complaining. A noticeable bulge now deforms the left-front pocket of his trousers. Upon close observation his sudden sociability is less than convincing.
The boys are led out of the waiting room and into a play area, well-stocked with childish trifles. Plinth notes that these trinkets are of the exact type the boys had been clamoring for, only moments before. Carefully, he retreats into a corner, near an air vent, and divests his pocket of the purloined contraband. The cool, manufactured air of the building's circulation system envelopes his hands and face as he crouches above the illicit cargo, squinting at the various inscriptions etched into the reverse-side of each item.
Between the legs of a chair, Plinth spies two pairs of wingtip shoes.
The furniture is immediately lifted up, completely off of the ground. Large hands likewise lift Plinth out of the corner, but not before he manages to gather up his collection of stolen materials. He is deposited onto a table top, where two uniformed men inspect him thoroughly. Their commentary adopts the distinct air of suspicious, yet enthusiastic interest.
The doctor with the big hands is the first to address him directly.
"One of your pockets looks rather larger than the other one, Plinth."
"Yes," the second man joins in, "The way they're making trousers these days, it's a wonder you can even maintain your balance when you try to walk."
Plinth: "Born this way, actually. My gait is lopsided."
"More likely, his pants are sagging from the weight of several power cells taken from a mesh transceiver," the smaller doctor remarks to his colleague.
"For my leaf," Plinth offers, halfheartedly.
"You can read?" both of them say in unison. Now they take turns shaking their heads, greatly amused for some reason.
"Duh, jackasses," Plinth says, rolling his eyes. "I'm not a little kid."
Plinth is once again removed from the waiting room.
Presently, Plinth is being lectured, prepared for his circumcision. Before he can be cut, he must first be made to understand.
The origin of the procedure is by now lost to history. For his part, Plinth knows enough about the rite of manhood to suspect what comes next. He has also finally deduced the purpose of today's exercise in the waiting room; he is astonished at the transparent nature of the deception. Even more astonishing is the fact that he fell for the ruse on the first try. Doubtless, Grandma was somehow involved.
As it happens, he is the only child to have qualified for circumcision today. At sixteen years of age, most males have yet to develop the abstract thinking skills required to perform such feats as, say, comprehending the relationship between his environment and the funny squiggles and marks that constitute a topographical map. By revealing that he knows how to read, Plinth has demonstrated that not only does he grasp the basic concepts of symbolic representation, but that he may also comprehend more abstract relationships which may or may not yield a 1:1 correspondence to empirical reality. This is quite unusual for someone so young. According to the more experienced doctors, there is a precedent for the situation: Plinth will simply be allowed to skip ahead to a higher grade level.
Naturally, Plinth is concerned about the costs this may incur.
"How can I convince them that my brain is damaged," he thinks to himself.
He shoves his hand into his trousers and squeezes out a length of fecal matter. Without hesitation, he chews the curl of feces vigorously into his mouth. Swallows.
Much to his dismay, the gambit is unsuccessful.
The Mold awareness slowly seeps back into Plinth's consciousness. At first he is beside himself; these men have just mutilated his stick. Then he recalls the purpose of the ritual. Presently, he recalls his past life as Haus Mold. He knows now what he must do next.
Plinth waves the doctors aside and inspects his personal effects, ensuring that everything remains as he left it, nearly two decades in his past. Satisfied, he withdraws a small electronic device and activates its primary function, instantly transmuting all organic life in the room into dust.
Deactivating the device and donning his eye-patch, Plinth hops off of the examination table and begins to search for an exit.
There is much work to be done.
To be continued...
photo by theisandkhan