‘The program’

I get into the wrong elevator. The buttons are placed, inconveniently, on a panel about seven feet above the floor. It is one of those elevators with an entrance/exit on two, facing sides. I get off when it is called to a floor I would not usually visit. I expected the general layout of the floor to be the same as the floor on which I work, however, it is completely different and very disorienting. There’s nothing to do but try get out of the building altogether, which I manage to do, through the basement. I drive out. This is quite a surprise because I don’t have a car or a license to drive. Worse, though, I don’t recall any of the streets outside. They are all unfamiliar to me. Indeed, I begin to think I may even be in a city I do not know. That would be terrible. How could I have arrived here in the first place? It may be even more serious than that … Who am I? Apparently I am someone who, today, can drive a car … who has a car to drive. I must get myself to a hospital, I think, so I get out of the car and start looking for a place to present myself that looks safe. However, there are no signs to be seen anywhere. This city, wherever it is, looks like an advanced communist state: modern, but entirely without advertising. I head into a building that I think may be a hospital and take a seat next to the receptionist. I begin to explain my situation to her. “I’m sorry to interrupt you. Please don’t be alarmed. I need your help. I appear to have forgotten who I am and where I am. I appear to have forgotten everything. Almost everything. I can still drive, which is something I didn’t know I could do, but everything else is gone. I’m very concerned I might be ill.” The receptionist looks at me very calmly for a while without saying anything. I ask her again if she can help me. She thinks carefully. “Listen to me,” she says, in a low voice, almost whispering, though there is no one around us to hear. “You have a choice. You can either wait here for another minute and I will get the paperwork done for you. You will be asked to sign a consent form, and that is the last thing you will ever know about your participation in the program. Or, if you wish, you can walk back along the corridor behind us, turn left, and you will see a glass door leading to the street outside. If you leave, I cannot help you, but you will be free.” She looks into my eyes and can see that I am thinking about her words in my mind. The choice seems stark. Ignorance, or something worse than ignorance, or freedom, but only freedom. What does she mean by “the program”? I stand up and, without thanking her, follow her instructions to find the exit to the street.

 

Published as ‘Four events while sleeping’, incorporating ‘Poetry is a small house’, ‘Religion is the art of belief’, ‘Martial art, sans art’ and ‘The program’, FIVE:2:ONE print edition, August 2017.