Laurianne and I went to Hamilton for her aunt's wedding this past long weekend. I've been to more than a few weddings, but there is always something special about Burundian weddings. Dancing at Canadian and Dutch-Canadian weddings is either non-existent or reserved for the young, the adventurous, and/or the slightly inebriated. The graceful dance I've witnessed at Burundian weddings is a pleasure to watch and a powerful symbol. The dancers urge the bride and groom to dance and gradually invite more and more of the guests to the floor. Soon, it seems, almost the entire wedding is dancing around the bride and groom and there are broad smiles all around. The community is united in the joy of the newly married couple. Now, if only I didn't look so awkward when I danced.
Monday, May 07, 2007
The bar was dimly lit by dusty yellow lights and a blue neon sign advertising a discontinued brand of beer. Dark wooden panels covered the walls, making the room appear that much dimmer. Several faded black and white photographs of James Dean hung crookedly from the grey stucco above the panels. Two tables sat empty, their trays overflowing with grey ash and cigarrette butts. The bar was nearly empty except for the bulky figure of a lone man sitting on a high stool of the seedy bar. His massive head rested comfortably on a flabby arm as he nursed a pint of dark beer.
His name was Diego and he was known for his simplicity, complexity, imbecility, and occasional flashes of brilliance. He was a fat man with a chronically bad temper. His jowls tended to shake when he got angry afterwhich he would launch into a stream of verbosity repleat with words he had mined from intense dictionary reading. Often, however, he merely memorized the word's pronunciation without paying much attention to its actual meaning. He was highly skeptical, and believed neither in a creator nor in destiny. When he was at his most critical he would pompously attack the perceived lack of grammar in his target. He often fell into lapses of memory which made him repeat questions that had already been asked. He was a gullible man and was often taken in by the most ludicrous of claims. Diego was brooding deeply on some events that had indelibly changed his life forever. Events so dramatic that they could only be described as . . .
"Excuse me, sir," a man in a fedora and a dark trench coat tapped Diego on the shoulder.
"Yes?" Diego appeared startled by the sudden appearance of the man, who seemed to have emerged at the very moment he had spoken.
"I've been sent to eliminate you, so if you'd kindly oblige by coming this way," the man's words, despite their politeness, were clipped and almost brusque in their delivery.
"Eliminate me? Why?" Diego peered at the man's fedora quizzically. Until this very moment, he had been fairly sure that no one wore fedoras anymore.
"It's been determined that your character adds nothing to this story, so come with me," the man nodded towards the door.
"What story?" Diego raised an eyebrow in utter confusion."This one," the man made an effort to encapsulate the bar, Diego, and the situation in one gesture.
"I'm not in a story," Diego scoffed, "I'm in a bar."
"Actually sir, you're in a bar that is in a story."
"I am?" Diego looked about the room as if the walls would suddenly collapse and reveal a story, whatever that looked like.
"Yes," the man once again gestured impatiently towards the door.
"I see. So why are you here?" Diego took a sip of his beer and smacked his lips.
"As I stated before, I've come to eliminate you from this story," the man adjusted his coat.
Diego frowned and leaned forward, trying to get a glance of the man's face, shrouded beneath the wide brim of his hat. Finally, he leaned back in his chair, shook his head and said, "I don't believe you."
"Do you have any memory of anything happening to you before you entered this bar?" the man's voice had an edge in it.
"I couldn't really say," Diego shrugged indifferently.
"Exactly, that's the narrator's job," the man asserted.
"The narrator, the one who introduced you," the man said impatiently.
Diego shook his head slowly, "I'm sorry, but I really don't see any narrator in this bar."
"Just come with me," the man's voice was tight and curt.
"If this is a story then we're the only two characters in this story, aren't we?" Diego peered about the dingy bar, "There's not even a barman behind the counter for some odd reason."
"I never said it was a good story."
"You know, if this is a story then you don't have to read it if you don't like it."
"Well, actually I do. You see, I'm from the Society for the Elimination of Gratuitous Literary Characters," the man reached in his pocket and displayed his badge proudly, "It's in my job description to read all stories, no matter how bad they are, and eliminate superfluous characters. And I'm sorry, but this looks like it's going nowhere."
Diego glanced at the badge doubtfully, "If this were a story, wouldn't it be a little presumptuous to eliminate a character before he's had a chance to develop?"
"Usually yes, but you're a dull character with such startling contradictions built into your personality that you're basically untenable."
"Contradictions, what contradictions?" Diego's eyes narrowed.
"Well," the man answered, "you can't be both highly critical and extremely gullible."
"You can't, can you? You're absolutely right." Diego nodded while shaking his head, "Of course, you're also wrong because you're using such atrocious English and yet claim to be some kind of literary hitman."
"You see? You just agreed with me and then promptly contradicted yourself," the man's face was still hidden by the shadow of his fedora, but Diego still thought he could make out a thin smile.
Diego gritted his teeth, "what on earth are you talking about?"
"Come, come, I'm sure the audience is getting quite tired of your antics," the man placed a hand on the Diego's shoulder to guide him towards the door.
"I have no time for your acataleptic jobation!" Diego swatted the man's hand away.
The man seemed bothered neither by Diego's incomprehensible outburst nor by his quivering jowls, "Interesting, it seems that inveterate temper and penchant for the pretentious use of obscure words is kicking in."
"What kind of supposed literary character assassin uses the words 'kicking in'?" Diego harrumphed."Yes, yes," the man raised a gloved hand in dismissal, "I understand your objections, but I was not created to engage in flowery language. No, I merely communicate the wishes of the SEGLC. And before I get distracted by your obtuse questioning I shall continue with my purpose."
"Which is?" Diego had a perplexed look on his face.
"Ah, and there's your poor memory." The man adjusted the brim of his fedora, "I am here to eliminate you as a character from this story."
"Isn't that tantamount to murder?" Diego's hands were shaking as he took a gulp of beer.
"Well no, because you actually don't truly exist. You're in a work of fiction."
"I do exist," Diego looked at his hands disconcertedly, as if they would start fading into non-existence.
"Yes, you do, in a way, exist, but I would really like to remedy that."
Diego bit his bottom lip nervously and thought for several moments, "I speak, therefore I am."
"Yes, yes, Oro ergo sum, but you only speak because your creator gave you a voice."
"I don't believe in a creator." Diego scoffed.
"Oh, that's right, I should have paid more attention to the introduction," the man sighed.
"The what?" Diego asked in confusion.
"The introduction, the beginning of this atrocity where the narrator laid out the setting and described your character."
"The introduction of this fictional," Diego placed imaginary quotation marks around the word fictional, "story by the narrator created by some all-powerful creator. Right," sarcasm dripped from his voice.
"Whether he is all-powerful is dubious. He is limited by the shallow depth of his own imagination," the man responded with affected patience, "Of course, if you don't believe in a creator then how did you come to be?"
"I just evolved."
"Why does the thought have to belong to someone?" Diego asked snarkily.
"Well, thoughts don't just exist for no reason."
"I suppose the thought was spontaneously generated by a great explosion of dense particles of genius."
"Where did those dense particles of genius come from?"
"Well, we could discuss cosmogony all day or you could just leave me alone."
"Sorry, you just aren't interesting enough to keep." The man made an attempt at a magnanimous gesture towards the door, but merely ended up appearing impatient, "Please come this way."
"Don't you have worse characters to assassinate? I mean isn't there some dyslexic adolescent with a persecution complex and a typewriter creating a truly abominable character as we speak?" Diego queried.
"Perhaps, but I do my job one pulpy character at a time."
"I can't be the worst." Diego insisted as he peered longingly at the bottom of his empty glass.
"You're not. You really are rather unremarkable except for the fact that you're the last of the day."
"Have you ever eliminated anyone significant?" Diego shifted his tack.
"I took the emu out of George Orwell's Animal Farm," there was a note of triumph in the man's voice.
"There is no emu in that book."
Diego scratched behind his ear with a sausage-like finger as he pondered this, "Mm. It's difficult to argue with that."
"It is, isn't it?"
"No, it isn't," Diego asserted defiantly and then added, "Yes, perhaps it is."
"Come on, I must take you away before the contradictions built into your character come to full realization and cause a rupture in the fabric of the believability of this story," Diego noticed a quiet desperation in the man's voice.
"I believe we passed that point when the literary assassin entered the picture," Diego intoned dryly.
"As a trained literary assassin, I try to be silent and deadly but the plot of this story is so flat that it is impossible to approach you from any angle without being seen or heard."
Perhaps it was not desperation but exasperation, Diego decided.
"It's exasperation," the man said.
"You were wondering if I was exasperated or desperate and I would have to say that I am exasperated," the man explained.
"How did you. . . ?"
"I'm just listening to the narrator, that's all."
"So, I'm just supposed to get up and follow a guy who hears voices and claims he wants to kill me?" Diego shook his head and sniffed disparagingly.
"Not kill, eliminate. Remember, you're not a real person," the man explained with a hint of indignation.
"If I were fictional, wouldn't it be possible for me to be resurrected whether you eliminate me or not?" Diego questioned, rising from his seat.
"That's why after I excise your from this story I will attempt to edit the entire manuscript." The man's body relaxed, he seemed to take Diego's movement for a surrender to his wishes.
"So why must you take me away in order to off me?" Diego challenged.
"I really don't want to create a gruesome scene right here in front of everyone."
"But we're alone."
"No, actually, there are people who are presumably reading this claptrap." The man looked upwards as if the eyes of the readers were bearing down upon him.
"How did you know where to find me?" Diego looked rather intimidating when his hulking form straightened out to its full height.
"The narrator laid out this crude setting rather conveniently for me," the man took a nervous step backwards.
"You know, the third-person omniscient who said that your jowls shake when you're angry," the man appeared to have recovered from his nervousness.
"Yes, those fat . . ."
"I know what jowls are, you pachycephalic quinquagenarian! I expostulate with you in order that you might not torture me with your matutolypea!"
"I have no idea what you just said."
"Pachycephaly is abormal thickness of the skull. While I realize this may not apply to your situation, a quinquagenarian is between the ages of fifty and sixty. Expostulate . . . "
"I know that one. What about matutolypea?"
"Matutolypea is the state of being in a bad mood in the morning."
"Has the time of day even been set in this story?" the man's eyes swept the room for a clue as to the time of day, "I mean, what on earth would you be doing in a bar in the morning?"
"Ah hah! So you have found something interesting about this story after all!" Diego crowed.
"Do you know what time it is?" the man prompted.
Diego frowned, "I have no idea.""This is ludicrous."
Diego shifted his weight on his feet as he thought for a moment, "How about the narrator, why don't you go after him?"
"There is no way to go after a third-person omniscient narrator, and even if I could I wouldn't," the man made a half-hearted gesture towards the door once more, hoping that Diego would finally follow him.
"Because if I get rid of it, the entire story collapses," the man appeared to be getting uncomfortable in his heavy jacket.
"Since I'm the only character, don't you think this story will collapse if you get rid of me?" Diego offered hopefully.
"I really can't see it getting any worse."
"You're just scared," Diego decided.
"Of what?" the man's face was reddening.
"If you criticize the narrator, then you just might find yourself shot, crushed, stabbed or beaten to death."
"That narrator is really a creature of the creator."
"I don't believe in the creator."
Diego was lost in thought for a moment again, "If the creator did exist, would he not be able to manipulate the situation in order to get rid of you and save me? In fact, would he not actually be responsible for inserting you into this so-called story in order to create this ludicrous dialogue?"
"I suppose," the man's fedora lifted slightly to reveal a gaunt face, red with frustration and warmth. His grey eyes appeared drawn and tired and there was an expression of self-doubt and bewilderment in the odd way his eyebrows were raising and lowering on his forehead.
"So you are just as much at the mercy of this creator as myself. In fact, you really don't exist beyond the artificial realms of this strange fictional universe." Diego pressed triumphantly.
The man sighed, removed his hat and scratched his balding head in continuing befuddlement. "I suppose . . . you're right." With that, he vanished.