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Thursday 29 April 2021

Further Tales From The Village

    A black global chair rose up through the hole in the floor, and now No.2 sat behind the grey curved desk. A tall woman with fair hair, dressed in a dark blue sweater and slacks stood looking through a file of reports.
   “What’s on for today Number 12?” No.2 asked.
    No.12 was a middle aged man with greying hair. He was of medium height, wearing steel rimmed spectacles, and a plain blue blazer
    “There’s always Number 6” Number 12 told her.
    “Number 6, what’s he been up to?”
    “Nothing, that’s just the point.”
    “How long has Number 6 been with us now?”
    “Thirty years ma’am.”
    “Thirty years” No.2 muttered to herself as she searched in her desk for a file.
     “Sixty-eight years ma’am.”
    No.2 emerged from behind her desk with a black file in hand “Thank you Number 12.”
    “I thought it would save you time looking his age up ma’am.”
    “Where does he reside now?”
    “He left the Round House three years ago ma’am, he’s resident in the Old People’s Home now” No.12 confirmed.
    “And no doubt that has given him cause for complaint” No.2 said thumbing through the 6 file.
    “He doesn’t like having been out with the old people, he forgets he’s one of them now. He complains we’ve taken away his independence.”
    “I read here he used to complain about our having taken away his identity.”
    “I am not a number.”
    “What’s that Number 12?”
    “I am not a number, I am a free man, It’s what he used to go about shouting, usually when he was running about the beach.”
    “Not shouting it now is he!”
    “No Number 2, he was one of a kind, not a prisoner like him before or since. He has mellowed in his old age.”
    “And the reason behind his resignation, I see it’s not noted in his file.”
    “That’s because we stopped asking. The nearest we ever got to an answer was he resigned for peace of mind, that too many people knew too much.”
    “And did he know too much?”
    “We think he did, but he was loyal you see even having left British Intelligence, he remained as loyal as ever.”
    “So they stopped questioning him about the reason behind his resignation.”
    “Yes, that was after he stopped trying to escape.”
    “He stopped trying to escape?”
    “Yes, we assume he finally realized there was no escape, no way out.”
    “So life in the Old People’s Home doesn’t suit him, perhaps we should take him out of it and put him back in his old home?”
    “Oh we can’t do that Number 2.”
    “And why not pray?”
    “There is someone else living in it. And even if we could, Number 6 isn’t the easiest man to look after, especially now he’s confined to a wheelchair.”
    “Tell me about the new occupant of the Round House.”
    Suddenly the pair of steel doors opened and a housemaid in black dress, frilly apron, and white sailors cap, wheeled a small trolley down the ramp and across the floor. Number 2 leaned forward and pressed a button on the control panel of her desk and a round disc in the floor slid away and a small round topped table rose up through the hole.
    “Time for your elevenses” the housemaid said setting out the tea things.
    “I’m sure you would like some tea and a biscuit” No.2 offered.
    “I have only brought one cup ma’am” the housemaid said.
    “Then fetch another one!” No.2 said.
    Somewhat indignantly the housemaid went to fetch a second cup.
    “You were going to tell me about the new occupant of the Round House.”
    “You mean ‘9 Private,’ he’s something of a non-entity. He told us all we wanted to know in three days. Generally everyone talks on the third day, since they we’ve left him alone.”
    “Describe him to me” 2 asked.
    “It’s in his file” 12 replied.
    “Yes, but it would save a little time if you just told me.”
    “Well he’s……..”
    The pair of steel doors opened and the maid, carrying a cup and saucer walked down the ramp to the desk upon which she plonked down the cup and saucer upsetting an empty tea plate. No.10 turned, and went back from whence she had come, the steel doors closing behind her.
    “Please, carry on 12 while I pour out your tea.”
    “Well he’s 40 years of age, of medium height, black hair, he sports a moustache and has a mole on the side of his neck. He worked for the Civil Service starting out as a tea boy, and slowly worked his way up the ladder, until finally reaching the position of Administrative Officer.”
    “Your tea Number 12” No.2 said offering the cup and saucer.
    No.12 took the cup and saucer and was about to help himself to a biscuit.
    “Not that one, not the one with the cream inside!” No.2 said helping herself to it.
    No.12 took one of the two digestive biscuits instead. 
    “Why Number 9?” 2 asked taking up her black global chair again.
    “I have no idea ma’am. I think it was that the number was available at the time.”
    “It hasn’t anything to do with the fact that 9 can become 6?”
    “I’m sorry I’m not quite with you Number 2.”
    “No I can see that. I want to see him.”
    “Number 9 of course, have him brought to me.”
    “Yes Number 2” 12 said placing his cup and saucer and half eaten digestive biscuit on the desk.
    “No, finish your tea first 12, there’s no rush.”

    No.9 was relaxing to music and enjoying a cup of tea when the door to ‘9 Private’ opened and the figure of No.12 was framed in the doorway.
    “Well come in if you’re coming in, don’t stand on ceremony” 9 said.
    No.12 crossed the threshold “Number 2 wants to see you.”
    “Number 2 eh, well thank him for me, and say I’ve nothing else to tell him.”
   “It’s not a him, its a her!”
    “Oh, not another Number 2 has fallen by the wayside, how many is that now?”
    “Put your jacket on, and come with me 9, or it will be all the worse for you” 12 said menacingly.
    “You may not have noticed, but I have, things cannot get much worse for me than being in this place!”
   No.12 picked up the blazer and held it out to No.9, who stood up and put it on “I rather like Mahler’s fourth no chance of listening to the end I suppose?”
    “No chance at all” 12 said escorting No.9 out of his cottage. 

   In the Green Dome No.2 switched off the wall screen and waited patiently for her visitor to be brought to her.
   The pair of blast-proof steel doors slid open, and No.9, escorted by No.12, walked smartly down the ramp.
“It’s alright 12, you can go.”
    “Yes sir” 12 replied turning smartly on his heels and marching up the ramp and out of the office.
    No.9 turned to watch the steel doors close.
    “What do you want?”
    “I just wanted to see you.”
    “You’ve seen me” 9 said about to turn and leave.
    “I can’t help you, you know.”
    “I didn’t think you would, not even if you could.”
    “Fancy getting yourself into this predicament!”
    “I didn’t exactly get myself into this predicament as you so put it; I was hardly in a position to do anything about it!”
    “And you told them everything?” No.2 asked.
    “They, as you probably know, they have many ways and means, they are very persuasive. Of course I talked; I’m not Bond, Drake, Harry palmer, or that Philip Calvert chap, they wouldn’t have talked no matter what they did to them, but I did, I couldn’t help myself. You know they are listening.”
    “Are they?”
    “And they are probably watching….the Observers, perhaps even Number 1.”
    “I cannot help you” No.2 told him.
    “I know you’ll not be here long enough for that.”
    “You’re only interim, people like you come and go.”

    Three days later at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, the silver grey alouette helicopter landing on the lawn by the sea wall. No.9 sat at a table on the lawn of the Old People’s Home watching as a Mini-Moke arrived and the person of the former No.2 alighted carrying a suitcase. The pilot took the suitcase and placed it in the cabin, as the former No.2 climbed up onto the grey float; she paused and took a last look about her.
    An old man wheeled himself over to where No.9 was sitting.
    “You seem pre-occupied.”
    “No, not really, just watching an old friend leave.”
    “You know her?”
    “Number 2, we’ve met, she’s my wife!”

Be seeing you


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