Questions Are A Burden to Others
Number 6 trudged around The Village in no particular direction, ignoring the greeting of his fellow citizens, wrapped up in his own dilemma. He was trying to walk off his anger and frustration, brought on by the singular attitude of Number 2, and it wasn’t working. He was sure Number 2 knew more than he was letting on, but he was not a man to be easily rattled. But if there was one thing he was most against, it was people keeping secrets, especially from him! And he had not forgotten about the cave in the cliff and the steel door therein, that was not there simply to keep the tide out. He was more determined to find out the secrets lay beyond that door, the trick being to get beyond that door in the first place!
Walking through the Village, but taking little notice of anything much because of having things on his mind, Number 6 found himself in a large sandy square in part of the Village he did not recognise. It was sudden curiosity more than anything which made him aware of his surroundings, for he could not remember being in this part of the Village before. Crossing the square there was a large stone building which had the appearance of something between a castle and a church, but achieving neither. Steps led up to a large Normanesque style archway, flanked either side by black wrought iron street lights and railings. To the right of the steps, a flagpole with the white flag with canopied Penny Farthing logo flying. And to the left of the Normanesque archway, a public notice board displaying forthcoming events, and over the archway itself a square green sign with white lettering Recreation Hall from which citizens were busy coming and going, collecting their fancy dress costumes in time for the Village Day celebrations. Then came a sudden fanfare from a nearby orange speaker set on a black and white striped pole and beneath a candy striped canopy. And then the following announcement;
“Good afternoon everybody, remember that Village Day is the day after tomorrow, the day when we celebrate the founding of our community. Remember fancy dress costumes are still available from the Recreation Hall. The long range weather forecast is for clear skies and bright sunshine, and for the great day itself a special ice cream ‘flavour of the day’ has been made by Number 99 himself. There will be fun and merriment for all, and the unveiling of a commemorative statue, be seeing you.”
“Fun and merriment for all, there’s a novelty if ever there was one!” Number 6 sneered as he peered at the bland expressionless faces of the citizens “some celebration this is going to turn out to be!”
He began to climb the steps and it was here that he bumped into the maid Number 27 on her way down carrying a fancy dress costume.
“In a hurry are we, getting away from this place, setting you free, or are you just clowning around?” Number 6 quipped sarcastically, noticing the clown costume in 27’s arms.
“Who could ask to be in a better place than the Village, especially at a time like this?” retorted the maid cheerily.
“I could for one, and they perhaps for another” he replied.
“Oh they’re enjoying themselves well enough” said the maid looking about her “only you are the odd one out!”
“Something to be pleased about” he said smilingly.
“You’ll soon get into the swing of it” 27 smiled “have you come to collect your fancy dress costume?”
“Can’t you see, I’m already wearing it!” was Number 6’s sarcastic comment “and you a clown!”
“Oh this isn’t mine, I’m Peter Pan, I’ve just collected this for someone else, Popsey the clown, and she’s welcome to it!” replied 27 in a huff.
“Put your claws away Twenty-seven, they don’t suit you. Besides you’re always the happy soul. Tell me what have you to be so happy about, don’t you want to be free?” asked Number 6
She moved to go on her way, but Number 6 remained in her way “You’re being impertinent again, if you don’t mind I have things to do, even if you haven’t!”
Number 6 stepped to one side in order to let the maid pass, but as she did he walked with her across the sandy quad.
“Are you following me?”
“No, just walking in your direction, no rule against that is there?” he asked casually.
“In that case, you could offer to carry this costume for me” she said with a smile.
“Oh I wouldn’t want to go that far, people might get the wrong idea about us, you know how people talk in a small community as this!” he said keeping his hands firmly in his pockets.
“You were asking why I’m always so happy, and don’t I want to be free. Well I wouldn’t be happy anywhere else, I couldn’t be” said the maid answering her own question.
“Have you known anywhere else, haven’t you ever wondered?” he asked suspecting she hadn’t.
Number 27 stopped, startled by his question “I, I am a citizen of this community, I am perfectly happy here.”
“What about your parents?”
“They died when I was young” was the maid’s sad reply, as she averted her gaze.
Number 6 saw that here at least, he had overstepped the mark “You were born here, I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago, my parents came here voluntarily” said told him.
“And freedom, don’t you want to be free?” Number 6 persisted.
Number 27 thought for a moment “Where should I go to be free? I am as free here as anywhere else, the Village is where I belong. Besides what better place to be on Village Day!”
They resumed their walk together
“Village Day, what’s that all about?” Number 6 grunted, who was already fed up with the whole thing.
“You’re not trying to tell me you don’t know about Village Day!” said the maid in surprise.
“I’m new here” retorted Number 6.
The maid stopped walking and turned to face him “Yes, but surely you heard the announcement?”
Number 6 took the maid by the arm and ushered her out of sight into what appeared to be an old stable “Yes I’ve heard the announcements.”
Number 27 suddenly felt vulnerable and a little nervous, and if she did her best not to show her feelings, then she failed.
“Don’t be nervous, I’m not going to hurt you all I want is a little information that’s all” he assured her.
“Well with Village Day coming up there’s so much to look forward to, so much fun to be had, it promises to be the best fete ever” she told him.
“It’s not simply another chance for the citizens to parade around like so many brainwashed imbeciles then!” Number 6 replied sternly.
She looked momentarily insulted by this, but then that good natured warm smile of hers returned “It’s a celebration of our way of life, to give thanks to the founder of the Village, and all it represents.”
“Founders day, so I’m back at school is that it. Who is this founder anyway, has anyone ever seen him, is he Number One?” he demanded.
“Who is number One?”
The maid looked startled at being asked this “Village Day is a celebration, you must come.”
“Can I avoid it?” he asked.
“Why would you want to?”
“Well there doesn’t seem much to celebrate, besides I have a prior engagement!” Number 6 informed her.
“You’re just an old party pooper!” she teased “now I really must be on my way.”
Number 6 blocked her way and reaching into his inside blazer pocket showed the maid the photograph “Seeing that you are an indigenous citizen of the Village, perhaps you could tell me if you have seen this man?”
The maid studied the photograph carefully “Handsome, isn’t he, a friend of yours is he?”
“Something like that, I’m looking for him, it’s been a quest of mine recently, a quest which has brought me to this Village.
I’ve a copy of The Tally Ho with his picture on the front page, so I know he was here at sometime or other, I need to know if he is still here.”
“Its Number Six, he has the look of you!”
exclaimed the maid in surprise.
“Where, where is he?”
“I believe he used to live in the Round House” said the maid trying to remember.
“Used to, you mean he doesn’t anymore?”
“Well the Round House is vacant, no-one lives there at the moment. It’s possible he may have left the Village” she said.
“You mean he escaped?”
“I….I don’t know.”
Number 6 put the photograph back into this blazer pocket “It’s a year and more since I last heard from him it will be his birthday on the nineteenth.”
The maid’s eyes suddenly lit up “Isn’t he the lucky one!”
“Lucky, what’s lucky about it?” he asked.
“Being born on Village Day!” returned the maid with a flirtatious smile.
“Village Day, ugh!” was Number 6’s only response.
“I must be going” said the maid moving towards the stable door “you have delayed me long enough as it is. Popsey will be screaming for her costume, and my head if I don’t get it to her soon. Be seeing you…. wont I?” the maid saluted.
Number 6 called out after her “Which is the Roundhouse cottage?” but she had gone.
The taxi had been ordered especially by Number 2. The driver had been given instructions to collect Number 6 and take him to the Labour Exchange, this too was on the instructions of Number 2.
“Supposing I don’t want to go to the Labour
Exchange?” Number 6 said defiantly.
The taxi having caught up with him on his way back to his cottage from the Recreation Hall the driver was accompanied by one burly set man, climbed out of the taxi raising himself to his full six foot three height in something of an aggressive manner.
Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour Number 6 agreed “Okay, lets go” he said climbing into the front of the taxi.
The driver drove the taxi with her three passengers, expertly through the village, sounding the two tone horn to warn of its approach, avoiding pedestrians and cyclists alike, finally to pull up outside the Labour Exchange, where there was a queue of people waiting outside the door.
“Here we are” announced the taxi driver.
“We seem to have caught them on a busy day, perhaps we should come back later!” he suggested sarcastically.
“No worry for you Number Six” said the guardian climbing out of the taxi “you have an appointment with the manager and we are dead on time.”
Seeing that he had no choice, Number 6 stepped lively out of the taxi and into the outer office of Labour Exchange, much to the disgruntlement of the people waiting outside. A middle aged man with grey hair dressed in a dark suit, shirt and tie stood behind a counter attending to a customer, while two other people sat reading magazines The Village Weekly and Tally Ho Journal. Number 6 stood taking in his surroundings. On the walls were such slogans as:
Of the people
by the people
for the people
A still tongue
makes a happy life
Questions are a burden to others
Answers a prisoner
the very essence
A white water cooler and a grey filing cabinet behind the counter and to the left and ahead were two frosted glass doors “Staff Only” and the “Private manager’s office” and a notice board advertising job vacancies. A potted plant stood on a small table, a hat stand decorated the space, and the clock on the wall said twenty minutes to twelve.
Having dealt with his customer, the assistant manager Number 229 beckoned Number 6 to the counter.
“And how may I be of assistance?” asked the assistant manager.
“Are you the manager?”
“No sir, I am the assistant manager, how may I be of assistance?”
“Apparently I have an appointment with the manager” Number 6 said reluctantly.
“I see, I’ll have to check” and he opened the ledger on the counter and ran his finger down the appointments list “So I see, the appointment made by Number Two, you are honoured.”
“If you say so” retorted Number 6 sneeringly.
“You can go straight through, the manager will waiting for you” Number 229 informed him.
Number 6 stepped behind the counter and through the door into the manager’s office.
Once through the door, ahead of him was a
large circular chamber, not much different to Number 2’s office, with its green
and purple wall and free standing circle of green/grey arches some two or three
feet from the chamber wall itself. Number 6 passed through one such arch and
approached the manager’s desk which was grey and black just like Number 2’s
desk, complete with control panel but with a single grey ‘L’ shaped telephone
and an old style ledger. The manager, a grey haired man dressed in grey tails
sat impressively behind his desk, the badge upon the left lapel of his tails
denoting the number 20
“Ah there you are Number Six I’ve been expecting you, won’t you sit down” he said indicating the black leather chair in front of his desk “would you like some tea, oh but I was forgetting, you prefer black coffee…. two sugars, isn’t it?”
“It would appear that I am here at Number Two’s request, not of my own volition” Number 6 stated abruptly.
“Well what does it matter, you’re here now, no need to be aggressive about it, please do sit down” said the manager pouring out the coffee from a silver pot. He added two sugars, stirred and handed the cup and saucer to the seated Number 6 “perhaps you would be so kind as to complete a questionnaire, when you have finished your coffee.”
Number 6 sat sipping his black coffee “questionnaire, don’t you know everything there is to know about me already?” suggesting a possible doubt in the matter.
“Oh yes, we have everything about you, it’s all written down in my ledger. The questionnaire is merely a formality” said the manager with a kindly smile on his face and a hand on the ledger “Sex, race, religion, hobbies, what you like to read that sort of thing.”
Number 6 finished his coffee, got up out of his chair and placing the cup and saucer upon the desk picked up the questionnaire and tore it in half “I’ve never been keen on filling in forms!”
“Never mind” said the manager taking a handful of questionnaires from a draw in his desk “I have plenty more. Come, come Number Six, all we want is to find suitable employment for you within the community.”
“You mean Number Two wants you to find employment for me, thinking that if I’m kept busy, it will keep me out of trouble!”
“I assure you that Number Two has only your best interests at heart. He cares very much for the welfare of the entire community” replied the manager.
“And if I don’t want a suitable employment?” barked Number 6.
“You’re being aggressive again” said the manager “we all have to work for the good of the community you know.”
“Is that you talking, or Number Two?” grumbled Number 6.
“It is my voice….”
“But his words, I can here him spouting them now!”
“They told me you could be aggressive, they didn’t mention anything about insolence!” returned the manager “it wont help you, you know, you will set yourself outside the community and where will you be then?”
“Work for the good of the community” said Number 6 “you should have it framed and put on the wall along with all your other slogans!”
“That’s very good, perhaps you should be put on the ‘Promotion and Publicity’ Committee, I’ll talk to them if you like” said the manager with enthusiasm.
“Perhaps they might not take to some of the other suggestions I could have in mind” returned Number 6, with a wry smile.
The manager looked at his client and screwed up the sheet of paper he had just written upon “No perhaps not. Well what positions have you held in the past, perhaps we can begin there.”
“Don’t you know, isn’t it in my file?”
“Of course, as I’ve said we have everything about you” retorted the manager his resting on the ledger.
“Then why bother to ask me?”
“I thought it might save time.”
“Why is time short?”
“As a matter of fact, yes, I have another
appointment in ten minutes and we have only just begun, so please let us get
on” said the manager opening the ledger upon his desk “you joined the Navy,
working your way up through the ranks, and then as a Lieutenant Commander you
were seconded into Naval Intelligence is that correct?”
“I suppose it must be!”
“Yes, there’s no need to be quite so insolent. Then something happened and you fell out of favour with your superiors, a matter of conscience was it, because you were forced to……”
“I walked out!” Number 6 confirmed.
“Resigned” the manager corrected “runs in the family does it?”
“Having a conscience and then resigning when the tough gets going!” the manager said accusingly.
Number 6 rose out of his chair and was about to…..
“It says here” the manager said consulting his ledger “that you have a questionable attitude towards authority, yes well I think we can take that as read, can’t we?”
Number 6 refrained from doing anything, and sat down again.
“Did that have something to do with your resignation?” asked the manager.
“I didn’t resign, I walked out!” barked Number 6.
“Is it still that painful! It’s still a touchy subject as far as you’re previous employers are concerned. They kept tabs on you, I wonder if they know you’re here?”
“They probably had me sent here!” grumbled Number 6 defiantly.
“Now you travel the world as a paid agent, a mercenary without a cause, selling yourself to the highest bidder” said the manager closing the ledger.
“It all seems to add up quite nicely in
that ledger of yours!”
“It’s a question of accountability.”
“I’m accountable to no-one, not even British Naval Intelligence. They used me more often than not, choosing to risk me rather than their own people! Look what is this, an interview, interrogation or a defamation of my character?” barked Number 6 rising out of his chair.
“Unfortunately we have no use for mercenaries
of your kind here in the Village” the manager informed him “unless it’s on the
outside as an agent working for us in the field so to speak…………no perhaps not. Tell
me Number Six what would you like to do?”
“Very droll. There’s a vacancy for a new window cleaner, clean windows can you?” the manager asked with a smile.
“What’s that got to do with the price of a taxi fare?”
“Nothing, do you want to be a taxi driver?” the manager asked leaning forward in his chair.
“What about a field agent’s job? I’m up for that, no training required, and I come cheap!”
“That position comes with an element of trust. Could we trust you Number Six, to keep your mouth shut, and to return to the Village when called?”
“I’m prepared to take the chance if you are, I could undergo a probation period!” quipped Number 6 with a smile.
The manager marked Number 6’s employment card for him “No I think a more menial job would be more in keeping with reducing your current attitude. You can begin straight away, think of it as the first step on the career ladder!”
Angry and insulted he rose up out of his chair, approached the manager’s desk and in a fit of rage slammed down his fist upsetting the cup and saucer and spilling the coffee dregs, and telling the Labour Exchange manager exactly what he thought of him and where he could put his job vacancy! Turning he stormed out through the opening steel doors and through the mangers office door slamming it shut behind him, the frosted glass window rattling in its frame, and on the way out bumping into Number 3.
“Dork vost norsmits!” Number 3 called out shaking his fist.
The assistant came round from behind his counter helping Number 3 to his feet and dusting him down “I am sorry sir, I do hope you are not hurt.”
Number 3 bent down and picked up his straw boater “Daff vost das korton” he said “brosh den barvok da telefono.”
“Absolutely sir, the telephone” said the assistant offering the foreign man the receiver.
Outside in the cold light of the afternoon sunshine Number 6 felt
the manipulative hand of Number 2 upon his shoulder. Well he wasn’t about to allow himself to be so manipulated, all he wanted was to be left alone, after all he had rights, That’s right, he had rights.