«Hello Arthur, come on in», I heard the voice of my advisor before I saw her sitting behind the glass desk.
«Hi Hegesia», I tucked my device away, «Did you listen to the first Time Traveller report?»
She adjusted her glasses, her zebra-style nail polish glistened, «Of course I did, amazing, isn't it, yes, I mean he didn't make a big leap geographically, landing here in Lethbridge, a hundred years ago, the year 2023. Now let's hope, the new mind-recorder works and he finds the right people to talk to.»
«I cross my fingers. And he saw the sun! He is ...»
«You could see the sun, too», she said.
«Meh.» Initially I wanted to tell her I knew him, but her matter-of-fact approach thwarted my small talk attempt.
«How was your month?»
With how much verve she delivered her routine question every time I stepped into the office—and probably to any of her other clients—constituted alone her qualification.
«180,000 Watts», I answered.
«Not bad, but you've been better in the past, the last four months it went downhill, and, I repeat myself again, you won't be able to keep up with your production for much longer.»
She leaned back and in doing so, her head was filled perfectly the first 'o' in 'choose' of the Varus quote painted across the entire wall behind her, 'A Man 's true pride lies in being able to choose his own end'.
She said, «Buying things like the new Bawler screambag would make your energy output look better.»
«Sure, but I can't afford one.»
«I see», her lips formed a line.
«Oh, but I got the tattoo!»
«Yes, the… Noddy.»
Now her eyes lit up, «Really?! Congratulation. Show me, can I…?»
I yanked my shirt up, way less elegant than Zero. The fake leather of my seat moaned under my movements.
Hegesia pulled her glasses up on her forehead and bent over the table, her long fingernails clicking on the surface, «This looks like good work, good work!»
«Yes, thank you.»
«Where did you get it?»
«At the new parlor on 13th Avenue, kitty-corner to Nice Device Design.»
«That brand new one?!»
«Good. Can I refer that place, what's it called?»
«Oh yeah, uh, the name, I don't know... Zero is the name of the owner if I remember right. But...»
«Mmh, ah well, I'll find out later. But friendly, that Zero?»
«Definitely. Ambitious. Talented!»
«So what did you do with your extra time so far?» She leaned back and folded her fingers.
«I swam longer, played Justine…»
«Arthur, I mean like in… making sense.»
«I… guess, I have to get used to it first, to the spare time.»
«You can't have more spare time and waste it all. Focus on the one thing, making sense, for you and for everybody else.»
Her palms landed on the table, the spoon clanged in the coffee mug. She took a deep breath. «What shall I do with you?»
My shoulders shrugged lightly.
With a quick nod, the glasses fell from her forehead to her nose, and she checked my file on the flat screen. Hegesia wiped records to the left and right, commenting on them with an occasional sigh, «As far as I'm concerned, we went through pretty much all options of promising career paths on the middle level. I only have some basics in stock. Or would you like to give up?»
«No», my hands held the seat on both sides, there were no armrests.
«Are you sure you don't want to give up?!»
Her face lit up, «No!?»
«Yes, I mean, yes I am sure I don't want to give up. Just yet.»
«Okay then. Basics… let's think simple… nothing important for you… bordering uselessness… like… the last straw... how are you with art?»
«What kind of art?»
«Photography, digital editing?»
«I mean just some content, to crap around PSAs.»
«No, I don't think so.»
«Hah, me? No.»
«Music? Any instrument? Singing?»
I shook my head.
«You can at least clap your hands.»
«I can try!»
She started clapping her hands on every second beat, her fingers bent back, so they wouldn't touch, maybe because the quartz nail polish hadn't dried yet, «One two, one two, one two, one two…»
I followed her suit. When we were in sync, she smiled, «Yes, and now…», she started singing from the top of her lungs, «Hey Jazz, you have the music in your name, life and parties are you're game, besides you I always fade», she stopped and stared at the wall waiting for a barrage of applause.
When she woke up from her daydream, she said, «Now you!»
Hegesia started clapping the rhythm again and raising her eyebrows in anticipation of my singing voice.
I lost my beat, and my singing made her cringe.
The office fell quiet, I had faded away not even half way through the lyrics.
Hegesia whispered in shock, «You can't even support an entertainment show.»
«Clapping alone doesn't get you anywhere, Arthur.»
I looked at my useless palms for an explanation.
: : :
Hegesia cocked her head, and her ponytail swung slowly back and forth while she was humming Hey Jazz and pondering my options.
I started whistling along.
Her head snapped forward, «What am I hearing?»
«No, don't stop… You whistle? You. Can. Whistle?»
«You can whistle and you're not telling me? I can't whistle. Who can whistle these days? Are you kidding me! Nobody ever been to this office was able to whistle. How many people do you know that can whistle?»
It didn't take me long, «Nobody.»
«And who would whistle, ever? And why? Music is everywhere! Where did you learn to whistle?»
«Don't tell me, you just listened to the wind!»
«No, my dad, he… whistled… until my mother passed away, then he stopped.»
«You know how rare that is? Nobody whistles anymore. No need to whistle, a total waste, except...», she pointed meaningfully at me, «One has no other talents.»
«Phew», I made and wiped invisible sweat off my forehead.
«Or somebody wants to whistle in the orchestra. Do you want to whistle in the orchestra?»
«Yes», that sounded not bad.
She started laughing, and I joined in.
Hegesia shook her head, «Arthur can whistle and doesn't tell me. All these years! You have to tell me those things. Right away, first day, first thing. Any other nugget you forgot to tell me?»
«I didn't consider whistling…»
«Can you write long hand maybe?»
«I was joking. How about mental arithmetic, the little one? What is six by four?»
Of course I had no idea, and we had a good chuckle. I liked her humor.
She fanned air into her face with both hands, indicating she had to cool down after all the laughter, «Huh, calm down Hegesia», she said to herself, «Huh. Huh. Okay, good», she looked up to me, «Shall I phone Mrs. Esperanto from the Lethbridge Philharmonic Orchestra? She's the director and conductor.»
She interpreted it rightfully as a yes and said «Call Mrs. Emilia Esperanto, Lethbridge Philharmonic Orchestra.» Her device connected.
My mouth got dry. What a chance. A minute ago I was nobody, more a burden for society merely contributing by producing electricity, not knowing what to do with my time, my life; and now I had the chance to end up with the Lethbridge Philharmonic doing what I do every day on my own: whistling. Audiences would applaud me, whistle solos in the spotlight, world tours, expensive hotels, suntanning studios, I would move into an actual apartment, with two rooms, at least, daily coffees, maybe even eat out once a while in one of those fancy restaurants, where the super-rich were dining, on the 40th floor and above, only surrounded by clouds and themselves, without having to watch the rest of us. I heard about some Wealthbians eating out every day!
«Mrs. Esperanto, Here is advisor 651, Hegesia, thanks for taking the call, how are you… Thank you… I have a customer here who… Just told me, he can… get this: whistle… he can whistle... Yes… I heard him… Yes… Here… I put you on room tone.»
Now I heard the voice of the conductor, who sounded like she was in some kind of hurry, saying with a stern tenor voice, «Please whistle!»
I stuck to the briefly rehearsed melody, this wasn't a moment to improvise. Around the second strophe of Hey Jazz, Mrs. Esperanto interrupted me with an emphatic, «Thank you, thank you, and: Hegesia, can you put me out of the room again!?»
«Sure», she said, and I was out of the loop.
The future was wide open. She sounded promising. I smiled like a kid at Christmas.
Hegesia ended the call and looked at me.
«What did she say?» I asked.
«I quote Mrs. Esperanto: Try your luck on the street.»
My dream popped like a balloon.
«Hey, Arthur, the door is not closed, try it. If people like you, you can make some volts out there, and if enough people like you, you can create an online account, grow your fans there, and fans talk, you can get famous. If your fan base is big enough, you become philharmonic material again! How does that sound!?»
: : :
My lips felt numb from the constant whistling. Never in my life, I whistled for an hour straight. Standing underneath the marquees of a rain gear modification shop, I remained at least fairly dry. With my left hand I held my device open, so the passing people could easily read: Spare a little volt—one click transfer. Right now I sat at nil.
At least I got off my shift at the gym to try this new career path. My next shift would be next morning, the shifts changed every four days.
Ironically, right across 5th avenue a disciple of the anti-device movement leaned against the wall as if somebody velcroed his back to the facade, holding up a broken 54-device from the last generation with both hands. His presence sure didn't help. During a brief opening in the crowd constantly herding by, I asked him, «Excuse me, can you stand somewhere else?»
«Why don't you go somewhere else?»
«This is my designated spot. Do you have a license?»
«Throw your device away!»
«My life you mean?»
Another slew of people streamed by. What was I doing here talking to a propaganda brainwashed loon? I whistled my jungle melody again, smiling at passers-by.
Ten minutes later, when the number of pedestrians shrank to a trickle, he hollered, «Come to our anti-device demonstration tomorrow, 2pm.»
«No, thanks.» I wasn't in the mood to needlessly watch demonstrators do their obligatory five rounds in the stadium, where all the demonstrations were held to avoid disruption in the streets.
«Suit yourself», he said almost inaudibly.
With the next wave of people, I started whistling again. Nobody slowed down, not even to take a look behind me at all the new raincoat alterations, fashion boots upgrades and umbrella modifications they offered, displayed contrast laden in a symphony of moving lights behind me. A service I could only dream of on basic income.
'Semen bank CEO Jimmy “Genghis Khan” Canterburry guilty of swapping all donors' semen with his own, resulting in 153,305 children'.
The crowd passed by me like debris on the muddy water of a high tide washing through a sunken city on the coast. During rush hour, people would start bumping into me until they dragged me with them.
A boy addressed me, «What are you whistling?»
That question would have made sense until a couple of minutes ago, when I ran out of melodies and I started to improvise. Now this kid with expensive braces stared at me, hands in the pockets, wrinkling his nose, surely from a well-off family, judging his brand-name clothes. Their tags flickered whenever the lights behind the window washed over him.
«Oh, nothing in particular, I just see where the melody carries me.»
«That's why what?»
«That's why it sucked.»
«It… I… Can you whistle at all?»
«No, what for?», while he exaggerated a shrug, he pulled out his hands, one holding his device. It stuck in one of those new multi-functional covers, and he opened and closed it quickly without even looking at it. «You don't know any melodies, right?», he asked.
«Yes I do.»
«Then whistle 'Did I catch you at a bad time'.»
«I don't know that one.»
«It's the main theme from ZZ IX.»
«I don't have IX, I am still in VIII.»
«The new one by The Algorhythmares. They covered an old traditional. Everybody knows it.»
«Not me. Everybody you know, we just don't know the same people.»
«That would be something.»
«Don't you have to be in school?»
«D-schooled.», he raised his device, a 56 of course.
The latest device generation featured a tiny slot for a hair of the owner as unique ID and implanted chip in the arm that emits heat the further you are away from the 56, so you don't lose it.
«D-schooled», I repeated. For a few years now, D-schooling was an option and promoted as the new way: all the teaching and the exams were done over the device, hailed in recent public service announcements and opinion polls as a breakthrough, forging a new generation of smart people.
«How does it work for you?», I asked.
«Well, I certainly don't have to learn how to whistle.»
I certainly didn't want to have missed out on my buddies in school, and the occasional side-boob view of Lynda.
I asked, «What have you learned last?»
«Today, last, latest, the last day, how can I be more specific?»
He woke up his 56 and read, «Never steal, Algae-paste is yummy and nutritious, and I always vote for the Penguin Party.»
«That? That's it?»
«What do you mean?» His device let out a snarl. The boy's face lit up, «I gotta go, the new Mares Boots are out, the eastbound Goo got them. El Duderino, if I would be you I would give up on whistling in public, I'd rather walk the plank.»
With the last words, he disappeared into the crowd.
«Thanks.» What a banker. He was just out to tease me. Why? How did this make him feel better? This behaviour should start later, when the adult missed out on having developed an own personality and they can only feel better in the light of somebody else's perceived misery. He was just a kid, but already a dirty rotten banker.
For me, it was a matter of dignity, pride and belonging, a chance to give something back to the people, to the society.
If only somebody would care. Nobody seemed to notice me, two fleeting glances I caught, but they turned their heads away as soon our eyes met.
: : :
Thousands of the Lethbians marched by me, most of them to get home or to one of the gyms. The constant murmur drowned every single word and rendered the individual anonymous, their rustling raincoats and their footsteps on the wet concrete plates completed the 5th avenue soundtrack. The stream of people on my side of the street moved west, the crowd on the other side east, like the molecules of two giant worms.
Then I noticed a polka-dotted mini umbrella in the midst of the mostly generic slate ones. It was carried by a woman, I can only describe as my dream partner. Her eyes were glued to the back of the woman walking in front of her, lost in thoughts. One hand held her umbrella so close over her head, you could mistake it as a fancy hat, the other hand buried in the pocket of her coat, that looked to be sewn together right in the middle from two different jackets. The lower half of her shoulder-long hair shimmered black and wet in the light of the lantern.
An opinion poll popped up on my 55er: '98% of Lethbians consider the decisions of the Penguin Party as good to very good'.
Although I didn't know anything about her, she was somebody I would've liked to get to know. She was the person I would risk my life for, even saving her life and giving mine in the process. Like after discovering a kamikaze-drone from a terrorist before it can dive into a crowd and blow itself up, shielding her body with mine, soaking up her thankful eyes before ...
«Hey!», said the Single Urban Cop Unit next to me, who had snuck up to me from the side.
«What are you doing here?», he asked.
My eyes wanted to follow her, my mouth explained that my advisor registered me for whistling in public and that I could show him my performer badge on my device.
She was gone, gone with the worm. Forever.
«Hey, look at me!», he demanded.
His one-foot-high police helmet light glowed in neutral and turned slowly in quiet. The missing mustache left the part between upper lip and nose strangely naked. Why had I never seen any SUCU with a stache? Was the mandatory shaving written in the police officers' contracts?
«Into my eyes!», he said.
«I didn't see you whistling.» The rain ran off the generous rim around the helmet.
«Oh, I was… just… daydreaming.»
«Then show me your daydreaming-badge», he grinned, proud of his punchline.
«I whistled for almost two hours.»
«And how many volts did you make?»
That made him think, he mumbled, «You must have a hell of an advisor», his thumbs found the belt buckle where his uniform coat split. «Maybe you try it somewhere else.»
«It's busy here.»
«Maybe too busy … for you.»
«I'm sure in the next hour …»
«Listen, I got a complaint. A lady said, she almost didn't enter the shop because there is this creep standing in front of it not doing anything, looking suspicious.»
He shrugged. «I know you were whistling, I watched you via CCTV, but I also saw that nobody gave you anything. Not even that boy, right?»
«What did he say?»
My eyes wandered up the facade on the other side until they found the low-hanging clouds, the faint shadow of the hotel and one of the four pillars it was resting on—you almost had to know about its existence to see it, «Not much, he said not much.»
«Hmh, I was thinking to myself, whatever, let the guy whistle until his lips are bloody, he will eventually understand, that he is no good, but since that didn't happen and the lady came complaining, what can I do, I have to ask you to leave.»