A surrealist essay by Gilles Havik
“Place the bar on the moving band. Then the next client can put his groceries there!” Her voice is binding. The open space between my food and the articles of the couple behind me is at least one third of a meter. Not clear enough. I place the bar. With this act I clearly separate our future belongings. Almost before I lifted my hand from it, the couple, acting as one, puts the bar perfectly right in the middle of the moving band, perpendicular to its side. What follows is a sudden reorganization of the groceries behind me. The couple places their bread at exactly one centimetre from the bar, parallel to it. Another centimetre away: a pot of jam. Ham. Gurkins. Toilet paper. So they go, until everything lies exactly one centimetre apart from the rest. As I watch them construct this grocery grid, a discomfort creeps into my spine.
“That’ll be 12.48 please” says the cashier.
I put my pass in the machine, type 9-6-3-1 and pack my bag. Paid. Macaroni and cheese tonight.
I walk outside. The street cleaner must have just passed. I see a Dalmatian in a zebra suit, held on a line by a lady who appears to have made a separate plan for every hair on her head. I unlock my bike. My bike has a character: the frontal rim is slightly loose. When I hit the pedals its rattling noise and the shriek of my unoiled wheels find their way through the street, bouncing back and forth over the smoothed walls. A man in a black suit looks at me with intense disgust.
“So what?” I think. And as if the man has heard my thoughts, a fierce “SHAME ON YOU!” echoes behind me through the streets.
My mind wanders of to yesterday night. We were making a camp-fire in the woods with some friends. Our view was marvellous: a red sunset on a lake, seen from the top of a hill. Fish. Freshly caught, on the grill. The aroma of smoke and just a little salt completed a perfect day. We wished for such natural freedom to stay in our lives forever. How different is the city life?
A little disrupted, I now try to make as little noise as possible. Though the streets are as crowded as usual, there is an uncanny silence around today. As if everybody purposefully holds themselves in line. It accentuates the beeps and shrieks.
I place my bike in a rack. The other bikes are placed in a row. Straight up. Saddle erect.
“HEY! Put your bike up properly, like everyone!”
The woman who yells it has blond hair till her shoulders. Her face looks symmetrical, clean, with feminine as well as masculine aspects. Not extremely beautiful, but not ugly either.
“Oh, sorry”. Before I know it, I have put my bike up and straight. I notice that the cars driving by maintain equal distances from each other. Their speed is slow and constant. I dare not look at the drivers. Walking to the bookshop I silently tread the tiles, not crossing their borders. My nerves seem to get to their limit.
The bookshop is cubical. Books of different colours and sizes have been carefully laid down in piles of equal heights. There are different structures: squares, circles, triangles, a pentagon… All displayed with surgical precision. In the middle of the room hangs a collection of books of which the sizes and the shapes perfectly fit together to form a tetrahedron, turning loosely in the air. Despite of the people, it is the only movement in the room.
The books in the perfectly shaped piles are not ordered alphabetically or by category. When I pick one up, a sound goes off.
“SIR! Don’t touch the books! You will mess them up!” A woman with thick square glasses, a black coat and a tight black skirt looks at me with straight black eyebrows that point down towards the centre of her face. She runs at me, grabs the book from my hands, takes a frontal position to the place where it used to lie, bends over with a straight back, and lays it back with the care as you would a baby.
“Sorry”. I say.
“Sir, you should not act as recklessly as you just did, picking up books like that”
“I was looking for a book about sacred geometry”
“There is nothing sacred about geometry” says the woman. “But if you want a book, you should stand in the queue.” Her finger points at the empty space behind a straight line of patient people. I walk towards it, take my ruler out of my pocket, and measure the distance between the last person in the line and the one before him. 33. I try to do the same with the two before them.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m measuring the distance between you and him.”
“Please don’t. There is no need. It’s thirty three centimetres.”
I count twelve people in the line. The woman has returned to the desk and takes the orders. Every time a customer asks for a book, she walks to one of the shapes in a slow and even pace. She gets a book from the pile, and replaces it with a book she brought along from her desk every time. It always takes her a while to put the new book back perfectly, but when it fits, she walks back with the same pace, hands the book over to the client and asks for the payment.
“That’ll be 22,44 please.”
“Hey tall mister! You are not standing at the proper distance in the queue. The proper distance is thirty three centimetres.” When I do a step ahead, he follows. When I turn around and do a step towards him, he steps back, looking at me with an angry face.
“I said thirty three centimetres!” He says every time a customer finishes his transaction and the line moves forward as if steered by one mind. During the six last customers I manage to keep my stalker silent. I dare not breathe.
When I finally arrive at the desk of the book sales, I ask for my book about sacred geometry.
“There is no such thing” she says. She walks away at the same pace. This time she grabs a ladder which she carefully installs below the shape of the tetrahedron. Step by step she climbs on it. She takes one of the books of the upper ridge, replacing it slowly and with a steady hand. When she is finally back, she hands it over. The cover shows a print of an oak.
“I am sorry, miss, but I asked for geometry. You give me a book about an oak”.
“Sacred geometry is nonsense. This is a Boak. Pay.”
I accept the Boak and pay 22,44. After all, I like oaks. When I give her a smile, I see a tiny blade of grass coming out of the end of her pointy nose. So I exit the bookshop.
My attention is drawn by three eagles crossing the sky. I watch them till they have become too small to see, wondering where they’ve gone. A tiny white feather whirls down from the sky, followed by the leaf of a red rose. On the spotless grey street, their presence seems like an insult to all that is without life. This feather and this leaf ridicule all who have fought for this. For just a sec, I am at peace.
A scream. High pitched, coming from the bookshop. People seem suddenly tense. They have abandoned the orderly and now look around with fear in their eyes. The silence on the street has passed. I grab my bike, unlock it and drive away. The noise of my bike now suits the disturbed vibe in the street.
I turn around the corner. The greenness of the once grey compels me. The ghostly walls from before are now entirely ivy-grown. The plants absorb my bikes noise. Instead, I hear the chirping of locusts here and there. I can not make out if I am puzzled or delighted. I continue my way home. But before I have crossed half of the street I notice that the ivy is moving gently. In fact, it is creeping up the road. By the time I reach the end of the street, the plants have almost reached my bike. If I stop now, they will catch a hold on it. Things in the next street are barely better. People are screaming because their heads are covered with grass, rooted in their skulls. Someone tries to run inside but finds that little roots have shot out of his toes. They now find their way between the tiles into the ground. The man waves with his arms, but out of his fingers grow leafed branches holding themselves back on the wind. His movements cease and before anyone knows it, there stands a broad little birch growing to the sky. A pigeon lands on its top.
I make haste, but as I go the asphalt rises and an enormous beech erupts out of the ground. I crash upon it and a squirrel falls on my head. It quickly runs back into the tree, looking back one more time before it disappears. My bike is broken now, so I run in despair. A sticky substance seeps out of the scratch the squirrel made. Birds’ songs deafen my ears now that they still can. My nails are bark and I have a strong broccolic feeling where my lungs once where. Next to me, a hortensia emerges out of the depths of a poor man’s throat. People around are growing in all directions, leaving their dogs to bark at them and at the boar that just showed up. It doesn’t know if it should hold or charge.
Tomato-hearted, I try to get towards my front door, but it is turning into rock as the cells in my veins grow their own little walls. My feet’s roots meander over the street. My testicles slowly go nuts. I feel how my spine gets taller and woodier. Juices flow up and down to my brain which is now spawning snails out of my ears. They tell me that the city has been overrun. I believe them.
While my head bursts open and branches shoot into the air, a safety enters what is left of my mind. We are naturals. The last thing I see is a bunch of pumpkins dangling down an electricity cable. They seem to enjoy it. Drunk with force, I reach deeper into the ground and find delicious juices. I feel them entering my trunk from below and flow up into the air.
Later that day, a white moth decides to take a little flight around the woods. It is silent outside. He flies to the pond and has a freshening drink of a big purple flower. It smiles at him. Behind them, somewhere deep inside the forest hidden under a pluck of moss, lies a book with a big old oak on its cover. It’s making a giggling sound.
Gilles Havik (born May 14th 1985) is a free spirit who originated in Luxembourg, but has since then spread his wings across various European locations.
Though not a writer by profession, he has always enjoyed diving into stories. While Gilles considers his tendency to wander off too far from the real a challenge, it is this weakness that actually provides his readers with shiny surrealistic gems.