Friday, June 2, 2023

Ignorance is Strength

 by Abir

If you could take a literary pilgrimage vacation, where would it be? What writer or work would you celebrate?


Take a journey. That’s what the missive said. A literary pilgrimage


I should have realised at the time that it was not real. A false memory. Still, for reasons I now cannot fathom, I did what was asked. It was not far after all. A journey of forty minutes into London. Forty minutes and almost forty years in time.


I remember the walk to the station as though it was a dream…which I suppose it was…the whole thing just a preposterous hallucination… summer colours, vivid, brighter than life…a golden country, with no war, no screens and no…but I should not be thinking of that.


It was upon the train that things began to change. Where exactly I don’t remember. Esher? Surbiton? Certainly by Wimbledon. A shimmer passing through the compartment. Clothes altering, faces hardening. Outside too, the rows of Victorian housing changed, the three-up, two downs morphing, sagging, cratering; suddenly stained like a row of rotten teeth. 


The light changed too. Darker. Soot-ridden. 


I recall the prickle of fear. The sweat breaking at my neck. I knew this place of course. It was my home, though at the time it felt like a different world, something out a novel.


London grew around us. Decaying suburbs of battered buildings, broken windows, bomb craters. Feral children playing amongst the weeds and the dirt and the rubble, and in the distance, those four pyramid-like structures punching into the sky, gleaming white. The slogans written on their faces.




Shock spasmed across my shoulders. Those buildings – the Ministries – they were the physical manifestation of the power of the Party. Indestructible. Everlasting. They would rule over London now and for ever. And not just London, but the whole of this place. 


For a moment I struggled to remember what the country was called. England? Britain? No, that was not right. That was history; from the time of the capitalists with their top hats and their king and their jus primae noctis. 


The train slowed. Opposite my window was a gable-end. Sagging, buttressed by wooden staves, its entire face was covered by a poster. One giant image that calmed and cowed in equal measure. That fatherly face with its eyes that bored into you, and suddenly the name of this country came back to me. This was Airstrip One, itself just one of the many provinces of the state of Oceania.


The shock must have registered on my face, for when I turned, a woman was staring at me. Not a prole, but a party member, the outer party at least, in blue overalls. The same colour as the ones I’m wearing. I reset my expression and a moment later it is as unreadable all the others in the carriage – the party members that is - not the proles though. They laugh and chat and argue as though the laws don’t apply to them. Which I suppose they don’t. Only animals and proles are free.


The train pulls into Waterloo. For the longest of moments I sit there, unsure what to do and where to go. In my head I recall I am a tourist, on a literary pilgrimage, but as they told me later, that was madness. There are no tourists in Oceania. Only spies.


I rise in a panic, descend onto the platform on the heels of the others: proles and party members. All around are telescreens and black shirted, rifle-toting guards, but they don’t matter, because there are no laws anymore, because there is only one crime. Thought Crime.


I shuffle forward to the barriers, unsure if I even have a ticket. Desperately I search the pockets of my overalls. My fingers pull out a half-stub of grey card. The second half of a return ticket. I hand it to the inspector and realise too late that my hand is shaking. He notices, and stares at me. Cold sweat drips down my back.


‘Where are you coming from, comrade?’


I struggle to recall. 




‘And what business did you have in Woking, comrade?’


What am I supposed to tell him? That I’m not from here? That I’m on a literary pilgrimage? He’ll think I’m mad…or worse…a spy for Eurasia or Eastasia or…Goldstein.


‘Inspecting preparations for Hate Week,’ I tell him, hoping he might believe the lie. ‘Woking’s done a bang up job.’


A nod of appraisal and I dare to hope he might leave it at that.


‘May I see your papers please.’


My fear rises. I search my pockets.


‘Papers, comrade.’ There is steel in his voice now.


I continue to search but find nothing. At the corners of my vision I see men approaching. Big men. Hard, like tombstones.


I remember the blow to the head and then the black of night. When I came to, it was in that place where there is no darkness. A man in black overalls standing over me. A bespectacled face. Calm but powerful. 


That was the start. The start of my rehabilitation. Where the false memories were exposed. Where the idea that I had a life in a different time and place were purged and burned. 


Room 101…I don’t want to think about it. The pain, the torture. The re-education. But I am thankful to them. Oh yes. They saved me. They purified me; broke my body and reassembled it in HIS image. 


And now I sit here, in this cafĂ©. The Chestnut Tree it is called, where the waiters, unbidden, bring me clove-flavoured gin in steady supply. I’ve been staring at the pages of the Times for what seems an age, but I can’t concentrate. 

It does not matter. 

All that matters is that face watching me, watching over me from the poster on that wall. What radiance. What omniscience. What supreme power


I love Big Brother. 

1 comment:

Terry said...

Wow! A literary pilgrimage indeed.