December 16, 2009

Beer As Dark As Your Heart, Stave III

The next installment of Beer As Dark As My Heart.

Stave III

"I didn't hear his name again until I arrived in the country. We volunteers all met with the Director of the Organization before we headed to our sites. It was standard protocol.

"The Director of the Organization was a baffling woman. As she sat at her desk, the naked light bulb hanging in the center of the room cast shifting shadows across her face, her very existence seemed an impossibility to me -- the stack of neat papers, her starched, white shirt.

"'We stand on certain ceremony here,' she said with a performative gesture, as if delivering a well-rehearsed monologue. 'If we give up on a little, we lose a lot.'

"I hid my scowl in a cough; I had been in country for only a few days now but already I had grown tired of hearing such meaningless slogans. I wondered how long I could hide my growing disgust from this strange woman.

"She continued her speech. 'Business casual is always a requirement in headquarters. That was my idea,' she announced proudly. I noticed her eyes were staring through my head, as if she were speaking to an empty chair. She paused, expecting a response, I assumed. She seemed less like a person but a trick of the light casting shadows that vaguely resembled a human form.

"'Yes. It's all quite in order,' I obliged, wringing my hands. She smiled absently. Her pause afforded me a moment to bring up my real concern.

"'When might I be able to arrange transport into the center of the country? I'm very anxious to get started.'

"That amalgamation of dancing shadows before me continued staring through me to the gray concrete wall until I felt a violent urge to yell my question at her again. She was nothing more than a strange projection of light and dark and I felt that if I reached over to strike her, my hand would simply pass through this fantastic illusion.

"'You must remember how you found this place. Business casual is the order of the day here! Business casual. Before I came, it was all a mess. Quite unseemly, you understand? You couldn't understand if you hadn't seen it before I came. Yes, now it's all in order.'

"My eyes darted to the floor and she paused.

"'He isn't as good as most think. Surely, he is a fine volunteer. Reports from his region show some of the highest rates of success of any other volunteers in the Organization. I met him once. High-minded, idealistic. Yes, they love that in Washington. Please, don't misunderstand me. He is a fine volunteer. One of the finest.'

"'You see, we can't have the Organization's reputation sullied by such behavior. I'm sure you understand. We encourage integration, of course. It's essential to the success of the Organization's mission here, as you know. But we are worried that he may have gone too far. His methods have become unsound.'

"Unsound... What that word meant, I wouldn't understand until some time later when I finally met that man. A man! He was something, but surely not a man by the time I met him deep in the center of the country, far from the farcical parade of business casual costumes and impotent regulations imposed by this impossible creature sitting on her fallacious throne. It seemed to me a gentle breeze would cause it all to collapse and she would vanish in a moment. But that's what order is! An illusion we conjure up with our starched shirts and tedious regulations enforced by false bureaucrats!"

A voice interrupted. "There's no reason to attack your friends, Mack."

"Yes, you're right. I got carried away, I suppose," he continued. We had been sitting for some time, listening to Mack recount his story and it had grown dark. No longer could I see the others. Mack's voice came to me out of the darkness.

"I couldn't take it much longer," Mack continued. "So I broached the subject once more.

"'Might we discuss the question of my transport?'

"'Yes, yes of course. We mustn't interrupt operations, now.' A flash of white teeth appeared from the dancing shadows. That I had nothing to say about Keiter seemed to disappoint this shadow. What was this obsession with him? The reports suggested that he taught more English than any other of the volunteers combined, but they said that he had become dangerous, integrated. He hadn't left his site in months, they said. The only evidence they had of his continued existence was the steady stream of English speaking Bulgarians coming from his site. Up to now, I had only heard whispers about him, rumors of his operations in the center of the country, but the panic in the director had unsettled me and piqued my curiosity. It would lead me down a path and I would find out more about Keiter than I ever wanted to."

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