A story goes around the world (chapter 3 of 8)

by Tope Folarin

A story goes around the world (Issue III/2020)


Illustration: Elisabeth Moch

Tomorrow I will die.

Somehow I thought that writing these words would enable me to understand what is about to happen to me, would somehow make it seem more real, but it still seems like an abstraction. I understand it intellectually, but I can’t imagine what will happen after the deed is done. As I sit here—in this austere room, on this austere chair, at this austere desk—I can say I have never felt more alive. I have never felt more aware of the way the way the air moves from my nose down my throat and into my chest, the subtle and reassuring rise and fall of my lungs, and the almost instantaneous exit of the very same air, a continual, seemingly inevitable process that leaves me feeling both full and somehow lighter at the same time. I have breathed for as long as I have been alive, though I have never appreciated this simple act as I do now. And I don’t have the imagination to envision what happens post-breath, the yawning dark hole that might embrace me, or the simultaneous collapse of everything I have known and loved and hated and despised into one tiny diminishing point, and then nothing.

In a way writing is my way of pushing back against the void. Over the many months I have been imprisoned here I have come to understand the unparalleled power of language. This simple solitary act of writing these words on this page will ensure that something of me remains. And to be honest I am not as concerned about what will remain of me in the future; I am sending this beacon into the dark in the hopes that someone will know what happened to us, and how humanity drifted so far from its potential and entered the realm of nightmares. It is my hope that someone might read this and that this document will serve as a roadmap to the promise of what we could still be.

I have been writing this journal for the entire year of my confinement, but I have yet to write about the incidents that led me here. I have yet to write about my personal Catastrophe. I have written about the Catastrophe as everyone else knows it, the various things that happened, and even my role, the fact that I am guilty of all the charges they brought against me, but I’ve not written about the inciting moment. I now realise that all this writing, this process of learning how to shape the illegible longing and fear and hope that exists within me into language—the only thing, in the end, that can connect one human being to another, across space and time—has been leading up to this moment, a moment that I have dreaded and anticipated in equal measure. But I have no excuse left, and no more time. I must write. I must write about what happened. I must.

It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, but once they did I was shocked to see that the pharmacy did not look as I remembered it

I can see myself now, on my way to the pharmacy, pausing at the dumpster to examine what was inside, as if I knew that the moment I reached the pharmacy my life as I knew it would flee from me, and this other version of life would take its place, this empty desiccated shell. The pharmacy was dark. I don’t know why I didn’t immediately turn and return home—something compelled me, something I did not really recognise in myself. There was a pile of refuse—chairs and buckets and sticks of various lengths—on the side of the building, just beneath a window. I pulled a chair from the pile and placed it directly under the window and then I placed the bucket on top. I climbed my contraption as quietly as I could, and once I settled at the top I stood slowly, just to make sure I would not fall. Then I peered inside.

It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness, but once they did I was shocked to see that the pharmacy did not look as I remembered it. The shelves had been cleared away, the various signs advertising sales were gone, the only thing that remained was the space itself. I felt as if I was sitting in the audience at a theatre, and a hush had fallen over the crowd. I was waiting for the lights to go on, for the actors to stride onto the stage and begin reciting their lines. After a few moments a light flickered on in the somewhere inside, not in the room I was looking at, but some room just beyond my vision. Enough light spilled into the room so that I could see a young woman who was entering. She was tall and held herself erect. Her long brown hair fell from her head in waves that crashed into her shoulders, and from my vantage point I could just make out her profile—a small forehead, sharp nose, a demure, frowning mouth. She disappeared from my view, and when I saw her again she was carrying a chair. She placed it on the floor and sat. She did not move for many moments, so long that I wondered if anything else would happen, if she would simply sit there, and I would simply watch her from my window until the day ended, and darkness swallowed everything up—me, her, the pharmacy, my town. But then I saw a man enter. He was short and a bit pudgy; he waddled out of view and when I saw him again he, too, was carrying a chair, and without addressing or acknowledging the woman he sat directly across from her. Another woman presently followed and did the same, and then a man, until there were about fifteen people in the room—all of them silent, all of them seemingly ignoring everyone else.

I felt as if I was sitting in the audience at a theatre, and a hush had fallen over the crowd

I was thoroughly intrigued by what I was seeing, and dubious as well. What were they doing? Why weren’t they talking? And why did I happen to be present when they were gathering in this way? I felt my legs shaking and straining, and I looked around me. It was now dark out. I wondered if there were other people meeting in other buildings. I suddenly felt my parched throat and my rumbling stomach. I decided it was time for me to go home. I looked back at the window to get a final glance at the odd surreal scene, and at that moment they turned as one in my direction. I saw all their faces for the first time. I didn’t really notice their faces; what I saw, really saw, was their eyes. They looked like human eyes, eyes I’d seen all my life, but I sensed something foreign and incomprehensible happening behind them.

I was frozen. And then I heard a whisper in my mind, rising slowly, a mass of unintelligible sound, it grew louder and louder, until all the noise coalesced into one sound, one voice.

You are not supposed to be here.

That is all I heard. I knew they had somehow entered my mind. They were speaking to me.

If I had been watching the news and reading the newspaper, if I had friends to speak with, someone with whom to talk besides myself, then many things would have fallen into place then. I would have understood why the streets were empty. I would have known that there was a worldwide quarantine, that this was reason we had all been told to remain inside at all costs. I would have understood why the internet had been shut down, and why everyone had resumed habits from decades past in order to survive. I would have known that there was a disease that was ravaging my country, and I would have also understood that the disease was a cover for something else. I would have understood that they were about to begin the takeover.

At that point, though, I didn’t know anything. The only thing I knew with any certainty is that I would soon die.

They shouted at me and condemned me, and before I could act I was being dragged away

I wanted to move, to sprint away. More than anything else I wanted to leave. But I was locked in place. I could not move. Then the scene before me dissolved, and various images began to flit before my eyes. I saw ambulances packed with people, and children throwing up in the streets. I saw the old and young suffering and collapsing everywhere. Then I saw other images. Sharper images. I saw myself doing things I would never do. I saw myself speaking to crowds that grew larger and larger over time, convincing them at first to ignore the quarantine, to reassert their rights and take to the streets. Then the crowds grew larger and my words grew more violent—soon I was speaking before crowds of thousands and thousands, some of them wearing masks on their faces, but most of them without any coverings, most of them shouting my violent rhetoric back at my face. I saw myself pointing to a large screen in a large auditorium, and telling my followers that their supposed benefactors, the faces that were scrolling across the screen, were their enemies. The faces on the screen matched the faces in the pharmacy. I saw myself leading a small group of my followers—all of us heavily armed—to a large house where these men and women were gathered, presumably to kill them or maim them in some way, and this time when they saw me they spoke. They shouted at me and condemned me, and before I could act I was being dragged away, and then I was in court, and then I was in this cell, writing in this journal, preparing for my death.

All the while the people in the room grew more powerful. They convinced the people of my nation and then the entire planet that they were the only forces that stood between us and the destruction of the world. They pointed to me and my followers as examples of the evil, irrational forces that would harm us all if they were not granted full power.

I knew even then that I had just witnessed my future. I knew there was nothing I could do to avoid my fate. Even then their power over me was complete. They had entered my mind and I could feel them beginning to control my thoughts. I blinked because I could feel tears building up behind my eyes, and when I opened my eyes once more the room was empty.

I walked back home in a daze. So many questions were cluttering my mind. I wondered if I had been marked for this role since I was born, or if I had just stumbled into it because of my stupid quest for water. I wondered if they had somehow drawn me there, if my quest for water had actually been a quest to learn what they were going to do with me. I wondered if there would be anybody who would believe why I had done the things I would do. I wondered if I was dreaming. I wonder if I am dreaming now.

I discovered joy in my own voice again, and hope. This is why I write

The irony for me is that I have finally found liberation in this prison. The moment I entered I felt those voices falling away. I could hear myself again. And I discovered joy in my own voice again, and hope. This is why I write. I want to preserve my voice, to store it somewhere outside myself so I can reach for it if they enter my mind once more.

I know the world thinks of me as a mad man who once served as the leader of a hateful organisation that was bent on destruction and chaos. The chances that anyone will believe I saw the members of The Ultras in that room on that day, and that they used me as a pawn—one of many—to secure the power they now hold are incredibly small. The chances that anyone will ever find and read this diary are close to zero. But I have no choice. I must write. I must tell my truth. I must send this beacon into the dark of the future and hope that someone will see it and free us all from the despots who now control everything.

Originally written in English


The whole story will be published in our German-language magazine: ORDER HERE
Click HERE for chapter 2.
Click HERE for chapter 4.

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