9. Phenomenology of the anonym

Outside the kitchen window lay a segment of the world, a piece of street, marked out as a dead alley at the entry, half a dozen houses with brown brick fronts, tended lawns, ornamental trees on weak-growing stems, garages with rollfronts. In each house a picture window offered full view of cooker, sink and kitchen table, it was as if the inhabitants of the houses took great pains to be observed when cooking or eating, but not otherwise. Nothing ever happened on these open stages, and when there were deviations from the rule, the blind was pulled. (Still he knew a thing or two by repute). On the other hand: if one day in hasty spirits he decided to urinate in the gutter, he would most certainly be watched and hardly forgiven. At any rate the impulse was alien to him; when people lived as crowded as here, you couldn't break the laws, neither written nor unwritten. Neighbourliness was important, in the small things as well as in the large.
Some of the houses were equipped to receive television signals from space; parabolic antennas put up their immense sacrificial dishes on the roofs. It was difficult to interpret the alignment of the antennas other than that the owners turned their backs on neighbourly dialogue and confined themselves to the single-track space flow of words and pictures, because they preferred this fashion. Harry didn't like the parabolas, and he didn't like his neighbours either, scorned their cowardly isolation. They didn't expose themselves to the uncertainty, the double and treble messages that were typical of human exchange. What was more: the antennae were not necessary, you could receive the same transmissions by cable, in a less obvious way, his own household did.

He had set the car battery aside for recharging and decided to take the bus, crouched in the shelter of the bus stop like a giant bird of prey. His senses were aroused this morning, their parabolas directed against the world, searching for signs, signals. The particular state wasn't new to him, he had felt something similar the day the prime minister and party leader had been shot in the open street of the capital. The event in itself was completely unlikely, shouldn't take place in a country that had been ruled by the Party more or less without interruption for seventy years. Like cold incongruously traveling to heat, the lawfulness of the universe turned into its opposite. After the murder he had felt obliged to observe society at large, try the components for their worth, obliged to try to discern its movement, its direction, if there was any. In this ambition he could experience that his powers of observation were abnormally sharpened, so that he walked about in his everyday environment feeling clairvoyant, second-sighted. A dangerous play that mustn't be revealed.
Next to him another traveller took up his station. Immediately the space of the shelter was halved; suddenly he was free to watch only in one direction and had to content himself with furtive glances in the other. Within all developed societies it was an unwritten law not to look candidly at strangers within the sphere of public transport; it was taken for granted that all travelling took place in silent, introverted devotion. In spite of this everyone saw, and was seen. Harry knew this and insisted on both parts: the borders, the unknown that you wanted to know more about but were excluded from. In this way a silent truce was established between two travellers in a shelter, an interaction of silence, numbness, restriction. (In addition there was an obstacle to communication behind their backs, a memento silentii: two enormous breasts with projecting nipples and the words TWIN PEAKS in flaming versals. It was imperative not to be caught eyeing this artful key stimulus.)
Still, after a while Harry felt ready to squint at the newcomer. He might be about thirty, was of powerful build, like a wrestler, stocky and broad-shouldered, gym shoes, jeans, flannel shirt and woollen cap. If he had left something behind at home it was his motorcycle. He wasn't a resident of the area, Harry had never seen him before. He had tucked his hands in his pockets, at intervals he half-lifted one foot and rocked to and fro, to warm himself or circulate the blood. The whole inventory took but a second, and Harry felt rather certain that it had remained unnoticed by the other side.
Gym shoes, he thought indignantly, almost like going barefoot in this weather.
Around them the one hundred and twentieth depression of that year battered the landscape with all its energy, the rain poured down without a break, leaves and pieces of paper slowly piled up over the sewer outlets. The shelter was tattooed with graffiti on all sides, posters half torn, pop heroes embellished with moustache and swastika, the strongest negative expression of the scribblers, sympathy for the devil. It always surprised him that this following hadn't disappeared for good at the rear horizon of history, he never quite understood why.
Within the shelter a dry maple leaf slid to and fro with the gusts. Its tips clasped at the asphalt surface, like a cat clawing a slippery floor for foothold. The scratching sound pierced his very marrow, he caught the leaf cat with his sole, guided it towards a wet surface, trampled it down to fix it.
Out in the haze two silhouettes approached. They walked as one, pressed to each other to the extent that they seemed to have merged. Man, woman, the man bareheaded, the woman had extended her shawl to cover both heads. Harry Jönsson lowered his eyes, he didn't want them to feel watched, but he noticed how his neighbour raised his chin and stared in a challenging way. When the two had passed he spat in the gutter: 'They should stick to their own women.'
Harry raised his head again, the question written in his face.
'It was one of those Moslems.'
There was nothing particularly Moslem about the man's back, but Harry suddenly recognized the woman. It was Jenny. Just then the bus arrived.

He had had no anonymous phone calls after the election. Normally it belonged to the sequel of any event that brought the Party into the limelight: the anonymous voices called attention to themselves, at every possible hour. Ruth could hear through walls when he was connected to one of them: Harry got longwinded, argued endlessly, in that way stretching calls that made him ill at ease. She also understood his reasons. Most of the callers were frightened and bullied wretches, but you had to be made of wood in order not to notice the clenched fist in the pocket. The experience of some latent threat transformed him into a Soul fisherman, attempting to rescue stray souls into the safe haven of the Party, or at least into some sort of order. He had spent hundreds of hours that way with a furious, accusing voice at his ear, trying to calm and reconcile with arguments and measured counterquestions. He called them "my anonymous friends", a few had got so addicted to his particular therapy that they appealed to him day and night, until Ruth had had enough and raised objections. Each call took its toll of his resources, he often went around pondering for weeks on what he could and should have answered.
'They say one thing, but when it comes to it they want to get something else off their chests. People of that kind act like a sort of crack in the foundations, they must not be too numerous, when that happens, the house comes down.'
'I know as well as you do what the world looks like, and I know that you have to accommodate yourself in order to endure. You are too frail to be occupied by these lunatics for years and years, Harry, you attract madcaps. The whole thing should be handled automatically, with technique, not with life and soul at stake.'
'I doubt that you would understand their language, Ruth.'
'Nonsense! That way you could supply every stupid bastard with a halo of his own!'
In the end he allowed her to take the calls. Under no circumstances would he disconnect the phone, not even overnight.
Ruth's technique was simple. When the caller remained anonymous she paused and said: One moment, please, i am just going to connect the tape recorder. At intervals she would cup her hand over the microphone, pretending to discuss with others around her. All of a sudden she would break in and command: Would you repeat the last one, please. Say it in plain terms.
In most cases the call was interrupted within half a minute. Since Ruth took over, the calls had ceased almost altogether. She regarded it as a victory, but Harry was secretly worried.

The machine had brought its operation to a happy end, the pot was filled to the brim with boiling hot medium roast. Now Jenny should come, or Ruth would start worrying about her. At that point the telephone rang. Ruth took three long strides, grabbed the receiver, said: 'Jönssons,' waited with her mouth half open. Silence, silence, a scraping sound, breathing, more silence. She waited patiently.
'Is this the whorehouse on Rowan Road?'
'No,' she answered, 'you've got the wrong number. And the wrong address.'
'You know damn well that I got the right number.' To a listening entourage: 'If she's going to have a number, it should be the right sort of number.'
From the same entourage a roaring laugh.
'One moment, please, I'm just going to connect the tape recorder,' she answered, pulled out the plug and inserted it again.
'There are rumours that you hired a new whore, who is good at sucking Arabs. Could five ordinary, Swedish knuckleheads make an appointment for tonight?' In the background: 'Five dicks of Swedish steel.'
Ruth held her breath for five seconds: 'It seems to me that you are not responsible for your own words? Is somebody else deciding for you what you should say?'
No, she thought, Harry could almost have said that.
'She doesn't believe i can make it stand on my own.'
Thunderous laughter again. 'Look into the receiver, and see for yourself.'
New voice. 'Concerning the Arab whore. We thought of giving her an overhaul so that she knows her rightful place.'
'I have been told that people who have physical strength must be very careful with their use of force, in order not to harm anybody who is much weaker than themselves. Now I ask: why do men as big and strong and clever as you need to confirm this on a feeble and stupid woman like me?'
'Isn't there a thirteen-year-old soon getting ripe for the trade? We could teach her a few tricks.'
Thunderous laughter in the background: 'Then we'll take the Arab whore for dessert.'
Ruth cupped her hand over the receiver, spoke in a low voice into the empty room. Then she said: 'Sorry, i didn't get the last one.'
'We'll keep in touch.'
Someone who knew their living conditions. Strange: how quickly human beings recorded and connected.

'Something that I did not think possible has happened to me,' said Jenny. 'Can you believe it, Ruth?'
She dropped down at the kitchen table with a sigh.
'Yes, I can,' Ruth answered and sat down opposite to her. 'Who is he?'
Jenny searched for words. 'He is completely unique.'
'Now you are making me curious! Take off your coat before you spill coffee over it.'
'I don't mean that there are not other unique people. Both you and Harry are unique people to me, and most likely to many other people as well.'
'Some are more unique than others. I myself don't feel so uniquely unique.'
'I thought at once: he is the right one for me. Isn't it stupid, incredibly teenagerish?'
Ruth poured coffee into two cups.
'Is there no more to tell?'
'He is what the crusaders called a Saracen.'
'Oh. How long has he been here?'
'For four years.'
'Then he must have a work permit.'
'He works with kids in a daycare centre. The kids call him Hassan.'
'You haven't told me anything about his person.'
'I think it will have to wait for a while.'

Listening to the local radio was a way of keeping oneself informed. Not about events of the big world, but about the tender corns of the small one. The municipal councillor saw it as his task to keep one window open in each direction, serving as a transit station for the messages. Here lay the reason why he chastised himself a couple of hours each week by checking out the listing of wounded and dead from the battlefields of the world, and spending an equal amount of time bathing in the frog's perspective of the local radio. He did neither from inclination, and, taking for granted that everybody around him shared his feelings about journalism, he read foreign news in the bathroom and used earphones whenever listening to the radio. In addition he split his consciousness between two levels, one level handling routine tasks at half speed, the other following the broadcast at standby level, hearing without actually feeling or remembering. Key words, outbursts of feeling, shrill and grating notes woke him up to active listening. He seldom learnt anything about humans during these mortifications, since he already knew the difference between have and have not and knew that blood flows where boys play with guns. At most he was confirmed in his view that the world still offered tasks and goals for politics, at the municipal level as well as elsewhere.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon, he had had six meetings and three interviews, had used the telephone for at least an hour, skipped lunch but finally been forced to withdraw to his office and order a kebab from the city. He turned the pages of lists while waiting for his calorie supply, listened to the local radio with a quarter of his hearing. One of the parties from outer space was behind the entertainment, painting the local election result as the return of Antichrist to the conquered earth, a foretaste of Apocalypse, the end of the world. His own plans for tax raises was on the carpet, and the municipal councillor laughed up his sleeve. Raising taxes was the last thing he intended to do, that road was no longer open; money had to be procured other ways, without the "tax" label.
Several of the voices were familiar to him. He knew the history of affliction of the speakers, their circumstances, in many cases their political affiliation as well, in the past and in recent time. In a medium-sized municipality this was still possible, in other places not to be thought of. A whining-voiced woman vented her feelings about those crickets of society who played and sang but never pulled so much as a blade of grass to the ant-hill; a widow, retired with pension, dependent on home help, her bile was directed against the local evening classes funded by the educational association, the cultural backbone of the municipality. He had listened to her tirades on the same wavelength at least a dozen times, and still he listened attentively, since he felt that he never could become familiar enough with the feeling that spoke through her. In short it ran: I have never had anything for free, why should others? I have toiled and moiled all my life, where is my reward? You had to keep close contact with feelings of that kind, always.
In a bid to help out the poor economy of the municipal housing company, a basement space in the house where she lived had been rented out as rehearsal premises to some of these evening classes: fledgling rock groups. A memorandum, she could be offered a new flat, assistance with the removal.
The presenter cut her off as he had done a dozen times before and made way for another Jeremiah. The obvious aim of the program was quantity, its intention to show how discontent smouldered at the base of the population at the prospect of another three years of Party rule. Now refugees and immigrants were on the agenda, a burden to the society, parasites of the welfare state, flocking around contributions and benefits like bluebottles around carrion. The Moslems, a purulence in western cultures that should be deported to the Gaza strip, where both friend and foe would know how to handle them.
'That's your opinion,' the presenter said. 'But i can understand it very well.'
'It is your opinion,' he echoed a minute later. 'But it's interesting.'
Concluding: 'I would like to know if there are more opinions of this kind. Maybe what we hear is a wide-spread opinion? Are there more views out in the villages, then call me right now. Let us hear what the simple, ordinary people are thinking in this matter, not only professors and clergymen and authors!'
Harry thought: fourteen days more of this and we will have lost the election.
The voice agitating against immigrants belonged to the man at the bus stop, no doubt about that. He had stated his name when introduced, now he gave himself out as a Party member as well. True enough: there was a Party member by that name, but he wasn't the man talking here. The trick had been systematized in this broadcast and had already caused indignant letters to the editor in the local paper. Harry Jönsson woke up from his semi-dormant state, straightened up, as if the whole of his system had been activated by a suddenly injected hormone. He reached for the phone and thumped a preprogrammed number, here was his opportunity. Over the next few minutes he exerted power as best he could; he twisted arms, threatened with the words and paragraphs of law, allowed his indignation to flow free and used coarse language where it seemed to help. In an almost physical way he pressed himself through to the responsible level, and six and a half minutes later he was on the air. The final point had been worked out during long night hours when sleep failed him after some long and unproductive chat with one of his anonymous friends.
'Finally I want to add a private reflection to the strains trotted out by the falsifier, although I am convinced that most of the listeners in the villages have already hit on the same line of thought on their own. When we visit foreign countries and think back to our own country, or if we just sit down in an easy chair at home and ask ourselves: What are we when it comes to it, what distinguishes us - then I believe that most of us will end up with something about friendliness. Ordinary nice, decent friendliness. We are friendly when we approach other people, because we want them to be friendly towards us, and if the whole arrangement doesn't function in some direction, we don't feel right. Those people who preach hate and envy are turning their arms on themselves, they commit a sort of harakiri. And at the same time their failure afflicts us, we can no longer be friendly, feel in some way contaminated or infected by their campaigns. I would like to put such people on a boat and freight them to some faraway leper colony, that's where they belong. This is my heart-felt opinion.'

Two hours later, while walking in the main street, he was embraced and kissed by an elderly woman.
'That was good what you said, Harry!'
Party widow, her husband prematurely dead of intestinal cancer, living her life in the educational association and the temperance movement and other Party affiliates that offered good company and the right tone of voice. These women often were more outspoken and generous than average, you could rest assured that they expressed feelings and sentiments that were widespread.
'We were in Morocco, Sture and I, before he died, and they were such absolutely delightful people, you wouldn't believe it, Harry!'
In such moments Harry felt elevated, from an everyday devoid of brilliance and ambition, to a higher sphere, where people were friendly and considerate. Delightful was the expression used, cover word of the province for "captivating" or "charming" or just "friendly". But more than that: delightful people were people you wanted to have close at hand, wanted to live at peace and in concord with. When she had left he knew that he loved his voters, and he knew that the feeling was reciprocal.
In the evening he related the event to Ruth, she pulled a face and said: 'I didn't know we were so delightful.'
'We are not, nor are they in Morocco. That's why it's so important to make a show. You have to go on and on repeating: we are nice and friendly and delightful people, till we conform, or feel obliged to conform. Reality mustn't be allowed to strike the note on its own, that won't do.'
'But isn't there a danger in defending refugees and immigrants the way you do? You give sanction to a pattern when you evict the pests.'
'Do I? Yes, maybe I do. I have to give it some thought, maybe it wasn't so clever. But don't you agree that it's tempting: to strike some terror into the campaigners, do the thing that they fear most. I will take them back into the warmth with the other hand. Some other time.'
All around him every fifth resident was an immigrant: new customs, new religions in the old paganism. If such a reality had its own way, it would never be manageable. Ideology was the rein you entwined in order to control the whole carriage. Harry put on a satisfied face; he had delivered his credo.

'Now listen to what i have to tell you. You are going to be a brother-in-law.'
'Then it can only concern Jenny.'
'You got it at once, my dear Watson.'
'It didn't take her long, did it?'
'It's love, that love.'
'Then we have to save her.'
'You think so?'
'Love is the worst conceivable foundation for marriage. A marriage with good prospects for the future is an agreement of cooperation, maintained through the watching eyes and discreetly exerted pressure of the immediate environment. That's you and me, Ruth.'
She looked at him out of the corner of her eye. 'She wants you to marry them.'
'Me? Not some parson?'
'I must check my book. But of course I'll do it. What kind of an individual is he?'
'He is called - Hassan.'
'It sounds like the nickname of a negro.'
'His real name is Hussein.'
'Oh, one of the Prophet's sons. A Moslem as they say.'
'She hasn't told me much, but she has promised to introduce me before the wedding.'
'Then I leave that to you: to examine the bridegroom.'
The last sentence came promptly from Harry, and Ruth knew the reason; he got on best with people who were like him, belonged to his own kind.
'Besides I have already seen him, they passed me at the bus-stop this morning without noticing.'

Five minutes before midnight the telephone rang. He turned on the light, rose to his feet and answered, before second thoughts or indolence had time to apply their brakes. Ruth arrived five seconds later, she held out her hand, trying to take the phone from his grip. 'We agreed that I was going to take late calls.'
He exerted himself in order to catch what the other voice had to convey. 'Wait. Wait.'
A furrow deepened, he knit his brow. She sighed heavily, sat down and clasped her hands. After a while she reached for the phone again. 'Let me take it now.'
'It's not necessary.'
He shook his head with emphasis and waved her away.
She stuck out her tongue at him and went back to bed. After a short while he returned: 'Somebody wanted to inform me that there are two-hundred barrels with deadly poisonous contents in the landfill at the harbour. Five minutes to twelve; you could call that good timing!'
She sighed. 'Do you think it will affect people...?'
He snorted at her suggestion. 'We have the strictest environmental control in the country, and everybody knows that we never tamper with it. There is nothing.'
'No skeletons in the cupboard?'
'Absolutely not.'
'You could always remove them - if they turned out to be more than a rumour.'
Harry's thoughts were already following another track. 'Baseless rumours could easily become a millstone round our neck: property prices, everything could tumble... You have to act quickly, before they breed.'
'The barrels, or the rumours?'
'The rumours, of course.'
'We agreed that I was going to take late calls, didn't we?'
'Two hundred barrels... What could they contain, if they are real?'
'You didn't answer: can't you remove them?'
'In nine cases out of ten they're better left where they lie. I'm not worried about the barrels, I'm worried about the rumours.'
'So you have no skeletons in the cupboard?'
'Of course we have skeletons in the cupboard; everyone has skeletons in the cupboard! But they are not common knowledge, nobody even knows where the cupboard is. That's why I say: I'm not worried about the barrels, I'm worried about the rumours. Because I do not even know in what direction they are going to run. As long as an anonymous rumour phase lasts, politics is tied up hand and foot, and if the whole thing drags on and on, politics is lost. Now it's up to us to regain the initiative.'

27 kB, translated 25.1.05, published 2.2.05, latest corrected 27.11.08.

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