A birdsong plays as the visual signal to cross the street turns on. Meant for the blind, though useful for the distracted too, the tune sinks into the collective unconscious. Not so far that most couldn’t whistle it on demand; but beneath notice, so that most couldn’t say with certainty how many times a day they heard it, or whether they heard it at all. Not that anyone would say, ‘What a curious bird’, exactly. Based on a Japanese Cuckoo, the tune is unambiguously electronic. Unambiguously. But, that is not to say, that one might duck and exclaim, ‘A robot bird! Watch out!’, exactly either.
The neither blind nor distracted might even come to ignore or, indeed, enjoy, the little green man made of lights which, in some countries even walks with a wide, though stationary, gait. Some would even call him hip. Though for this, it takes an extraordinarily keen sense of observation, presupposing a rudimentary rhythmic know-how, so as to match the chirp of the cuckoo-chirp to the beat of the green man’s strides.
And so forth. But this is all quite beside the point. The point, of course, being that a lifelong custom of ignoring such visual and auditive sensory inputs suffices to remove them to the furthest sub-echelon of consciousness. Especially as they generally appear amongst a veritable jungle of such sounds, which one also ignores. Traffic sounds and the like. And what a miracle! An inability to filter out such auricular dissonance would plunge anyone into the gullet of madness.
As good as forgotten. And all for the better, and the good of humankind. Unless, for example, one is to receive these signals, obey them; only to then, let’s say, get hit by a car. Then, surely, no one alive would doubt having heard the auditive or seen the visual prompts; to later expose them in the courts of justice, in a suit against the municipal traffic signal authority, if not the international body for the regulation of the cuckoo-chirp. In this example, we can deduce, with relative clarity, that we are, in a substantial way, subservient to these inputs. Or at the very least, we possess an unwavering faith in the logic behind them. You understand what I’m referring to, of course: that insidious algorithm that governs their use. Covertly, I may add; from the shadows.
For, it is evident, is it not, that a bypass occurs when the human mind encounters the concept of perfection. Of invariability. A bypass, facilitated by constant confirmation that A equals A, every day of the week, any weather. Soothing isn’t it? In a world governed by chaos and human nature. We understand it well, that order is a spa for mind. It makes our own imperfections more bearable like snow on a street instead of snow on the north face of the Eiger.
Listen to its velvety promise: however much one hates life and seeks to dismiss it to the lowest and most unconscious processes of the mind; A equals A. Beautiful. When the human mind encounters perfection and invariability, a bypass occurs that is called faith. Faith, also, wears its own liquidy-smooth velvet, does it not? A relinquishing of the reins to a higher authority. Listen: faith. Listen, no really, listen: faith. Whatever is meant to happen will happen. A equals A. No matter what A represents or what A represents. A will equal A. The loyalty of it. The unconditional love of it.
Why go through the trouble to elucidate this point? It is a risk of the trade, when one recounts uncanny events, that a certain degree of scepticism occurs amongst the readership. This behaviour, be assured, is most healthy. It surfaces from your detecting my imperfections as an author, my variability. Written ten seconds into the future, this story might have gone in any of an impressive amount of directions. That does not, however, discredit the veracity of this tale. The goal of an author, whatever the genre is to discover truth. If not always universal truth, at least truth according to the parameters of the story being told. There, a free little sneak peek just for you. Now that you know A—faith in the cuckoo-chirp; now that you know the equal—that is to say, now that you’ve sneaked a peek at the algorithm behind this story; let’s get back to it.
On the eve of a weekend, towards the end of the work day, there were few humans actually crossing the street, when the signal to cross—the cuckoo-chirp—unexpectedly began. The fate of those who were—crossing the street—was unfortunately relaid to the law of probability. Whether or not they made the crossing safely, was no longer governed by a trustworthy algorithm. By any algorithm, for that matter. In a word, the cuckoo-chirp had gone rogue.
And when the signal did not relent, for entire minutes, for entire half-dozens of minutes; a few heads poked, here and there, from behind the doors and windows of the city. The urge was not powerful, you see, and that’s exactly why trouble lurked in wait for the honest 9to5 tax-paying civilian. See the craftiness lay in the idea that it was not powerful enough to provoke a conscious effort at countering it. Like that liminal space we all work so hard to ignore whereby a broken finger is an annoyance and a broken leg is an emergency. Break a finger, should you take the bus to the hospital? Break a finger, should you call in sick to work? Break a finger… well, you get the point. A broken collarbone: ‘No, of course, I understand, take as much time as you need.’ A broken collarbone, convalescence and ‘Let me know if there’s anything I can do.’ So, when the cuckoo-chirp chirped uninterrupted, it was in the not so clear cut an affair as a broken collarbone. Some lamented the interruption, the annoyance of it. ‘I just need ten more minutes to finish this…’ and ‘But I’ll be late for the social if this carries on…’ could be heard peppered amongst other general comments about the inconvenience of it and its effect on routine.
Nevertheless, a restless legs, here and there, could be glimpsed. Yes, you are absolutely right, and your perspicacity is commendable; a more thorough inquiry is surely needed before any declaration can be made as to whether this was not, indeed, the result of a pre-existing condition known as RLS, or Restless Leg Syndrome. Yes, of course, people discovering a sudden urge to visit the water station, the staff kitchen or the loo, can equally be supposed to have a pre-existing condition, such as hunger, thirst, or slight incontinence… Though they constitute, you’ll grant me, perhaps less creditable extenuating circumstances.
Only when flocks began to form at intersections and edges of the streets, only when these flocks merged into mobs, and even still, only when a few distinct mobs appeared to obey the same impulse as to the precise direction of travel; only then, can we truly ascertain that something definitive was afoot. Unquestioning, vast swathes of people, perfectly unextraordinary normal everyday show-up-to-work-on-time people, were suddenly obeying the impulse to walk.
Faith is a curious word, it is true. A word with an agenda. It is cunning in that, that which it empowers a person to do, is to not do its opposite. Allow me to come at it from a different angle: It is not sufficient to believe, but rather, to not question the belief. Indeed, faith is a resilient word. Scouring through its manifold meanings, one can easily pick out words such as: Allegiance, Loyalty, Fidelity, Sincerity, Complete Trust, Firm Belief, Strong Conviction… Such words appear over and over, again and again. They drill effortless in the soft matter of our brains, not unlike a doctrine, or campaign promises, or propaganda. Until one can reasonably conclude that faith equals not faith, if it can be so easily forgone when tested, abandoned when convenient, betrayed when…
Perhaps, the most pertinent question to ask, when the multitudes were set a-walking, would be: Had there always been a latent signal, hidden in the cuckoo-chirp? Something other, something more, than just an impulse to cross the street? Were we, pedestrian, unknowing laboratory rats? Fed a subliminal message, say, in the ultrasonic range, with the ultraspecific aim of classical conditioning? That while A equals A: cuckoo-chirp equals cross street; there also exists a hidden B equals B? That while you and I might simply hear the input to walk; we might, in fact, have been unconsciously trained to detect slight variations? Variations which, for example, might pertain to precise direction of travel or destination?
Our questioning this—our, shall we say, wavering faith on the matter—is all good and scientific, but, in the end, changes little to the developing events of that day. We benefit from hindsight in our analysis, which contrary to the very essence of impulse, and so we must endeavour to situate ourselves more firmly in the shoes of the whole circumstance.
On the outskirts of the city, a great convergence of pedestrian was taking place. The pilgrimage, however, was never destined to last long. Soon the Pi-pitu… pi-pitu… birdsong was fading, just as traffic-lights were slowly yielding to friendly neighbourhood 4-way stops. The cuckoo is, after all, a primarily metropolitan bird. So when, at last, the masses reached a point of complete silence, the pedestrians ceased walking, and so, became mere by-standers. No, perhaps not so graciously as that. For, so vast was the amassed crowd, that those behind could still hear vague traces of the cuckoo-chirp, even as those in front no longer could. So, the great human caravan jerked into a progressive stop, pushed forth by those behind who were powerless to disobey the impulse to walk. The procession began filling adjacent streets, until a full circle was formed around the area of silence.
There, naked to the eye of the multitude, stood a human being. One. Unremarkable in all aspects, but for the odd cycle in which it seemed to be caught. Doubled over, the human being was caught in a perpetual state of melting. Doubled over, the human being was, also perpetually, eating its melted self. Thus regenerating itself once more. It was a thrilling show for all present. A most thrilling show. Not least for all recognised themselves in the cannibalising human being, for how uncannily the cannibal was made in their image. Their faith in the blessed cuckoo-chirp was perhaps not misplaced, after all. Pi-pitu… Their faith in the blessed cuckoo-chirp was perhaps not misplaced, after all. Pi-pitu… Their faith in the blessed cuckoo-chirp was perhaps not misplaced, after all. Pi-pitu… Their faith in the blessed cuckoo-chirp was perhaps not misplaced, after all. Pi-pitu… Their faith in the blessed cuckoo-chirp was perhaps not misplaced, after all. Pi-pitu…
Copyright © 2021 by Etienne Robert