‘I hear there’s been some drama’ he says as I sit down.
‘Nothing much’ I say. ‘Why don’t you tell everyone in advance, about us not being able to smack each other?’
‘It’s funnier’ he says ‘watching people like Harry make berks of themselves.’
‘Does it happen a lot?’
‘Not as much as you’d think actually. Death usually has a calming effect on people – makes them more tolerant and considerate.’
‘So... why not Harry?’
‘He’s a psycho’ he says jauntily and laughs a little.
‘So... how does it work?’
‘How does what work?’
‘The non-violence. Is it like that marshal arts thing where you don’t hit people, you just use their weight to knock them down? Something like that?’
I shake my head and shrug. It sounds about right.
‘Perhaps. But it’s more complicated than that. The way I had it explained to me... Well, ok, you know, back in the world there’s physical forces – momentum and friction and magnetism and such. Physics stuff?’
I nod doubtfully. I know absolutely nothing about physics.
‘Well here it’s more like morality is a force, makes things happen. That’s not quite right... Let me see... It’s like, in life, if you told someone that what they were doing was simply wrong, well saying that might make you feel better, but it would have no intrinsic power to change their behaviour. Here it does.’
I look blankly at him.
‘Look it’s not like divine intervention. It’s more like, here, the way people feel things should be, deep down, is how things are. For example, a small minority might think it would be ok to attack someone they hate. I mean – with me for example, there’s probably going to be a few violent homophobes about, but on the other hand there’ll be some others who really believe in personal freedom. Most people though, they might not really approve of me, but they wouldn’t want to see me get hurt. So I’m safe. Does that make sense?’
I can’t really imagine how that could work, but then I can’t really imagine how words and pictures get from the studio to my TV set at home. It hasn’t stopped Harry and the others making me miserable anyway. Maybe they all think it’s what I deserve.
‘No’ he continues, ‘I’m happy to report I’ve never been on a boat, or heard of a boat even, where it was ok to attack other people unless they actually wanted to be attacked. I have to say it gives me a lot of hope for humanity.’
‘Is there a no sex rule too?’ I ask as casually as possible. I want to know if Lucy wouldn’t do it with me because there’s a rule. That would be good news.
‘Not that I’ve come across’ he says, a little too gleefully. ‘You might have trouble doing it in the forward lounge in front of everyone, but as long as you keep it discrete it seems you can do what you like to whoever likes it. It doesn’t seem to be possible to get very drunk here though, except for on special occasions, which is interesting. It’s fascinating actually. It’s not like this everywhere though I should warn you’ he adds. ‘You’ll need to watch out once we disembark. On the boat we’re all thrown together willy-nilly. Extremes tend to cancel. Once you’re on land it’s a very different state of affairs. People have chosen where they want to be. Places develop a very definite mood, a distinct personality... Consider too that some of the people will have been there for a very long time indeed. Some of them will have died hundreds of years ago on the other side of the world...’
He anticipates a reaction from me but I have to disappoint him. This occurred to me a while back and I’m not in the mood to act all astonished. ‘I do understand that’ I say and he is disappointed and I’m sorry.
‘Well anyway’ he says, ‘they don’t always appreciate a lot of twentieth century westerners coming along, acting like they run the place....’
He looks more closely at me, trying to get a reaction. It’s all I can do not to cry.
‘Well’ he says, sighing, ‘anyway, you’ll need to be very careful where you end up.’
Afterwards I go up into the bows and look at the water. It’s getting dark. The sun is just a bright spot in the distance. To port I see the silhouette of a strange continent. I can’t stand it here on the boat any longer but I don’t want to go there either. And I don’t want to go home. I can’t face going back. What am I going to do? I look down at the water. I look around the deck. There’s nobody else up here. Nobody would miss me, except maybe Joe. He might be upset. I wish Justine was here.
The breeze is warm and fragrant from the land. The water chops idly below. I could just drop. I could just drift on the current forever. I might feel the way I do now forever but at least I wouldn’t be adding to it.
I got a beautiful woman, naked, into my bed and she still didn’t want me. I told Harry and the others, out loud, to stuff their tedious ideas about how I should live and I still don’t feel any better.
I don’t know why I’m like this. All I know is I don’t seem to be able to do anything about it. And nothing that’s happened here makes me think that things will be any different in the future, either here in the afterlife or in my next life. This is just how I am, wrong, forever and ever amen.
Anyway, I think it must be about dinner time.
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