We came to Plymouth to see a ballet show. As neither myself nor Alex had ever been to Plymouth before, we agreed to spend a weekend there by the sea and to check out all of the local attractions. Thus, on our first day, we walked across town, visited the Aquarium, trudged up and down the harbour, the seafront, as well as the rest of the antiquated winding streets of its historical centre.
The ballet we had come to see was not on until the next evening, so we quickly settled upon a nice meal somewhere not far from our hotel and a trip to the cinema to catch up with a current blockbuster: as it turned out, most of the popular eateries were at the Barbican, which was conveniently only a few steps away from where we were staying.
After a very nice meal indeed – Thank you very much! – we thought a walk was exactly what we needed, so we looked at the map given to us at the hotel and started on the trek in the general direction of the cinema. On the map, it didn’t look very far, but in truth turned out to be considerably further away than we expected. Still, we made it in time to catch the movie. As we had already spent all day on our feet diligently scouting all the local points of interest, and as the film did not live up to our expectations, we both felt fairly justified to indulge in a taxi ride back to the hotel.
Alex murmured a few magic words into her mobile and five minutes later we were gratefully slumping back in a taxi. Our driver seemed friendly enough and visibly only too happy to start a conversation to alleviate the boredom of his routine. He asked us first about the movie we had just seen, and then about where we were from, and then without a pause he slid into a monologue centred, for some obscure reason, on technology. In the beginning of his diatribe we agreed on some general points, were even allowed to voice a few remarks relevant to the subject.
Little by little though, his voice began to attain some unnatural power, an iron-clad certainty that precluded any form of argument, disagreement or objection; an inescapable, almost tangible hold.
At the same time his dark shape silhouetted against the window was gradually gaining in bulk and solidity: all of a sudden we both felt glued to our seats, unable to move, barely breathing; the only function now allowed to us was to listen to his gooey musings.
“So … here we are now … every one of us with a mobile, or a computer, or a TV, or any other number of household gadgets, which are all almost sentient these days … and so, … they are all receiving and transmitting all these signals-commands from … hmm … who knows where from!”
The driver kept up his monologue in a droning voice relentlessly probing our heads, our whole beings: his dogged narration possessed a most uncanny ability to gain access and enter that very secret spot where the essence of all your worst fears were lurking under lock and key.
“So … we are told continuously what to do, and what to think, and how to live our lives … and you know, … I have a mate who recently came back home after work to find this huge plasma TV in his living room and he did not know where it came from or who had bought it! It was definitely not him, nor his wife … and they wouldn’t’ have that kind of money in the first place – him driving taxis and her working at a supermarket check-out, and them with three kids, and all!”
Both Alex and I felt sort of pasted into the murky tale, sucked into the bog-like quality of its narration:
“That happened to be my very good friend, so I said ‘Let’s take it apart and look inside it!’ … and you know what his answer was? – ‘What about the waranty?’”
We all pondered the question for a while, before the driver carried on with his monologue:
“..You know, him and me, we used to go to the pub and have a few laughs … but now there they are spending all their evenings in front of the damned screen …”
His voice was strong without being loud, and although he did not sound threatening, we felt so frightened we could not to even look at each other; we did not dare. He stopped for a split of a second, half turned towards us and whispered slowly:
“Well, I’ve worked it all out, me…
“You see, I’ve recently read of a new cure for the Big C: they inject the sick cells with cancer and it devours the appalling disease successfully … the results are apparently quite astonishing.
“Now, you have to agree with me we, humans are turning the world of today into a truly sorry place: we are totally self-absorbed and we carelessly squander nature’s gifts, we pollute soil, water and the very air that we breathe; we’ve filled the world with injustice, cruelty, wars, inequality, hatred, and intolerance. We were given a beautiful gift which we’ve been consuming greedily. We are viciously self- destructive and we have no hope … because we’re very rapidly closing in on the last bite.
“So, now, I figure, somebody has finally invented a cure for the cancerous growth that we are; somebody is steadily killing us all with our own venom, which we’re happily swallowing through the television, and through all the other media that tells us how to be us, because if you try and actually, really see what’s being pumped into our feeble brains …”
The taxi driver seemed to be continuously growing in size, and the bigger he became the faster the car was moving, the world outside swishing silently past its windows, street lights turning into continuous white lines, the totality of silly old Plymouth fading away into non-existence.
And then, we were the only living creatures floating on the surface of a dead world. But how much time did we have left? Were we also dying out, being eaten from the inside by a relentless sickness inherent to humanity? The only feeble grip on reality left to us was the awareness that we were holding hands. We were still together.
Suddenly the car stopped and we could see through the window, impossibly far, the welcoming lights by the entrance to our hotel. The driver turned towards us:
“That’ll be six pounds eighty.”
The ballet that we went to the next evening turned out to be about vampires.