Soot said, I know all about how they come out and photograph us and talk about us in their seminars and conferences. How the other half lives, heroin chic, the proletariat, thug life and spare a little change mate. I say to them: you diligent lab workers, to you human beings in need are just insects you have to stick a pin in so you can study and classify them, you street-level slum Samaritans, you gutter tourists, on the hunt for the next aesthetic wonder, the next imagination-whetting, titillating larva, the next grub who, anticipating metamorphosis, crawls around in the dung covering itself in whatever grot emerges from its orifices, and so on and so forth. I know, said Soot, I know exactly, that’s what their artists are like, I’ve met enough to know, he said, they live off other people, they seek us out, broke monstrosities and oddballs and spectacular freaks, spiritual cripples and that whole undefined, motley, drifting mass who they hand a crust of bread or a handful of coins and then fix with their camera, said Soot, position in front of their easels, their microphone booths, they hound the homeless, the beggars, pissheads, junkies, the criminals, they’d skin a creature alive just cos their still life is crying out for a splash of carmine red, they’ve got no problem asking the suicide case to throw themselves in front of the train fifty metres further along, so they get the fairground in the background, believe me, that’s what they’re like, I’ve seen it for myself, time and again, believe me, bro, I’ve seen how they pull people’s sleeves and beg and ask to be allowed to listen and see and touch the latest hot story, juicy tale, personal, private, honest and raw – but simply and straightforwardly told – portrait of desperation, and in return the teller gets to stroke their soft clothing, to sniff the mimosa and the hyacinth and the lily of the valley they keep in their editors’ offices, which those silent cleaners, our mums and dads, have wiped clean with their aching bodies, a pat and a hug, self-congratulation disguised as tenderness and love, believe me, said Soot, and sucked his teeth and spat, I know a thing or two about that stuff, yeah, I know a whole lot of shit about the less tender sides of that tender, nurturing representational apparatus, and Becca said: I believe you bro, I know a few things too about those so-called ‘disruptions’, but if I say shit about how things are, real talk, and maybe my thoughts about why things are the way they are, they look at me with the same expression I imagine a certain person was wearing when he looked at Oliver Twist asking for more food.
But it’s all right, we know how to take food, right, man, and that’s why we laugh at them, right, laugh at them and say: we feel sorry for you, cos we know we’re better equipped for the future than you could ever be, with your straight spines and broad smiles, I mean, better equipped for at least one future, a possible, potential future where most of what surrounds us now has literally collapsed and been torn apart, caved in on itself, a time where all that remains is struggle; blind, raw struggle for survival. There, weapon in hand, hungry, dirty, plagued by swollen, bloody feet and memories of death and battered comrades, or just the expectation of death and battery, on our side or the enemy’s, there, in that place, we’d do better, we say, that’s where it would finally become apparent how absurd their world has been up to that point, how bizarre their lives have been, their psyches, even their bodies, the implausibility of all that flabbiness being allowed to exist unthreatened, it would become completely obvious how bizarre these spoilt, secure creatures are, these people, that is, you, who never cast a nervous glance over your shoulders, who never look around before you step into the road, what is that, people who step out of a doorway, a bus, an SUV, without looking left, looking right, checking the other side of the street to evaluate the risks, what kind of arrogant, perverted creature treads unfamiliar ground without looking first? Soot looked at her and sort of nodded and shook his head all at once. A creature like that must be a long way from their true nature, Becca went on. Being at ease in that world, I dunno if I can imagine anything more abnormal, anything more ignorant, anything more feeble-minded, and it makes me feel contempt, even when it comes to my sisters, my brothers, my people, my team, the smart ones, the ones who are awake, the ones who’ve understood the real shit, you know, but they’re still naive, running around with this fucking bizarre idea that what they do and think makes any difference at all to the big picture, that they have any part to play in the big game. It’s an ease that’s just ignorance, stupidity almost, it’s the same sort of courage that Alma, my two-year-old niece, has when she tries to jump into the deep end at the pool when she can’t swim. They walk out into the road without looking, walk into new rooms without first checking the place out, identifying dangers, threats – for them there are no dangers, nothing threatens them. They’re comfortable, at home in their bodies, their houses, their neighbourhoods, cities and countries, at home in their lives. Shit, the world is theirs. Feeling at ease in the world, is there anything more twisted, is it even possible to be more conceited? Becca asked Soot, who was now just shaking his head and looking down at his feet, as we walked along in the red-green sheen reflected off the old tiles, as I remember, Soot was dragging his lighter along the wall, making a gentle scraping sound interrupted by the rhythmic click, click, click, click of the joins.
The above is an extract from Wretchedness by Andrzej Tichý out with And Other Stories.
Image © Clementine Gallot