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This Story Could not Have Happened

by theKlaun 11 months ago in fiction

An Owl in the Library

I saw a barn owl once. I didn’t know it was a barn owl until later, when I Googled owl and I recognised the bird I had seen. I have learned since then that it is a quite common owl, present almost everywhere. But for me it was an apparition or I might call it a singularity. It looked like a creature taken from one of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. It was as if it didn’t belong to the same world I live in. It took me into another world, the way it stared at me with those dark, beady eyes. I could only stare back, with my weak eyes. I guess it didn’t like what it saw, because it soon flew and left me behind, back in my world. But I was inspired by the experience, and decided I wanted to be a superhero and the barn owl would be the symbol to the chest, the form my pride and my mission would take in front of the world. I would make special the most common owl. I’d be the Night Owl!

Of course, years later, none of that happened. There are no superheroes. And yes, sad is the land without superheroes. But this is the world I live in so I suck it up and go on with a smile and my weak eyes. And yet, the image of that bird with its stare has stayed with me throughout the years. When I do something I shouldn’t have done or I didn’t do something I should have I feel its eyes on me like those of a stoic master. Its round face has become the face of my conscience.

I work in a university library, perfect place for an owl; also the safest place in the world, or so I thought. This morning I thought today would be just another day, but just before lunch time a student comes in with a gun. I know he’s a student because he’s been here many times before. I believe he is studying maths or something that involves maths. He uses the library mostly for the silence, he told me once. He has rarely borrowed books. I like to talk with the people coming to the library, but mostly they do like to talk to me. I don’t mind. He belongs to the latter group.

So he enters the library with a gun and a threat. He shouts his words, but there is no need in the quietness of the library:

‘I have a gun and six bullets. I don’t think I know any of you. But 5 of you are going to die today and then I will die last. Know that everything is random.’

He shakes his head, looking at the floor. There is this sadness on his face. While I notice this I also realise I am not afraid. He just looks so desperate. I feel like giving him a hug.

‘Oi, I don’t know you and I don’t know what happened to you. Maybe you failed an exam, I don’t care. But why you are going to take it on us? Just shoot yourself and leave the rest of us alone,’ says someone from somewhere. I do not even look around, so taken am I by his face.

‘No, no,’ he says. Even his voice sounds deflated. ‘I have not failed an exam. I don’t think I ever failed anything that matters in my life, really. I cannot complain. It’s just life: everything is so random. I mean, look at you, what have you done to end up in front of my gun today? You had the same chance for this not to happen. But it’s happened, and you cannot do anything about it. What I am doing cannot be undone.’ He shoots. Someone screams. A body falls. I hadn’t realised the body who had spoken was so close to the young man with the gun.

‘What I have done cannot be undone. This is not fate. The Law cannot undo what I have done. This is contingency; do you know what contingency is? Things can go one way or another and we cannot do anything about it, nothing. There is no causality. I have just shot him and he could not have done anything about it. And if he had done anything about it, it would have meant that I could not have shot him. But I have, and this cannot be undone. No one can do anything about it.’

‘This is true,’ comes out of my mouth. ‘And it could have been him or it could be me. And I cannot do anything about it. And we do not even really own our brains. Maybe you do not even know why you are really doing this. Things outside our control happen in our brains. And they happen in our lives too. It’s true. True. Or well, I am saying I agree with you.’ I feel like my mouth and my words do not belong to me. I am an observer. I am not involved in anything I am saying. I am just a guest in my body in this library.’

‘You know,’ he says. ‘I have always liked you. You would never mind a chat, even when I was talking about things you didn’t understand. I have considered asking you out a couple of times, but I knew you were not interested. I could not have changed your mind, I knew it.’

‘How did you know? Because everything is random? Or because you were afraid?’

‘I guess, at the time, I was mostly afraid.’

‘Oh, okay. I have to be honest: I would probably have declined, even if it does feel good to be liked. But shouldn’t you have tried?’ I leave a pause there and I drag it for a few seconds. Where did I learn these dramatic effects? Where is this me coming from? ’See? This is my problem with your issue here: yes, everything is random, which also means you don’t know how you are going to act in the next five minutes, really, do you? So why don’t you choose ethically?’

‘That is not logical. How can I choose ethically when I don’t have a choice?’

‘But if everything is contingent you don’t know the choice you are going to take. Contingency is not telling you to shoot. You might as well have not shot him, contingency says. If everything is random, you don’t know what is coming out when you roll a die. Someone is dead because you are the one who has made a logical mistake. You chose to shoot. You didn’t play Russian roulette, with only one bullet in the gun and two guys take turns shooting each other in the temporal lobe. No, you made a choice because you are trying to prove a point. You have tried to give meaning to contingency, and that is illogical.’

‘Ha! You are right: I should really have asked you out. It would have been fun to go out with you for dinner.’

‘You are procrastinating.’

‘Yes, you are right again. Next shot then will be random.’

‘No, it won’t. As long as you point a gun and aim you are making a decision that is ultimately personal because it is you, who is aiming. Maybe your brain will choose a face you don’t like without you realise and you’ll shoot it. But this does not even matter: you are responsible because you decided to come with a loaded gun. Your act is your own personal meaning. No universal meaning; and you are definitely not the angel of contingency.’

‘I may shoot with my eyes close. If I miss then it would be like a roll of dice.’

‘You are still the one deciding to shoot.’

‘Stop provoking him.’

‘Yeah, you might end up dead too.’

‘Who gives a shit, we might die.’

Voices are coming from different corners of the library’s main study room. In my head too, voices are chasing each other. What am I doing? Is this how the Owl, the superhero, would have acted? Fighting with wisdom? But what is wisdom? The fact is that his sadness and his reasoning make no sense to me. It’s as if they don’t go hand in hand. This is what has disturbed me and agitated me so much that my body and my mouth now have a life of their own.

‘Yes, stop it.’ He says. For the first time, he has raised his voice. I am going somewhere, but not where I want. If only I was able to control myself. I should perhaps ask him about his story, why such a quiet person has reached this point. But I feel like there is no point. His sadness is beyond any listening.

‘Stop it or you are next.’

‘I am okay to be next as long as you realise it is your ethical choice and there is no abstraction to be made about it. The very fact of giving meaning and purpose and causality to contingency is preposterous.’ I smile to myself in my heart. I had always wanted to use the word ‘preposterous’, and I cannot believe I am using it here and now.

‘You know, I think you may be right. I made my decision when I killed him. I have already killed, there is no going back. I have already decided I am never coming out of here. You’ve said it yourself that I am responsible. So it does not matter how many I kill. Maybe I want the illusion that whoever dies, dies for no reason. But with you it’s different. At least you know you died because you spoke too much.’

I can see the barrel of his gun and nothing else. Is this how superheroes die? That’s why there are none left.



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