As I sit amongst all these people—these sheep—my eyes begin to burn. These people barely grasp what is being said. They are being given gifts; intellect is being showered upon them. What do they do with these gifts? Nothing. They hear the words with no more value than that of a beggar’s drivel.
The speaker is too intelligent for this group. He knows his material. He has hope in his voice. Hope that somebody will benefit from his talk. Hope that this group proves to be more than a simple herd. He tries speaking on their level, but as a man of brilliance, it remains just out of his grasp. Teaching an infant about Descartes or the stoicism of Zeno of Citium would be simpler.
No matter. His hope can be satisfied with the fact that I am here; that I am following. Word for word, thought for thought. I wonder if there are any others here that could possibly follow as I am. Doubtful.
My intellectual equal. I don’t often come by people like him. It is too bad, really, that I hadn’t already known how clever a man this is. We could have become friends, or at least academic acquaintances. No point thinking of that. I need my mind clear—my thoughts on point. I made up my mind before I arrived, and I can’t allow anything to change that; nothing ever has in the past. I need this. I will have this.
I’ve spent several years leading up to this. I helped build a village in the third-world, fought with rebels in the Congo, made a million, spent a million, made it all back, and then gave it all away. I am interested by what I don’t understand. I gave up on math when I taught myself advanced calculus while in the fifth grade. That, I understood. Physical fitness isn’t complicated in the least. Philosophy is just pompous common sense.
I don’t understand people.
* * *
In building that village, I learned the feeling people have while helping their “fellow man.” The lives these people were living—worse than the homeless of Los Angeles or New York, worse than life in prison. It was hard looking at the rags that they call clothing. Harder still, was seeing their Sunday best—barely hanging together. The hardest was understanding their generosity. My first meal was of a half chicken and rice; I later found that the meal came from one of the family’s only three chickens. They had given me something that was vital; something that, if without, they may have starved.
This I did not understand; it was idiotic. Moments like this allow me to be grateful for having such a poor grasp of my own emotions. If I felt as most do, this knowledge might have caused a great feeling of guilt and shame, and of appreciation. No matter. I experienced them as best I was able, and that must be enough.
Helping build became easier once I knew the villagers’ joy in giving. Compared to the amount of appreciation I felt for the gift of the chicken, their need and gratefulness for a new home would be considerable. Still, though, I wouldn’t do this if it were to my own detriment; something that, I suppose, I was not able to glean from the people of this village.
* * *
“Are you following this?” I hear behind me.
“Yeah. He’s great, right?” The response is lackluster in it’s ability to convince, but it seems to be accepted.
I assume neither of these dull-wits even know the basics of the subject matter. I am positive neither are “following this” in any real sense.
* * *
Fighting with rebels—though they were on the wrong side of the conflict—helped me share in the plight of another. Watching the people who had become my “family,” of a sort, be shot down like animals brought the most vitriol of emotions from within me. Looking down at the lifeless face of a man that I had shared laughter and drinks with a night prior was more than shocking. Such triumph and happiness had I seen in those eyes. No matter. His eyes looked like glass. Looking into his face felt as though time continued without me. All the while, I grew more and more enraged by his death. I knew by now that I was on the side of the unjust, but seeing his face made me hate the innocents who were only defending themselves, only protecting those they loved, avenging their dead.
I don’t know how most would react to such a situation, I only know how I did—I didn’t. I froze. I continued to stare into his face—into those eyes. I don’t remember the rest of that day or what I might have done. Only his face. In his face, I saw the sorrow and horror and rage that war brings upon the world. In his eyes—motionless and absent—I saw everything I needed to see. I have never been back to Africa.
Then came the million.
Making a million was surprisingly easy. I simply tracked the patterns that I saw and followed them. I multiplied my money and soon had a million dollars to my name. No matter, I learnt very little from this exercise, really just that—
* * *
Well, thats new. He is actually questioning his audience. Directly. “Is there any good happening?” he asks. “Am I just ranting and raving?”
The audience pauses, then laughs. Possibly they are unsure if he wants an answer. Or maybe they are confused by his pause. Whatever they are thinking that brought out this tittering isn’t important. Their answer, while entirely inaudible, is crystal clear—to the speaker, and to me.
No good is coming from this—nothing measurable. He might as well be ranting and raving with an audience such as this. If he had a proper audience, a group that actually wanted and was capable of listening to and comprehending his message, then things would be different—he very likely would make a difference.
Assembling an audience of that calibre, in this country—this country of hundreds of millions—should be an easier task than it would be in reality. Everyone is fed their thoughts from birth. People are taught from birth that they need things. They willingly swallow the hook for the promise of ease. Knowledge continues to rise and, as it does, leaves the ability to think in its wake. This has left the thinkers, the creative, and the truly clever in a state of obscurity.
That is where I exist. A state of obscurity. I am here, in this crowded auditorium, surrounded by people, and alone.
My mind was made up before I sat down in seat 34C, before I walked past the concessions and down the aisles, and even before I stepped through the convention center doors. This night would be so much better if I had been the only other person here—just the speaker and me. The night would be better still if I hadn’t selected him in this journey of mine.
I eliminated selecting people that I already knew. I suppose if I had known who this man was and how sharp he is, I may have tried selecting again. No matter. I made my selection, and decided long ago that I wouldn’t back out of these things.
* * *
After I had my million dollars I had to spend it. I chose to gamble, but quickly became quite talented at poker. Losing a big hand was an experience itself; feeling the thrill of presumedly assured victory being ripped out from under myself was truly unique. Winning became too regular and I had to quit before I earned all of my money back.
I spent most of the money on food, wine, and travel. I saw the Great Wall, the Great Barrier Reef; anything that is referred to as great, I saw. I drank an eighty-five-thousand dollar bottle of wine in a single night and had a ten-thousand dollar soufflé. The “fast-life” was thoroughly enjoyable.
* * *
Now I am at the culmination of my attempts at understanding people. I chose this man—this remarkably intelligent man. All I have to do now is wait for his talk to conclude. I survey the people around me. I remain disappointed with their expressions. They continue to drink in the speaker’s every word. They are lucky to be having brilliance spewed at them, but, for all they know, it might be rot. They know nothing but what they are told—and it is truly sad.
The man sitting to my left raises to his feet and crosses in front of me, bumping against my hand.
“Excuse me,” he says.
“Not a problem,” I respond.
The speaker seems to be winding down. I stand to my feet as well, walk to the end of the row, and then up the aisle to the concessions. I see the book table, and I decide to start the inevitable line with myself. Perusing his book, I realize that as brilliant a man he is, intellectual integrity isn’t his greatest worry—his talk has been greatly watered down for the masses in this short book. No matter.
I’ve made my way through two-thirds of the pathetic paperback by the time the speaker appears to meet his fans. He waves, rather nonchalantly, to herd everyone to himself. He walks behind the display and picks up an unassuming pen from the table.
“Hello, sir.” I begin. “I don’t want to take too much time. I just wanted to say what a pleasure it is to come across such intellect.”
“Well, I do always love meeting a fan.”
He reaches out his hand to accept the book. I meet his with my own and give a good shake.
“Sorry. I’m a slight bit OCD, You needn’t bother with an inscription.” Looking down at our joined hands, I continue, “Thank you for what you have given me tonight.”
* * *
Making and spending the million was simple enough, making it back once it was all gone was simpler still. I stole it. It started as a few thousand dollars here and there—watches, wallets, jewelry.
It became so much more.
Knowing how to carry myself among the wealthy was incalculably helpful. People can always spot a fake. I had spent time in the world of wealth, though, and knew how to act.
As long as I didn’t damage their image, many seemed almost content with their losses. I gained access to some philanthropist’s estate via his lonely wife and found myself among a trove of relics that could not have been obtained through legal circles. Philanthropic indeed. I relieved him of them. The police were never called. That night, I acquired around eight hundred thousand dollars worth of black-market wares and unloaded them for slightly over six. I then went back to gambling to make the rest.
A million dollars is a lot of money.
Deciding whom to bestow it upon was not an easy task. I struggled with it far more than necessary. To make sure the decision wasn’t made rashly, I even took time to think about how much time I should take to think about it.
I questioned whether the recipient of such generosity should be worthy by some standard. I questioned whether the recipient should be greatly unworthy. I questioned if, for the average person, this sort of gift would end up a bad thing. Most lottery winners end up in debt, professional athletes often declare bankruptcy; would what is meant to be a gift become a curse? More important still: did these even matter? I decided that they did not.
I eventually threw a dart at a phone book, which is the same method I used to find this speaker’s name. When I gave the money to Angela Clark, I saw in her a beautiful gratefulness. I did not experience any feeling of gained self-worth as I had while helping build that village, but I learned a great deal from Angela’s astonishment and gratitude.
* * *
I realize that I’ve been holding the speaker’s hand far longer than I had intended. I break our grip, nod at him, and turn to leave.
I return to my car.
Yesterday, I found a nearby hotel room to stay in for the night.
I leave my car with the valet and enter the hotel.
I look around the lobby and see a vending machine. I go to it. Just to use up time, I question the contents of the machine—chips, chewy candy, hard candy, gum, energy bars of varying flavors. Nothing I want.
What I want has just entered the hotel. The speaker is here. I watch as he approaches the clerk at the front desk. He appears flustered and faintly sick. I wonder why his sickness is so mild. No matter.
I make my way to the elevator bank as he begins to walk there from the front desk. I arrive moments before him. An elevator chimes as the door opens. We both enter.
“Your talk was truly something.” I state.
“Oh?” he starts. He leans forward to press the floor number. 4. He looks at my face; his sickness is becoming more evident. “You were there tonight?”
“Yes I was. We met at the book table.”
He pauses. “So, did any good happen? Was I just ranting and raving?” He is clearly perturbed.
“No,” I answer, “I doubt much good happened. The audience seemed more preoccupied with nothing than with trying to listen.”
He chuckles under his breath and starts into a short-lived coughing fit.
“You look sickly.” I state. “I’ll help you to your room.”
He motions that he agrees and hands me his things. We walk in silence to his room. 437.
“Thank you. I am not often met with courtesy and honesty in the same person.”
We walk through the threshold.
I raise one of his books and strike the back of his head.
He stumbles forward and swings an arm back at me, almost catching me under the chin. No matter. I strike him again, this time the side of his face. He is weak, but stronger than I had anticipated. I subdue him with a few more blows. As he falls, I catch and lower him to the bed.
I had drugged him as I shook his hand; it should have taken less than a single strike to his head to leave him unconscious. How he remained so resilient eludes me. Sometimes, things happen that I don’t plan for.
This is what it has all led up to. These past years of learning about people and their emotions. The villagers and rebels, the businessmen and pretentiously wealthy, that poor excuse for a philanthropist, and of course Angela Clark. Learning of moronic generosity from the truly poor, the ease of business, the emptiness of wealth, the lies of the wealthy, and of the greatest gratitude. I had planned this as my final task from the beginning. I knew it would come to this.
As I look down on this man, laying helplessly, I feel what I assume is pity. It wasn’t his fault. Poor throw of a dart.
I begin to question myself. Will this act finalize this process? Will I be able to better understand people? Will I understand less? No matter. I have come this far. I am unable to back out now.
I pace the room as the speaker lays on the bed. Glancing over at him now and again, I feel wrong for having repeatedly hit him. That was never in the plan, it never should have happened—it put the plan in jeopardy.
He attempts sitting up. He fails.
“Quiet now,” I tell him, “the more you move, the more your head will pound.”
No matter. He mumbles something.
I lean over him. I place my hand over his mouth and plunge my blade into his abdomen. He writhes as much as possible with a paralyzed body. In his eyes, I see his fear and confusion. I see the fight in them. The anger and disbelief. In his eyes, I see everything I need to see. This does not need to be prolonged. I retract the blade and place it deep in his heart. His breathing stops.
I stand and retreat to the bathroom. I get in the shower and turn on the hot water. The hair at the back of my neck stands on end. My entire body tingles. My toes tingle. My fingers, my lips.
I step out of the shower to relieve my stomach of its contents. I am filled with emotion that I cannot process. I am angry and scared and grateful. I am lost. The speaker is dead, and that is what I had set out to accomplish tonight. My journey is done—complete, over.
I clean the room. I clean all I can think of—the toilet, the shower, all of the door knobs. I leave the room and the speaker. I leave understanding more than I had ever planned, and so much less.
Once I return to my own room, I brush my teeth again. Vomit is not the taste I want in my mouth as I try to sleep. I collect my things and return to the lobby. I explain that my plans have changed and will be leaving. The clerk says that he is unable to refund me for the night. No matter.
I return home, pour myself a finger of whisky, walk to my room, and change. I drink the whisky and lie down in bed. As I attempt to sleep, I see them—his eyes. His eyes looked like glass.
My name is John.
My odyssey has ended. I helped build a village, fought with the unjust, I understand money, I am a thief and a philanthropist.
And now, I am a murderer.