Friday, 15 November 2013

Episode 5: When Angel meets Atheist, Argument can't be far away

As Crusade left the C-block, he thought of the various blocks and how they seemed to assume a dominant characteristic of their own based on the proliferation and importance of the words housed within. C-block, for instance, contained many words with underworld connotations and, in the eyes of some, was tainted accordingly.

‘You get saddled with a reputation,’ Coin once pointed out. ‘Remember when Knave tried to get his name changed to Cnave just so he could hang out with the undesirable element of C-block. He claimed that since the K was silent, it didn’t matter if it was changed to C. What a creep! Speaking of which, Creep is another word we could do without here.’

And then there was the notorious C-word itself. C-word was rarely accorded its proper name and remained in a secluded cell, allowed out only on occasions when regular profanities were deemed insufficient and something more derogatory called for.

In discussions about the superiority of vocabulary offered by various blocks, the incumbents of C-block could routinely anticipate the existence of C-word being cited as the conclusive damning verdict on them.

‘I hate it when they trundle out that old C-word chestnut,’ Correspondent said. ‘Everybody has a bad apple or two in their building and ours just happens to be one of the less edifying ones. Fu…er, damn those Anglo-Saxons!’

A-block seemed to take its cue from a proliferation of dissident words – Agitator, Anarchist, Agnostic, Anti among them – in whose company Crusade was spending increasing amounts of time. He ascended to C-block’s tinsel-decorated lobby and left, passing B-block and then the Bradley Building en route to A-block.

The area which contained the A, B and C blocks was the most salubrious part of Wordsdrow causing occupants of other blocks to make snippy comments about the ABCs being a social grouping all of its own. Here were neatly-trimmed hedgerows, sturdy and freshly-painted fences bordering well-maintained expanses of grass, spacious walkways and an absence of graffiti…unlike some sections of Wordsdrow. As Crusade approached his destination, he heard a commotion behind him and watched in amazement as Beefburger galloped across the lawn, jumped over the surrounding fence and cantered towards the A-block. Crusade increased his own pace, curious to see what Beefburger was doing.

By contrast to the C-block, A-block had only meagre Christmas decorations on show. The contrast was to be expected: C-block, home to the word itself, was the building which most ostentatiously celebrated Christmas with a huge tree, decorous lights, berry-rich sprigs of holly and a heady aroma of orange and cinnamon wafting from bowls of potpourri. The taunt that this abundant display was funded by the nefarious deeds of the resident criminal fraternity was countered by the occupants’ assertion that it merely reflected a civic pride in their building.

When Crusade entered the lobby, he noticed two separate confrontations. To his left, watched by an enthralled group, Beefburger remonstrated with Assistant, the A-block receptionist.

‘Well, tell him I’m not leaving ‘til he comes down here and gives me some answers. This is getting completely out of hand,’ Beefburger said.

‘What’s gotten into him?’ Crusade asked one of the assembled group.

‘What’s gotten into him? Nobody seems to know any more…and that’s the problem,’ was the response. ‘Beefburger is adamant that Abattoir is to blame and is refusing to leave until Abattoir comes down to see him.’

Beefburger turned towards the group, arms extended as he repeatedly rubbed the floor with the sole of one shoe. ‘I hardly know what or who I’m supposed to be these days,’ he wailed.

Crusade turned towards the other side of the lobby where, under a bedraggled Christmas tree, Angel – a small man, cherubic in appearance, wearing a pair of cardboard wings – sang Christmas carols in a futile attempt to make himself heard above the barracking from Atheist, Argument and Agnostic.

‘Give us some song without any mention of that God guy,’ shouted Atheist. ‘You know as well as anyone that he doesn’t even exist.’

‘Or how about ditching the carols and giving us that song with the “Imagine no religion” line?’ Agnostic joined in. ‘Hang on, on second thoughts, don’t. Much as I agree with the sentiment, the song itself is just too awful.’

‘I wouldn’t dispute that,’ Argument smiled. ‘Although I suppose I should just for the sake of it.’

‘For argument’s sake, you could say,’ replied Atheist. ‘Look, here’s Crusade. What brings you to our humble building? Have you had enough of all the seasonal guff over in C-block?’

‘Oh, I’m just here to catch up with a few pals.’

‘Well, as long as that idiot with the wings isn’t one of them, you may proceed,’ said Atheist with an exaggerated mock bow.

Crusade smiled and walked to the stairs for the short descent to the basement of the building where Anarchist insisted they conduct their meetings. ‘It seems only right that we meet underground,’ was his justification. The stairs, only 20 steps, led to the dimly-lit, echoey basement and the foyer above now seemed welcoming and cheery by comparison. Crusade tried to guess what took place in the other rooms in this netherworld – he would often hear raised voices or laughter as he passed closed doors – but it remained a mystery. A whooshing sound indicated the arrival of the lift in the basement and he turned to see Argument step from it and walk towards him. Crusade waited until he drew level.

‘Going to a meeting down here as well?’ Crusade asked.

‘Might be, might be,’ replied Argument. ‘Why do you ask?’

‘I just thought that both of us might be attending the meeting arranged by Dissident.’

Argument’s face remained impassive and Crusade swallowed. Had he disclosed too much? No, it was O.K. Argument smiled and said: ‘A fellow traveller, eh? Good for you. Me? I go along mostly to hear a healthy exchange of views. Right, here we are.’

They walked into the room and were greeted warmly.

‘Crusade, Argument…welcome! Come in, the gang’s all here.’

Crusade looked around: familiar faces – Agitator, Anarchist, Nihilist, Iconoclast, Dissident, Radical, Sedition, Acerbic, Protest and Treason – all gazed at him, smiles on their faces and was that a knowing grin on Treason’s face? Did she have something special in mind for this particular evening as well? Some of the other words in the room – Anti, Rebel, Riot and Conflict – were known to Crusade while others still he didn’t recognise.

The discussion, briefly interrupted by their arrival, resumed.

‘Well, it needs looking at,’ said Dissident with emphasis. ‘No, not just looking at – it needs to be completely overhauled. The whole thing borders on slavery. Oh, Crusade, Argument, we’re discussing nominative determinism. Why should any of us have to automatically adopt the behaviour and characteristics of our designated name? It’s the 21st century, for Christ’s sake!’

‘I agree,’ Radical said, jabbing the air with an extended finger. ‘There shouldn’t be a stigma attached to words behaving out of character and it’s even worse for polysemous words. I know they’re assigned loosely analogous roles but it must be as confusing as hell. I think it’s time for an OED Spring.’

‘You’re advocating the end of nominative determinism?’ asked Argument.

‘Well, not necessarily the end. Let me put it this way,’ said Radical. He reached into a bag which lay at his feet and produced a copy of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary. ‘I think we all recognise this particular tome. Well, I can’t find any mention of nominative determinism or aptronym or whatever you want to call this concept. So, if the OED doesn’t recognise it, why should its own residents do so? I just think we should have the individual freedom to act as we choose.’

Dissident nodded enthusiastically. ‘Hear, hear. An OED Spring? I like the sound of that.’

Next episode: Crusade and Treason...

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