The Tragedy of Perception

Opinion for hire

In which Peter Softly is apparently the victim of a total stranger’s malice.

Peter Softly, the Member of Parliament for Perception, was speeding along Misconception Boulevard, possessed by anger. He swerved onto the driveway of Number 17 and stamped on the brake pedal as if it were the face of the man he met earlier. He swivelled his foot while pressing it down, as if forcing the man’s nose into his face.

Earlier, he was walking to his car when he saw this man standing on the pavement, holding a clipboard. Peter crossed to the other side of the pavement but the man blocked his way and said, “I work for Opinion‑for‑hire Polls. We’re conducting a survey into people’s personality disorders. I wonder if you’d mind answering a few questions?”

Peter shook his head and tried to pass.

The man said, “Can you spare a minute?”

Peter shook his head, looked down to the pavement and tried to pass again.

The man stood in front of him, blocking his way, said, “I’m sure you can spare half a minute—” and watched him accusingly.

Peter stepped across the pavement again, trying to pass, but the man blocked his way, looked at his form and said, “Now. Are you self‑centred?”

Peter looked up and said, “What?”

The man said, “—Uncooperative?”

“What—?”

“Answer the question!”

Peter said nothing, so the man explained, “Do you often refuse to cooperate with perfectly polite people who are just trying to help you?”

Peter shouted, “What is this?”

“Just answer—I’ve got to put something on my form.”

Peter’s face trembled with rage.

The man looked at his form, smirked and said, “—Frequently angry at trivial things?”

“What?”

He ticked a box, looked down his form, nodded and said, “—Incapable of understanding simple questions?”

“What!”

He ticked another box, sighed contentedly and said, “Now. Do any of the above sound like yourself? Most, some,” and the man looked at him and slowly shook his head while saying the next option, “none, or,” and now he vigorously nodded his head, “—all of them?”

Peter glared at him and said, “Scum!”

The man said, “There’s no need to be like that. Just answer the questions.” He looked at his form and said, “Are you bossy?”

Peter’s face trembled again.

The man saw this and said, “Don’t think you can get out of this by insulting me again—‘scum’, indeed!” He looked at his form, nodded, said, “Attitude problem!” and ticked a box.

Peter wrestled with his desire to cleanse the man’s face with spit.

The man said, “You’re just the sort of person who causes all the problems. You never think of anyone but yourself. Look at you, standing there, looking at me like that. You could at least be polite. Now, are you judgemental?” and he looked at Peter while nodding his head suggestively.

Peter pushed passed him and walked on.

The man shouted after him, “Ignorant git!”

While Peter sat in his driveway, reliving this encounter, his grip tightened on the steering wheel and his left eyelid twitched like the leg of a restless grasshopper.

He recalled the look on the man’s face as he said, “You’re just the sort of person who causes all the problems.” Peter saw this sort of person as being possessed by invisible monsters. He could clearly imagine the two. There was this normal person (the face of the man), but along with this he could sense the presence of the invisible monster that possessed the man and made him behave in this inhuman way. And Peter encountered so many of these possessed people that it seemed the planet had been invaded by these invisible monsters who somehow got inside people’s heads and transformed them.

As he sat there, he felt the monsters swarming around him, concealed in their hosts. And they were trying to attack him by possessing more and more people who would then converge on him and swamp him.

He recalled the man saying, “I’ve got to put something on my form.” And it seemed the man was saying that because he felt he wanted to put something on his form, then this somehow meant that everybody else in the world was obliged to jump to his tune and answer his questions. Peter shouted at the windscreen, “What does your form have to do with me?—git!”

He recalled him saying, “Answer the question; you’re bossy; you’ve got an attitude problem.” Peter shouted, “It’s you who’s got the problem.”

He recalled him saying, “You could at least be polite,” and Peter prodded the windscreen and told it where to get off.

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