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  • Writer's pictureNikko Norte

Quiet desperation …

‘Would you please stop humming?’ Heidi asks me for the second time. Unaware that I’m humming again, I again stop humming, aware though that I hum when I feel threatened. And I feel threatened, queuing for a eh… for a PCR test in a village close to Utrecht, in the Netherlands. End of January 2022. No rain, no wind. Pale sunlight, the temperature agreeable. With poorly acted authority, uniformed security guards gesture people into two lanes. A sign, ←appointment / no appointment→, apparently not an option.

On the run for the compulsory participation in a medical experiment in Austria that requires us to be vaccinated with a rather dangerous substance that possibly protects us from a disease we need no protection from, we will drive to our former home in Austria to collect some last belongings, providing we pass the test we are now queuing for. To not be conscious of the reality that I queue for an unreliable test that is the cornerstone of the misery mankind has lately victimized itself to, I force my thoughts to Germany, which we will pass through on our way to Austria and where we, Heidi and I, bought a rundown hotel in another life.

Renovating that hotel was fun. From the day we opened its doors to the public, civilizations clashed. Breakfast, just an example, we served from eight o’clock, which troubled our German guests. If we tried to accommodate them by opening our breakfast room at seven, they kept us waiting until nine. We cut the accommodating short, and from that day onward, I free of charge cancelled reservations and recommended a neighboring hotel when Germans, while checking in, gave us static about the time we served breakfast. Fuel to the fire. Our hotel would be kaputtgemacht on the internet if I would not act more hospitably and better mannered. Now, I am a friendly person – deep inside – but for threats I am wrongly coded, and the local police came to visit our hotel at shortening intervals although no charges were filed. No charges could be filed because I was never the first to give a push and refused to admit that a cheeky garden gnome makes Germans braver than they are.

Heidi criticized my way of handling said clash of civilizations, but I soon discovered her way of handling it wasn’t subtler than mine. She took over my role as a waiter while I rode our lawn mower. When I walked up the stairs to our terrace for a cup of coffee, six women rushed past me, Heidi on their heels. I was able to stop Heidi, and the women, members of a local walking club, screamed at us from a distance what they would do to us on Facebook. Heidi’s cake hadn’t equaled walking club standards, a possible matter of fact the women had made Heidi aware of in a way that made her depart with her usual tranquil.

I hummed a lot in Germany. The last time I hummed there was when a man knocked on our door after closing time, asking for a room as if he issued an order, which made me decide that unsere Zimmer were belegt. Our potential guest proved I had rightly been humming, the police officers who reported at our doorstep after a call from the local hospital informed us that I had crossed a line, and ... ‘We have been double vaccinated and boosted, but my nose is running, and we don’t want to take any chances,’ I hear a woman whine. She makes half of a couple in front of us, and it’s her turn to register for the PCR test at a window in a portacabin our queuing has almost led us to.

Fear! It paralyzes the better part of mainly the western world, and eh… man, I live with fear for as long as I remember, having discovered a long while ago that my greatest fear is to one day be paralyzed by it, to live a life of quiet desperation from that day onward, as Thoreau claimed most people do. To buy myself some seconds until I tell Heidi I will not submit myself to this PCR test, I force my mind to Schiedam, a small town in the Netherlands, where three of my friends and I once had ourselves tied to the sails of a windmill.

A famous Dutch singer hosted our adventure. We met in the restaurant inside the mill, where I busied myself with the smoke grenades we would ignite while spinning in the mill’s sails. Impressed by her cheerful appearance, I accidentally pressed the bare end of a wire against a battery, upon which a grenade on the table between us did what it was designed to do. The restaurant had to be evacuated, and the love between that singer and me went up in smoke.

To add to the spectacle to come, I had asked the miller to remove two planks from the gallery around his mill. Through the resulting hole, I had hung a hawser. By means of that hawser, Batman, Robin, Spiderman, and Superman – we were dressed up that day – climbed to our singer friend, who, microphone in hand, battled her fear of heights on the eighteen-meter-high gallery. But what I had forgotten is that the tried way of rope climbing is only a tried way of rope climbing to a height of about six meters. Above that height, the part of a hawser under the climber weighs too much to be placed with one foot on the instep of the other foot, a detail on which rope climbing hinges. Climbing down in front of rolling cameras and the thousands of people that had gathered was not an option, and the love Batman, Spiderman, and Superman possibly felt for me went up in … whatever.

According to the miller, it was impossible to set the sails of his mill in motion if the sails in each other’s extension were unequally loaded, so while Batman had himself tied to a sail, Robin, pale under his mask, climbed up the same sail. He worked himself past the point where the four sails meet and climbed to the top of the skyward pointing sail. For dear life, he held on to the sail’s wooden frame and gave the miller a thumbs up, who then allowed the wind to turn the sails half a turn. Batman came to hang upside down at a height of forty-four meters, Robin, his heart pounding in his throat now, had himself tied to his sail, the miller allowed the wind to turn the sails a quarter of a turn – Batman and Robin came to hang sideways – and Spiderman and Superman repeated what Batman and Robin had just done. All four comic heroes tied to a sail of the world’s tallest windmill, the miller gave the wind free rein, leaving me with a sensation I had never before experienced: fear combined with powerlessness.

Three grenades left a trail of purple smoke after which, one by one, my friends let go of the red ribbon that indicated they’d had enough. Three time, the miller brought the sails to a halt to have a comic hero replaced by a sack of flour. I registered feeling relieved somehow, spinning around with sacks of flour instead of friends, as Eye of the tiger, the soundtrack of a Rocky movie, booming from speakers below, drowned out my humming, and a red ribbon burning in my hand, on the brink of accepting that quiet desperation would color my future, I heard Adrian ask in the back of my mind: Rocky, why do you fight? Half a turn later, surging skyward, three sacks of flour sending frightful vibrations through my sail as they bounced in their straps, Rocky answered: Because I can’t sing and dance.

Powerless I thought I was, but in all my powerlessness, I realized, I had battled my friends until a minute earlier – our audience had had a chance to bet on each of our chances to remain in those sails longest – and now, my friends safely on the gallery beneath me, I would battle the miller, Rocky whispering into my ear: Going one more round when you don’t think you can is what makes the difference in your life. And another round and another, and … the miller halted the sails; I had won. The red ribbon still in my hand, I staggered to where our singer friend, Batman, Spiderman, and Superman had assembled. Spiderman and Superman looked the way I felt: miserable but relieved. Batman vomited, leaning with one hand against the bricks that made the mill.

Fear combined with powerlessness. For all I tried to avoid it from that day onward, I experienced it again, and as I shake my head in the direction of a security guard who gestures me to put on a facial mask, my thoughts leap to the city of Tarin Kowt, in the heart of Afghanistan, where someone once gestured me into a qala.

Through a small door, I stepped into a windowless room in which an oil lamp was the only source of light, six bearded men, turbans on their heads, silently around a wooden table. I put my hand on my heart, muttered, ‘Wrads mo pa kger, as salamu alaykum,’ and took the only free seat at the table. I knew the man who had gestured me into the qala; we met regularly. He pretended to command a local police force, and with the help of the Dutch military I worked for, he had been busy the previous few weeks building a checkpoint on a location that ruled out a contribution to the safety in Tarin Kowt – contrary to the reports my commanders sent the Dutch government. My self-appointed police commander friend built a checkpoint on that particular location because that location was a bottleneck in the terrain, impossible to circumvent by transporters of opium. What Dutch engineers helped building was a tollbooth, not a police checkpoint …

Still silent, four of the men around the table pulled a pistol from under their tunban. I felt my face turn pale, forced myself not to hum, and watched powerlessly as the men laid those pistols in front of them on the table. My gaze met that of the police commander, who nodded, I presumed, in the direction of the Glock on my belt. I took it from its holster, my heart pounding in my throat, released the magazine and put it on the table, and forcing my hands not to shake, I pulled the slide of the Glock back with enough force to make the cartridge in the chamber pop into the air. I caught the cartridge on its way down and somehow felt relieved when I noticed the suppressed admiration from around the table. My neighbor took the Glock out of my hand, studied it from all sides, laid it on the table, took a copper kettle from a burner on the floor, and while the man opposite me picked up my magazine, he poured tea into a glass he had put in front of me, not offering me sugar like no one did in Tarin Kowt. As in slow motion, the man opposite me pushed the cartridges out of my magazine, and it wasn’t until he pointed at the formed stack of cartridges that I understood what the theatrics had been about.

The pistols the men around the table had put on it were large-caliber Colts. I picked one up, released the magazine, checked the chamber, and laid it back. I pushed a cartridge out of the magazine, picked up one of my cartridges, and placed both upright on the table. It was obvious that my cartridges could not be fired from the Colts. The men around the table knew that, the theatrics having been Afghan humor, and the unspoken question was whether I could supply them with the right cartridges for their pistols. I pointed in the direction of the Dutch camp, my heartbeat slowing down, and with my hand next to my mouth, I made a talking gesture. Six bearded men nodded in agreement and passed the copper kettle around.

Pushing cartridges back into the magazine of my Glock, I wondered why the Latin words sapere aude came to my mind. Dare to know. That was Kant. What was Kant doing in a barely lit room in the heart of Afghanistan? Laziness nor cowardice should keep us from detaching ourselves from the unquestionable truths of others. Also Kant. Interesting, but it did not answer the question what Kant was doing in a barely lit room in Afghanistan. Or did it? The man sitting next to me regularly met with my superiors in the Dutch camp. To those superiors, it was an unquestionable truth that my Afghan friend was a police commander. My Afghan friend was not a police commander; he was a rascal. A charismatic rascal at that.

The unquestionable truth that covid vaccines are effective and safe is crumbling. Fifty-five percent of critically ill omicron victims in Israel, according to The Jerusalem Post, has been vaccinated trice. Twenty-one percent has been vaccinated twice. Still, covid is on its way out. Not because the vaccines work, the opposite seems to be true, but because covid mutates into a flu variant that only endangers an unlucky, usually unhealthy few. Vaccination apps, green passes, whatever they are called, are on their way in, because the introduction of those passes, the introduction of digital IDs, makes a part of what it is all about for some charismatic rascals and the governments collaborating with them …

Man, we’re being fooled. And if we don’t put the concept democracy to use and vote, any next election, for members of parliament that are not related to an organization called WEF, we will soon live lives of quiet desperation in which we powerlessly afraid await what liberties computers grant us each day. Computers programmed by charismatic rascals who … ‘Let’s go,’ Heidi interrupts my thoughts. ‘We have not once been asked for test results while crossing a border the last year. I don’t think today will be different, and to be honest, I don’t want us to participate in this nonsense.’ I stop humming, we turn around, panic among the security guards, and walk back to our car as I think of Kant. Dare to know. Oh man ...


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