João Antônio Gomes
The Eavesdropper and the Wagon
“I am afraid,” he murmured. “Not of the monsters that lie beneath our beds, the serial killers in true crime TV, or the illest of diseases. Admittedly – he cleaned off his plate with his finger –, I’ve never been much of a germophobe myself”
“What are you afraid of, then?” She replied, allure, gazing at the running vineyards.
“The state of our life. It’s bad, isn’t it?” He sipped his orange juice, giving himself time to formulate his thought. “I suppose that, in some way, it always has been. But recently I’ve felt like it's gotten worse.”
“Why do you say that? God, you sound like a cigaretteless Camus.” She finally gave him her eyes. “Look out the window, John. It’s sunny; the birds are singing, and we just had a lovely breakfast,” she said while looking and pointing around. “Look at those kids at the back of the wagon! They’re joyous and laughing hysterically. Reality isn’t as grim as you portray it.”
He turned back to find the scene she spoke of. “That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Look at their hands! Nothing but smartphones in sight. They’re not happy because it's a beautiful day out there; they’re just laughing at some regurgitated joke on the internet that we are probably too old to under-”
“C’mon, grandpa! Don’t be such a downer,” she interrupted him, annoyed at his presumed superiority. “They’re just having a good time. What if they’re on their phones? Different times, eh?”
“No! This is not some sort of generational conflict. I know better than that. What I mean is that I don’t like what technology has been doing to us, especially when united with this capitalist mindset…” He realized how pedantic that had come out, regretting the sound of his own voice.
“Ok, Mr. Commie! What do you reckon we do? Reject civilization? Get off this train and walk back to Paris? We’ll probably have to hunt something along the way… I hear we are in the season for boar!” She had gathered every atom of sarcasm in her body against her nerdy husband.
Amazed at her wit, he plainly replied. “Frankly, the communists, liberals, conservatives, anarchists, and whoever believes that they know better than everyone else can have it up theirs. And no, Nadine, I’m not telling you to go back to sticks and stones even though the hog sounds nice,” he said between a professional and playful semblant.
“Spit it out, then!” She rubbed her tired eyes. “We’re already past Reims, so you probably have half an hour at best to make your little speech.”
“ Here's the deal: our economy has always worked through the principle of the scarcity of goods and services,” he said while he gesticulated like a politician. “Their availability, quantity, and ease with which we can produce them greatly determine their value. And this has become so ingrained into our minds that it ultimately alters our perception of the true value of things. For example, what is more valuable? Gold or wood?”
“Gold, naturally,” she replied, playing along with his rhetorical game.
“Here on Earth, maybe. After all, wood is easier to produce and find than gold. But if we look across the universe, there is far more gold than wood (at least that we know of). See?” He couldn’t hold his excitement to himself. “The local availability of wood led you to the underlying assumption that gold is more valuable universally.”
“And?” Nadine shared a fraction of his curiosity.
“Well, nowadays we always have a smart device on us, which is equipped with cutting-edge search engines, so the answer is a few clicks away at all times,” he discretely pointed to the kids in the back.
“Yeah, isn’t that a good thing?” She inquired, genuinely confused by his train of thought.
“At first, it may seem like so,” he changed to his professorial tone. “But if we apply this concept of scarcity, it becomes clear that the development of our technology has made us value knowledge less since it is so widespread and accessible. Back when knowledge had to be conquered, everything was about wit and depth of thought. Now its all about instinct and emotion; we have become superficial. So, the irony is that the greater availability of information might be making us dumber. Those kids have more knowledge in their hands than the entire Library of Alexandria had at its height, and they opt for questionable humor and cute videos of animals. Don’t you think it's revolting that a human could consciously choose oblivion over the infinity of knowledge?”
“ Maybe it is. But hey, have you seen capybaras? They’re pretty adorable.”
“They are; I’ll confess. But I still don’t get it. I’ve always been taught to pursue the truth, that power, fame, and wealth were secondary to knowing fact. I don’t see myself wanting anything else but knowledge.” He said, surpassing Nadine’s previous confusion.
“Chacun voit midi à sa porte. Some people believe that sentiments come first, logic and rationale, second. What if they’re not searching this infinite body of knowledge that you speak of? Let them be hedonists.” She placed her hand against his, bringing momentaneous peace to his storm of thoughts.
“I guess “life is not a paragraph” to be analyzed and broken down, right?” The sun invaded the wagon, lighting up his face and exposing the dark beneath his eyes.
“It is a reality to be experienced, not a problem to be solved. So enjoy it a little. Preferably with me. I know you have strong opinions about everything from politics to God, but maybe they’re not all that’s out there. By the way, my God, you look awful! Lean on me.” She changed seats to his side. “Get a nap in before we arrive! Today will be a long day.”
“That’s why I married you.” John replied, laying his head on her shoulder.
“Because I keep you from overthinking and give balance to your life?” She asked expecting a witty reply.
“No. You just make for a great pillow.” He answered, closing his eyes and allowing a grin to escape.