47 Random Fragments of Unauthorised Hope and Despair


THE MAN in the army uniform had been talking for some time now, but she could not have told you what he had said.

It was clearly important stuff, to judge from his intense expression and unblinking gaze.

Occasionally the camera moved in closer still on his authoritative stare for emphasis, or the picture changed suddenly to show maimed children, devastated cities, piles of corpses behind barbed wire fences.

Stray words drifted from the TV into her head. “Terror” - inevitably and repeatedly. “Peace.” “Security.” “Prosperity.” “Democracy.”

She wasn’t interested. She was tired. She wasn’t listening. She had tried switching channels but there was no escape. He was on everywhere.

This was Democracy Day.

Eventually it dawned on her that the man was different. He had been replaced. She wondered how long ago this had happened, as she had not been aware of any change-over.

The new man was dressed in a pin-striped suit and had a softer expression on his face.

From time to time he even attempted a smile, albeit a painfully false one.

But the longer she watched him, the more she saw similarities with the military man. His eyes remained so cold and hard whatever impression the adjoining facial muscles were trying to convey.

The footage, too, was similar. Similar, but not identical. The same crying mothers and bombed buildings, but also now some cheerful soldiers, hand-shaking dignitaries, children recovering in hospital and a small dust-covered dog, gently cradled in the arms of a large, visored, paramilitary anti-terror police officer.

And the same words kept trickling out onto the grimy threadbare carpet in front of her. Prosperity. Peace. Terror. Peace. Terror.

Soon it was time for her to vote and she instinctively reached for the remote control, her fingers poised over the buttons.

When the 30 seconds had passed, however, she found she had not pressed anything.

A female voice cut in: “Hurry up there! We know it’s hard to make up your mind between two such outstanding candidates, but we really must ask you to indicate your selection now. You have only ten seconds remaining.”

She still made no move. Not a tremor of a finger, nor a flicker of a reaction.

The time must have passed. A piece of text appeared on the screen in red lettering, which was read out by the same female voice, but in a more formal manner.

“We would remind you that it is your legal duty as a citizen to vote and it is an offence to fail to transmit your selection. Please register your choice immediately to avoid arrest and prosecution.” Still she did nothing.

Shortly a new voice spoke - that of a male - and the screen filled with tightly packed official-looking wording, which she could not make out.

“This is the Police,” said the voice. “You have committed an offence under Section 3a, paragraph 14 of the Democracy Act of Year 21. To plead guilty and receive an automatic fine of £10,000, enter the code 984 on your handset and proceed to register your vote. Failure to accept responsibility and exercise your rights will lead to the loss of those rights under the revised Terrorism Act of Year 36. Units of the anti-terror force will be dispatched to your home forthwith to secure your arrest and indefinite detention. You have been warned!”

For a second there was the slightest of movements in her right hand, as if she was about to key some buttons.

But then she suddenly lifted her fingers right away and then placed the remote control firmly on the floor, safely out of easy reach.

She folded her arms and waited.

After five minutes, the male voice returned, but only to repeat the previous warning.

The same thing occurred again and again at regular intervals.

And she, along with at least ten million others, waited to see what would happen next.