IV

Nod

THE SLEEK, SILVER MOTORCAR gleamed in the glorious sunlight; a small, cursive text imprinted on the side of its glaring nose: THE GOVERNOR. Its proud owner, Barnett, approached from the beach yonder, with Ahiga, his military commander. Whilst the armored warrior trudged forward in the deep sand, his steps firm and his path doggedly straight, Barnett, on the other hand, in his impeccably tailored suit, was sidestepping the warrior this and that way—a tad clumsy in the sand, but still retaining his ever stylish gait—his hands gesturing about mellifluously. The two confreres were engaged in a philosophical exchange that was, at the same time, personal.

Barnett was quietly studying the squint on Ahiga’s face. Is it the glare from my new motorcar or is it I? Unsure, he motioned with caution: “New wine must not be contained in an old wineskin.” Another stealthy glance at Ahiga’s face as he leapt across the warrior’s straight path, and sensing the squint was one of disapproval, rather than from the sun, he instantly employed credentials from a more trusted source: “Says not me, old boy. Says the priest!” Maintaining his decorum in the deep trudges was starting to take a toll on Barnett, so that his speech was paced between breaths. “Your armor vest”—he heaved—“is medieval, and— if I may say so— mediocre. It’s time you shed the old to befit the new— the great— future of my military—your military—I beg your pardon.” His clawed fingers combed his greying fringe against the wind. “The things you have achieved, my esteemed commander— The colossal feats— The house on the mountaintop that you built— The epic plantation that you sowed— And now, casting away swords, spears, and sails for a glaring inventory of guns, mines, and steamships— You should seriously disrobe from this ancient outfit!” Barnett sputtered an exhausted breath.

Ahiga’s eyes darted sideway at Barnett’s stylish jacket and down at his stylish, creaseless trousers, then at his stylish motorcar yonder and back; squinting in thoughts, nodding perceptively, he said, “Style means nothing—”

“Function! Not style,” Barnett instantly countered, taking another lyrical leap across the warrior’s path. “Function, my commander,” he entreated; then critiqued: “Your costume of an armor—can we still regard this an armor? Against swords and spears, surely, but— does it shield damned flying bullets? Do you not want”—he coughed an air of fatigue—“a more effective— fortified— defense? Think— if not for yourself at least for our people.”

“I shall think about it,” the warrior said, plainly.

“Fan-tas-tic!” Barnett chortled. He stopped in his tracks, lifted a contemplative finger, and set up another pitch: “One other thing—” he looked left and right for Ahiga, who had glided a few good steps on. Barnett caught up, panting. “One other thing, commander”—dabbed his sweaty forehead with his purple handkerchief—“You never fail to impress me, old boy.”

Flattery. Ahiga squinted, nodding.

“What with your BIG— commanding— respectable— name,” Barnett pressed on, “you would be far wealthier if you— if you but so much as nod to my offer.” Barnett had on several occasions attempted to recruit Ahiga to run his sugar mill but to no avail; he took a quick check to see if there was any sign of change in attitude: none. “I know, I know, I know— a man of integrity, hey?” Ahiga said nothing, his path toward the shining motorcar straight, unwavering; as was his emotionless countenance. “All right!”—Barnett flung his hands up into the air—“I give up—” and then after a brief pause “Pray, tell me. If it isn’t happiness you seek, what might this be that my fine warrior so desire? I mean— time and again you were hard-pressed with those impossible feats— not that I’d meant them that way— how is it that you can still wear this— this jubilance in the face of pain and adversity— What, on heaven, makes you so— so happily unhappy?”

“Character,” Ahiga returned dryly.

“Character?” Barnett slightly baffled. “You want character, is all? Over and above happiness?” Ahiga not saying anything at this juncture was a “yes” to Barnett. “That’s— that’s— that’s great. That’s great. Really— this character-building pursuit— adventure— mission— it’s all great— but— of what good is character if it offers no happiness? I mean, haven’t you heard the Aristotelian doctrine— that Happiness is that toward which all human actions tend?

Ahiga let on a snigger. “As with your new-wine-in-old-wineskin metaphor, I’m afraid you’ve taken things out of context once again,” Ahiga said matter-of-factly. “With all due respect, Mr. Governor, sir, Aristotle’s use of the word ‘happiness’ isn’t quite happiness per se. ‘Eudaimonia’, the term he used, is more properly, ‘well-being’ or better yet, ‘in-dwelling of good spirit,’ whereas ‘olbos’ or ‘hedone’—terms he clearly did not use, and which you, sir, erroneously associate with his idea of ‘happiness’—mean ‘prosperity’ and ‘pleasure.’” The man of few words could go on forever on Aristotle. Indeed: “Aristotle—”

“All right!” Barnett once more flung his hands into the air, checked his suit. “Whatever the geeks—Greeks, I mean—proposed: eudaimonia, olbos, hedone—” Barnett pressed on between breaths: “Whatever— English! English, old boy— plain and simple ‘happiness.’ Happiness as happiness— happiness for every ordinary man such as I— you know, my happiness? Your proposition for ‘character’— hardly a happy pursuit— is anything but happiness— that is what I meant. Of what good is character— a painful endeavor more than anything else—” he thumped at his strained thighs repeatedly—“if it offers no happiness?”

Ahiga’s breath remained constant in spite of the walk in the sand; he said, slowly and sturdily: “Your happiness—sir—is at the mercy of others; ‘others’ being things or people. When happiness is withheld, you get nothing—wrong—not nothing—you get…unhappiness. While I’m not half as happy as you, sir, are, I’m also not half as unhappy as you are when others withhold your happiness. In the final analysis, I am not half as needy as you are, of things and other people. It seems to me then—with due respect, Mr Governor—you can’t be happy without first getting my dispensation, without me. But I can be without you. You, sir, are at my mercy.”

Barnett chortled uncontrollably, choking and coughing away. “My, my…if this were true, old boy, when I sent you out— to build the damned mountaintop house— to rally the whole island together for my mammoth of a plantation— you could— you could just as well withhold my happiness— punish me with a ‘no,’ no?” He zapped his laughter in an instant, turned serious. “But you complied. Why, because you clearly did not have a choice.”

“I beg to differ, sir. I did have a choice. And for the sake of our people, I chose to cooperate with you, in spite of you, and, not as you’d have yourself think, because of you.” Ahiga blinked repeatedly. “Um, Sir.” The both arrived at the gleaming motorcar.

“Here we are!” Barnett exclaimed proudly with what fervor that was left of him. He saw his sleek, silver machine sparkling in Ahiga’s eyes. “I concur with you, Commander, sir. You do have a choice, as always.” He spread his arms wide as if embracing the motorcar import, a prototype engineered in West Dartnorth and assembled thousands of miles across the ocean in East Dartnorth, afterward shipped for weeks to Ahio Island. “And here is your choice. You just need to nod”—he held the warrior’s head with his affectionate hands and gently dipped it toward the prized machinery—“see— easy— just nod, and this is all yours.” He swaggered toward the car and his forefinger ran covetously along the imprint THE GOVERNOR, as if erasing the text for “The Warrior,” he whispered his offer, and winked. Then he chortled fleetingly. “Come now, don’t be shy. No one needs to know about this, hey? I mean— Who wouldn’t waver at such a positively”—wiped his face—“pleasurable”—swept his fringe—“prospect? Everything— everything that’s mine—well, half of it—is yours, old boy, if you but”—he placed his fingers delicately on the curvaceous body of his motorcar—“nod.”

Ahiga’s glistening eyes took time to examine the lustrous machine: ironclad steel bumpers; industrial metal grille; chromed lamp bowls; fine, hairline steel spokes—all but shimmering at his face; then he dipped his head, looked at his open hands, blistered from toil; he faced his palms down, examining his black, dirt-trapped fingernails. He looked up, and then nodded.

Barnett opened his arms and was about to embrace the warrior—“Yes!”—when Ahiga nodded once more, slowly, and yet again, quicker, and yet again and again, picking up speed like a bouncing ball in acceleration, then slowing down and still; thinking, deep. He gazed at Barnett, and he said, “An engineering feat, I must say”— his hand reached slowly toward the industrious creation and gave it a soft tap—“I will seriously consider the function of technology and beauty”—he lifted his hand away from the motorcar and placed it on his armor vest, tapping on its thick hide repeatedly, firmly—“strictly with regards to a fortified defense.”

Barnett’s brows collapsed, sighed his words: “Very well, old boy.” Chuckled helplessly, shook his head. He made a face and nodded, thrice, resignedly.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents

either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events,

or locales is entirely coincidental.

NEXT:

Unpublished Manuscript (IV):

Nod

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