The numbers on the left hand side of his vision ticked up, repeatedly. Each number was a sign of some Good Deed – from smaller things like a door being held on a subway to the greater like saving a life with a transplant or by somebody putting themselves in danger to save another. On the right hand side was another number, ticking up slower but more grimly – the Dick Moves. These troubled Stanley, but it was an unavoidable curse to know bad things were happening. Some kind of sense was made by the system, where it balanced the knowledge of good things with the knowledge of the bad. It was heartening to see that on most days the good won, but he had no part in the numbers.
It was a day in October when he realised the affliction. It started with some eye trouble, a blurriness in his peripheral vision. Some black flakes glanced before his eyes. He chased them from left to right and he started to notice a pattern. He noticed the flakes would multiply and become like tally marks, before they faded and were replaced by traffic lights. Green on the left, red on the right, flickers of amber in the centre. Claire, his optician, informed him there was nothing wrong on the surface with his eyes. There was also no fault in his optic nerve, and nothing could be detected by retinal photography. His eyesight was no worse than ever. Stanley could not believe this. The evidence was before his eyes, why was it not within them? Claire recommended a psychologist but Stanley had no interest in knowing what was wrong with his mind. Some things are best kept private.
His eyes cleared after a week. He figured it was just a spell from his job as an office drone. Screen blindness. Old screens. Flickering halogen lights. But then he saw them, he heard them, the ticks and crosses of human endeavour. The numbers.
It was on the 24th of October. He had just gotten off a metro and saw a couple run down the escalators. They were too far to make it. It was a foregone conclusion. Poor suckers. But somebody held the door open for a second and they made it in.
+1 for humanity blazed across his vision.
This new understanding brought a change in outlook – life became about maximising good. Stanley opened every vein, he donated money to every charity he could, he reduced his own expenses to subsistence level to keep it up. He cut his own office hours to offer his time as a fundraiser for a children’s hospital, he had to bake a lot of cakes for their events. At every available opportunity he donated his own precious O+ blood that he may help somebody, anybody, who needed it. But he saw no benefit from his actions.
He felt appreciation in handshakes or in slaps to the back, he heard it in the kind words in his ear, but it made no impact to the scores. Nothing in the left hand or right hand column attested to his efforts. All he got were pins from the different organisations, and letters putatively written by orphans which he doubted as they all told the same story in the same language. These awards would have been sufficient if it hadn’t been for the fact that he could see the numbers, numbers which said he was adding nothing. They did not relate to his activities.
Stan was divorced from humanity.
Something had unstuck him from the general human experience. His actions were worthless in the overall picture. They were null, and so he became despondent. He maintained his course in the hope that something would change, maybe the numbers measure intention and because his intentions were to see them go up they stayed the same to spite him for dogooding as a kind of game. If he powered through, though, he knew the numbers may reflect his impact. How could he stop what he’d started when, regardless of the numbers, he knew he was doing something that must be a help?
Oh well, he thought as he woke every morning in the year since his awakening, back to the coal face of sympathy. Doing the right thing was not an easy job. It left him bereft of energy. He was low in money and in the physical things through which people judge their own progress. He had learned to live more simply and to find pleasure somewhere other than the acquisition of stuff. The people he worked with to try and do some good were a constant source of happiness. They all had their reasons for wanting to help, some had children who had recovered due to medical treatment and some had lost loved ones.
As he was putting away a cake stand at an event was approached by an elderly woman named Lynne, who was one of the organisers. They had not talked often as she was often busy with preparations but Stanley did not mind. The story he had heard was too awful. She had lost a child in very painful circumstances from an early onset degenerative condition.
“Hi there Lynne, anything I can help you with?”
The question was not as helpful as it sounded in his head and he noticed it the second after it escaped his mouth.
“That’s alright, I just want to thank you for all you’ve done here. Your cakes are a real treat for the kids and have been a great funding boost.” She was becoming more sorrowful as she talked, “I’m glad we’ve still got young lads like you coming in to make a change.”
“Well,” Stanley paused, “It does feel good to do it. I wonder if I’m helping for the wrong reason.”
“And what are the right reasons?” Asked Lynne, “Do you think I just do this because I’m good? It’s a kind of therapy.”
Lynne began to tear up, “My poor girl, falling to pieces like that. This works helps me do something right, sure, it also takes me away from it for a minute.”
Lynne sobbed. Despite hardly knowing her, Stanley wrapped his arms around her.
It was the best he could do in the situation. Somehow it was enough.
+1 for humanity.
So I mean the to do NaNoWriMo this year as I always forget, but I forgot to get started yesterday so I’m playing catchup already. This may have been a neater concept in my head and had a funnier ending, but perhaps I’all save that for another day. Watch this space!