A grand plaza constructed of finely cut white glass stood in the centre of the pristine metropolis, refracting the blinding sun’s piercing rays like the brightest of diamonds. The sound of laughter echoed clearly inside the gleaming space, the volume so that it might provoke the tiniest of cracks. But this was no ordinary laugh. It was a peculiar type of snorting, with the kind of breathy intermission one would expect from a perceived hilarity.
Huge glass walls projected the footage on a loop: a large jovial woman in her mid-thirties chortling away uncontrollably at some off-camera in-joke. Despite lasting but a few seconds, the gathered crowd were enthralled; mesmerised by the jest they were not privy to and the peculiar laughter that followed. They quietly observed, eyes concentrated with such fervour that the glass might have permanently imprinted their reflections.
The same woman passed through almost unnoticed, her face the hardest of stone and dull eyes empty of emotion, for she could not laugh any more. John watched her, his attention not held by her better image. She passed him by, casting the same haunted indifference. Words were not spoken, and no touch was shared - not even the slightest of eye contact - but John was still vindicated to have encountered someone sharing the same quandary.
John’s particular problem was that he could not cry. He had to be careful when he coughed, ate or drank: swallowing the wrong way could result in his death. Even being outside proved a danger as the sun bounced off an infinite number of golden white surfaces. He had taken to wearing dark sunglasses as a precaution. John’s mind unravelled to the last time he had cried as it tended to do. Almost three years ago, he was at home, watching a movie entitled Total Recall, and became engrossed in the main character’s quest to recover his true identity in a city much like his own. In a moment that seemed lost to him now, a single tear trickled down his cheek.
Violently jolted out of his unwilling fugue by the shattered ambience of the disappointed crowd, John left the plaza driven by his mindless yearning, and aimlessly wandered the palatial paved streets. Extravagant shops lined every corner, the window displays showcasing the happy memories of previous customers: the joyous fitting of the perfect wedding dress; the purchases of the latest fixtures and gadgets; the relief of ice-cold refreshment on a sweltering day.
Eventually reaching the part of the metropolis best described as a diamond in the rough by the metropolis judges, what appeared to a wealthy man and a dishevelled woman were accosted by an officer of the law.
“I’m sorry but you are not permitted to fraternise with this person as per addendum 33-B”.
John did not stop to witness their judgement and intended to continue on in his lurid exploration, but paused when his peripheral vision caught the briefest glimpse of something darting between the shadows to his left. A bustling alleyway filled with delinquents, paranoid street preachers, and those ignored and discarded by the image-obsessed society awaited, bursting with delights none of whom would ever dare to admit a liking to, not for fear, pride, or want of living.
John saw a boy; the dishevelled child did not have parents, or a home. A single tear trickled down his cheek. Immediately, alarms rang and citizens dispersed, fleeing the sound they had so aptly learned to fear. The immaculate white glass turned blinding red and metal shutters slammed down all around. John did not move, save to slowly kneel and extend his hand in an act of compassion, careful not to frighten the terrified child. The boy hesitated with nowhere to run, but relented as tears began to stream down John’s swollen face. He drew closer and tentatively reached out to grasp John’s strong hand; his wide eyes betraying what he knew would come soon.
John took his sunglasses off with his empty hand, and carelessly discarded them amongst the filth; their fingers made only the slightest of brushes, and John smiled, conveniently forgetting the reality of the situation. Suddenly, humanoid figures clad in black stormed the area, wrestling John away from the boy before their hands could meet proper. A soft, matter-of-fact voice with a British accent pierced the continuous low droning of the deafening alarms.
“Leave the boy” it said. “He has done nothing wrong”.
A small, hunched man emerged swiftly from the shadows, dressed in a white pastel suit as if almost cut from the glass itself. He wore pure black loafers, and large faded golden-rimmed glasses that did not fit the rest of his attire. A large black and white clipboard rested comfortably in his hands. Dragged away almost effortlessly, John defiantly struggled to break free, flooded tears turned to white-hot rage. He fought the pain of twisted arm and bended knee to voice one last protest.
“You can’t do this to me! I have rights!”
“Yes. Yes, you do. But not these ones”.
The man’s back straightened as he simply stared at John, wrinkled brow furrowed in abject curiosity and small sharp eyes seemingly absent of sympathy. He continued to gaze for the briefest of seconds, his body unmoving and devoid of emotion, before his neck sharply snapped downwards to peer at his clipboard. A few seconds passed, and the official deftly turned on his heels, leaving as quickly as he had appeared. The alarms ceased, and the shutters raised; the glass restored to its original state. John’s image filled the streets, a single tear trickling down his cheek. Crowds began to gather, and the fascinated silence began to descend once more.
“Bloody repeats. What’s on next?”, the official asked himself in feigned surprise. “Ah, that’s right: Television Rules The Nation”.