SHORT STORY: Internal Immigrant by Mihkel Mutt

Internal emigrant (Siseemigrant)
(c) Jüri J Dubov
Translated by Susan Wilson

I am an internal emigrant. You heard aright, an internal emigrant, internal. I am a foreign body in this society. Not an active enemy, no, I’m not that stupid. I don’t plant bombs in secret, I don’t cut through wires, I don’t poison wells or hack into confidential data bases. I don’t dump my sewage into the groundwater, I don’t toss cigarette ends into the dry forest, I don’t infect anyone with AIDS and I don’t pull any other fast ones.

I vote, when required, I fly the flag, I write comments on the Internet and go to church at Christmas. Yet I fully and unequivocally admit that I don’t like this society, I don’t regard it as my own, in fact, I pretty much hate it. It’s just that I don’t talk about it. I don’t tell anyone that this isn’t really my thing. I don’t tell my family or friends, superiors or subordinates, I don’t lose control even in the company of merry drinkers. Yes indeedy, I could have been a spy, so good is my mastery of myself.

Admittedly, sometimes I criticise, not in the newspaper, of course, but, say, at an informal post-conference or refresher course jolly. I do hagio-logistically, so that the reverent perspiration clots on the top of my head. Sometimes my words are fire and brimstone, verbal whippings, tongue in cheek, with sorrowful mouth, kiss kiss, tail between the legs, heart-to-heart, oxlike plod, wallower tub, shuffling butt, minaret, Amenhotep… As you can see, I’m a wordsmith, but I don’t let it show. To do so would lead to questions. In everyday life I speak clearly and simply, sometimes I stumble over my words, waver; I massage and knead my hands as if they were calloused, I crack my fingers if I can’t hit upon the words, although I have more than I need (words, not fingers). Only once in a blue moon do I play the whole thing on a verbal accordion, or rather, bang out the beauty of my mother tongue in all its richness (wow!). Then everyone thinks that something is eating me up, they say that old Juhan (that’s not my real name, of course) has a low pain threshold. My pain threshold, you apes, if you want to know, is as low as the Great Wall of China!

Perhaps I don’t stumble at all though? Perhaps I just put a sock in it, as I shall do now, fool of a woman… (You’ll never figure out what sex I really am, because it must be a fantasy infinite in its abundance).

 For all that, I do sometimes speak so critically that some of my fellow citizens look at me aghast: surely he can’t be an internal emigrant? And the very next moment I hint at something painful yet true to our nation but do so in such a way that the doubter feels ashamed and even more sympathetic towards me than before. That’s how easy it is to fool people. I am a person of respect. A great deal of it. And yet I care not a whit for that stuff. Because I’m an internal-internal-internal (how far in can you go?) emigrant.

Once I came close to running away with myself. It so happened that a small group of us were discussing politics. I said that x and crew (politicians) were the ultimate fools.

“Yes,” nodded the others. “They are much less intelligent than, for example, y and crew.”

“No,” I snapped back, “Y and crew are even greater fools.”

 “So what are you, a supporter of z and his lot or what?” they chuckled. Everyone knows who z and his lot are!

But I cold-bloodedly said that z and his lot were utter hoodlums.

At first they regarded me gormlessly.

“So whose side are you on?” they asked.

“No-one’s,” I replied.

“Hang on, so don’t you have any liking for our country or what?” they asked, suddenly vigilant.

At that point I realised I’d overstepped the mark. In any case they’d hit the nail on the head and realised I didn’t like the country. But you can’t say as much to narrow-minded people like that: they are quite capable of showering you in their saintly national allegiance. Even killing you. Knocking you to the ground and scraping you over the leaves, autumn leaves, red and yellow mottled leaves concealing many an acorn or small nut.

“No,” I said… “I would do things myself. In cooperation with anyone with the true flame burning in their heart.”

This, however, is the last thing I would want to do. Only storytellers still believe that there is still any kind of flame somewhere. But they looked at me with the utmost reverence and approached me individually afterwards to whisper that they thought exactly as I did, that that nothing was good for anything any more, everything had gone to pot. Oh, and that if “things kicked off” they would join my party straight away.

Almost the same thing, but funnier, happened just the other day. The election is round the corner, campaigns are being fought and parties of all kinds are toiling over them. I too was approached by an opinion poll firm with a questionnaire. These questionnaire mafias really do exist. Their questions are about the public’s political predilections. All the questionnaires that have been shoved through my letterbox over the last fifteen years have naturally been thrown by me with complete equanimity into the bin without even looking at exactly what they were asking. They don’t interest me in the least, you see. But recently the mafias have become more cunning. They have realised that all normal people throw their questionnaires into the bin, and as a result they don’t send them by post anymore – instead they deploy an employee to visit you.

What escape is there from them? They have got hold of your mobile phone number from somewhere or have rung the bell with cretinous persistence. The craziest thing is that when they come to the workplace, you spend ages coaching your secretary to lie that you’re not there. A stupid excuse akin to what went on when a call-up for military refresher training arrived from the commissar’s office in the olden days (just so you know, I never got one, so no prying!) So, a lecherous vamp with absurd red hair out of a bottle and beautiful spectacles comes round, it’s plain to see that she’s been imbibing in social sciences for a number of years, perhaps even as a post-graduate. She asks pointless things, rifling around in your life for at least three quarters of an hour, in the aim of lining the company’s pockets and earning herself several thousand a month. (Although speaking frankly, what would people like you need that three-quarters of an hour for? I’d have a use for it, but people like you – never! You’d just raise a stink afterwards. But me, I’d drink a can of beer and imagine the girl next door’s tits, which is a most useful action for society.)

Well, the survey woman sits down opposite me and holds a piece of paper in front of her on the table. And she doesn’t let me fill it in myself. They’re obviously afraid that I might fuck something up. (Which I would, naturally.) So she asks the questions and writes down the answers. But how can I be sure that what she’s writing tallies with what I’m saying? Perhaps she’s been given instructions…

So the redhead makes a start:

 “Who do you support? Right-wingers?“

“No,” I reply.

“Do you support left-wingers?” she asks in exactly the same tone (they are trained that they must behave like machines so that they don’t introduce any bias).

“No,” I reply in kind in an unchanging tone of voice, demonstrating that I too can act like a machine.

“Do you support the centrist party?” she persists.

“No,” I snap back.

“Ahhaa,” she says in the matter-of-fact, drawn-out tone of someone busy with a task requiring insight, and sets about making a note on the survey. “We’ll put down the greens then.”

“No, no!” I shout. “I’m not for the greens.“

“What do you mean, you’re not?” she doesn’t get it.

“That’s your problem,” I smirk repulsively.

“Please don’t poke fun,” she says, irritated.

“I’m not poking fun, I’m a very serious person,” I reply. “But I hate the greens.”

“I’m sorry, but please understand that I still need to see twenty other people after you today. They are waiting,” she says, pleadingly.

“That’s your problem,” I let the redhead know how little regard I have for her and women.

“So, don’t you have any preferences?” she becomes serious and saddened.

“Yes, you understand, I don’t have any preferences,” I nod.

“Aa,” all of a sudden the clever one finds a way round it, “So you’re an anarchist. In that case you fit neatly into the box marked ‘other’. We can of course make a note of ‘anarchist’ down here.”

“I’m not an anarchist,” I dampen her triumph immediately and even divest her of her pen. “I abhor anarchists.”

“It doesn’t cover you,” she turns sinister. “At least you fit in ‘others’ you can’t deny it because it’s such a broad concept.“

“I don’t!” I bellow, “I’m not ‘others’ and I don’t fit into your boxes at all!“

“Then I just don’t understand at all,” she acknowledges the fact and removes her spectacles.

“I don’t have a world view,” I say, irritatingly. “Just as some people don’t have an arsehole. Can you get that into your thick head?”

“You might be dangerous then,” she eyes me apprehensively.

 At that point I end the game and withdraw. I explain to her in a fatherly way that surveys like hers are not confidential and I refer to my freedom of conscience and my constitutional rights. We part as friends. She has begun to regard me as somewhere between some kind of an internal inspector and a veteran combatant-turned-revolutionary-theorist. I ask her to leave the questionnaire with me so that I can fill it in in peace. I promise to forward it to her. Which I won’t, obviously.

Why don’t I like this society? It can’t be explained in terms of its individual cogs. A cog on its own is no use here. But all of them combined offers something more. Taken individually, I might even like every thing. In any case they don’t make me sick. The whole mass together is what makes me sick. Like with people. Every individual has his own story, they confess it, substantiate it, it dawns on you why he is like he is, in the end you begin to empathise. But all those people together - you can’t understand or empathise with them. The mass of the whole can’t be explained, it’s ghastly, explanation is equally pointless.

Why don’t I declare this all openly using my own name? I would remind you that I am a respected person, I have a position which now, in the new order, is a very pleasing thing. Why should I be deprived of it? None of you will figure out, believe, or be capable of even imagining how high the position I actually occupy is. It’s practically impossible to go any higher in my line. (What line is that? He-he, guys…) Even more so given my past. (No, I wasn’t in the nomenclature! No I wasn’t at Kolõma! So was I a top artist? No, I wasn’t… A top sportsperson? A Siamese twin?) And with my education. I studied… No, I can’t tell you that. In any event I am oriented in such a way that no-one even suspects that I don’t like this society. Sat here as I am such a thing would be out of the question, it’s a sacrilege, sitting on this chair a person should love his own society right down to its last arse-hair. There is a charming side to it even if you don’t love it.

 For me, living and behaving as expected in this society is like fucking in full view of everyone in a phone box. No-one believes people fuck in there, everyone believes that the two people are taking turns to talk to a third party through a wire. You, instead, though, copulate in a public place with a fat, nationalistic matron who had blue-ribbon purebred into her blonde hair. And you know, the funniest thing is that even if everything was like that (because remember I’m not about to start fumbling in any phone box), the matron herself might believe that she is being fucked out of great patriotism. I am laconic (a heroic sign!) and the fucking would be like a little ministration of thanks to our country. Right, so I was moving too much towards a fantasy world. Erotica generally does not attract me; that is the case here too.

In any event, the fact that I am respected and wealthy (I have money in a cellar with a false bottom, a whole shelter’s worth, all of it obtained by fully lawful means – I have neither killed nor robbed anyone) does not prevent me from acknowledging my condition as an internal emigrant. We have tolerance and freedom. Tell me, what would you do with me apart from drum me out? I wouldn’t be clapped into jail, no law would have been broken. I couldn’t even be flogged. This open society is so nice that you could be the ultimate monster, a stinking devil, and you couldn’t be prosecuted for it. Such freedom calls loud and clear to be scorned. You wake up in the morning and think, ‘today I shall be ghastly!’. I shall climb into the neighbourhood of the beautiful and the wise and allow the stupid and ugly to drain fully from the tap, down to its last drop. Let the beautiful and wise suffer a bit as well. Their lives are indeed too easy. Frankly, they won’t allow their aversion to stinking devils like me to show. The thing that explodes, wheezes and spits in their midst leaves me indifferent. When you’ve had 35 years (a chance figure, don’t try and work out my real age from it, I could quite easily be 20 or 80) of respect, as I have, the fact that someone has hated you for a number of years is neither here nor there. What shall I do with this respect? Take it to my grave? Besides, I’ve known for all this time that I haven’t deserved it, that people regard me highly for the wrong thing. But will you not concede that being objective in my work has stood me in good stead? Well I was, a little, but it doesn’t matter.

On the other hand what purpose does it serve to acknowledge that I am an internal emigrant? What does it change? Everything stays as it was and as it has always been. The wheels grind on. The idiot gets a beating. The wise man lives well. I know all this. I live well, because I am wise. But what would I do if I didn’t like it? On the other hand, I wouldn’t like it if the idiot lived well and the wise man got a beating. All my life, oh Lord, I have empathised with the weak but have intellectually favoured the strong! What does that ‘oh Lord’ refer to? I don’t know any Lord. It’s just a manner of speaking.

 I lied; there is one thing I like.

The girl’s body (forgive my prosaic language, but it would be even stranger to use the word ‘torso’) I used to see through the window in the evenings when I was still young. I built a telescope from a supply of ‘Young Builder’ kit for that very purpose. (Don’t get too excited, secret police officers, I might just as easily be gay or make the girls happy) This is my bible. Tits. Notice how the details experienced in youth have in my case become a source of language learning. I know how to say ‘tits’ in 80 languages. It seems to me that in some societies I’d like them more than I do here. I’d like to go to England (and I mean England, not the United Kingdom or the United Emirates, I’d like to go to the United England), to complete my observations of nearby teenage girls’ tits on the upper deck of a double-decker bus. That’s all, that’s my ideal, O Satan, I thereby deliver myself into your hands! But the double-decker buses and the double-decker tits are no more, they have been done away with, it was one of my last bastions. You look, on the metro the tits on the girl nearby are no longer anything like that (crying and wailing). But undoubtedly that is not a basis on which to undertake internal emigration.

Mankind has gone to pot. At my work there’s a babe, smooth as a small apple and a complete airhead, who wants to travel to a warm country each winter. This person is entitled under her contract to take leave in winter. So she booked a trip some ghastly sweltering place where you have to wear dark glasses all the time. I asked her why she was going there. She looked at me with incomprehension on her face, an expression of ‘what do you mean, why’? Everyone does it. Her friends would have regarded me as a freak. Poor people have the impression that they are living life, that they are now citizens of the world. But I would be only too pleased to say to them: you are mini-slaves. But remember, I don’t, so as not to betray myself. I even ask why they don’t go, whether there’s enough time to get to the airport and start flapping their wings.

 Personally I have no wish to travel to a hot country. And I have no plans to do so. I have thought through every possible pretext to abstain from such travel. Because hot countries are visited in winter only by brainless people. They don’t understand that in winter you should sit in snowdrifts, huddle in a draughty, poorly heated house, shiver and fall ill. That is the action of a real man. That is the means by which people understand what winter is. One must not flee from winter. It is better to be an internal emigrant in the cold. But the babes prattle on about their impressions, they sigh about how much they love the warmth, they show their photos and souvenirs.

 Yes, souvenirs… The babe came and showed off some flame-coloured pastels. Why are souvenirs concrete objects? A souvenir is the thing I wish to have as a souvenir. A souvenir could even be a house if I brought it back from my travels. I could bring a cesspit and excrement from there if I wanted and could say, ‘This is my souvenir’. I could bring back a full rubbish bin. The ideal souvenir could be a banana that’s gone off. Don’t shove your classic tat and red pastels at me. You see, if you don’t look you only offend.

I have been an internal emigrant for a relatively long time, I became aware of it only gradually. There was no kind of leap, no kind of change of awareness, no scales falling from my eyes or other nonsense. Let this be said in case someone is considering compiling a pathogenesis of the internal emigrant. I have even thought about it too. Suddenly there’s something wrong with me. Something I should consult a doctor about. Why can’t I sing ‘Hallelujah’? Why don’t I feel tenderly, why can’t I hold a beetle in the palm of my hand or groan when the weather is beautiful. Even incredible good luck prompts no feeling in me at all.

 As you can see, some kind of affliction has beset me, mood swings, conceptual spasms and spiritual convulsions. But perhaps I am quick to imagine them in myself in order to be interesting. And a bit intellectual. Oh, how I would like to be an intellectual. Someone whose entry into a room causes everyone to rise. And what happened was I wanted to be an intellectual but became a complete internal emigrant.

I must still refute the possibility of misunderstandings. Specifically, you may have the impression that I enjoy my oddly self-critical attitude, that I love gloating, and the fact that I am the quintessential fixer. Far from it. I abhor fixers. Because I surmise quite definitely that at least half of all fixers do not regard anything critically. In fact it’s ‘nada’ to them. They fix things so that they can earn a crust. How vulgar. In fact they perhaps even love all this stuff around us. But when they have the opportunity to fix things easily (an anomaly similar to an extraordinarily large shoe size, ears sprouting hair, the skill of rapidly deriving a cubed root in one’s head and other similar features), then they use their skill. This is soulless technical know-how. Professional fixers such as these are never in confrontation with the system. They belong with it just as pollen belongs in a flower.

My condition as an internal emigrant is not based on reason. I have been a competitor, materially as much as morally. All this together should have built in me a feeling of happiness, refreshed me, given me a new, vital thrust. Nothing of the sort has come about.

 You thought I’d talked myself dry, you note that my style is becoming looser, gradually, and I am revealing myself. Don’t get your hopes up! It was a blip.

 Even great men make small talk with the people they happen to meet in the toilet block. Just as I have with you. Watch out! I’m setting the tram off again! The chorus begins.

You will never know who I am. I might stand near you and you won’t recognise me. If you happen by chance to be standing next to me at a bus stop I won’t swoop you away. If I’m picking my food up off the conveyor belt in the shop and starting to pack it into carrier bags standing right next to you, you won’t stop for a moment to give me a suspicious glance.

If I’m standing behind you at a public festival, just a few centimetres away, you won’t have any intimation of the icy breath on your neck and you won’t panic. I may be the plumber who upgraded your bathroom, the general who presides over the parade, the doctor who jabs your vein with a hypodermic syringe, anyone. I am, me, the internal emigrant, and I have no intention of disappearing. I am waiting. For what? To emerge. When the time is ripe.

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