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by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

Chapter 9
'Error' synopsis

One day, Jonas, who has recently migrated to the city, discovers that all his records — including his assets — have been erased somehow. No longer able to get work, buy anything on credit or sell his now legally non-existent car, his life becomes a unique adventure.

Not really having to wake up in the morning makes waking up in the morning a bit difficult. Jonas looked at the clock, and knew full well he did not have to move for the next three hours or so. Then he would have to be quick about finding a doctor to give him his birth certificate. Or perhaps he ought to phone his mother and have her send it over. Knowing her, she had probably lost it by now. Seeing a doctor would be his best hope of getting it.

After about half an hour of just lying still, Jonas got bored, on top of the steadily increasing hunger he was feeling. Being hungry is one thing and being bored is another, but being both hungry and bored at the same time is intolerable. Jonas did not know which was worse.

He crawled out of bed and would have put his pants on, but it seemed to be the case that he was wearing them.

“I should have gone to bed wearing the sweater too,” Jonas thought. It would have made going out of bed a more complete happening.

Jonas did not hurry with his food this morning; he casually boiled it together. While the porridge was brewing, he went down to the mailboxes to get his paper. He had not done that in a long time. He did not suppose he had the time. There were two papers there; a paper since the day before yesterday, and the today’s paper. Jonas wondered what had happened to the issue in between.

It probably had not been delivered. The paper was free, and carried out to everyone whether they wanted it or not, so stealing an issue was an exercise in futility.

Now Jonas had something to read while digesting his porridge. Not while eating. No. Reading is supposed to be relaxing, like eating. Combining the two would cause unwanted tension. This slight case of unemployment was in a way a godsend, for it gave him a chance to feed in peace. How many people get to do that?

On an ordinary day, Jonas realized, he would be rushing to gobble down the entire contents of the bowl in order to be able to arrive at work on time. This, he believed, was much better for the digestion.

Not good for the wallet, though, Jonas thought as he washed the bowl and replaced it in its proper place in the cupboard.

Jonas put on his shoes again and got his jacket; time to meet a doctor.

When Jonas got in his car, he started wondering which hospital he should go and see. He decided upon the one closest by. If that did not work out, there were a bunch of others strewn around the central part of the city.

Jonas turned on the engine, flipped on the radio, and drove. 10cc was playing “Doctor, Doctor.” Jonas thought it was a fitting choice of tunes. Of course it only lasted for a few minutes. Then something less fitting began. No matter, thought Jonas. It was better than the engine sound. Nothing quite beats the sound of a big-block V-8. A Hyundai does not have that. It would wreak havoc with the mileage — a pity.

Traffic, even though it was low, managed to be annoying. It was mostly the same thing as always; superfluous traffic lights, badly thought-out overpasses, lanes that suddenly converged.

In Romania, in the time of the dictator Ceausescu, all people who were too retarded or psychotic to function in civil society were isolated in far-away institutions where they were tied down to potties so they would not defecate all over the place. In Smoky Bay, they were routinely hired to do city planning.

And let us not forget: idiot drivers: some idiot driving a diesel Land Cruiser riding on 38-inch tyres, while believing himself to be in command of a Hemi ’Cuda kept tailgating Jonas wherever he went. Jonas had often wondered why anyone would drive a car like that. To top it off, the tailgater had his high beams on.

Jonas could well understand why anyone would want to drive a recent model car. For use inside the city, and given enough money, Jonas would have loved to drive a BMW. But then again, why not something that does not scream “homosexual” or “drug-dealer”? Like a Crown Vic. Nobody in Smoky Bay had a Crown Vic. And a Crown Vic is a really imposing car, mostly due to size. The 80’s models had a limo-like formal look to them, thanks to a large chrome grille and boxy styling.

But a diesel-powered Land Cruiser 100 on 38’s? Why? Most of these people never even went off road. And they got lousy mileage, despite the diesel engine, because of weight, and sometimes because the owners messed with the engines to gain power. God knows they needed it. The big things moved like molasses, even with alterations.

The Land Cruisers 90 and 100 and the Nissan Patrols are all driven in the same manner: with the foot firmly holding the gas pedal flush to the floor to keep up with traffic.

People who drive Mercedes Benz and BMWs do not drive like that. But that is because they are in command of superior vehicles, and they know it.

Jonas finally made it to the hospital parking lot without being squashed like a bug under the tyres of the road monster following him. He quickly found an empty space on the otherwise full lot and exited the car, locking it as he did.

The hospital building was not a modern design, and therefore did not look evil. It just looked impersonal, and sort of quirky at the same time. What was, for example, the idea behind that tower? Jonas did not know, and could not imagine. Perhaps patients that needed to have view were kept there? Who knows?

Jonas walked as casually as he could toward the big building. How would he even begin to explain what he was after, or why he was after it? Then again, why would the hospital staff frown upon such a request? Was it considered bad form to ask for one’s own birth certificate? Jonas would not know. He kind of just thought it was his business.

With that, he ambled to the counter and asked straight forward if he could have a copy of his birth certificate, preferably signed by a doctor — whoever might be passing by at the moment would suffice — for verification of authenticity.

The clerk asked to see identification. Jonas produced his driver’s licence. The clerk looked it over, and seemed to accept it as real. The she began searching on her computer, and foreseeably, found nothing.

“I don’t have you on the computer,” she said to Jonas.

“Maybe it’s not in the computer. Maybe it is on file somewhere in the hospital,” said Jonas, trying to help — himself.

The clerk seemed to think this was a totally reasonable idea, and summoned someone from a back room to take Jonas to see the files.

Jonas followed this new person into the basement, where the files were stored, or at the very least some part of them.

Birth certificates were stored there, mixed in with all the other stuff; all medical files on everyone who had ever been to see a doctor. Jonas wondered how many of them would contain doodles, depicting the doctor’s real insight into patient’s imaginary pains and illnesses.

How many would come in each year complaining of a sore hyperbole? How many would go out again with prescriptions for drugs designed to cure that?

Jonas really did not want to find out. He did not care, and he was also too lazy to go through the files to find out.

It took five minutes to find roughly where the files from Jonas’ year of birth were located. After that it was easy, and in just a couple of minutes, Jonas was handed his original birth certificate. He looked it over just to make sure it was really his. It turned out to be, so he was happy. He saluted the helper, and walked out.

On his way up, he searched for a doctor to confirm that it was all good and legal. It took him ten minutes to find one. He was sitting in the coffee-room drinking tea. Jonas handed him the document and asked for confirmation.

“It’s a birth certificate,” said the doctor, a little irritated.

“Can you sign it for me?” asked Jonas.

The doctor stared at Jonas. He hand been a doctor a great many years, but as of yet, this was the first man to request an autograph from him. Knowing a few basic things about lunatics, he did as Jonas asked. The last thing he felt he needed was an upset lunatic in the hospital. He preferred it quiet, even if it had to be weird and quiet.

Jonas happily received the signed document from the doctor. Finally, in his hands, proof that he had been born! And signed for authentication by a real doctor! Jonas was ecstatic. The clerk raised an eyebrow as Jonas walked by, the certificate in both hands before him and a stupid smile on his face.

Jonas carefully folded it together once seated in his car, and placed it in his inner pocket. He was not about to lose this little item. Perhaps he ought to make copies? Ah! Jonas turned on the engine, and made his way to a library to make copies.

Jonas made five copies, and stuffed them in the glove compartment of his car. He kept the real deal in his jacket. Now he felt he was ready to go to the Bureau of Personal Information Protection and demand his identity back.

Jonas was grinning, even smiling as he approached the building housing the Bureau of Personal Information Protection. Now he’d show ’em! Ha-ha! He had documents! Those punks required proof, other than Jonas’ corporeal form actually standing in front of them to prove that he existed, and he finally got it! Victory!

Bur. Pers. Info Protect'n
If anything, the Bureau of Personal Information Protection building was greyer than usual. Jonas did not look at it more than he had to, for fear that the greyness might be contagious. He parked his car right in front of the dead tree and walked in, armed with both the real certificate and the copies. You never know with the authorities. It is best to have many copies for them.

A woman Jonas had not seen before was sitting at the desk. She looked as evil as the ones before her. But her evil appearance did not faze Jonas. He had proof of his own existence!

He walked to the desk, and told the woman he had come there to get his identity reinstated.

Probably a terrorist, or a drug smuggler, thought the woman, having heard Jonas out. She considered just skipping the formalities and siccing the guards on him, but as she had nothing better to do, she thought she might as well entertain herself a little. She asked to see some credentials, and thus began the usual process of looking at the credentials and not finding the name or number on the computer.

“I do not seem to find you in the database,” she said.

“That is my problem. I need to be in the database,” said Jonas.

“Can you prove who you are so we can enter you into the database?” she asked.

Jonas produced a copy of the birth certificate. The woman looked it over. A nice forgery, she thought.

“How do I know this is real?” she asked.

Jonas produced the original.

She looked it over. “How do I know this is real?” she asked.

“Well, you are holding it,” said Jonas.

“How do I know this is not just a well-crafted fake, made by yourself for devious criminal purposes?” she asked.

“It is signed by a doctor. Two doctors in fact,” said Jonas, pointing out different signatures on the form.

Yep, definitely a terrorist, the woman thought, and called the guards.

Jonas slammed his head against the counter. What now? Evidence was not proof enough of his existence, witness testimony was not enough, and he himself as a material entity was not enough to prove that he himself, the material entity, did in fact exist.

With that, Jonas just gave up. He would have to work for Frank forever.

To be continued...

Copyright © 2010 by Ásgrímur Hartmannsson

To Challenge 421...

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