The Very Powerful Man
By Simon Barget
When I was born I waited for the very powerful man to give me his ok, to give his approval. I wasn’t sure whether he gave it, I have never been sure, but I was admittedly very young then.
I carried on living and I grew older. Still I remained uncertain. I was uncertain in everything I did because the very powerful man hadn’t come yet. I knew he needed to come for all to be right. I knew everything I did was overshadowed by the absence of his blessing. And then the very powerful man would slip my mind. I would be getting along with all the things in my life, I would be on holiday for instance with my family, transported by the moment, exploring all the new wonderful places they had taken me to, brought away from myself by the thrill of discovery. I was hardly thinking about the very powerful man if at all and he didn’t seem to matter. I could get along on my own.
Then I went back to school, back to college and the rigours of learning again helped me forget him. But he stayed in the background even if I wasn’t aware at the time. Schoolmates alluded to him, called upon him as arbiter, used him in jokes at someone else’s expense. I could see that the jokes were being used to invoke him, that behind the scathing expressions the jokers were not certain if the very powerful man had come to them either. They brought him up as a totem as if to conjure his presence. You could see something in their eyes, the forebodings of a shock or just very plain fear. It was if they were trying to ward off their own doubt.
As I got older I continued to wonder what it might be like to be visited by the very powerful man, to receive his approval. I couldn’t conceive of it because no matter how hard I tried, I only knew what it was like to wonder, I only knew my present predicament, my sense of doubt, my looking up all the time at the other person to see if what I had done or said was acceptable. The very powerful man would put a stop to that for certain, but how, I couldn’t conceive it. I wasn’t so much concerned by his appearance or the process, as I was by what it would look and feel like once he had approved. I wanted to imagine a life after the very powerful man, a life in which I could just breathe. I imagined how it would feel and compared it to now. The older I got the greater the difference. It was as if the very powerful man was deliberately taunting me with what he hadn’t bestowed.
And then every so often I would come across a man who, though not outwardly claiming to be the very powerful man himself, seemed to be trying to embody him. Everything the person did was steeped in the perceived power of the very powerful man, in the moment of the conferral of the actual approval, in the power the approval gave you, in how you would act if you had received it. These men, it was clear, had not come in contact with the very powerful man at all, and the more they seemed to invoke him and wallow in him, to act like him, the clearer it was that they were just charlatans. These men tended to prescribe a particular course of action, a specific way of being; they might have emphasised the physical over the mental, they might have advocated strict habits and diets, and as they thundered and pontificated, as they idly speculated, I became ever more despondent at not only the obvious absence of the very powerful man in them but more importantly the fact that I couldn’t claim to have received his approval either and was still looking for it from the others. It was shameful to have to even be in their presence.
My relationships with other men became tainted and prejudiced. Since I was on the lookout for the very powerful man who was to say they weren’t either? Did they expect me to be him? If not, did they expect me to embody him, to act like he would have done? The fact that I refused to pretend to have received his approval probably turned people off.
At some point my own father died. For some years I was unaware of the implications but then it struck me. I had lost the opportunity to talk about the very powerful man. The one thing my father could have given to me was his own experience concerning the very powerful man. I had forgotten that he must have had one like I did. I sat in my house and tried to pull up an image of my father in my mind’s eye with me by his bedside. I tried to reimagine a conversation we might have had, how his face might have changed when I brought up the subject. I tried to imagine how I might have even broached the subject in the first place without making some quip, some ready remark, because I didn’t want to be jaunty or humorous, I wanted to approach it quite straight.
I don’t know what I was expecting, but it never bore fruit. I didn’t become any clearer. But I did realise something quite important. I had somewhat delighted in the to and fro, I had found a twisted relish in the uncertainty, I had derived a bizarre sense of excitement from the uncertainty as to when and if he would come. I had milked it. What if I could just wait in the shadows since nothing I did or didn’t do would precipitate his arrival?
There was one thing I couldn’t bear though, one thing I couldn’t stand to think.
The thought that he might never come at all. I refuse to believe that for one second. I won’t have it. But how can I prove it, how can I be so sure he will come? There is no outward thing I can point to that will suggest he will come, however late it may be.
But then my life would have been a mistake, it would have been unfair. What would be the point of being here, just waiting for nothing, biding my time? In that way, I’m probably no different to one of the charlatans.