Attention! Here and now, boys! Here and now!
installation with carpet, wire, trained parrots, oneida bowls, ropes
"Here and now: boys," the bird repeated yet once more, then fluttered down from its perch on the dead tree and settled on her shoulder. The child peeled another banana, gave two-thirds of it to Will and offered what remained to the mynah.
"Is that your bird?" Will asked.
She shook her head.
"Mynahs are like the electric light," she said. "They don't belong to anybody."
"Why does he say those things?"
"Because somebody taught him," she answered patiently. What an ass! her tone seemed to imply.
"But why did they teach him those things? Why 'Attention?' Why 'Here and now'?"
"Well . . . " She searched for the right words in which to explain the self-evident to this strange imbecile. "That's what you always forget, isn't it? I mean, you forget to pay attention to what's happening. And that's the same as not being here and now."
"And the mynahs fly about reminding you - is that it?"
She nodded. That, of course, was it. There was a silence.
"What's your name?" she inquired. Will introduced himself.
"My name's Mary Sarojini MacPhail"
"MacPhail?" It was too implausible.
"MacPhail" she assured him.
"And your little brother is called Tom Krishna?" She nodded. "Well, I'm damned!"
"Did you come to Pala by the airplane?"
"I came out of the sea."
"Out of the sea? Do you have a boat?"
"I did have one." With his mind's eye Will saw the waves breaking over the stranded hulk, heard with his inner ear the crash of their impact. Under her questioning he told her what had happened. The storm, the beaching of the boat, the long nightmare of the climb, the snakes, the horror of falling . . . He began to tremble again, more violently than ever.
Mary Sarojini listened attentively and without comment. Then, as his voice faltered and finally broke, she stepped forward and, the bird still perched on her shoulder, kneeled down beside him.
"Listen, Will," she said, laying a hand on his forehead. "We've got to get rid of this." Her tone was professional and calmly authoritative.
"I wish I knew how," he said between chattering teeth.
"How?" she repeated. "But in the usual way, of course. Tell me again about those snakes and how you fell down."
He shook his head. "I don't want to."
"Of course you don't want to," she said. "But you've got to. Listen to what the mynah's saying."
"Here and now, boys," the bird was still exhorting. "Here and now, boys."
"You can't be here and now," she went on, "until you've got rid of those snakes. Tell me."
"I don't want to, I don't want to." He was almost in tears.
"Then you'll never get rid of them. They'll be crawling about inside your head forever. And serve you right," Mary Sarojini added severely.
(excerpt from chapter 2 of Island by Aldous Huxley)
photo: Tobias Hubel for GAK