On St Stephen’s Day, while he prepared his breakfast, Salvador let a spoon slip from his hand. It rattled on the hob, setting off an eerie ringing tone. He peered down at the element, and at the hole underneath.
The ringing got louder, but less and less shrill. Then the Voice said: “Salvador, I want to show you how Christmas has lost its original meaning for many people today. For too many, this second-most important of holy feasts is all about materialism. It is about the thrill of receiving, not the joy of giving. Today, I want you to join the throngs of shoppers. Have you heard of the electronic games console the RazorKlam 4? It is the latest fad among young people. I want you to try and find a RazorKlam 4.” Salvador put his hand on the element to stop the noise. It is the day after Christmas, he thought. There will be no throngs of shoppers today, and every RazorKlam 4 in the city of Dublin will have been sold by now.
But he felt he could not risk disobeying the Voice; he felt guilty even doubting it. Who was he, humble Salvador, to question this Voice? He repeated the words “humble Salvador, your servant” in his mind, like an incantation, in the hope that they might be heard.
As he walked into the city along Dorset Street a wind blew in the opposite direction. There was little traffic on the road, and the bare trees in the centre resembled broomsticks. His head ached because he was not wearing a hat or muffs and also because he was dehydrated from not drinking fluids. A convenience store was open on a corner and he went inside to buy paracetamol. All the medicines were stacked in shelves behind the counter. When he approached the till he felt he was intruding because the man behind the counter was deep in conversation with a woman. The woman stepped aside as the man turned his face to Salvador.
The woman was from eastern Europe, thought Salvador. The man, he guessed, was an Arab.
“What can I do for you?” the man said.
“Paracetamol,” Salvador replied.
Salvador said, almost without thinking, “The latest RazorKlam machine.” He smiled at the man so that he would be in no doubt that he was joking.
“Sorry,” said the man, joking too. “Sold out.”
“Are you really looking for a RazorKlam?” came the voice to Salvador’s side – the eastern European woman. Salvador turned to her. “Well, yes, actually.”
“Because if you are . . .” She hesitated. “Come with me.” She walked with great purpose out of the shop, but Salvador did not follow her as he had yet to pay for his paracetamol. When he did, he asked the man where the woman had gone.
“She lives above the shop. She’ll be back in a minute.” After a short time, the woman reappeared outside. She looked around for Salvador, then saw he was still in the shop and came back in. She was carrying a cardboard box. The flaps were not closed on the box, and Salvador could see that packing material and wires had been stuffed roughly into it. The side of the box read “RazorKlam 4”, but Salvador still felt it necessary to say, “What’s this?” as the woman presented it to him.
“Special delivery from Poland. My mother-in-law sent it last week. Take it from my sight. My husband is turning into a zombie and I want him back.” The man behind the counter let out a loud, raucous laugh. “You’re crazy Marta! Your husband will leave you for this!”
“Take it away, take it away,” she said, directing Salvador towards the door with a sweep of her arm.
Salvador – gripping the box from underneath with both arms and resting his chin on the top – moved off warily, with a sideways shuffle, looking back at the woman as he did so.
“Happy Christmas,” she said. “Enjoy.”
Out on the street he could barely believe his luck. But, he realised, it was not luck that had brought him into the possession of a RazorKlam.
Lifting his eyes to the skies, he called out, “Oh Voice, in mysterious and ever more wonderful ways you are revealing yourself!” He walked home with the cold wind at his back.
The next day, noon passed . . . then one o’clock, then two o’clock, then three o’clock . . . and Salvador still had not received instruction from the Voice. He was beginning to feel . . . not doubtful, but anxious. The RazorKlam sat in its box as he had been given it the day before.
Perhaps, he thought, it would be no harm if he played with it a little; the Voice, after all, had said nothing to suggest that he shouldn’t. He took all the parts out of the box and connected the machine to his television. But there was something missing. Of course, yes – stupid fool! There was no game with the machine. He closed his eyes. At that moment, the Voice rang out, clear and booming. “Imagine your own game,” it said.
Imagine your own game! What could it mean? The most enigmatic of the three instructions yet! Salvador stared at the blank TV screen. He could not conjure up anything. He thought of cars racing, guns blazing. He thought of the Arab man in the shop. A title came to him: “Caliphate of All That Is Not Possible”. He got up from his couch. Maybe I will find the game outside, he thought. Maybe this is what the Voice wants me to do.
He walked out to the main road and under the lee of the new hospital building. There was only slightly more traffic than the day before. The sun was low in the sky ahead of him and to his left; it shone so strongly in his face that he had to shade his eyes. He continued up the road, into the sun, until he reached the turn for Berkeley Road. He turned left and walked as far as the next corner, crossed the street, and stopped for a moment by the little triangular park. He was at the back of the hospital complex; or, seen another way, at the front of it, by the old hospital building. He looked about him in all directions.
Tinsel glinted in the windows of houses on the other side of Berkeley Road. Behind the hospital pillars a white, crowned figure stood in a glass case. Reams of barbed wire stretched along the top of a hard calp wall. Caliphate of All That Is Not Possible: had he said those words or had the Voice said them? What do you want from me today, Voice? he asked. What am I looking for? A speeding bus set a loose drain cover clanking. What is this game I must imagine?
By the following afternoon he thought he would go mad. The children had been playing with their scooters and footballs nonstop since Christmas morning it had seemed. He turned the volume on his television up and wished the children and their parents could see that this was what he had been driven to. He still could not hear the television above the screeching. “Shut up,” he found himself hissing. He pressed mute on his remote. “Shut up,” he said, loudly, and as he did so he thought he could hear another voice intoning the same. He inclined his head like a dog and waited.
The Voice came again: “Salvador, I want you to gather up the RazorKlam 4 and take it upstairs with you to the front room.” Salvador did as he was instructed but could not think what the Voice had in mind. As if responding to his thoughts, the Voice said: “Take the RazorKlam 4 to the window and open the window.” Salvador pulled up the blind, opened the window, then let the RazorKlam down on the radiator. In the street, the children were chasing each other in figures-of-eight on their scooters.