Omar ZahZah

Most, at the very least, would probably have agreed that the man was unstable, but just how this was so would prove a more difficult question to answer.  Of course, there was nothing to go by except the incident that started it all, which, in keeping with the times, had been secretly recorded and promptly uploaded to all the usual sites. It is a curious thing that data cannot speak, and perhaps because of this curiosity, the author of the recording was eventually sought out. This witness, young and predictably dismayed, described the events almost exactly as she had seen them, her delivery and details varying negligibly in subsequent interviews:  “I saw a man walk up to a police car. He did it real normally. I think that’s what was weird, you know, before the actual weird things began.”

In one interview, a handsome newscaster who bobbed his head at every second word cut in at this point and asked, “How would you describe him, this man?” And when she just barely squeaked out a syllable he said, almost apologetically, “I mean, did he seem strange at all? In the way he looked?”

“Not . . . really,” she replied.

In another interview, a radio host had asked for an unusually detailed account of the man’s motions—“Where was he coming from when you first noticed him?”

“I can’t say, really. I mean, you know, I was with my friends, coming out of the store, so, I wasn’t really watching. I mean in that way, you know. I didn’t even notice the police car until I saw him walking up to it. That’s what made it stand out.”

“What was his pace like?”

“Well . . . I mean I said this in sort of another way, you know, before, but it was relaxed, I guess I would say. Not strange or, out of place, or what have you.”

And yet, a journalist had written in one of numerous articles about the affair, the ordinariness of his gait was belied by his actions.

“He just . . . walked up to our car,” said one of the two police officers who had been present. “We called out to him to back away, and he kept coming.”

“Many people have their reservations about what we did, but you have to understand we had no idea who this man was, or what he was capable of,” said the other.

“We called out the same warning, again, even as we started moving toward him,” said the first. “I mean by that point we were pretty much set on taking him in. We thought, you know, he was behaving somewhat erratically.”

“As we took him down, he was pointing at our tires. I mean, it’s easier to recognize what he was doing now, in retrospect. In the moment, though, you always have to be prepared for the worst, so we didn’t have the luxury of just standing back and wondering what we were looking at. We had to act. But yeah, I guess he was pointing at our tires. He said, ‘This is rubber,’” the other said.

The recording eventually garnered a reputation for being notoriously blurry, shaky and inaudible, but despite that many claimed they next saw the man tackled to the ground, after which he somehow managed to free an arm long enough to point at one of the officer’s badges and eke out, “This is copper” before a baton came down (at which point the man, according to some, cried out “this is aluminum”).

“And what do you make of how,” a Professor asked his class, “when this individual was brought to trial, he had to be restrained by the bailiff, because he kept trying to dash over to the judge’s bench, and when he couldn’t get to it he just gestured with his chin and said ‘That, that is wood?’”

“A political statement,” said one of the students, but when the Professor pressed him to explain, he found himself curiously unable to do so.

An epidemic of sorts soon broke out. Crowds of people, of all ages and backgrounds, began to gather around where the man was being held. They pressed themselves against the ground, and in unison began to cry that it was concrete.

Several years after all this had passed, a filmmaker began a documentary about the man, which he also narrated. In one of the voiceovers, given over a frontal shot of the institution, he said that those who saw the man usually reported being disappointed—“as though they were expecting a prophet. But of what, it is hard to say.”

The film then cut to a scene of the man being shown to his room by an orderly. “And that,” the man said in the film, motioning at the only window with his head once he was inside, “that is glass. And out,” the man said, looking out, “out is air, and wind, and light.”


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