Portrait of a Virus

His glance is all-knowing. He does not see people; he measures them up. He watches for appearance only. Up close, the left eye is exactly like the right; an extraordinary feat for so two-sided a man. His eyes are clones of each other. Wherever they are, they are sitting down at a restaurant: They scan the menu, order, eat what they want and throw away what is not to their liking. If he had lips for eyelids, one would say that they dislike what they eat. The style of his hair, colored like squash and oats, covers his head like a flying saucer that has taken the form of a crown. When a little reality gets in his way, his giant shoulders jerk up and down as if he is trying to throw off some annoying creature.

One cannot say that he is a natural phenomenon; rather, he is an example of recycling. Everything he never saw nor learned nor knew—the level of ignorance he embodies — is recycled into a formidable amount of energy. The restricted form of his nape obliges him to raise his chin to make a neck; he carries his body as though it is both a privilege and a burden. This ambivalence is evidenced by the anxiety in his smile; he is always pleased with himself, but never entirely. One could say from it that he wants someone to try to spoil his enjoyment of himself. Whether he is at work or play, only his feet don’t move much; they take on the glaring arrogance of the whole body, enabling him to command, to lead.

His voice, on the other hand, is a tidal wave. It addresses the entire world after consulting no one but himself. It is pregnant with longing, irrepressible but vague. A kind of half-human, half-mechanical urge that will no doubt eventually be integrated into the behavior of robots. At ease with itself, it seeks to conquer, to possess, to walk off with everything. It hears itself without listening, embued with all the charm of a tank in a battle. It assures those who do not know what to do in peacetime, acting like a lullaby. Deep and utterly monotone, it knows when to use milder tones to feign compassion while leading the world to the end of its rope. Indeed, it exits his gullet with strong gusts of air that lead one to suppose that it does not encounter many other people. An O-shaped mouth gives off small doses of spit; it is a static opening in a face under construction that reveals its inner workings. Each word gets the amount of breath desired to feed an artificial but inextinguishable flame. For every degree that his anger mounts, the pipe lets off steam; the flood becomes a torrent. A tight hole operated by a pair of jaws presents a view of a tongue stuck between rows of showbiz teeth.

Then comes the threatening moment when he turns off the tap with a touch of the hand. His face grows rigid and frowning. He measures the effect of his silence against that of his tirade. When he starts speaking again, his voice does not remember what it just said. Nothing slows it down when he changes register. It is the voice of an actor who plays his role so well that he sees no purpose in playing any others. Set with one objective, with one tone, it sometimes cleverly lowers its tension in a bid to offer more proof that he has some humanity. But he has such small reserves of humanity that he puts what little there is on display like goods in a shop window. His hands accompany his voice, but agitatedly. Each word expects help from his limbs; his palms come together and separate, sometimes upright against each other, or in prayer, or in knocking, or reengaged in a clenched fist, a raised finger. To watch him gesture without sound, one would think he were a conductor of a symphony — the score of which is a financial report — or a military commander.

His entire being is presented on the outside, and what little of his being exists inside sits before a mirror. He is the imperturbable king of the facade. His self-love is so intense that he fears self-betrayal, any unexpected cowardice toward himself on his own part. He is a man without mystery, but he has a secret: There is no connection between the character he plays and himself as a person. He does a good job of covering the former with flattery and laurels, but the latter is frustrated. He is sometimes at the point of harming himself, if only to demonstrate his ability to do anything. Yet though he may be sick, he is not suicidal; he constantly changes his mind. He turns his mouth and eyes around as if they had been dead, takes several seconds to think, then responds triumphantly and congratulates himself on his alacrity. In finishing, he feels revivified by each change of his mind, each time announcing without a stammer that, “That’s the way it is, and nothing else.”

About-faces are not his brand; they are his means of attack. He counts on them to knock his opponents off balance, which is one of the things he likes best. This is when you can see him to lift his lip in hesitation between a snigger and a laugh, but in the end, he does neither; he amuses himself without laughing, even flaunts this habit.

Does he know how to laugh? Nothing is more uncertain. He can surely guffaw — but laugh the way someone does to ease oneself when one’s inner child and grownup are joined? Impossible. He cannot distinguish between unwinding and cutting loose. The former comes to him as naturally as breathing, but cutting loose assumes he has something inside himself to let go. He knows excitement and exaltation, but joy? That case must be dropped in every sense of the word, for it is impossible to see how he could. Joy is not the same as winning; it is necessary to only have it, and nothing else, to gain what it offers. It requires forgetting oneself. How could he do such a thing? To be fair, he is sometimes quite close to being funny, to saying, “I’m wrong about everything, then? So what? I’m the stronger one, so screw you!” He does not say that, though, because instead of ridicule he has a sense of self-preservation; he wants no one to see the emptiness that he comes from. “What good is it to tell you where I’m coming from,” he thinks, “when I am where I am?” All the same, let us grant that he possesses an instinctive kind of intelligence that covers up rather than steals.

In his eyes there are two kinds of people: those who follow him, praise him, prolong his power, and those who are, in a word, importunate. The latter kind of people bother him like a difficult shoelace or a match that will not strike; when his impatience blinds him, the stock market and his son-in-law act as his compass. He sees no wrong in doing two contradictory things at once: finding his purpose by going off the rails, calming down by being nervous, deriving his calling by giving orders.

I said at the beginning that this man is two-sided, but neither side informs the other; thus, while standing up in public wearing a suit and tie with his hairdo so precise, another part of him remains seated. Whether he talks of an ongoing war or of nuclear danger, his face always wears a hint of distaste that is overcome by his enjoyment of being in the spotlight. He is really refusing to discuss the topic in order to buy himself more time, to steal the show. It has only to be seen how he pouts like being in a capsized boat on a world tour. This solipsism finds form in his amused smirk at being taken seriously and his eagerness to offer wisdom to a lowly public.

In sum, he pities those who do not understand who he is, and he continually suffers without knowing why he is not someone else. But how would he know whom to be? He has never known anyone except himself. This man is a virus, which illustrates the parlous state of our planet, where everybody knows about it, but no one will prevent the virus from doing harm.

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