As we are getting better acquainted, I feel I must tell you about my dear, tragic brother Saul. Like myself, he was fascinated by the more esoteric aspects of science. Unlike myself though, he became obsessed by some balderdash he called Quantum Physick. He believed, bizarrely, that there were a multitude of parallel worlds, each subtly different from our own. Disastrously, he build a sort of cabinet to allow him to visit these worlds. He hoped to travel the highways and byways of the universe. One terrible day he walked into the contraption and vanished, never to be seen again.
I keep the cabinet in my study as a reminder of the folly of man and the dangers of science unchecked. But a curious thing happens: From time to time, I find letters or papers in the cabinet. The tone and language is strange to me, and I can barely make sense of them. I wonder if they are some coded message from my long lost brother. I present a recent example here, as mysterious as the others.
Sir John Jennings
Monsieur Head’s Unfortunate Situation
Monsieur Head first discovered his unfortunate situation at breakfast one Tuesday. Early in the previous week he had, to his astonishment, been a victim of crime. As a good citizen he had reported to the local constabulary the crime: namely, the theft of his bicycle. On that fateful Tuesday he received a letter from the police station which informed him that he, M. Bicycle, had reported to them that his head had recently been stolen. This caused him some amusement. He chuckled to himself at the comical mix up, although he was almost as surprised to see an erroneous official letter as he had been to have his bicycle stolen. Clearly standards were deteriorating.
On his morning train, as punctual as ever, he showed the letter to the gentlemen opposite, with whom he travelled every day and with whom he chatted from time to time. The man opposite appeared curious at first, then shocked, and then looked rather suspiciously at M Head.
“My dear Monsieur Bicycle,” he exclaimed, “what a terrible set of circumstances to find yourself in.”
“My good friend,” replied M Head, “you know full well my name is Head not Bicycle. Furthermore the letter is in error, can you not see. It’s rather amusing, you see it was my bicycle which was stolen.”
“I’m not sure I see anything terribly amusing in that,” replied the commuter, “but that aside, this is an official letter. I cannot believe they are in error. Perhaps your, er, new head has yet to settle to its home and it is you that is confused.”
With this he handed back the letter and looked solidly and fixedly out of the window for the remainder of the journey.
At M Head’s work he took the opportunity afforded by an official break to show the letter to his co-workers. To his amazement, they reacted as his commuter friend had, with a mixture of sympathy, confusion and suspicion. M Head decided that he would use his lunch break at noon to travel to the police station and have the letter rectified. But just before his lunch, his manager summoned him to a meeting room. When he arrived, he found that a woman from the Personnel department was also there.
“Monsieur,” said the manager “I believe you have in your possession a letter from the local police. Would you be kind enough to share it with me.”
“Of course,” replied M Head. “It is really rather amusing as there is a humorous error in it.”
At this the lady from Personnel and the manager exchanged a glance, which M Head missed as he extracted the letter from his leather briefcase. The manager retrieved a pair of glasses from his top pocket and read the letter slowly. Then he turned to the lady from Personnel and said,
“It is as we thought.”
At this the woman nodded once briskly and left the room.
“M Bicycle,” continued the manager, “I’m afraid this puts us in a difficult position. For a start we clearly have our personnel records wrong and we must correct this. And in this there is an implication of, shall we say, misdirection on your part. But further, there is the issue of how you came about your current head as the letter clearly indicates yours was stolen.”
“Sir, surely you can see there has been an administrative error at the police station. It is clearly absurd that my head could have been stolen. It was my bicycle that was stolen and my head is the same head I have always had.”
“I would have said so too, but there it is in black and white. I might add that you have failed to provide the explanation I asked for. You see, I am in a difficult position, with two possible explanations. Either it is as you say and there is an error in the letter. Alternately, the letter is in fact correct and you have obtained an alternate head. Since the latter is equally likely and the head you now possess is either malfunctioning or potentially even stolen itself, a black market head, I am in a very difficult position indeed.”
“My good sir,” said M Head, “you have seen me every day for the last ten years. Have I ever seemed the type to procure, as you put it, an illicit head?”
“Indeed not, but then that was before I saw this letter. No, I am sorry M Bicycle, I cannot be sure, and it is better safe than sorry. I simply cannot have the suspicion of illicit head purchase on our firm. Our very reputation depends on it. I’m afraid I must let you go.”
The manager then escorted M Head out of the office and out the front door. M Head tried several times to explain the situation but the manager was adamant. Confused and now concerned for his very well being, M Head made straight to the police station to clear up the problem. He presented himself at the desk and produced the letter, asking the constable to read it.
“I see,” said the constable at the desk. “And what do you wish me to do, M Bicycle.”
“Head!” exclaimed M Head, who was quite exasperated by now. “My name is Head! The letter is a mistake and it is causing me all sorts of problems. I’m here so that you may correct it and my life may return to normal.”
“Are you saying that your head has not been stolen M Bicycle.” said the policeman.
“Yes, exactly that. My head is still very much here.”
“So you have been wasting police time with a false report?”
“No, no, no,” said M Head. “My bicycle was stolen, not my head. It is a mix up.”
The policeman’s eyes narrowed. “Are you saying we made a mistake?”
“Yes, yes you did!”
“This all seems very unusual, very unlikely. What if we didn’t make a mistake. What if you are the thief who took M Bicycle’s head and are even now trying to get your crime removed. Do you have any identification M Bicycle.”
“Yes, no, yes I do, but not as M Bicycle.”
“So you are not the victim of this crime? I see. Then I’m afraid I have no choice. I am arresting you on suspicion of possession of a stolen head, wasting police time, and defaming an employee of the state.”
And M Head was taken to the cells.
Hours passed and no food or drink was brought. When M Head asked for both, the staff seemed surprised and explained that, as a headless man, he should not need either. Eventually the door unlocked and a smartly dressed man walked in.
“Good evening M Head, I am Detective Schwarz. I believe we owe you an apology”
“I should… what did you call me? At last! You have realised the truth”
“Indeed,” said the man, “the letter is plainly in error.”
“Then I am free to go?” asked M Head plaintively. “You will correct the letter.”
“No,” said the detective, “I cannot do that. You see M Head, this is a letter from the State. To correct it would imply a failure on the part of the State. That would create uncertainty for the people. They would lose the trust they have in the State, in society itself. It could, no, would, be a doorway to anarchy. I cannot do that.”
“But it is a simple thing,” whined M Head. “My life is in tatters, a small error, no one would mind.”
“I don’t doubt this has affected you badly, but the needs of the many must outweigh those of the few. That is the cornerstone of good governance. It is a sad fact for you, but there you are. But I wanted you to have some peace, even so, which is why I am explaining this to you.”
“What,” whimpered M Head, “what will happen to me?”
“Prison is too complicated as you have committed no crime that we could convict you for. So I am afraid you are to be committed to a lunatic asylum. Some men will come shortly and take you away. They have been told that you are a dangerous lunatic who believes he is called M Head. Believe me it is better for a man like you.”
With that the detective left the cell and M Head was left to sit and ponder his most unfortunate situation.