The Karma Farmer: A short story.


He threw the quadruple espresso down in one into him and grimaced at the taste. His stomach burned and his heart protested at the fresh toxic caffeine load. If he kept this up then staying awake would be the least of his problems. He’d have a heart attack and it would be game over and he’d be stuck with his karmic debt forever. He had to say awake because he couldn’t sleep now, not just now. If he did the results would be disastrous the next day. He would wake up one step nearer to hell.
All day he had been running around town. When he lived in Egypt he saw how most people ran around all day, from early in the morning until near midnight, just trying to make enough money to survive. He had been running around all day trying to find an opportunity to do something good, but the stakes were higher than mere physical survival.

It was harder to be good now than it should be though. It was surprisingly difficult to do something good because London was such a closed insular city that everybody did their best to seal themselves off from everybody else. If you made a move to help someone who was struggling with a door and you helped them they looked at you with contempt for breaking the golden London rule by not minding your own damn business, or accused you of chauvinistic sexism or sexual harassment.

It never used to be like this, but recently he had moved away from that London which used to exist to a different place, a London where even an attempt to be nice could be used against you to plunge you deeper into the quicksand of karmic politics.
This was the problem of finding yourself inexorably drawn to hell day by day. The description in Dante’s Inferno was quite right except for a major misconception, the dimensions were wrong. Dante was describing the four dimensional, not the three dimensional shape of hell, though it is doubtful anyone at the time could ever have
understood his point. 

The initial fall from neutrality to purgatory then to hell itself was sudden and steep, and even though one didn’t know one had just fallen into hell, one had the clear impression that something had changed about life, the smile had gone, one no longer whistled during the walk to the shops, nor did anyone else. Noone else smiled or at least, they smiled a lot less.  Then the descent into the deeper levels of hell was a steady linear affair until the point of no return, the ninth level, a steep fall then a funnel through which one fell to never recover or even sight heaven or normality again. 

For a couple of months now he had been aware that he had been steadily falling deeper and deeper into hell, except for a few occasions when he managed to balance his daily karma and do enough deeds to outweigh his bad, and he managed to climb slightly out of the hell he had found himself in.
He felt a tremor in his head, and his left eye twitched. He felt an awful chemical greasiness which probably told him that this had to be his last coffee for the day, or rather night, or rather morning, since it was coming up to about 3 am. Hopefully he would be able to stay awake until dawn but being out and about walking the streets of London was not only potentially dangerous, but possible  a totally pointless exercise since who would be around for him to try to help?
He was running out of time. He knew he was in karmic debt for the day because he could feel it like he could feel the cumulative coffee poisoning. Like a subtle feeling of nagging guilt that told him the truth about himself and where he was headed if he went to sleep on it. He would wake up one level down, and one day he would find himself at the point of no return where the smiles had all gone and world war expected any time. World war was the ultimate expression of a world fallen into hell and to live through such a war was to live in a time of hell on Earth. 

The great question of what did we do to deserve it all he had answered. But initially he laughed at the suggestion until the suggestion grew in his mind and he found that he could actually make a rational case for it. Then he could no longer escape from the reality of the rational case he had built and it became the truth from which he could not find refuge in delusion.
The only curiosity was how one traveled to hell and what happened to all the other people. It was one thing to enter a personal moral landslide but why did the other people around you also have to experience the same conditions as the country, the town, the society and life itself slowly gave way to chaos and total degradation?
He had heard of the multiple universes theory which implied that there are an infinite number of universes and that apparently our decisions could create a turning point and a different universe would come into being based on that decision. He thought that theory was utterly stupid. First of all infinity was a mathematical abstraction and did not exist in the real world, or real universe. It could not because infinity was the same as eternity and everything in the universe was finite by definition. However the possibility that there were a limited number of other universes, each one worse than the previous one was a suggestion which he could accept.
He had noticed that the world and things seemed to get worse progressively and he couldn’t explain why. Entropy had appealed to him as a conceptual explanation but what was the motor or reason for entropy. It just didn’t make sense. It was clearly a word to describe something science couldn’t actually understand, but he and perhaps he alone could understand the motor behind widening chaos and the steady millennial long descent into the abyss. 

The theory of course that he was travelling through other universes depending on how good or bad he was made sense and it occurred to him that the only time this transition could take place would be during sleep. So he knew now that when he went to sleep in this universe he awoke in another. It was ostensibly the same, he had the same relationships, had the same job and knew the same people, but very gradually they changed, it was scarcely perceptible but he had started to notice.

He had had a few good days, when he first figured this out, the revelation of it had impelled him with new mystical zeal to climb up to be eventually reawaken in a perfect Earth, it would be a long hard journey but he was sure such a thing would be possible.

But after initial success and a sense that his life, and indeed all life seemed to be improving, he was suddenly caught by surprise by an unexpected event. Something totally out of the blue which he had failed to handle correctly: A series of slow drivers in front of him had caused him to lose his patience to such an extent that he rapidly accelerated past one of them while in town, overtaking on the oncoming traffic lane. 

Unfortunately a police car was nearby and had spotted the manoeuvre. He received a £200 on the spot fine and three points on his licence. It hit him like God’s judgement on Cain. How had this happened? He realised that it was him that was the problem, it must have been. He had been impatient, and in this universe cars moved slowly because they were more relaxed people and it was also safer to drive more slowly, his frustration and reaction was his weakness and he had spoiled his chance to climb to a higher sphere after this. This had set him back for days, losing interest completely in the process and even for a moment telling himself it was all a silly delusion or paranoid fantasy.
But he couldn’t escape his own logic, the decline of society and living standards in his own country was not caused by bad government management or malevolent politicians but by his own slipping moral standards. 

It wasn’t the world which was getting worse it was him, he had once lived in a good world but he had slowly awoken day by day after several years, into worlds which suited his character better, leaving the good happy world he once knew, for this increasingly more and more doomed world on the edge of its own self destruction. But he could change, at least he tried, and that had to count for something. 

He tried to help people but the thing about being in hell was that everything backfired on him, people couldn’t be helped, or didn’t want to be helped or there was always some cruel irony which snapped at him and mocked his attempts to change his character and his universe.

“Too late, you’re stuck with us now” it would mock at him, “Goodness has no power here, the only thing that makes this world turn is malice, cunning and deceit.”
Today he had seen a couple of blind men standing at the side of the road waiting to cross. He came over to them hoping to help them across the road and increase his virtue for the day and level his karmic debt.  
“Let me take your hand,” he said, feeling sure that this was the act of an angel and the blind men would be overjoyed and tearful at the sound of a good Samaritan in their dark world.
“I’ll take yer focken head.” The man jeered at him in a strong Scottish accent.
And they managed to get across the road without his help. This demoralised him greatly and his sins were greatly swelled with anger, hated and self-pity which he wallowed in for the next half an hour. He went to the pub and in his glum and joyless cidery reverie made his new world of tomorrow blacker as he mused over the benefits of nuclear war and how maybe it might be the best thing for everyone, as long as the bombs don’t fall too close to wherever he is sitting at the time.

“No.” he told himself. And he bravely fought against the diabolic suggestions which was a breeze from hell blowing in his ear when his guard was lowered and he was cidered up.

He would fight. He would struggle to leave this place and climb. The cider turned him unexpectedly tenacious and his innate stubbornness which usually only caused him problems this time was his greatest asset. He hunted around the pub for any vague or slim opportunity to do something good for someone but found nothing but a man taking refuge from reality in the doom of a newspaper and a young couple who seemed to own their corner of the pub with their combined presence. 

He looked askance at the them, remembering his girlfriends when he was in his late teens and early twenties as they seemed to be. Life seemed limitless back then and the love they had seemed to stop time and open up one of those portals of eternity which love could open up in the cosy wooden corner of a funky student pub down the Mile End road. The couple seemed young but he could not sense any eternal portal powered by love. Tragically they appeared to have already been married for twenty years, such was the look of boredom and what appeared to be a nascent gaze of abject resignation to life in the man’s eyes. What if love itself was being removed from this world too? Would he one day wake up in a world without love? Like Peter and Gordon, he didn’t want to be there. Where the birds sing out of tune and rain clouds hide the moon.

One thing he had tried was karma farming from cats. He had taken to feeding as many cats as he could find in his neighbourhood, and soon he had quite a following and they would follow him around whenever he appeared in the street or set foot outside his door. At one point he had around fifteen cats which he farmed for the karma, feeding them, stroking them and generally being nice to them because after all, he did rather like cats. But he found by calculation that cat karma wasn’t worth as much as karma from human activities and although he continued to feed them he knew he couldn’t rely on cats for salvation, and then his front garden had started to smell of cat piss and he would hear strange cat noises in the middle of the night and the cats of the whole area would declare his house the front line of whatever cat wars were taking place and what with the ensuing loss of sleep and rising anger and frustration that another attempt had failed he gave up on the cats altogether, though he slyly fed and petted one or two of his favourites when no other cats were looking.

Then he heard a drunken bellow reach him from somewhere in the sullen London night. Perhaps a drunk man was turning into a werewolf through the combined chemical power of drinking a heavy potion of lager and vodka through the course of an evening.

Could he help him? Perhaps the shout was literally a cry for help. He himself wasn’t drunk and could possibly make himself useful to a woefully drunk man making a mischief of himself. He made towards the origin of the sound. After a few moments he heard it again, this time louder and even more insistent, perhaps the transformation was reaching its completion. Would he find a man or a beast when he arrived on the scene? A few more blocks and the sound was right ahead of him. He then saw him, hardly human, a staggering animal shape, a hunched figure, close to the ground, moving in a hobbling motion, swaying from side to side as if the very pavement were being billowed about under him like a storm at sea.

He came closer to the man who bellowed afresh at seeing him. Maybe this was a bad idea. Maybe he should just go home to bed and accept today as a loss and anticipate the fresh horrors of a day in a new descending step on the infernal multiverse.

“Alright mate,” he said instead.

The drunk man made a strange sound of surprise, it was like a combination of a duck’s quack and a shout, he hadn’t seen him approaching, but he still remained in the strange crumbled straggling bow legged posture, slowly creeping along the heaving pavement like a man with recently mended broken legs. He could not see his face, and couldn’t quite make him out somehow, the man was more of a crumpled low hobbling shadow in the city night.

“You want me to find you a taxi mate.” He figured if he could just get this man in a taxi and see him home to whatever lair this horribly drunken man who was clearly composed more of alcohol than of living matter, then he could go home to sleep and with the knowledge that he would awake in a slightly better world.

The man didn’t respond. This was annoying. Trying to control his feelings of growing frustration he tried again, this time more insistently:

“I say mate, can I get you a taxi?”

It seemed that the words had percolated through the alcohol sodden sponge of his brain and had dripped through slowly into his consciousness as he made some kind of reply, though he was expecting some slurred words and maybe even some vomiting, but instead there was a strange kind of whine coming from the man, a sound coming from his throat which perhaps indicated that he was trying to engage his vocal chords but was no longer able to produce speech.

His frustration was now gone and something else had moved in to occupy his thoughts: unease. The howling, quacking and whining were all animal sounds, at no point had he heard anything human from the man, combined with the fact that he had not yet seen his face since there was something indistinct about the man, he seemed to have a shadow over him, a strange trick of the night. He tried to laugh and make light of the situation.  “How much ‘ave you had mate? I’ve never seen anyone as mashed as you, well, not since Fresher’s week, but that was a long time ago.”

Again there was a strange animal sound from the man. A kind of puzzled dog-whine coming from somewhere inside the man and resonating out of his face. Was this really a human or had his voyage to hell finally brought him face to face with the kind of creatures that the place is known for? Had he now fully crossed over into the abyss and was now trying to find a taxi for a demonic denizen of the deepest infernal domains. He was pretty sure that when he had never previously encountered monsters on the streets of London, even when it was just after 3am when anything could happen and nobody would know. This was the part of the day that didn’t quite know whether it was really late in the night or extremely early in the morning and as such kind of existed between two worlds. The world of reality and the world of unexpected possibility. It was this time of the day when people who were out of doors and consuming large quantities of alcohol usually acquired things in their pockets that they couldn’t account for when they returned home. Telephone numbers, traffic cones,  or strange new friendships. Or equally they lost things without ever remembering losing them. Things slipped and sloshed about at this time of the day/night and nothing could be secured or safely fastened down, that was why as one grew older one learned that it was better to stay at home and let the young people discover the dangers of being caught out of doors during the strange period of transition which the world with its clocks and streetlamps thought it had stripped of all its mysteries. 

But he understood the mystery, he knew he was going to be caught in the transition, maybe he was wrong, maybe the universes melted into each other during the night, perhaps the sun protected everyone from this and its gravity and radiation anchored everything down until the night came again and the universes started melting into each other again. Maybe it made no difference whether he slept or not, he would still find himself one step lower if he didn’t find someone to help, and his last chance was this strange demon creature who may or may not have been actually drunk.

There was a strange hiss now, the sound of air slowly being pumped into a bicycle inner tube with a puncture. The air was coming out of the flapping slit of what must have been a mouth but the thing was so much cast in shadow it could not be discerned. The hiss suddenly and unexpectedly became a word. Then a series of words and a question.

“Who are you?” It asked him.He was starting to wish he hadn’t bothered.

“I’m Jim,” he said breezily but inwardly feeling an infinite and sudden fatigue as if trying to wade out of a black-hole. 

“No.” It said, or rather air was pushed out of the creature and shaped to make this sound of

‘No’.” I mean,” it continued, “WHO are you?”

“I told you, my name is Jim.”

“There are many who are called Jim, James, Jimmy and Jimbo, but I want to know who you are.”

The voice was as if the wind could speak, and if it could it would sound like this strange thing in the middle of London in the middle of the night.

“I’m sorry but I don’t know what to tell you mate.”

There was something like a long dry airy chuckle from the thing.

“So… do not know who you are.” The air turned cold.

Jim felt he was perhaps not quite in the presence of a harmless drunk and never had been, the noise the creature had made should have been a warning to him.

It continued, “It is lucky for you then, that I know who you are for you. Perhaps I can help you.”

Jim was dumbfounded. What kind of help could this thing which probably never had been either drunk or a man could provide him, he who had set his heart on helping this thing.

Desperately he continued doggedly in his futile quest, “Can I get you a taxi,” his only alternative would be silence and defeat and acceptance that his previously held convictions about his own personal reality were being rapidly stripped bare and exposed to some new and horribly unfamiliar and infinitely threatening new paradigm.

It laughed. 

“I can see you are uncomfortable with the unfamiliar. You really should be more flexible and be much more accepting of the unexpected. You thought you could help me but perhaps I can help you.”

“How?” Jim asked, trying to assume an air of control of the situation when he clearly had none.

“I can see that you do not have control of your life. You are here wandering around the streets of London in the middle of the night and you are not even drunk. Anyone who is sober and not engaged in essential maintenance work, taxi-cabbing or the emergency services has no business being out at this time of night. Yet you are, therefore something is wrong. I know what is wrong and I can help you find the world you believe you have lost and which you are here wandering these cold loveless drink covered pavements searching for.”

He told himself he didn’t understand what he was saying. ‘Weird drunk bastard’ he said to himself, ‘just talking gibberish,’ and he was happy to maintain this belief and was about to walk away and give up on the evening and maybe commiserate himself with the fact that he had tried and perhaps that might account for something in the final reckoning of the day’s work, he was considering how best to extricate himself from this situation when the man spoke again:

“Don’t walk away, you undertook to try to help me and that is a contract established in bond, you will not renege on it now.”

He was alarmed and his inner complacency suddenly lost its familiar warmth. 

“You don’t think it’s a coincidence that you are here do you?”

He had no answer. He could only think now of taxis and trying to get home and perhaps this man would call one for him because he was now feeling singularly weak and wondered how he would get home, since it was an awfully long way to walk and he now felt tired and somewhat confused. He had thought he was something of an advanced party and had discovered a truth that he and he alone knew and whatever this universe or the next one gave him was within certain predictable limits. But this had just been exposed as a very short-sighted misjudgement. This might change everything. If he could survive this encounter with something which was way beyond his experience of expertise with his sanity and life intact. He looked at the form of the speaker before him, he was nervous now about just what he might see since this thing which had previously seemed less than human was now possibly more than human.

He peered into where he imagined the face might be but saw nothing but blackness, even the clothes, if they were even clothes at all were all black and formless, the man, or whatever it was, was like a twisting moving mass of blackness. 

Then suddenly, to his surprise.

“You alright mate?” 

This shook him back from this strange conversation. He focussed his eyes on the black form before him, it was now clearly a big bin-bag full of rubbish sat on the pavement awaiting an early morning collection. Had he been talking to a bin-bag? A black London taxi-cab had pulled up next to him.

“You had a few have ya? Where do you live? If it’s on me way back home I’ll give you a freebie.”

He was too surprised to answer immediately, he turned to the taxi driver and then looked back to where the thing had been and it was clearly just a bag of rubbish. But it had moved.  

He gave his address which was on the cabbie’s way back to Romford and climbed into the back of the cab and, with sheer exhaustion catching up with him he sat in a semi stupefied state somewhere between numb paralysed confusion and over-excited mental delirium, he stared out of the window wondering what it could all mean.

“You alright back there bucko? I saw you a mile off, thought you was a Banksy for a minute. Some kind of street art. You was just stood there like a statue, then I clocked. What you been on?”

Jim snapped himself out of his reverie.

“Eh?” then he caught the gist of the conversation, “Oh, nothing like that. The only thing I had was quadruple espresso.”

“Well I thought you were on ketamine or something. We used to do that when we was kids. We’d end up standing around like you, that’s why I stopped. You reminded me of the old days.”

Something occurred to Jim.

“So you helped me out because I reminded you of the old days.”

“Well, also you looked in a right two and eight. Gotta be careful round the streets of London at night. City’s not as safe as she used to be. It’s no skin of my nose and if I can get you home all the better.”

“Kindness for kindness sake.” He murmured aloud.

“Well, if y’like mate, but it doesn’t hurt to do a good turn if you get the chance.”

He felt he was in the cab with someone from another universe, a better universe. He decided to try to quiz him and try to get some kind of answers. He wondered why he was in the same place as someone as clearly joyfully happy and seemingly at peace with the world as this taxi driver was. But he didn’t quite know how to broach the subject, and by the time he had figured out a way to innocuously bring the subject up he looked out of the window to find that he was already on the Whitechapel road and just around the corner from the place he lived. He wouldn’t quite call it home since it wasn’t quite that. This was London, very few people had homes, most rented rooms and apartments from private landlords so they were always either someone else’s homes or else, probably nobodies’. 

Then he arrived outside his door and the taxi had stopped. 

“Look after yourself mate, be lucky!” the chirpy cockney driver sang to him while the engine ran.

He spluttered it out, “How do you stay so happy?” he asked, “Don’t you sometimes think this world is  going to hell?” 

The taxi driver paused a moment, thought about what the man had said, then slowly switched off the engine.

He turned around, for the first time, to face Jim who was still in the back.

“It’s funny you say that. I was thinking something similar myself this very day. Like how everything seems to be going nuts and everything you could count on turns out to be a load of crap. Pop star nonces and all that. But the thing is, I’ve always been a punk so I’ve never had any illusions about the way things are. The problem is the people who get caught and suckered, reeled in by the bullshit. But you can’t bullshit me. I never had any expectations about nothing from day one, so there’s no chance of getting let down. It’s the people who didn’t get their head round that who have the problems. I feel for the old people these days, they must think they’ve woken up in hell, but the problem is, they never saw through the bullshit of their own generation, but it was there, it was just hidden. Now I suppose they just ain’t pretending or hiding it anymore, and anyone who ever had any false beliefs or got taken in by the appearance or lie of human civilisation if you like, is gonna get a rude wake up. Know what I mean?”

Jim thought for a moment. Yes. It did make sense. And with that, he was cured of his delusion and thanked the cabbie heartily and he never got caught talking to another black bin bag full of rubbish possessed with demonic consciousness again.  

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