The Little Willowford Mission (4)

Report Four

Commander, you cannot imagine my relief when I digested your most contemporary communication. You are truly the most generous and forgiving superior I could wish for. Now I must ensure I am worthy of your trust and support.

Much has occurred in the time since my last report. I have not yet returned to the inn, as the body seems to have some form of integral memory of the last occasion, impossible although that seems. But, as you know, there are many diverse forms of human social interaction that I am required to experience. There is plenty of time available for another trip to the inn.

I was forced to remain within the dwelling for a further two days, as the body was unable to ingest very much solid sustenance and therefore functioned poorly, becoming weak and unresponsive after short periods of exercise. I spent this time researching diet and the effects of Chardonnay and I am confident that this information will be most useful.

On the fourth day, I carried out an inventory of the remaining food in the dwelling, and discovered that it was incompatible with the elements of a healthy diet. Therefore, I would have to buy replacements. There is a shop in the village, but it is small and I deduced that it would be unlikely to stock the range of ingredients I had identified. That is why I decided to visit the larger settlement nearby, and to do this I would need to travel in a motorised vehicle.

Research showed two possible methods of achieving this. I could request a taxi or catch a bus. Once I had dispelled the confusion occasioned by the inaccurate language employed in that phrase, I decided to take the latter option. Catching a bus involves simply standing by one of the posts I mentioned in my second report and raising one hand as it approaches. It is a significantly less dangerous and unpredictable process than the words imply.

The bus was a large vehicle with many seats arranged mostly in pairs either side of a corridor. The doors opened and I entered to find myself faced with the driver, who was encased in a transparent capsule with a small space for the exchange of money. The driver’s facial expression led me to believe he was not happy in his work and I wondered if the capsule contributed to a feeling of isolation from his fellow humans. However, I did not question him on this issue.

‘Where to?’ said he, and the economy of his words implied that this was not an auspicious time for the exchange of social niceties. I replied as politely as I could, expressing my wish that he would convey me to the nearest town without delay, but I fear I may have misjudged my tone or otherwise caused dismay. His response to me was surly and I felt obliged to provide him with the money he demanded without delay.

The bus moved forward before I managed to sit down, but I am pleased to report that the body sustained no injury. Once seated, I observed my fellow passengers and concluded that most of them had bodies of a similar age and condition to my own. There were slightly more females than males and several of these sat beside colourful wheeled trolleys that protruded into the corridor thus inhibiting the access of new passengers. I concluded that these passengers must have a higher social standing, as they did not feel obliged to move their trolleys to make way for others. Unfortunately, despite close observation, I could detect nothing to indicate the reason for such a social differential.

As the journey progressed, it became clear that the bus also provided a venue for some form of social event. Many of the passengers knew each other’s names and called out merrily to new arrivals as they found a seat. There was evidence also of some form of password system, involving the following exchange:

Existing passenger: Oh, hello (eg) Bill, how are you?

New passenger: Ah, you know. Much the same. Mustn’t grumble.

Some passengers were not greeted in this way and so did not reply with the requisite response. I concluded that these were not members of the group – as indeed I was not – and therefore were not included in the subsequent exchanges that continued throughout the journey. I could hear these only partially, especially as the man who eventually sat beside me had a very loud voice and also emitted explosive exhalations at intervals throughout the journey. These, I discovered, are known as sneezes.

Nevertheless, I could detect that most of the exchanges seemed to concern the health, or otherwise, of various third parties and the medical procedures they had experienced recently. I came to the conclusion that the participating passengers were somehow involved in the health system, but I am aware that there are serious flaws to this hypothesis and that it will need to be tested further.

As the bus entered an area with many buildings, it stopped and most of the passengers stood to leave. I noticed that the wheeled trolleys seemed to provide those who held them with preferential rights when leaving the bus so I waited until the corridor was empty before disembarking. I was careful of breaking any further unseen social rules.

Commander, you cannot imagine the many difficulties I encountered before I found my way to my destination, a large building for the buying and selling of food and other goods. It is called the ASDA Superstore and my experiences would take far too many words to include in this report. I am mindful of your directive to keep my reports brief and relevant to my mission. Therefore, I will save this information for another report and say only that I was substantially unprepared for the nature of this ASDA. It will take many hours of analysis to determine why humans would create an environment that includes such horrendous barriers to the procurement of the very essentials for continued health and well-being it is intended to provide.


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