(Fiction) Terrible things are happening!

Just Like Old Times

by Karel Capek

Eupator, citizen of Thebes and basketmaker, was sitting in his courtyard weaving baskets when his neighbor Philagoros came running over, calling while still a long way off: “Eupator, Eupator, leave your baskets and listen! Terrible things are happening!”

“Where’s the fire?” asked Eupator, apparently willing to leap to his feet.

“It’s worse than a fire,” replied Philagoros. “Do you know what’s going on? They mean to bring charges against our General Nikomachos! Some people say he’s guilty of some sort of intrigue with the Thessalonians, and others claim he’s involved in some kind of dealings with the Malcontents Party. Come quickly, we’re gathering for a demonstration in the agora!”

“But what would I do there?” Eupator asked uncertainly.

“It’s terribly important,” said Philagoros. “The place is already jam-packed with speakers; some say he’s innocent, and others say he’s guilty. Come and listen to them!”

“Wait a minute,” said Eupator. “I’m just now finishing this basket. And tell me, what is this Nikomachos actually accused of?”

“It’s not known, exactly,” said his neighbor. “Somebody says one thing and somebody else another, but the authorities haven’t said anything, because it seems the investigation isn’t finished yet. But it’s a regular free-for-all down at the agora, you should see it! Some of them shouting that Nikomachos is innocent — ”

“Wait just a minute; how can they shout that he’s innocent when they don’t know for certain what he’s accused of?”

“It doesn’t matter; everyone’s heard something, and they just talk about what they’ve heard. We’ve all got a right to talk about what we’ve heard, don’t we? I myself believe that Nikomachos was trying to betray us to the Thessalonians; someone there said so, and he says someone he knows saw some kind of letter. But one man said it was a plot against Nikomachos and that he knows a thing or two about it — They say that even the government’s mixed up in it. Are you listening, Eupator? So the question now is — ”

“Wait,” said the basketmaker. “The question now is: are the laws we’ve passed for ourselves good or bad? Did anyone say anything about that at the agora?”

“No, but that’s not really what it’s all about; it’s about Nikomachos.”

“And is anyone at the agora saying that the authorities investigating Nikomachos are bad and unjust?”

“No, no one’s said anything like that.”

“Then what are they talking about there?”

“Why, I’m telling you: about whether Nikomachos is guilty or innocent.”

“Listen, Philagoros, if your wife had a falling out with the butcher because she said he’d given her less than a full pound of meat, what would you do?”

“I’d take my wife’s side.”

“No you wouldn’t, you’d check to see if the butcher’s weights were accurate.”

“I know that even without you telling me.”

“So then. And you’d check to see if his scales were working properly.”

“You don’t need to tell me that either, Eupator.”

“I’m glad to hear it. And if the weights and scales were in good working order, you’d check to see how much that piece of meat weighed, and you’d know at once who was right, the butcher or your wife. It’s odd, Philagoros, how people are smarter when it come to their cuts of meat than when it comes to public affairs. Is Nikomachos guilty or innocent? The scales will tell us, if they’re in good working order. But if they’re to weigh accurately, you mustn’t blow on the pans to make them tilt to one side or the other. Why do you claim that the authorities investigating this Nikomachos affair are scoundrels or the like?”

“No one said that, Eupator.”

“I thought you didn’t trust them. But if you have no reason to distrust them, then why on earth are you and your crowd blowing on their pans? Either it’s because you don’t care whether the truth comes out, or because you only want to split up into two parties and quarrel. May the gods damn all of you, Philagoros. I don’t know if Nikomachos is guilty, but you’re all damned guilty of trying to interfere with the course of justice. It’s odd how inferior the willow twigs are this year; they bend like string, but they’ve got no firmness, no substance. We need warmer weather, Philagoros, but that’s in the hands of the gods, not in ours.”

(August 3, 1926)

You can find that volume here: https://adamantcritique.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/capek-karel-apocryphal-tales-catbird-1997.pdf