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Sine Nomine, Sine Loco, Sine Origo

By Gordon Ross Lanser

He was both recondite and taciturn, and he was very old as well. When he spoke he sometimes spoke in awkwardly structured Latin, occasionally in Greek, although he was known to have last lived in Redlands, California, before the move to the home. He enjoyed puzzles, and worked them for hours in silence. During warm afternoons, when he was not sleeping, he could be found sitting in the chair by the window, reading tattered books in natural light.

He was known once to have looked up at the nurse who brought him his meal and to have said, "I wish this were true of everyone: cogito ergo humanitas." That was all that he had said. The nurse had looked at him and blinked, she had never before heard him speak, and she had asked, "what does that mean?" The old man had smiled, and then had begun to eat his applesauce. He had a tendency to spill, and often the sauce would run down his chin, and as the nurse wiped at it he had said, "humanitas ex societas."

It was a surprise to everyone when, on the morning of March 12, 1994, they had gone to awaken him, and had found his window open and his bed empty.

That spring the English teacher at Foothill Community College in Los Altos, California, read the roll. He asked, "is there anyone whose name I have not called?"

A hand went up in the rear of the room.

"Do you want to add the class."

The student nodded.

"What's your name please."

The student sat quietly, reflecting to himself. "What's in a name?" he asked finally, "Sine nomine, call me Joe."

The teacher penciled in Joe. "Okay, Joe, welcome to the class." The professor presented the students with a syllabus, and then began to elucidate his theory of finding human truth in the marrow of literature. Joe raised his hand.

"Yes, Joe?"

The young man's eyes gleamed and a soft smile curled his lips. "Sine veritas, at reliquum."

"I'm sorry?" said the professor, "I believe that's Latin, and I haven't studied that since I was in High School."

The young man blinked and everyone believed for a moment that there had been a young man named Joe; instead, nothing of Joe was present. The idea of Joe faded, and though everyone remained disturbed, they didn't know why, or even exactly what the feeling was that they were feeling. The professor excused the class early. In spite of being penciled onto the roll sheet, no one named Joe ever showed up in class again.

The police were called to Pioneer Square in Seattle, where there was a report of a public disturbance. The police arrived in a car, lights flashing but sirens silent. They pulled in behind a swelling crowd, people pushing and raising on tip-toe to see a middle-aged man, salt-and-pepper stubble shading his weather beaten features, standing on the pedestal of a monument and addressing the crowd. They listened closely to what he was saying, but heard only babbling. Still, many people in the massing audience appeared entranced. They seemed to move in unison, and sway in unison, as if they were a field of tall grass and a breeze were running over them. The man had a strange charisma, and, though his words were not intelligible, they were spoken with a force best described as the power of conviction. The policemen found themselves struggling to do their duties. Somewhere in the echo of flapping bird wings, of the sound of distant ferryboat horns and in the rustle of wind against park leaves, the babbling was deciphered and achieved meaning.

One of the policemen fought against the thoughts, struggled against the sensation that grabbed him. He pulled out his gun and pointed the weapon into the sky. He fired, then fired again. In the echoes of his gunblasts he heard:

"We must restore humanity to the human condition."

The police now drew their batons and began pushing their way through the hypnotized crowd.

"Quiet!" cried the police officer who had fired his gun, "Just be quiet."

The man ceased his babbling and looked gently upon the officers as they approached. The policeman stepped up onto the monument and addressed the crowd.

"This is an unauthorized public gathering. You're being asked to disperse."

The crowd, unmoving, stared at the officer. The middle-aged man stepped forward, waved his hand gently over the heads of the onlookers, and smiled. The crowd began to disperse.

"Get off of the monument, sir, you've caused enough trouble for one day," the policeman said.

The man stared at them, looked at their eyes, said nothing.

"Come on, sir, move along, we really don't want to have to charge you with anything."

The man looked away from them, beyond them, to the dispersing crowd that had gathered for reasons of which they were not certain. Someone had been speaking to them, and the voice had sounded like their own, and a sense of goodness had rung in their ears like a musical charm.

"Ecce humanitas!" said the man triumphantly, his hand waving at the people, the square, the bricks and trees, benches and seagulls.

The policemen grabbed him by the arms; he did not struggle. He refused to talk to them, was finger printed and put into the city jail. The door clanged shut on him, and the sound of the metal door jarring shut echoed through the cell block. In the morning they were surprised to find him gone.

A man was walking down the railroad tracks, following them across the desert, a hot sun burning his neck. He kept his eyes to the rails, only occasionally lifting them to see the camel colored sand and the heat distorted waves beating at the horizon, distending the edge of the world and sky. Something caught his attention. An old man was sitting by the tracks, smiling. He walked until he was directly across from the old man, at which point he stopped and turned.

"What are you doing in the middle of the desert, old man?"

"Waiting for you."

The first man stared at the old man, then looked away at the heat distorted world, which swam in ripples of light upward against a sea of sky. For some reason, the man felt secure. He walked off the tracks and sat in the dirt and sand next to the old man.

"You're a long way from anything or anywhere, you do realize that?" he asked.

The old man smiled. "So are you."

The man nodded. "Say, what did you mean just now, when you said you were waiting for me."

"Just what I said, veritas equipero benevolentia."

"What did you say?"

The old man smiled, reached into a knapsack that the first man had not seen or noticed, and withdrew an apple. He held it up to the first man.

The first man eyed the apple, and understood the gesture. He took the apple and said, "thanks."

The old man reached into the bag and withdrew a canteen full of cool water. He held this up as well.

"Thanks old man."

The first man took a drink, then chomped into his red delicious. A wind, which had been whispering past, stopped blowing. The sky, which had been pure blue from horizon to horizon, shook, and white puff clouds darted across its face. They sat and ate apples together, and drank water. The old man pulled out a sandwich, and the first man ate that, too. Then there was a blanket and a bed roll, and the first man said, "I'm just gonna stretch out here, okay old man, just stretch out here and relax a minute or two." He tipped his hat over his face and closed his eyes.

He did not know how long he had been asleep, but it was the gentle quiver of earth that first woke him. A train was approaching, and came from the blurry horizon toward him with a relentless growing roar. Soon the train was clacking past, and sand was kicked up, and the tall fingers of common desert grass were shaken violently, and then the last car in the train passed, and the violence that had rumbled through faded like the remnants of fear after waking from a bad dream. It was only then that the first man noticed he was alone. He jumped to his feet with a start, and looked up and down the tracks, but saw nothing of the old man. He whirled and looked in every direction. He had to be there, somewhere; the old man had to be somewhere for anything to be true.

The nurse was at home in bed asleep. Her dream made her feel as if she was awake, but she was not. She made breakfast, and there was a tap at the back door. It was the old man. She opened the door, but then he let her in to a different house. The house was well lit though there were no lights, and birds twittered on trees. He raised invisible food to her mouth, and she tasted a muffin, and the old man said, "You have eaten compassion." She took another bite and he said, "you have eaten personal peace." She took a drink of invisible juice from an invisible glass, and the old man said, "you have had a drink from the cup of fulfillment, and shall never thirst again."

She realized that the old man was speaking more than he ever had, and asked him, "How come you're talking so much? Why are you saying the things you say?"

And he said, "Ecce veritas! Ecce humanitas!"

She stared at him, and a buzzing sound began to shred the roof of his house and crush the ceiling, and she woke up and groped raggedly for the snooze button, which she did not hit. Instead, her hand accidentally struck the radio and then brushed the volume, and a love song began, and her husband said, "It's Saturday, it's Saturday," and she laughed and turned the radio and alarm off. She rested then, her hands at her side, her head laid neatly in the soft spot of the middle of the pillow, and stared upward. For a moment a warm and decent feeling lingered, as if she really had eaten and had drunk those invisible things the old man had given her. "But it was a dream," she said in her mind, "only a dream." And she was not surprised when the feeling wore off; and two days later she sat in the corner of the cafeteria at work, staring dimly at the floor, wondering why such a great sadness had befallen her, or why she could not believe that what she had dreamed was real.

Gordon Ross Lanser lives in Seattle with this wife and three children. An award winning essayist, he has had five stories published in the last three years. He continues to work in the high tech industry in the greater Seattle area.

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