A tsunami drowned the city. A columnist clung to the rotor of the billionaire’s copter atop Anthilla to keep from being washed away. To the fish swimming through her hair at this unusual altitude, she spoke an op-ed.
“Don’t carp about the stupidity that got us here,” she said. “Be humble. Hail Neptune. All of us, lung-bound or be-gilled should salute the sea-god’s might. Acknowledge his awesome power. His trident shall command us for the foreseeable future.”
Swept off her feet by the mountainous tide, she had the poise to speak in complete sentences. Literally not in her element, she had the detachment to praise the waters that a lesser, more partisan mind might have raged against. She was a seer – she always spoke the truth, even to fish, even if it wasn’t the truth.
She didn’t really know how long the city would remain under water. Truth be told, no one did. It could be a year, or 10, or a lifetime. The length of the last would depend on how old you were when she made the prediction. No, the truth was beside the point.
The point was the rhetoric of truth-telling. Did it sound like the truth? Did it sound seer-like? Did it distinguish her from the whingers, the outrage artists, those shrill, wet, sodden bleeding hearts? The speech rules for seers were flexible but they could not speak in the accents of grievance and complaint for that was the dialect of losers. Like that lunatic who thought he could stop the tide by commanding it.
Better to acknowledge this force of nature. In the kingdom of Neptune, no seer worth her salt could court ridicule by ranting like King Canute. Till the tide turned and the waters receded, it was best to adapt to these watery times and become amphibious.
Also ambiguous. The oracles of antiquity specialised in ambiguity. The most famous of them, the Greek one at Delphi, made such cryptic pronouncements that the word delphic became a synonym for double-edged obscurity. Like the time Croesus, King of Lydia, asked Pythia, the oracle, what would happen if he attacked the Persians. A great empire will be destroyed, she said. So he did and the prophecy was borne out. An empire was destroyed – only it was his own.
Those were the days. Ambiguity was harder now. Oracles used to be portals for the gods who spoke through them in riddling verse. Contemporary portals weren’t sacred and modern soothsaying had to be done in accessible prose. Besides, she and her kind weren’t oracles. They couldn’t claim that they channelled the gods because a) the modern reader wasn’t ready for it b) Delhic, unlike delphic, sounded drunk not cryptic and c) it wasn’t true.
She was a seer. The classical sort used to read bird signs and animal entrails to foretell the future. Modern seers read other seers online; occasionally a poll if there was an election on the horizon, or Wikipedia, if a prophecy needed eking out.
Truth be told (there’s that word again) modern seers didn’t much deal in the future. They dispensed the other thing, a superior grade of hindsight. Though this time round, as the skies closed and darkened and early warning seismic systems spoke of a weather event, an unusual number had timidly foretold Neptune’s triumph. Not the scale of it, not the tsunami but they had spoken of floods and spreading waters.
Time passed. When the great tide spent itself, the waters receded a little.Our durable seer, still balanced on her priceless non-partisan pivot, but upright now and standing on Anthilla’s parapet, surveyed the wreckage. She saw squelching, muddied wretches lurch to their feet and stagger about looking for familiar saviours.
After the storm
Instead of marvelling at the elemental power of the tsunami and learning from it, they pointed fingers, wrung their hands and went back to rebuilding the decrepit structures, the dykes and defences that the flood had brushed aside. From her eyrie on the billionaire’s nest, they looked like disoriented dwarfs, going round in circles.
Couldn’t they see that this was a time for a purposeful retreat? To finger old rosaries, to make polemical arguments debased by repetition even if they were true, was sterile. The old truths had been disproved by defeat. Why rail against the change in climate when it was inevitable? Why spit into the wind? To blame some evil first transgression for the power of this tsunami was as useful as invoking original sin to explain our drowned and fallen state.
Shaking her head at the moralism of the self-righteous, she took the lift down. Walking up to the masterful sea, she was struck by its power, its roaring, encompassing presence. This might be a good time, she mused, to upgrade from seer to oracle. Now that there was only one true god, what would it be like to be possessed by him?
She raised her arms tentatively and waited, half-embarrassed, for revelation. Neptune’s roar rushed into her, filled her with furious words that poured out of her mouth faster than her tongue could shape them. The sea spoke through her without ambiguity or even meaning, till the words weren’t hers any more, till they weren’t words, till she resonated with their rage like a tuning fork and was shivered into noise.