When Truth Looks Back

Mr. E walks into the courtroom with wounds all over his face. He looks slightly unrecognizable. The swelling under his black right eye probably makes it hard for him to perceive reality. A drop of blood slowly descends from his mouth, towards the bottom of his face, ready to fall into the great abyss. The same abyss into which Mr. E. has fallen, now that he has been charged. The courtroom, which was a paradoxical beacon of calmness and tension before his entrance, has now turned into a hurricane of whistles and boos. But Mister E. stoically walks on to his chair, where he takes a seat. Even before the trial has started, the courtroom has turned into chaos. But when the cameraman points the camera at Mr. E., his face exudes calmness above all else. Mr. E. looks straight into the camera. Shivers run down my spine. It feels like my soul is being read by an unwanted visitor. As if my thoughts have taken place in a thought cloud above me. The moment must have lasted a handful of seconds, no longer.

And suddenly he is standing next to me.

It’s like Mr. E crawled through the camera in those few seconds and climbed out of my television. Because suddenly he’s there, in the middle of my living room. Those handful of seconds have created a huge plot twist in my fate, as if the screenwriters of my life story think that my life could use something unexpected. Again.

But honestly, it often happens that a handful of seconds change lives. In the smallest fragments of time, the most drastic life events can take place, which can make lives better or, perhaps more often, destroy lives. I don’t know whether Mr. E,’s arrival is going to make my life better or destroy it. Maybe both.

Mr E. looks around the room. He doesn’t seem surprised or confused that he’s here, while he was in court less than a minute ago. My living room is a place of recognition and discovery for him. Like he’s been here before, and a few things have changed since then. He walks over to an armchair, sits down, pours a cup of tea and takes a sip. ‘It’s not poisoned, is it? I hope it’s not’, he chuckles.

I look at him, stunned. At least, that’s what it must have looked like to him. Or maybe I always look that way.

‘You still don’t understand how I seem to be here all of a sudden.’

‘You literally just crawled out of my television, and now you’re here.’

‘Crawled out of your television you say? That’s not possible, you know that right? No, I’ve always been here. I sat next to you when you turned on the television, and I had just got up to grab a drink, until I remembered that you made tea.’ He takes another sip. ‘Not poisoned, right?’, and he winks at me.

I’m still confused. Who is this man and what is he doing he…

‘I’m Mr. Emmett, you know that, don’t you? Or Mr. E., as you prefer to call me. No idea why actually. As if that E. is making sure that I remain anonymous in court. Everyone knows me. You know me too, and I know you. We’ve met before, though I don’t know if you remember me.’

I do indeed remember meeting Mr. E…


..meeting Mr. Emmett before. I still remember his first impression on me. Everyone is constantly talking about him, you hear the wildest stories about this man, and then, one day, he suddenly appears in front of you. According to the stories, he would’ve murdered and killed people, he would’ve broken hearts, he would’ve driven people to total despair that they saw no way out, he would’ve traumatized people. But at the same time, he would’ve brought lovers together, end wars, and help anyone who wanted it. But many people don’t want to be helped by Mr. Emmett. Because of all these stories I have always thought the he is an obnoxious and dangerous man, that he’s big and strong and muscular, some kind of boxer or wrestler. But nothing turned out to be less true. Mr. Emmett is a man of average height and average age with average balding hair, average muscle size, and an average tummy. If anyone were a Joe Average, it could be him. But he’s anything but a Joe Average. He’s sort of a cross between God and an bum; omniscient and powerful, yet ignored and abused.

‘I like that you compare me to God, but I’m not him.’

‘But who are you then?’ I sound a little more irritated than I am, probably from fear.

‘I’m a social prostitute, darling. You can change me, knead me, shape me, however you want. At the same time, I cannot be something else than I am, but I can become what you want me to be. I am to everyone what they want me to be.’

‘And what are you to me?’

‘To you? To you I’m exactly what you want me to be.’

‘You’re exactly what I want you to be? You look exactly the same as you do in court. Abused. With a black eye and a trickle of blood..’

‘I’m not like that.’

I look at him. The look in his eyes has changed, his appearance is different. The living room that just gave him a feeling of home has suddenly become an unsafe place in which he prefers not to be vulnerable. His breathing quickens, the look in his eyes grows colder, lonelier, more painful. He looks away from me. In a handful of seconds the confident man turned into a vulnerable man, the same handful of seconds it took him to get into my living room, the same handful of seconds that can change a life. This man would never win the lawsuit.

But I notice that his injuries don’t look real. His eye is black, but it doesn’t seem to be a black eye. Something is wrong. Would it be..

‘Make-up?’, says Mr. Emmett, staring into the void.

It is indeed make-up. His black eye is fake. And the blood that slowly runs down his cheek isn’t blood, but lipstick. His injuries are…fake? Is he decei..

‘Deceiving? What are you thinking!’ Mr. Emmett jumps up from his armchair and glares at me. My heartbeat skips a beat. How can this man read my mind?

‘Of course I’m not deceiving!’, Mr. Emmett continues. ‘The injuries are real, and they hurt. A lot. It shows me that I’m not accepted as I am. And who inflicted these injuries? Humans! You all! Yes, you too. And why? Because you don’t like me. Because you think I’ve done terrible things. That I have thousands, or no, millions of deaths on my conscience. That I have mistreated people, polluted the earth, caused animal species to become extinct, and have now brought the world to a crucial stage where difficult but necessary decisions must be made about the future. I am to you the person you want me to be. I am one of you, you can’t do without me. I can adapt, change, take on other personalities. The choice is yours. But there are things I can’t change about myself, just like any other human being. And you want me to change that part, that one part I can’t change about myself. And if I don’t, I get beat up, ignored, left out. I sacrifice so much of myself, and you want more of me? I can’t be something else. I’m just like you, but why don’t I have the same rights as you?’

His anger has turned into tears, which follow the same route down his cheeks as a trickle of blood would’ve done when it’s not make-up. The make-up, which wasn’t applied very well anyway, now looks even worse. The silence is as deafening as the courtroom chaos when Mr. Emmett walked in.

‘Sorry,’ says Mr. Emmett after a long silence. ‘It’s not your fault. You didn’t beat me up.’

‘But what have I done, then?’

‘The make-up.’

I can’t suppress a smile. The make-up? I’m really bad at that.

‘Yes, you’re very bad at that, can’t you see? It doesn’t look good, it looks awful!.’ A smile appears through Mr. Emmetts tears, as if after a long thunderstorm and endless rain a rainbow appears.

‘I’m the same to everyone, but not everyone wants to see me the same way. Some people see me as a bad person, some people as a good person. Some people think I’m beautiful, other people think I’m ugly.’

‘And what do I think of you?’, I ask, while deep down I may know the answer.

‘You think I’m ugly. Rightly so. Just look at me. But unlike many others, you didn’t beat me up, and you didn’t replace me with Anwir. No. You have tried, with or without much success, to make me more beautiful than I am. And I appreciate that. That, despite everything, you still try to see me as more beautiful than I actually am.’

‘I tried to hide your ugly sides? That’s not good, is it? Everyone must accept you as you are.’

‘You haven’t really tried to hide my ugly sides. Because the ugliness remains, even behind the make-up, and it becomes even uglier because of the way you apply make-up.’ Mr Emmett smiles. ‘No, you have tried to see everything more positively, full of hope and optimism. Sometimes things are ugly, sometimes the world is ugly, but you can try to look past the ugliness. Ugliness is only that which offers the opportunity to create something beautiful.’

I stay quiet. These words hit me as hard as the punch Mr. Emmett gave me when I last saw him. It took me a long time to recover from that, even longer than it takes me now to formulate my last question.

‘But did I succeed? Do I actually find you more beautiful than you really are?’

Mr. Emmett stands up and shakes his head. ‘Only you can answer that question. And if the answer to that question is no, remember that you can shape me however you want. To a certain level. I am who you want me to be. So think about it again. Just like you have to think again if you really want to drink that tea’, after which Mr. Emmett pours the last bit of tea down his throat. He stands up and looks at me, stares at me. I stare back, and suddenly I’m staring back at the television. Mr. Emmett turns his head slowly to the left, to the judge.

As I get up and walk to the kitchen with my cup of tea, I hear the judge’s attempts to bring order in the still chaotic room. ‘Creating order out of chaos, maybe that’s a good start,’ I say to myself, as the tea flows down the sink.

Maybe I just needed to face the truth. Literally.

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