This Grand Device

Seems we’re not supposed to touch anything, he said, after having startled the rest of us, touching one of the mechanisms so that it uttered a sound like a death knell in our ears, one woman screamed, fearing the whole room of machines, with countless gears fitted into one another in grinding harmony, would somehow collapse on top of us or explode, leaving our parts everywhere with the parts of the contrivance.

The man laughed, giving a glance at his bloodied hand, which had almost been dismembered.  Well, I’ve learned my lesson, he said, wrapping up his hand, with his whole arm, with a makeshift bandage from the sleeve of his white uniform.  He went on: One should not tamper with what one does not know, I suppose.  This confused us all, as we expected the man before us to be the expert on the matter of mechanics.

He kept up with his antic of tending to his minor wound, then said I think our time here is finished, you’ve seen all there is to see: this, he repeated himself as he had said this before, when we first entered the warehouse-like room and beheld all the steel, small parts and large parts, formidably towering up to the high ceiling of the building, this, he said, is what keeps the world going.

Without the least segment of this grand device, doing what only it could do, spinning or whizzing or purring or something electric, we would stop dead in our tracks.  Again, as we had been when he told us this the first time around, we were amazed at the intricacy of the methodic melody the machine made, so intricate as to seem improvised and a great methodless mess.  It was so beautiful, we had to do everything in our might not to touch the thing, not to reach out to it, let it bite us if it would, let it swallow us into it if it could.

One of us there gawking at the sight, a child, reached out with his tender hand to a portion of the machine that appeared as though it were made of velvet, a cuddly fringe of the many-hinged apparatus, so that the man in charge–at least we were still taking him as in charge, as something of a tour guide–did more than slap the boy’s hand away, but veritably pushed the child down with force, so that the boy looked stunned and vulnerable as he landed on the parquet floor, the only spot of the vast room with wood.

See, the child learns first–and last at once!  He laughed again, wagging his finger at the boy seeing stars, the mere movement of which seemed to take him from one trance into another, as he now followed the man’s finger with nothing short of total absorption.  And we, our guide said then, his face staring at us like a holder of secrets, we are worst of all, most childish of all: we made the thing, and now it rules us, and like confused children–we don’t know why.

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