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THE VISITOR

Updated: Apr 19, 2018


Once there was a small town. The inhabitants of this town were mostly employed by the state while others – mostly women – went to work in garment factories run by foreigners. Some lived from what little the arid soil allowed them to grow, which happened to be grapevines. In fact growing grapevines was something the inhabitants of the small town had a special passion for, or an obsession to be precise. They would spend hours and hours taking care of their respective vines, they would love and nurture them like one would do with children. Growing grapevines was a matter of pride – the bigger the vine and the more fruit it bore, the more respect one would gain in the small town. Each and every house had at least one grapevine situated at the gate or entrance so everybody could see right away if the person or family living in the house was a force to be reckoned with.


The matter of the grapevines was a serious one – neighbors would occasionally even fight over them, especially when two parties both claimed that their grapevine was the bigger, more beautiful, more juicy one or when they compared the amount of fruit the vines bore. One neighbor would say “My grapevine bore 50 pounds of fruit this year” and the other would respond “That's great, but did you know mine bore 100 pounds?”. Those kind of altercations quickly got out of hand in the small town and there were stories of people having been killed over grapevine issues; wives had left their husbands and the other way round, children had left their parents home, lifelong friends had become lifelong enemies over what was usually coined as “grapevine-issues” in the newspapers. In fact whole newspaper sections and TV shows were dedicated to grapevines and the issues that arose around them and there was even a magazine which was called “The Vine”. “The Vine” would routinely report on grapevine-related rumors and gossip – it was a news outlet which can be categorized as yellow press and funny enough it was “The Vine” that would play a crucial role in shaping the small town's future. The journalists of said publication usually used the “Grapevine Inn” as starting point for any of their stories and they also held their weekly editorial meetings at the Inn. They would also meet their informants and sources there.


Apart from the grapevines, life was pretty simple in the small town, fun was defined by the amount of fermented grapevine juice one had had or how much grape-leave joints one had smoked. In fact grape-leave smoking had become a thing in recent years; especially when it came to the younger generation. But it was also the amount of rumors one had heard or spread that defined whether one had had a good night out. In fact, gossip was the main free time activity in the small town. This probably had to do with the fact that life was rather monotonous for most inhabitants of the small town: Get up early, water the grapevines, eat some porridge – or if one can afford it maybe a bowl of cereal – go to work – or if one doesn't have work, look for work – have lunch at exactly 1pm, not one minute earlier and not one minute later. Then back to work or begging – also a line of work in the small town. Around 5pm hordes of humans were usually lining up to catch a bus back home. At home the townspeople watched the usual TV shows circling around the latest grapevine issues - if they were lucky enough to own one. If not, one would chat to the neighbors and exchange the newest grapevine stories. Most inhabitants of the small town had their fair share of fermented grapevine-juice every night but for some reason most still managed to get up the next morning to go about their respective business.


Fridays were almost like public holidays in the small town, people left work early, they were jolly and couldn't wait to go out – if one was rich, to pompous, overly decorated restaurants – the richer townspeople's favorite was the “Grapevine Inn” - if one was poor one went to gloomy bars that reeked of human excrements. But it wasn't necessarily about enjoying the night out – it was all about the townspeople most cherished activity – gossiping and exchanging the newest grapevine stories. A person that contributed more stories than others was automatically being regarded as someone with good connections, with influence. Usually in a group of five there were two story spreaders and three listeners. The listeners would then carry the stories to the next circle of society the next day and the spreaders would turn into listeners. This meant being a spreader or listener was not exclusive, one could be both. One was in fact required to be both if one wanted to have a certain standing in the society of said small town. It was almost like a game in which the players could attain certain levels of skill. Different titles were given to those who were playing the game: Level 1 were the beginners – the so called “Grabies” - they usually started of by exclusively listening, observing the more evolved players. Level 2 – the so called “Grapeagers” - meant that one was already mastering a combination of spreading and listening but usually only concerning one incident or story at a time. The players on the highest level, Level 3, were commonly referred to as “Grapists”. They were the more evolved spreader-listeners who had mastered to always make sure not to get involved in grapevine-related fights or arguments while spreading several stories at once and simultaneously still listening. To achieve the state of an evolved spreader-listener, one had to stop doing anything in public and be very careful who one let into ones home and private space. To keep up the status of evolved spreader-listener, one also had to make sure to adapt to new developments in the small town. This involved certain fashion trends but it also involved new techniques of growing grapevines, as well as being updated on the newest stories in town. At the end of the day it meant that the evolved spreader-listeners had to do lot of research and one could usually see them sitting in the “Grapevine Inn”, sipping non-fermented grapevine juice, completely immersed in conversations or the grapevine-issue sections of newspapers. An evolved spreader-listener normally woke up at 5pm, and took extra good care of him or herself because only if one looked the part one could maintain the status of “Grapist”. After the daily beauty routine the evolved spreader-listener had a healthy breakfast – usually a bowl of Muesli with grapes - went to work, made sure to listen in on all conversations at work, meanwhile developing the conversations heard into stories. Needless to say that most conversations in the offices or elsewhere in town were grapevine-related. The evolved spreader-listener usually left work at exactly 5pm and rushed home, for the status of evolved spreader-listener did not allow for any public fermented grape-juice ingestion or socializing from Sunday to Thursday. Having collected as many stories as possible during the week, the evolved spreader-listener was equipped with enough content to entertain the bored masses over the weekend. Whereas during the week the evolved spreader-listener usually wore rather formal attires – an ironed shirt and pants if he was male, a pencil skirt and blouse of she was female – the evolved spreader-listener usually changed his or her wardrobe for the weekend. Instead of an ironed shirt, the male spreader-listener would wear a shirt with traditional prints and a pair of jeans – this signified his dedication to the roots of the small town. Those traditional prints were usually in the form of grapes or grapevines; a tradition that went back to the founder of the small town who had united his people by means of diplomacy under the symbol of the grapevine. The female spreader-listener however stayed formal, she merely put on slightly more make-up than she would during the week and dress up in a grapevine patterned dress or skirt. Whereas it was customary for the male spreader-listener to invite his friends for drinks and get intoxicated, the female spreader-listener usually made sure to cover up any fermented grape juice intake – she also preferred grape cocktails over grape beer because nobody could tell if and how much fermented grape-juice was actually ingested. Even if there were slight differences in appearance and behavior between female and male spreader-listener, essentially their objectives and functions were the same: To tell stories, to distribute news in society – and to entertain. However the evolved spreader-listener also mastered the art of making his or her friends feel better about themselves and their lives by relating especially gory or juicy grapevine related stories. Those type of stories usually involved a certain level of imagination – to be able to tell these kind of stories one actually had to be not only an evolved Level 3 spreader-listener, but one had to actually be an artist and illusionist because it was all about making the listeners believe in the stories they had just heard. This technique was called “Sourcing” because normally this was were stories, rumors and gossip were created – crafted in fact – it was the source of all “Grapevineing”. In a way, the spreader-listeners were following the age old tradition of oral lore which the townspeople upheld with pride as an important cultural element. In fact there were several idioms directly relating to the grapevine as the official coat of arms of the small town. The most common and popular of them was “I heard it through the grapevine”, which meant one heard a story – usually a rumor which had neither been falsified nor verified - by word of mouth but without indicating who actually was the first one to tell the respective story. “Grapevineing” was in fact not only a form of entertainment for the boredom stricken townspeople, it was also a way of conserving and reproducing certain aspects of local culture. One can surely dispute this – one might also say grapevining was the perversion of said oral lore; a perversion because grapevining actually distorted and corrupted the original meaning and function of oral lore which was the distribution of knowledge, of history, philosophy and skills. One might say that this specific form of cultural conservation and reproduction which “Grapevineing” was, eventually lead to secession, to societal death. But let me not get ahead of myself. A few months before all the grapevines had been destroyed by a severe drought, a visitor came to the small town. It was said that he had come from another small town in a neighboring country but this could never be proven; in fact nobody knew much about him and the visitors origin and his intentions, his reasons to come to the small town, stayed a mystery even though townspeople said that it was his fault that all the grapevines eventually died. “The Vine” even reported that he had had some sort of supernatural powers that eventually lead to the extinction of all grapevines in the small town. But when the visitor first arrived each and every one of the townspeople was intrigued, everybody wanted to be the visitor's best friend. This had to do with the fact that the visitor was the only person in the small town that had not yet been involved in any grapevine related issues or arguments – he was a grapevine virgin, a status that was usually only attributed to newborn babies. This meant that whoever could take his virginity and share the first story about said visitor would naturally be regarded as Master of the Grapevine, a title that was said to be the most prestigious in the small town. In hindsight one might say the visitor was naive to think that it was ever about friendship in the small town – but then again the townspeople had mastered their public appearances over the past decades in such a way that they all seemed very polite, open and friendly, and well intentioned. The visitor thus started to trust his new friends of which one of them owned a whole vineyard – she was in fact the richest and most powerful woman in town because her vineyard produced the freshest and tastiest grapes. She also wore the most beautiful grapevine-patterned dresses one had ever seen and she wore her hair in an intricate and complicated entanglement that reminded one of a grapevine. Her lips were usually painted in a dark red – a color much like the fruit her grapevines bore. She was also the one to offer the visitor his first work opportunity which involved weeding the grapevine fields and cutting those grapevines who had already born fruit thus preparing them for the next year of growing and harvesting. The visitor enjoyed his work, in fact he felt like he was contributing to society, he felt appreciated, loved even. And even though the woman did not pay the visitor any salary - she kept on promising that his work would one day pay off manifold - he was happy. After work the woman and the visitor would usually sit together and enjoy a glass of fermented grapevine juice and it didn't take all too long for the two to get very close friends; they would share their wisdom and experience and simply enjoy each others company. He developed a strong sense of loyalty towards his new friend and seemingly so did she. Looking back, the visitor should have seen the sings – they were few, but nevertheless they were there. The woman started telling the visitor more and more about her own grapevine issues, about the arguments and fights she had to endure with other grapevine farmers and he should have realized that most stories she told him distinctly painted her as a victim of other grapevine farmers. At first the visitor didn't take note of this but when he walked through the streets, sat down for a refreshing glass of grapevine juice at the “Grapevine Inn” or interacted with his co-workers, he overheard many stories involving his friend – stories in which in turn she was distinctly being painted as culprit. Given the fact that loyalty was one of the attributes he cherished most, the visitor would go back to his friend and tell her what he had heard. He would tell her who had said what and in which fashion and he encouraged her not to care too much but to act reasonably and compassionately – especially towards her employees for in his opinion most people were merely jealous of the beauty of her grapevines. Little did he know that she would not listen, that in fact she would be the one selling the story of him having supernatural powers and casting a spell on the small town to “The Vine”. After a few months the visitors co-workers had grown more and more discontent because the attention the woman had given to them prior to the visitor's arrival now had to shared with him. They had also found out that he had told her about the stories that were circulating about her because she had confronted her employees at one point. Of course they had denied any involvement in spreading or listening to any rumor about her and she started mistrusting the visitor. Their relationship had become complicated, entangled, much like the woman's hairdo and her grapevines. The visitors co-workers grew more and more wary of him and one day they sat down together – sipping from some freshly manufactured fermented grapevine juice – and decided that things had to change. When the visitor came to work the next day he immediately realized that something had changed. His colleagues didn't greet him as they used to, in fact where there had been hugs before, there were rather cold nods now. During lunchtime, the visitor went to the woman and asked her what was going on and if she knew anything that would explain the hostile behavior of his co-workers. She pointed to a chair placed under a decorative grapevine in the yard and they both took a seat. “There are stories. Bad ones. They are grapevine related”, she said. “I'm not sure I understand”, answered the visitor. “Well, some of your co-workers accused you of secretly bewitching my grapevines”, she said. “That is ridiculous”, answered the visitor, “I mean, do I talk to them with love so they grow faster, sure, I do. Do I put spells on them – definitely not. I don't even know any spells for that matter.”. “I advise you to be very careful, people don't take grapevine related incidents lightly in our town”, answered the woman. The visitor knew that this was more of a threat than a well meant advise for it invoked a feeling of paranoia in him. He knew very well that the respective emotion one felt in a certain situation or while hearing certain words was a sign – an indication of the intention of the respective other. If one felt good the intention was good, if one felt bad, the intention was usually bad as well. It was a rule he had lived by for many years, a rule that his mother had taught the visitor and explained to him when he had still been a child. Having evoked a negative feeling in the visitor, he decided to leave the woman - at least for now. He stood up from his chair and went back to work with his head bowed. He was disappointed for all he had done the last months was to put all his energy and love into the grapevines. He had tried to comfort the woman when she had fallen victim to other spreader-listeners because he had not yet understood that she was the master of all of them. He had diligently sorted good grapes from bad ones, weeded the fields in order to remove any unwanted and unnecessary vegetation that would eventually cause the grapevines to die. More than once did he indicate to the woman that she had to invest in new water reservoirs for his father had sent him unsettling news: there would be a draught in the next months, a draught so severe that all grapevines might in fact die. He had given it all, he had tried and tried, but she hadn't listened. When the visitor came home that night he found a bowl of smashed grapevines in front of his door. He knew what that meant for he had observed this practice, he had seen it happening to other townspeople before. It meant war. It meant there were townspeople out there who would rather see him gone. The next day “The Vine” was running a cover story titled “Foreign visitor caught bewitching grapevines”. The story itself made the visitor laugh for he knew it wasn't true, in fact it seemed comical to him that he – the one who always advocated for reason and compassion – would be accused of witchcraft, but it hurt nevertheless. Later on he would learn that his friend, the woman, had gone to meet the chief editor of “The Vine” that same night. In fact they had met up at the “Grapevine Inn”. They had both ordered fermented grapevine juice – the woman a glass of red, the editor in chief a glass of white. The editor in chief had given the woman a serious look when he said “Before you tell me anything, be sure this is what you want. Careers, lives even, were destroyed before and even though I always warn my informants and sources, they usually come back to me after publication, asking to correct the stories they have shared with me. Do you know why?”. “No, I do not”, answered the woman. “Well,”, the editor in chief continued, “they come back because they all of a sudden realize how powerful their stories are, especially those that aren't entirely true or not true at all. You see, when you share a story, you have to be sure that you can handle the consequences, which usually involve a counter-story from whoever the main character of your story is. And most can't handle that. Most just want to dish out.”. “Don't worry”, answered the woman. “For years I was the Master of the Grapevine and I am not willing to give up my title. If I don't share this with you, someone else will – someone who is not as well meaning as me.”. The editor in chief saw that the woman in front of him was determined and that it made no sense to change her mind. He had seen people like her before, people so determined and cold that even he himself – the Editor in Chief of “The Vine” prayed to the Gods that he would never fall victim to them. In fact changing the woman's mind hadn't been his objective anyway; he simply wanted to make sure she understood the consequences of her actions. As part of the codex of journalistic work, this practice was a routine for him and he had learned to follow a certain kind of work ethic when he was still a young man, studying in a town far away. In that town, a very hostile town, he had realized that spreading rumors was a very dangerous thing. He had been painted as a culprit in a story involving the rape of a woman native to the far-away town he had studied in and this had almost destroyed his life. Only the help of another student of journalism – investigative journalism in fact – had absolved him in the end: His fellow student had in the end found out that the woman was lying, that she had shared the story only because the Editor in Chief had not given in to her romantic advances. Thus upon his return to the small town he had decided to establish “The Vine” - because he rightfully reasoned that if he was at the center of all grapevineing he would be less likely to become a main character in one of the grapevine related stories again. The same night the woman met the Editor in Chief our visitor had a disturbing and yet enlightening dream about the future of the small town. In his dream he clearly saw what would happen. Once each and every townsperson was talked about one by one, the townspeople would decide to stay at home, in isolation. They wouldn't dare to breathe, they wouldn't even dare to take care of their beloved grapevines anymore. This would coincide with a severe drought – the one his father had warned him about. Stuck in their houses the townspeople would raise their hands towards heaven because they had all realized that an age old prophecy was coming true. According to this prophecy, the small town would be visited by a stranger who would cast a spell on the small town, thus causing a draught which would lead to all the grapevines dying. Everyone in the small town by this point knew it must be the visitor. He had cast the spell of reason and compassion on the grapevines by weeding the fields in ways only his ancestors had done it: He sorted good from bad grapes, a technique of farming grapevines nobody in the small town had heard of before; they had usually not cared about good or bad, they had only cared about pretty or ugly. The prophecy also foresaw that soon after the visitor had cast the spell, societal life would die down in the small town. At the end nothing would be left, no friendships, no comradeships, no relationships. Only the townspeople who had successfully developed into evolved spreader-listeners would remain; they would also be the only ones to declare that they would fight the spell and whoever had cast it by continuing in their usual ways of spreading and listening. But soon they would realize that they had nobody to talk about anymore. Bit by bit they would start devouring their own, dethroning each other bit by bit, person by person. This would eventually lead to empty shops, empty restaurants, empty schools and empty streets. The prophecy continued that in the mean time the visitor would leave the small town the same way he had entered it. However he would leave something behind: The spell of reason and compassion would touch two courageous townspeople – one of them the Editor in Chief of “The Vine” - who one day would say to each other “Enough! We want to live! Clearly we were never supposed to be grapevine growers otherwise a different fate would have been bestowed upon our small town. This was no evil spell, it was a blessing”. They would then go out into the streets, explore their small town which had been degraded into a ghost village; they would sit in empty bars on chairs covered in spiderwebs and drink from grape beer bottles covered in dust. They would not stop until the last of the grapevine beverages was gone for they knew only a radical change could bring their town back to life. Then they would climb the highest mountain towering over the small town and they would proclaim anarchy – an anarchy with only one law: that grapevineing shall from now on be prohibited. Afterwards they would walk through town, from house to house, they would knock on every door and tell the townspeople that the streets were safe again, that nobody had to ever farm grapevines anymore. That from now on they would all become truth-sayers, sorting good from bad. Everybody would live happily after all, everyone would do as he or she pleased – life would be fulfilling in the small town that according to prophecy would rise like a phoenix from its own ashes.
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