THE DICTATOR by Mark Putzi

I:  The Siege.

One of us must speak. We have been silent for too long now. One of us must speak. It is very hard to know how to begin It is very easy to say it has something to do with the ones who are usually targeted. It is very easy to shoot a man. But someone must speak now. It is too late for a gun to put an end to this silence.  One of us must describe how it feels. One of us must put our feelings into words so the rest of us will know what we must do. It has something to do with mobility. Every time we move, every time we either climb or descend, we forget to speak. We can either move or speak:  we cannot do both. One of us must walk and then stop and say something, and then walk again and then stop and say something else. One of us must say something.

But it has been so long. We do not remember how to speak.  It is a paradox. We know the language well enough. One of us must learn to speak the language. Perhaps one of us has learned and can remember, but hasn’t the courage. Then he could think.  Then, if he continued to think, he might be able to say something.  Even one thing might be good enough. Here we are so huddled together. One of us must jump!  One of us must say something.

But who will decide what to say? And who will say what is decided? What we say and what we think, what we perceive:  that’s everything. But between the idea and the word, between the perception and the description, there is a rift. Everything is lost. Who will decide what to say and what not to say? And what would happen if we all spoke at once, if even two or three of us spoke at once? To those who would hear us, we would appear barbarous. They will think we are barbarians. Still, our silence only tells them we do not know what to say. Silence weakens us. To be silent is more barbarous than if we all spoke at the same time and we each said something different. So one of us must speak. One of us can convince them we are trustworthy.

We share with them one thing in common:  Yet they are very different from ourselves. Their mannerisms, their style of dress, their theology, their use of language (though it is the same language), their culture, their heritage, their history, their technology, their science, their institutions, their food, their laws, their literature, their arts:  all these are different from ours. And yet, these differences would seem meaningless if it were not for one thing we share in common: this country, this plot of land, this state, this place. We share one thing in common with the others, however different they may be. How can we communicate?

We see in them a desire for brotherhood, but that is too simple. We see in them also a desire for violence. How can we communicate to them what we think best, that our two peoples should peacefully co-exist? We are the ones who will be violated if what we say is wrong. But yet we see in them this desire for brotherhood. How can it be that they have managed to express this desire so clearly? How can it be that they have managed to express so clearly this desire for violence? Clearly both have been expressed, but how simultaneously? If we could find the answer, then we would know how to proceed. But first, one of us must speak. Then, during the course of his speaking, perhaps we will find a procedure.


II:  The Leader.

It is I who speaks because I am the leader. The leader must speak to you, and because I am the leader, I must speak to you.  See my many medals made of metal? Indeed, I am a man of many medals, a hero of past wars. I am, in fact, the very metal of a man. But there is actually occurring in me a very subtle change I cannot explain, except that I feel different, except that I am the leader. Therefore I speak. I speak therefore and you listen because I am the leader while you are merely you. Because I am the leader, I am a privileged speaker, and this is my speech.  Being merely you, you therefore must listen when the leader speaks. Therefore you must listen, since there is something I must say to you, being the leader that I am and speaking.  Otherwise, I would not be addressing you. What I must say is that I differ from you because of my leadership, while you are all the same, being merely you. If I were listening to you and you were speaking, that would mean that you would be leading, but that is not so. I lead. I am the leader. Therefore I speak. Though it is said that you are powerful, being many and the same. My leadership is the difference between us. It is exactly this difference and this only that makes me the leader and there is nothing more, except that I was once elected and several times re-elected and I was a war hero. See my many medals? See how they glitter when I move from side to side? There is no divine rite. There is a divine rite. There is no divine rite.  There is a divine rite. I am trying to tell you this, that there either is or is no divine rite and it has a bearing on whether someone is or is not different. And since I am the leader, I therefore say this:  there either is or is no divine rite.  There is a divine rhetoric.


III:  The People Choose.

Some of us have asked why it is they have not tried to speak with us, if so clearly they have communicated this message of brotherhood, of violence. Some of us have asked why they have communicated this paradoxical message. Some of us have asked why we must respond by speaking when their message is so obviously a warning. It is because, except that one of us should speak, we will all probably die. We are here in this place, huddled together so closely. But we are not cowards. There must be one of us here who can prevent a massacre.

We cannot walk. They have barred our passage. They are very different from ourselves. Someone must first speak and forge our way. Then we can all walk until he must speak again. And then we must all walk. This is the paradox. There is no place for us to go unless he speaks. He must lead us by speaking, for if we flee, it is only a matter of time until we encounter them again. And they are very different. The only thing we share in common with them is this plot of land which we no longer want.

We must elect him. We will take volunteers and we will nominate from among our finest speakers, and from those among us who best represent ourselves and our thoughts. No. Don’t allow her to volunteer. And don’t nominate her. She must not be allowed to speak for us. We cannot risk her speaking. She is too young. And she is a girl. It would insult the Great King if she were to come to him with our proposal. She would appear to him a mockery. She would incite a massacre.

Look now. They are poised with their weapons. They will soon attack. Shall we raise our arms and defend ourselves? Who will prevent this?…bloodshed.

There is no time. We must tell them now that we will meet with them. But we must have more time to discuss what it is we will want to say to them. We will propose to them that we will meet here tomorrow. Tomorrow we will meet without our arms, without our weapons, and then we will discuss what it is we will want to say to each other about brotherhood, about violence.  Tomorrow we will meet. We will pitch a tent on this very spot and here we will discuss the conditions under which we will live together, or separately. Tomorrow at this very spot, which is now an historic place for both our peoples, we must meet and talk, and when we are together, we will decide how it is we shall live together or separately in brotherhood, in violence.


IV:  The Leader.

If there is a divine rite, I was elected because of my fine speaking ability. If there is no divine rite, I was elected because of my fine speaking ability. As it is, all in all, I was elected because of my fine speaking ability. I have ascended the highest steeple. I am the leader. Along with my fine cache of medals, I was once elected and several times re-elected, which means I am an official, either by or not by divine rite. And as an official, I display a fine speaking ability to communicate my preference to the electorate. So let me speak. We must find one who is electable. I am it. I am electable. One look at me will tell you I am different. Only a blind man would miss the finely tailored tailoring of my clothes. And I am already in office!  That proves I am a qualified official. My opponent can hardly oppose me. He’s never been in office. Not once was he elected!  What can be said of his leadership if he has never led? My opponent is of a common breed. He has no right to say he ought to be an official, whether he can say it or not. He is hardly opposition for me. Now you might say that at one time I too had never been in office, that I wasn’t even an official. But since I was elected, and then many times re-elected, it stands to reason I ought to have been in office even before I ever was elected. And so I was elected rightly to office. And, as the official I now am, it stands to reason I should officiate, so that, in the future, I may continue to lead all of you, which is to say nothing of my fine speaking ability.


V:  The Meeting of the Minds.

They have not yet arrived. But they will arrive soon. Should we hide our arms? What if they have also armed themselves? The decision has been made:  Our leader will speak for us. But what will he say? We know something of what must be said now, for we have fought among ourselves all night trying to decide who will speak and what is to be said. No doubt they have spied upon us. They know already what it is we are going to say we want. No doubt they know we have spied on them also. We know what their response will be if our information is correct. But perhaps our leader can persuade them we are trustworthy.

Why are they not yet here? It is well past the appointed time of meeting. By now they should have been here. By now this thing might be over with. The tent has been standing in the sunlight all day and it’s getting hot.

It is very quiet. A few birds sing in the branches of trees. We pass the word of their approach. Is it possible we can convince them to let us go? The watches are posted. They come from the North as expected, but it is only a small delegation.  If we slaughter these, how shall we contend with their army?

Perhaps we should have spoken to them yesterday. No. This is definitely the time and place where we were to speak. This is definitely the time and place where we were to speak, although it’s getting late. Now we see them, just beginning their descent of the hill.

Can it be the Great King? No, it cannot be him. But it is! If this is a trap, one of us will put a bullet in him.

Welcome Great King! Look! There is wine and we have prepared a feast. And the musicians will play their instruments and the women will dance.

The wine is very good, is it not? Perhaps one day our leader will enter your palace in friendship and sample your wine.  Truly it is a blessing, this fine, fertile land we share.

Yes, we understand. The agreement was there were to be no weapons, but as you see, we are putting them down as you wish.  So let us talk of peace, but first let us feast and drink.  Despite the condition of their instruments, the musicians are quite good, don’t you think?

We see you are making merry. Have some more wine. It is good wine, is it not? Oh, thank you Great King. Listen everyone! The Great King proclaims it is a most excellent wine!

Yes, we quite agree with you. These beautiful women of ours are all highly spirited. Take your pick. All are yours to command. But first, feast and drink but one more cup of this most excellent wine.

Now we have feasted. The musicians are tiring and the women are feverish from the dance. It is time to talk of peace. Our leader is ready to speak. His most finely tailored clothes are covered with medals.

Now let him speak.

Oh Great King.  You and I are very different, but from a kingly standpoint, we are really the same. I am the leader of my people, so let me speak for them now. You are a Great King, and only a leader of my office and authority should be capable of speaking in your presence. Your presence is truly unspeakable, except by one whose authoritative voice can emulate your eminence. I am such a one. And my voice is the voice of a great leader and fine speaker. My voice is a representation of all our voices put together! Yet, at the same time, it is different because it is the voice of a leader. It is the voice of authority!

Now I begin. I speak not of us, but from us. There is a distinction, you see. But at the same time, I speak in a voice His Excellency can understand, for we really are the same, you and I, even though we are very different. And you have descended the hill to hear my speech. Well, let me tell you that I, like the others, saw you descending the hill, but unlike the others, I was not blinded by your eminence. I was not amazed. I did not feel in awe. For truly, you and I are one of a kind, Your Majesty, and that is why you, better than anyone else, can understand my speech. You better than anyone else understand what it means to wear a finely tailored cloth. You know the value of a decoration during wartime. You know what it means to lead, to speak, and to think. That is why I was not afraid when I saw you descending the hill, because I knew you would understand.

My people chose me to speak because they love me. I admire their love, but at the same time, I feel different. You and I, we are two peas in a pod. Being loved is fine, but how much more gratifying it is to be understood. How much better it is to be able to say, ‘I have come to suspect I must be destined for greatness, that I will be remembered in history books,’ and to know that the one who hears me is one who understands. Now hear these words I speak. Hear my speech. For if they are not great words, then never have I spoken great words. For now I shall say, from this day forward, our two peoples, who until this day have been enemies, will henceforth be friends. I know you are astonished. I know what I say is unbelievable. Yet believe me when I tell you that what I say is the truth. For my vice is the vice of all of us put together. We are now enemies. But we shall be friends. Deus ex machinas. Etc. etc. etc….


VI:  The Little Girl.

Now we are slaves. They are very different from ourselves. Our leader’s speech did not impress them. Still, we have avoided a massacre. And slavery isn’t always unbearable. Sometimes, at least, we are able to walk again. Our leader, however, has been sacrificed. I who could not oppose him during his final campaign now carry his head, skewered through the mouth, upon a pike. I walk ahead of everyone else in what would be a position of authority. But after all, I am still just a little girl.

Immediately following the takeover, I was chosen to present our argument for leniency to the Monarch. It was thought, my being meek and submissive as well as somewhat articulate of our plight, I might persuade him to be merciful. I was dirty and covered in rags. He saw and heard me and thought me so pitiable, he laughed and actually spared my life. However, my parents have been murdered for their cowardice. It was at their suggestion that I spoke for all my people. The Great King told me, if I one day grew to be a beautiful woman, he would make me a concubine.

But now it is my silence which sustains us through our torment. It has been decreed, if I should speak but a single word during my lifetime, I and all of my people will be slaughtered with a single knife. Then to fertilize his vineyards, the ones he took from us by force, the Great King will sow our blood.


Mark Putzi received an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin -- Milwaukee in 1990. He has published fiction and poetry in many online and print venues both in the US and in other countries. Most recently his story "Glory Days" appeared in The Antonym, an online publication based in India. He lives in Milwaukee and works as a retail pharmacist.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *