by Vajra Chandrasekera
The rogue state next door keeps moving the border fences at night and it keeps the President awake. Not just from worry (the President has anxiety dreams about the fences closing in, about waking up to discover that the sovereign territory for which he is responsible has shrunk all the way to the outer border of his bed, the roguery even beginning to encroach on his fine silk sheets) but also from the noise, all the hammering and rumbling as hundreds of miles of fence are methodically shifted by unseen workers in the dark. He wishes the rogue state next door would at least pretend to be doing it in secret – why would they do it under cover of night and then make so much noise? Their disregard for stealth obliges him, his cabinet and his citizens all to pretend to be hard of hearing or absent-minded or easily distracted or heavy sleepers, rather than actually confront the rogue state next door which nobody wants to do. The rogue state next door is crazy like a fox.
In the morning the President insists on patrolling the contested border himself to see where it's at. The Department of the Interior comes up with a daily excuse to account for his movements so that everybody can pretend to believe that his motorcade is only passing by the border on its way to some engagement. He refuses to make it official that the President is freaking out because then the polity in toto would be obligated to lose their shit.
‘The important thing,’ the President tells his Secretary, who always rides with him on the secret border patrol, ‘is to stave off panic. No run on the banks, no running for the boats.'
'Ride or die, Your Excellency,' the Secretary says, loyally.
The President doesn't like to look the rogue state next door in the eye – though he doesn't know if anybody's standing on the other side of the fence, because he'd have to look to find out, wouldn't he? Eye contact might be dangerous. He looks at the fence itself instead, allowing himself to be gently hypnotised by the stutter of muddy, askew pickets scrolling past his window.
The President has been waiting for the right moment, the right confluence of courage and opportunity. On a quiet stretch of road with no civilians in sight, he stops the motorcade and gets out of the car to inspect the fence up close. The churned earth smells overripe. Most of the paint has flaked off the pickets. None of his bodyguards or his aides will get as close to the fence as the President does, not even the Secretary. They all look resolutely in a different direction or fiddle with their phones or pretend to make conversation. Only the President gets close enough (eyes cast down, not looking) to put his arms around a picket and whisper into the rogue state next door, begging to be left alone.
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