Scenes from a Roman Taverna: Reward

‘You’re looking well this morning, Calgacus,’ said Antonius the foreman,’ did you get lucky last evening? Or is it just you’re getting used to the wine like the rest of us?’
Calgacus shrugged and put down his pack for the day.
‘Where do you want me to start Antonius?’
‘If you could carry those bricks over there that would be great. We’ve pretty much finished the hypocaust substructure so we can start on the baths proper. It’ll be good to have a proper baths again this end of town.’
‘Certainly more convenient that having to cross the entire town,’ Calgacus agreed,’ let’s hope this one doesn’t burn down like the last one.’
‘Yeah… I heard that one of the slaves stoking the furnace fell asleep. Burnt to death in the fire so I guess it serves him right. Talking of which, have you heard about the bounty for that slave girl that’s gone on the run?’
‘No,’ said Calgacus carefully as he hid his face from the foreman,’ no, I hadn’t. Is a big reward being offered?’
‘Oh, think you know where she is then?’ said the foreman and Calgacus felt his body stiffen. But then the other man laughed.
‘Just joking, Cal… But it is a big reward. A whole year’s wages, near enough.’
‘You’re kidding! I mean she’s just a little girl… I heard,’ he added quickly.
Antonius narrowed his eyes.
‘I though you said you didn’t know about the slave or the bounty?’
Calgacus carefully put down the pile of roof tiles he had been carrying and looked the foreman in the eye. Antonius was a foot shorter than he so that was not hard.
‘Antonius – it’s six in the morning. I’m still half asleep – although you’re right I took it easy on the wine last night so I feel better this morning. A feeling you are rapidly ruining.’
‘No need to get bad tempered. It’s a woman isn’t it? It always is. You need a wife Calgacus, like mine. To look after you, feed you –‘
‘- and run your life for you? Maybe someday I’ll want that, Antonius. At the moment, I’m enjoying being single.’
‘All the nice girls will be gone by then. You see the way they run after the soldiers.’
Calgacus put down the next set of bricks and gave his foreman a withering look.
‘Antonius, they chase the soldiers because the soldiers are young and from Hispania. They’re charming and exotic. They’re also going to be stuck in the army for at least another fifteen years and the legion will go where the empire sends it. Sooner or later the girls will realise that the kind of man they need is someone who is local with a bit of stability.’
‘But they’re damaged goods by then, not really worth bothering with…’
‘Don’t talk about people as though they were property!’ Calgacus shouted, surprising himself as his vehemence.
In his head he could only see Vita’s frightened little face.
Antonius, clearly taken aback, stepped back and held up his hands.
‘Suit yourself,’ said Antonius,’ but,’ his voice dropped to a whisper,’ changing the subject, if you do find this girl cut me in. I’ll do the same. That’s less money each but more eyes to look for her.’
Calgacus began to say something but gritted his teeth and stayed silent. Instead he just nodded. He went back to moving bricks. That was something simple, something he understood.
How had this girl taken over his life so quickly, that now he was thinking of her rather than himself? The gods had a wicked sense of humour.

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Put the phone down and smile at me, please?

I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to checking my email on my generic smart phone with the apple on the back. I start to hyperventilate when the little legend at the top says “No Service” and the friendly inverted cone of WiFi is not present. I’m cut off you see. The fact that most of my email seems to be from pizza companies and hotels presenting offers to spend my money with them and not from actual real people I like seems not to matter. I need to be connected. Even when we were spending a blissfully quiet time on the island of Lundy off the Devon coast a few years ago – before it wall went wrong and I contracted adult onset Chicken Pox, another story – I had to make sure I walked past the only point in the island where there is a serviceable signal several times a day, just in case. (For reference, it is easy to find – it’s somehow appropriate that the church on Lundy marks the best chance of connection to the ether.)
The reason for this confession is to admit I have to try hard to avoid doing what I increasingly see as an unfortunate trend to lock ourselves away from each other in the real world due to a fixation with the virtual one. It is not that social networking online is bad – I’m a huge fan. I just think we are not getting the balance right between human face to face interactions and posting.
Last week we caught up with the teen-romance-zombie movie “Warm Bodies”. Getting away from the Romeo and Juliet inspired plot – there is even a balcony scene – it’s an entertaining piece of fluff with a surprisingly serious undertone of forgiveness and redemption and of how important we are to each other as people. In an early scene there our protagonist male zombie shuffles around an airport in his hoodie grunting and groaning just like, well a normal teenage boy. The zombies largely ignore each other, shuffling around in their own increasingly restricted little worlds until they get hungry. Our boy reflects what it must have been like in the good old days before this particular zombie apocalypse. There is a flashback scene of only a few seconds to this idyllic lost world. In this scene, which has stuck in my head more than the rest of the movie is that the airport is filled with living, breathing human beings… and they are all totally ignoring each other, entranced instead by their phones, tablets and laptops. So nothing much has changed then.
It is a very funny moment of course but it is also chilling. If we stop interacting and caring for each other we might as well be brainless zombies. Maybe we are becoming exactly that.
We are a social species and part of that means contact with warm, living, wonderful people. As I walk around and see people – of all ages and walks of life – wander aimlessly across the pavement because they are too busy following their twitter feed, I have an urge to walk up to them and whisper “boo!” in their ear.
Thankfully British reserve has saved me from the inevitable consequences of such direct action so maybe I’ll just blog about it instead.
In the unlikely event you are reading this on your mobile device of choice, and you are outside walking along, stop please and smile at someone as you pass. Mostly they should smile back, that’s how this interaction thing works.
If we don’t get a handle on this I think it is time to initiate Plan B. I’m getting together a group of like minded individual people, grabbing a van, supplies and a generator and heading for somewhere defensible. Who’s with me?
We can even set up a Facebook page to help organise our escape.