Avignor knew a great deal about everything and could debate the cause for the creation of the known world while extracting the small amount of precious metals left in old electronics by using dangerous chemicals. Or converse insightfully on the evolution of the female human womb while he knit a quilt with the name of every Scottish reiver from the early 7th century to the late 19th century. He was simply breath-taking that way.
It was as if he had lived a hundred lives in his one life and wasn’t pre-possessed to do anything extravagant about it. He simply lived, and worked. And we often talked, at length, about anything and everything.
Everyday, for the past many days, even for the past many years. In fact, he said, he had only ever taken the one drop of oil a day, as far back as he could remember. A real flesh and blood human, he said, can be sustained in such manner indefinitely.
One drop of oil a day.
I had initially thought he was putting me on as his intelligence was only slightly superior to his wit and humour. I did wonder at this seemingly sudden change in his traditional line of thinking, but my dismissal of his statement can be understood based on this point and I began to digress.
He laid his arm on my arm to stop me, but characteristically Avignor did not squeeze my arm. I had always thought he was being extra careful in order to avoid crushing the bones in my body, but now I think differently. He put the drop of oil onto his tongue and challenged me to catch him eating something, anything else at all.
I asked him how, if he was indeed a human being, how he could still exist from having consumed only a single drop of oil a day, for the past many days and indeed, many years. I told him that it was scientifically impossible and in fact, quite silly to imagine that the human body could be sustained, not only for many years but even a month, on a drop of oil that comes from the deeper parts of the earth and is commonly used in combustion engines.
He told me about the great history of the philosopher’s stone and drawing upon his prodigious memory, gave an account -over the following weeks- of each of the multifarious men and their respective work on the various philosopher stones.
He spoke of Albertus Magnus teaching Thomas Aquinas the process of transmuting dull metals to gold and how Newton’s apple was like his drop of oil. He said that there was no real reason that there should be thee one and only Philosopher’s Stone; Avignor believed other forms of the mythical object would and should be found at other times.
He had found his.
I decided immediately that I wouldn’t waste a single precious second trying to catch him consuming anything other than that single drop of oil because it was ridiculous. It wasn’t ridiculous that he thought I should believe him that a human could be sustained indefinitely by consuming only a single drop of oil a day. No, that wasn’t what was absolutely, fantastically, heart-wrenchingly ridiculous.
What was ridiculous was the singular fact that Avignor wasn’t a human at all - he was machine. Where flesh would be - synthetic covering. Where muscle - pistons. Where arteries and capillaries - wires and more wires. Where heart - there was none. There was a uranium-derived energy source that pulsed, not beat, where his heart should be.
And the greatest tragedy: he didn’t know it, and I wouldn’t be the one to try to convince him. Not now, not ever. Not after all the years I’d known him and not for the whole future forever. For who can shatter as grand a delusion as that, and expect to remain alive for long after?
Not I, I say.
Avignor wanted to belong to that great tapestry of humanity, multi-hued and multifarious. He wanted to tell the stories and songs of humanity but more importantly, he wanted to be a part of the stories and songs that he recited. Deep down inside his cold, golden circuitry and silicon microprocessors, Avignor wanted to connect to something warm, organic and breathing.
So I let it be and I gradually, clandestinely, began to indulge him his belief. I would nod my head in acceptance of the words coming from what could have been a human mouth - only it was a machine’s hole from which sound was emitted in an intelligible manner. It could be made to speak Icelandic and recite the old tales from Snorri Sturluson about Gunnar Gunnarson to a school room of sixteen year olds and then be in Baghdad the next day, reconfiguring the technical components of a Boeing 747 and speaking Russian without a hiccough.
I enjoyed Avignor’s company so much, in fact, that no delusion, no matter how great in scale, would ever cause me to shatter my friend’s present consciousness. Sometimes the truth, even between friends, binds you in chains. I decided that the truth for truth’s sake was not valorous.
It would break his heart but worse, he would realize he had no heart worth breaking.