MATHEMATICS OF DEPRESSION
by Milos Jakovljevic
Somewhere in the infinity of the universe, through numerous galaxies and within an eternal world that makes sense, in a world with proportions, numbers, mathematical, fatal and cosmic operational functions, in the width of the solar system and under the strong influence of ultraviolet Sun rays, on a tiny, tiny, tiny planet Earth, filled with rules and regulations, a man-object lives as number 7786654412833225 (further on - Person Z). He was queuing in front of the Embassy, vividly frightened. STOP! (Further on, in this story, the word the meaning of which is here equivalent to the film directors' cut, shall be used to announce explanations that point out to the idea of this essay; also, in order to create tension and in the end, as a means of style that will separate this from other stories on the same topic).
In order to continue with the story of Person Z, the only one who is important for us in the entire infinity of the universe, we first have to explain the meaning of the sentence "he was waiting in front of the Embassy , obviously frightened". Namely, as one of the features of our main character - being from the above mentioned planet, ergo Homo Sapiens - is intelligence, the movement of masses is regulated by certain prerequisites and laws designed by dominant units, so that legal and safe travelling is made possible for each unit within the mass, in the context of (political) control. The Embassy is one factor in a line of all the means and bureaucratic creations, and its task is to conduct all the mentioned laws. One unit cannot legally move from one territory to another without prior consultation with one of those factors. The Embassy is the element of the bureaucratic travelling event which will let this and that unit, among everything else, to stay at its destination for a certain period of time once it arrives there. Of course, as each Embassy, just as most Earthly bureaucratic creations, is multifunctional, issuing this permit to stay somewhere i.e. the visa, is one of a large number of its functions. But, this is only important for the story of Mr Z.
On this celestial body called Earth, the number of Embassies is big. It reflects the number of the existing states, that is, bordered territories inhabited with units that have features of each territory. As one of these features is a language, and the place Mr Z currently inhabits is called Serbia and Montenegro, this story was adapted to the circumstances, its translation from the Intergalactic International Language into Serbian, the language of the Serbian nation that Mr Z belongs to. If you are interested in the interpretation of the original text that contains in it 15000011140 pieces of information more than this version, which cannot be read in full due to this translation, visit the Space Centre 7444 for the Intergalactic Research of Cosmic Nations, Planetary and Interplanetary Motions and look up the file number 555555419ASDF9. STOP!
Who is Mr Z? Mr Z is a financially limited person who has spent five Earth years working hard, often manually, to provide his family and himself a slightly more extended stay with his sister in Greece - another one of the Earth countries. Why is Mr Z frightened? Because he knows that long queuing in front of the Embassy is inevitable, that the paperwork and minute documentations important prerequisite, and in the end, because he knows that he is a very impatient person, so the very visitation to the Greek Embassy is a possible cause of likely nervous breakdowns, or extremely intensive neurotic attacks caused by pressure of considerable intensity, among which visiting the bureaucratic buildings causes most damage.
Just a couple of Earth days before the day we were speaking of, Mr Z had had a very long and strenuous conversation filled with tiniest details, tiniest to such an extent that it required paper and pencil. The conversation was with his colleague, Mr Y, who, unlike Mr Z was a very rich and well-established Serb, who found visiting any embassy a part of his every-day life, due to his business enterprises, which Mr Y indulges in, so he could remain wealthy and prosperous. During this talk, Mr Z noted down all the necessary information and pieces of advice from his friend to make it easier for himself and reduce the level of stress while visiting the Greek Embassy. One of those wise saws (audio recording by the Research Team of Centre 7444) sounded like this:
Mr Y: "And, yes! I've almost forgotten! By all means bring along a fishing stool, you know, the foldable three-legged one, like the one anglers use when fishing!"
Mr Z: "A foldable stool?! You must be joking!"
Mr Y: "If only I weren't, my friend. I've heard that an elderly man hadn't taken neither his bed, nor his stool. And you know what happened to him? After four days of waiting, the poor man's walking cane broke as did his left knee. Poor old man, he didn't even get to his visa. The ambulance took him away. Next time he came, he was armed with three canes and three stools, and in less than a month, he was sitting on a plane. I'm telling you. Don't joke with the Embassy. You'll ruin your health, man! STOP!
Did Mr Z follow his friend's instructions? Of course he did! And now we see him in front of the building, in the centre of Belgrade, how, shivering with anticipation, clutches a leg of a small, practical, wooden fishermen's stool he carried to the Danube a day before, and now, he is relaxed and walks with it through the streets of Belgrade to fish that magical Visa! for his family. Still, Mr Z is petrified whilst observing the longest queue of units he has seen in his entire life. Looking aside, he could see bits of small and big beds, armchairs and chairs. Fortune has followed him to his destination and the first phase of this tormenting action has started.
The next step is, of course, to join the queue of nervous people from Belgrade who spent the previous night sharpening their claws and fangs, in order to be ready to shred and bite anyone who even thinks of queue jumping, or anyone who disturbs their peace in any way. Hundreds of people, some of them arrived hours before the Sun even thought of rising, change their tired feet and hold on to the food and drinks in their hands, which will help them go through the ordeal and suffering, while, some other hundreds of people make a terrible crowd in front of numerous information boards, noting down everything they might need as far as the documents are concerned. Some of them scream with pain caused by inconsiderate people who stamped on their toes, yet who wanted to be a millimetre closer to the knowledge. Tens of others still sleep on beds they have brought along, and a group of people leave this scene of suffering and go home, keeping their dignity and hoping that one morning, when they come, the queue will be shorter.
For such people, the so called "waiters", are the ideal solution. These people are generally students and members of other economically deprived groups, who are willing to wait for you if you are willing to compensate for their waiting in lines and getting waiting numbers. Many of these pros will study for their exams in front of some of the Embassies in Belgrade, and the others who invest even more time and effort in doing their job properly will earn enough to buy assets they will use to invest in things that will bring them money. Mr Z is now bathing in his sweat. He is already afraid for his life. Will he manage to join the queue, let alone enter the building and hand over all the necessary documents? STOP!
The mathematics of depression is an intergalactic nomination for a science that follows the movement of a large number of space units that share a mutual goal which makes them happy and hurts them at the same time. At that, the term has been mainly used to describe as precisely as possible all the historical clashes, wars and motions of different galactic groups, yet with certain statistical calculations supported by the probability theory, mathematical relations and equations that will serve us in close and distant future as a milestone in solving real or theoretical problems that masses of peoples around the universe may meet, and in doing so, share the collective depression.
When we talk about planet Earth, all the theories and calculations do not have to lead to proper conclusions and precise calculations, because all of its inhabitants are rather unpredictable and cannot be trusted in regard to their interaction, and especially in the depression of the masses. The mathematics of depression in Mr Z's case is not good for him because of a number of factors, let us call them factors mZ, nm,v and a , and if we add them and multiply them we come to the conclusion that Z will suffer a mental, i.e. nervous disturbance due to the anger and frustration before he reaches his goal - the visa. So, these are the two priority factors, in this case - mZ (the mental state of Mr Z) and v (visa, of course). The amount of the (depressive) mass i.e. nm and the speed at which the administrative officers and security staff function - a , are the exterior factors. The calculation, or, as we may call it, the answer to the issue of probability is called "depressive-mathematical consequent". For our story this consequent is of utmost importance. STOP!
Has Mr Z joined the queue? Our hero, simultaneously thinking of his thumping heartbeat and the thousand drops of sweat that run down his forehead with great speed, and also of the joy on the faces of his family members in case that he really manages to realise his intention - v , is now slowly approaching an elderly lady who is unfortunate enough to stand at the very end of the queue. Not for long, of course, because Mr Z will have the honour in a couple of seconds.
Mrs H: "Morning, sir. I can see you took your stool with you! You know, it's really wise. I, for example, haven't, and I'm already thinking of giving up the whole thing."
Mr Z: "Go ahead, madam (hands her the stool). Have a seat, until I need it."
Mrs H: (Smiling) "Oooh, you really shouldn't have! (Sits on the chair). You are a true gentleman!
Kindness is a very subjective matter on planet Earth. To our hero, it represents no special effort, because he thinks that it is a part of elementary upbringing one gets at home, so this small gesture was of least importance to him. Still, for Mrs H, the same gesture prevented a torrent of rheumatic mini-catastrophes and gave her hope that she will succeed. Later, we shall see clearly how kindness and thankfulness have their opposites and how the smallest gesture can smack you back in the face.
Another very subjective issue on this planet is time. It can pass at very different speeds, depending on different factors. To some, it passes very slowly and to the others, very fast. In our visa queue, the time passed slowly to some, and to some it did not pass at all, as was the case with Mr Z. Still, at a certain moment, he realised that it had passed long enough for his feet to start hurting, so he remembered his friend's words and the fact that he brought along his stool which had not seemed attractive until that moment. Still, he realised that the person he had lent his precious possession lost her senses of sight and hearing, and after he raised the issue of claiming it back, the woman turned her back in a dignified manner, and continued to sit, pretending that she was sitting on her own possession. In the mind of Mr Z, who was inclined to paranoia, her move seemed as the first step of the plot that was going to prevent him to reach his goal, at least as that day was concerned. Yet, in disbelief, after a long contemplation he realised that what Mrs H had done was not a part of a master plan, but just a part of the poor upbringing she got from her parents. "Nothing unusual, considering the state the world is in," he thought and was resigned with the fact that he would spend the rest of his small adventure standing. What else was there for him but to possibly lower himself to the primitive woman's level?
"Don't you fret. All of you here will get in today. When some more people come, around eleven o'clock we shall distribute the numbers. So, those who are in the queue are OK and those who are not - don't come in," a policeman explained. And so, our hero was standing and standing, clutching his number in his hand - 387. The moment he was given it, somewhere on the Earth, the same number appeared on the display of a pocket calculator that belonged to a small girl who is doing her first calculus somewhere in Stockholm.
Another policeman walks past the queue every twenty minutes in order to remind them that they need two photos, thirty-five euro per passport, insurance and whatnot. He knows which documents people forget most. His kindness is worth his weight in gold. STOP!
Furthermore, while the sun bakes the tired faces, at forty degrees Celsius on this August day in Serbia, Mr Z experiences a mirage. Thousands and thousands of visa cards fall from the sweltering sky and all of them aim at him to hit him over his sweaty forehead, and then they fly back and laugh loudly, contented with the power they have over the entire Serbian nation. Mr Z tries to stay concentrated and shun black thoughts for the nineteenth time by opening the bottle of a once cold beverage filled with refreshing bubbles, but as he lowers his gaze towards the sticker of the plastic container the capacity of which was defined with 0.33, it seemed to him for a second that, instead of the regular name of this refreshing beverage, he could read the following sentence: "You will never get it! You can only dream of it, you dumb arse! You will never eat sweet Greek baklava". Upon seeing this, Mr Z screamed in fear and this confused hundreds of people who were queuing. After all, five hours in the sun was too much for him.
When mathematics of depression is applied to a mass of people, there is only one consequence. Yet, when it is applied to an individual, the result i.e. the depressive-mathematical consequent is multifunctional, just like the term "embassy" itself. And what could have happened is irrelevant, what is, however, relevant, are the variations.
To sum up, Mr Z worked hard to afford his family a holiday in Greece. Therefore the term 'travelling' and means that will lead him to its destination are of exceptional importance to him, if we count out his paranoid features. If we consider the following factors: the heat; too many people waiting; great pressure from home, in case he does not finish with his business; complications of bureaucratic systems as well as the appearance of Mrs H, who will once again remind him of the state of the world, and be the additional depressive factor, the scream of such intensity that will confuse and scare all the people around him is completely understandable and acceptable in theory of probability. STOP! What can happen to Mr Z?
Mr Z will leave the spot and make better preparations for the following morning, when he will be more ready, having had today's experience in mind, and bring with him another stool, which he will not give to anybody, as well as more cold beverages, and maybe a portable fridge.
Mr Z will stay where he was, some people sneering at him and some feeling pity, and wait for another five to ten hours to do what he came here to do and one of the embassy clerks with no mercy in her will send him home because one detail from his documents does not match.
Ask his wife to do it instead of him, which would be a consequence of thinking and realising how neurotic he is, and this neurosis is the consequence of succumbing to the system of Earth bureaucracy.
One thing is certain in all the three possible endings! The stress! The only possible consequence of queuing for anything, let alone for a v!
Translated from Serbian by Nebojsa Pajic
Published in the 'Best Stories from Visa Queues' short story collection by the Citizen’s Pact for South Eastern Europe as part of their international campaign for abolishing the visa regime for citizens of Serbia.