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کتاب: شبح باجه اخذ عوارض / فصل 2

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  • زمان مطالعه 17 دقیقه
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2.Beyond Expectations

Suddenly he found himself speeding along an unfamiliar country highway, and as he looked back over his shoulder neither the tollbooth nor his room nor even the house was anywhere in sight. What had started as make-believe was now very real.

“What a strange thing to have happen,” he thought (just as you must be thinking right now). “This game is much more serious than I thought, for here I am riding on a road I’ve never seen, going to a place I’ve never heard of, and all because of a tollbooth which came from nowhere. I’m certainly glad that it’s a nice day for a trip,” he concluded hopefully, for, at the moment, this was the one thing he definitely knew.

The sun sparkled, the sky was clear, and all the colors he saw seemed to be richer and brighter than he could ever remember. The flowers shone as if they’d been cleaned and polished, and the tall trees that lined the road shimmered in silvery green.

“WELCOME TO EXPECTATIONS,” said a carefully lettered sign on a small house at the side of the road.

“INFORMATION, PREDICTIONS, AND ADVICE CHEERFULLY OFFERED. PARK HERE AND BLOW HORN.”

With the first sound from the horn a little man in a long coat came rushing from the house, speaking as fast as he could and repeating everything several times:”My, my, my, my, my, welcome, welcome, welcome, welcome to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations, to the land of Expectations. We don’t get many travelers these days; we certainly don’t get many travelers these days. Now what can I do for you? I’m the Whether Man.

“Is this the right road for Dictionopolis?” asked Milo, a little bowled over by the effusive greeting.

“Well now, well now, well now,” he began again, “I don’t know of any wrong road to Dictionopolis, so if this road goes to Dictionopolis at all it must be the right road, and if it doesn’t it must be the right road to somewhere else, because there are no wrong roads to anywhere. Do you think it will rain?”

“I thought you were the Weather Man,” said Milo, very confused.

“Oh no,” said the little man, “I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be.” And with that he released a dozen balloons that sailed off into the sky. “Must see which way the wind is blowing,” he said, chuckling over his little joke and watching them disappear in all directions.

“What kind of a place is Expectations?” inquired Milo, unable to see the humor and feeling very doubtful of the little man’s sanity.

“Good question, good question,” he exclaimed. “Expectations is the place you must always go to before you get to where you’re going. Of course, some people never go beyond Expectations, but my job is to hurry them along whether they like it or not. Now what else can I do for you?” And before Milo could reply he rushed into the house and reappeared a moment later with a new coat and an umbrella.

“I think I can find my own way,” said Milo, not at all sure that he could. But, since he didn’t understand the little man at all, he decided that he might as well move on—at least until he met someone whose sentences didn’t always sound as if they would make as much sense backwards as forwards.

“Splendid, splendid, splendid,” exclaimed the Whether Man. “Whether or not you find your own way,you’re bound to find some way. If you happen to find my way, please return it, as it was lost years ago. I imagine by now it’s quite rusty. You did say it was going to rain, didn’t you?” And with that he opened the umbrella and walked with Milo to the car.

“I’m glad you made your own decision. I do so hate to make up my mind about anything, whether its good or bad, up or down, in or out, rain or shine. Expect everything, I always say, and the unexpected never happens.

Now please drive carefully; good-by, good-by, good-by, good . . .” His last good-by was drowned out by an enormous clap of thunder, and as Milo drove down the road in the bright sunshine he could see the Whether Man standing in the middle of a fierce cloudburst that seemed to be raining only on him.

The road dipped now into a broad green valley and stretched toward the horizon. The little car bounced along with very little effort, and Milo had hardly to touch the accelerator to go as fast as he wanted. He was glad to be on his way again.

“It’s all very well to spend time in Expectations,” he thought, “but talking to that strange man all day would certainly get me nowhere. He’s the most peculiar person I’ve ever met,” continued Milo—unaware of how many peculiar people he would shortly encounter.

As he drove along the peaceful highway he soon fell to daydreaming and paid less and less attention to where he was going. In a short time he wasn’t paying any attention at all, and that is why, at a fork in the road, when a sign pointed to the left, Milo went to the right,along a route which looked suspiciously like the wrong way.

Things began to change as soon as he left the main highway. The sky became quite gray and, along with it, the whole countryside seemed to lose its color and assume the same monotonous tone. Everything was quiet, and even the air hung heavily. The birds sang only gray songs and the road wound back and forth in an endless series of climbing curves.

Mile after

mile after

mile after

mile he drove, and now, gradually the car went slower and slower, until it was hardly moving at all.

“It looks as though I’m getting nowhere,” yawned Milo, becoming very drowsy and dull. “I hope I haven’t taken a wrong turn.”

Mile after

mile after

mile after

mile, and everything became grayer and more monotonous. Finally the car just stopped altogether, and, hard as he tried, it wouldn’t budge another inch.

“I wonder where I am,” said Milo in a very worried tone.

“You’re . . . in . . . the . . . Dol . . . drums,”

wailed a voice that sounded far away.

He looked around quickly to see who had spoken.

No one was there, and it was as quiet and still as one could imagine.

“Yes . . . the . . . Dol . . . drums,” yawned another voice, but still he saw no one.

“WHAT ARE THE DOLDRUMS?” he cried loudly,

and tried very hard to see who would answer this time.

“The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes.”

This time the voice came from so close that Milo jumped with surprise, for, sitting on his right shoulder,so lightly that he hardly noticed, was a small creature exactly the color of his shirt.

“Allow me to introduce all of us,” the creature went on. “We are the Lethargarians, at your service.”

Milo looked around and, for the first time, noticed dozens of them—sitting on the car, standing in the road, and lying all over the trees and bushes. They were very difficult to see, because whatever they happened to be sitting on or near was exactly the color they happened to be. Each one looked very much like the other (except for the color, of course) and some looked even more like each other than they did like themselves.

“I’m very pleased to meet you,” said Milo, not sure whether or not he was pleased at all. “I think I’m lost.

Can you help me please?”

“Don’t say ‘think,’ “ said one sitting on his shoe, for the one on his shoulder had fallen asleep. “It’s against the law.” And he yawned and fell off to sleep, too.

“No one’s allowed to think in the Doldrums,” continued a third, beginning to doze off. And as each one spoke, he fell off to sleep and another picked up the conversation with hardly any interruption.

“Don’t you have a rule book? It’s local ordinance 175389-J.”

Milo quickly pulled the rule book from his pocket, opened to the page, and read, “Ordinance 175389-J: It shall be unlawful, illegal, and unethical to think, think of thinking, surmise, presume, reason, meditate, or speculate while in the Doldrums. Anyone breaking this law shall be severely punished!”“That’s a ridiculous law,” said Milo, quite indignantly.

“Everybody thinks.”

“We don’t,” shouted the Lethargarians all at once.

“And most of the time you don’t,” said a yellow one sitting in a daffodil. “That’s why you’re here. You weren’t thinking, and you weren’t paying attention either. People who don’t pay attention often get stuck in the Doldrums.” And with that he toppled out of the flower and fell snoring into the grass.

Milo couldn’t help laughing at the little creature’s strange behavior, even though he knew it might be rude.

“Stop that at once,” ordered the plaid one clinging to his stocking. “Laughing is against the law. Don’t you have a rule book? It’s local ordinance 574381-W.”

Opening the book again, Milo found Ordinance 574381-W: “In the Doldrums, laughter is frowned upon and smiling is permitted only on alternate Thursdays.

Violators shall be dealt with most harshly.”

“Well, if you can’t laugh or think, what can you do?” asked Milo.

“Anything as long as it’s nothing, and everything as long as it isn’t anything,” explained another. “There’s lots to do; we have a very busy schedule

“At 8 o’clock we get up, and then we spend

“From 8 to 9 daydreaming.

“From 9 to 9:30 we take our early midmorning nap.

“From 9:30 to 10:30 we dawdle and delay.

“From 10:30 to 11:30 we take our late early morning nap.

“From 11:00 to 12:00 we bide our time and then eat lunch.

“From 1:00 to 2:00 we linger and loiter.

“From 2:00 to 2:30 we take our early afternoon nap.

“From 2:30 to 3:30 we put off for tomorrow what we could have done today.

“From 3:30 to 4:00 we take our early late afternoon nap.

“From 4:00 to 5:00 we loaf and lounge until dinner “From 6:00 to 7:00 we dillydally.

“From 7:00 to 8:00 we take our early evening nap, and then for an hour before we go to bed at 9:00 we waste time.

“As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we’d never get nothing done.”

“You mean you’d never get anything done,” corrected Milo.

“We don’t want to get anything done,” snapped another angrily; “we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help.”

“You see,” continued another in a more conciliatory tone, “it’s really quite strenuous doing nothing all day, so once a week we take a holiday and go nowhere, which was just where we were going when you came along.

Would you care to join us?”

“I might as well,” thought Milo; “that’s where I seem to be going anyway.”

“Tell me,” he yawned, for he felt ready for a nap now himself, “does everyone here do nothing?”“Everyone but the terrible watchdog,” said two of them, shuddering in chorus. “He’s always sniffing around to see that nobody wastes time. A most unpleasant character.”

“The watchdog?” said Milo quizzically.

“THE WATCHDOG,” shouted another, fainting from fright, for racing down the road barking furiously and kicking up a great cloud of dust was the very dog of whom they had been speaking.

“RUN!”

“WAKE UP!”

“RUN!”

“HERE HE COMES!”

“THE WATCHDOG!”

Great shouts filled the air as the Lethargarians scat tered in all directions and soon disappeared entirely.

“R-R-R-G-H-R-O-R-R-H-F-F,” exclaimed the watchdog as he dashed up to the car, loudly puffing and panting.

Milo’s eyes opened wide, for there in front of him was a large dog with a perfectly normal head, four feet, and a tail—and the body of a loudly ticking alarm clock.

“What are you doing here?” growled the watchdog.”Just killing time,” replied Milo apologetically. “You see “

“KILLING TIME!” roared the dog—so furiously that his alarm went off. “It’s bad enough wasting time without killing it.” And he shuddered at the thought.

“Why are you in the Doldrums anyway—don’t you have anywhere to go?”

“I was on my way to Dictionopolis when I got stuck here,” explained Milo. “Can you help me?”

“Help you! You must help yourself,” the dog replied, carefully winding himself with his left hind leg. “I suppose you know why you got stuck.”

“I guess I just wasn’t thinking,” said Milo.

“PRECISELY,” shouted the dog as his alarm went off again. “Now you know what you must do.”

“I’m afraid I don’t,” admitted Milo, feeling quite stupid.

“Well,” continued the watchdog impatiently, “since you got here by not thinking, it seems reasonable to expect that, in order to get out, you must start thinking.”

And with that he hopped into the car.

“Do you mind if I get in? I love automobile rides.”

Milo began to think as hard as he could (which was very difficult, since he wasn’t used to it). He thought of birds that swim and fish that fly. He thought of yesterday’s lunch and tomorrow’s dinner. He thought of words that began with J and numbers that end in 3. And, as he thought, the wheels began to turn.

“We’re moving, we’re moving,” he shouted happily.

“Keep thinking,” scolded the watchdog.

The little car started to go faster and faster as Milo’s brain whirled with activity, and down the road they went. In a few moments they were out of the Doldrums and back on the main highway. All the colors had returned to their original brightness, and as they raced along the road Milo continued to think of all sorts of things; of the many detours and wrong turns that were so easy to take, of how fine it was to be moving along, and, most of all, of how much could be accomplished with just a little thought. And the dog, his nose in the wind, just sat back, watchfully ticking

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