Soul Searching

I: Prologue

The man in the back clicked his pen again, to the severe annoyance of the taxi driver. One click, two and three. He looked out at the passing skyscrapers, at the passing cars, at the passing people. He opened his diary and scribbled an entry onto a page already near black with messages. Then he waited – just long enough for the taxi driver to relax – and then he clicked his pen again. One click, two and three. The taxi driver looked like he was about to throw on the handbrake, but obviously thought better of it. The man in the back chuckled in satisfaction. He had been meticulously repeating the pattern for the best part of half-an-hour, and it was obviously beginning to take it's toll on the taxi driver. It was irritating, it was repetitious, and the man in the back was loving every minute. There was a problem however. He was running out of space in his diary. Maybe if he wrote in July 27th instead of June 27th. He smiled to himself. It was August.

"You nervous or something?" asked the taxi driver, having opted for diversionary tactics.

"Why do you ask?" The taxi managed to perfectly summarise "You're clicking that pen and if you click it again you'll be riding in the trunk for the remainder of your trip," into a single grunt. "No, I'm not nervous. I'm just anticipating something."

"What?"

"I have a meeting with the Archbishop today."

"You religious then?" Some contempt there, the man in the back noticed.

"Oh no. I'm… uh… undecided would be the best way to put it."

"Then why you want to go see a bishop for?"

"Archbishop."

"Whatever."

"It's something I've been working on. For Time magazine. They want me to find an example of a human soul."

"You serious?"

"Oh yes, quite."

"Any luck?"

"I've found examples, but nobody good enough for my editors."

"Oh." The taxi driver drove thoughtfully for a short distance, until the man in the back started clicking again, forcing him into conversation. "I think everyone's got a soul. It ain't religious. But it ain't scientific either. And there's no levels. You got one, I got one. It's just there. You don't need to explain it."

The man in the back allowed himself a brief smile. "Well, I'll bare that in the mind." The taxi pulled over beside a church. The main in the back paid, tipped and thanked the taxi driver, grabbed his bag, clicked his pen again – just to annoy the taxi driver – and walked into to the church. A nice man he thought, as he listened to the taxi drive away. Good conversationalist, bit of a temper. Quite soulless, however. With a shake of his head, he walked to an attendant at the front of the church and got a certain amount of satisfaction from the look on her face when he said "The Archbishop is expecting me."

II: The Archbishop

There was an old man sitting in a chair, pausing over an old book, cracked and worn, as was the book. He looked up as he heard the door open, or at least his head pointed towards the door. He had been blind for years.

"Who is it?"

"Me."

"Thank you." There was a pause as the old man stared at nothing in every sense of the word. "Who's me?"

"You're the Archbishop."

"I know that you fool! Who are you?"

"I'm from time magazine," said the man from the back of the taxi.

"Ah, that git."

"I beg you're pardon?"

"I'm sorry, sometimes I say what I think out loud." There was a pause as the man from the back of the taxi tried to work out whether this was good or bad. "Well then, get on with it! Want to know what the human soul is do you? Eh?"

"May I ask you a question?"

"No, but you already did, so just go on and see if I care."

"Are you blind?"

"Yes."

"How many fingers am I holding up?" said the man from the back of the taxi, not lifting a finger.

"Why you impudent monkey!" screamed the old man, and beat the man from the back of the taxi around the head with his white cane. "How dare you mock a blind old archbishop! I'd send you to hell only it's not my decision."

"Fine. May I ask you another question?"

"Yes, but I've got my cane on stand by."

"What is the soul?"

"Straight to the point aren't you. All right. The human soul is God in us." At this point the old man took a bible, opened to a relevant passage, realised the futility of what he had just done, sighed, closed the book and quoted from memory. "'So God created man in his own image. In the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.' Genesis 1:27."

"But what does that mean?"

"On the first five days God created the heavens and the earth. The land, the sea and the sky. The animals, birds and fish. And on the sixth day God created man. Whereas he had created the other animals out of nothing, God moulded man out of the earth, and with his breath he breathed life into us."

"So you're saying a human soul is breath? That sounds plausible."

"Let me finish you idiot!" screamed the old man, and hit him again. "God breathed life into us. A part of God is in all of us. The human soul is this part of God we have that is in us. It is this part of us that goes to heaven when our earthly bodies die. That is the soul."

"I see-"

"Don't mock my disability, boy."

"But I… yes. Let me get something out of my briefcase." He pulled out a large jar, filled with a murky green liquid. "Can you tell me what this is?"

"Well, just wait a moment while I put my glasses on." The old man pulled a pair of glass frames with no glass in them and put them on. The next sentence was very slow, very deliberate and very sarcastic. "No, I don't know what it is."

"It is a jar."

"Hmm, I see. Most enlightening."

"Inside the jar," the man from the back of the taxi continued, not to be put off, "is a human brain."

"Who's is it?"

"A friend gave it to me."

"Willingly?"

"Oh yes, he said he didn't need it at the time. He wants it back though."

"Well, yes, I can see why. Tell me, was your friend already mad before he gave you his brain?"

"It's not his personal brain." The man from the back of the taxi said carefully. "He works in a science lab."

"Oh I see. Figuratively of course. And you keep this in your briefcase?"

"Yes. Tests have been run on this brain. And there has not been a single piece of evidence to point to the existence of a soul in this brain."

"Have you listened to a word I said? This soul leaves our earthly bodies when we die, and travels to heaven or hell. If you're looking for the soul in a corpse you won't find one. In any case, why look for it in the brain? Why not look in the heart, or the lungs? Myself, I always thought it resided in the left foot."

"Very well. I must go, Archbishop."

"I'd wish you well, only I truly hope you lose the ability to speak somehow, preferably painfully."

"Thank you. I have one more question."

"Yes?"

"If you're blind, why are you reading that book?"

"Habit."

The man from the back of the taxi who had just been in the church walked up to the street and hailed a taxi, and told it to take him to his friend's lab, in order to return his brain.

III: The Scientist

A man in a white lab coat stopped testing the effects of extreme stress on rats long enough to tell the man from the back of the taxi who had just been in the church where his friend was, then reloaded his pistol and kept firing. The friend was using a microscope which had broken down the night before, although he had yet to realise this.

"Oh hello!"

"Hello, I'm just here to return your brain."

"Oh thanks. I found it immensely difficult to work without it. Quite an essential accessory really."

"Done anything interesting?"

"Well, yes I have. I think I may have discovered proof of alien life."

"Really?"

"Yes. Look at the specimen in this microscope. It is absolutely covered in small lines, like cracks in glass. It's a totally new organism."

"This microscope is broken," said the man, without looking at the sample.

"What makes you say that?"

"Because I knocked it over last night on my way out."

"Oh." The friend was momentarily disappointed. "What did you need the brain for?"

"I wanted to show it to the archbishop."

"The archbishop? Why?"

"I was asking him about the human soul."

"Did you get what you want?"

"I don't know. I'm not entirely happy with his response. Regardless of what I think it's not what my readers want to hear."

"Well, I know all about the human soul."

"You do?"

"Yes. It doesn't exist. You see, the brain is made up of hundreds of tiny neurons. Each of these neurons can generate an action potential, which travels from neuron to neuron. And these convey "messages" if you will, all over the brain. And that's how we think."

"How, but not why."

"Well… yes, but that's only a matter of time. So, that's what we all boil down to. The real secret of the human soul is that there isn't one. We are what we are. Great isn't it?"

"So you're saying that we, as conscious intelligent beings, boil down to some chemical equations and a few physical laws?"

"Well… yes, but I wouldn't put it like that."

"How would you put it?"

"We are a miracle of science."

"But miracle is a religious term, and most if not all religions believe in the soul in some form or another."

"But this is the scientific miracle. Religion is not involved."

"You know, Time magazine has a large percentage of readers who are religious, and they wouldn't be too happy with the explanation you've just given."

"True, but I'm not talking to them am I? I'm talking to you. What do you believe?"

"I don't know." The man sighed. "I don't know."

"Okay." The friend was silent for awhile. Then he brightened. "Hey, what's that white stuff on your head? It might be a new type of fungus! If I could just get it under the microscope…"

"The microscope is broken, and that is merely white paint."

"Paint?"

"Yeah, the Archbishop gave me a whack round the head with his cane."

"Hey, yeah, he's blind isn't he?"

"Yeah, but he can hit hard."

IV: Interlude

The phone rang to no one in particular, since no one was home. The home that no one was in was a rich looking place with wooden walls and an imitation tiger skin on the floor which was designed to look real enough to anger animal rights activists without actually hurting any animals. The moose head on the wall however was real. The moose had broken into the owner's backyard and drowned in his swimming pool, so it seemed a shame to just leave it lying there. The phone decided it had rung enough and switched on the answering machine. "Hello." It said, in the slow tones of someone getting immense pleasure from wasting someone else's time. "You have reached the Editor of Time Magazine. Or, rather, you haven't, because he's out. Ha. In any case, if you would like to leave a message, go ahead. I'm not saying it will be answered, but go ahead anyway. Click. Beep." There was a pause, and then:

"Hi, I'm still working on that soul article for you. I've spoken to a number of people, and I'm just collating the information, I suppose I'll have it on your desk by tomorrow morning. Okay, bye." He hung up.

"Thank you for calling," said the answering machine, but it was in vain, for he had already gone.

V: Revelation

The computer started up, and made the usual assortment of noises that makes the user worried that the computer is broken. However, in this case, it was, in fact, broken. The man grunted in annoyance, and turned on his typewriter, which had run out of ink. He grunted again and pulled out a pen and paper and sat down to write before he realised that he still didn't know what the hell he was actually going to write. The archbishop had said that a person's soul was god's presence in him. The scientist had said the soul was merely an explanation for what was really a chemical equation. And the… who? The man had a strange feeling that there was a third opinion. Oh well. Did he really only have two choices? He had searched and searched and he had not found a single example of a human soul, by either standard. Nothing he could prove. Nothing he could show his readers to make them go "Oh, well that's all right then." Everyone he talked to was soulless. Even him. Even the archbishop. Even the scientist. Even the taxi driver. The taxi driver… The man remembered what he had said: "I think everyone's got a soul. It ain't religious. But it ain't scientific either. And there's no levels. You got one, I got one. It's just there. You don't need to explain it." With a laugh, the man realised he might be on to something. With great satisfaction, he wrote eleven words. He went to bed and the next morning he woke and found his own soul.

VI: Epilogue

The next issue of Time magazine ran with the words: "We all have a soul. Make of it what you will."

Sam Mellor, 27th/6/2001

All the characters portrayed in this story are fictitious and any relation to real people, past or present, is entirely coincidental. However, if you do know anyone similar to these characters, I would be quite interested in meeting them.