In his later years, Silas began to show signs of increasing oddness. He had read much by conspiracy theorists, but seemed inclined at first not to take them seriously. He read Orwell’s 1984 with alacrity many times, and was apparently persuaded that the Internet was really an updated version of the telescreen: a means for the authorities to keep a constant surveillance of the private lives of its citizens, as it was in the novel. After all, Silas said, the internet was designed and used by the military, and its “highway” had two-way traffic. So-called ‘robocalls’ routinely interrupted everyone’s domestic routines. Who was behind them, he asked. Where did they get people’s phone numbers from? What did they really want? When his parents recounted details of a trip they had taken to New York City, he asked them in all seriousness if they had examined their suite to see if there was a two-way mirror in the bathroom. “He reads too many spy stories,” joked his father. But Silas was not laughing.
“They know too much about us,” he complained to Richmal, a coffee-shop regular who had taken an interest in him. “Call me Richie or Rich,” she had said. “I’m not, rich I mean, but I like the name. Can I call you Sy? You do sigh a lot,” she smiled impishly. “Get it?” Silas looked pained. Richmal had thick glasses, dressed haphazardly, read voraciously, and had one advantage over Silas: she at least had a sense of humour.
“Who does, Sy? Who knows too much about us? The RCMP? Aliens? The Velvet Underground? The Cookie Monster?” Silas ignored the question. After a pause, he sighed. He leaned forward conspiratorially, and in a virtually inaudible murmur, told her,
“There are cameras everywhere. Big Brother is always watching you. They pretend it’s to catch speeders or criminals in the act, but it’s all really to keep us in line. All of us. Cradle to grave. Innocent or guilty as sin. Children, adults, old folk. No-one suspects, because they are invisible.
Richmal laughed. “You’re not serious, are you? Oh my God, you are!”
Silas was affronted. He raised his eyebrow. “Well,” he replied huffily, “I see I can’t preach to the unconverted. And you should never joke about God. He certainly sees everything and everyone, and always has done, but we can do nothing about that. I must be going.”
He left the coffee shop thinking morosely of pearls before swine.
Days later, their paths crossed again at the drug store. Richie offered an olive branch. “You know,” she said,” I don’t order anything on-line any longer. I stopped last week.” She eyed him carefully, looking for a reaction. “Seriously. And it’s because of what you said last time.”
Silas raised both eyebrows in disbelief. Richie persisted: “They don’t need to know so much about me. I prefer to pay cash anyway, don’t you?” It was a plea for friendship. Silas merely nodded in acknowledgement and went on with his shopping. Richie, however, was not easily deterred. She followed him to the crosswalk. “Can we talk some more about this? It seems to trouble you so much.”