Bikbratu’s body was sturdy, his shoulders strong, he dressed well for a man of his age, his face and hair were missing. As we were kerbside catching up with chat, several other people of all types walked past with no faces. Some were hand-in-hand with a partner with a face, nobody had half a face, it was all or nothing it seemed, it looked like only over-eighteens, this was off the scale of impossibility, why hadn’t I heard of this?
Bikbratu said it’s what happens when you get caught lying, or you big something up and it all fucks up, or you can’t afford your neighbour’s car, or a deal went wrong with you at the helm. It’s a very recent introduction by the gods who are literal in their human-centred damnations, he said. An ordinance was published last week. But I was on holiday, I said. I know, Bikbratu replied, how were the Alps, oh fine, fine. You’d better be careful, Bikbratu, I said. It is a shame to see someone of calibre without a face, this would suggest some unacknowledged weakness or perhaps brief losses of rationality. This I expect from the hoi polloi but not from such a man as you.
You’re right, Jaxter, said Bikbratu, but I tend to keep out of other people’s lives, it’s not a competition if one half isn’t playing, I don’t do the rat-race thing, I’m cool with myself about all sorts of shit. I keep myself to myself, busy, many activities, I enjoy the look of my face in the mirror after a shave. Then, cruel fate, I’m at the racecourse dressed like someone else for the annual company outing and I lose all my money on a dead-cert named Silicon Stab about whom I had high-quality inside information of illegally-boosted hay. I had put the word around solidly for a couple of weeks, everyone, pensioners, married couples, their children and babies, park people, shoppers, I told the lot of them I was going to win a shed-load.
How can a man be so very wrong? said Bikbratu, dabbing where his eyes had been with his sleeve. He then animated himself like a true man of the theatre, and there was much for him to do. Going over third from home in a five-jump race Silicon Stab, Bikbratu explained, exploded like a moth between clapped hands, he said. There hovered in the air for the briefest of moments in pinprick form the detonated hide of a young stallion, the legs already dust, the jockey, Wing, left scissored over the fence, his slight frame forcefully broken. Don’t you see, Bikbratu continued, I was like you, Jaxter, mainly alone, conducting often gainful business from my home and all of a sudden it felt like the whole world was laughing at me, the hardest laughter from those who are as you see me now, faceless – it went chin first, an extraordinary visual. I couldn’t help but stare at the not there. By the time I got home, Bikbratu continued, to tell the wife and children we wouldn’t eat this week Silicon Stab was gone in its entirety, from hoof to stardust, but they weren’t surprised, they’d felt like something along these lines had been coming for an age, my wife said. Only the air where I once had a face startled my youngest when she first saw me, but she soon recovered.
I went straight to the bathroom mirror. I’m fairly sure you’ll have one too, Bikbratu said. I’d wink at you if I could, he said. It can happen to the least likely people because here in Royy we all have hidden drives and the devil’s desire to stand above and look down on everyone, I never knew it until I knew it. Watch yourself, Jaxter, said Bikbratu to me, you’ve a nice face, it’d be a tragedy for us all if you were to lose it in a moment of madness. I’ll do my utmost to keep your wishes intact, I said, looking straight through him before making my excuses and enduring an uncomfortable journey home where I straightway made a phone call pulling out of a deal.