Fortnightly Fiction | Look at Me

The video can be found on the website You watch it because you’ve heard what happens, a Tweet, a Facebook post, a thirty second news slot, but in this case that’s not enough, there’s a video, you have to see. There are arguments about its authenticity. Is it real? Staged? Special effects? You have to see.

It shows a figure in the distance sitting on the ground beneath the railing outside the Central Bank on Dame Street. It’s a busy scene, the pale washed colour of a summer’s morning, the hum and bustle of people going about their business, faces determined or absent, or betraying something hidden, so many tiny gestures. This is the crowd. They talk woodenly into or stare at the phone in their hand, or they chat and smile, – the sun adds a wistful quality – and they glance, they weave, there’s a rhythm to it. This is the audience. You’ve seen each and every one of them a thousand times before, in a thousand different situations, and they’ve seen you.

At first you might think it’s the crowd that’s being recorded. You watch for the unexpected, some shock or jolt, but nothing happens, there’s only the banality of the everyday. The camera takes you forward and stops near the entrance to the Commercial Buildings so the lane between the Central Bank and the Bloom Hotel is visible to the right, and to the left the Crann an Oir sculpture dominates the plaza across which the crowd are passing. From here you can see the figure more clearly. It’s a man, probably in his forties. He’s wearing a white shirt and red tie, a pair of navy trousers and brown leather shoes, and beside him on the ground is a black briefcase. His clothes are clean and he’s cleanly shaven. He opens the briefcase and takes something out of it. People walking past block your view. It looks like cardboard. It is cardboard. He unfolds it and places it on the ground beside him, leaning it upright against the railing. The camera moves closer. The word FREEDOM is painted onto the cardboard in dripping red letters. Somebody stops to read it, keeps walking. He takes something else out of the briefcase and closes it again. These are clearly handcuffs, you can hear them jangle. People walking past now slow their pace, their glances linger as he handcuffs himself to the railing, his left hand raised limply above his head, like a child forced to wave goodbye to an unfamiliar relative. He looks ridiculous. Then he speaks. It’s not what you’re expecting, quiet, calm, he says: Look at me.

And he’s looking at you, right at you, and maybe you flinch, his wide eyes fixed on the camera before he turns his head lazily as though taking in the passers-by for the first time, and again he says look at me, quietly and to nobody in particular.


The camera pans slightly left to include in the frame a young couple who have stopped and are watching the handcuffed-man. The girl takes out her phone, points it at him.

Look at me, and you’re looking. You needed to see, and you’re seeing.

Seeing what? A protest? Freedom while handcuffed to the Central Bank. A pointless act. A jaded agenda and jaded irony. Does he irritate you? And the video, the quality of the image, the steady focus of it, the persistence, makes you wonder who’s recording it? For the first time you question: Is this real? It’s a set-up, a performance. But the handcuffed man is so average, ordinary, the whole thing amateurish and eventless. You want to fast forward but you don’t. The video has been playing for almost thirty seconds and you realise you’re indifferent to this man and what he’s doing. Is it because you know how it ends or because you’re viewing it on a screen?

The handcuffed-man says: You want to be free?

His voice is low, steady, as if he doesn’t want to attract too much attention or the attention of the authorities. He continues: Led around on a leash in pathetic fucking submission. You don’t want to be free. Do you? Look at me.

What he’s saying sounds like something you’re friend might say, or you’ve read somewhere, or seen posted on social media. He’s preaching. And perhaps you answer him under your breath: Fuck off.

More people are gathering. They don’t get too close. They record or photograph. They point, whisper, giggle. Some cast curious glances in the direction of whoever is recording this, at you. The camera moves forward again, pushing past people to get a clear view, and the handcuffed-man says: They took everything I had, everything, but now I’m free. Free of all those illusions, those institutions and establishments, those worthless values and hand-me-down do’s and don’ts. Free of that routine fucking life, and unlike you, I’m not afraid.

He’s smiling now, he doesn’t blink.

Look at me. Do you want to be free?

You think about the question for a moment. You’re already free, or free enough. You know you should be angry, and you are, but it’s a muddy and muddled anger, there’s so much shit you see and hear day after day. What can you do about it? What difference does it make? You’re happy, or happy enough.

The handcuffed-man opens the suitcase and takes from it a hacksaw, and you expect more, you can hear the rising din of the crowd, but nothing much changes, it’s as though a bomb has gone off and left everything as it is, and the handcuffed-man waves the hacksaw casually before him and says (his voice doesn’t change either, it stays low and even): Do you know what you really are? What you really want or need? I do. Look at me.

And he wriggles his handcuffed arm so the sleeve of his shirt falls back and he places the blade an inch or two above his wrist and slowly and deliberately moves it back and forth, and there’s a ricochet of gasps and the camera rushes forward, and now you’re directly above him, you’re so close, looking down as he saws through his arm, and slowly, gradually, he releases an animal-like, agonized bellow, unlike anything you’ve ever heard, as though this is the point of the whole thing, to make that sound, and he continues to saw and nobody tries to stop him.

And you. You’ll watch this again and again. You’ll show it to your friends and loved ones. You no longer question the reality of it. You know it’s real. More real than real. It peels away your worn out, everyday perception. It’s like a new kind of stimulant, you can’t look away. You’ll watch it again and again.

The camera momentarily shifts to show two Gardaí jogging up from Dame Street – the crowd making way or pushing forward, phones in hand or hands to mouth – before returning to the handcuffed-man whose arms are now trembling (due to the closeness and angle of the camera you can’t see his face) and you can hear a deep continuous whine. There’s blood on the concrete. He’s still trying to saw though the saw is barely moving, and he shifts his body weight for better purchase and pushes the saw forward and the whine becomes a grunt that would surely be a scream but the sound is arrested somewhere in his throat and all that emerges is a soft whimper, and his arms go limp and his hand slips from the handle of the hacksaw which remains embedded at an angle in his arm, and he faints, and the camera moves back, so the handcuffed-man’s face, the standing hacksaw, the bloody concrete and Central Bank are all captured within the frame before the screen goes blank.


Featured illustration by Aisling O’ Reilly.