In earlier years, my life revolved around pumps.  I started my work career as an apprentice pump mechanic in a southern steel mill.  Then, I worked with pumps in the US Navy.  I worked many years in maintenance in heavy industry and for a time, I operated my own pump rebuild shop.  In my feigned retirement, I study pumps, observing their quiet strength.  Now, I am a pump.
 
Chance brought me to an engineering conference as South Africa shed a cold grey winter and Johannesburg exploded with colour on a spring morning in 2011. I drove my rented Yaris from Randburg on the N-1 highway to the NASREC Center, turned right at the new sports stadium, and passed the bright red cooling tower-turned-billboard that reached into the blue African skies.
 
I parked my car at the NASREC perimeter fence and admired the zebras, impalas and oryx grazing in silence at the reserve across the road.  I walked through the expo hall on my way to the conference facility.  Smokey white halogen lights glared down from the ceiling onto the vulgar exhibits of pumps, seals, motors, filters, valves, pipe, fittings and electronics. 
 
In the third row of exhibits, in a display booth with green carpet, four pumps displayed themselves to the passing visitors.  Three demonstration pumps were perched on individual display pedestals like naked manikins in a store window.  
 
Separated from the other pumps and exposed to direct sunlight, another demo pump on a table with a blue mantel unexpectedly attracted my attention.  My eyes turned.  My feet stopped.  I stared back at the pump in submission.
 
The pump was painted a nondescript shade of sand, not exactly white, nor cream, nor tan.  The suction and discharge nozzles were expertly bolted to clear PVC pipe that led to and away from a plexi-glass holding tank with iridescent turquoise water. 
 
The pump buzzed quietly with life from the motor, and signaled to me so I’d see it was breathing.  With the turquoise water, the pump inhaled a stream of tiny bubbles from the holding tank through the suction nozzle.  The bubble stream exhaled from the discharge nozzle and proceeded back into the holding tank.
 
At the beginning of recorded time, early man looked at his image one day in a dark pool of water and realized he was more than an ape.  With this realization, primitive man began developing tools.  And, the pump was among man’s first tools.  Early man fashioned a leather bag with a vine or braided grass rope to lift water from a well to his dry lips.  Primitive pumps were in every cradle of civilization as parallel tribes evolved.
 
Suddenly my cellphone sounded and broke my concentration.  It was Phindi, the conference hostess.  Phindi said Mr Jules Cortazar wanted to meet me at the coffee bar.  I walked away to greet Jules. 
 
The conference began at 8:30-am.  I returned to the pump exhibit at the 10:15-am coffee break.  And, again at noon I walked to the third row with the pump as my fellow conferees went to lunch.
 
The security guard, Sergeant Salamandertje offered a perplexed smile as I entered the exhibit hall at the end of the day.  I was the only person to enter the exhibit hall four times in one day.  I walked down the third row toward the display table with the blue mantel.  Leaning on the table, I gazed at the pump in suspended time.
 
A muted ringing of a distant bell reached the inner creases of my mind.  A sterile, filtered voice droned on the public address speaker.  Robotic bodies passed behind me walking in the same direction.  Still, I stared as the moments passed.
 
I thought to myself, “There is nothing strange about this.”  I understood from the beginning that this pump and I are linked in time.  Maybe the link had faded at some infinitely distant moment.  But the link is there nonetheless.
 
A finger tapped my shoulder.  Startled, I stood erect and turned.  The guard Sgt. Salamandertje said, “Sir, The exhibit hall is closed.” 
 
I hurried to my car at the fence.  The zebras were still quietly grazing.  The rental car drove me to the hotel in Randburg as the stars appeared overhead.  I didn’t sleep that night.  Or possibly, I dreamed I was awake all night.
 
I was waiting at the locked entrance to the expo hall the next morning at 7-am when Sgt. Salamandertje arrived with the keys.  He said, “Mornin’ Sir!”  Embarrassed, I walked through the long morning shadows to the third row.
 
With the morning sunlight at my back bouncing off the walls, I looked into the soul of the pump.  Yes, the pump had a soul.  The electricity was off, and the exhibit was silent.  Yet, the trail of reflected bubbles entered and left the pump’s nostrils through the clear plastic pipe.
 
Disturbed and somewhat ashamed, I mentally isolated myself from the accelerating activity around me, leaned on the table to study the pump in suspended silence.  The reflected morning rays made the iridescent turquoise water dance and bob against the clear walls of the plastic holding tank.  A forming vortex caused the water to ripple and swirl in a circle.
 
Suddenly, bright lights jolted me from suspended time.  Exposed, I felt like a schoolboy in the closet, gazing at the images around the staple in his first “Playboy” magazine.  The electronic amplified voice announced, “The exhibit hall is now open.”  My cellphone rang.  Veriza, the conference manager wanted to meet me at the registration desk before the conference.  Reluctantly, I left the pump and walked toward the damned conference hall.
 
The morning was short in the conference room.  The speakers and presentations were dull.  The presenters spoke on basically the same topic from different points of view.  Most of the speakers regurgitated the same information and projected the same images on the giant screen.  Original ideas were short.  Words were long.  Time compressed.  I could feel the pump attracting me like a magnet from the adjacent exhibit hall. 
 
I raced to the exhibit hall at the lunch break.  Officer Salamandertje’s eyes squinted when he saw me.  He commented, “You again?”  My eyes faked disinterest and I walked to the third row exhibit.  Leaning again on the table, all extraneous sounds dissolved when I saw the pump.
 
I surveyed the pump from left to right, top to bottom.  Fused to the extraordinary suction orifice, the pump body rose from the base on four sturdy legs.  My eyes dissected and absorbed the delicate curves. 
 
Although rigid cast metal, the legs seemed to flex with life as they extended downward toward the feet and base.  Each foot ended with two somewhat human toes, divided and adorned with stainless steel studs, nuts and washers like chrome toenail polish.
 
Above the legs, the pump’s body spiraled around a central point like the pearly shell of a sea conch.  The spiral continued for one loop, then tapered and relaxed like the tail of a delicate fish, leading to another extraordinary orifice.
 
Without words, the pump called to my soul, “Come close!  Look!”  I shifted to the left on my elbow and peeked into the open suction canal.  The inside was pinkish and damp like a slice of raw salmon. 
 
I leaned further, almost losing my balance.  In the deeper recesses, the pink shade darkened to a wet, translucent rose color like you might imagine in the most private part of your body. 
 
As the light disappeared into the darkness, I could barely see the flickering golden blades of the bronze impeller, flapping, dancing, and beckoning from the interior.  Flushed with insatiate curiosity, I straightened my stance to contemplate the entire pump.
 
The first glance at a full moon reveals only a white orb in the night sky.  Then slowly the moon’s eyes appear.  Finally, the entire countenance of the “Man in the Moon” comes into focus.  I’m sure you’ve seen it too.  And, as we study the face in the full moon, we soon realize the lifeless moon in the sky is looking directly into our eyes on the earth.  I can only describe it that way. 
 
In a similar fashion I could see nothing at first.  Then slowly, I discovered the pump’s transparent face, with eyes like two areolas of gold foil pierced with infinite pin holes.  Although vacant and lacking any life, the pump’s eyes received my piercing gaze.  My eyes penetrated the abyss between life and inanimacy and dissipated in the translucent interior mystery of two embracing souls.
 
Leaning on the table, the vacant man contemplated me.  I hummed on the table with the blue mantel, inhaling and exhaling a line of tiny bubbles.  My spent bubbles proceeded to the holding tank and swirled with the turquoise vortex.  Motionless, I looked up into the cavernous exhibit hall into the glaring halogen lights.  
 
I really don’t like moving.  However, an occasional shift is good to fight fatigue.  Time moves faster when I remain motionless.  I thought darkly strange the man’s desire to understand me, abolishing both space and time with an indifferent immobility.  The man’s eyes obsessed on me.  The other nearby pumps on pedestals relayed the irrationality of his beautiful eyes similar to ours, another way of looking.
 
The brown eyes continued burning with their sweet, terrible light; still looking at me from an unfathomable depth which made me dizzy.  His eyes seemed to say, “Save me, save me."
 
I surprised myself as I ushered words of consolation.  At that moment I felt a dull pain.  Maybe they saw me.  Maybe they caught my effort to penetrate the impenetrable in its soul.
 
I was afraid.  I might have stayed there all day had it not been for the proximity of the other visitors and Sgt. Salamandertje, who laughed and remarked, "Sir, you seem to devour that pump with your eyes."   Only he didn’t know.  Actually, the pump was slowly devouring me in a meal of cerebral cannibalism.
 
So there was nothing surprising in what happened.  My gaze was glued to the pump, my eyes once again tried to penetrate the mystery of those eyes of gold without iris and pupil.  Without transition, without surprise, I saw my face looking at me.  He was outside, leaning on the table and me inside the pump.
 
Then my face turned away and I understood.  Without surprise, my two brains had two independent thoughts.  One brain thought, “How Strange!”  My other brain was struck with the horror of awakening buried alive in my new destination.  Outside, my mouth and lips were tight in an effort to understand what had happened.  However, I was now a pump and knew instantly that no understanding was possible.  I was in my world.
 
He never returned.  Now, all I do is think.  I think too much.  The bridge is destroyed between the human and me.  He became his obsession.  And my soul is free, living outside as a man.
 
Now I am definitely a pump.  And in this final humming solitude, I accept the attraction that began two days ago when I was still there.  I also accept the transference today of our souls. 
 
I comfort myself, aware that you and others will read about us, and know this story.
 
 
 

Larry Bachus, a writer, inventor and pump consultant based in Nashville, TN.  You can contact him at: larry@bachusinc.com