Baxter had never even heard of the five w’s. Had someone ever dared to bring it up, he would have asked, “Do you mean four?” But his mother and father knew. They had lived through Generation Y and had watched the drastic change over several years. They had both uttered that audacious word throughout their lifetimes more than they could possibly count, and they feared their son would one day find out and look at them with the dismayed and stupefied eyes of a child walking in on a superhero changing out of his costume in the bathroom.
When Baxter turned four, his parents held their breaths for a full year, knowing this was the most dangerous age, the age where children started to ask questions. All questioning was frowned upon, but the fifth ‘w’ was the worst. It was the one that implied the most that you were questioning the status quo. How inappropriate and unacceptable it would be for anyone, a child no less, to use logic when things were already being done a certain way for a reason that required no questioning. Those with power and authority were given more freedom to question, but they knew better. For the most part, the four w’s were used so infrequently in the form of a question and the fifth ‘w’ was practically obliterated from everybody’s vocabulary so children didn’t even know the word to ask it. Although, every once in a while, the parents with less self-control, the weak and undisciplined ones, used the rotten word in private where they risked being overheard by their children.
Baxter’s parents had whispered to each other one evening “Why can’t we ask why anymore?” giggling at their fatuous wit. Baxter had stirred in his bed at that moment and their laughter turned to silence as they both wordlessly dreaded that their child had heard the word, not just once but twice! They didn’t have to fear, for Baxter started snoring as quickly as he had stopped, but that’s how nervous society had become. On those rare occasions that children heard the word and repeated it in public, there was no mercy in disposing of the situation. Parents were jailed; houses were overturned in search of uncensored or banned books and movies; family members were relentlessly questioned by the authorities (only using the four w’s of course) for hours on end. In the end, Baxter got through the most dangerous year of his life without any trace of being poisoned with the curiosity of purpose. His mother and father finally let the stale air out of their lungs and drew in a new breath.
Why did everybody stop asking why? Of course nobody would know the answer to that because they would never dare ask it. Some of the older generations knew. They were the ones who had lived through the past where people asked “why” freely. They would remember the societal shift that started to embrace obedience over logic. It had started with an appreciation for the efficiency and discipline found in the military services. Somebody had wondered what it would be like if only everybody could be inculcated with the values of instant obedience; question later. Wouldn’t we progress as a society so much faster? Wouldn’t having whole-hearted, blind deference to our leaders magnify our efforts? Wouldn’t it be so much more beneficial to weed out the silly questions that only slowed down our advancement as humanity? Not to mention, everybody would be spared the pestering and purposeless questions of stupid children. Asking “why” didn’t change anything. Why is the sky blue? Why do I have to eat my carrots? Why this? Why that? The facts never changed. Questioning wasted precious time.
And just like all extremes do, a concept that worked in one space was taken to a dangerous and illogical level elsewhere. Questioning the way things already were became scoffed at; proposing new ways to do things was like using racial slurs. The children of Generation Y were cast aside as outdated. Antiquated. Old-fashioned. They just didn’t understand that society had to move forward and asking “why” was holding them back.
It would happen eventually, but until somebody had the courage to question society again, Baxter would live in absurdity. He would walk an hour to class from his off campus apartment from now on because he didn’t bother to ask why the bus had stopped coming to his bus stop. If only he had, he would know that the bus hadn’t stopped but rather that the schedule had changed to arrive at his stop fifteen minutes earlier. He would spend an hour commuting on foot each way because he would walk the same route the bus took, which circled the entire campus at several different stops instead of taking a direct route. He would show up to class on a Monday morning and be lectured to without seeing his teacher’s face. The teacher would be at the front of the classroom and the students all facing the back. The janitor had accidentally put all the desks facing the wrong way after mopping the floors over the weekend, and when everybody got to class that day, they would all sit down obediently and not bother to turn their desks around. After all, there must be a reason that the desks were facing the opposite way that day.
Baxter’s parents no longer asked their daring questions in the privacy of their home even though Baxter wasn’t there to overhear them. They knew better. They both wanted to ask ‘why’ about many things from time to time, and hoped the other would ask it again, but fear held their tongues. They could only hope that their slip-up over a decade ago was buried deep in their son’s subconscious, never to surface ever again. But the day would come, after their fears had finally subsided, when the authorities would come to turn their home inside out and take them away for questioning.