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J M COETZEE

WAITING FOR THE

BARBARIANS

PENGUIN GREAT BOOKS OF THE 20 TH CENTURY

PENGUIN BOOKS Published by the Penguin Group Penguin Putnam Inc. 3 ! "udson Street# Ne$ %or&# Ne$ %or& '((()# US* Penguin Boo& +td. , -rights +ane# +ondon# -. !/0# England Penguin Boo&s *ustralia +td# 1ing$ood# 2ictoria# *ustralia Penguin Boo&s 3anada +td. '( *lcorn *4enue# %oronto# Ontario# 3anada 5)2 3B, Penguin Boo&s 6N07 +td. '.,8'9( - airau 1oad# *uc&land '(# Ne$ 0ealand Penguin Boo&s +td. 1egistered O::ices "armonds$orth# 5 iddlese;# England <irst published in Great Britain by 5artin See&er = -arburg +imited '9.( Published in Penguin Boo&s '9., /his edition published in Penguin Boo&s '999 3 ! 9 '( . > )

ISBN ( ') (, .33! . Printed in the United States o: *merica Set in ?anson E;cept in the United States o: *merica# this boo& is sold sub@ect to the condition that it shall not by $ay o: trade or other$ise# be lent# reAsold# hired out# or other$ise circulated $ithout the publisherBs prior consent in any :orm o: binding or co4er other than that in $hich it is published and $ithout a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subseCuent purchaser

For Nicolas and Gisela

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I ha4e ne4er seen anything li&e itD t$o little discs o: glass
suspended in :ront o: his eyes in loops o: $ire. Is he blindE I could understand it i: he $anted to hide blind eyes. But he is not blind. /he discs are dar&# they loo& opaCue :rom the outside# but he can see through them. "e tells me they are a ne$ in4ention. F/hey protect oneBs eyes against the glare o: the sun#F he says. F%ou $ould :ind them use:ul out here in the desert. /hey sa4e one :rom sCuinting all the time. One has :e$er headaches. +oo&.F "e touches the corners o: his eyes lightly. FNo $rin&les.F "e replaces the glasses. It is true. "e has the s&in o: a younger man. F*t home e4eryone $ears them.F -e sit in the best room o: the inn $ith a :las& bet$een us and a bo$l o: nuts. -e do not discuss the reason :or his being here. "e is here under the emergency po$ers# that is enough. Instead $e tal& about hunting. "e tells me about the last great dri4e he rode in# $hen thousands o: deer# pigs# bears $ere slain# so many that a mountain o: carcases had to be le:t to rot 6F-hich $as a pityF7. I tell him about the great :loc&s o: geese and duc&s that descend on the la&e e4ery year in their
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migrations and about nati4e $ays o: trapping them. I suggest that I ta&e him out :ishing by night in a nati4e boat. F/hat is an e;perience not to be missed#F I sayG Fthe :ishermen carry :laming torches and beat drums o4er the $ater to dri4e the :ish to$ards the nets they ha4e laid.F "e nods. "e tells me about a 4isit he paid else$here on the :rontier $here people eat certain sna&es as a delicacy# and about a huge antelope he shot. "e pic&s his $ay uncertainly among the strange :urniture but does not remo4e the dar& glasses. "e retires early. "e is Cuartered here at the inn because this is the best accommodation the to$n pro4ides. I ha4e impressed it on the sta:: that he is an important 4isitor. F3olonel ?oll is :rom the /hird Bureau#F I tell them. F/he /hird Bureau is the most important di4ision o: the 3i4il Guard no$adays.F /hat is $hat $e hear# anyho$# in gossip that reaches us long out o: date :rom the capital. /he proprietor nods# the maids duc& their heads. F-e must ma&e a good impression on him.F I carry my sleepingAmat out on to the ramparts $here the night breeHe gi4es some relie: :rom the heat. On the :lat roo:s o: the to$n I can ma&e out by moonlight the shapes o: other sleepers. <rom under the $alnut trees on the sCuare I still hear the murmur o: con4ersation. In the dar&ness a pipe glo$s li&e a :ire:ly# $anes# glo$s again. Summer is $heeling slo$ly to$ards its end. /he orchards groan under their burden. I ha4e not seen the capital since I $as a young man. I a$a&e be:ore da$n and tiptoe past the sleeping soldiers# $ho are stirring and sighing# dreaming o: mothers and s$eethearts# do$n the steps. <rom the s&y thousands o: stars loo& do$n on us. /ruly $e are here on the roo: o: the $orld. -a&ing in the night# in the open# one is daHHled. /he sentry at the gate sits crossAlegged# :ast asleep# cradling his mus&et. /he porterBs alco4e is closed# his trolley
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stands outside. I pass. *** F-e do not ha4e :acilities :or prisoners#F I e;plain. F/here is not much crime here and the penalty is usually a :ine or compulsory labour. /his hut is simply a storeroom attached to the granary# as you can see.F Inside it is close and smelly. /here are no $indo$s. /he t$o prisoners lie bound on the :loor. /he smell comes :rom them# a smell o: old urine. I call the guard inD FGet these men to clean themsel4es# and please hurry.F I sho$ my 4isitor into the cool gloom o: the granary itsel:. F-e hope :or three thousand bushels :rom the communal land this year. -e plant only once. /he $eather has been 4ery &ind to us.F -e tal& about rats and $ays o: controlling their numbers. -hen $e return to the hut it smells o: $et ash and the prisoners are ready# &neeling in a corner. One is an old man# the other a boy. F/hey $ere ta&en a :e$ days ago#F I say. F/here $as a raid not t$enty miles :rom here. /hat is unusual. Normally they &eep $ell a$ay :rom the :ort. /hese t$o $ere pic&ed up a:ter$ards. /hey say they had nothing to do $ith the raid. I do not &no$. Perhaps they are telling the truth. I: you $ant to spea& to them I $ill o: course help $ith the language.F /he boyBs :ace is pu::y and bruised# one eye is s$ollen shut. I sCuat do$n be:ore him and pat his chee&. F+isten# boy#F I say in the patois o: the :rontier# F$e $ant to tal& to you.F "e gi4es no response. F"e is pretending#F says the guard. F"e understands.F F-ho beat himEF I as&.
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FIt $asnBt me#F he says. F"e $as li&e that $hen he came.F F-ho beat youEF I as& the boy. "e is not listening to me. "e stares o4er my shoulder# not at the guard but at 3olonel ?oll beside him. I turn to ?oll. F"e has probably ne4er seen anything li&e it be:ore.F I gesture. FI mean the eyeglasses. "e must thin& you are a blind man.F But ?oll does not smile bac&. Be:ore prisoners# it appears# one maintains a certain :ront. I sCuat in :ront o: the old man. F<ather# listen to me. -e ha4e brought you here because $e caught you a:ter a stoc&A raid. %ou &no$ that is a serious matter. %ou &no$ you can be punished :or it.F "is tongue comes out to moisten his lips. "is :ace is grey and e;hausted. F<ather# do you see this gentlemanE /his gentleman is 4isiting us :rom the capital. "e 4isits all the :orts along the :rontier. "is $or& is to :ind out the truth. /hat is all he does. "e :inds out the truth. I: you do not spea& to me you $ill ha4e to spea& to him. Io you understandEF FE;cellency#F he says. "is 4oice croa&sG he clears his throat. FE;cellency# $e &no$ nothing about thie4ing. /he soldiers stopped us and tied us up. <or nothing. -e $ere on the road# coming here to see the doctor. /his is my sisterBs boy. "e has a sore that does not get better. -e are not thie4es. Sho$ the E;cellencies your sore.F Nimbly# $ith hand and teeth# the boy begins un$rapping the rags that bandage his :orearm. /he last rounds# ca&ed $ith blood and matter# stic& to his :lesh# but he li:ts their edge to sho$ me the red angry rim o: the sore. F%ou see#F the old man says# Fnothing $ill heal it. I $as

bringing him to the doctor $hen the soldiers stopped us. /hat is all.F I $al& bac& $ith my 4isitor across the sCuare. /hree $omen pass us# coming bac& :rom the irrigation dam $ith $ashbas&ets on their heads. /hey eye us curiously# &eeping their nec&s sti::. /he sun beats do$n. F/hese are the only prisoners $e ha4e ta&en :or a long time#F I say. F* coincidenceD normally $e $ould not ha4e any barbarians at all to sho$ you. /his soAcalled banditry does not amount to much. /hey steal a :e$ sheep or cut out a pac&A animal :rom a train. Sometimes $e raid them in return. /hey are mainly destitute tribespeople $ith tiny :loc&s o: their o$n li4ing along the ri4er. It becomes a $ay o: li:e. /he old man says they $ere coming to see the doctor. Perhaps that is the truth. No one $ould ha4e brought an old man and a sic& boy along on a raiding party.F I gro$ conscious that I am pleading :or them. FO: course one cannot be sure. But e4en i: they are lying# ho$ can they be o: use to you# simple people li&e thatEF I try to subdue my irritation at his cryptic silences# at the paltry theatrical mystery o: dar& shields hiding healthy eyes. "e $al&s $ith his hands clasped be:ore him li&e a $oman. FNe4ertheless#F he says# FI ought to Cuestion them. /his e4ening# i: it is con4enient. I $ill ta&e my assistant along. *lso I $ill need someone to help me $ith the language. /he guard# perhaps. Ioes he spea& itEF F-e can all ma&e oursel4es understood. %ou $ould pre:er me not to be thereEF F%ou $ould :ind it tedious. -e ha4e set procedures $e go through.F

*** O: the screaming $hich people a:ter$ards claim to ha4e heard :rom the granary# I hear nothing. *t e4ery moment that e4ening as I go about my business I am a$are o: $hat might be happening# and my ear is e4en tuned to the pitch o: human pain. But the granary is a massi4e building $ith hea4y doors and tiny $indo$sG it lies beyond the abattoir and the mill in the south Cuarter. *lso $hat $as once an outpost and then a :ort on the :rontier has gro$n into an agricultural settlement# a to$n o: three thousand souls in $hich the noise o: li:e# the noise that all these souls ma&e on a $arm summer e4ening# does not cease because some$here someone is crying. 6*t a certain point I begin to plead my o$n cause.7 -hen I see 3olonel ?oll again# $hen he has the leisure# I bring the con4ersation around to torture. F-hat i: your prisoner is telling the truth#F I as&# Fyet :inds he is not belie4edE Is that not a terrible positionE ImagineD to be prepared to yield# to yield# to ha4e nothing more to yield# to be bro&en# yet to be pressed to yield moreJ *nd $hat a responsibility :or the interrogatorJ "o$ do you e4er &no$ $hen a man has told you the truthEF F/here is a certain tone#F ?oll says. F* certain tone enters the 4oice o: a man $ho is telling the truth. /raining and e;perience teach us to recogniHe that tone.F F/he tone o: truthJ 3an you pic& up this tone in e4eryday speechE 3an you hear $hether I am telling the truthEF /his is the most intimate moment $e ha4e yet had# $hich he brushes o:: $ith a little $a4e o: the hand. FNo# you misunderstand me. I am spea&ing only o: a special situation no$# I am spea&ing o: a situation in $hich I am probing :or
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the truth# in $hich I ha4e to e;ert pressure to :ind it. <irst I get lies# you seethis is $hat happens:irst lies# then pressure# then more lies# then more pressure# then the brea&# then more pressure# then the truth. /hat is ho$ you get the truth.F Pain is truthG all else is sub@ect to doubt. /hat is $hat I bear a$ay :rom my con4ersation $ith 3olonel ?oll# $hom $ith his tapering :ingernails# his mau4e hand&erchie:s# his slender :eet in so:t shoes I &eep imagining bac& in the capital he is so ob4iously impatient :or# murmuring to his :riends in theatre corridors bet$een the acts. 6On the other hand# $ho am I to assert my distance :rom himE I drin& $ith him# I eat $ith him# I sho$ him the sights# I a::ord him e4ery assistance as his letter o: commission reCuests# and more. /he Empire does not reCuire that its ser4ants lo4e each other# merely that they per:orm their duty.7 *** /he report he ma&es to me in my capacity as magistrate is brie:. FIuring the course o: the interrogation contradictions became apparent in the prisonerBs testimony. 3on:ronted $ith these contradictions# the prisoner became enraged and attac&ed the in4estigating o::icer. * scu::le ensued during $hich the prisoner :ell hea4ily against the $all. E::orts to re4i4e him $ere unsuccess:ul.F <or the sa&e o: completeness# as reCuired by the letter o: the la$# I summon the guard and as& him to ma&e a statement. "e recites# and I ta&e do$n his $ordsD F/he prisoner became uncontrollable and attac&ed the 4isiting o::icer. I $as called in to help subdue him. By the time I came in the struggle had
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ended. /he prisoner $as unconscious and bleeding :rom the nose.F I point to the place $here he should ma&e his mar&. "e ta&es the pen :rom me re4erently. FIid the o::icer tell you $hat to say to meEF I as& him so:tly. F%es# sir#F he says. F-ere the prisonerBs hands tiedEF F%es# sir. I mean# no# sir.F I dismiss him and :ill out the burial $arrant. But be:ore I go to bed I ta&e a lantern# cross the sCuare# and circle through the bac& streets to the granary. /here is a ne$ guard at the door o: the hut# another peasant boy $rapped in his blan&et asleep. * cric&et stops its singing at my approach. /he pulling o: the bolt does not $a&en the guard. I enter the hut holding the lantern high# trespassing# I realiHe# on $hat has become holy or unholy ground# i: there is any di::erence# preser4e o: the mysteries o: the State. /he boy lies on a bed o: stra$ in a corner# ali4e# $ell. "e seems to be sleeping# but the tension o: his posture betrays him. "is hands are tied in :ront o: him. In the other corner is a long $hite bundle. I $a&e the guard. F-ho told you to lea4e the body thereE -ho se$ed it upEF "e hears the anger in my 4oice. FIt $as the man $ho came $ith the other E;cellency# sir. "e $as here $hen I came on duty. "e said to the boy# I heard him# BSleep $ith your grand:ather# &eep him $arm.B "e pretended he $as going to se$ the boy into the shroud too# the same shroud# but he did not.F -hile the boy still lies rigidly asleep# his eyes pinched shut# $e carry the corpse out. In the yard# $ith the guard
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holding the lantern# I :ind the stitching $ith the point o: my &ni:e# tear the shroud open# and :old it bac& :rom the head o: the old man. /he grey beard is ca&ed $ith blood. /he lips are crushed and dra$n bac&# the teeth are bro&en. One eye is rolled bac&# the other eyeAsoc&et is a bloody hole. F3lose it up#F I say. /he guard bunches the opening together. It :alls open. F/hey say that he hit his head on the $all. -hat do you thin&EF "e loo&s at me $arily. F<etch some t$ine and tie it shut.F I hold the lantern o4er the boy. "e has not stirredG but $hen I bend to touch his chee& he :linches and begins to tremble in long ripples that run up and do$n his body. F+isten to me# boy#F I say# FI am not going to harm you.F "e rolls on his bac& and brings his bound hands up be:ore his :ace. /hey are pu::y and purple. I :umble at the bonds. *ll my gestures in relation to this boy are a$&$ard. F+istenD you must tell the o::icer the truth. /hat is all he $ants to hear :rom youthe truth. Once he is sure you are telling the truth he $ill not hurt you. But you must tell him e4erything you &no$. %ou must ans$er e4ery Cuestion he as&s you truth:ully. I: there is pain# do not lose heart.F Pic&ing at the &not I ha4e at last loosened the rope. F1ub your hands together till the blood begins to :lo$.F I cha:e his hands bet$een mine. "e :le;es his :ingers pain:ully. I cannot pretend to be any better than a mother com:orting a child bet$een his :atherBs spells o: $rath. It has not escaped me that an interrogator can $ear t$o mas&s# spea& $ith t$o 4oices# one harsh# one seducti4e. F"as he had anything to eat this e4eningEF I as& the guard. FI do not &no$.F F"a4e you had anything to eatEF I as& the boy. "e sha&es his head. I :eel my heart gro$ hea4y. I ne4er $ished to
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be dra$n into this. -here it $ill end I do not &no$. I turn to the guard. FI am lea4ing no$# but there are three things I $ant you to do. <irst# $hen the boyBs hands are better I $ant you to tie them again# but not so tightly that they s$ell. Second# I $ant you to lea4e the body $here it is in the yard. Io not bring it bac& in. Early in the morning I $ill send a burial party to :etch it# and you $ill hand it o4er to them. I: there are any Cuestions# say I ga4e the orders. /hird# I $ant you to loc& the hut no$ and come $ith me. I $ill get you something :rom the &itchen :or the boy to eat# $hich you $ill bring bac&. 3ome.F I did not mean to get embroiled in this. I am a country magistrate# a responsible o::icial in the ser4ice o: the Empire# ser4ing out my days on this laHy :rontier# $aiting to retire. I collect the tithes and ta;es# administer the communal lands# see that the garrison is pro4ided :or# super4ise the @unior o::icers $ho are the only o::icers $e ha4e here# &eep an eye on trade# preside o4er the la$Acourt t$ice a $ee&. <or the rest I $atch the sun rise and set# eat and sleep and am content. -hen I pass a$ay I hope to merit three lines o: small print in the Imperial gaHette. I ha4e not as&ed :or more than a Cuiet li:e in Cuiet times. But last year stories began to reach us :rom the capital o: unrest among the barbarians. /raders tra4elling sa:e routes had been attac&ed and plundered. Stoc& the:ts had increased in scale and audacity. * party o: census o::icials had disappeared and been :ound buried in shallo$ gra4es. Shots had been :ired at a pro4incial go4ernor during a tour o: inspection. /here had been clashes $ith border patrols. /he barbarian tribes $ere arming# the rumour $entG the Empire should ta&e precautionary measures# :or there $ould certainly be $ar. O: this unrest I mysel: sa$ nothing. In pri4ate I obser4ed that once in e4ery generation# $ithout :ail# there is
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an episode o: hysteria about the barbarians. /here is no $oman li4ing along the :rontier $ho has not dreamed o: a dar& barbarian hand coming :rom under the bed to grip her an&le# no man $ho has not :rightened himsel: $ith 4isions o: the barbarians carousing in his home# brea&ing the plates# setting :ire to the curtains# raping his daughters. /hese dreams are the conseCuence o: too much ease. Sho$ me a barbarian army and I $ill belie4e. In the capital the concern $as that the barbarian tribes o: the north and $est might at last be uniting. O::icers o: the general sta:: $ere sent on tours o: the :rontier. Some o: the garrisons $ere strengthened. /raders $ho reCuested them $ere gi4en military escorts. *nd o::icials o: the /hird Bureau o: the 3i4il Guard $ere seen :or the :irst time on the :rontier# guardians o: the State# specialists in the obscurer motions o: sedition# de4otees o: truth# doctors o: interrogation. So no$ it seems my easy years are coming to an end# $hen I could sleep $ith a tranCuil heart &no$ing that $ith a nudge here and a touch there the $orld $ould stay steady on its course. I: I had only handed o4er these t$o absurd prisoners to the 3olonel# I re:lect F"ere# 3olonel# you are the specialist# see $hat you can ma&e o: themJFi: I had gone on a hunting trip :or a :e$ days# as I should ha4e done# a 4isit upAri4er perhaps# and come bac&# and $ithout reading it# or a:ter s&imming o4er it $ith an incurious eye# put my seal on his report# $ith no Cuestion about $hat the $ord investigations meant# $hat lay beneath it li&e a banshee beneath a stonei: I had done the $ise thing# then perhaps I might no$ be able to return to my hunting and ha$&ing and placid concupiscence $hile $aiting :or the pro4ocations to cease and the tremors along the :rontier to subside. But alas# I did not ride a$ayD :or a $hile I stopped my ears to the noises coming :rom the hut by the granary $here
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the tools are &ept# then in the night I too& a lantern and $ent to see :or mysel:. *** <rom horiHon to horiHon the earth is $hite $ith sno$. It :alls :rom a s&y in $hich the source o: light is di::use and e4ery$here present# as though the sun has dissol4ed into mist# become an aura. In the dream I pass through the barrac&s gate# pass the bare :lagpole. /he sCuare e;tends be:ore me# blending at its edges into the luminous s&y. -alls# trees# houses ha4e d$indled# lost their solidity# retired o4er the rim o: the $orld. *s I glide across the sCuare# dar& :igures separate out :rom the $hiteness# children at play building a sno$castle on top o: $hich they ha4e planted a little red :lag. /hey are mittened# booted# mu::led against the cold. "and:ul a:ter hand:ul o: sno$ they bring# plastering the $alls o: their castle# :illing it out. /heir breath departs :rom them in $hite pu::s. /he rampart around the castle is hal: built. I strain to pierce the Cueer :loating gabble o: their 4oices but can ma&e out nothing. I am a$are o: my bul&# my shado$iness# there:ore I am not surprised that the children melt a$ay on either side as I approach. *ll but one. Older than the others# perhaps not e4en a child# she sits in the sno$ $ith her hooded bac& to me $or&ing at the door o: the castle# her legs splayed# burro$ing# patting# moulding. I stand behind her and $atch. She does not turn. I try to imagine the :ace bet$een the petals o: her pea&ed hood but cannot. ***
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/he boy lies on his bac&# na&ed# asleep# breathing :ast and shallo$. "is s&in glistens $ith s$eat. <or the :irst time the bandage is o:: his arm and I see the angry open sore it hid. I bring the lantern closer. "is belly and both groins are poc&ed $ith little scabs and bruises and cuts# some mar&ed by tric&les o: blood. F-hat did they do to himEF I $hisper to the guard# the same young man as last night. F* &ni:e#F he $hispers bac&. F?ust a little &ni:e# li&e this.F "e spreads thumb and :ore:inger. Gripping his little &ni:e o: air he ma&es a curt thrust into the sleeping boyBs body and turns the &ni:e delicately# li&e a &ey# :irst le:t# then right. /hen he $ithdra$s it# his hand returns to his side# he stands $aiting. I &neel o4er the boy# bringing the light close to his :ace# and sha&e him. "is eyes open languidly and close again. "e sighs# his rapid breathing slo$s. F+istenJF I say to him. F%ou ha4e been ha4ing a bad dream. %ou must $a&e up.F "e opens his eyes and sCuints past the light at me. /he guard o::ers a pan o: $ater. F3an he sitEF I as&. /he guard sha&es his head. "e raises the boy and helps him to sip. F+isten#F I say. F/hey tell me you ha4e made a con:ession. /hey say you ha4e admitted that you and the old man and other men :rom your clan ha4e stolen sheep and horses. %ou ha4e said that the men o: your clan are arming themsel4es# that in the spring you are all going to @oin in a great $ar on the Empire. *re you telling the truthE Io you understand $hat this con:ession o: yours $ill meanE Io you understandEF I pauseG he loo&s bac& 4acantly at all this 4ehemence# li&e someone tired a:ter running a great distance. FIt means that the soldiers are going to ride out against your people. /here is going to be &illing. Kinsmen o: yours are
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going to die# perhaps e4en your parents# your brothers and sisters. Io you really $ant thatEF "e ma&es no response. I sha&e his shoulder# slap his chee&. "e does not :linchD it is li&e slapping dead :lesh. FI thin& he is 4ery sic&#F $hispers the guard behind me# F4ery sore and 4ery sic&.F /he boy closes his eyes on me. *** I call in the only doctor $e ha4e# an old man $ho earns his li4elihood pulling teeth and ma&ing up aphrodisiacs out o: bonemeal and liHardsB blood. "e puts a clay poultice on the sore and smears ointment on the hundred little stabs. -ithin a $ee&# he promises# the boy $ill be able to $al&. "e recommends nourishing :ood and lea4es in a hurry. "e does not as& ho$ the boy sustained his in@uries. But the 3olonel is impatient. "is plan is to launch a s$i:t raid on the nomads and ta&e more prisoners. "e $ants the boy along as a guide. "e as&s me to release thirty o: the garrison o: :orty to him and to pro4ide mounts. I try to dissuade him. F-ith no disrespect# 3olonel#F I say# Fyou are not a pro:essional soldier# you ha4e ne4er had to campaign in these inhospitable parts. %ou $ill ha4e no guide e;cept a child $ho is terri:ied o: you# $ho $ill say $hate4er comes into his head to please you# $ho is anyho$ un:it to tra4el. %ou cannot rely on the soldiers to help you# they are only peasant conscripts# most o: them ha4e not been more than :i4e miles :rom the settlement. /he barbarians you are chasing $ill smell you coming and 4anish into the desert $hile you are still a dayBs march a$ay. /hey ha4e li4ed here all their li4es# they &no$ the land. %ou and I are strangersyou e4en more than I. I earnestly ad4ise you not to go.F
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"e hears me out# e4en 6I ha4e the :eeling7 leads me on a little. I am sure this con4ersation is noted do$n a:ter$ards# $ith the comment that I am FunsoundF. -hen he has heard enough he dismisses my ob@ectionsD FI ha4e a commission to :ul:il# 5agistrate. Only I can @udge $hen my $or& is completed.F *nd he goes ahead $ith his preparations. "e tra4els in his blac& t$oA$heeled carriage# $ith campA bed and :olding $ritingAtable strapped on the roo:. I supply horses# carts# :odder and pro4isions :or three $ee&s. * @unior lieutenant o: the garrison accompanies him. I spea& to the lieutenant in pri4ateD FIo not depend on your guide. "e is $ea& and terri:ied. Keep an eye on the $eather. Note landmar&s. %our :irst duty is to bring our 4isitor bac& sa:ely.F "e bo$s. I approach ?oll again# trying to get an outline o: his intentions. F%es#F he says. FO: course I should not $ant to commit mysel: to a course be:orehand. But# broadly spea&ing# $e $ill locate the encampment o: these nomads o: yours and then proceed :urther as the situation dictates.F FI as&#F I continue# Fonly because i: you get lost it becomes our tas& here to :ind you and bring you bac& to ci4iliHation.F -e pause# sa4ouring :rom our di::erent positions the ironies o: the $ord. F%es# o: course#F he says. FBut that is unli&ely. -e are :ortunate to ha4e the e;cellent maps o: the region pro4ided by yoursel:.F F/hose maps are based on little but hearsay# 3olonel. I ha4e patched them together :rom tra4ellersB accounts o4er a period o: ten or t$enty years. I ha4e ne4er set :oot mysel: $here you plan to go. I am simply $arning you.F Since his second day here I ha4e been too disturbed by
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his presence to be more than correct in my bearing to$ards him. I suppose that# li&e the ro4ing headsman# he is used to being shunned. 6Or is it only in the pro4inces that headsmen and torturers are still thought o: as uncleanE7 +oo&ing at him I $onder ho$ he :elt the 4ery :irst timeD did he# in4ited as an apprentice to t$ist the pincers or turn the scre$ or $hate4er it is they do# shudder e4en a little to &no$ that at that instant he $as trespassing into the :orbiddenE I :ind mysel: $ondering too $hether he has a pri4ate ritual o: puri:ication# carried out behind closed doors# to enable him to return and brea& bread $ith other men. Ioes he $ash his hands 4ery care:ully# perhaps# or change all his clothesG or has the Bureau created ne$ men $ho can pass $ithout disCuiet bet$een the unclean and the cleanE +ate into the night I hear the scraping and drumming o: the orchestra under the old $alnut trees across the sCuare. /here is a rosy glo$ in the air :rom the great bed o: coals o4er $hich the soldiers are roasting $hole sheep# a gi:t :rom the FE;cellencyF. /hey $ill drin& into the early hours# then set o:: at daybrea&. I :ind my $ay to the granary by the bac& alleys. /he guard is not at his post# the door to the hut stands open. I am about to enter $hen I hear 4oices inside $hispering and giggling. I stare into pitch dar&. F-ho is hereEF I say. /here is a scrabbling sound and the young sentry stumbles against me. FSorry# sir#F he says. I smell his rumA sodden breath. F/he prisoner called me and I $as trying to help him.F <rom the dar&ness comes a snort o: laughter. I sleep# $a&e to another round o: danceAmusic :rom the sCuare# :all asleep again# and dream o: a body lying spread on its bac&# a $ealth o: pubic hair glistening liCuid blac& and gold
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across the belly# up the loins# and do$n li&e an arro$ into the :urro$ o: the legs. -hen I stretch out a hand to brush the hair it begins to $rithe. It is not hair but bees clustered densely atop one anotherD honeyAdrenched# stic&y# they cra$l out o: the :urro$ and :an their $ings. *** 5y last act o: courtesy is to ride out $ith the 3olonel as :ar as $here the road turns northA$est along the coast o: the la&e. /he sun is up and glares so sa4agely :rom the sur:ace that I ha4e to shield my eyes. /he men# tired and Cueasy a:ter their night o: re4els# straggle behind us. In the middle o: the column# supported by a guard $ho rides side by side $ith him# comes the prisoner. "is :ace is ghastly# he sits his horse uncom:ortably# his $ounds plainly still cause him pain. In the rear come the pac&Ahorses and carts $ith $aterAcas&s# pro4isions# and the hea4ier eCuipmentD lances# :usils# ammunition# tents. *ll in all not a stirring sightD the column rides raggedly# some o: the men bareheaded# some $earing the hea4y plumed ca4alry helmet# others the simple leather cap. /hey a4ert their eyes :rom the glare# all sa4e one# $ho loo&s sternly ahead through a strip o: smo&ed glass glued to a stic& $hich he holds up be:ore his eyes in imitation o: his leader. "o$ :ar $ill this absurd a::ectation spreadE -e ride in silence. /he reapers# busy in the :ields since be:ore da$n# stop their $or& to $a4e as $e pass. *t the bend in the road I rein in and bid :are$ell. FI $ish you a sa:e return# 3olonel#F I say. <ramed in the $indo$ o: his carriage he inclines his head inscrutably. So I ride bac&# relie4ed o: my burden and happy to be alone again in a $orld I &no$ and understand. I climb the
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$alls to $atch the little column $ind a$ay along the northA $est road to$ards the :ar green smudge $here the ri4er debouches into the la&e and the line o: 4egetation 4anishes into the haHe o: the desert. /he sun still hangs bronHe and hea4y o4er the $ater. South o: the la&e stretch marshlands and salt :lats# and beyond them a blueAgrey line o: barren hills. In the :ields the :armers are loading the t$o huge old hayA $agons. * :light o: mallard $heels o4erhead and glides do$n to$ards the $ater. +ate summer# a time o: peace and plenty. I belie4e in peace# perhaps e4en peace at any price. /$o miles due south o: the to$n a cluster o: dunes stands out :rom the :lat sandy landscape. 3atching :rogs in the marshes and coasting do$n the slopes o: the dunes on polished $ooden sleds are the staple summer sports o: the children# the one :or the mornings# the other :or the e4enings $hen the sun goes do$n and the sand begins to cool. /hough the $ind blo$s at all seasons# the dunes are stable# being held together by a cap o: thin grass and also# as I :ound by accident a :e$ years ago# by timber s&eletons. <or the dunes co4er the ruins o: houses that date bac& to times long be:ore the $estern pro4inces $ere anne;ed and the :ort $as built. One o: my hobbies has been to e;ca4ate these ruins. I: there are no repairs to be done to the irrigation $or&s# I sentence petty o::enders to a :e$ days o: digging in the dunesG soldiers are sent here on punishment detailsG and at the height o: my enthusiasm I e4en used to pay :or casual labour out o: my o$n poc&et. /he $or& is unpopular# :or the diggers must toil under a hot sun or in a biting $ind $ith no shelter and $ith sand :lying e4ery$here. /hey $or& hal:Aheartedly# not sharing my interest 6$hich they see as $himsical7# discouraged by the speed at $hich the sand dri:ts bac&. But in the course o: a :e$ years I ha4e succeeded in unco4ering
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se4eral o: the largest structures to :loor le4el. /he most recently e;ca4ated stands out li&e a ship$rec& in the desert# 4isible e4en :rom the to$n $alls. <rom this structure# perhaps a public building or a temple# I ha4e reco4ered the hea4y poplar lintel# car4ed $ith a design o: interlaced leaping :ish# that no$ hangs o4er my :ireplace. Buried belo$ :loor le4el in a bag that crumbled to nothing as soon as it $as touched I also :ound a cache o: $ooden slips on $hich are painted characters in a script I ha4e not seen the li&e o:. -e ha4e :ound slips li&e these be:ore# scattered li&e clothespegs in the ruins# but most so bleached by the action o: sand that the $riting has been illegible. /he characters on the ne$ slips are as clear as the day they $ere $ritten. No$# in the hope o: deciphering the script# I ha4e set about collecting all the slips I can# and ha4e let the children $ho play here &no$ that i: they :ind one it is al$ays $orth a penny. /he timbers $e unco4er are dry and po$dery. 5any ha4e been held together only by the surrounding sand and# once e;posed# crumble. Others snap o:: at the lightest pressure. "o$ old the $ood is I do not &no$. /he barbarians# $ho are pastoralists# nomads# tentAd$ellers# ma&e no re:erence in their legends to a permanent settlement near the la&e. /here are no human remains among the ruins. I: there is a cemetery $e ha4e not :ound it. /he houses contain no :urniture. In a heap o: ashes I ha4e :ound :ragments o: sunAdried clay pottery and something bro$n $hich may once ha4e been a leather shoe or cap but $hich :ell to pieces be:ore my eyes. I do not &no$ $here the $ood came :rom to build these houses. Perhaps in bygone days criminals# sla4es# soldiers tre&&ed the t$el4e miles to the ri4er# and cut do$n poplar trees# and sa$ed and planed them# and transported the timbers bac& to this barren place in carts# and built houses# and a :ort too# :or
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all I &no$# and in the course o: time died# so that their masters# their pre:ects and magistrates and captains# could climb the roo:s and to$ers morning and e4ening to scan the $orld :rom horiHon to horiHon :or signs o: the barbarians. Perhaps in my digging I ha4e only scratched the sur:ace. Perhaps ten :eet belo$ the :loor lie the ruins o: another :ort# raHed by the barbarians# peopled $ith the bones o: :ol& $ho thought they $ould :ind sa:ety behind high $alls. Perhaps $hen I stand on the :loor o: the courthouse# i: that is $hat it is# I stand o4er the head o: a magistrate li&e mysel:# another greyAhaired ser4ant o: Empire $ho :ell in the arena o: his authority# :ace to :ace at last $ith the barbarian. "o$ $ill I e4er &no$E By burro$ing li&e a rabbitE -ill the characters on the slips one day tell meE /here $ere t$o hundred and :i:tyAsi; slips in the bag. Is it by chance that the number is per:ectE *:ter I had :irst counted them and made this disco4ery I cleared the :loor o: my o::ice and laid them out# :irst in one great sCuare# then in si;teen smaller sCuares# then in other combinations# thin&ing that $hat I had hitherto ta&en to be characters in a syllabary might in :act be elements o: a picture $hose outline $ould leap at me i: I struc& on the right arrangementD a map o: the land o: the barbarians in olden times# or a representation o: a lost pantheon. I ha4e e4en :ound mysel: reading the slips in a mirror# or tracing one on top o: another# or con:lating hal: o: one $ith hal: o: another. One e4ening I lingered among the ruins a:ter the children had run home to their suppers# into the 4iolet o: dus& and the :irst stars# the hour $hen# according to lore# ghosts a$a&en. I put my ear to the ground as the children had instructed me# to hear $hat they hearD thumps and groans under the earth# the deep irregular beating o: drums. *gainst my chee& I :elt the patter o: sand dri4ing :rom no$here to
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no$here across the $astes. /he last light :aded# the ramparts gre$ dim against the s&y and dissol4ed into the dar&ness. <or an hour I $aited# $rapped in my cloa&# $ith my bac& against the cornerApost o: a house in $hich people must once ha4e tal&ed and eaten and played music. I sat $atching the moon rise# opening my senses to the night# $aiting :or a sign that $hat lay around me# $hat lay beneath my :eet# $as not only sand# the dust o: bones# :la&es o: rust# shards# ash. /he sign did not come. I :elt no tremor o: ghostly :ear. 5y nest in the sand $as $arm. Be:ore long I caught mysel: nodding. I stood up and stretchedG then I trudged home through the balmy dar&ness# ta&ing my bearings :rom the dim s&yA glo$ o: the household :ires. 1idiculous# I thoughtD a greybeard sitting in the dar& $aiting :or spirits :rom the by$ays o: history to spea& to him be:ore he goes home to his military ste$ and his com:ortable bed. /he space about us here is merely space# no meaner or grander than the space abo4e the shac&s and tenements and temples and o::ices o: the capital. Space is space# li:e is li:e# e4ery$here the same. But as :or me# sustained by the toil o: others# lac&ing ci4iliHed 4ices $ith $hich to :ill my leisure# I pamper my melancholy and try to :ind in the 4acuousness o: the desert a special historical poignancy. 2ain# idle# misguidedJ "o$ :ortunate that no one sees meJ *** /oday# only :our days a:ter the departure o: the e;pedition# the :irst o: the 3olonelBs prisoners arri4e. <rom my $indo$ I $atch them cross the sCuare bet$een their mounted guards# dusty# e;hausted# cringing already :rom the spectators $ho cro$d about them# the s&ipping children# the bar&ing dogs. In
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the shade o: the barrac&s $all the guards dismountG at once the prisoners sCuat do$n to rest# sa4e :or a little boy $ho stands on one leg# his arm on his motherBs shoulder# staring bac& curiously at the onloo&ers. Someone brings a buc&et o: $ater and a ladle. /hey drin& thirstily# $hile the cro$d gro$s and presses in so tight around them that I can no longer see. Impatiently I $ait :or the guard $ho no$ pushes his $ay through the cro$d and crosses the barrac&s yard. F"o$ do you e;plain thisEF I shout at him. "e bo$s his head# :umbles at his poc&ets. F/hese are :ishing peopleJ "o$ can you bring them bac& hereEF "e holds out a letter. I brea& the seal and readD FPlease hold these and succeeding detainees incommunicado :or my return.F Beneath his signature the seal is repeated# the seal o: the Bureau $hich he has carried $ith him into the desert and $hich# i: he perished# I $ould doubtless ha4e to send out a second e;pedition to reco4er. F/he man is ridiculousJF I shout. I storm about the room. One should ne4er disparage o::icers in :ront o: men# :athers in :ront o: children# but to$ards this man I disco4er no loyalty in my heart. FIid no one tell him these are :ishing peopleE It is a $aste o: time bringing them hereJ %ou are supposed to help him trac& do$n thie4es# bandits# in4aders o: the EmpireJ Io these people loo& li&e a danger to the EmpireEF I :ling the letter at the $indo$. /he cro$d parts be:ore me till I stand at the centre con:ronting the doHen pathetic prisoners. /hey :linch be:ore my anger# the little boy sliding into his motherBs arms. I gesture to the guardsD F3lear a $ay and bring these people into the barrac&s yardJF /hey herd the capti4es alongG the barrac&s gate closes behind us. FNo$ e;plain yoursel4es#F I sayG Fdid no one tell him these prisoners are useless to himE Iid no one
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tell him the di::erence bet$een :ishermen $ith nets and $ild nomad horsemen $ith bo$sE Iid no one tell him they donBt e4en spea& the same languageEF One o: the soldiers e;plains. F-hen they sa$ us coming they tried to hide in the reeds. /hey sa$ horsemen coming so they tried to hide. So the o::icer# the E;cellency# ordered us to ta&e them in. Because they $ere hiding.F I could curse $ith 4e;ation. * policemanJ /he reasoning o: a policemanJ FIid the E;cellency say $hy he $anted them brought bac& hereE Iid he say $hy he could not as& them his Cuestions out thereEF FNone o: us could spea& their language# sir.F O: course notJ /hese ri4er people are aboriginal# older e4en than the nomads. /hey li4e in settlements o: t$o or three :amilies along the ban&s o: the ri4er# :ishing and trapping :or most o: the year# paddling to the remote southern shores o: the la&e in the autumn to catch red$orms and dry them# building :limsy reed shelters# groaning $ith cold through the $inter# dressing in s&ins. +i4ing in :ear o: e4eryone# s&ul&ing in the reeds# $hat can they possibly &no$ o: a great barbarian enterprise against the EmpireE I send one o: the men to the &itchen :or :ood. "e comes bac& $ith a loa: o: yesterdayBs bread $hich he o::ers to the oldest prisoner. /he old man accepts the bread re4erentially in both hands# sni::s it# brea&s it# passes the lumps around. /hey stu:: their mouths $ith this manna# che$ing :ast# not raising their eyes. * $oman spits masticated bread into her palm and :eeds her baby. I motion :or more bread. -e stand $atching them eat as though they are strange animals. F+et them stay in the yard#F I tell their guards. FIt $ill be incon4enient :or us# but there is no$here else. I: it gets cold tonight I $ill ma&e another arrangement. See that they are :ed.
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Gi4e them something to do to &eep their hands busy. Keep the gate closed. /hey $ill not run a$ay but I do not $ant idlers coming in to stare at them.F So I chec& my anger and do as the 3olonel instructsD I hold his useless prisoners FincommunicadoF :or him. *nd in a day or t$o these sa4ages seem to :orget they e4er had another home. Seduced utterly by the :ree and plenti:ul :ood# abo4e all by the bread# they rela;# smile at e4eryone# mo4e about the barrac&s yard :rom one patch o: shade to another# doHe and $a&e# gro$ e;cited as mealtimes approach. /heir habits are :ran& and :ilthy. One corner o: the yard has become a latrine $here men and $omen sCuat openly and $here a cloud o: :lies buHHes all day. 6FGi4e them a spadeJF I tell the guardsG but they do not use it.7 /he little boy# gro$n Cuite :earless# haunts the &itchen# begging sugar :rom the maids. *side :rom bread# sugar and tea are great no4elties to them. E4ery morning they get a small bloc& o: pressed teaAlea4es $hich they boil up in a :ourAgallon pail on a tripod o4er a :ire. /hey are happy hereG indeed unless $e chase them a$ay they may stay $ith us :ore4er# so little does it seem to ha4e ta&en to lure them out o: a state o: nature. I spend hours $atching them :rom the upstairs $indo$ 6other idlers ha4e to $atch through the gate7. I $atch the $omen pic&ing lice# combing and plaiting each otherBs long blac& hair. Some o: them ha4e :its o: harsh dry coughing. It is stri&ing that there are no children in the group but the baby and the little boy. Iid some o: them# the nimble# the $a&e:ul# a:ter all succeed in escaping :rom the soldiersE I hope so. I hope that $hen $e return them to their homes along the ri4er they $ill ha4e many :arA:etched stories to tell their neighbours. I hope that the history o: their capti4ity enters their legends# passed do$n :rom grand:ather to grandson. But I hope too that memories o: the to$n# $ith its
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easy li:e and its e;otic :oods# are not strong enough to lure them bac&. I do not $ant a race o: beggars on my hands. <or a :e$ days the :isher:ol& are a di4ersion# $ith their strange gabbling# their 4ast appetites# their animal shamelessness# their 4olatile tempers. /he soldiers lounge in the door$ays $atching them# ma&ing obscene comments about them $hich they do not understand# laughingG there are al$ays children $ith their :aces pressed to the bars o: the gateG and :rom my $indo$ I stare do$n# in4isible behind the glass. /hen# all together# $e lose sympathy $ith them. /he :ilth# the smell# the noise o: their Cuarrelling and coughing become too much. /here is an ugly incident $hen a soldier tries to drag one o: their $omen indoors# perhaps only in play# $ho &no$s# and is pelted $ith stones. * rumour begins to go the rounds that they are diseased# that they $ill bring an epidemic to the to$n. /hough I ma&e them dig a pit in the corner o: the yard and ha4e the nightsoil remo4ed# the &itchen sta:: re:use them utensils and begin to toss them their :ood :rom the door$ay as i: they $ere indeed animals. /he soldiers loc& the door to the barrac&s hall# the children no longer come to the gate. Someone :lings a dead cat o4er the $all during the night and causes an uproar. /hrough the long hot days they moon about the empty yard. /he baby cries and coughs# cries and coughs till I :lee :or re:uge to the :arthest corner o: my apartment. I $rite an angry letter to the /hird Bureau# unsleeping guardian o: the Empire# denouncing the incompetence o: one o: its agents. F-hy do you not send people $ith e;perience o: the :rontier to in4estigate :rontier unrestEF I $rite. -isely I tear up the letter. I: I unloc& the gate in the dead o: night# I $onder# $ill the :isher:ol& snea& a$ayE But I do nothing. /hen one day I notice that the baby has stopped crying. -hen I loo& :rom the $indo$ it is no$here to
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be seen. I send a guard to search and he :inds the little corpse under its motherBs clothes. She $ill not yield it up# $e ha4e to tear it a$ay :rom her. *:ter this she sCuats alone all day $ith her :ace co4ered# re:using to eat. "er people seem to shun her. "a4e $e 4iolated some custom o: theirs# I $onder# by ta&ing the child and burying itE I curse 3olonel ?oll :or all the trouble he has brought me# and :or the shame too. /hen in the middle o: the night he is bac&. BugleAcalls :rom the ramparts brea& into my sleep# the barrac&s hall erupts in uproar as the soldiers go scrambling :or their $eapons. 5y head is con:used# I am slo$ in dressing# by the time I emerge on to the sCuare the column is already passing through the gates# some o: the men riding# some leading their mounts. I stand bac& $hile the onloo&ers cro$d around# touching and embracing the soldiers# laughing $ith e;citement 6F*ll sa:eJF someone shouts7# until coming up in the middle o: the column I see $hat I ha4e been dreadingD the blac& carriage# then the shu::ling group o: prisoners roped together nec& to nec&# shapeless :igures in their sheeps&in coats under the sil4er moonlight# then behind them the last o: the soldiers leading the carts and pac&Ahorses. *s more and more people come running up# some $ith :laming torches# and the babble mounts# I turn my bac& on the 3olonelBs triumph and ma&e my $ay bac& to my rooms. /his is the point at $hich I begin to see the disad4antages o: li4ing# as I ha4e chosen to do# in the rambling apartment o4er the storerooms and &itchen intended :or the military commandant $e ha4e not had :or years# rather than in the attracti4e 4illa $ith geraniums in the $indo$s $hich :alls to the lot o: the ci4il magistrate. I $ould li&e to be able to stop my ears to the noises coming :rom the yard belo$# $hich has no$# it appears# become permanently a prison yard. I :eel old and tired# I $ant to sleep. I sleep $hene4er I can
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no$adays and# $hen I $a&e up# $a&e reluctantly. Sleep is no longer a healing bath# a recuperation o: 4ital :orces# but an obli4ion# a nightly brush $ith annihilation. +i4ing in the apartment has become bad :or me# I thin&G but not only that. I: I li4ed in the magistrateBs 4illa on the Cuietest street in to$n# holding sittings o: the court on 5ondays and /hursdays# going hunting e4ery morning# occupying my e4enings in the classics# closing my ears to the acti4ities o: this upstart policeman# i: I resol4ed to ride out the bad times# &eeping my o$n counsel# I might cease to :eel li&e a man $ho# in the grip o: the underto$# gi4es up the :ight# stops s$imming# and turns his :ace to$ards the open sea and death. But it is the &no$ledge o: ho$ contingent my unease is# ho$ dependent on a baby that $ails beneath my $indo$ one day and does not $ail the ne;t# that brings the $orst shame to me# the greatest indi::erence to annihilation. I &no$ some$hat too muchG and :rom this &no$ledge# once one has been in:ected# there seems to be no reco4ering. I ought ne4er to ha4e ta&en my lantern to see $hat $as going on in the hut by the granary. On the other hand# there $as no $ay# once I had pic&ed up the lantern# :or me to put it do$n again. /he &not loops in upon itsel:G I cannot :ind the end. *ll the ne;t day the 3olonel spends sleeping in his room at the inn# and the sta:: ha4e to tiptoe about their duties. I try to pay no attention to the ne$ batch o: prisoners in the yard. It is a pity that all the doors o: the barrac&s bloc& as $ell as the stair$ay leading up to my apartment open on to the yard. I hurry out in the earlyAmorning light# occupy mysel: all day $ith municipal rents# dine in the e4ening $ith :riends. On the $ay home I meet the young lieutenant $ho accompanied 3olonel ?oll into the desert and congratulate him on his sa:e return. FBut $hy did you not e;plain to the 3olonel that the
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:ishing people could not possibly help him in his inCuiriesEF "e loo&s embarrassed. FI spo&e to him#F he tells me# Fbut all he said $as# BPrisoners are prisonersB. I decided it $as not my place to argue $ith him.F /he ne;t day the 3olonel begins his interrogations. Once I thought him laHy# little more than a bureaucrat $ith 4icious tastes. No$ I see ho$ mista&en I $as. In his Cuest :or the truth he is tireless. /he Cuestioning starts in the early morning and is still going on $hen I return a:ter dar&. "e has enlisted the aid o: a hunter $ho has shot pigs up and do$n the ri4er all his li:e and &no$s a hundred $ords o: the :isher:ol&Bs language. One by one the :isher:ol& are ta&en into the room $here the 3olonel has established himsel:# to be as&ed $hether they ha4e seen mo4ements o: strange horsemen. E4en the child is CuestionedD F"a4e strangers 4isited your :ather during the nightEF 6I guess# o: course# at $hat passes in that room# at the :ear# the be$ilderment# the abasement.7 /he prisoners are returned not to the yard but to the main barrac&s hallD the soldiers ha4e been turned out# Cuartered on the to$n. I sit in my rooms $ith the $indo$s shut# in the sti:ling $armth o: a $indless e4ening# trying to read# straining my ears to hear or not to hear sounds o: 4iolence. <inally at midnight the interrogations cease# there is no more banging o: doors or tramping o: :eet# the yard is silent in the moonlight# and I am at liberty to sleep. /he @oy has gone :rom my li:e. I spend the day playing $ith lists and numbers# stretching petty tas&s to :ill the hours. In the e4ening I eat at the innG then# reluctant to go home# ma&e my $ay upstairs to the $arren o: cubicles and partitioned rooms $here the ostlers sleep and the girls entertain menA:riends. I sleep li&e a dead man. -hen I $a&e up in the thin
3'

earlyAmorning light the girl is lying curled up on the :loor. I touch her armD F-hy are you sleeping thereEF She smiles bac&. FIt is all right. I am Cuite com:ortable.F 6/hat is trueD lying on the so:t sheeps&in rug she stretches and ya$ns# her neat little body not e4en :illing it.7 F%ou $ere tossing in your sleep# you told me to go a$ay# so I decided I $ould sleep better here.F FI told you to go a$ayEF F%esD in your sleep. IonBt be upset.F She climbs into bed beside me. I embrace her $ith gratitude# $ithout desire. FI $ould li&e to sleep here again tonight#F I say. She nuHHles my chest. It occurs to me that $hate4er I $ant to say to her $ill be heard $ith sympathy# $ith &indness. But $hat can I possibly sayE F/errible things go on in the night $hile you and I are asleepFE /he @ac&al rips out the hareBs bo$els# but the $orld rolls on. *nother day and another night I spend a$ay :rom the empire o: pain. I :all asleep in the girlBs arms. In the morning she is again lying on the :loor. She laughs at my dismayD F%ou pushed me out $ith your hands and :eet. Please donBt get upset. -e cannot help our dreams or $hat $e do in our sleep.F I groan and turn my :ace a$ay. I ha4e &no$n her a year# 4isiting her sometimes t$ice a $ee& in this room. I :eel a Cuiet a::ection :or her $hich is perhaps the best that can be hoped :or bet$een an aging man and a girl o: t$entyG better than a possessi4e passion certainly. I ha4e played $ith the idea o: as&ing her to li4e $ith me. I try to remember by $hat nightmare I am possessed $hen I push her a$ay# but :ail. FI: I e4er do it again you must promise to $a&e me#F I tell her. /hen# in my o::ice at the courthouse# a 4isitor is announced. 3olonel ?olli# $earing his dar& eyeshades indoors# enters and sits do$n opposite me. I o::er him tea# surprised at
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ho$ steady my hand is. "e is lea4ing# he says. Should I try to conceal my @oyE "e sips his tea# sitting care:ully upright# inspecting the room# the shel4es upon shel4es o: papers bundled together and tied $ith ribbon# the record o: decades o: humdrum administration# the small boo&case o: legal te;ts# the cluttered des&. "e has completed his inCuiries :or the time being# he says# and is in a hurry to return to the capital and ma&e his report. "e has an air o: sternly controlled triumph. I nod my understanding. F*nything that I can do to :acilitate your @ourney. . .F I say. /here is a pause. /hen into the silence# li&e a pebble into a pool# I drop my Cuestion. F*nd your inCuiries# 3olonel# among the nomad peoples and the aboriginalsha4e they been as success:ul as you $ishedEF "e places his :ingers together tip to tip be:ore he ans$ers. I ha4e the :eeling that he &no$s ho$ much his a::ectations irritate me. F%es# 5agistrate# I can say that $e ha4e had some success. Particularly $hen you consider that similar in4estigations are being carried out else$here along the :rontier in a coAordinated :ashion.F F/hat is good. *nd can you tell us $hether $e ha4e anything to :earE 3an $e rest securely at nightEF /he corner o: his mouth crin&les in a little smile. /hen he stands up# bo$s# turns# and lea4es. Early ne;t morning he departs accompanied by his small escort# ta&ing the long east road bac& to the capital. /hroughout a trying period he and I ha4e managed to beha4e to$ards each other li&e ci4iliHed people. *ll my li:e I ha4e belie4ed in ci4iliHed beha4iourG on this occasion# ho$e4er# I cannot deny it# the memory lea4es me sic& $ith mysel:. 5y :irst action is to 4isit the prisoners. I unloc& the barrac&s hall $hich has been their @ail# my senses already
33

re4olting at the sic&ly smell o: s$eat and ordure# and thro$ the doors $ide open. FGet them out o: thereJF I shout at the hal:Adressed soldiers $ho stand about $atching me as they eat their porridge. <rom the gloom inside the prisoners stare apathetically bac&. FGo in there and clean up that roomJF I shout. FI $ant e4erything cleaned upJ Soap and $aterJ I $ant e4erything as it $as be:oreJF /he soldiers hurry to obeyG but $hy is my anger directed at them# they must be as&ing. Into the daylight emerge the prisoners# blin&ing# shielding their eyes. One o: the $omen has to be helped. She sha&es all the time li&e an old person# though she is young. /here are some too sic& to stand up. I last sa$ them :i4e days ago 6i: I can claim e4er to ha4e seen them# i: I e4er did more than pass my gaHe o4er their sur:ace absently# $ith reluctance7. -hat they ha4e undergone in these :i4e days I do not &no$. No$ herded by their guards they stand in a hopeless little &not in the corner o: the yard# nomads and :isher:ol& together# sic&# :amished# damaged# terri:ied. It $ould be best i: this obscure chapter in the history o: the $orld $ere terminated at once# i: these ugly people $ere obliterated :rom the :ace o: the earth and $e s$ore to ma&e a ne$ start# to run an empire in $hich there $ould be no more in@ustice# no more pain. It $ould cost little to march them out into the desert 6ha4ing put a meal in them :irst# perhaps# to ma&e the march possible7# to ha4e them dig# $ith their last strength# a pit large enough :or all o: them to lie in 6or e4en to dig it :or themJ7# and# lea4ing them buried there :ore4er and :ore4er# to come bac& to the $alled to$n :ull o: ne$ intentions# ne$ resolutions. But that $ill not be my $ay. /he ne$ men o: Empire are the ones $ho belie4e in :resh starts# ne$ chapters# clean pagesG I struggle on $ith the old story# hoping that be:ore it is :inished it $ill re4eal to me $hy
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it $as that I thought it $orth the trouble. /hus it is that# administration o: la$ and order in these parts ha4ing today passed bac& to me# I order that the prisoners be :ed# that the doctor be called in to do $hat he can# that the barrac&s return to being a barrac&s# that arrangements be made to restore the prisoners to their :ormer li4es as soon as possible# as :ar as possible.

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2
She &neels in the shade o: the barrac&s $all a :e$ yards
:rom the gate# mu::led in a coat too large :or her# a :ur cap open be:ore her on the ground. She has the straight blac& eyebro$s# the glossy blac& hair o: the barbarians. -hat is a barbarian $oman doing in to$n beggingE /here are no more than a :e$ pennies in the cap. /$ice more during the day I pass her. Each time she gi4es me a strange regard# staring straight ahead o: her until I am near# then 4ery slo$ly turning her head a$ay :rom me. /he second time I drop a coin into the cap. FIt is cold and late to be outdoors#F I say. She nods. /he sun is setting behind a strip o: blac& cloudG the $ind :rom the north already carries a hint o: sno$G the sCuare is emptyG I pass on. /he ne;t day she is not there. I spea& to the gate&eeperD F/here $as a $oman sitting o4er there all o: yesterday# begging. -here does she come :romEF /he $oman is blind# he replies. She is one o: the barbarians the 3olonel brought in.
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She $as le:t behind. * :e$ days later I see her crossing the sCuare# $al&ing slo$ly and a$&$ardly $ith t$o stic&s# the sheeps&in coat trailing behind her in the dust. I gi4e ordersG she is brought to my rooms# $here she stands be:ore me propped on her stic&s. F/a&e o:: your cap#F I say. /he soldier $ho has brought her in li:ts o:: the cap. It is the same girl# the same blac& hair cut in a :ringe across the :orehead# the same broad mouth# the blac& eyes that loo& through and past me. F/hey tell me you are blind.F FI can see#F she says. "er eyes mo4e :rom my :ace and settle some$here behind me to my right. F-here do you come :romEF -ithout thin&ing I cast a glance o4er my shoulderD she is staring at nothing but empty $all. "er gaHe has gro$n rigid. *lready &no$ing the ans$er# I repeat my Cuestion. She meets it $ith silence. I dismiss the soldier. -e are alone. FI &no$ $ho you are#F I say. F-ill you please sitEF I ta&e her stic&s and help to seat her on a stool. Under the coat she $ears $ide linen dra$ers tuc&ed into hea4yAsoled boots. She smells o: smo&e# o: stale clothing# o: :ish. "er hands are horny. FIo you ma&e a li4ing by beggingEF I as&. F%ou &no$ you are not supposed to be in to$n. -e could e;pel you at any time and send you bac& to your people.F She sits staring eerily ahead o: her. F+oo& at me#F I say. FI am loo&ing. /his is ho$ I loo&.F I $a4e a hand in :ront o: her eyes. She blin&s. I bring my :ace closer and stare into her eyes. She $heels her gaHe :rom the $all on to me. /he blac& irises are set o:: by mil&y $hites
3

as clear as a childBs. I touch her chee&D she starts. FI as&ed ho$ you ma&e a li4ing.F She shrugs. FI do $ashing.F F-here do you li4eEF FI li4e.F F-e do not permit 4agrants in the to$n. -inter is almost here. %ou must ha4e some$here to li4e. Other$ise you must go bac& to your o$n people.F She sits obdurately. I &no$ I am beating about the bush. FI can o::er you $or&. I need someone to &eep these rooms tidy# to see to my laundry. /he $oman $ho does it at present is not satis:actory.F She understands $hat I am o::ering. She sits 4ery sti::# her hands in her lap. F*re you aloneE Please ans$er.F F%es.F "er 4oice comes in a $hisper. She clears her throat. F%es.F FI ha4e o::ered that you should come and $or& here. %ou cannot beg in the streets. I cannot permit that. *lso you must ha4e a place o: abode. I: you $or& here you can share the coo&Bs room.F F%ou do not understand. %ou do not $ant someone li&e me.F She gropes :or her stic&s. I &no$ that she cannot see. FI am. . .Fshe holds up her :ore:inger# grips it# t$ists it. I ha4e no idea $hat the gesture means. F3an I goEF She ma&es her o$n $ay to the head o: the stairs# then has to $ait :or me to help her do$n. * day passes. I stare out o4er the sCuare $here the $ind chases :lurries o: dust. /$o little boys are playing $ith a hoop. /hey bo$l it into the $ind. It rolls :or$ard# slo$s# teeters# rides bac&# :alls. /he boys li:t their :aces and run a:ter
3.

it# the hair $hipped bac& :rom their clean bro$s. I :ind the girl and stand be:ore her. She sits $ith her bac& against the trun& o: one o: the great $alnut treesD it is hard to see $hether she is e4en a$a&e. F3ome#F I say# and touch her shoulder. She sha&es her head. F3ome#F I say# Fe4eryone is indoors.F I beat the dust :rom her cap and hand it to her# help her to her :eet# $al& slo$ly beside her across the sCuare# empty no$ sa4e :or the gate&eeper# $ho shades his eyes to stare at us. /he :ire is lit. I dra$ the curtains# light the lamp. She re:uses the stool# but yields up her stic&s and &neels in the centre o: the carpet. F/his is not $hat you thin& it is#F I say. /he $ords come reluctantly. 3an I really be about to e;cuse mysel:E "er lips are clenched shut# her ears too no doubt# she $ants nothing o: old men and their bleating consciences. I pro$l around her# tal&ing about our 4agrancy ordinances# sic& at mysel:. "er s&in begins to glo$ in the $armth o: the closed room. She tugs at her coat# opens her throat to the :ire. /he distance bet$een mysel: and her torturers# I realiHe# is negligibleG I shudder. FSho$ me your :eet#F I say in the ne$ thic& 4oice that seems to be mine. FSho$ me $hat they ha4e done to your :eet.F She neither helps nor hinders me. I $or& at the thongs and eyelets o: the coat# thro$ it open# pull the boots o::. /hey are a manBs boots# :ar too large :or her. Inside them her :eet are s$addled# shapeless. F+et me see#F I say. She begins to un$rap the dirty bandages. I lea4e the room# go do$nstairs to the &itchen# come bac& $ith a basin and a pitcher o: $arm $ater. She sits $aiting on the carpet#
39

her :eet bare. /hey are broad# the toes stubby# the nails crusted $ith dirt. She runs a :inger across the outside o: her an&le. F/hat is $here it $as bro&en. /he other one too.F She leans bac& on her hands and stretches her legs. FIoes it hurtEF I say. I pass my :inger along the line# :eeling nothing. FNot any more. It has healed. But perhaps $hen the cold comes.F F%ou should sit#F I say. I help her o:: $ith the coat# seat her on the stool# pour the $ater into the basin# and begin to $ash her :eet. <or a $hile her legs remain tenseG then they rela;. I $ash slo$ly# $or&ing up a lather# gripping her :irmA :leshed cal4es# manipulating the bones and tendons o: her :eet# running my :ingers bet$een her toes. I change my position to &neel not in :ront o: her but beside her# so that# holding a leg bet$een elbo$ and side# I can caress the :oot $ith both hands. I lose mysel: in the rhythm o: $hat I am doing. I lose a$areness o: the girl hersel:. /here is a space o: time $hich is blan& to meD perhaps I am not e4en present. -hen I come to# my :ingers ha4e slac&ened# the :oot rests in the basin# my head droops. I dry the right :oot# shu::le to the other side# li:t the leg o: the $ide dra$ers abo4e her &nee# and# :ighting against dro$siness# begin to $ash the le:t :oot. FSometimes this room gets 4ery hot#F I say. /he pressure o: her leg against my side does not lessen. I go on. FI $ill :ind clean bandages :or your :eet#F I say# Fbut not no$.F I push the basin aside and dry the :oot. I am a$are o: the girl struggling to stand upG but no$# I thin&# she must ta&e care o: hersel:. 5y eyes close. It becomes an intense pleasure to &eep them closed# to sa4our the bliss:ul
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giddiness. I stretch out on the carpet. In an instant I am asleep. In the middle o: the night I $a&e up cold and sti::. /he :ire is out# the girl is gone. *** I $atch her eat. She eats li&e a blind person# gaHing into the distance# $or&ing by touch. She has a good appetite# the appetite o: a robust young country$oman. FI donBt belie4e you can see#F I say. F%es# I can see. -hen I loo& straight there is nothing# there isF 6she rubs the air in :ront o: her li&e someone cleaning a $indo$7. F* blur#F I say. F/here is a blur. But I can see out o: the sides o: my eyes. /he le:t eye is better than the right. "o$ could I :ind my $ay i: I didnBt seeEF FIid they do it to youEF F%es.F F-hat did they doEF She shrugs and is silent. "er plate is empty. I dish up more o: the bean ste$ she seems to li&e so much. She eats too :ast# belches behind a cupped hand# smiles. FBeans ma&e you :art#F she says. /he room is $arm# her coat hangs in a corner $ith the boots belo$ it# she $ears only the $hite smoc& and dra$ers. -hen she does not loo& at me I am a grey :orm mo4ing about unpredictably on the periphery o: her 4ision. -hen she loo&s at me I am a blur# a 4oice# a smell# a centre o: energy that one day :alls asleep $ashing her :eet and the ne;t day :eeds her bean ste$ and the ne;t dayshe does not &no$. I seat her# :ill the basin# roll the dra$ers abo4e her
)'

&nees. No$ that the t$o :eet are together in the $ater I can see that the le:t is turned :urther in$ard than the right# that $hen she stands she must stand on the outer edges o: her :eet. "er an&les are large# pu::y# shapeless# the s&in scarred purple. I begin to $ash her. She raises her :eet :or me in turn. I &nead and massage the la; toes through the so:t mil&y soap. Soon my eyes close# my head droops. It is rapture# o: a &ind. -hen I ha4e $ashed her :eet I begin to $ash her legs. <or this she has to stand in the basin and lean on my shoulder. 5y hands run up and do$n her legs :rom an&le to &nee# bac& and :orth# sCueeHing# stro&ing# moulding. "er legs are short and sturdy# her cal4es strong. Sometimes my :ingers run behind her &nees# tracing the tendons# pressing into the hollo$s bet$een them. +ight as :eathers they stray up the bac&s o: her thighs. I help her to the bed and dry her $ith a $arm to$el. I begin to pare and clean her toenailsG but already $a4es o: sleepiness are running o4er me. I catch my head drooping# my body :alling :or$ard in a stupor. 3are:ully I put the scissors aside. /hen# :ully clothed# I lay mysel: do$n head to :oot beside her. I :old her legs together in my arms# cradle my head on them# and in an instant am asleep. I $a&e up in the dar&. /he lamp is out# there is a smell o: burnt $ic&. I get up and open the curtains. /he girl lies huddled asleep# her &nees dra$n up to her chest. -hen I touch her she groans and huddles tighter. F%ou are getting cold#F I say# but she hears nothing. I spread a blan&et o4er her# and a second blan&et. ***

),

<irst comes the ritual o: the $ashing# :or $hich she is no$ na&ed. I $ash her :eet# as be:ore# her legs# her buttoc&s. 5y soapy hand tra4els bet$een her thighs# incuriously# I :ind. She raises her arms $hile I $ash her armpits. I $ash her belly# her breasts. I push her hair aside and $ash her nec&# her throat. She is patient. I rinse and dry her. She lies on the bed and I rub her body $ith almond oil. I close my eyes and lose mysel: in the rhythm o: the rubbing# $hile the :ire# piled high# roars in the grate. I :eel no desire to enter this stoc&y little body glistening by no$ in the :irelight. It is a $ee& since $ords ha4e passed bet$een us. I :eed her# shelter her# use her body# i: that is $hat I am doing# in this :oreign $ay. /here used to be moments $hen she sti::ened at certain intimaciesG but no$ her body yields $hen I nuHHle my :ace into her belly or clasp her :eet bet$een my thighs. She yields to e4erything. Sometimes she slips o:: into sleep be:ore I am :inished. She sleeps as intensely as a child. *s :or me# under her blind gaHe# in the close $armth o: the room# I can undress $ithout embarrassment# baring my thin shan&s# my slac& genitals# my paunch# my :labby old manBs breasts# the tur&eyAs&in o: my throat. I :ind mysel: mo4ing about unthin&ingly in this na&edness# sometimes staying to bas& in the :ire a:ter the girl has gone to sleep# or sitting in a chair reading. But more o:ten in the 4ery act o: caressing her I am o4ercome $ith sleep as i: polea;ed# :all into obli4ion spra$led upon her body# and $a&e an hour or t$o later diHHy# con:used# thirsty. /hese dreamless spells are li&e death to me# or enchantment# blan&# outside time. One e4ening# rubbing her scalp $ith oil# massaging her temples and :orehead# I notice in the corner o: one eye a
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greyish puc&ering as though a caterpillar lay there $ith its head under her eyelid# graHing. F-hat is thisEF I as&# tracing the caterpillar $ith my :ingernail. F/hat is $here they touched me#F she says# and pushes my hand a$ay FIoes it hurtEF She sha&es her head. F+et me loo&.F It has been gro$ing more and more clear to me that until the mar&s on this girlBs body are deciphered and understood I cannot let go o: her. Bet$een thumb and :ore:inger I part her eyelids. /he caterpillar comes to an end# decapitated# at the pin& inner rim o: the eyelid. /here is no other mar&. /he eye is $hole. I loo& into the eye. *m I to belie4e that gaHing bac& at me she sees nothingmy :eet perhaps# parts o: the room# a haHy circle o: light# but at the centre# $here I am# only a blur# a blan&E I pass my hand slo$ly in :ront o: her :ace# $atching her pupils. I cannot discern any mo4ement. She does not blin&. But she smilesD F-hy do you do thatE Io you thin& I cannot seeEF Bro$n eyes# so bro$n as to be blac&. I touch my lips to her :orehead. F-hat did they do to youEF I murmur. 5y tongue is slo$# I s$ay on my :eet $ith e;haustion. F-hy donBt you $ant to tell meEF She sha&es her head. On the edge o: obli4ion it comes bac& to me that my :ingers# running o4er her buttoc&s# ha4e :elt a phantom crisscross o: ridges under the s&in. FNothing is $orse than $hat $e can imagine#F I mumble. She gi4es no sign that she has e4en heard me. I slump on the couch# dra$ing her do$n beside me# ya$ning. F/ell me#F I $ant to
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say# FdonBt ma&e a mystery o: it# pain is only painFG but $ords elude me. 5y arm :olds around her# my lips are at the hollo$ o: her ear# I struggle to spea&G then blac&ness :alls. *** I ha4e relie4ed her o: the shame o: begging and installed her in the barrac&s &itchen as a sculleryAmaid. F<rom the &itchen to the 5agistrateBs bed in si;teen easy stepsFthat is ho$ the soldiers tal& o: the &itchenmaids. *nother o: their sayingsD F-hat is the last thing the 5agistrate does $hen he lea4es in the morningE"e shuts his latest girl in the o4en.F /he smaller a to$n the more richly it hums $ith gossip. /here are no pri4ate a::airs here. Gossip is the air $e breathe. <or part o: the day she $ashes dishes# peels 4egetables# helps to ba&e bread and prepare the humdrum round o: porridge# soup and ste$ that the soldiers are :ed. /here are# besides her# the old lady $ho has ruled o4er the &itchen almost as long as I ha4e been magistrate# and t$o girls# the younger o: $hom ascended the si;teen stairs once or t$ice last year. *t :irst I am a:raid these t$o $ill band together against herG but no# they seem Cuic&ly to ma&e :riends. Passing the &itchen door on my $ay out I hear# mu::led by the steamy $armth# 4oices# so:t chatter# giggles. I am amused to detect in mysel: the :aintest stab o: @ealousy. FIo you mind the $or&EF I as& her. FI li&e the other girls. /hey are nice.F F*t least itBs better than begging# isnBt itEF F%es.F /he three girls sleep together in a small room a :e$ doors :rom the &itchen# i: they do not happen to be sleeping
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else$here. It is to this room that she :inds her $ay in the dar& i: I send her a$ay in the night or the early morning. No doubt her :riends ha4e prattled about these trysts o: hers# and the details are all o4er the mar&etplace. /he older a man the more grotesCue people :ind his couplings# li&e the spasms o: a dying animal. I cannot play the part o: a man o: iron or a saintly $ido$er. Sniggers# @o&es# &no$ing loo&sthese are part o: the price I am resigned to paying. FIo you li&e it# li4ing in a to$nEF I as& her cautiously. FI li&e it most o: the time. /here is more to do.F F*re there things you missEF FI miss my sister.F FI: you really $ant to go bac&#F I say# FI $ill ha4e you ta&en.F F/a&en $hereEF she says. She lies on her bac& $ith her hands placidly o4er her breasts. I lie beside her# spea&ing so:tly. /his is $here the brea& al$ays :alls. /his is $here my hand# caressing her belly# seems as a$&$ard as a lobster. /he erotic impulse# i: that is $hat it has been# $ithersG $ith surprise I see mysel: clutched to this stolid girl# unable to remember $hat I e4er desired in her# angry $ith mysel: :or $anting and not $anting her. She hersel: is obli4ious o: my s$ings o: mood. "er days ha4e begun to settle into a routine $ith $hich she seems content. In the morning a:ter I ha4e le:t she comes to s$eep and dust the apartment. /hen she helps in the &itchen $ith the midday meal. "er a:ternoons are mainly her o$n. *:ter the e4ening meal# a:ter all the pots and pans ha4e been scoured# the :loor $ashed# the :ire damped# she lea4es her :ello$s and pic&s her $ay up the stairs to me. She undresses and lies do$n# $aiting :or my
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ine;plicable attentions. Perhaps I sit beside her stro&ing her body# $aiting :or a :lush o: blood that ne4er truly comes. Perhaps I simply blo$ out the lamp and settle do$n $ith her. In the dar& she soon :orgets me and :alls asleep. So I lie beside this healthy young body $hile it &nits itsel: in sleep into e4er sturdier health# $or&ing in silence e4en at the points o: irremediable damage# the eyes# the :eet# to be $hole again. I cast my mind bac&# trying to reco4er an image o: her as she $as be:ore. I must belie4e that I sa$ her on the day she $as brought in by the soldiers roped nec& to nec& $ith the other barbarian prisoners. I &no$ that my gaHe must ha4e passed o4er her $hen# together $ith the others# she sat in the barrac&s yard $aiting :or $hate4er $as to happen ne;t. 5y eye passed o4er herG but I ha4e no memory o: that passage. On that day she $as still unmar&edG but I must belie4e she $as unmar&ed as I must belie4e she $as once a child# a little girl in pigtails running a:ter her pet lamb in a uni4erse $here some$here :ar a$ay I strode in the pride o: my li:e. Strain as I $ill# my :irst image remains o: the &neeling beggarAgirl. I ha4e not entered her. <rom the beginning my desire has not ta&en on that direction# that directedness. +odging my dry old manBs member in that bloodAhot sheath ma&es me thin& o: acid in mil&# ashes in honey# chal& in bread. -hen I loo& at her na&ed body and my o$n# I :ind it impossible to belie4e that once upon a time I imagined the human :orm as a :lo$er radiating out :rom a &ernel in the loins. /hese bodies o: hers and mine are di::use# gaseous# centreless# at one moment spinning about a 4orte; here# at another curdling# thic&ening else$hereG but o:ten also :lat# blan&. I &no$ $hat to do $ith her no more than one cloud in the s&y &no$s $hat to do $ith another. I $atch her as she undresses# hoping to capture in her
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mo4ements a hint o: an old :ree state. But e4en the motion $ith $hich she pulls the smoc& up o4er her head and thro$s it aside is crabbed# de:ensi4e# trammelled# as though she $ere a:raid o: stri&ing unseen obstacles. "er :ace has the loo& o: something that &no$s itsel: $atched. <rom a trapper I ha4e bought a little sil4erA:o; cub. It is no more than a :e$ months old# barely $eaned# $ith teeth li&e a :ine sa$Aedge. /he :irst day she too& it $ith her to the &itchen# but it $as terri:ied by the :ire and the noise# so no$ I &eep it upstairs# $here it co$ers all day under the :urniture. Iuring the night I sometimes hear the clic&Aclic& o: its cla$s on the $ooden :loors as it roams about. It laps :rom a saucer o: mil& and eats scraps o: coo&ed meat. It cannot be housetrainedG the rooms ha4e begun to smell o: its droppingsG but it is still too early to let it run loose in the yard. E4ery :e$ days I call in the coo&Bs grandson to cra$l behind the cabinet and under the chairs to clean up the mess. FItBs a 4ery pretty little creature#F I say. She shrugs. F*nimals belong outdoors.F FIo you $ant me to ta&e it to the la&e and let it goEF F%ou canBt do that# it is too young# it $ould star4e to death or dogs $ould catch it.F So the :o; cub stays. Sometimes I see its sharp snout pee&ing out :rom a dar& corner. Other$ise it is only a noise in the night and a per4asi4e tang o: urine as I $ait :or it to gro$ big enough to be disposed o:. FPeople $ill say I &eep t$o $ild animals in my rooms# a :o; and a girl.F She does not see the @o&e# or does not li&e it. "er lips close# her gaHe settles rigidly on the $all# I &no$ she is doing her best to glare at me. 5y heart goes out to her# but $hat can
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I doE -hether I appear to her dec&ed in my robes o: o::ice or $hether I stand na&ed be:ore her or $hether I tear open my breast :or her# I am the same man. FI am sorry#F I say# the $ords :alling inertly :rom my mouth. I reach out :i4e doughA :ingers and stro&e her hair. FO: course it is not the same.F *** One a:ter another I inter4ie$ those men $ho $ere on duty $hile the prisoners $ere being Cuestioned. <rom each I get the same accountD they hardly spo&e to the prisoners# they $ere not permitted to enter the room $here the interrogations too& place# they cannot tell me $hat $ent on in there. But :rom the s$eepingA$oman I get a description o: the room itsel:D F?ust a little table# and stools# three stools# and a mat in the corner# other$ise Cuite bare. . . No# no :ire# only a braHier. I used to empty out the ashes.F No$ that li:e has returned to normal the room is in use again. *t my reCuest the :our soldiers $ho are Cuartered there drag their chests out on to the gallery# pile their sleepingAmats# plates and mugs on top o: them# ta&e do$n their strings o: laundry. I close the door and stand in the empty room. /he air is still and cold. *lready the la&e is beginning to :reeHe o4er. /he :irst sno$s ha4e :allen. <ar a$ay I hear the bells o: a ponyAcart. I close my eyes and ma&e an e::ort to imagine the room as it must ha4e been t$o months ago during the 3olonelBs 4isitG but it is di::icult to lose mysel: in re4erie $ith the :our young men da$dling outside# cha:ing their hands together# stamping their :eet# murmuring# impatient :or me to go# their $arm breath :orming pu::s in the air. I &neel do$n to e;amine the :loor. It is clean# it is s$ept daily# it is li&e the :loor o: any room. *bo4e the :ireplace on
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the $all and ceiling there is soot. /here is also a mar& the siHe o: my hand $here soot has been rubbed into the $all. Other$ise the $alls are blan&. -hat signs can I be loo&ing :orE I open the door and motion to the men to bring their belongings bac&. * second time I inter4ie$ the t$o guards $ho $ere on duty in the yard. F/ell me e;actly $hat happened $hen prisoners $ere Cuestioned. /ell me $hat you yoursel4es sa$.F /he taller one replies# a boy $ith a long @a$ and an eager air $hom I ha4e al$ays li&ed. F/he o::icer. . .F F/he police o::icerEF F%es. . . /he police o::icer $ould come to the hall $here the prisoners $ere &ept and he $ould point. -e $ould :etch the prisoners he $anted and ta&e them out to be Cuestioned. *:ter$ards $e $ould ta&e them bac&.F FOne at a timeEF FNot al$ays. Sometimes t$o.F F%ou &no$ that one o: the prisoners a:ter$ards died. Io you remember that prisonerE Io you &no$ $hat they did to himEF F-e heard he $ent berser& and attac&ed them.F F%esEF F/hat is $hat $e heard. I helped to carry him bac& to the hall. -here they all slept. "e $as breathing strangely# 4ery deep and :ast. /hat $as the last I sa$ o: him. "e $as dead the ne;t day.F FGo on. I am listening. I $ant you to tell me e4erything you can remember.F /he boyBs :ace is strained. I am sure he has been ad4ised not to tal&. F/hat man $as Cuestioned longer than anyone else. I sa$ him sitting by himsel: in a corner# a:ter he had been in
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the :irst time# holding his head.F "is eyes :lic&er to$ards his companion. F"e $ould not eat anything. "e $as not hungry. "is daughter $as $ith himD she tried to ma&e him ta&e :ood but he $ould not.F F-hat happened to his daughterEF FShe $as also Cuestioned# but not so long.F FGo on.F But he has nothing more to tell me. F+isten#F I sayD F$e both &no$ $ho the daughter is. She is the girl $ho stays $ith me. It is not a secret. No$ go onD tell me $hat happened.F FI do not &no$# sirJ 5ost o: the time I $as not there.F "e appeals to his :riend# but his :riend is mute. FSometimes there $as screaming# I thin& they beat her# but I $as not there. -hen I came o:: duty I $ould go a$ay.F F%ou &no$ that today she cannot $al&. /hey bro&e her :eet. Iid they do these things to her in :ront o: the other man# her :atherEF F%es# I thin& so.F F*nd you &no$ that she cannot see properly any more. -hen did they do thatEF FSir# there $ere many prisoners to ta&e care o:# some o: them sic&J I &ne$ that her :eet $ere bro&en but I &ne$ nothing about her being blind till long a:ter$ards. /here $as nothing I could do# I did not $ant to become in4ol4ed in a matter I did not understandJF "is :riend has nothing to add. I dismiss them. FIo not be a:raid because you ha4e spo&en to me#F I say. In the night the dream comes bac&. I am trudging across the sno$ o: an endless plain to$ards a group o: tiny :igures playing around a sno$castle. *s I approach the children sidle
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a$ay or melt into the air. Only one :igure remains# a hooded child sitting $ith its bac& to me. I circle around the child# $ho continues to pat sno$ on the sides o: the castle# till I can peer under the hood. /he :ace I see is blan&# :eaturelessG it is the :ace o: an embryo or a tiny $haleG it is not a :ace at all but another part o: the human body that bulges under the s&inG it is $hiteG it is the sno$ itsel:. Bet$een numb :ingers I hold out a coin. *** -inter has settled in. /he $ind blo$s :rom the north# and $ill blo$ incessandy :or the ne;t :our months. Standing at the $indo$ $ith my :orehead against the cold glass I hear it $histle in the ea4es# li:ting and dropping a loose roo:Atile. <lurries o: dust chase across the sCuare# dust patters against the pane. /he s&y is :ull o: :ine dust# the sun s$ims up into an orange s&y and sets copperAred. No$ and again there are sCualls o: sno$ $hich brie:ly :lec& the earth $ith $hite. /he siege o: $inter is on. /he :ields are empty# no one has reason to go outside the to$n $alls e;cept those :e$ $ho ma&e a li4elihood by hunting. /he t$iceA$ee&ly parade o: the garrison has been suspended# the soldiers ha4e permission to Cuit the barrac&s i: they $ish and li4e in the to$n# :or there is little :or them to do but drin& and sleep. -hen I $al& the ramparts in the early morning hal: the $atchposts are empty and the numbed sentries on duty# s$athed in :urs# struggle to raise a hand in salute. /hey might as $ell be in their beds. <or the duration o: the $inter the Empire is sa:eD beyond the eyeBs reach the barbarians too# huddled about their sto4es# are gritting their teeth against the cold. /here ha4e been no barbarian 4isitors this year. It used
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to be that groups o: nomads $ould 4isit the settlement in $inter to pitch their tents outside the $alls and engage in barter# e;changing $ool# s&ins# :elts and leather$or& :or cotton goods# tea# sugar# beans# :lour. -e priHe barbarian leather$or&# particularly the sturdy boots they se$. In the past I ha4e encouraged commerce but :orbidden payment in money. I ha4e also tried to &eep the ta4erns closed to them. *bo4e all I do not $ant to see a parasite settlement gro$ up on the :ringes o: the to$n populated $ith beggars and 4agrants ensla4ed to strong drin&. It al$ays pained me in the old days to see these people :all 4ictim to the guile o: shop&eepers# e;changing their goods :or trin&ets# lying drun& in the gutter# and con:irming thereby the settlersB litany o: pre@udiceD that barbarians are laHy# immoral# :ilthy# stupid. -here ci4iliHation entailed the corruption o: barbarian 4irtues and the creation o: a dependent people# I decided# I $as opposed to ci4iliHationG and upon this resolution I based the conduct o: my administration. 6I say this $ho no$ &eep a barbarian girl :or my bedJ7 But this year a curtain has :allen all along the :rontier. <rom our ramparts $e stare out o4er the $astes. <or all $e &no$# &eener eyes than ours stare bac&. 3ommerce is at an end. Since the ne$s arri4ed :rom the capital that $hate4er might be necessary to sa:eguard the Empire $ould be done# regardless o: cost# $e ha4e returned to an age o: raids and armed 4igilance. /here is nothing to do but &eep our s$ords bright# $atch and $ait. I spend my time in my old recreations. I read the classicsG I continue to catalogue my 4arious collectionsG I collate $hat maps $e ha4e o: the southern desert regionG on days $hen the $ind does not bite so &eenly I ta&e out a party o: diggers to clear dri:tAsand :rom the e;ca4ationsG and once
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or t$ice a $ee& I set o:: by mysel: in the early morning to hunt antelope along the la&eshore. * generation ago there $ere antelope and hares in such numbers that $atchmen $ith dogs had to patrol the :ields by night to protect the young $heat. But under pressure :rom the settlement# particularly :rom dogs running $ild and hunting in pac&s# the antelope ha4e retreated east$ard and north$ard to the lo$er reaches o: the ri4er and the :ar shore. No$ the hunter must be prepared to ride at least an hour be:ore he can begin his stal&. Sometimes# on a good morning# I am enabled to li4e again all the strength and s$i:tness o: my manhood. +i&e a $raith I glide :rom bra&e to bra&e. Shod in boots that ha4e soa&ed in thirty years o: grease# I $ade through icy $ater. O4er my coat I $ear my huge old bears&in. 1ime :orms on my beard but my :ingers are $arm in their mittens. 5y eyes are sharp# my hearing is &een# I sni:: the air li&e a hound# I :eel a pure e;hilaration. /oday I lea4e my horse hobbled $here the line o: marshgrass ends on the blea& southA$est shore and begin to push my $ay through the reeds. /he $ind blo$s chill and dry straight into my eyes# the sun is suspended li&e an orange on an horiHon strea&ed blac& and purple. *lmost at once# $ith absurd good :ortune# I come upon a $aterbuc&# a ram $ith hea4y cur4ed horns# shaggy in his $inter coat# standing side$ays on to me# teetering as he stretches up :or the reedA tips. <rom not thirty paces I see the placid circular motion o: his @a$# hear the splash o: his hoo4es. *round his :etloc&s I can ma&e out circlets o: iceAdrops. I am barely attuned yet to my surroundingsG still# as the ram li:ts himsel:# :olding his :orelegs under his chest# I slide the gun up and sight behind his shoulder. /he mo4ement is
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smooth and steady# but perhaps the sun glints on the barrel# :or in his descent he turns his head and sees me. "is hoo4es touch ice $ith a clic&# his @a$ stops in midAmotion# $e gaHe at each other. 5y pulse does not Cuic&enD e4idently it is not important to me that the ram die. "e che$s again# a single scythe o: the @a$s# and stops. In the clear silence o: the morning I :ind an obscure sentiment lur&ing at the edge o: my consciousness. -ith the buc& be:ore me suspended in immobility# there seems to be time :or all things# time e4en to turn my gaHe in$ard and see $hat it is that has robbed the hunt o: its sa4ourD the sense that this has become no longer a morningBs hunting but an occasion on $hich either the proud ram bleeds to deam on the ice or the old hunter misses his aimG that :or the duration o: this :roHen moment the stars are loc&ed in a con:iguration in $hich e4ents are not themsel4es but stand :or other things. Behind my paltry co4er I stand trying to shrug o:: this irritating and uncanny :eeling# till the buc& $heels and $ith a $his& o: his tail and a brie: splash o: hoo4es disappears into the tall reeds. I trudge on purposelessly :or an hour be:ore I turn bac&. FNe4er be:ore ha4e I had the :eeling o: not li4ing my o$n li:e on my o$n terms#F I tell the girl# struggling to e;plain $hat happened. She is unsettled by tal& li&e this# by the demand I seem to be ma&ing on her to respond. FI do not see#F she says. She sha&es her head. FIidnBt you $ant to shoot this buc&EF <or a long $hile there is silence bet$een us. FI: you $ant to do something# you do it#F she says 4ery :irmly. She is ma&ing an e::ort to be clearG but perhaps she intends# FI: you had $anted to do it you $ould ha4e done it.F In the ma&eshi:t language $e share there are no nuances. She
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has a :ondness :or :acts# I note# :or pragmatic dictaG she disli&es :ancy# Cuestions# speculationsG $e are an illAmatched couple. Perhaps that is ho$ barbarian children are brought upD to li4e by rote# by the $isdom o: the :athers as handed do$n. F*nd you#F I say. FIo you do $hate4er you $antEF I ha4e a sense o: letting go# o: being carried dangerously :ar by the $ords. F*re you here in bed $ith me because it is $hat you $antEF She lies na&ed# her oiled s&in glo$ing a 4egetal gold in the :irelight. /here are momentsI :eel the onset o: one no$$hen the desire I :eel :or her# usually so obscure# :lic&ers into a shape I can recogniHe. 5y hand stirs# stro&es her# :its itsel: to the contour o: her breast. She does not ans$er my $ords# but I plunge on# embracing her tightly# spea&ing thic& and mu::led into her earD F3ome# tell me $hy you are here.F FBecause there is no$here else to go.F F*nd $hy do I $ant you hereEF She $riggles in my grasp# clenches her hand into a :ist bet$een her chest and mine. F%ou $ant to tal& all the time#F she complains. /he simplicity o: the moment is o4erG $e separate and lie silent side by side. -hat bird has the heart to sing in a thic&et o: thornsE F%ou should not go hunting i: you do not en@oy it.F I sha&e my head. /hat is not the meaning o: the story# but $hat is the use o: arguingE I am li&e an incompetent schoolmaster# :ishing about $ith my maieutic :orceps $hen I ought to be :illing her $ith the truth. She spea&s. F%ou are al$ays as&ing me that Cuestion# so I $ill no$ tell you. It $as a :or&# a &ind o: :or& $ith only t$o teeth. /here $ere little &nobs on the teeth to ma&e them blunt.
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/hey put it in the coals till it $as hot# then they touched you $ith it# to burn you. I sa$ the mar&s $here they had burned people.F Is this the Cuestion I as&edE I $ant to protest but instead listen on# chilled. F/hey did not burn me. /hey said they $ould burn my eyes out# but they did not. /he man brought it 4ery close to my :ace and made me loo& at it. /hey held my eyelids open. But I had nothing to tell them. /hat $as all. F/hat $as $hen the damage came. *:ter that I could not see properly any more. /here $as a blur in the middle o: e4erything I loo&ed atG I could see only around the edges. It is di::icult to e;plain. FBut no$ it is getting better. /he le:t eye is getting better. /hat is all.F I ta&e her :ace bet$een my hands and stare into the dead centres o: her eyes# :rom $hich t$in re:lections o: mysel: stare solemnly bac&. F*nd thisEF I say# touching the $ormAli&e sear in the corner. F/hat is nothing. /hat is $here the iron touched me. It made a little burn. It is not sore.F She pushes my hands a$ay. F-hat do you :eel to$ards the men $ho did thisEF She lies thin&ing a long time. /hen she says# FI am tired o: tal&ing.F *** /here are other times $hen I su::er :its o: resentment against my bondage to the ritual o: the oiling and rubbing# the dro$siness# the slump into obli4ion. I cease to comprehend $hat pleasure I can e4er ha4e :ound in her obstinate# phlegmatic body# and e4en disco4er in mysel: stirrings o:
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outrage. I become $ithdra$n# irritableG the girl turns her bac& and goes to sleep. In this moody state I pay a 4isit one e4ening to the rooms on the second :loor o: the inn. *s I climb the ric&ety outside stair$ay a man I do not recogniHe hurries do$n past me# duc&ing his head. I &noc& at the second door along the corridor and enter. /he room is @ust as I remember itD the bed neatly made# the shel: abo4e it pac&ed $ith trin&ets and toys# t$o candles burning# a glo$ o: $armth coming :rom the great :lue that runs along the $all# an odour o: orangeAblossom in the air. /he girl hersel: is occupied in :ront o: the mirror. She gi4es a start at my entry# but rises smiling to $elcome me and bolts the door. Nothing seems more natural than to seat her on the bed and begin to undress her. -ith little shrugs she helps me bare her trim body. F"o$ I ha4e missed youJF she sighs. F-hat a pleasure to be bac&JF I $hisper. *nd $hat a pleasure to be lied to so :latteringlyJ I embrace her# bury mysel: in her# lose mysel: in her so:t birdAli&e :lurries. /he body o: the other one# closed# ponderous# sleeping in my bed in a :ara$ay room# seems beyond comprehension. Occupied in these sua4e pleasures# I cannot imagine $hat e4er dre$ me to that alien body. /he girl in my arms :lutters# pants# cries as she comes to a clima;. Smiling $ith @oy# sliding into a languorous hal:A sleep# it occurs to me that I cannot e4en recall the other oneBs :ace. FShe is incompleteJF I say to mysel:. /hough the thought begins to :loat a$ay at once# I cling to it. I ha4e a 4ision o: her closed eyes and closed :ace :ilming o4er $ith s&in. Blan&# li&e a :ist beneath a blac& $ig# the :ace gro$s out o: the throat and out o: the blan& body beneath it# $ithout aperture# $ithout entry. I shudder $ith re4ulsion in the arms o: my little birdA $oman# hug her to me. -hen later in the middle o: the night I ease mysel: out
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o: her arms# she $himpers but does not a$a&en. I dress in the dar&# close the door behind me# grope my $ay do$n the stairs# hurry bac& home $ith sno$ crunching under:oot and an icy $ind boring into my bac&. I light a candle and bend o4er the :orm to $hich# it seems# I am in a measure ensla4ed. +ightly I trace the lines o: her :ace $ith my :ingertipD the clear @a$# the high chee&bones# the $ide mouth. +ightly I touch her eyelids. I am sure she is a$a&e# though she gi4es no sign. I shut my eyes# breathe deeply to still my agitation# and concentrate $holly on seeing her through my blind :ingertips. Is she prettyE /he girl I ha4e @ust le:t# the girl she may perhaps 6I suddenly realiHe7 smell on me# is 4ery pretty# there is no Cuestion about thatD the acuteAness o: my pleasure in her is sharpened by the elegance o: her tiny body# its manners# its mo4ements. But o: this one there is nothing I can say $ith certainty. /here is no lin& I can de:ine bet$een her $omanhood and my desire. I cannot e4en say :or sure that I desire her. *ll this erotic beha4iour o: mine is indirectD I pro$l about her# touching her :ace# caressing her body# $ithout entering her or :inding the urge to do so. I ha4e @ust come :rom the bed o: a $oman :or $hom# in the year I ha4e &no$n her# I ha4e not :or a moment had to interrogate my desireD to desire her has meant to en:old her and enter her# to pierce her sur:ace and stir the Cuiet o: her interior into an ecstatic stormG then to retreat# to subside# to $ait :or desire to reconstitute itsel:. But $ith this $oman it is as i: there is no interior# only a sur:ace across $hich I hunt bac& and :orth see&ing entry. Is this ho$ her torturers :elt hunting their secret# $hate4er they thought it $asE <or the :irst time I :eel a dry pity :or themD ho$ natural a mista&e to belie4e that you can burn or tear or hac& your $ay into the secret body o: the otherJ /he girl lies
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in my bed# but there is no good reason $hy it should be a bed. I beha4e in some $ays li&e a lo4erI undress her# I bathe her# I stro&e her# I sleep beside herbut I might eCually $ell tie her to a chair and beat her# it $ould be no less intimate. It is not that something is in the course o: happening to me that happens to some men o: a certain age# a do$n$ard progress :rom libertinage to 4enge:ul actions o: impotent yearning. I: a change in my moral being $ere occurring I $ould :eel itG nor $ould I ha4e underta&en this e4eningBs reassuring e;periment. I am the same man I al$ays $asG but time has bro&en# something has :allen in upon me :rom the s&y# at random# :rom no$hereD this body in my bed# :or $hich I am responsible# or so it seems# other$ise $hy do I &eep itE <or the time being# perhaps :ore4er# I am simply be$ildered. It seems all one $hether I lie do$n beside her and :all asleep or :old her in a sheet and bury her in the sno$. Ne4ertheless# bending o4er her# touching my :ingertips to her :orehead# I am care:ul not to spill the $a;. -hether she guesses $here I ha4e been I cannot decideG but the ne;t night# $hen I am lulled almost to sleep by the rhythm o: the oiling and rubbing# I :eel my hand stopped# held# guided do$n bet$een her legs. <or a $hile it rests against her se;G then I sha&e more o: the $arm oil on to my :ingers and begin to caress her. Kuic&ly the tension gathers in her bodyG she arches and shudders and pushes my hand a$ay. I continue to rub her body till I too rela; and am o4erta&en $ith sleep. I e;perience no e;citement during this the most collaborati4e act $e ha4e yet underta&en. It brings me no closer to her and seems to a::ect her as little. I search her :ace the ne;t morningD it is blan&. She dresses and stumbles do$n to her day in the &itchen. I am disCuieted. F-hat do I ha4e to do to mo4e youEFD
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these are the $ords I hear in my head in the subterranean murmur that has begun to ta&e the place o: con4ersation. FIoes no one mo4e youEFG and $ith a shi:t o: horror I behold the ans$er that has been $aiting all the time o::er itsel: to me in the image o: a :ace mas&ed by t$o blac& glassy insect eyes :rom $hich there comes no reciprocal gaHe but only my doubled image cast bac& at me. I sha&e my head in a :ury o: disbelie:. No! No! No! I cry to mysel:. It is I $ho am seducing mysel:# out o: 4anity# into these meanings and correspondences. -hat depra4ity is it that is creeping upon meE I search :or secrets and ans$ers# no matter ho$ biHarre# li&e an old $oman reading teaAlea4es. /here is nothing to lin& me $ith torturers# people $ho sit $aiting li&e beetles in dar& cellars. "o$ can I belie4e that a bed is anything but a bed# a $omanBs body anything but a site o: @oyE I must assert my distance :rom 3olonel ?ollJ I $ill not su::er :or his crimesJ *** I begin to 4isit the girl at the inn regularly. /here are moments during the day# in my o::ice behind the courtroom# $hen my attention $anders and I dri:t into erotic re4erie# gro$ hot and s$ollen $ith e;citement# linger o4er her body li&e a moony lust:ul youthG then reluctantly I ha4e to recall mysel: to the tedium o: paper$or& or $al& o4er to the $indo$ and stare into the street. I remember ho$ in the :irst years o: my appointment here I used to roam the obscurer Cuarters o: the to$n to$ard dus&# shado$ing my :ace in my cloa&G ho$ sometimes a restless $i:e# leaning o4er the hal:Adoor $ith the hearth:ire gleaming behind her# $ould ans$er my gaHe $ithout :linchingG ho$ I $ould :all into con4ersation $ith
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young girls promenading in t$os and threes# buy them sherbet# then perhaps lead one a$ay into the dar&ness to the old granary and a bed o: sac&s. I: there $as anything to be en4ied in a posting to the :rontier# my :riends told me# it $as the easy morals o: the oases# the long scented summer e4enings# the complaisant sloeAeyed $omen. <or years I $ore the $ellA:ed loo& o: a priHe boar. +ater that promiscuity modulated into more discreet relations $ith house&eepers and girls lodged sometimes upstairs in my rooms but more o:ten do$nstairs $ith the &itchen help# and into liaisons $ith girls at the inn. I :ound that I needed $omen less :reCuentlyG I spent more time on my $or&# my hobbies# my antiCuarianism# my cartography. Not only thatG there $ere unsettling occasions $hen in the middle o: the se;ual act I :elt mysel: losing my $ay li&e a storyteller losing the thread o: his story. I thought $ith a shi4er o: those :igures o: :un# :at old men $hose o4erburdened hearts stop beating# $ho pass a$ay in the arms o: their lo4es $ith an apology on their lips and ha4e to be carried out and dumped in a dar& alley to sa4e the reputation o: the house. /he clima; to the act itsel: became remote# puny# an oddity. Sometimes I dri:ted to a halt# sometimes $ent mechanically through to the end. <or $ee&s and months I $ould retire into celibacy. /he old delight in the $armth and shapeliness o: $omenBs bodies did not desert me# but there $as a ne$ puHHlement. Iid I really $ant to enter and claim possession o: these beauti:ul creaturesE Iesire seemed to bring $ith it a pathos o: distance and separation $hich it $as :utile to deny. Nor could I al$ays see $hy one part o: my body# $ith its unreasonable cra4ings and :alse promises# should be heeded o4er any other as a channel o: desire. Sometimes my se; seemed to me another being entirely# a stupid animal li4ing parasitically upon me# s$elling and d$indling according to
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autonomous appetites# anchored to my :lesh $ith cla$s I could not detach. -hy do I ha4e to carry you about :rom $oman to $oman# I as&edD simply because you $ere born $ithout legsE -ould it ma&e any di::erence to you i: you $ere rooted in a cat or a dog instead o: in meE %et at other times# and particularly in the last year# $ith the girl $hose nic&name at the inn is /he Star but $hom I ha4e al$ays thought o: as a bird# I :elt again the po$er o: the old sensual enchantment# s$am out into her body and $as transported to the old limits o: pleasure. So I thoughtD FIt is nothing but a matter o: age# o: cycles o: desire and apathy in a body that is slo$ly cooling and dying. -hen I $as young the mere smell o: a $oman $ould arouse meG no$ it is e4idently only the s$eetest# the youngest# the ne$est $ho ha4e that po$er. One o: these days it $ill be little boys.F -ith some distaste I loo&ed :or$ard to my last years in this bounti:ul oasis. /hree nights in succession# no$# I 4isit her in her little room# bringing presents o: cananga oil# s$eets# and a @ar o: the smo&ed :ishAroe I &no$ she lo4es to $ol: do$n in pri4ate. -hen I embrace her she closes her eyesG tremors o: $hat seem to be delight run through her. /he :riend $ho :irst recommended her to me spo&e o: her talentsD FIt is all playacting o: course#F he said# Fbut in her case the di::erence is that she belie4es in the role she plays.F <or mysel:# I :ind I do not care. 3apti4ated by her per:ormance# I open my eyes in the midst o: all the :luttering and shi4ering and moaning# then sin& bac& into the dar& ri4er o: my o$n pleasure. I spend three days o: sensual languor# hea4yAlidded# slee&ly aroused# daydreaming. I return to my rooms a:ter midnight and slip into bed# paying no attention to the obdurate :orm beside me. I: I am $o&en in the morning by the sound o:
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her preparations# I :eign sleep till she is gone. Once# happening to pass the open &itchen door# I glance in. /hrough $raiths o: steam I see a stoc&y girl seated at a table preparing :ood. FI &no$ $ho that is#F I thin& to mysel: $ith surpriseG ne4ertheless# the image that persists in my memory as I cross the yard is o: the pile o: green marro$s on the table in :ront o: her. Ieliberately I try to shi:t my mindBs gaHe :rom the marro$s bac& to the hands that slice them# and :rom the hands to the :ace. I detect in mysel: a reluctance# a resistance. 5y regard remains daHedly :i;ed on the marro$s# on the gleam o: light on their $et s&ins. *s i: $ith a $ill o: its o$n# it does not mo4e. So I begin to :ace the truth o: $hat I am trying to doD to obliterate the girl. I realiHe that i: I too& a pencil to s&etch her :ace I $ould not &no$ $here to start. Is she truly so :eaturelessE -ith an e::ort I concentrate my mind on her. I see a :igure in a cap and hea4y shapeless coat standing unsteadily# bent :or$ard# straddleAlegged# supporting itsel: on stic&s. "o$ ugly# I say to mysel:. 5y mouth :orms the ugly $ord. I am surprised by it but I do not resistD she is ugly# ugly. I come bac& on the :ourth night in a bad temper# thrashing about my rooms noisily# not caring $ho is $o&en. /he e4ening has been a :ailure# the current o: rene$ed desire is bro&en. I thro$ my boots on the :loor and climb into bed spoiling :or a Cuarrel# longing :or someone to blame# ashamed too o: my childishness. -hat this $oman beside me is doing in my li:e I cannot comprehend. /he thought o: the strange ecstasies I ha4e approached through the medium o: her incomplete body :ills me $ith a dry re4ulsion# as i: I had spent nights copulating $ith a dummy o: stra$ and leather. -hat could I e4er ha4e seen in herE I try to recall her as she $as be:ore the doctors o: pain began their ministrations. It is
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impossible that my gaHe did not pass o4er her as she sat $ith the other barbarian prisoners in the yard the day they $ere brought in. Some$here in the honeycomb o: my brain# I am con4inced# the memory is lodgedG but I am unable to bring it bac&. I can remember the $oman $ith the baby# e4en the baby itsel:. I can remember e4ery detailD the :rayed edge o: the $oollen sha$l# the patina o: s$eat under the $isps o: :ine babyAhair. I can remember the bony hands o: the man $ho diedG I belie4e I can e4en# $ith an e::ort# recompose his :ace. But beside him# $here the girl should be# there is a space# a blan&ness. I $a&e up in the night $ith the girl sha&ing me and the echo o: a thin moan still hanging in the air. F%ou $ere shouting in your sleep#F she says. F%ou $o&e me up.F F-hat $as I shoutingEF She mumbles something# turns her bac& on me. +ater in the night she $a&es me againD F%ou $ere shouting.F /hic&Aheaded and con:used# angry too# I try to loo& into mysel: but see only a 4orte; and at the heart o: the 4orte; obli4ion. FIs it a dreamEF she says. FI cannot remember any dream.F 3an it be that the dream o: the hooded child building the sno$Acastle has been coming bac&E I: it has# surely the taste or the smell or the a:terglo$ o: the dream $ould linger $ith me. F/here is something I must as& you#F I say. FIo you remember $hen you $ere brought here# into the barrac&s yard# :or the :irst timeE /he guards made you all sit do$n. -here did you sitE -hich $ay did you :aceEF /hrough the $indo$ I can see strea&s o: cloud racing
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across the :ace o: the moon. Out o: the dar&ness beside me she spea&sD F/hey made us sit together in the shade. I $as ne;t to my :ather.F I summon up the image o: her :ather. In silence I try to reAcreate the heat# the dust# the smell o: all those tired bodies. In the shade o: the barrac&s $all I seat the prisoners one by one# all that I can remember. I put together the $oman $ith the baby# her $oollen sha$l# her bare breast. /he baby $ails# I hear the $ail# it is too tired to drin&. /he mother# bedraggled# thirsty# loo&s at me# $ondering i: I can be appealed to. Ne;t come t$o haHy :orms. "aHy but presentD I &no$ that $ith an e::ort hal: o: memory# hal: o: imagination# I can :ill them out. /hen comes the girlBs :ather# his bony hands :olded be:ore him. "is cap is tipped o4er his eyes# he does not loo& up. No$ I turn to the space beside him. FOn $hich side o: your :ather $ere you sittingEF FI sat to his right.F /he space to the right o: the man remains blan&. 3oncentrating pain:ully I see e4en the indi4idual pebbles on the earth beside him and the te;ture o: the $all behind. F/ell me $hat you $ere doing.F FNothing. -e $ere all 4ery tired. -e had $al&ed since be:ore da$n. -e stopped to rest only once. -e $ere tired and thirsty.F FIid you see meEF F%es# $e all sa$ you.F I clasp my arms around my &nees and concentrate. /he space beside the man remains empty# but a :aint sense o: the presence o: the girl# an aura# begins to emerge. Now! I urge mysel:D no$ I $ill open my eyes and she $ill be thereJ I open my eyes. In the dim light I ma&e out her shape beside me.
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-ith a rush o: :eeling I stretch out to touch her hair# her :ace. /here is no ans$ering li:e. It is li&e caressing an urn or a ball# something $hich is all sur:ace. FI ha4e been trying to remember you as you $ere be:ore all this happened#F I say. FI :ind it di::icult. It is a pity you canBt tell me.F I do not e;pect a denial# and it does not come. *** * detachment o: ne$ conscripts has arri4ed to ta&e the places o: men $ho ha4e completed their threeAyear spell on the :rontier and are ready to lea4e :or their homes. /he detachment is led by a young o::icer $ho is to @oin the sta:: here. I in4ite him# $ith t$o o: his colleagues# to dine $ith me at the inn. /he e4ening goes $ellD the :ood is good# the drin& plenti:ul# my guest has stories to tell about his @ourney# underta&en in a hard season in a region $holly :oreign to him. "e lost three men on the $ay# he saysD one le:t his tent in the night to ans$er a call o: nature and ne4er returnedG t$o more deserted almost $ithin sight o: the oasis# slipping a$ay to hide in the reeds. /roublema&ers# he calls them# $hom he $as not sorry to be rid o:. Still# do I not thin& their desertion $as :oolishE 2ery :oolish# I replyG has he any idea $hy they desertedE No# he saysD they $ere :airly treated# e4eryone $as :airly treatedG but then o: course conscripts. . . "e shrugs. /hey $ould ha4e done better to desert earlier# I suggest. /he country around here is inhospitable. /hey are dead men i: they ha4e not :ound shelter by no$. -e spea& o: the barbarians. "e is con4inced# he says# that :or part o: the $ay he $as trailed at a distance by
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barbarians. *re you sure they $ere barbariansE I as&. -ho else could they ha4e beenE he replies. "is colleagues concur. I li&e this young manBs energy# his interest in the ne$ sights o: the :rontier region. "is achie4ement in bringing his men through in this dead season is commendable. -hen our companions plead the lateness o: the hour and depart# I press him to stay. Past midnight $e sit tal&ing and drin&ing. I hear the latest ne$s :rom the capital# $hich I ha4e not seen :or so long. I tell him o: some o: the places I loo& bac& on $ith nostalgiaD the pa4ilion gardens $here musicians per:orm :or the strolling cro$ds and oneBs :eet rustle through :allen autumn chestnut lea4esG a bridge I remember :rom $hich one sees the re:lection o: the moon on the $ater that ripples around the pediments in the shape o: a :lo$er o: paradise. F/he rumour going about brigade headCuarters#F he says# Fis that there $ill be a general o::ensi4e against the barbarians in the spring to push them bac& :rom the :rontier into the mountains.F I am sorry to brea& o:: the train o: reminiscing. I do not $ant to end the e4ening $ith a $rangle. Ne4ertheless I respond. FI am sure it is only a rumourD they cannot seriously intend to do that. /he people $e call barbarians are nomads# they migrate bet$een the lo$lands and the uplands e4ery year# that is their $ay o: li:e. /hey $ill ne4er permit themsel4es to be bottled up in the mountains.F "e loo&s at me oddly. <or the :irst time this e4ening I :eel a barrier descend# the barrier bet$een the military and the ci4ilian. FBut surely#F he says# Fi: $e are to be :ran&# that is $hat $ar is aboutD compelling a choice on someone $ho $ould not other$ise ma&e it.F "e sur4eys me $ith the arrogant candour o: a young graduate o: the -ar 3ollege. I am sure that he is remembering the story# $hich must by no$
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ha4e gone the rounds# o: ho$ I $ithheld my coAoperation :rom an o::icer o: the Bureau. I thin& I &no$ $hat he sees be:ore himD a minor ci4ilian administrator sun&# a:ter years in this bac&$ater# in sloth:ul nati4e $ays# outmoded in his thin&ing# ready to gamble the security o: the Empire :or a ma&eshi:t# insecure peace. "e leans :or$ard# $earing an air o: de:erential boyish puHHlementD I am more and more con4inced he is playing $ith me. F/ell me# sir# in con:idence#F he says# F$hat are these barbarians dissatis:ied aboutE -hat do they $ant :rom usEF I ought to be cautious but I am not. I ought to ya$n# e4ade his Cuestion# end the e4eningG but I :ind mysel: rising to the bait. 6-hen $ill I learn to &eep a cunning tongueE7 F/hey $ant an end to the spread o: settlements across their land. /hey $ant their land bac&# :inally. /hey $ant to be :ree to mo4e about $ith their :loc&s :rom pasture to pasture as they used to.F It is not too late to put a stop to the lecture. Instead I hear my 4oice rise in tone and abandon mysel: regret:ully to the into;ication o: anger. FI $ill say nothing o: the recent raids carried out on them# Cuite $ithout @usti:ication# and :ollo$ed by acts o: $anton cruelty# since the security o: the Empire $as at sta&e# or so I am told. It $ill ta&e years to patch up the damage done in those :e$ days. But let that pass# let me rather tell you $hat I :ind disheartening as an administrator# e4en in times o: peace# e4en $hen border relations are good. /here is a time in the year# you &no$# $hen the nomads 4isit us to trade. -ellD go to any stall in the mar&et during that time and see $ho gets shortA$eighted and cheated and shouted at and bullied. See $ho is :orced to lea4e his $omen:ol& behind in the camp :or :ear they $ill be insulted by the soldiers. See $ho lies drun& in the gutter# and see $ho &ic&s him $here he lies. It is this contempt :or the
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barbarians# contempt $hich is sho$n by the meanest ostler or peasant :armer# that I as magistrate ha4e had to contend $ith :or t$enty years. "o$ do you eradicate contempt# especially $hen that contempt is :ounded on nothing more substantial than di::erences in table manners# 4ariations in the structure o: the eyelidE Shall I tell you $hat I sometimes $ishE I $ish that these barbarians $ould rise up and teach us a lesson# so that $e $ould learn to respect them. -e thin& o: the country here as ours# part o: our Empireour outpost# our setdement# our mar&et centre. But these people# these barbarians donBt thin& o: it li&e that at all. -e ha4e been here more than a hundred years# $e ha4e reclaimed land :rom the desert and built irrigation $or&s and planted :ields and built solid homes and put a $all around our to$n# but they still thin& o: us as 4isitors# transients. /here are old :ol& ali4e among them $ho remember their parents telling them about this oasis as it once $asD a $ellAshaded place by the side o: the la&e $ith plenty o: graHing e4en in $inter. /hat is ho$ they still tal& about it# perhaps ho$ they still see it# as though not one spade:ul o: earth had been turned or one bric& laid on top o: another. /hey do not doubt that one o: these days $e $ill pac& our carts and depart to $here4er it $as $e came :rom# that our buildings $ill become homes :or mice and liHards# that their beasts $ill graHe on these rich :ields $e ha4e planted. %ou smileE Shall I tell you somethingE E4ery year the la&eA$ater gro$s a little more salty. /here is a simple e;planationne4er mind $hat it is. /he barbarians &no$ this :act. *t this 4ery moment they are saying to themsel4es# BBe patient# one o: these days their crops $ill start $ithering :rom the salt# they $ill not be able to :eed themsel4es# they $ill ha4e to go.B /hat is $hat they are thin&ing. /hat they $ill outlast us.F FBut $e are not going#F the young man says Cuietly.
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F*re you sureEF F-e are not going# there:ore they ma&e a mista&e. E4en i: it became necessary to supply the settlement by con4oy# $e $ould not go. Because these border settlements are the :irst line o: de:ence o: the Empire. /he sooner the barbarians understand that the better.F Iespite his engaging air there is a rigidity to his thought that must deri4e :rom his military education. I sigh. I ha4e achie4ed nothing by letting mysel: go. "is $orst suspicion is no doubt con:irmedD that I am unsound as $ell as oldA :ashioned. *nd do I really a:ter all belie4e $hat I ha4e been sayingE Io I really loo& :or$ard to the triumph o: the barbarian $ayD intellectual torpor# slo4enliness# tolerance o: disease and deathE I: $e $ere to disappear $ould the barbarians spend their a:ternoons e;ca4ating our ruinsE -ould they preser4e our census rolls and our grainAmerchantsB ledgers in glass cases# or de4ote themsel4es to deciphering the script o: our lo4eAlettersE Is my indignation at the course that Empire ta&es anything more than the pee4ishness o: an old man $ho does not $ant the ease o: his last years on the :rontier to be disturbedE I try to turn the con4ersation to more suitable sub@ects# to horses# hunting# the $eatherG but it is late# my young :riend $ants to lea4e# and I must settle the rec&oning :or the e4eningBs entertainment. *** /he children are playing in the sno$ again. In their midst# $ith her bac& to me# is the hooded :igure o: the girl. *t moments# as I struggle to$ards her# she is obliterated :rom sight behind the curtain o: :alling sno$. 5y :eet sin& so deep that I can barely li:t them. Each step ta&es an age. /his is the
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$orst it has sno$ed in all the dreams. *s I labour to$ards them the children lea4e o:: their play to loo& at me. /hey turn their gra4e shining :aces on me# their $hite breath dri:ting :rom them in pu::s. I try to smile and touch them as I pass on my $ay to the girl# but my :eatures are :roHen# the smile $ill not come# there seems to be a sheet o: ice co4ering my mouth. I raise a hand to tear it o::D the hand# I :ind# is thic&ly glo4ed# the :ingers are :roHen inside the glo4e# $hen I touch the glo4e to my :ace I :eel nothing. -ith ponderous mo4ements I push my $ay past the children. No$ I begin to see $hat the girl is doing. She is building a :ort o: sno$# a $alled to$n $hich I recogniHe in e4ery detailD the battlements $ith the :our $atchto$ers# the gate $ith the porterBs hut beside it# the streets and houses# the great sCuare $ith the barrac&s compound in one corner. *nd here is the 4ery spot $here I standJ But the sCuare is empty# the $hole to$n is $hite and mute and empty. I point to the middle o: the sCuare. F%ou must put people thereJF I $ant to say. No sound comes :rom my mouth# in $hich my tongue lies :roHen li&e a :ish. %et she responds. She sits up on her &nees and turns her hooded :ace to$ards me. I :ear# at this last instant# that she $ill be a disappointment# that the :ace she $ill present to me $ill be obtuse# slic&# li&e an internal organ not meant to li4e in the light. But no# she is hersel:# hersel: as I ha4e ne4er seen her# a smiling child# the light spar&ling on her teeth and glancing :rom her @etAblac& eyes. FSo this is $hat it is to seeJF I say to mysel:. I $ant to spea& to her through my clumsy :roHen muHHle. F"o$ do you do all that :ine $or& $ith your hands in mittensEF I $ant to say. She smiles &indly on my mumbling. /hen she turns bac& to her :ort in the sno$. I emerge :rom the dream cold and sti::. It is an hour yet to :irst light# the :ire is dead# my scalp :eels numb $ith cold.
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/he girl beside me sleeps huddled in a ball. I get out o: bed and $ith my greatcloa& $rapped about me start rebuilding the :ire. /he dream has ta&en root. Night a:ter night I return to the $aste o: the sno$s$ept sCuare# trudging to$ards the :igure at its centre# recon:irming each time that the to$n she is building is empty o: li:e. I as& the girl about her sisters. She has t$o sisters# the younger# according to her# F4ery pretty# but scatterbrainedF. F-ould you not li&e to see your sisters againEF I as&. /he blunder hangs grotesCuely in the air bet$een us. -e both smile. FO: course#F she says. I also as& about the period a:ter her imprisonment# $hen un&no$n to me she li4ed in this to$n under my @urisdiction. FPeople $ere &ind to me $hen they sa$ I had been le:t behind. I used to sleep at the inn :or a time $hile my :eet $ere getting better. /here $as a man $ho too& care o: me. "e has gone no$. "e &ept horses.F She also mentions the man $ho ga4e her the boots she $as $earing $hen I :irst met her. I as& about other men. F%es# there $ere other men. I did not ha4e a choice. /hat $as ho$ it had to be.F *:ter this con4ersation relations $ith the common soldiers become more strained. +ea4ing my apartment :or the courthouse in the morning# I pass one o: the rare inspection parades. I am sure that among these men standing to attention $ith their eCuipment in bundles at their :eet are some $ho ha4e slept $ith the girl. It is not that I imagine them sniggering behind their hands. On the contrary# ne4er ha4e I seen them stand more stoically in the :rosty $ind that $hips across the yard. Ne4er has their bearing been more respect:ul. /hey $ould tell me i: they could# I &no$# that $e are all men# that any man can lose his head o4er a $oman. Ne4ertheless# I
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try to come home later in the e4enings to a4oid the line o: men at the &itchen door. /here is ne$s o: the lieutenantBs t$o deserters. * trapper has come upon them :roHen to death in a rough shelter not :ar :rom the road thirty miles east o: here. /hough the lieutenant is inclined to lea4e them there 6F/hirty miles there and thirty miles bac& in this $eatherD a great deal :or men $ho are no longer men# donBt you thin&EF7# I persuade him to send out a party. F/hey must ha4e the rites#F I say. FBesides# it is good :or the morale o: their comrades. /hey should not thin& that they too might die in the desert and lie :orgotten. -hat $e can do to ease their dread o: ha4ing to lea4e this beauti:ul earth must be done. *:ter all# it is $e $ho lead them into these dangers.F So the party lea4es# and t$o days later returns $ith the croo&ed iceAhard corpses in a cart. I continue to :ind it strange that men should desert hundreds o: miles :rom home and $ithin a dayBs march o: :ood and $armth# but I pursue the matter no :urther. Standing by the gra4eside in the icebound cemetery $hile the last rites are per:ormed and the deceasedBs luc&ier comrades $atch bareheaded# I repeat to mysel: that by insisting on correct treatment o: the bones I am trying to sho$ these young men that death is no annihilation# that $e sur4i4e as :iliations in the memory o: those $e &ne$. %et is it truly :or their bene:it alone that I mount the ceremonyE *m I not also com:orting mysel:E I o::er to ta&e o4er the chore o: $riting to the parents to in:orm them o: their respecti4e mis:ortunes. FIt comes more easily to an older man#F I say. *** F-ouldnBt you li&e to do something elseEF she as&s. "er :oot rests in my lap. I am abstracted# lost in the
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rhythm o: rubbing and &neading the s$ollen an&le. "er Cuestion ta&es me by surprise. It is the :irst time she has spo&en so pointedly. I shrug it o::# smile# try to slip bac& into my trance# not :ar :rom sleep and reluctant to be di4erted. /he :oot stirs in my grip# comes ali4e# po&es gently into my groin. I open my eyes to the na&ed golden body on the bed. She lies $ith her head cradled in her arms# $atching me in the indirect $ay I am by no$ used to# sho$ing o:: her :irm breasts and her slee& belly# brimming $ith young animal health. "er toes continue to probeG but in this slac& old gentleman &neeling be:ore her in his plum dressingAgo$n they :ind no response. F*nother time#F I say# my tongue curling stupidly around the $ords. *s :ar as I &no$ this is a lie# but I utter itD F*nother time# perhaps.F /hen I li:t her leg aside and stretch out beside her. FOld men ha4e no 4irtue to protect# so $hat can I sayEF It is a lame @o&e# poorly e;pressed# and she does not understand it. She slips open my go$n and begins to :ondle me. *:ter a $hile I push her hand a$ay. F%ou 4isit other girls#F she $hispers. F%ou thin& I do not &no$EF I ma&e a peremptory gesture :or her to be Cuiet. FIo you also treat them li&e thisEF she $hispers# and starts to sob. /hough my heart goes out to her# there is nothing I can do. %et $hat humiliation :or herJ She cannot e4en lea4e the apartment $ithout tottering and :umbling $hile she dresses. She is as much a prisoner no$ as e4er be:ore. I pat her hand and sin& deeper into gloom. /his is the last night $e sleep in the same bed. I mo4e a cot into the parlour and sleep there. Physical intimacy bet$een us ends. F<or the time being#F I say. FUntil the end o: $inter. It
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is better so.F She accepts this e;cuse $ithout a $ord. -hen I come home in the e4enings she brings me my tea and &neels by the tray to ser4e me. /hen she returns to the &itchen. *n hour later she taps her $ay up the stairs behind the girl $ith the dinnerAtray. -e eat together. *:ter the meal I retire to my study or go out :or the e4ening# resuming my neglected social roundD chess in the homes o: :riends# cards $ith the o::icers at the inn. I also pay one or t$o 4isits upstairs at the inn# but $ith guilty :eelings that spoil the pleasure. *l$ays# $hen I return# the girl is asleep# and I must tiptoe li&e an erring husband. She adapts $ithout complaint to the ne$ pattern. I tell mysel: that she submits because o: her barbarian upbringing. But $hat do I &no$ o: barbarian upbringingsE -hat I call submission may be nothing but indi::erence. -hat does it matter to a beggar# a :atherless child# $hether I sleep by mysel: or not as long as she has a roo: o4er her head and :ood in her bellyE I ha4e hitherto li&ed to thin& that she cannot :ail to see me as a man in the grip o: a passion# ho$e4er per4erted and obscure that passion may be# that in the bated silences $hich ma&e up so much o: our intercourse she cannot but :eel my gaHe pressing in upon her $ith the $eight o: a body. I pre:er not to d$ell on the possibility that $hat a barbarian upbringing teaches a girl may be not to accommodate a manBs e4ery $him# including the $him o: neglect# but to see se;ual passion# $hether in horse or goat or man or $oman# as a simple :act o: li:e $ith the clearest o: means and the clearest o: endsG so that the con:used actions o: an aging :oreigner $ho pic&s her up o:: the streets and instals her in his apartment so that he can no$ &iss her :eet# no$ bro$beat her# no$ anoint her $ith e;otic oils# no$ ignore her# no$ sleep in her arms all night# no$ moodily sleep apart# may seem nothing but e4idences o: impotence# indecisi4eness# alienation :rom his
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o$n desires. -hile I ha4e not ceased to see her as a body maimed# scarred# harmed# she has perhaps by no$ gro$n into and become that ne$ de:icient body# :eeling no more de:ormed than a cat :eels de:ormed :or ha4ing cla$s instead o: :ingers. I $ould do $ell to ta&e these thoughts seriously. 5ore ordinary than I li&e to thin&# she may ha4e $ays o: :inding me ordinary too.

3
/he air e4ery morning is :ull o: the beating o: $ings as the
birds :ly in :rom the south# circling abo4e the la&e be:ore they settle in the salty :ingers o: the marshes. In the lulls o: the $ind the cacophony o: their hooting# Cuac&ing# hon&ing# sCua$&ing reaches us li&e the noise o: a ri4al city on the $aterD greylag# beangoose# pintail# $igeon# mallard# teal# sme$. /he arri4al o: the :irst o: the migrating $ater:o$l con:irms the earlier signs# the ghost o: a ne$ $armth on the $ind# the glassy translucence o: the la&eAice. Spring is on its $ay# one o: these days it $ill be time to plant. 5ean$hile it is the season :or trapping. Be:ore da$n# parties o: men lea4e :or the la&e to lay their nets. By midA morning they are bac& $ith huge catchesD birds $ith their nec&s t$isted# slung :rom poles ro$ upon ro$ by their :eet# or crammed ali4e into $ooden cages# screaming $ith outrage#
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trampling each other# $ith sometimes a great silent $hooper s$an crouched in their midst. NatureBs cornucopiaD :or the ne;t $ee&s e4eryone $ill eat $ell. Be:ore I can lea4e there are t$o documents to compose. /he :irst is addressed to the pro4incial go4ernor. F/o repair some o: the damage $rought by the :orays o: the /hird Bureau#F I $rite# Fand to restore some o: the good$ill that pre4iously e;isted# I am underta&ing a brie: 4isit to the barbarians.F I sign and seal the letter. -hat the second document is to be I do not yet &no$. * testamentE * memoirE * con:essionE * history o: thirty years on the :rontierE *ll that day I sit in a trance at my des& staring at the empty $hite paper# $aiting :or $ords to come. * second day passes in the same $ay. On the third day I surrender# put the paper bac& in the dra$er# and ma&e preparations to lea4e. It seems appropriate that a man $ho does not &no$ $hat to do $ith the $oman in his bed should not &no$ $hat to $rite. /o accompany me I ha4e chosen three men. /$o are young conscripts to $hose ser4ices on secondment I am entitled. /he third is an older man born in these parts# a hunter and horseAtrader $hose $ages I $ill pay out o: my o$n poc&et. I call them together the a:ternoon be:ore $e lea4e. FI &no$ this is not a good time o: year to tra4el#F I tell them. FIt is a treacherous time# the tail end o: $inter# spring not yet here. But i: $e $ait longer $e $ill not :ind the nomads be:ore they start on their migration.F /hey as& no Cuestions. /o the girl I say simply# FI am ta&ing you bac& to your people# or as near as I can# seeing that they are no$ dispersed.F She gi4es no sign o: re@oicing. I lay at her side the hea4y :ur I ha4e bought her to tra4el in# $ith a rabbits&in cap embroidered in the nati4e :ashion# ne$ boots# glo4es. No$ mat I ha4e committed mysel: to a course I sleep
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more easily and e4en detect $ithin mysel: something li&e happiness. -e depart on the third o: 5arch# accompanied through the gate and do$n the road to the la&eside by a ragtag escort o: children and dogs. *:ter $e pass the irrigation $all and branch o:: :rom the ri4er road# ta&ing the trac& to the right used by no one but hunters and :o$lers# our escort begins to d$indle till there are only t$o stubborn lads trotting behind us# each determined to outlast the other. /he sun has risen but gi4es o:: no $armth. /he $ind beats at us across the la&e bringing tears to our eyes. In single :ile# :our men and a $oman# :our pac&Aanimals# the horses persistently bac&ing to the $ind and ha4ing to be sa$ed around# $e $ind a$ay :rom the $alled to$n# the bare :ields# and e4entually :rom the panting boys. 5y plan is to :ollo$ this trac& till $e ha4e s&irted the la&e to the south# then to stri&e out northAeast across the desert to$ards the 4alleys o: the ranges $here the northern nomads $inter. It is a route rarely tra4elled# since the nomads# $hen they migrate $ith their :loc&s# :ollo$ the old dead ri4erAbed in a 4ast s$eep east and south. "o$e4er# it reduces a @ourney o: si; $ee&s to one or t$o. I ha4e ne4er tra4elled it mysel:. So :or the :irst three days $e plod south and then east$ard. /o our right stretches a plain o: $indAeroded clay terraces merging at its e;tremes into ban&s o: red dustAclouds and then into the yello$ haHy s&y. /o our le:t is :lat marshland# belts o: reeds# and the la&e on $hich the central iceAsheet has not melted. /he $ind blo$ing o4er the ice :reeHes our 4ery breath# so that rather than ride $e o:ten $al& :or long spells in the lee o: our horses. /he girl $inds a scar: around and around her :ace and# crouching in the saddle#
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blindly :ollo$s her leader. /$o o: the pac&Ahorses are loaded $ith :ire$ood# but this must be conser4ed :or the desert. Once# hal: buried in dri:tAsand# $e come upon a spreading moundAli&e tamaris& $hich $e hac& to pieces :or :uelG :or the rest $e ha4e to be content $ith bundles o: dry reeds. /he girl and I sleep side by side in the same tent# huddled in our :urs against the cold. In these early days o: the @ourney $e eat $ell. -e ha4e brought salted meat# :lour# beans# dried :ruit# and there are $ild:o$l to shoot. But $e ha4e to be sparing $ith $ater. /he marshA$ater here in the shallo$ southern :ingers is too salty to be drin&able. One o: the men has to $ade t$enty or thirty paces in# as deep as his cal4es# to :ill the s&ins# or# better# to brea& o:: lumps o: ice. %et e4en the melted iceA$ater is so bitter and salty that it can only be drun& $ith strong red tea. E4ery year the la&e gro$s more brac&ish as the ri4er eats into its ban&s and s$eeps salt and alum into the la&e. Since the la&e has no out:lo$ its mineral content &eeps rising# particularly in the south# $here tracts o: $ater are seasonally isolated by sandAbars. *:ter the summer :lood the :ishermen :ind carp :loating bellyAup in the shallo$s. /hey say that perch are no more to be seen. -hat $ill become o: the settlement i: the la&e gro$s into a dead seaE *:ter a day o: salty tea all o: us e;cept the girl begin to su::er :rom diarrhoea. I am the $orst a::licted. I :eel &eenly the humiliation o: the :reCuent stops# the undressing and dressing $ith :roHen :ingers in the lee o: a horse $hile the others $ait. I try to drin& as little as possible# to the point e4en that my mind thro$s up tantaliHing images as I rideD a :ull cas& by the $ellside $ith $ater splashing :rom the ladleG clean sno$. 5y occasional hunting and ha$&ing# my desultory $omaniHing# e;ercises o: manhood# ha4e concealed :rom me
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ho$ so:t my body has gro$n. *:ter long marches my bones ache# by night:all I am so tired that I ha4e no appetite. I trudge on till I cannot put one :oot in :ront o: the otherG then I clamber into the saddle# :old mysel: in my cloa&# and $a4e one o: the men :or$ard to ta&e o4er the tas& o: pic&ing out the :aint trac&. /he $ind ne4er lets up. It ho$ls at us across the ice# blo$ing :rom no$here to no$here# 4eiling the s&y in a cloud o: red dust. <rom the dust there is no hidingD it penetrates our clothing# ca&es our s&in# si:ts into the baggage. -e eat $ith coated tongues# spitting o:ten# our teeth grating. Iust rather than air becomes the medium in $hich $e li4e. -e s$im through dust li&e :ish through $ater. /he girl does not complain. She eats $ell# she does not get sic&# she sleeps soundly all night clenched in a ball in $eather so cold I $ould hug a dog :or com:ort. She rides all day $ithout a murmur. Once# glancing up# I see that she is riding asleep# her :ace as peace:ul as a babyBs. On the third day the rim o: the marshland begins to cur4e bac& to$ards the north and $e &no$ that $e ha4e rounded the la&e. -e pitch camp early and spend the last hours o: light collecting e4ery scrap o: :uel $e can $hile the horses bro$se :or the last time on the meagre marshAgrass. /hen at da$n on the :ourth day $e begin the crossing o: the ancient la&eAbed that stretches another :orty miles beyond the marshes. /he terrain is more desolate than anything $e ha4e yet seen. Nothing gro$s on this salty la&eA:loor# $hich in places buc&les and pushes up in @agged crystalline he;agons a :oot $ide. /here are dangers tooD crossing an unusually smooth patch the :ront horse suddenly plunges through the crust and sin&s chestAdeep in :oul green slime# the man $ho leads it standing a moment dumbstruc& on thin air be:ore he too
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splashes in. -e struggle to haul them out# the salt crust splintering under the hoo4es o: the :lailing horse# the hole $idening# a brac&ish stench e4ery$here. -e ha4e not le:t the la&e behind# $e no$ realiHeD it stretches beneath us here# sometimes under a co4er many :eet deep# sometimes under a mere parchment o: brittle salt. "o$ long since the sun last shone on these dead $atersE -e light a :ire on :irmer ground to $arm the shi4ering man and dry his clothes. "e sha&es his head. FI al$ays heard# be$are o: the green patches# but I ne4er sa$ this happen be:ore#F he says. "e is our guide# the one man among us $ho has tra4elled east o: the la&e. *:ter this $e push our horses e4en harder# in a hurry to be o:: the dead la&e# :ear:ul o: being lost in a :luid colder than ice# mineral# subterraneous# airless. -e bo$ our heads and dri4e into the $ind# our coats ballooning behind us# pic&ing a $ay o4er the @agged saltAshards# a4oiding the smooth ground. /hrough the ri4er o: dust that courses ma@estically across the s&y the sun glo$s li&e an orange but $arms nothing. -hen dar&ness :alls $e batter the tentApegs into crac&s in the roc&Ahard saltG $e burn our :ire$ood at an e;tra4agant rate and li&e sailors pray :or land. On the :i:th day $e lea4e the la&eA:loor behind and pass through a belt o: smooth crystalline salt $hich soon gi4es $ay to sand and stone. E4eryone is heartened# e4en the horses# $hich during the crossing o: the salt ha4e had nothing but a :e$ hand:uls o: linseed and a buc&et:ul o: brac&ish $ater. /heir condition is 4isibly deteriorating. *s :or the men# they do not grumble. /he :resh meat is gi4ing out but there remain the salt meat and dried beans and plenty o: :lour and tea# the staples o: the road. *t each halt $e bre$ tea and :ry little :atAca&es# delicious morsels to the hungry. /he men do the coo&ingD being shy o: the girl# unsure
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o: her standing# unsure most o: all $hat $e are doing ta&ing her to the barbarians# they barely address her# a4oid loo&ing at her# and certainly do not as& :or her help $ith the :ood. I do not push her :or$ard# hoping that constraint $ill disappear on the road. I pic&ed these men because they $ere hardy and honest and $illing. /hey :ollo$ me as lightheartedly as they can under these conditions# though by no$ the bra4e lacCuered armour the t$o young soldiers $ore $hen $e passed through the great gate is strapped in bundles on the pac&Ahorses and their scabbards are :ull o: sand. /he sandA:lats begin to modulate into duneland. Our progress slo$s as $e toil up and do$n the sides o: the dunes. It is the $orst possible terrain :or the horses# $hich plod :or$ard a :e$ inches at a time# their hoo4es sin&ing deep in the sand. I loo& to our guide# but all he can do is shrugD FIt goes on :or miles# $e ha4e to cross it# there is no other $ay.F Standing on a duneAtop# shielding my eyes# staring ahead# I can see nothing but s$irling sand. /hat night one o: the pac&Ahorses re:uses its :eed. In the morning# e4en under the se4erest :logging# it $ill not rise. -e redistribute the loads and cast a$ay some o: the :ire$ood. -hile the others set out I stay behind. I can s$ear that the beast &no$s $hat is to happen. *t the sight o: the &ni:e its eyes roll. -ith the blood spurting :rom its nec& it scrambles :ree o: the sand and totters a pace or t$o do$n$ind be:ore it :alls. In e;tremities# I ha4e heard# the barbarians tap their horsesB 4eins. -ill $e li4e to regret this blood spent so la4ishly on the sandE On the se4enth day# $ith the dunes :inally behind us# $e ma&e out against the dull greyAbro$n o: the empty landscape a strip o: dar&er grey. <rom nearer $e see that it stretches east and $est :or miles. /here are e4en the stunted blac& shapes o:
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trees. -e are luc&y# our guide saysD there is bound to be $ater here. -hat $e ha4e stumbled on is the bed o: an ancient terminal lagoon. Iead reeds# ghostly $hite and brittle to the touch# line $hat $ere its ban&s. /he trees are poplars# also long dead. /hey ha4e died since the underground $ater receded too :ar to be reached by their roots years and years ago. -e unload the animals and begin to dig. *t t$o :eet $e reach hea4y blue clay. Beneath this there is sand again# then another stratum o: clay# noticeably clammy. *t a depth o: se4en :eet# $ith my heart pounding and my ears ringing# I ha4e to re:use my turn $ith the spade. /he three men toil on# li:ting the loose soil out o: the pit in a tentAcloth tied at the corners. *t ten :eet $ater begins to gather around their :eet. It is s$eet# there is no trace o: salt# $e smile $ith delight at each otherG but it gathers 4ery slo$ly and the sides o: the pit ha4e continually to be dug out as they ca4e in. It is only by late a:ternoon that $e can empty out the last o: our brac&ish la&eA $ater and re:ill the $aters&ins. In near dar& $e lo$er the butt into our $ell and allo$ the horses to drin&. 5ean$hile# no$ that there is an abundance o: poplar$ood the men ha4e dug t$o little o4ens bac& to bac& in the clay and built a roaring :ire on top o: them to ba&e the clay dry. -hen the :ire abates they can ra&e the coals bac& into the o4ens and set about ba&ing bread. /he girl stands $atching all this# leaning on her stic&s to $hich I ha4e :astened discs o: $ood to help her in the sand. In the :ree and easy camaraderie o: this good day# and $ith a day o: rest promised# tal& :lo$s. ?o&ing $ith her# the men ma&e their :irst o4erture o: :riendshipD F3ome and sit $ith us and taste $hat menBs ba&ing
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is li&eJF She smiles bac& at them# li:ting her chin in a gesture $hich perhaps I alone &no$ is an e::ort to see. 3autiously she sets hersel: do$n beside them to bathe in the glo$ :rom the o4ens. I mysel: sit :urther a$ay sheltered :rom the $ind in the mouth o: my tent $ith one o: the oilAlamps :lic&ering beside me# ma&ing the dayBs entry in the logAboo& but listening too. /he banter goes on in the pidgin o: the :rontier# and she is at no loss :or $ords. I am surprised by her :luency# her Cuic&ness# her sel:Apossession. I e4en catch mysel: in a :lush o: prideD she is not @ust the old manBs slut# she is a $itty# attracti4e young $omanJ Perhaps i: :rom the beginning I had &no$n ho$ to use this slapAhappy @o&ing lingo $ith her $e might ha4e $armed more to each other. But li&e a :ool# instead o: gi4ing her a good time I oppressed her $ith gloom. /ruly# the $orld ought to belong to the singers and dancersJ <utile bitterness# idle melancholy# empty regretsJ I blo$ out the lamp# sit $ith my chin on my :ist staring to$ards the :ire# listening to my stomach rumble. *** I sleep a sleep o: utter e;haustion. I barely emerge into $a&e:ulness $hen she li:ts the edge o: the huge bearA:ur and snuggles against me. F* child gets cold in the nightFthat is $hat I thin& in my bemddleAment# hauling her into the croo& o: my arm# doHing a$ay. Perhaps :or a $hile I am :ast asleep again. /hen# $ide a$a&e# I :eel her hand groping under my clothes# her tongue lic&ing my ear. * ripple o: sensual @oy runs through me# I ya$n# stretch# and smile in the dar&. "er hand :inds $hat it is see&ing. F-hat o: itEF I thin&. F-hat i: $e perish in the middle o: no$hereE +et us at least not die
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pinched and miserableJF Beneath her smoc& she is bare. -ith a hea4e I am upon herG she is $arm# s$ollen# ready :or meG in a minute :i4e months o: senseless hesitancy are $iped out and I am :loating bac& into easy sensual obli4ion. -hen I $a&e it is $ith a mind $ashed so blan& that terror rises in me. Only $ith a deliberate e::ort can I reinsert mysel: into time and spaceD into a bed# a tent# a night# a $orld# a body pointing $est and east. /hough I lie spra$led on her $ith the $eight o: a dead o;# the girl is asleep# her arms clasped slac&ly around my bac&. I ease mysel: o:: her# rearrange our co4ering# and try to compose mysel:. Not :or an instant do I imagine that I can stri&e camp on the morro$# march bac& to the oasis# and in the magistrateBs sunny 4illa set about li4ing out my days $ith a young bride# sleeping placidly by her side# :athering her children# $atching the seasons turn. I do not shy at the thought that i: she had not spent the e4ening $ith the young men around the camp:ire she $ould 4ery li&ely not ha4e :ound any need :or me. Perhaps the truth is that it $as one o: them she $as embracing $hen I held her in my arms. I listen scrupulously to the re4erberations o: that thought inside me# but cannot detect a plunging o: the heart to tell me I am in@ured. She sleepsG my hand passes bac& and :orth o4er her smooth belly# caresses her thighs. It is done# I am content. *t the same time I am ready to belie4e that it $ould not ha4e been done i: I $ere not in a :e$ days to part :rom her. Nor# i: I must be candid# does the pleasure I ta&e in her# the pleasure $hose distant a:terglo$ my palm still :eels# go deep. No more than be:ore does my heart leap or my blood pound at her touch. I am $ith her not :or $hate4er raptures she may promise or yield but :or other reasons# $hich remain as obscure to me as e4er. E;cept that it has not escaped me that in bed in the dar& the mar&s her torturers ha4e le:t upon her#
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the t$isted :eet# the hal:Ablind eyes# are easily :orgotten. Is it then the case that it is the $hole $oman I $ant# that my pleasure in her is spoiled until these mar&s on her are erased and she is restored to hersel:G or is it the case 6I am not stupid# let me say these things7 that it is the mar&s on her $hich dre$ me to her but $hich# to my disappointment# I :ind# do not go deep enoughE /oo much or too littleD is it she I $ant or the traces o: a history her body bearsE <or a long time I lie staring into $hat seems pitch blac&ness# though I &no$ the roo: o: the tent is only an armBs length a$ay. No thought that I thin&# no articulation# ho$e4er antonymic# o: the origin o: my desire seems to upset me. FI must be tired#F I thin&. FOr perhaps $hate4er can be articulated is :alsely put.F 5y lips mo4e# silently composing and recomposing the $ords. FOr perhaps it is the case that only that $hich has not been articulated has to be li4ed through.F I stare at this last proposition $ithout detecting any ans$ering mo4ement in mysel: to$ard assent or dissent. /he $ords gro$ more and more opaCue be:ore meG soon they ha4e lost all meaning. I sigh at the end o: a long day# in the middle o: a long night. /hen I turn to the girl# embrace her# dra$ her tight against me. She purrs in her sleep# $here soon I ha4e @oined her. *** -e rest on the eighth day# :or the horses are no$ in a truly pitiable state. /hey che$ hungrily at the sapless :ibre o: the dead reedAstal&s. /hey bloat their bellies $ith $ater and brea& $ind massi4ely. -e ha4e :ed them the last o: the linseed and e4en a little o: our bread. Unless $e :ind graHing in a day or t$o they $ill perish.
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*** -e lea4e our $ell behind us# and the mound o: earth $e dug# to press on north$ards. *ll o: us $al& e;cept the girl. -e ha4e abandoned $hate4er $e can a::ord to lighten the horsesB burdenG but since $e cannot sur4i4e $ithout :ire they must still carry bul&y loads o: $ood. F-hen $ill $e see the mountainsEF I as& our guide. FOne day. /$o days. It is hard to say. I ha4e not tra4elled these parts be:ore.F "e has hunted along the eastern shore o: the la&e and the periphery o: the desert $ithout ha4ing reason to cross it. I $ait# gi4ing him e4ery chance to spea& his mind# but he seems unperturbed# he does not belie4e $e are in danger. FPerhaps t$o days be:ore $e see the mountains# then another dayBs march be:ore $e reach them.F "e scre$s up his eyes# peering into the bro$n haHe that 4eils the horiHon. "e does not as& $hat $e $ill do $hen $e get to the mountains. -e reach the end o: this :lat pebbly $aste and ascend a series o: roc&y ridges to a lo$ plateau# $here $e begin to meet $ith hummoc&s o: $ithered $inter grass. /he animals tear sa4agely at them. It is a great relie: to see them eat. I $a&e up $ith a start in the middle o: the night# :illed $ith a dire sense that something is $rong. /he girl sits up beside meD F-hat is itEF she says. F+isten. /he $ind has stopped.F Bare:oot# $rapped in a :ur# she cra$ls a:ter me out o: the tent. It is sno$ing gently. /he earth lies $hite on e4ery side beneath a haHy :ull moon. I help her to her :eet and stand holding her# staring up into the 4oid :rom $hich the
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sno$:la&es descend# in a silence that is palpable a:ter a $ee& o: $ind beating ceaselessly in our ears. /he men :rom the second tent @oin us. -e smile :oolishly at each other. FSpring sno$#F I say# Fthe last sno$ o: the year.F /hey nod. * horse sha&ing itsel: o:: nearby startles us. In the sno$bound $armth o: the tent I ma&e lo4e to her again. She is passi4e# accommodating hersel: to me. -hen $e begin I am sure that the time is rightG I embrace her in the most intense pleasure and pride o: li:eG but hal:$ay through I seem to lose touch $ith her# and the act peters out 4acantly. 5y intuitions are clearly :allible. Still# my heart continues its a::ectionate glo$ to$ards this girl $ho so bris&ly :alls asleep in the croo& o: my arm. /here $ill be another time# and i: not# I do not thin& I mind. *** * 4oice is calling through the slit o: the tentAmouthD FSir# you must $a&e upJF I am daHedly a$are o: ha4ing o4erslept. It is the stillness# I thin& to mysel:D it is as i: $e are becalmed in the stillness. I emerge :rom the tent into daylight. F+oo&# sirJF says the man $ho $o&e me# pointing northAeast. FBad $eather on the $ayJF 1olling do$n upon us o4er the sno$y plain is a gigantic blac& $a4e. It is still miles a$ay but 4isibly de4ouring the earth in its approach. Its crest is lost in the mur&y clouds. F* stormJF I shout. I ha4e ne4er seen anything so :rightening. /he men hurry to ta&e do$n their tent. FBring the horses in# tether them here in the centreJF /he :irst gusts are already reaching
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us# the sno$ begins to eddy and :ly. /he girl is beside me on her stic&s. F3an you see itEF I say. She peers in her croo&ed $ay and nods. /he men set to $or& stri&ing the second tent. F/he sno$ $as not a good sign a:ter allJF She does not reply. /hough I &no$ I should be helping# I cannot tear my eyes :rom the great blac& $all roaring do$n upon us $ith the speed o: a galloping horse. /he $ind rises# roc&ing us on our :eetG the :amiliar ho$l is in our ears again. I bestir mysel:. FKuic&# Cuic&JF I call out# clapping my hands. One man is on his &nees :olding the tentAcloths# rolling the :elts# sto$ing the bedclothesG the other t$o are bringing the horses in. FSit do$nJF I shout to the girl# and scramble to help $ith the pac&ing. /he stormA$all is not blac& any more but a chaos o: $hirling sand and sno$ and dust. /hen all at once the $ind rises to a scream# my cap is $hirled :rom my head# and the storm hits us. I am &noc&ed :lat on my bac&D not by the $ind but by a horse that brea&s :ree and blunders about# ears :lat# eyes rolling. F3atch itJF I shout. 5y $ords are nothing but a $hisper# I cannot hear them mysel:. /he horse 4anishes :rom sight li&e a phantom. *t the same instant the tent is $hirled high into the s&y. I hurl mysel: upon the bundled :elts# holding them do$n# groaning $ith :ury at mysel:. /hen on hands and :eet# dragging the :elts# I inch my $ay bac& to$ards the girl. It is li&e cra$ling against running $ater. 5y eyes# my nose# my mouth are already stopped $ith sand# I hea4e to breathe. /he girl stands $ith her arms stretched li&e $ings o4er the nec&s o: t$o horses. She seems to be tal&ing to themD though their eyeballs glare# they are still. FOur tent is goneJF I shout in her ear# $a4ing an arm to$ard the s&y. She turnsD beneath the cap her :ace is $rapped
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in a blac& scar:G e4en her eyes are co4ered. F/ent is goneJF I shout again. She nods. <or :i4e hours $e huddle behind the piled :ire$ood and the horses $hile the $ind lashes us $ith sno$# ice# rain# sand# grit. -e ache $ith cold to our 4ery bones. /he :lan&s o: the horses# turned to the $ind# are ca&ed $ith ice. -e press together# man and beast# sharing our $armth# trying to endure. /hen at midday the $ind drops as suddenly as i: a gate has been closed some$here. Our ears ring in the un:amiliar Cuiet. -e ought to mo4e our numbed limbs# clean oursel4es o::# load the animals# anything to ma&e the blood run in our 4eins# but all $e $ant is to lie a little longer in our nest. * sinister lethargyJ 5y 4oice rasps :rom my throatD F3ome# men# let us load.F "umps in the sand sho$ $here our discarded baggage lies buried. -e search do$n$ind but :ind no sign o: the lost tent. -e help the crea&ing horses up and load them. /he cold o: the tempest is as nothing to the cold that succeeds it# settling li&e a pall o: ice upon us. Our breath turns to rime# $e shi4er in our boots. *:ter three unsteady seesa$ing steps the :ront horse crumples on its hindCuarters. -e thro$ aside the :ire$ood it carries# li:t it to its :eet $ith a pole# $hip it on. I curse mysel:# not :or the :irst time# :or setting out on a hard @ourney $ith an unsure guide in a treacherous season. *** /he tenth dayD $armer air# clearer s&ies# a gentler $ind. -e are plodding on across the :latlands $hen our guide shouts and points. F/he mountainsJF I thin&# and my heart leaps. But it is not the mountains he sees. /he spec&s he points to in the
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distance are men# men on horsebac&D $ho but barbariansJ I turn to the girl# $hose shambling mount I lead. F-e are nearly there#F I say. F/here are people ahead# $e $ill soon &no$ $ho they are.F /he oppression o: the past days li:ts :rom my shoulders. 5o4ing to the :ront# Cuic&ening my pace# I turn our march to$ards the three tiny :igures in the distance. -e push on to$ards them :or hal: an hour be:ore $e realiHe that $e are getting no closer. *s $e mo4e they mo4e too. F/hey are ignoring us#F I thin&# and consider lighting a :ire. But $hen I call a halt the three spec&s seem to halt tooG $hen $e resume our march they begin to mo4e. F*re they re:lections o: us# is this a tric& o: the lightEF I $onder. -e cannot close the gap. "o$ long ha4e they been dogging usE Or do they thin& $e are dogging themE FStop# there is no point in chasing them#F I say to the men. F+et us see i: they $ill meet one o: us alone.F So I mount the girlBs horse and ride out alone to$ards the strangers. <or a short $hile they seem to remain still# $atching and $aiting. /hen they begin to recede# shimmering on the edge o: the dustAhaHe. /hough I urge it on# my horse is too $ea& to raise more than a shambling trot. I gi4e up the chase# dismount# and $ait :or my companions to reach me. /o conser4e the horsesB strength $e ha4e been ma&ing our marches shorter and shorter. -e tra4el no more than si; miles that a:ternoon across :irm :lat terrain# the three horsemen ahead o: us ho4ering al$ays $ithin eyesight# be:ore $e ma&e camp. /he horses ha4e an hour to graHe on $hat stunted scrubgrass they can :indG then $e tether them close to the tent and set a $atch. Night :alls# the stars come out in a haHy s&y. -e lounge about the camp:ire bas&ing in the $armth# sa4ouring the ache o: tired limbs# reluctant to cro$d into the single tent. Staring north I can s$ear that I glimpse the
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:lic&er o: another :ireG but $hen I try to point it out to the others the night is impenetrably blac&. /he three men 4olunteer to sleep outside# ta&ing turns $ith the $atch. I am touched. FIn a :e$ days#F I say# F$hen it is $armer.F -e sleep :it:ully# :our bodies crammed together in a tent meant :or t$o# the girl modestly outermost. I am up be:ore da$n staring north$ard. *s the pin&s and mau4es o: the sunrise begin to turn golden# the spec&s materialiHe again on the blan& :ace o: the plain# not three o: them but eight# nine# ten# perhaps t$el4e. -ith a pole and a $hite linen shirt I ma&e a banner and ride out to$ards the strangers. /he $ind has dropped# the air is clear# I count as I rideD t$el4e tiny :igures on the side o: a rise# and :ar behind them the :aintest ghostly intimation o: the blue o: the mountains. /hen as I $atch the :igures begin to mo4e. /hey group in a :ile and li&e ants climb the rise. On the crest they halt. * s$irl o: dust obscures them# then they reappearD t$el4e mounted men on the s&yline. I plod on# the $hite banner :lapping o4er my shoulder. /hough I &eep my eye on the crest# I :ail to catch the moment at $hich they 4anish. F-e must simply ignore them#F I tell my party. -e reload and resume our march to$ards the mountains. /hough the loads gro$ lighter e4ery day# it hurts our hearts to ha4e to :log the emaciated animals on. /he girl is bleeding# that time o: the month has come :or her. She cannot conceal it# she has no pri4acy# there is not the merest bush to hide behind. She is upset and the men are upset. It is the old storyD a $omanBs :lu; is bad luc&# bad :or the crops# bad :or the hunt# bad :or the horses. /hey gro$ sullenD they $ant her a$ay :rom the horses# $hich cannot be# they do not $ant her to touch their :ood. *shamed# she &eeps
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to hersel: all day and does not @oin us :or the e4ening meal. *:ter I ha4e eaten I ta&e a bo$l o: beans and dumplings to the tent $here she sits. F%ou should not be $aiting on me#F she says. FI should not e4en be in the tent. But there is no$here else to go.F She does not Cuestion her e;clusion. FNe4er mind#F I tell her. I touch my hand to her chee&# sit do$n :or a $hile and $atch her eat. It is :utile to press the men to sleep in the tent $ith her. /hey sleep outside# &eeping the :ire burning# rotating the $atch. In the morning# :or their sa&e# I go through a brie: puri:ication ceremony $ith the girl 6:or I ha4e made mysel: unclean by sleeping in her bed7D $ith a stic& I dra$ a line in the sand# lead her across it# $ash her hands and mine# then lead her bac& across the line into the camp. F%ou $ill ha4e to do the same again tomorro$ morning#F she murmurs. In t$el4e days on the road $e ha4e gro$n closer than in months o: li4ing in the same rooms. -e ha4e reached the :oothills. /he strange horsemen plod on :ar ahead o: us up the $inding bed o: a dry stream. -e ha4e ceased trying to catch up $ith them. -e understand no$ that $hile they are :ollo$ing us they are also leading us. *s the terrain gro$s roc&ier $e progress more and more slo$ly. -hen $e halt to rest# or lose sight o: the strangers in the $indings o: the stream# it is $ithout :ear o: their 4anishing. /hen# climbing a ridge# coa;ing the horses# straining and pushing and hauling# $e are all o: a sudden upon them. <rom behind the roc&s# :rom out o: a hidden gully# they emerge# men mounted on shaggy ponies# t$el4e and more# dressed in sheeps&in coats and caps# bro$nA:aced# $eatherbeaten# narro$Aeyed# the barbarians in the :lesh on nati4e soil. I am
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close enough to smell them $here I standD horseAs$eat# smo&e# hal:Acured leather. One o: them points at my chest an ancient mus&et nearly as long as a man# $ith a dipod rest bolted near the muHHle. 5y heart stops. FNo#F I $hisperD $ith elaborate caution I drop the reins o: the horse I am leading and display empty hands. *s slo$ly I turn my bac&# ta&e up the reins# and# slipping and sliding on the scree# lead the horse the thirty paces do$n to the :oot o: the ridge $here my companions $ait. /he barbarians stand outlined against the s&y abo4e us. /here is the beating o: my heart# the hea4ing o: the horses# the moan o: the $ind# and no other sound. -e ha4e crossed the limits o: the Empire. It is not a moment to ta&e lightly. I help the girl :rom her horse. F+isten care:ully#F I say. FI $ill ta&e you up the slope and you can spea& to them. Bring your stic&s# the ground is loose# there is no other $ay up. -hen you ha4e spo&en you can decide $hat you $ant to do. I: you $ant to go $ith them# i: they $ill see you bac& to your :amily# go $ith them. I: you decide to come bac& $ith us# you can come bac& $ith us. Io you understandE I am not :orcing you.F She nods. She is 4ery ner4ous. -ith an arm around her I help her up the pebbly slope. /he barbarians do not stir. I count three o: the longAbarrelled mus&etsG other$ise they bear the short bo$s I am :amiliar $ith. *s $e reach the crest they bac& a$ay slightly. F3an you see themEF I say# panting. She turns her head in that odd unmoti4ated $ay. FNot $ell#F she says. FBlindD $hat is the $ord :or blindEF She tells me. I address the barbarians. FBlind#F I say#
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touching my eyelids. /hey ma&e no response. /he gun resting bet$een the ponyBs ears still points at me. Its o$nerBs eyes glint merrily. /he silence lengthens. FSpea& to them#F I tell her. F/ell them $hy $e are here. /ell them your story. /ell them the truth.F She loo&s side$ays at me and gi4es a little smile. F%ou really $ant me to tell them the truthEF F/ell them the truth. -hat else is there to tellEF /he smile does not lea4e her lips. She sha&es her head# &eeps her silence. F/ell them $hat you li&e. Only# no$ that I ha4e brought you bac&# as :ar as I can# I $ish to as& you 4ery clearly to return to the to$n $ith me. O: your o$n choice.F I grip her arm. FIo you understand meE /hat is $hat I $ant.F F-hyEF /he $ord :alls $ith deathly so:tness :rom her lips. She &no$s that it con:ounds me# has con:ounded me :rom the beginning. /he man $ith the gun ad4ances slo$ly until he is almost upon us. She sha&es her head. FNo. I do not $ant to go bac& to that place.F I scramble do$n the slope. F+ight a :ire# bre$ tea# $e $ill stop here#F I tell the men. <rom abo4e the so:t cascade o: the girlBs speech reaches me bro&en by the gusting o: the $ind. She leans on her t$o stic&s# the horsemen dismounting and clustering around her. I cannot ma&e out a $ord. F-hat a $aste#F I thin&D Fshe could ha4e spent those long empty e4enings teaching me her tongueJ /oo late no$.F *** <rom my saddlebag I bring out the t$o sil4er platters I ha4e carried across the desert. I ta&e the bolt o: sil& out o: its
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$rapping. FI $ould li&e you to ha4e these#F I say. I guide her hand so that she can :eel the so:tness o: the sil&# the chasing on the platters# :ishes and lea4es interlaced. I ha4e also brought her little bundle. -hat it contains I do not &no$. I lay it on the ground. F-ill they ta&e you all the $ayEF She nods. F"e says by midAsummer. "e says he $ants a horse too. <or me.F F/ell him $e ha4e a long hard road be:ore us. Our horses are in a bad $ay# as he can see :or himsel:. *s& i: $e cannot buy horses :rom them instead. Say $e $ill pay in sil4er.F She interprets to the old man $hile I $ait. "is companions ha4e dismounted but he still sits his horse# the enormous old gun on its strap o4er his bac&. Stirrups# saddle# bridle# reinsD no metal# but bone and :ireAhardened $ood se$n $ith gut# lashed $ith thongs. Bodies clothed in $ool and the hides o: animals and nourished :rom in:ancy on meat and mil&# :oreign to the sua4e touch o: cotton# the 4irtues o: the placid grains and :ruitsD these are the people being pushed o:: the plains into the mountains by the spread o: Empire. I ha4e ne4er be:ore met northerners on their o$n ground on eCual termsD the barbarians I am :amiliar $ith are those $ho 4isit the oasis to barter# and the :e$ $ho ma&e their camp along the ri4er# and ?ollBs miserable capti4es. -hat an occasion and $hat a shame too to be here todayJ One day my successors $ill be ma&ing collections o: the arti:acts o: these people# arro$heads# car4ed &ni:eAhandles# $ooden dishes# to display beside my birdsB eggs and calligraphic riddles. *nd here I am patching up relations bet$een the men o: the :uture and the men o: the past# returning# $ith apologies# a body $e ha4e suc&ed drya goAbet$een# a @ac&al o: Empire in sheepBs clothingJ
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F"e says no.F I ta&e one o: the little sil4er bars :rom my bag and hold it up to him. FSay this is :or one horse.F "e leans do$n# ta&es the glittering bar# and care:ully bites itG then it disappears into his coat. F"e says no. /he sil4er is :or the horse he does not ta&e. "e does not ta&e my horse# he ta&es the sil4er instead.F I almost lose my temperG but $hat good $ill haggling doE She is going# she is almost gone. /his is the last time to loo& on her clearly :ace to :ace# to scrutiniHe the motions o: my heart# to try to understand $ho she really isD herea:ter# I &no$# I $ill begin to reA:orm her out o: my repertoire o: memories according to my Cuestionable desires. I touch her chee&# ta&e her hand. On this blea& hillside in midAmorning I can :ind no trace in mysel: o: that stupe:ied eroticism that used to dra$ me night a:ter night to her body or e4en o: the comradely a::ection o: the road. /here is only a blan&ness# and desolation that there has to be such blan&ness. -hen I tighten my grip on her hand there is no ans$er. I see only too clearly $hat I seeD a stoc&y girl $ith a broad mouth and hair cut in a :ringe across her :orehead staring o4er my shoulder into the s&yG a strangerG a 4isitor :rom strange parts no$ on her $ay home a:ter a less than happy 4isit. FGoodbye#F I say. FGoodbye#F she says. /here is no more li:e in her 4oice than in mine. I begin to climb do$n the slopeG by the time I reach the bottom they ha4e ta&en the stic&s :rom her and are helping her on to a pony. *** *s :ar as one can e4er be sure# spring has come. /he air is
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balmy# the green tips o: ne$ grassAshoots are beginning to push out here and there# :lurries o: desertACuail chase be:ore us. I: $e had le:t the oasis no$ rather than t$o $ee&s ago $e $ould ha4e tra4elled :aster and not ha4e ris&ed our li4es. On the other hand# $ould $e ha4e been luc&y enough to :ind the barbariansE /his 4ery day# I am sure# they are :olding their tents# pac&ing their carts# bringing their :loc&s under the $hip :or the spring migrations. I $as not $rong to ta&e the ris&# though I &no$ the men blame me. 6FBringing us out here in $interJF I imagine them saying. F-e should ne4er ha4e agreedJF *nd $hat must they thin& no$ that they realiHe they $ere not part o: an embassy to the barbarians as I hinted but simply an escort :or a $oman# a le:to4er barbarian prisoner# a person o: no account# the 5agistrateBs slutE7 -e try to retrace our old route as closely as possible# relying on the starAsightings I ha4e been care:ul to plot. /he $ind is behind us# the $eather is $armer# the horsesB loads are lighter# $e &no$ $here $e are# there is no reason $hy $e should not tra4el :ast. But at the :irst nightBs stop there is a setbac&. I am called to the camp:ire $here one o: the young soldiers sits de@ectedly $ith his :ace in his hands. "is boots are o::# his :ootcloths un$rapped. F+oo& at his :oot# sir#F says our guide. /he right :oot is pu::y and in:lamed. F-hat is $rongEF I as& the boy. "e li:ts the :oot and sho$s me a heel ca&ed $ith blood and pus. E4en abo4e the smell o: dirty :ootcloths I detect a putrid odour. F"o$ long has your :oot been li&e thisEF I shout. "e hides his :ace. F-hy did you not say anythingE IidnBt I tell you all that you must &eep your :eet clean# that you must change your :ootcloths e4ery second day and $ash them# that you must put ointment on blisters and bandage themE I ga4e
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those orders :or a reasonJ "o$ are you going to tra4el $ith your :oot in that conditionEF /he boy does not reply. F"e did not $ant to hold us up#F his :riend $hispers. F"e did not $ant to hold us up but no$ $e ha4e to cart him all the $ay bac&JF I shout. FBoil $ater# see that he cleans his :oot and bandages itJF I am right. -hen ne;t morning they try to help him on $ith his boot he cannot hide his agony. -ith the bandaged :oot $ound in a bag and tied he can limp along o4er the easier groundG but :or the most part he has to ride. -e $ill all be happy $hen this @ourney is o4er. -e are tired o: each otherBs company. On the :ourth day $e stri&e the bed o: the dead lagoon and :ollo$ it southAeast :or se4eral miles be:ore $e reach our old $aterhole $ith its clump o: star& poplarAtrun&s. /here $e rest :or a day# gathering our strength :or the hardest stretch. -e :ry a supply o: :atca&es and boil the last pot:ul o: beans to a mash. I &eep to mysel:. /he men tal& in lo$ 4oices and :all into silence $hen I am near. *ll the earlier e;citement has gone out o: the e;pedition# not only because its clima; has been so disappointinga pala4er in the desert :ollo$ed by the same road bac&but because the presence o: the girl had spurred the men into se;ual display# into a brotherly ri4alry $hich has no$ declined into morose irritability directed $illyA nilly against me :or ta&ing them on a :oolhardy @aunt# against the horses :or their recalcitrance# against their :ello$ $ith the sore :oot :or holding them up# against the brute impedimenta they ha4e to carry# e4en against themsel4es. I set an e;ample by laying out my bedroll beside the :ire beneath the stars# pre:erring the cold o: the open air to the cho&ing $armth o: a
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tent $ith three disgruntled men. /he ne;t night no one o::ers to pitch the tent and $e all sleep outside. By the se4enth day $e are ma&ing our $ay through the salt $astes. -e lose another horse. /he men# tired o: the monotonous beans and :lourca&es# as& to slaughter it :or :ood. I gi4e my permission but do not @oin in. FI $ill go on ahead $ith the horses#F I say. +et them en@oy their :east. +et me not hinder them :rom imagining it is my throat they cut# my bo$els they tear out# my bones they crac&. Perhaps they $ill be :riendlier a:ter$ards. I thin& $ith yearning o: the :amiliar routine o: my duties# o: the approaching summer# the long dreamy siestas# con4ersations $ith :riends at dus& under the $alnut trees# $ith boys bringing tea and lemonade and the eligible girls in t$os and threes promenading be:ore us on the sCuare in their :inery. Only days since I parted :rom that other one# and I :ind her :ace hardening o4er in my memory# becoming opaCue# impermeable# as though secreting a shell o4er itsel:. Plodding across the salt I catch mysel: in a moment o: astonishment that I could ha4e lo4ed someone :rom so remote a &ingdom. *ll I $ant no$ is to li4e out my li:e in ease in a :amiliar $orld# to die in my o$n bed and be :ollo$ed to the gra4e by old :riends. *** <rom as :ar a$ay as ten miles $e can ma&e out the @utting $atchto$ers against the s&yG $hile $e are still on the trac& south o: the la&e the ochre o: the $alls begins to separate out :rom the grey o: the desert bac&ground. I glance at the men behind me. /heir step too has Cuic&ened# they can barely hide their e;citement. -e ha4e not bathed or changed our clothes in three $ee&s# $e stin&# our s&in is dry and seamed in blac&
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:rom the beating o: $ind and sun# $e are e;hausted# but $e $al& li&e men# e4en the boy $ho stumps along no$ on his bandaged :oot $ith his chest thro$n out. It could ha4e been $orseD it could ha4e been better# perhaps# but it could ha4e been $orse. E4en the horses# their bellies bloated $ith marshA grass# seem restored to li:e. In the :ields the :irst spring shoots are beginning to sho$. /he thin tones o: a trumpet reach our earsG the horsemen o: the $elcoming party issue :rom the gates# the sun :lashing on their helmets. -e loo& li&e scarecro$sD it $ould ha4e been better i: I had told the men to put on their armour :or these last :e$ miles. I $atch the horsemen trot to$ards us# e;pecting them at any moment to brea& into a gallop# to :ire o:: their guns in the air and shout. But their demeanour remains businessli&e# they are not a $elcoming party at all# I begin to realiHe# there are no children running a:ter themD they di4ide in t$o and surround us# there is not one :ace among them that I recogniHe# their eyes are stony# they do not ans$er my Cuestions but march us bac& li&e prisoners through the open gates. It is only $hen $e emerge on to the sCuare and see the tents and hear the hubbub that $e understandD the army is here# the promised campaign against the barbarians is under $ay.

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4
* man sits at my des& in the o::ice behind the courtroom. I
ha4e ne4er seen him be:ore but the insignia on his lilacAblue tunic tell me that he belongs to the /hird Bureau o: the 3i4il Guard. * pile o: bro$n :olders tied $ith pin& tapes lies at his elbo$G one is open be:ore him. I recogniHe the :oldersD they contain records o: ta;es and le4ies dating bac& :i:ty years. 3an he really be e;amining themE -hat is he loo&ing :orE I spea&D FIs there anything I can help you $ithEF "e ignores me# and the t$o sti:: soldiers $ho guard me might as $ell be made o: $ood. I am :ar :rom complaining. *:ter my $ee&s in the desert it is no hardship to stand idle. Besides# I sense a :ara$ay tinge o: e;ultation at the prospect that the :alse :riendship bet$een mysel: and the Bureau may be coming to an end. F5ay I spea& to 3olonel ?ollEF I say. * shot in the dar&D $ho is to say that ?oll has returnedE "e does not ans$er# continuing his pretence o: reading the documents. "e is a goodAloo&ing man# $ith regular $hite teeth and lo4ely blue eyes. But 4ain# I thin&. I picture him sitting up in bed beside a girl# :le;ing his muscles :or her#
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:eeding on her admiration. /he &ind o: man $ho dri4es his body li&e a machine# I imagine# ignorant that it has its o$n rhythms. -hen he loo&s at me# as he $ill in a moment# he $ill loo& :rom behind that handsome immobile :ace and through those clear eyes as an actor loo&s :rom behind a mas&. "e loo&s up :rom the page. It is @ust as I thought. F-here ha4e you beenEF he says. FI ha4e been a$ay on a long @ourney. It pains me that I $as not here $hen you arri4ed to o::er you hospitality. But no$ I am bac&# and all that is mine is yours.F "is insignia say that he is a $arrant o::icer. -arrant O::icer in the /hird BureauD $hat does that meanE *t a guess# :i4e years o: &ic&ing and beating peopleG contempt :or the regular police and :or due process o: la$G a detestation o: smooth patrician tal& li&e mine. But perhaps I do him an in@usticeI ha4e been a$ay :rom the capital :or a long time. F%ou ha4e been treasonously consorting $ith the enemy#F he says. So it is out. F/reasonously consortingFD a phrase out o: a boo&. F-e are at peace here#F I say# F$e ha4e no enemies.F /here is silence. FUnless I ma&e a mista&e#F I say. FUnless $e are the enemy.F I am not sure that he understands me. F/he nati4es are at $ar $ith us#F he says. I doubt that he has e4er set eyes on a barbarian in his li:e. F-hy ha4e you been consorting $ith themE -ho ga4e you permission to lea4e your postEF I shrug o:: the pro4ocation. FIt is a pri4ate matter#F I say. F%ou $ill ha4e to ta&e my $ord :or that. I do not intend to discuss it. E;cept to say that the magistracy o: a district is not a post that can be abandoned li&e a gatepost.F
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/here is a spring in my $al& as I am marched a$ay to con:inement bet$een my t$o guards. FI hope you $ill allo$ me to $ash#F I say# but they ignore me. Ne4er mind. I am a$are o: the source o: my elationD my alliance $ith the guardians o: the Empire is o4er# I ha4e set mysel: in opposition# the bond is bro&en# I am a :ree man. -ho $ould not smileE But $hat a dangerous @oyJ It should not be so easy to attain sal4ation. *nd is there any principle behind my oppositionE "a4e I not simply been pro4o&ed into a reaction by the sight o: one o: the ne$ barbarians usurping my des& and pa$ing my papersE *s :or this liberty $hich I am in the process o: thro$ing a$ay# $hat 4alue does it ha4e to meE "a4e I truly en@oyed the unbounded :reedom o: this past year in $hich more than e4er be:ore my li:e has been mine to ma&e up as I go alongE <or e;ampleD my :reedom to ma&e o: the girl $hate4er I :elt li&e# $i:e or concubine or daughter or sla4e or all at once or none# at $him# because I had no duty to her sa4e $hat it occurred to me to :eel :rom moment to momentD :rom the oppression o: such :reedom $ho $ould not $elcome the liberation o: con:inementE In my opposition there is nothing heroiclet me not :or an instant :orget that. It is the same room in the barrac&s that they used :or their interrogations last year. I stand by $hile the mats and rolls o: the soldiers $ho ha4e been sleeping here are dragged out and piled at the door. 5y o$n three men# still :ilthy and ragged# emerge :rom the &itchen to stare. F-hat is that you are eatingEF I shout. FGet me some be:ore they loc& me upJF One o: them comes trotting o4er $ith his bo$l o: hot millet gruel. F/a&e it#F he says. /he guards motion me to go in. F?ust a moment#F I sayD Flet him :etch my bedroll# then I $onBt trouble you again.F /hey $ait $hile I stand in a patch o: sunlight spooning in the gruel li&e a star4ing man. /he boy $ith the
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sore :oot stands at my elbo$ $ith a bo$l o: tea# smiling. F/han& you#F I say. FIonBt be an;ious# they $onBt harm you# you $ere only doing $hat you $ere told.F -ith my bedroll and the old bearA:ur under my arm I enter my cell. /he sootA mar&s are still on the $all $here the braHier used to stand. /he door closes and dar&ness :alls. I sleep all day and all night# barely disturbed by the chopAchop o: pic&s behind the $all at my head or the :ara$ay rumble o: barro$s and shouts o: labourers. In my dreams I am again in the desert# plodding through endless space to$ards an obscure goal. I sigh and $et my lips. F-hat is that noiseEF I as& $hen the guard brings my :ood. /hey are tearing do$n the houses built against the south $all o: the barrac&s# he tells meD they are going to e;tend the barrac&s and build proper cells. F*h yes#F I sayD Ftime :or the blac& :lo$er o: ci4iliHation to bloom.F "e does not understand. /here is no $indo$# only a hole high on the $all. But a:ter a day or t$o my eyes ha4e ad@usted to the gloom. I ha4e to shield mysel: against the light $hen# morning and e4ening# the door is :lung open and I am :ed. /he best hour is early morning# $hen I $a&e and lie listening to the :irst birdsong outside# $atching the sCuare o: the smo&eAhole :or the instant at $hich dar&ness gi4es $ay to the :irst do4eAgrey light. I am :ed the same rations as the common soldiers. E4ery second day the barrac&s gate is loc&ed :or an hour and I am let out to $ash and e;ercise. /here are al$ays :aces pressed against the bars o: the gate gaping at the spectacle o: the :all o: the once mighty. 5any I recogniHeG but no one greets me. *t night $hen e4erything is still the coc&roaches come out to e;plore. I hear# or perhaps imagine# the horny clic&ing o: their $ings# the scurry o: their :eet across the pa4ed :loor. /hey are lured by the smell o: the buc&et in the corner# the
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morsels o: :ood on the :loorG no doubt too by this mountain o: :lesh gi4ing o:: its multi:arious odours o: li:e and decay. One night I am a$o&en by the :eatherAlight tread o: one crossing my throat. /herea:ter I o:ten @er& a$a&e during the night# t$itching# brushing mysel: o::# :eeling the phantom probings o: their antennae at my lips# my eyes. <rom such beginnings gro$ obsessionsD I am $arned. I stare all day at the empty $alls# unable to belie4e that the imprint o: all the pain and degradation they ha4e enclosed $ill not materialiHe under an intent enough gaHeG or shut my eyes# trying to attune my hearing to that in:initely :aint le4el at $hich the cries o: all $ho su::ered here must still beat :rom $all to $all. I pray :or the day $hen these $alls $ill be le4elled and the unCuiet echoes can :inally ta&e $ingG though it is hard to ignore the sound o: bric& being laid on bric& so nearby. I loo& :or$ard $ith cra4ing to e;ercise times# $hen I can :eel the $ind on my :ace and the earth under my soles# see other :aces and hear human speech. *:ter t$o days o: solitude my lips :eel slac& and useless# my o$n speech seems strange to me. /ruly# man $as not made to li4e aloneJ I build my day unreasonably around the hours $hen I am :ed. I guHHle my :ood li&e a dog. * bestial li:e is turning me into a beast. Ne4ertheless it is only on the empty days $hen I am cast $holly upon mysel: that I can turn seriously to the e4ocation o: the ghosts trapped bet$een these $alls o: men and $omen $ho a:ter a 4isit here no longer :elt that they $anted to eat and could not $al& unaided. Some$here# al$ays# a child is being beaten. I thin& o: one $ho despite her age $as still a childG $ho $as brought in here and hurt be:ore her :atherBs eyesG $ho $atched him being humiliated be:ore her# and sa$ that he &ne$ $hat she sa$.
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Or perhaps by that time she could not see# and had to &no$ by other meansD the tone his 4oice too& on $hen he pleaded $ith them to stop# :or instance. *l$ays I :ind in mysel: this moment o: shrin&ing :rom the details o: $hat $ent on in here. *:ter that she had no :ather. "er :ather had annihilated himsel:# he $as a dead man. It must ha4e been at this point# $hen she closed hersel: o:: to him# that he thre$ himsel: upon his interrogators# i: there is any truth in their story# and cla$ed at them li&e a $ild animal until he $as clubbed do$n. I close my eyes :or hours on end# sitting in the middle o: the :loor in the :aint light o: day# and try to e4o&e the image o: that man so illAremembered. *ll I see is a :igure named father that could be the :igure o: any :ather $ho &no$s a child is being beaten $hom he cannot protect. /o someone he lo4es he cannot :ul:il his duty. <or this he &no$s he is ne4er :orgi4en. /his &no$ledge o: :athers# this &no$ledge o: condemnation# is more than he can bear. No $onder he $anted to die. I ga4e the girl my protection# o::ering in my eCui4ocal $ay to be her :ather. But I came too late# a:ter she had ceased to belie4e in :athers. I $anted to do $hat $as right# I $anted to ma&e reparationD I $ill not deny this decent impulse# ho$e4er mi;ed $ith more Cuestionable moti4esD there must al$ays be a place :or penance and reparation. Ne4ertheless# I should ne4er ha4e allo$ed the gates o: the to$n to be opened to people $ho assert that there are higher considerations than those o: decency. /hey e;posed her :ather to her na&ed and made him gibber $ith painG they hurt her and he could not stop them 6on a day I spent occupied $ith the ledgers in my o::ice7. /herea:ter she $as no longer :ully human# sister to all o: us. 3ertain sympathies died# certain mo4ements o: the heart became no longer possible to her. I too# i: I li4e long enough
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in this cell $ith its ghosts not only o: the :ather and the daughter but o: the man $ho e4en by lamplight did not remo4e the blac& discs :rom his eyes and the subordinate $hose $or& it $as to &eep the braHier :ed# $ill be touched $ith the contagion and turned into a creature that belie4es in nothing. So I continue to s$oop and circle around the irreducible :igure o: the girl# casting one net o: meaning a:ter another o4er her. She leans on her t$o stic&s loo&ing dimly up$ard. -hat does she seeE /he protecting $ings o: a guardian albatross or the blac& shape o: a co$ard cro$ a:raid to stri&e $hile its prey yet breathesE *** /hough the guards ha4e orders not to discuss anything $ith me# it is not di::icult to stitch together into a coherent story the snatches o: tal& I hear on my outings into the yard. *ll the latest tal& is about the :ire along the ri4er. <i4e days ago it $as @ust a dar&er smudge against the haHe in the northA$est. Since then it has eaten its $ay slo$ly do$n the ri4erAcourse# sometimes dying do$n but al$ays re4i4ing# and clearly 4isible no$ :rom the to$n as a bro$n shroud o4er the delta $here the ri4er enters the la&e. I can guess $hat has happened. Someone has decided that the ri4erAban&s pro4ide too much co4er :or the barbarians# that the ri4er $ould :orm a more de:ensible line i: the ban&s $ere cleared. So they ha4e :ired the brush. -ith the $ind blo$ing :rom the north# the :ire has spread across the $hole shallo$ 4alley. I ha4e seen $ild:ires be:ore. /he :ire races through the reeds# the poplars :lare up li&e torches. *nimals that are Cuic& enoughantelope# hare# catescapeG s$arms
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o: birds :ly out in terrorG e4erything else is consumed. But there are so many barren stretches along the ri4er that :ires rarely spread. So it is clear that in this case a party must be :ollo$ing the :ire do$nri4er to see to its progress. /hey do not care that once the ground is cleared the $ind begins to eat at the soil and the desert ad4ances. /hus the e;peditionary :orce against the barbarians prepares :or its campaign# ra4aging the earth# $asting our patrimony. *** /he shel4es ha4e been cleared# dusted and polished. /he sur:ace o: the des& glo$s $ith a deep lustre# bare sa4e :or a saucer o: little glass balls o: di::erent colours. /he room is spotlessly clean. * 4ase o: hibiscus :lo$ers stands on a table in the corner :illing the air $ith scent. /here is a ne$ carpet on the :loor. 5y o::ice has ne4er loo&ed more attracti4e. I stand beside my guard in the same clothes I tra4elled in# my under$ear $ashed once or t$ice but my coat still smelling o: $oodsmo&e# $aiting. I $atch the play o: sunlight through the almondAblossoms outside the $indo$# and am content. *:ter a long $hile he enters# tosses a shea: o: papers on the des&# and sits do$n. "e stares at me $ithout spea&ing. "e is trying# though some$hat too theatrically# to ma&e a certain impression on me. /he care:ul reorganiHation o: my o::ice :rom clutter and dustiness to this 4acuous neatness# the slo$ s$agger $hich he uses to cross the room# the measured insolence $ith $hich he e;amines me# are all meant to say somethingD not only that he is no$ in charge 6ho$ could I contest thatE7 but that he &no$s ho$ to comport himsel: in an o::ice# &no$s e4en ho$ to introduce a note o: :unctional
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elegance. -hy does he thin& me $orth the trouble o: this displayE Because despite my smelly clothes and my $ild beard I am still :rom an old family, ho$e4er contemptibly decayed out here in the bac& o: beyondE Ioes he :ear I $ill sneer unless he armours himsel: in a dLcor pic&ed up# I ha4e no doubt# :rom care:ul obser4ation o: the o::ices o: his superiors in the BureauE "e $ill not belie4e me i: I tell him it does not matter. I must be care:ul not to smile. "e clears his throat. FI am going to read to you :rom the depositions $e ha4e gathered# 5agistrate#F he says# Fso that you $ill ha4e an idea o: the gra4ity o: the charges against you.F "e motions and the guard lea4es the room. F<rom oneD B"is conduct in o::ice le:t much to be desired. "is decisions $ere characteriHed by arbitrariness# petitioners had on occasion to $ait months :or a hearing# and he maintained no regular system o: accounting :or moneys.B F "e lays do$n the paper. FI may mention that an inspection o: your accounts has con:irmed that there ha4e been irregularities. BIespite being principal adminstrati4e o::icer :or the district# he contracted a liaison $ith a street$oman $hich occupied most o: his energies# to the detriment o: his o::icial duties. /he liaison had a demoraliHing e::ect on the prestige o: imperial administration because the $oman in Cuestion had been patroniHed by the common soldiers and :igured in numerous obscene stories.B I $ill not repeat the stories. F+et me read to you :rom another. BOn the :irst o: 5arch# t$o $ee&s be:ore the arri4al o: the e;peditionary :orce# he ga4e orders :or mysel: and t$o other men 6named7 to prepare at once :or a long @ourney. "e did not at that time say $here $e $ere going. -e $ere surprised $hen $e :ound that the barbarian girl $ould be tra4elling $ith us# but $e did not as& Cuestions. -e $ere also surprised by the hastiness o: the
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preparations. -e did not see $hy $e could not $ait :or the spring tha$. It $as only a:ter our return that $e understood that his purpose had been to $arn the barbarians o: the coming campaign. . . -e made contact $ith the barbarians on appro;imately the eighteenth o: 5arch. "e had long consultations $ith them :rom $hich $e $ere e;cluded. *n e;change o: gi:ts also too& place. *t this time $e discussed among oursel4es $hat $e $ould do i: he ordered us to go o4er to the barbarians. -e decided that $e $ould re:use and :ind our o$n $ay home. . . /he girl returned to her people. "e $as besotted $ith her# but she did not care :or him.B FSo.F "e lays the papers do$n care:ully and sCuares the corners. I &eep my silence. FI read only e;tracts. So that you could see the shape o: things. It loo&s bad $hen $e ha4e to come in and clean up local administration. It isnBt e4en our @ob.F FI $ill de:end mysel: in a court o: la$.F F-ill youEF I am not surprised by $hat they are doing. I &no$ 4ery $ell the $eight that insinuations and nuances can be made to bear or ho$ a Cuestion can be as&ed in such a $ay as to dictate its ans$er. /hey $ill use the la$ against me as :ar as it ser4es them# then they $ill turn to other methods. /hat is the BureauBs $ay. /o people $ho do not operate under statute# legal process is simply one instrument among many. I spea&. FNo one $ould dare to say those things to my :ace. -ho is responsible :or the :irst depositionEF "e $a4es a hand and settles bac&. FNe4er mind. %ou $ill ha4e your chance to reply.F So $e contemplate each other in the stillness o: the morning# till it is time :or him to clap his hands :or the guard to remo4e me.
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I thin& about him a great deal in the solitude o: my cell# trying to understand his animosity# trying to see mysel: as he sees me. I thin& o: the care he has spent on my o::ice. "e does not simply hurl my papers in a corner and prop his boots on my des&# but instead ta&es the trouble to display to me his notion o: good taste. -hyE * man $ith the $aist o: a boy and the muscular arms o: a street:ighter crammed into the lilacA blue uni:orm that the Bureau has created :or itsel:. 2ain# hungry :or praise# I am sure. * de4ourer o: $omen# unsatis:ied# unsatis:ying. -ho has been told that one can reach the top only by climbing a pyramid o: bodies. -ho dreams that one o: these days he $ill put his :oot on my throat and press. *nd IE I :ind it hard to hate him in return. /he road to the top must be hard :or young men $ithout money# $ithout patronage# $ith the barest o: schooling# men $ho might as easily go into li4es o: crime as into the ser4ice o: the Empire 6but $hat better branch o: ser4ice could they choose than the BureauJ7. Ne4ertheless# I am not ta&ing easily to the humiliations o: imprisonment. Sometimes# sitting on my mat staring at three spec&s on the $all and :eeling mysel: dri:t :or the thousandth time to$ards the Cuestions# Why are they in a row? Who put them there? Do they stand for anything?, or :inding as I pace the room that I am counting one-two-threefour-five-six-one-two-three . . # or brushing my hand mindlessly o4er my :ace# I realiHe ho$ tiny I ha4e allo$ed them to ma&e my $orld# ho$ I daily become more li&e a beast or a simple machine# a childBs spinningA$heel# :or e;ample# $ith eight little :igures presenting themsel4es on the rimD :ather# lo4er# horseman# thie:. . . /hen I respond $ith mo4ements o: 4ertiginous terror in $hich I rush around the cell @er&ing my arms about# pulling my beard# stamping my
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:eet# doing anything to surprise mysel:# to remind mysel: o: a $orld beyond that is 4arious and rich. /here are other humiliations too. 5y reCuests :or clean clothes are ignored. I ha4e nothing to $ear but $hat I brought $ith me. Each e;ercise day# under the eye o: the guard# I $ash one item# a shirt or a pair o: dra$ers# $ith ash and cold $ater# and ta&e it bac& to my cell to dry 6the shirt I le:t to dry in the yard $as gone t$o days later7. In my nostrils there is al$ays the mouldy smell o: clothing that does not see the sun. *nd $orse. Under the monotonous regimen o: soup and porridge and tea# it has become an agony :or me to mo4e my bo$els. I hesitate :or days :eeling sti:: and bloated be:ore I can bring mysel: to sCuat o4er the pail and endure the stabs o: pain# the tearing o: tissues that accompany these e4acuations. No one beats me# no one star4es me# no one spits on me. "o$ can I regard mysel: as a 4ictim o: persecution $hen my su::erings are so pettyE %et they are all the more degrading :or their pettiness. I remember smiling $hen the door :irst closed behind me and the &ey turned in the loc&. It seemed no great in:liction to mo4e :rom the solitariness o: e4eryday e;istence to the solitude o: a cell $hen I could bring $ith me a $orld o: thoughts and memories. But no$ I begin to comprehend ho$ rudimentary :reedom is. -hat :reedom has been le:t to meE /he :reedom to eat or go hungryG to &eep my silence or gabble to mysel: or beat on the door or scream. I: I $as the ob@ect o: an in@ustice# a minor in@ustice# $hen they loc&ed me in here# I am no$ no more than a pile o: blood# bone and meat that is unhappy. 5y e4ening meal is brought by the coo&Bs little grandson. I am sure it puHHles him that the old 5agistrate has been shut up all alone in a dar& room# but he as&s no Cuestions. "e enters 4ery erect and proud# bearing the tray#
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$hile the guard holds the door open. F/han& you#F I say# FIBm so glad you ha4e come# I $as getting so hungry. . .F I rest my hand on his shoulder# :illing the space bet$een us $ith human $ords# $hile he $aits gra4ely :or me to taste and appro4e. F*nd ho$ is your granny todayEF FShe is $ell# sir.F F*nd the dogE "as the dog come bac& yetEF 6<rom across the yard comes his grandmotherBs call.7 FNo# sir.F FIt is spring# you &no$# it is the mating seasonD dogs go 4isiting# they stay a$ay :or days# then they come bac& $ithout telling you $here they ha4e been. %ou mustnBt be $orried# he $ill come bac&.F F%es# sir.F I taste the soup# as he $ants me to do# and smac& my lips. FSay to your grandmother# than& you :or the supper# it is delicious.F F%es# sir.F *gain the callD he pic&s up this morningBs mug and plate and prepares to go. F*nd tell meD ha4e the soldiers come bac& yetEF I as& Cuic&ly. FNo# sir.F I hold the door open and stand :or a moment in the door$ay listening to the last t$itterings o: the birds in the trees under the great 4iolet s&y $hile the child crosses the yard $ith his tray. I ha4e nothing to gi4e him# not e4en a buttonG I ha4e not e4en time to sho$ him ho$ to ma&e his &nuc&les go clic& or ho$ to catch his nose in his :ist. I am :orgetting the girl. Iri:ting to$ards sleep# it comes to me $ith cold clarity that a $hole day has passed in $hich I ha4e not thought o: her. -orse# I cannot remember certainly
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$hat she loo&s li&e. <rom her empty eyes there al$ays seemed to be a haHe spreading# a blan&ness that o4ertoo& all o: her. I stare into the dar&ness $aiting :or an image to :ormG but the only memory on $hich I can absolutely rest is o: my oiled hands sliding o4er her &nees# her cal4es# her an&les. I try to recall our :e$ intimacies but con:use them $ith memories o: all the other $arm :lesh in $hich I ha4e sheathed mysel: in the course o: a li:etime. I am :orgetting her# and :orgetting her# I &no$# deliberately. Not :rom the moment $hen I stopped be:ore her at the barrac&s gate and elected her ha4e I &no$n the root o: my need :or herG and no$ I am steadily engaged in burying her in obli4ion. 3old hands# cold heartD I remember the pro4erb# touch my palms to my chee&# sigh in the dar&. In the dream there is someone &neeling in the shelter o: the $all. /he sCuare is Cuite emptyG the $ind dri4es the dust in cloudsG she huddles behind the collar o: her coat# pulls her cap do$n to co4er her :ace. I stand o4er her. F-here does it hurtEF I say. I :eel the $ords :orm in my mouth# then hear them emerge thin# bodiless# li&e $ords spo&en by someone else. She brings her legs :or$ard a$&$ardly and touches her an&les. She is so small that she is almost lost in the manBs coat she $ears. I &neel# unlace the capacious $oollen soc&s# un$rap the bandages. /he :eet lie be:ore me in the dust# disembodied# monstrous# t$o stranded :ish# t$o huge potatoes. I li:t one on to my lap and begin to cha:e it. /ears $ell :rom behind her eyelids and run do$n her chee&s. FIt is soreJF she $ails in a tiny 4oice. FSsh#F I say# FI $ill &eep you $arm.F I li:t the other :oot and hug the t$o together. /he $ind pours dust on usG there is grit on my teeth. I $a&e up $ith aching gums and blood in my mouth. /he night is still# the moon is dar&. I lie :or a $hile loo&ing up into blac&ness# then slide
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bac& into the dream. I enter the barrac&s gate$ay and :ace a yard as endless as the desert. /here is no hope o: reaching the other side# but I plod on# carrying the girl# the only &ey I ha4e to the labyrinth# her head nodding against my shoulder# her dead :eet drooping on the other side. /here are other dreams in $hich the :igure that I call the girl changes shape# se;# siHe. In one dream there are t$o shapes that arouse horror in meD massi4e and blan&# they gro$ and gro$ till they :ill all the space in $hich I sleep. I $a&e up cho&ed# shouting# my throat :ull. /he te;ture o: the days# on the other hand# is as dull as porridge. Ne4er be:ore has my nose been so rubbed in the Cuotidian. /he :lo$ o: e4ents in the outside $orld# the moral dimension o: my plight# i: that is $hat it is# a plight# e4en the prospect o: de:ending mysel: in court# ha4e lost all interest under the pressure o: appetite and physical :unctions and the boredom o: li4ing one hour a:ter another. I ha4e caught a coldG my $hole being is preoccupied in sni::ing and sneeHing# in the misery o: being simply a body that :eels itsel: sic& and $ants to be $ell. *** One a:ternoon the :aint irregular scrape and chin& o: the bric&layersB tro$els on the other side o: the $all suddenly ceases. +ying on my mat# I pric& my earsD there is a :ara$ay hum in the air# a :aint electric Cuality to the still a:ternoon that :ails to resol4e itsel: into distinguishable sounds but lea4es me tense and restless. * stormE /hough I press my ear to the door I can ma&e out nothing. /he barrac&s yard is empty. +ater the tro$els resume their chin&Achin&.
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/o$ards e4ening the door opens and my little :riend enters $ith my supper. I can see that he is bursting to tell me somethingG but the guard has come in $ith him and stands $ith a hand on his shoulder. So only his eyes spea& to meD glo$ing $ith e;citement# I can s$ear they say that the soldiers ha4e returned. In $hich case $hy not bugles and cheering# $hy not horses trotting across the great sCuare# $hy not the noise o: preparations :or a :eastE -hy does the guard grip the boy so tightly and $hip him a$ay be:ore I can gi4e him a &iss on his sha4en s&ullE /he ob4ious ans$er is that the soldiers ha4e returned# but not in triumph. I: so# I must be$are. +ater in the e4ening there is a burst o: noise :rom the yard and a hubbub o: 4oices. Ioors are opened and slammed# :eet tramp bac& and :orth. Some o: $hat is said I can hear clearlyD tal& not o: strategies or barbarian armies but o: aching :eet and e;haustion# an argument about sic& men $ho must ha4e beds. -ithin an hour all is Cuiet again. /he yard is empty. /here:ore there are no prisoners. /hat at least is cause :or @oy. *** It is midAmorning and I ha4e had no brea&:ast. I pace my room# my stomach rumbling li&e a hungry co$Bs. *t the thought o: salty porridge and blac& tea my sali4a runs# I cannot help it. Nor is there any sign that I $ill be let out# though this is an e;ercise day. /he bric&layers are at $or& againG :rom the yard come sounds o: e4eryday acti4ityG I e4en hear the coo& calling to her grandson. I beat on the door but no one pays any attention.
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/hen in midAa:ternoon the &ey scrapes in the loc& and the door opens. F-hat do you $antEF says my $arder. F-hy ha4e you been banging on the doorEF "o$ he must detest meJ /o spend days o: oneBs li:e &eeping $atch on a closed door and attending to the animal needs o: another manJ "e has been robbed o: his :reedom too# and thin&s o: me as the robber. F*re you not letting me out todayE I ha4enBt had anything to eat.F FIs that $hat you called me :orE %ouBll get your :ood. +earn some patience. %ouBre too :at any$ay.F F-ait. I ha4e to empty my buc&et. It stin&s in here. I $ant to $ash the :loor. I $ant to $ash my clothes too. I canBt appear in :ront o: the 3olonel in clothes that smell li&e this. It $ill only bring disgrace on my $arders. I need hot $ater and soap and a rag. +et me Cuic&ly empty my buc&et and :etch hot $ater :rom the &itchen.F 5y guess about the 3olonel must be right# :or he does not contradict me. "e opens the door $ider and stands aside. F"urry upJF he says. /here is only a scullery maid in the &itchen. She gi4es a start $hen the t$o o: us $al& in# in :act e4en seems about to run a$ay. -hat stories ha4e people been telling about meE FGi4e him some hot $ater#F the guard orders. She duc&s her head and turns to the sto4e $here there is al$ays a great cauldron o: steaming $ater. O4er my shoulder I say to the guard# F* buc&etI $ill :etch a buc&et :or the $ater.F In a :e$ strides I am across the &itchen to the dim recess $here# along $ith sac&s o: :lour and salt and crushed millet and dried peas and beans# the mops and brooms are &ept. On a nail at headAheight is the &ey to the cellar $here the sides o: mutton are hung. In an instant I ha4e poc&eted it. -hen I turn I ha4e a $ooden buc&et in my hand. I
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hold it up $hile the girl ladles boiling $ater in. F"o$ are youEF I say. "er hand trembles so much that I ha4e to ta&e the ladle :rom her. F3an I ha4e a little soap and an old rag# pleaseEF Bac& in my cell I strip and $ash in the lu;uriously $arm $ater. I $ash my one spare pair o: dra$ers# $hich smells li&e rotten onions# $ring it out# hang it on the nail behind the door# and empty the buc&et on the pa4ed :loor. /hen I lie do$n to $ait :or night:all. *** /he &ey turns smoothly in the loc&. "o$ many people besides mysel: &no$ that the cellar &ey unloc&s the door to my prisonA room as $ell as the large cupboard in the main barrac&sAhall# that the &ey to the suite o: rooms o4er the &itchen duplicates the &ey to the armoury door# that the &ey to the northA$est to$er stair$ay also opens the northAeast to$er stair$ay# the smaller cupboard in the hall# and the hatch o4er the $aterpipe in the courtyardE One does not spend thirty years immersed in the minutiae o: the li:e o: a tiny settlement :or nothing. /he stars t$in&le out o: a clear blac& s&y. /hrough the bars o: the yard gate comes the gleam o: a :ire on the sCuare beyond. Beside the gate# i: I strain my eyes# I can ma&e out a dar& shape# a man sitting against the $all or curled up in sleep. Ioes he see me in the door$ay o: my cellE <or minutes I stand alert. "e does not stir. /hen I begin to edge along the $all# my bare :eet ma&ing $hispering noises on the patches o: gra4el. I turn the corner and pass the &itchen door. /he ne;t door leads to my old apartment upstairs. It is loc&ed. /he third and last door stands open. It is the door o: the little room
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sometimes used as a sic&bay# sometimes simply to Cuarter men in. *t a crouch# :eeling $ith my hand be:ore me# I creep to$ards the dim blue sCuare o: the barred $indo$# :ear:ul o: stumbling o4er the bodies $hose breathing I hear all about me. One strand begins to separate :rom the s&einD the sleeper at my :eet breathes :ast# at each e;halation gi4ing a little moan. Is he dreamingE I pause $hile a :e$ inches :rom me# li&e a machine# he continues to pant and moan in the dar&. /hen I creep past. I stand at the $indo$ and loo& out across the to$n sCuare# hal: e;pecting camp:ires# lines o: tethered horses and stac&ed arms# ro$s o: tents. But there is almost nothing to seeD the embers o: a single dying :ire# and perhaps the gleam o: t$o $hite tents :ar a$ay under the trees. So the e;peditionary :orce is not bac&J Or is it possible that these :e$ souls here are all that is le:t o: itE 5y heart stops at the thought. But that is not possibleJ /hese men ha4e not been to $arD at $orst they ha4e been roaming the upAri4er country# hunting do$n unarmed sheepAherders# raping their $omen# pillaging their homes# scattering their :loc&sG at best they ha4e met no one at allcertainly not the gathered barbarian clans :rom $hose :ury the /hird Bureau is engaged in protecting us. <ingers as light as a butter:lyBs $ing touch my an&le. I drop to my &nees. FI am thirsty#F con:ides a 4oice. It is the man $ho $as panting. So he $as not asleep. FKuietly# my son#F I $hisper. Staring# I can ma&e out the $hites o: his upturned eyeballs. I touch his :oreheadD he is :e4erish. "is hand comes up and grips mine. FI ha4e been so thirstyJF he says. FI $ill bring you $ater#F I $hisper in his ear# Fbut then you must promise to be Cuiet. /here are sic& men here# they must sleep.F
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/he shado$ beside the gate has not mo4ed. Perhaps there is nothing there# perhaps only an old sac& or a stac& o: :ire$ood. I tiptoe across the gra4el to the trough $here the soldiers $ash. /he $ater is not clean but I cannot a::ord to unstop the pipe. * battered pot hangs at the side o: the trough. I scoop it :ull and tiptoe bac&. /he boy tries to sit up but is too $ea&. I support him $hile he drin&s. F-hat happenedEF I $hisper. One o: the other sleepers stirs. F*re you hurt or are you sic&EF FIBm so hotJF he groans. "e $ants to thro$ his blan&et aside but I restrain him. F%ou must s$eat the :e4er out#F I $hisper. "e sha&es his head slo$ly :rom side to side. I hold his $rist till he sin&s bac& into sleep. /here are three bars set in a $ooden :rameD all the do$nstairs $indo$s o: the barrac&s bloc& are barred. I brace my :oot against the :rame# grip the middle bar# and hea4e. I s$eat and strain# there is a stab o: pain in my bac&# but the bar does not budge. /hen all o: a sudden the :rame crac&s and I ha4e to cling to pre4ent mysel: :rom :alling bac&$ards. /he boy begins moaning again# another sleeper clears his throat. I almost shout $ith surprise at the pain that comes $hen I put my $eight on my right leg. /he $indo$ itsel: is open. <orcing the bars to one side# I push my head and shoulders through the gap# $or& my $ay out# and tumble to earth at last behind the ro$ o: cropped bushes that runs along the north $all o: the barrac&s. *ll I can thin& o: is the pain# all that I desire is to be le:t to lie in the easiest position I can :ind# on my side $ith my &nees raised to$ard my chin. <or an hour at least# $hile I could be pursuing my escape# I lie there# hearing through the open $indo$ the sighs o: the sleepers# the 4oice o: the boy mumbling to
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himsel:. /he last embers o: the :ire on the sCuare die. 5an and beast are asleep. It is the hour be:ore da$n# the coldest hour. I :eel the chill o: the earth enter my bones. I: I lie here longer I $ill :reeHe and be trundled bac& to my cell in the morning in a barro$. +i&e a $ounded snail I begin to creep along the $all to$ards the dar& mouth o: the :irst street leading o:: the sCuare. /he gate to the little area behind the inn lies bac& rotten on its hinges. /he area itsel: smells o: decay. Peelings# bones# slops# ash are hurled out here :rom the &itchen to be :or&ed into the groundG but the earth has gro$n tired# the :or& that buries this $ee&Bs re:use turns up last $ee&Bs. Iuring the day the air is ali4e $ith :liesG at dus& the blac&Abeetle and coc&roach $a&e. Beneath the $ooden stair$ay that leads up to the balcony and ser4antsB Cuarters is a recess $here $ood is stored and $here the cats retire $hen it rains. I cra$l in and curl up on an old bag. It smells o: urine# it is certainly :ull o: :leas# I am so cold that my teeth chatterG but at this moment all that occupies me is the palliation o: the pain in my bac&. *** I am $o&en by a clatter o: :ootsteps on the stair$ay. It is daylightD con:used# thic&Aheaded# I co$er bac& in my den. Someone opens the &itchen door. <rom all corners chic&ens come scurrying. It is only a matter o: time be:ore I am disco4ered. *s boldly as I can# but $incing despite mysel:# I mount the stairs. "o$ must I loo& to the $orld $ith my dingy shirt and trousers# my bare :eet# my un&empt beardE +i&e a
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domestic# I pray# an ostler come home a:ter a nightBs carousing. /he passage$ay is empty# the door to the girlBs room open. /he room is neat and tidy as e4erD the :leecy s&in on the :loor beside the bed# the red cheCuered curtain dra$n o4er the $indo$# the &ist pushed against the :ar $all $ith a rac& o: clothes abo4e it. I bury my :ace in the :ragrance o: her clothes and thin& o: the little boy $ho brought my :ood# o: ho$ $hen my hand rested on his shoulder I $ould :eel the healing po$er o: the touch run through a body gro$n sti:: $ith unnatural solitude. /he bed is made up. -hen I slip my hand bet$een the sheets I imagine I can :eel the :aint a:terglo$ o: her $armth. Nothing $ould please me more than to curl up in her bed# lay my head on her pillo$# :orget my aches and pains# ignore the hunt that must by no$ ha4e been launched :or me# and li&e the little girl in the story tumble into obli4ion. "o$ 4oluptuously I :eel the attraction o: the so:t# the $arm# the odorous this morningJ -ith a sigh I &neel and coa; my body in under the bed. <ace do$n# pressed so tightly bet$een the :loor and the slats o: the bed that $hen I mo4e my shoulders the bed li:ts# I try to compose mysel: :or a day in hiding. I doHe and $a&e# dri:ting :rom one :ormless dream to another. By midAmorning it has become too hot to sleep. *s long as I can# I lie s$eating in my close dusty retreat. /hen# though I postpone it# the time comes $hen I ha4e to relie4e mysel:. Groaning I inch my $ay out and sCuat o4er the chamberpot. *gain the pain# the tearing. I dab mysel: $ith a :ilched $hite hand&erchie:# $hich comes a$ay bloody. /he room stin&sD e4en I# $ho ha4e been li4ing :or $ee&s $ith a slop pail in the corner# am disgusted. I open the door and hobble do$n the passage$ay. /he balcony loo&s o4er ro$s o:
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roo:s# then beyond them o4er the south $all and the desert stretching into the blue distance. /here is no one to be seen e;cept a $oman on the other side o: the alley$ay s$eeping her step. * child cra$ls on hands and &nees behind her pushing something in the dust# I cannot see $hat. Its neat little bottom points up in the air. *s the $oman turns her bac& I step out o: the shado$s and hurl the contents o: the pot out on to the re:useAheap belo$. She notices nothing. * torpor is already beginning to settle o4er the to$n. /he morningBs $or& is o4erD anticipating the heat o: midday# people are retiring to their shaded courtyards or to the cool green o: inner rooms. /he babble o: $ater in the streetA :urro$s dies do$n and stops. *ll I can hear is the clin& o: the :arrierBs hammer# the cooing o: turtledo4es# and some$here :ar a$ay the $ail o: a baby. Sighing I lay mysel: do$n on the bed in the s$eet remembered scent o: :lo$ers. "o$ in4iting to @oin the rest o: the to$n in its siestaJ /hese days# these hot spring days already becoming summerho$ easy I :ind it to slip into their languorous moodJ "o$ can I accept that disaster has o4erta&en my li:e $hen the $orld continues to mo4e so tranCuilly through its cyclesE It ta&es no e::ort to belie4e that $hen the shado$s begin to lengthen and the :irst breath o: $ind stirs the lea4es# I $ill $a&e up and ya$n and dress and descend the stairs and cross the sCuare to my o::ice# nodding to the :riends and neighbours I pass# that I $ill spend an hour or t$o there# tidy my des&# loc& up# that e4erything $ill go on being as it has al$ays been. I must actually sha&e my head and blin& my eyes to realiHe that as I lie here I am a hunted man# that in the course o: their duty soldiers are going to come here and haul me a$ay and loc& me up again out o: the sight o: the s&y and o: other human beings. FWhyEF I groan into the
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pillo$D !Why me?! Ne4er has there been anyone so con:used and innocent o: the $orld as I. * 4eritable babyJ %et i: they can they $ill shut me a$ay to moulder# sub@ect my body to their intermittent 4ile attentions# then one day $ithout $arning :etch me out and rush me through one o: the closed trials they conduct under the emergency po$ers# $ith the sti:: little colonel presiding and his henchman reading the charges and t$o @unior o::icers as assessors to lend the proceedings an air o: legality in an other$ise empty courtroomG and then# particularly i: they ha4e su::ered re4erses# particularly i: the barbarians ha4e humiliated them# they $ill :ind me guilty o: treasonneed I doubt thatE <rom the courtroom to the e;ecutioner they $ill drag me &ic&ing and $eeping# be$ildered as the day I $as born# clinging to the end to the :aith that no harm can come to the guiltless. F%ou are li4ing in a dreamJF I say to mysel:D I pronounce the $ords aloud# stare at them# try to grasp their signi:icanceD F%ou must $a&e upJF Ieliberately I bring to mind images o: innocents I ha4e &no$nD the boy lying na&ed in the lamplight $ith his hands pressed to his groins# the barbarian prisoners sCuatting in the dust# shading their eyes# $aiting :or $hate4er is to come ne;t. -hy should it be inconcei4able that the behemoth that trampled them $ill trample me tooE I truly belie4e I am not a:raid o: death. -hat I shrin& :rom# I belie4e# is the shame o: dying as stupid and be:uddled as I am. /here is a :lurry o: 4oices# menBs and $omenBs# :rom the yard belo$. *s I scuttle into my hidingAplace I hear the tramp o: :ootsteps on the stairs. /hey recede to the :ar end o: the balcony# then come slo$ly bac&# pausing at each door. /he $alls separating the cubicles on this upper :loor $here the ser4ants sleep and $here a soldier o: the garrison can buy a nightBs pri4acy are mere slats papered o4erD I can hear clearly
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as my hunter thro$s open each door in turn. I press mysel: against the $all. I hope he does not smell me. /he :ootsteps round the corner and come do$n the passage. 5y door is opened# held open :or a :e$ seconds# closed again. So I ha4e passed one test. /here is a Cuic&er# lighter treadD someone runs do$n the passage and enters the room. 5y head is turned the $rong $ay# I cannot e4en see her :eet# but I &no$ it is the girl. /his is the moment at $hich I ought to come into the open# beg her to hide me till night :alls and I can :ind my $ay out o: the to$n and do$n to the la&eside. But ho$ can I do itE By the time the bed has stopped hea4ing and I ha4e emerged she $ill ha4e :led screaming :or help. *nd $ho is to say that she $ould o::er re:uge to one o: the many men $ho ha4e spent time in this room# one o: many passing men :rom $hom she earns a li4elihood# a man in disgrace# a :ugiti4eE -ould she e4en recogniHe me as I amE "er :eet :lutter about the room# stopping here# stopping there. I can ma&e out no pattern in their mo4ements. I lie still# breathing so:tly# s$eat dripping o:: me. *ll at once she is goneD the stairs crea&# there is silence. * lull :alls o4er me too# a spell o: lucidity in $hich I see ho$ ridiculous it is# all this running and hiding# $hat a silly thing it is to be lying under a bed on a hot a:ternoon $aiting :or a chance to snea& a$ay to the reedAbra&es# there to li4e no doubt on birdsB eggs and :ish that I catch $ith my hands# sleeping in a hole in the earth# biding my time till this phase o: history grinds past and the :rontier returns to its old somnolence. /he truth is that I am not mysel:# I ha4e been terrorAstric&en# I percei4e# since the moment in my cell $hen I sa$ the guardBs :ingers clamp o4er the shoulder o: the little boy to remind him not to spea& to me# and &ne$ that# $hate4er it $as that had happened that day# I $as to bear the
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blame :or it. I $al&ed into that cell a sane man sure o: the /ightness o: my cause# ho$e4er incompetent I continue to :ind mysel: to describe $hat that cause may beG but a:ter t$o months among the coc&roaches $ith nothing to see but :our $alls and an enigmatic sootAmar&# nothing to smell but the stench o: my o$n body# no one to tal& to but a ghost in a dream $hose lips seem to be sealed# I am much less sure o: mysel:. /he cra4ing to touch and be touched by another human body sometimes comes o4er me $ith such :orce that I groanG ho$ I loo&ed :or$ard to the single brie: contact $hich $as all I could ha4e $ith the boy# morning and e4eningJ /o lie in a $omanBs arms in a proper bed# to ha4e good :ood to eat# to $al& in the sunho$ much more important these seem than the right to decide $ithout ad4ice :rom the police $ho should be my :riends and $ho my enemiesJ "o$ can I be in the right $hen there is not a soul in the to$n $ho appro4es o: my escapade $ith the barbarian girl or $ho $ould not :eel bitter against me i: young men :rom here $ere &illed by my barbarian protLgLsE *nd $hat is the point o: su::ering at the hands o: the men in blue i: I am not ironAhard in my certaintyE No matter i: I told my interrogators the truth# recounted e4ery $ord I uttered on my 4isit to the barbarians# no matter e4en i: they $ere tempted to belie4e me# they $ould press on $ith their grim business# :or it is an article o: :aith $ith them that the last truth is told only in the last e;tremity. I am running a$ay :rom pain and death. I ha4e no plan o: escape. "iding a$ay in the reeds I $ould star4e $ithin a $ee&# or be smo&ed out. I am simply see&ing ease# i: the truth be told# :leeing to the only so:t bed and :riendly arms I ha4e le:t to me. *gain :ootsteps. I recogniHe the girlBs Cuic& tread# this time not alone but $ith a man. /hey enter the room. By his 4oice he cannot be more than a boy. F%ou shouldnBt let them
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treat you li&e thatJ %ouBre not their sla4eJF he says $ith 4ehemence. F%ou donBt understand#F she replies. F*ny$ay# I donBt $ant to tal& about it no$.F /here is silence# then more intimate sounds. I :lush. It is intolerable that I should stay :or this. %et li&e the cuc&old in the :arce I hold my breath# sin&ing :urther and :urther into disgrace. One o: them sits do$n on the bed. Boots thud to the :loor# clothes rustle# t$o bodies stretch themsel4es out an inch abo4e me. /he slats bo$# pressing into my bac&. I stop my ears# ashamed to listen to the $ords they say to each other# but cannot pre4ent mysel: :rom hearing the :luttering and moaning I remember so $ell :rom the girl in the grip o: pleasure# the girl I used to ha4e my o$n endearments :or. /he slats press harder upon me# I :latten mysel: as :ar as I can# the bed begins to crea&. S$eating# :lushed# sic&ened to :eel ho$ aroused I am despite mysel:# I actually groanD the long lo$ groan curls :rom my throat and mingles unnoticed $ith the sounds o: their panting breath. /hen it is o4er. /hey sigh and subside# the t$itchings and stirrings cease# they lie at rest side by side dri:ting o:: into sleep# $hile unhappy# rigid# $ide a$a&e# I $ait my chance to escape. It is the hour $hen e4en the chic&ens doHe# the hour $hen there is only one emperor# the sun. /he heat in this tiny room under the :lat roo: has gro$n sti:ling. I ha4e not eaten or drun& all day. Pushing $ith my :eet against the $all# I edge out till I can gingerly sit up. /he pain in my bac&# an old manBs pain# announces itsel: again. FI am sorry#F I $hisper. /hey are truly asleep# li&e children# a boy and a girl# na&ed# hand in hand# beaded $ith s$eat# their :aces rela;ed and obli4ious. /he tide
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o: shame s$eeps o4er me $ith redoubled :orce. "er beauty a$a&es no desire in meD instead it seems more obscene than e4er that this hea4y slac& :oulAsmelling old body 6ho$ could they not ha4e noticed the smellE7 should e4er ha4e held her in its arms. -hat ha4e I been doing all this time# pressing mysel: upon such :lo$erli&e so:tApetalled childrennot only on her# on the other one tooE I should ha4e stayed among the gross and decaying $here I belongD :at $omen $ith acrid armpits and bad tempers# $hores $ith big slac& cunts. I tiptoe out# hobble do$n the stairs in the blinding glare o: the sun. /he upper :lap o: the &itchen door stands open. *n old $oman# bent and toothless# stands eating out o: a castAiron pot. Our eyes meetG she stops# the spoon in midAair# her mouth open. She recogniHes me. I raise a hand and smileI am surprised at ho$ easily the smile comes. /he spoon mo4es# the lips close o4er it# her gaHe shi:ts# I pass on. /he north gate is closed and barred. I climb the stair$ay to the $atchto$er o4er the angle o: the $all and stare out hungrily o4er the belo4ed landscapeD the belt o: green stretching along the ri4er# blac&ened no$ in patchesG the lighter green o: the marshes $here the ne$ reeds are shootingG the daHHling sur:ace o: the la&e. But there is something $rong. "o$ long ha4e I been loc&ed a$ay :rom the $orld# t$o months or ten yearsE /he young $heat in the acres belo$ the $all ought by no$ to be a 4igorous eighteen inches high. It is notD e;cept at the $estern limit o: the irrigated area the young plants are a stunted sic&ly yello$. /here are great bare patches nearer the la&e# and a line o: grey stoo&s by the irrigation $all. Be:ore my eyes the neglected :ields# the sunstruc& sCuare# the empty streets shi:t into a ne$ and sinister con:iguration. /he to$n is being abandoned$hat else is
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there to supposeEand the noises I heard t$o nights ago must ha4e been noises not o: arri4al but o: departureJ 5y heart lurches 6$ith horrorE $ith gratitudeE7 at the thought. %et I must be mista&enD $hen I loo& do$n more care:ully at the sCuare I can see t$o boys Cuietly playing marbles under the mulberry treesG and :rom $hat I ha4e seen o: the inn# li:e is going on as usual. In the southA$est to$er a sentry sits on his high stool staring 4acantly into the desert. I am $ithin a pace o: him be:ore he notices me and starts. FGet do$n#F he says in a :lat 4oice# Fyou are not allo$ed up here.F I ha4e ne4er seen him be:ore. Since I le:t my cell# I realiHe# I ha4e not seen one o: the soldiers $ho made up the old garrison. -hy are there only strangers aroundE FIonBt you &no$ meEF I say. FGet do$n.F FI $ill# but :irst I ha4e a 4ery important Cuestion to as& you. %ou see# there is no one to as& but youe4eryone else seems to be asleep or a$ay. -hat I $ant to as& isD -ho are youE -here is e4eryone I used to &no$E -hat has happened out there in die :ieldsE It loo&s as though there has been a $asha$ay. But $hy should there be a $ashAa$ayEF "is eyes narro$ as I gabble on. FI am sorry to as& such stupid Cuestions# but I ha4e had a :e4er# I ha4e been con:ined to bedFthe Cuaint phrase comes unbiddenFand today is the :irst day I ha4e been allo$ed to get up. /hat is $hy. . .F F%ou must be care:ul o: the midday sun# :ather#F he says. "is ears stic& out under a cap that is too large :or him. F%ou $ould be better o:: resting at this time o: day.F F%es. . . Io you mind i: I ha4e some $aterEF "e passes me his :las& and I drin& the lu&e$arm $ater# trying not to betray ho$ sa4age my thirst is. FBut tell me# $hat has
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happenedEF FBarbarians. /hey cut a$ay part o: the emban&ment o4er there and :looded the :ields. No one sa$ them. /hey came in the night. /he ne;t morning it $as li&e a second la&e.F "e has stu::ed his pipe# no$ he o::ers it to me. 3ourteously I decline 6FI $ill only begin coughing# and that is bad :or meF7. F%es# the :armers are 4ery unhappy. /hey say the crop is ruined and it is too late to plant again.F F/hatBs bad. It means a hard $inter ahead. -e $ill ha4e to dra$ our belts 4ery tight.F F%es# I donBt en4y you people. /hey could do it again# couldnBt they# the barbarians. /hey could :lood these :ields any time they chose to.F -e discuss the barbarians and their treachery. /hey ne4er stand up and :ight# he saysD their $ay is to creep up behind you and stic& a &ni:e in your bac&. F-hy canBt they lea4e us aloneE /hey ha4e their o$n territories# ha4enBt theyEF I turn the con4ersation to the old days $hen e4erything used to be Cuiet on the :rontier. "e calls me F:atherF# $hich is his peasantBs $ay o: sho$ing respect# and listens to me as one listens to mad old :ol&# anything being better# I suppose# than staring out into emptiness all day. F/ell me#F I sayD Ft$o nights ago I heard horsemen and thought the big e;pedition had returned.F FNo#F he laughs# Fthose $ere @ust a :e$ men they sent bac&. /hey sent them in one o: the big carts. /hat must ha4e been $hat you heard. /hey :ell sic& :rom the $aterbad $ater out there# I hearso they sent them bac&.F FI seeJ I couldnBt understand $hat it $as. But $hen do you e;pect the main :orce bac&EF FSoon# it must be soon. %ou canBt li4e on the :ruit o: the
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land out here# can youE IB4e ne4er seen such dead country.F I climb do$n the steps. Our con4ersation has le:t me :eeling almost 4enerable. Strange that no one $arned him to $atch out :or a :at old man in ragged clothesJ Or has he perhaps been perched up there since last night $ith no one to spea& toE -ho $ould ha4e thought I could lie so blandlyJ It is midAa:ternoon. 5y shado$ glides beside me li&e a pool o: in&. I seem to be the only creature $ithin these :our $alls that mo4es. I am so elated that I $ant to sing. E4en my sore bac& has ceased to matter. I open the small side gate and pass out. 5y :riend in the $atchAto$er loo&s do$n at me. I $a4e# and he $a4es bac&. F%ou $ill need a hatJF he calls. I pat my bare s&ull# shrug# smile. /he sun beats do$n. /he spring $heat is indeed ruined. -arm ochre mud sCuelches bet$een my toes. In places there are still puddles. 5any o: the young plants ha4e been $ashed right out o: the ground. *ll sho$ a yello$ish discoloration o: lea:. /he area nearest the la&e is the $orst hit. Nothing is le:t standing# indeed the :armers ha4e already begun to stac& the dead plants :or burning. In the :ar :ields a rise o: a :e$ inches in ele4ation has made all the di::erence. So perhaps a Cuarter o: the planting can be sa4ed. /he earth$or& itsel:# the lo$ mud $all that runs :or nearly t$o miles and &eeps the la&eA$ater in chec& $hen it rises to its summer limit# has been repaired# but almost the $hole o: the intricate system o: channels and gates that distributes the $ater around the :ields has been $ashed a$ay. /he dam and $ater$heel by the la&eshore are unharmed# though there is no sign o: the horse that usually turns the $heel. I can see that $ee&s o: hard $or& a$ait the :armers. *nd at any moment their $or& can be brought to nothing by a
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:e$ men armed $ith spadesJ "o$ can $e $in such a $arE -hat is the use o: te;tboo& military operations# s$eeps and puniti4e raids into the enemyBs heartland# $hen $e can be bled to death at homeE I ta&e the old road that cur4es behind the $est $all be:ore petering out into a trac& that leads no$here but to the sandA:illed ruins. *re the children still allo$ed to play there# I $onder# or do their parents &eep them at home $ith stories o: barbarians lur&ing in the hollo$sE I glance up at the $allG but my :riend in the to$er seems to ha4e gone to sleep. *ll the e;ca4ation $e did last year has been undone by dri:tsand. Only cornerAposts stand out here and there in the desolation $here# one must belie4e# people once li4ed. I scour a hollo$ :or mysel: and sit do$n to rest. I doubt that anyone $ould come loo&ing :or me here. I could lean against this ancient post $ith its :aded car4ings o: dolphins and $a4es and be blistered by the sun and dried by the $ind and e4entually :roHen by the :rost# and not be :ound until in some distant era o: peace the children o: the oasis come bac& to their playground and :ind the s&eleton# unco4ered by the $ind# o: an archaic desertAd$eller clad in unidenti:iable rags. I $a&e up chilled. /he sun rests huge and red upon the $estern horiHon. /he $ind is risingD already :lying sand has ban&ed up against my side. I am conscious abo4e all o: thirst. /he plan I ha4e toyed $ith# o: spending the night here among the ghosts# shi4ering $ith cold# $aiting :or the :amiliar $alls and treetops to materialiHe again out o: the dar&# is insupportable. /here is nothing :or me outside the $alls but to star4e. Scuttling :rom hole to hole li&e a mouse I :or:eit e4en the appearance o: innocence. -hy should I do my enemiesB $or& :or themE I: they $ant to spill my blood# let them at least bear the guilt o: it. /he gloomy :ear o: the past day has lost its
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:orce. Perhaps this escapade has not been :utile i: I can reco4er# ho$e4er dimly# a spirit o: outrage. *** I rattle the gate o: the barrac&s yard. FIonBt you &no$ $ho is hereE IB4e had my holiday# no$ let me bac& inJF Someone comes running upD in the dim light $e peer at each other through the barsD it is the man assigned as my $arder. FBe CuietJF he $hispers through his teeth# and tugs at the bolts. Behind him 4oices murmur# people gather. Gripping my arm he ta&es me at a trot across the yard. F-ho is itEF someone calls. It is on the tip o: my tongue to reply# to ta&e the &ey out and $a4e it# $hen it stri&es me that this act might be imprudent. So I $ait at my old door till my $arder unloc&s it# pushes me inside# and closes it on the t$o o: us. "is 4oice comes to me out o: the dar&ness tight $ith angerD F+istenD you tal& to anyone about getting out and IBll ma&e your li:e a miseryJ %ou understandE IBll ma&e you payJ %ou say nothingJ I: anyone as&s you about this e4ening# say I too& you out :or a $al&# :or e;ercise# nothing more. Io you understand meEF I unpic& his :ingers :rom my arm and slide a$ay :rom him. F%ou see ho$ easy it $ould be :or me to run a$ay and see& shelter $ith the barbarians#F I murmur. F-hy do you thin& I came bac&E %ou are only a common soldier# you can only obey orders. StillD thin& about it.F "e clutches my $rist# and again I loosen his :ingers. F/hin& about $hy I came bac& and $hat it $ould ha4e meant i: I had not. %ou canBt e;pect sympathy :rom the men in blue# IBm sure you &no$ that. /hin& $hat might happen i: I got out again.F No$ I grip his hand.
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FBut donBt :ret# I $onBt tal&D ma&e up any story you li&e and I $ill support you. I &no$ $hat it is li&e to be :rightened.F /here is a long suspicious silence# FIo you &no$ $hat I $ant most o: allEF I say. FI $ant something to eat and something to drin&. I am star4ed# I ha4e had nothing all day.F So all is as it $as be:ore. /his absurd incarceration continues. I lie on my bac& $atching the bloc& o: light abo4e me gro$ing stronger and then $ea&er day a:ter day. I listen to the remote sounds o: the bric&layerBs tro$el# the carpenterBs hammer coming through the $all. I eat and drin& and# li&e e4eryone else# I $ait. *** <irst there is the sound o: mus&ets :ar a$ay# as diminuti4e as popguns. /hen :rom nearer by# :rom the ramparts themsel4es# come 4olleys o: ans$ering shots. /here is a stampede o: :ootsteps across the barrac&s yard. F/he barbariansJF someone shoutsG but I thin& he is $rong. *bo4e all the clamour the great bell begins to peal. Kneeling $ith an ear to the crac& o: the door I try to ma&e out $hat is going on. /he noise :rom the sCuare mounts :rom a hubbub to a steady roar in $hich no single 4oice can be distinguished. /he $hole to$n must be pouring out in $elcome# thousands o: ecstatic souls. 2olleys o: mus&etAshots &eep crac&ing. /hen the tenor o: the roar changes# rises in pitch and e;citement. <aintly abo4e it come the brassy tones o: bugles. /he temptation is too great. -hat ha4e I to loseE I unloc& the door. In glare so blinding that I must sCuint and shade my eyes# I cross the yard# pass through the gate# and @oin
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the rear o: the cro$d. /he 4olleys and the roar o: applause continue. /he old $oman in blac& beside me ta&es my arm to steady hersel: and stands on her toes. F3an you seeEF she says. F%es# I can see men on horsebac&#F I replyG but she is not listening. I can see a long :ile o: horsemen $ho# amid :lying banners# pass through the gate$ay and ma&e their $ay to the centre o: the sCuare $here they dismount. /here is a cloud o: dust o4er the $hole sCuare# but I see that they are smiling and laughingD one o: them rides $ith his hands raised high in triumph# another $a4es a garland o: :lo$ers. /hey progress slo$ly# :or the cro$d presses around them# trying to touch them# thro$ing :lo$ers# clapping their hands abo4e their heads in @oy# spinning round and round in pri4ate ecstasies. 3hildren di4e past me# scrambling through the legs o: the gro$nups to be nearer to their heroes. <usillade a:ter :usillade comes :rom the ramparts# $hich are lined $ith cheering people. One part o: the ca4alcade does not dismount. "eaded by a sternA:aced young corporal bearing the green and gold banner o: the battalion# it passes through the press o: bodies to the :ar end o: the sCuare and then begins a circuit o: the perimeter# the cro$d surging slo$ly in its $a&e. /he $ord runs li&e :ire :rom neighbour to neighbourD !"ar#ariansJF /he standardAbearerBs horse is led by a man $ho brandishes a hea4y stic& to clear his $ay. Behind him comes another trooper trailing a ropeG and at the end o: the rope# tied nec& to nec&# comes a :ile o: men# barbarians# star& na&ed# holding their hands up to their :aces in an odd $ay as though one and all are su::ering :rom toothache. <or a moment I am puHHled by the posture# by the tiptoeing eagerness $ith $hich they :ollo$ their leader# till I catch a glint o: metal and at once
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comprehend. * simple loop o: $ire runs through the :lesh o: each manBs hands and through holes pierced in his chee&s. FIt ma&es them mee& as lambs#F I remember being told by a soldier $ho had once seen the tric&D Fthey thin& o: nothing but ho$ to &eep 4ery still.F 5y heart gro$s sic&. I &no$ no$ that I should not ha4e le:t my cell. I ha4e to turn my bac& smartly to a4oid being seen by the t$o $ho# $ith their mounted escort# bring up the rear o: the processionD the bareheaded young captain $hose :irst triumph this is# and at his shoulder# leaner and dar&er a:ter his months o: campaigning# 3olonel o: Police ?oll. /he circuit is made# e4eryone has a chance to see the t$el4e miserable capti4es# to pro4e to his children that the barbarians are real. No$ the cro$d# mysel: reluctantly in its $a&e# :lo$s to$ards the great gate# $here a hal:Amoon o: soldiers bloc&s its $ay until# compressed at :ront and rear# it cannot budge. F-hat is going onEF I as& my neighbour. FI donBt &no$#F he says# Fbut help me to li:t him.F I help him to li:t the child he carries on his arm on to his shoulders. F3an you seeEF he as&s the child. F%es.F F-hat are they doingEF F/hey are ma&ing those barbarians &neel. -hat are they going to do to themEF FI donBt &no$. +etBs $ait and see.F Slo$ly# titanically# $ith all my might# I turn and begin to sCueeHe my body out. FE;cuse me. . . e;cuse me. . .F I sayD Fthe heatIBm going to be sic&.F <or the :irst time I see heads turn# :ingers point. I ought to go bac& to my cell. *s a gesture it $ill ha4e
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no e::ect# it $ill not e4en be noticed. Ne4ertheless# :or my o$n sa&e# as a gesture to mysel: alone# I ought to return to the cool dar& and loc& the door and bend the &ey and stop my ears to the noise o: patriotic bloodlust and close my lips and ne4er spea& again. -ho &no$s# perhaps I do my :ello$Ato$nsmen an in@ustice# perhaps at this 4ery minute the shoema&er is at home tapping on his last# humming to himsel: to dro$n the shouting# perhaps there are house$i4es shelling peas in their &itchens# telling stories to occupy their restless children# perhaps there are :armers still going calmly about the repair o: the ditches. I: comrades li&e these e;ist# $hat a pity I do not &no$ themJ <or me# at this moment# striding a$ay :rom the cro$d# $hat has become important abo4e all is that I should neither be contaminated by the atrocity that is about to be committed nor poison mysel: $ith impotent hatred o: its perpetrators. I cannot sa4e the prisoners# there:ore let me sa4e mysel:. +et it at the 4ery least be said# i: it e4er comes to be said# i: there is e4er anyone in some remote :uture interested to &no$ the $ay $e li4ed# that in this :arthest outpost o: the Empire o: light there e;isted one man $ho in his heart $as not a barbarian. I pass through the barrac&s gate into my prison yard. *t the trough in the middle o: the yard I pic& up an empty buc&et and :ill it. -ith the buc&et held up be:ore me# slopping $ater o4er its sides# I approach the rear o: the cro$d again. FE;cuse me#F I say# and push. People curse me# gi4e $ay# the buc&et tilts and splashes# I :orge :or$ard till in a minute I am suddenly clear in the :rontmost ran& o: the cro$d behind the bac&s o: the soldiers $ho# holding sta4es bet$een them# &eep an arena clear :or the e;emplary spectacle. <our o: the prisoners &neel on the ground. /he other eight# still roped together# sCuat in the shade o: the $all
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$atching# their hands to their chee&s. /he &neeling prisoners bend side by side o4er a long hea4y pole. * cord runs :rom the loop o: $ire through the :irst manBs mouth# under the pole# up to the second manBs loop# bac& under the pole# up to the third loop# under the pole# through the :ourth loop. *s I $atch a soldier slo$ly pulls the cord tighter and the prisoners bend :urther till :inally they are &neeling $ith their :aces touching the pole. One o: them $rithes his shoulders in pain and moans. /he others are silent# their thoughts $holly concentrated on mo4ing smoothly $ith the cord# not gi4ing the $ire a chance to tear their :lesh. Iirecting the soldier $ith little gestures o: the hand is 3olonel ?oll. /hough I am only one in a cro$d o: thousands# though his eyes are shaded as e4er# I stare at him so hard $ith a :ace so luminous $ith Cuery that I &no$ at once he sees me. Behind me I distinctly hear the $ord magistrate Io I imagine it or are my neighbours inching a$ay :rom meE /he 3olonel steps :or$ard. Stooping o4er each prisoner in turn he rubs a hand:ul o: dust into his na&ed bac& and $rites a $ord $ith a stic& o: charcoal. I read the $ords upside do$nD $N$%& $N$%& $N$%& $N$%& "e steps bac& and :olds his hands. *t a distance o: no more than t$enty paces he and I contemplate each other. /hen the beating begins. /he soldiers use the stout green cane sta4es# bringing them do$n $ith the hea4y slapping sounds o: $ashingApaddles# raising red $elts on the prisonersB bac&s and buttoc&s. -ith slo$ care the prisoners e;tend their legs until they lie :lat on their bellies# all e;cept the one $ho had been moaning and $ho no$ gasps $ith each blo$. /he blac& charcoal and ochre dust begin to run $ith s$eat and blood. /he game# I see# is to beat them till their bac&s are $ashed clean.
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I $atch the :ace o: a little girl $ho stands in the :ront ran& o: the cro$d gripping her motherBs clothes. "er eyes are round# her thumb is in her mouthD silent# terri:ied# curious# she drin&s in the sight o: these big na&ed men being beaten. On e4ery :ace around me# e4en those that are smiling# I see the same e;pressionD not hatred# not bloodlust# but a curiosity so intense that their bodies are drained by it and only their eyes li4e# organs o: a ne$ and ra4ening appetite. /he soldiers doing the beating gro$ tired. One stands $ith his hands on his hips panting# smiling# gesturing to the cro$d. /here is a $ord :rom the 3olonelD all :our o: them cease their labour and come :or$ard o::ering their canes to the spectators. * girl# giggling and hiding her :ace# is pushed :or$ard by her :riends. FGo on# donBt be a:raidJF they urge her. * soldier puts a cane in her hand and leads her to the place. She stands con:used# embarrassed# one hand still o4er her :ace. Shouts# @o&es# obscene ad4ice are hurled at her. She li:ts the cane# brings it do$n smartly on the prisonerBs buttoc&s# drops it# and scuttles to sa:ety to a roar o: applause. /here is a scramble :or the canes# the soldiers can barely &eep order# I lose sight o: the prisoners on the ground as people press :or$ard to ta&e a turn or simply $atch the beating :rom nearer. I stand :orgotten $ith my buc&et bet$een my :eet. /hen the :logging is o4er# the soldiers reassert themsel4es# the cro$d scrambles bac&# the arena is reconstituted# though narro$er than be:ore. O4er his head# e;hibiting it to the cro$d# 3olonel ?oll holds a hammer# an ordinary :ourApound hammer used :or &noc&ing in tentApegs. *gain his gaHe meets mine. /he babble subsides.
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!No!! I hear the :irst $ord :rom my throat# rusty# not loud enough. /hen againD !No!! /his time the $ord rings li&e a bell :rom my chest. /he soldier $ho bloc&s my $ay stumbles aside. I am in the arena holding up my hands to still the cro$dD !No! No! No!! -hen I turn to 3olonel ?oll he is standing not :i4e paces :rom me# his arms :olded. I point a :inger at him. !&ou!! I shout. +et it all be said. +et him be the one on $hom the anger brea&s. F%ou are depra4ing these peopleJF "e does not :linch# he does not reply. !&ou!! 5y arm points at him li&e a gun. 5y 4oice :ills the sCuare. /here is utter silenceG or perhaps I am too into;icated to hear. Something crashes into me :rom behind. I spra$l in the dust# gasp# :eel the sear o: old pain in my bac&. * stic& thuds do$n on me. 1eaching out to $ard it o::# I ta&e a $ithering blo$ on my hand. It becomes important to stand up# ho$e4er di::icult the pain ma&es it. I come to my :eet and see $ho it is that is hitting me. It is the stoc&y man $ith the sergeantBs stripes $ho helped $ith the beatings. 3rouched at the &nees# his nostrils :laring# he stands $ith his stic& raised :or the ne;t blo$. F-aitJF I gasp# holding out my limp hand. FI thin& you ha4e bro&en itJF "e stri&es# and I ta&e the blo$ on the :orearm. I hide my arm# lo$er my head# and try to grope to$ards him and grapple. Blo$s :all on my head and shoulders. Ne4er mindD all I $ant is a :e$ moments to :inish $hat I am saying no$ that I ha4e begun. I grip his tunic and hug him to me. /hough he $restles# he cannot use his stic&G o4er his shoulder I shout again. FNot $ith thatJF I shout. /he hammer lies cradled in the 3olonelBs :olded arms. F%ou $ould not use a hammer on a
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beast# not on a beastJF In a terrible surge o: rage I turn on the sergeant and hurl him :rom me. Godli&e strength is mine. In a minute it $ill passD let me use it $ell $hile it lastsJ F+oo&JF I shout. I point to the :our prisoners $ho lie docilely on the earth# their lips to the pole# their hands clasped to their :aces li&e mon&eysB pa$s# obli4ious o: the hammer# ignorant o: $hat is going on behind them# relie4ed that the o::ending mar& has been beaten :rom their bac&s# hoping that the punishment is at an end. I raise my bro&en hand to the s&y. F+oo&JF I shout. F-e are the great miracle o: creationJ But :rom some blo$s this miraculous body cannot repair itsel:J "o$JF -ords :ail me. F+oo& at these menJF I recommence. !%en!! /hose in the cro$d $ho can crane to loo& at the prisoners# e4en at the :lies that begin to settle on their bleeding $elts. I hear the blo$ coming and turn to meet it. It catches me :ull across the :ace. FI am blindJF I thin&# staggering bac& into the blac&ness that instantly :alls. I s$allo$ bloodG something blooms across my :ace# starting as a rosy $armth# turning to :iery agony. I hide my :ace in my hands and stamp around in a circle trying not to shout# trying not to :all. -hat I $anted to say ne;t I cannot remember. * miracle o: creationI pursue the thought but it eludes me li&e a $isp o: smo&e. It occurs to me that $e crush insects beneath our :eet# miracles o: creation too# beetles# $orms# coc&roaches# ants# in their 4arious $ays. I ta&e my :ingers :rom my eyes and a grey $orld reA emerges s$imming in tears. I am so pro:oundly grate:ul that I cease to :eel pain. *s I am hustled# a man at each elbo$# bac& through the murmuring cro$d to my cell# I e4en :ind mysel: smiling. /hat smile# that :lush o: @oy# lea4e behind a disturbing
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residue. I &no$ that they commit an error in treating me so summarily. <or I am no orator. -hat $ould I ha4e said i: they had let me go onE /hat it is $orse to beat a manBs :eet to pulp than to &ill him in combatE /hat it brings shame on e4eryone $hen a girl is permitted to :log a manE /hat spectacles o: cruelty corrupt the hearts o: the innocentE /he $ords they stopped me :rom uttering may ha4e been 4ery paltry indeed# hardly $ords to rouse the rabble. -hat# a:ter all# do I stand :or besides an archaic code o: gentlemanly beha4iour to$ards captured :oes# and $hat do I stand against e;cept the ne$ science o: degradation that &ills people on their &nees# con:used and disgraced in their o$n eyesE -ould I ha4e dared to :ace the cro$d to demand @ustice :or these ridiculous barbarian prisoners $ith their bac&sides in the airE 'ustice( once that $ord is uttered# $here $ill it all endE Easier to shout No! Easier to be beaten and made a martyr. Easier to lay my head on a bloc& than to de:end the cause o: @ustice :or the barbariansD :or $here can that argument lead but to laying do$n our arms and opening the gates o: the to$n to the people $hose land $e ha4e rapedE /he old magistrate# de:ender o: the rule o: la$# enemy in his o$n $ay o: the State# assaulted and imprisoned# impregnably 4irtuous# is not $ithout his o$n t$inges o: doubt. 5y nose is bro&en# I &no$# and perhaps also the chee&bone $here the :lesh $as laid open by the blo$ o: the stic&. 5y le:t eye is s$elling shut. *s the numbness $ears o:: the pain begins to come in spasms a minute or t$o apart so intense that I can no longer lie still. *t the height o: the spasm I trot around the room holding my :ace# $hining li&e a dogG in the blessed 4alleys bet$een the pea&s I breathe deeply# trying to &eep control o: mysel:# trying not to ma&e too disgrace:ul an outcry. I seem to hear
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surges and lulls in the noise :rom the mob on the sCuare but cannot be sure that the roar is not simply in my eardrums. /hey bring me my e4ening meal as usual but I cannot eat. I cannot &eep still# I ha4e to $al& bac& and :orth or roc& on my haunches to &eep mysel: :rom screaming# tearing my clothes# cla$ing my :lesh# doing $hate4er people do $hen the limit o: their endurance is reached. I $eep# and :eel the tears stinging the open :lesh. I hum the old song about the rider and the @uniper bush o4er and o4er again# clinging to the remembered $ords e4en a:ter they ha4e ceased to ma&e any sense. One# t$o# three# :our. . . I count. It $ill be a :amous 4ictory# I tell mysel:# i: you can last the night. In the early hours o: the morning# $hen I am so giddy $ith e;haustion that I reel on my :eet# I :inally gi4e $ay and sob :rom the heart li&e a childD I sit in a corner against the $all and $eep# the tears running :rom my eyes $ithout stop. I $eep and $eep $hile the throbbing comes and goes according to its o$n cycles. In this position sleep bursts upon me li&e a thunderbolt. I am amaHed to come to mysel: in the thin grey light o: day# slumped in a corner# $ith not the :aintest sense that time has passed. /hough the throbbing is still there I :ind I can endure it i: I remain still. Indeed# it has lost its strangeness. Soon# perhaps# it $ill be as much part o: me as breathing. So I lie Cuietly against the $all# :olding my sore hand under my armpit :or com:ort# and :all into a second sleep# into a con:usion o: images among $hich I search out one in particular# brushing aside the others that :ly at me li&e lea4es. It is o: the girl. She is &neeling $ith her bac& to me be:ore the sno$castle or sandcastle she has built. She $ears a dar& blue robe. *s I approach I see that she is digging a$ay in the bo$els o: the castle.
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She becomes a$are o: me and turns. I am mista&en# it is not a castle she has built but a clay o4en. Smo&e curls up :rom the 4ent at the bac&. She holds out her hands to me o::ering me something# a shapeless lump $hich I peer at un$illingly through a mist. /hough I sha&e my head my 4ision $ill not clear. She is $earing a round cap embroidered in gold. "er hair is braided in a hea4y plait $hich lies o4er her shoulderD there is gold thread $or&ed into the braid. F-hy are you dressed in your bestEF I $ant to sayD FI ha4e ne4er seen you loo&ing so lo4ely.F She smiles at meD $hat beauti:ul teeth she has# $hat clear @etAblac& eyesJ *lso no$ I can see that $hat she is holding out to me is a loa: o: bread# still hot# $ith a coarse steaming bro&en crust. * surge o: gratitude s$eeps through me. F-here did a child li&e you learn to ba&e so $ell in the desertEF I $ant to say. I open my arms to embrace her# and come to mysel: $ith tears stinging the $ound on my chee&. /hough I scrabble bac& at once into the burro$ o: sleep I cannot reAenter the dream or taste the bread that has made my sali4a run. *** 3olonel ?oll sits behind the des& in my o::ice. /here are no boo&s or :ilesG the room is star&ly empty sa4e :or a 4ase o: :resh :lo$ers. /he handsome $arrant o::icer $hose name I do not &no$ li:ts the cedar$ood chest on to the des& and steps bac&. +oo&ing do$n to re:er to his papers# the 3olonel spea&s. F*mong the items :ound in your apartment $as this $ooden chest. I $ould li&e you to consider it. Its contents are unusual.
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It contains appro;imately three hundred slips o: $hite poplarA $ood# each about eight inches by t$o inches# many o: them $ound about $ith lengths o: string. /he $ood is dry and brittle. Some o: the string is ne$# some so old that it has perished. FI: one loosens the string one :inds that the slip splits open re4ealing t$o :lat inner sur:aces. /hese sur:aces are $ritten on in an un:amiliar script. FI thin& you $ill concur $ith this description.F I stare into the blac& lenses. "e goes on. F* reasonable in:erence is that the $ooden slips contain messages passed bet$een yoursel: and other parties# $e do not &no$ $hen. It remains :or you to e;plain $hat the messages say and $ho the other parties $ere.F "e ta&es a slip :rom the chest and :lic&s it across the polished sur:ace o: the des& to$ards me. I loo& at the lines o: characters $ritten by a stranger long since dead. I do not e4en &no$ $hether to read :rom right to le:t or :rom le:t to right. In the long e4enings I spent poring o4er my collection I isolated o4er :our hundred di::erent characters in the script# perhaps as many as :our hundred and :i:ty. I ha4e no idea $hat they stand :or. Ioes each stand :or a single thing# a circle :or the sun# a triangle :or a $oman# a $a4e :or a la&eG or does a circle merely stand :or FcircleF# a triangle :or FtriangleF# a $a4e :or F$a4eFE Ioes each sign represent a di::erent state o: the tongue# the lips# the throat# the lungs# as they combine in the uttering o: some multi:arious unimaginable e;tinct barbarian languageE Or are my :our hundred characters nothing but scribal embellishments o: an underlying repertory o: t$enty or thirty $hose primiti4e :orms I am too stupid to seeE F"e sends greetings to his daughter#F I say. I hear $ith
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surprise the thic& nasal 4oice that is no$ mine. 5y :inger runs along the line o: characters :rom right to le:t. F-hom he says he has not seen :or a long time. "e hopes she is happy and thri4ing. "e hopes the lambing season has been good. "e has a gi:t :or her# he says# $hich he $ill &eep till he sees her again. "e sends his lo4e. It is not easy to read his signature. It could be simply B%our :atherB or it could be something else# a name.F I reach o4er into the chest and pic& out a second slip. /he $arrant o::icer# $ho sits behind ?oll $ith a little noteboo& open on his &nee# stares hard at me# his pencil poised abo4e the paper. F/his one reads as :ollo$s#F I sayD F BI am sorry I must send bad ne$s. /he soldiers came and too& your brother a$ay. I ha4e been to the :ort e4ery day to plead :or his return. I sit in the dust $ith my head bare. %esterday :or the :irst time they sent a man to spea& to me. "e says your brother is no longer here. "e says he has been sent a$ay. F-hereEF I as&ed# but he $ould not say. Io not tell your mother# but @oin me in praying :or his sa:ety.B F*nd no$ let us see $hat this ne;t one says.F /he pencil is still poised# he has not $ritten anything# he has not stirred. F B-e $ent to :etch your brother yesterday. /hey sho$ed us into a room $here he lay on a table se$n up in a sheet.B F Slo$ly ?oll leans bac& in his chair. /he $arrant o::icer closes his noteboo& and hal:ArisesG but $ith a gesture ?oll restrains him. F B/hey $anted me to ta&e him a$ay li&e that# but I insisted on loo&ing :irst. F-hat i: it is the $rong body you are gi4ing meEF I saidF%ou ha4e so many bodies here# bodies o: bra4e young men.F So I opened the sheet and sa$ that it $as indeed he. /hrough each eyelid# I sa$# there $as a stitch. F-hy ha4e you done thatEF I said. FIt is our custom#F he said. I tore the sheet $ide open and sa$ bruises all o4er his body# and sa$
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that his :eet $ere s$ollen and bro&en. F-hat happened to himEF I said. FI do not &no$#F said the man# Fit is not on the paperG i: you ha4e Cuestions you must go to the sergeant# but he is 4ery busy.F -e ha4e had to bury your brother here# outside their :ort# because he $as beginning to stin&. Please tell your mother and try to console her.B FNo$ let us see $hat the ne;t one says. See# there is only a single character. It is the barbarian character war, but it has other senses too. It can stand :or vengeance, and# i: you turn it upside do$n li&e this# it can be made to read )ustice /here is no &no$ing $hich sense is intended. /hat is part o: barbarian cunning. FIt is the same $ith the rest o: these slips.F I plunge my good hand into the chest and stir. F/hey :orm an allegory. /hey can be read in many orders. <urther# each single slip can be read in many $ays. /ogether they can be read as a domestic @ournal# or they can be read as a plan o: $ar# or they can be turned on their sides and read as a history o: the last years o: the Empirethe old Empire# I mean. /here is no agreement among scholars about ho$ to interpret these relics o: the ancient barbarians. *llegorical sets li&e this one can be :ound buried all o4er the desert. I :ound this one not three miles :rom here in the ruins o: a public building. Gra4eyards are another good place to loo& in# though it is not al$ays easy to tell $here barbarian burial sites lie. It is recommended that you simply dig at randomD perhaps at the 4ery spot $here you stand you $ill come upon scraps# shards# reminders o: the dead. *lso the airD the air is :ull o: sighs and cries. /hese are ne4er lostD i: you listen care:ully# $ith a sympathetic ear# you can hear them echoing :ore4er $ithin the second sphere. /he night is bestD sometimes $hen you ha4e di::iculty in :alling asleep it is because your ears ha4e been reached by the cries o:
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the dead $hich# li&e their $ritings# are open to many interpretations. F/han& you. I ha4e :inished translating.F I ha4e not :ailed to &eep an eye on ?oll through all this. "e has not stirred again# sa4e to lay a hand on his subordinateBs slee4e at the moment $hen I re:erred to the Empire and he rose# ready to stri&e me. I: he comes near me I $ill hit him $ith all the strength in my body. I $ill not disappear into the earth $ithout lea4ing my mar& on them. /he 3olonel spea&s. F%ou ha4e no idea ho$ tiresome your beha4iour is. %ou are the one and only o::icial $e ha4e had to $or& $ith on the :rontier $ho has not gi4en us his :ullest coAoperation. 3andidly# I must tell you I am not interested in these stic&s.F "e $a4es a hand at the slips scattered on the des&. F/hey are 4ery li&ely gamblingAstic&s. I &no$ that other tribes on the border gamble $ith stic&s. FI as& you to consider soberlyD $hat &ind o: :uture do you ha4e hereE %ou cannot be allo$ed to remain in your post. %ou ha4e utterly disgraced yoursel:. E4en i: you are not e4entually prosecutedF FI am $aiting :or you to prosecute meJF I shout. F-hen are you going to do itE -hen are you going to bring me to trialE -hen am I going to ha4e a chance to de:end mysel:EF I am in a :ury. None o: the speechlessness I :elt in :ront o: the cro$d a::licts me. I: I $ere to con:ront these men no$# in public# in a :air trial# I $ould :ind the $ords to shame them. It is a matter o: health and strengthD I :eel my hot $ords s$ell in my breast. But they $ill ne4er bring a man to trial $hile he is healthy and strong enough to con:ound them. /hey $ill shut me a$ay in the dar& till I am a muttering idiot# a ghost o: mysel:G then they $ill haul me be:ore a closed court and in
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:i4e minutes dispose o: the legalities they :ind so tiresome. F<or the duration o: the emergency# as you &no$#F says the 3olonel# Fthe administration o: @ustice is out o: the hands o: ci4ilians and in the hands o: the Bureau.F "e sighs. F5agistrate# you seem to belie4e that $e do not dare to bring you to trial because $e :ear you are too popular a :igure in this to$n. I do not thin& you are a$are o: ho$ much you :or:eited by neglecting your duties# shunning your :riends# &eeping company $ith lo$ people. /here is no one I ha4e spo&en to $ho has not at some time :elt insulted by your beha4iour.F F5y pri4ate li:e is none o: their businessJF FNe4ertheless# I may tell you that our decision to relie4e you o: your duties has been $elcomed in most Cuarters. Personally I ha4e nothing against you. -hen I arri4ed bac& a :e$ days ago# I had decided that all I $anted :rom you $as a clear ans$er to a simple Cuestion# a:ter $hich you could ha4e returned to your concubines a :ree man.F It stri&es me suddenly that the insult may not be gratuitous# that perhaps :or di::erent reasons these t$o men might $elcome it i: I lost my temper. Burning $ith outrage# tense in e4ery muscle# I guard my silence. F"o$e4er# you seem to ha4e a ne$ ambition#F he goes on. F%ou seem to $ant to ma&e a name :or yoursel: as the One ?ust 5an# the man $ho is prepared to sacri:ice his :reedom to his principles. FBut let me as& youD do you belie4e that that is ho$ your :ello$AcitiHens see you a:ter the ridiculous spectacle you created on the sCuare the other dayE Belie4e me# to people in this to$n you are not the One ?ust 5an# you are simply a clo$n# a madman. %ou are dirty# you stin&# they can smell you a mile a$ay. %ou loo& li&e an old beggarAman# a re:useA sca4enger. /hey do not $ant you bac& in any capacity. %ou
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ha4e no :uture here. F%ou $ant to go do$n in history as a martyr# I suspect. But $ho is going to put you in the history boo&sE /hese border troubles are o: no signi:icance. In a $hile they $ill pass and the :rontier $ill go to sleep :or another t$enty years. People are not interested in the history o: the bac& o: beyond.F F/here $ere no border troubles be:ore you came#F I say. F/hat is nonsense#F he says. F%ou are simply ignorant o: the :acts. %ou are li4ing in a $orld o: the past. %ou thin& $e are dealing $ith small groups o: peace:ul nomads. In :act $e are dealing $ith a $ell organiHed enemy. I: you had tra4elled $ith the e;peditionary :orce you $ould ha4e seen that :or yoursel:.F F/hose pitiable prisoners you brought inare they the enemy I must :earE Is that $hat you sayE &ou are the enemy# 3olonelJF I can restrain mysel: no longer. I pound the des& $ith my :ist. !&ou are the enemy# you ha4e made the $ar# and you ha4e gi4en them all the martyrs they needstarting not no$ but a year ago $hen you committed your :irst :ilthy barbarities hereJ "istory $ill bear me outJF FNonsense. /here $ill be no history# the a::air is too tri4ial.F "e seems impassi4e# but I am sure I ha4e sha&en him. F%ou are an obscene torturerJ %ou deser4e to hangJF F/hus spea&s the @udge# the One ?ust 5an#F he murmurs. -e stare into each otherBs eyes. FNo$#F he says# sCuaring the papers be:ore himD FI $ould li&e a statement on e4erything that passed bet$een you and the barbarians on your recent and unauthoriHed 4isit to them.F FI re:use.F F2ery $ell. Our inter4ie$ is o4er.F "e turns to his
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subordinate. F"e is your responsibility.F "e stands up# $al&s out. I :ace the $arrant o::icer. *** /he $ound on my chee&# ne4er $ashed or dressed# is s$ollen and in:lamed. * crust li&e a :at caterpillar has :ormed on it. %y le:t eye is a mere slit# my nose a shapeless throbbing lump. I must breathe through my mouth. I lie in the ree& o: old 4omit obsessed $ith the thought o: $ater. I ha4e had nothing to drin& :or t$o days. In my su::ering there is nothing ennobling. +ittle o: $hat I call su::ering is e4en pain. -hat I am made to undergo is sub@ection to the most rudimentary needs o: my bodyD to drin&# to relie4e itsel:# to :ind the posture in $hich it is least sore. -hen -arrant O::icer 5andel and his man :irst brought me bac& here and lit the lamp and closed the door# I $ondered ho$ much pain a plump com:ortable old man $ould be able to endure in the name o: his eccentric notions o: ho$ the Empire should conduct itsel:. But my torturers $ere not interested in degrees o: pain. /hey $ere interested only in demonstrating to me $hat it meant to li4e in a body# as a body# a body $hich can entertain notions o: @ustice only as long as it is $hole and $ell# $hich 4ery soon :orgets them $hen its head is gripped and a pipe is pushed do$n its gullet and pints o: salt $ater are poured into it till it coughs and retches and :lails and 4oids itsel:. /hey did not come to :orce the story out o: me o: $hat I had said to the barbarians and $hat the barbarians had said to me. So I had no chance to thro$ the highAsounding $ords I had ready in their :aces. /hey came to my cell to sho$ me the meaning o: humanity# and in the space o: an hour they sho$ed me a great deal.
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*** Nor is it a Cuestion o: $ho endures longest. I used to thin& to myself, F/hey are sitting in another room discussing me. /hey are saying to each other# B"o$ much longer be:ore he gro4elsE In an hour $e $ill go bac& and see.B F But it is not li&e that. /hey ha4e no elaborated system o: pain and depri4ation to $hich they sub@ect me. <or t$o days I go $ithout :ood and $ater. On the third day I am :ed. FI am sorry#F says the man $ho brings my :ood# F$e :orgot.F It is not malice that ma&es them :orget. 5y torturers ha4e their o$n li4es to lead. I am not the centre o: their uni4erse. 5andelBs underling probably spends his days counting bags in the commissary or patrolling the earth$or&s# grumbling to himsel: about the heat. 5andel himsel:# I am sure# spends more time polishing his straps and buc&les than he spends on me. -hen the mood ta&es him he comes and gi4es me a lesson in humanity. "o$ long can I $ithstand the randomness o: their attac&sE *nd $hat $ill happen i: I succumb# $eep# gro4el# $hile yet the attac&s go onE *** /hey call me into the yard. I stand be:ore them hiding my na&edness# nursing my sore hand# a tired old bear made tame by too much baiting. F1un#F 5andel says. I run around the yard under the blaHing sun. -hen I slac&en he slaps me on the buttoc&s $ith his cane and I trot :aster. /he soldiers lea4e their siesta and $atch :rom the shade# the scullery maids hang o4er the &itchen door# children stare through the bars o: the gate. FI
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cannotJF I gasp. F5y heartJF I stop# hang my head# clutch my chest. E4eryone $aits patiently $hile I reco4er mysel:. /hen the cane prods me and I shamble on# mo4ing no :aster than a man $al&s. Or else I do tric&s :or them. /hey stretch a rope at &neeA height and I @ump bac& and :orth o4er it. /hey call the coo&Bs little grandson o4er and gi4e him one end to hold. FKeep it steady#F they say# F$e donBt $ant him to trip.F /he child grips his end o: the rope $ith both hands# concentrating on this important tas&# $aiting :or me to @ump. I baul&. /he point o: the cane :inds its $ay bet$een my buttoc&s and prods. F?ump#F 5andel murmurs. I run# ma&e a little s&ip# blunder into the rope# and stand there. I smell o: shit. I am not permitted to $ash. /he :lies :ollo$ me e4ery$here# circling around the appetiHing sore on my chee&# alighting i: I stand still :or a moment. /he looping mo4ement o: my hand be:ore my :ace to chase them a$ay has become as automatic as the :lic& o: a co$Bs tail. F/ell him he must do better ne;t time#F 5andel says to the boy. /he boy smiles and loo&s a$ay. I sit do$n in the dust to $ait :or the ne;t tric&. FIo you &no$ ho$ to s&ipEF he says to the boy. FGi4e the rope to the man and as& him to sho$ you ho$ to s&ip.F I s&ip. It cost me agonies o: shame the :irst time I had to come out o: my den and stand na&ed be:ore these idlers or @er& my body about :or their amusement. No$ I am past shame. 5y mind is turned $holly to the menace o: the moment $hen my &nees turn to $ater or my heart grips me li&e a crab and I ha4e to stand stillG and each time I disco4er $ith surprise that a:ter a little rest# a:ter the application o: a little pain# I can be made to mo4e# to @ump or s&ip or cra$l or run a little :urther. Is there a point at $hich I $ill lie do$n and say# FKill meI $ould rather die than go onFE Sometimes I thin& I am approaching
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that point# but I am al$ays mista&en. /here is no consoling grandeur in any o: this. -hen I $a&e up groaning in the night it is because I am reli4ing in dreams the pettiest degradations. /here is no $ay o: dying allo$ed me# it seems# e;cept li&e a dog in a corner. *** /hen one day they thro$ open the door and I step out to :ace not t$o men but a sCuad standing to attention. F"ere#F says 5andel# and hands me a $omanBs calico smoc&. FPut it on.F F-hyEF F2ery $ell# i: you $ant to go na&ed# go na&ed.F I slip the smoc& o4er my head. It reaches hal:$ay do$n my thighs. I catch a glimpse o: the t$o youngest maids duc&ing bac& into the &itchen# dissol4ing in giggles. %y $rists are caught behind my bac& and tied. F/he time has come# 5agistrate#F 5andel $hispers in my ear. FIo your best to beha4e li&e a man.F I am sure I can smell liCuor on his breath. /hey march me out o: the yard. Under the mulberry trees# $here the earth is purple $ith the @uice o: :allen berries# there is a &not o: people $aiting. 3hildren are scrambling about on the branches. *s I approach e4eryone :alls silent. * soldier tosses up the end o: a ne$ $hite hemp ropeG one o: the children in the tree catches it# loops it o4er a branch# and drops it bac&. I &no$ this is only a tric&# a ne$ $ay o: passing the a:ternoon :or men bored $ith the old torments. Ne4ertheless my bo$els turn to $ater. F-here is the 3olonelEF I $hisper. No one pays any heed.
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FIo you $ant to say somethingEF says 5andel. FSay $hate4er you $ish. -e gi4e you this opportunity.F I loo& into his clear blue eyes# as clear as i: there $ere crystal lenses slipped o4er his eyeballs. "e loo&s bac& at me. I ha4e no idea $hat he sees. /hin&ing o: him# I ha4e said the $ords torture torturer to mysel:# but they are strange $ords# and the more I repeat them the more strange they gro$# till they lie li&e stones on my tongue. Perhaps this man# and the man he brings along to help him $ith his $or&# and their 3olonel# are torturers# perhaps that is their designation on three cards in a payAo::ice some$here in the capital# though it is more li&ely that the cards call them security o::icers. But $hen I loo& at him I see simply the clear blue eyes# the rather rigid good loo&s# the teeth slightly too long $here the gums are receding. "e deals $ith my soulD e4ery day he :olds the :lesh aside and e;poses my soul to the lightG he has probably seen many souls in the course o: his $or&ing li:eG but the care o: souls seems to ha4e le:t no more mar& on him than the care o: hearts lea4es on the surgeon. FI am trying 4ery hard to understand your :eelings to$ards me#F I say. I cannot help mumbling# my 4oice is unsteady# I am a:raid and the s$eat is dripping :rom me. F5uch more than an opportunity to address these people# to $hom I ha4e nothing to say# $ould I appreciate a :e$ $ords :rom you. So that I can come to understand $hy you de4ote yoursel: to this $or&. *nd can hear $hat you :eel to$ards me# $hom you ha4e hurt a great deal and no$ seem to be proposing to &ill.F *maHed I stare at this elaborate utterance as it $inds its $ay out o: me. *m I mad enough to intend a pro4ocationE FIo you see this handEF he says. "e holds his hand an inch :rom my :ace. F-hen I $as youngerFhe :le;es the
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:ingersFI used to be able to po&e this :ingerFhe holds up the inde; :ingerFthrough a pump&inAshell.F "e puts the tip o: his :inger against my :orehead and presses. I ta&e a step bac&$ards. /hey e4en ha4e a cap ready :or me# a saltAbag $hich they slip o4er my head and tie around my throat $ith a string. /hrough the mesh I $atch them bring up the ladder and prop it against the branch. I am guided to it# my :oot is set on the lo$est rung# the noose is settled under my ear. FNo$ climb#F says 5andel. I turn my head and see t$o dim :igures holding the end o: the rope. FI canBt climb $ith my hands tied#F I say. 5y heart is hammering. F3limb#F he says# steadying me by the arm. /he rope tightens. FKeep it tight#F he orders. I climb# he climbs behind me# guiding me. I count ten rungs. +ea4es brush against me. I stop. "e grips my arm tighter. FIo you thin& $e are playingEF he says. "e tal&s through clenched teeth in a :ury I do not understand. FIo you thin& I donBt mean $hat I sayEF 5y eyes sting $ith s$eat inside the bag. FNo#F I say# FI do not thin& you are playing.F *s long as the rope remains taut I &no$ they are playing. I: the rope goes slac&# and I slip# I $ill die. F/hen $hat do you $ant to say to meEF FI $ant to say that nothing passed bet$een mysel: and the barbarians concerning military matters. It $as a pri4ate a::air. I $ent to return the girl to her :amily. <or no other purpose.F FIs that all you $ant to say to meEF FI $ant to say that no one deser4es to die.F In my absurd :roc& and bag# $ith the nausea o: co$ardice in my mouth# I
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sayD FI $ant to li4e. *s e4ery man $ants to li4e. /o li4e and li4e and li4e. No matter $hat.F F/hat isnBt enough.F "e lets my arm go. I teeter on my tenth rung# the rope sa4ing my balance. FIo you seeEF he says. "e retreats do$n the ladder# lea4ing me alone. Not s$eat but tears. /here is a rustling in the lea4es near me. * childBs 4oiceD F3an you see# uncleEF FNo.F F"ey# mon&eys# come do$nJF calls someone :rom belo$. /hrough the taut rope I can :eel the 4ibration o: their mo4ements in the branches. So I stand :or a long $hile# balancing care:ully on the rung# :eeling the com:ort o: the $ood in the cur4e o: my sole# trying not to $a4er# &eeping the tension o: the rope as constant as possible. "o$ long $ill a cro$d o: idlers be content to $atch a man stand on a ladderE I $ould stand here till the :lesh dropped :rom my bones# through storm and hail and :lood# to li4e. But no$ the rope tightens# I can e4en hear it rasp as it passes o4er the bar&# till I must stretch to &eep it :rom throttling me. /his is not a contest o: patience# thenD i: the cro$d is not satis:ied the rules are changed. But o: $hat use is it to blame the cro$dE * scapegoat is named# a :esti4al is declared# the la$s are suspendedD $ho $ould not :loc& to see the entertainmentE -hat is it I ob@ect to in these spectacles o: abasement and su::ering and death that our ne$ regime puts on but their lac& o: decorumE -hat $ill my o$n administration be remembered :or besides mo4ing the
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shambles :rom the mar&etplace to the outs&irts o: the to$n t$enty years ago in the interests o: decencyE I try to call out something# a $ord o: blind :ear# a shrie&# but the rope is no$ so tight that I am strangled# speechless. /he blood hammers in my ears. I :eel my toes lose their hold. I am s$inging gently in the air# bumping against the ladder# :lailing $ith my :eet. /he drumbeat in my ears becomes slo$er and louder till it is all I can hear. I am standing in :ront o: the old man# scre$ing up my eyes against the $ind# $aiting :or him to spea&. /he ancient gun still rests bet$een his horseBs ears# but it is not aimed at me. I am a$are o: the 4astness o: the s&y all around us# and o: the desert. I $atch his lips. *t any moment no$ he $ill spea&D I must listen care:ully to capture e4ery syllable# so that later# repeating them to mysel:# poring o4er them# I can disco4er the ans$er to a Cuestion $hich :or the moment has :lo$n li&e a bird :rom my recollection. I can see e4ery hair o: the horseBs mane# e4ery $rin&le o: the old manBs :ace# e4ery roc& and :urro$ o: the hillside. /he girl# $ith her blac& hair braided and hanging o4er her shoulder in barbarian :ashion# sits her horse behind him. "er head is bo$ed# she too is $aiting :or him to spea&. I sigh. F-hat a pity#F I thin&. FIt is too late no$.F I am s$inging loose. /he breeHe li:ts my smoc& and plays $ith my na&ed body. I am rela;ed# :loating. In a $omanBs clothes. -hat must be my :eet touch the ground# though they are numb to all :eeling. I stretch mysel: out care:ully# at :ull length# light as a lea:. -hate4er it is that has held my head so tightly slac&ens its grip. <rom inside me comes a ponderous grating. I breathe. *ll is $ell.
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/hen the hood comes o::# the sun daHHles my eyes# I am hauled to my :eet# e4erything s$ims be:ore me# I go blan&. /he $ord flying $hispers itsel: some$here at the edge o: my consciousness. %es# it is true# I ha4e been :lying. I am loo&ing into the blue eyes o: 5andel. "is lips mo4e but I hear no $ords. I sha&e my head# and ha4ing once started :ind that I cannot stop. FI $as saying#F he says# Fnow we will show you another form of flying ! F"e canBt hear you#F someone says. F"e can hear#F says 5andel. "e slips the noose :rom my nec& and &nots it around the cord that binds my $rists. FPull him up.F I: I can hold my arms sti::# i: I am acrobat enough to s$ing a :oot up and hoo& it around the rope# I $ill be able to hang upside do$n and not be hurtD that is my last thought be:ore they begin to hoist me. But I am as $ea& as a baby# my arms come up behind my bac&# and as my :eet lea4e the ground I :eel a terrible tearing in my shoulders as though $hole sheets o: muscle are gi4ing $ay. <rom my throat comes the :irst mourn:ul dry bello$# li&e the pouring o: gra4el. /$o little boys drop out o: the tree and# hand in hand# not loo&ing bac&# trot o::. I bello$ again and again# there is nothing I can do to stop it# the noise comes out o: a body that &no$s itsel: damaged perhaps beyond repair and roars its :right. E4en i: all the children o: the to$n should hear me I cannot stop mysel:D let us only pray that they do not imitate their eldersB games# or tomorro$ there $ill be a plague o: little bodies dangling :rom the trees. Someone gi4es me a push and I begin to :loat bac& and :orth in an arc a :oot abo4e the ground li&e a great old moth $ith its $ings pinched together# roaring# shouting. F"e is calling his barbarian :riends#F someone obser4es. F/hat is barbarian language you hear.F /here is laughter.
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5
I ha4e barbarians come out at night. Be:ore dar&ness :alls
the last goat must be brought in# the gates barred# a $atch set in e4ery loo&out to call the hours. *ll night# it is said# the barbarians pro$l about bent on murder and rapine. 3hildren in their dreams see the shutters part and :ierce barbarian :aces leer through. F/he barbarians are hereJF the children scream# and cannot be com:orted. 3lothing disappears :rom $ashingA lines# :ood :rom larders# ho$e4er tightly loc&ed. /he barbarians ha4e dug a tunnel under the $alls# people sayG they come and go as they please# ta&e $hat they li&eG no one is sa:e any longer. /he :armers still till the :ields# but they go out in bands# ne4er singly. /hey $or& $ithout heartD the barbarians are only $aiting :or the crops to be established# they say# be:ore they :lood the :ields again. -hy doesnBt the army stop the barbariansE people complain. +i:e on the :rontier has become too hard. /hey tal& o: returning to the Old 3ountry# but then remember that the roads are no longer sa:e because o: the barbarians. /ea and sugar can no longer be bought o4er the counter as the
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shop&eepers hoard their stoc&s. /hose $ho eat $ell eat behind closed doors# :ear:ul o: a$a&ing their neighbourBs en4y. /hree $ee&s ago a little girl $as raped. "er :riends# playing in the irrigation ditches# did not miss her till she came bac& to them bleeding# speechless. <or days she lay in her parentsB home staring at the ceiling. Nothing $ould induce her to tell her story. -hen the lamp $as put out she $ould begin to $himper. "er :riends claim a barbarian did it. /hey sa$ him running a$ay into the reeds. /hey recogniHed him as a barbarian by his ugliness. No$ all children are :orbidden to play outside the gates# and the :armers carry clubs and spears $hen they go to the :ields. /he higher :eeling runs against the barbarians# the tighter I huddle in my corner# hoping I $ill not be remembered. It is a long time since the second e;peditionary :orce rode out so bra4ely $ith its :lags and trumpets and shining armour and prancing steeds to s$eep the barbarians :rom the 4alley and teach them a lesson they and their children and grandchildren $ould ne4er :orget. Since then there ha4e been no dispatches# no communiCuLs. /he e;hilaration o: the times $hen there used to be daily military parades on the sCuare# displays o: horsemanship# e;hibitions o: mus&etry# has long since dissipated. Instead the air is :ull o: an;ious rumours. Some say that the entire thousandAmile :rontier has erupted into con:lict# that the northern barbarians ha4e @oined :orces $ith the $estern barbarians# that the army o: the Empire is too thinly stretched# that one o: these days it $ill be :orced to gi4e up the de:ence o: remote outposts li&e this one to concentrate its resources on the protection o: the heartland. Others say that $e recei4e no ne$s o: the $ar only because our soldiers ha4e thrust deep into the enemyBs territory and are too busy dealing
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out hea4y blo$s to send dispatches. Soon# they say# $hen $e least e;pect it# our men $ill come marching bac& $eary but 4ictorious# and $e shall ha4e peace in our time. *mong the small garrison that has been le:t behind there is more drun&enness than I ha4e e4er &no$n be:ore# more arrogance to$ards the to$nspeople. /here ha4e been incidents in $hich soldiers ha4e gone into shops# ta&en $hat they $anted# and le:t $ithout paying. O: $hat use is it :or the shop&eeper to raise the alarm $hen the criminals and the ci4il guard are the same peopleE /he shop&eepers complain to 5andel# $ho is in charge under the emergency po$ers $hile ?oll is a$ay $ith the army. 5andel ma&es promises but does not act. -hy should heE *ll that matters to him is that he should remain popular $ith his men. Iespite the parade o: 4igilance on the ramparts and the $ee&ly s$eep along the la&eshore 6:or lur&ing barbarians# though none has e4er been caught7# discipline is la;. 5ean$hile I# the old clo$n $ho lost his last 4estige o: authority the day he spent hanging :rom a tree in a $omanBs underclothes shouting :or help# the :ilthy creature $ho :or a $ee& lic&ed his :ood o:: the :lagstones li&e a dog because he had lost the use o: his hands# am no longer loc&ed up. I sleep in a corner o: the barrac&s yardG I creep around in my :ilthy smoc&G $hen a :ist is raised against me I co$er. I li4e li&e a star4ed beast at the bac& door# &ept ali4e perhaps only as e4idence o: the animal that s&ul&s $ithin e4ery barbarianA lo4er. I &no$ I am not sa:e. Sometimes I can :eel the $eight o: a resent:ul gaHe resting upon meG I do not loo& upG I &no$ that :or some the attraction must be strong to clear the yard by putting a bullet through my s&ull :rom an upstairs $indo$. /here has been a dri:t o: re:ugees to the to$n# :isher:ol& :rom the tiny settlements dotted along the ri4er and the
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northern la&eshore# spea&ing a language no one understands# carrying their households on their bac&s# $ith their gaunt dogs and ric&ety children trailing behind them. People cro$ded around them $hen they :irst came. F-as it the barbarians $ho chased you outEF they as&ed# ma&ing :ierce :aces# stretching imaginary bo$s. No one as&ed about the imperial soldiery or the brushA:ires they set. /here $as sympathy :or these sa4ages at :irst# and people brought them :ood and old clothing# until they began to put up their thatched shelters against the $all on the side o: the sCuare near the $alnut trees# and their children gre$ bold enough to snea& into &itchens and steal# and one night a pac& o: their dogs bro&e into the sheep:old and tore out the throats o: a doHen e$es. <eelings then turned against them. /he soldiers too& action# shooting their dogs on sight and# one morning $hen the men $ere still do$n at the la&e# tearing do$n the entire ro$ o: shelters. <or days the :isher:ol& hid out in the reeds. /hen one by one their little thatched huts began to reappear# this time outside the to$n under the north $all. /heir huts $ere allo$ed to stand# but the sentries at the gate recei4ed orders to deny them entry. No$ that rule has been rela;ed# and they can be seen ha$&ing strings o: :ish :rom door to door in the mornings. /hey ha4e no e;perience o: money# they are cheated outrageously# they $ill part $ith anything :or a thimble:ul o: rum. /hey are a bony# pigeonAchested people. /heir $omen seem al$ays to be pregnantG their children are stuntedG in a :e$ o: the young girls there are traces o: a :ragile# liCuidAeyed beautyG :or the rest I see only ignorance# cunning# slo4enliness. %et $hat do they see in me# i: they e4er see meE * beast that stares out :rom behind a gateD the :ilthy underside o: this beauti:ul oasis $here they ha4e :ound a precarious sa:ety.
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One day a shado$ :alls across me $here I doHe in the yard# a :oot prods me# and I loo& up into 5andelBs blue eyes. F*re $e :eeding you $ellEF he says. F*re you gro$ing :at againEF I nod# sitting at his :eet. FBecause $e canBt go on :eeding you :ore4er.F /here is a long pause $hile $e e;amine each other. F-hen are you going to begin $or&ing :or your &eepEF FI am a prisoner a$aiting trial. Prisoners a$aiting trial are not reCuired to $or& :or their &eep. /hat is the la$. /hey are maintained out o: the public co::er.F FBut you are not a prisoner. %ou are :ree to go as you please.F "e $aits :or me to ta&e the ponderously o::ered bait. I say nothing. "e goes onD F"o$ can you be a prisoner $hen $e ha4e no record o: youE Io you thin& $e donBt &eep recordsE -e ha4e no record o: you. So you must be a :ree man.F I rise and :ollo$ him across the yard to the gate. /he guard hands him the &ey and he unloc&s it. F%ou seeE /he gate is open.F I hesitate be:ore I pass through. /here is something I $ould li&e to &no$. I loo& into 5andelBs :ace# at the clear eyes# $indo$s o: his soul# at the mouth :rom $hich his spirit utters itsel:. F"a4e you a minute to spareEF I say. -e stand in the gate$ay# $ith the guard in the bac&ground pretending not to hear. I sayD FI am not a young man any more# and $hate4er :uture I had in this place is in ruins.F I gesture around the sCuare# at the dust that scuds be:ore the hot late summer $ind# bringer o: blights and plagues. F*lso I ha4e already died one death# on that tree# only you decided to sa4e me. So there is something I $ould li&e to &no$ be:ore I go. I: it is not too late# $ith the barbarian at the gate.F I :eel the tiniest smile o:
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moc&ery brush my lips# I cannot help it. I glance up at the empty s&y. F<orgi4e me i: the Cuestion seems impudent# but I $ould li&e to as&D "o$ do you :ind it possible to eat a:ter$ards# a:ter you ha4e been. . . $or&ing $ith peopleE /hat is a Cuestion I ha4e al$ays as&ed mysel: about e;ecutioners and other such people. -aitJ +isten to me a moment longer# I am sincere# it has cost me a great deal to come out $ith this# since I am terri:ied o: you# I need not tell you that# I am sure you are a$are o: it. Io you :ind it easy to ta&e :ood a:ter$ardsE I ha4e imagined that one $ould $ant to $ash oneBs hands. But no ordinary $ashing $ould be enough# one $ould reCuire priestly inter4ention# a ceremonial o: cleansing# donBt you thin&E Some &ind o: purging o: oneBs soul toothat is ho$ I ha4e imagined it. Other$ise ho$ $ould it be possible to return to e4eryday li:eto sit do$n at table# :or instance# and brea& bread $ith oneBs :amily or oneBs comradesEF "e turns a$ay# but $ith a slo$ cla$Ali&e hand I manage to catch his arm. FNo# listenJF I say. FIo not misunderstand me# I am not blaming you or accusing you# I am long past that. 1emember# I too ha4e de4oted a li:e to the la$# I &no$ its processes# I &no$ that the $or&ings o: @ustice are o:ten obscure. I am only trying to understand. I am trying to understand the Hone in $hich you li4e. I am trying to imagine ho$ you breathe and eat and li4e :rom day to day. But I cannotJ /hat is $hat troubles meJ I: I $ere he# I say to mysel:# my hands $ould :eel so dirty that it $ould cho&e meF "e $renches himsel: :ree and hits me so hard in the chest that I gasp and stumble bac&$ards. F%ou bastardJF he shouts. F%ou :uc&ing old lunaticJ Get outJ Go and die some$hereJF F-hen are you going to put me on trialEF I shout at his retreating bac&. "e pays no heed.
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*** /here is no$here to hide. *nd $hy should IE <rom da$n to dus& I am on 4ie$ on the sCuare# roaming around the stalls or sitting in the shade o: the trees. *nd gradually# as $ord gets around that the old 5agistrate has ta&en his &noc&s and come through# people cease to :all silent or turn their bac&s $hen I come near. I disco4er that I am not $ithout :riends# particularly among $omen# $ho can barely conceal their eagerness to hear my side o: the story. 1oaming the streets# I pass the CuartermasterBs plump $i:e hanging out the $ashing. -e greet. F*nd ho$ are you# sirEF she says. F-e heard that you had such a hard time.F "er eyes glitter# a4id though cautious. F-onBt you come in and ha4e a cup o: teaEF So $e sit together at the &itchen table# and she sends the children to play outside# and $hile I drin& tea and munch steadily at a plate o: the delicious oatmeal biscuits she ba&es# she plays out the :irst mo4es in this roundabout game o: Cuestion and ans$erD F%ou $ere gone so long# $e $ondered i: you $ould e4er be coming bac&. . . *nd then all the trouble you hadJ "o$ things ha4e changedJ /here $as none o: this commotion $hen you $ere in charge. *ll these strangers :rom the capital# upsetting thingsJF I ta&e my cue# sighD F%es# they donBt understand ho$ $e go about things in the pro4inces# do they. *ll this trouble o4er a girl. . .F I gobble another biscuit. * :ool in lo4e is laughed at but in the end al$ays :orgi4en. F/o me it $as simply a matter o: common sense to ta&e her bac& to her :amily# but ho$ could one ma&e them understand thatEF I ramble onG she listens to these hal:Atruths# nodding# $atching me li&e a ha$&G $e pretend that the 4oice she hears is not the 4oice o: the man $ho s$ung :rom the tree shouting :or mercy loud enough to $a&en the dead. F. . .*nyho$# let us hope it is
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all o4er. I still ha4e painsFI touch my shoulder FoneBs body heals so slo$ly as one gets older. . .F So I sing :or my &eep. *nd i: I am still hungry in the e4ening# i: I $ait at the barrac&s gate :or the $histle that calls the dogs and slip in Cuietly enough# I can usually $heedle out o: the maids the le:to4ers :rom the soldiersB supper# a bo$l o: cold beans or the rich scrapings o: the soupApot or hal: a loa: o: bread. Or in the mornings I can saunter o4er to the inn and# leaning o4er the :lap o: the &itchen door# breathe in all the good smells# mar@oram and yeast and crisp chopped onions and smo&y muttonA:at. 5ai the coo& greases the ba&ingApansD I $atch her de:t :ingers dip into the pot o: lard and coat the pan in three s$i:t circles. I thin& o: her pastries# the reno$ned ham and spinach and cheese pie she ma&es# and :eel the sali4a spurt in my mouth. FSo many people ha4e le:t#F she says# turning to the great ball o: dough# FI canBt e4en begin to tell you. * siHable party le:t only a :e$ days ago. One o: the girls :rom herethe little one $ith the long straight hair# you may remember hershe $as one o: them# she le:t $ith her :ello$.F "er 4oice is :lat as she imparts the in:ormation to me# and I am grate:ul :or her considerateness. FO: course it ma&es sense#F she continues# Fi: you $ant to lea4e you must lea4e no$# itBs a long road# dangerous too# and the nights are getting colder.F She tal&s about the $eather# about the past summer and signs o: approaching $inter# as though $here I had been# in my cell not three hundred paces :rom $here $e stand# I had been sealed o:: :rom hot and cold# dry and $et. /o her# I realiHe# I disappeared and then reappeared# and in bet$een $as not part o: the $orld. I ha4e been listening and nodding and dreaming $hile
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she tal&s. No$ I spea&. F%ou &no$#F I say# F$hen I $as in prisonin the barrac&s# not in the ne$ prison# in a little room they loc&ed me intoI $as so hungry that I did not gi4e a thought to $omen# only to :ood. I li4ed :rom one mealtime to the ne;t. /here $as ne4er enough :or me. I bolted my :ood li&e a dog and $anted more. *lso there $as a great deal o: pain# at di::erent timesD my hand# my arms# as $ell as thisFI touch the thic&ened nose# the ugly scar under my eye by $hich# I am beginning to learn# people are surreptitiously :ascinated. F-hen I dreamed o: a $oman I dreamed o: someone $ho $ould come in the night and ta&e the pain a$ay. * childBs dream. -hat I did not &no$ $as ho$ longing could store itsel: a$ay in the hollo$s o: oneBs bones and then one day $ithout $arning :lood out. -hat you said a moment ago# :or instancethe girl you mentionedI $as 4ery :ond o: her# I thin& you &no$ that# though delicacy pre4ented you. . . -hen you said she $as gone# I con:ess# it $as as i: something had struc& me here# in the breast. * blo$.F "er hands mo4e de:tly# pressing circles out o: the sheet o: dough $ith the rim o: a bo$l# catching up the scraps# rolling them together. She a4oids my eyes. FI $ent upstairs to her room last night# but the door $as loc&ed. I shrugged it o::. She has a lot o: :riends# I ne4er thought I $as the only one. . . But $hat did I $antE Some$here to sleep# certainlyG but more too. -hy pretendE -e all &no$# $hat old men see& is to reco4er their youth in the arms o: young $omen.F She pounds the dough# &neads it# rolls it outD a young $oman hersel: $ith children o: her o$n# li4ing $ith an e;acting motherD $hat appeal am I ma&ing to her as I ramble on about pain# lonelinessE Bemused I listen to the discourse that emerges :rom me. F+et e4erything be saidJF I told mysel: $hen I :irst :aced up to my tormentors. F-hy
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clamp your lips stupidly togetherE %ou ha4e no secrets. +et them &no$ they are $or&ing on :lesh and bloodJ Ieclare your terror# scream $hen the pain comesJ /hey thri4e on stubborn silenceD it con:irms to them that e4ery soul is a loc& they must patiently pic&. Bare yoursel:J Open your heartJF So I shouted and screamed and said $hate4er came into my head. Insidious rationaleJ <or no$ $hat I hear $hen I loosen my tongue and let it sail :ree is the subtle $hining o: a beggar. FIo you &no$ $here I slept last nightEF I hear mysel: saying. FIo you &no$ that little leanAto at the bac& o: the granaryE . . .F But abo4e all it is :ood that I cra4e# and more intensely $ith e4ery passing $ee&. I $ant to be :at again. /here is a hunger upon me day and night. I $a&e up $ith my stomach ya$ning# I cannot $ait to be on my rounds# loitering at the barrac&s gate to sni:: the bland $atery aroma o: oatmeal and $ait :or the burnt scrapingsG ca@oling children to thro$ me do$n mulberries :rom the treesG stretching o4er a garden :ence to steal a peach or t$oG passing :rom door to door# a man do$n on his luc&# the 4ictim o: an in:atuation# but cured no$# ready $ith a smile to ta&e $hat is o::ered# a slice o: bread and @am# a cup o: tea# in the middle o: the day perhaps a bo$l o: ste$ or a plate o: onions and beans# and al$ays :ruit# apricots# peaches# pomegranates# the $ealth o: a bounteous summer. I eat li&e a beggar# gobbling do$n my :ood $ith such appetite# $iping my plate so clean that it does the heart good to see it. No $onder I am day by day creeping bac& into the good boo&s o: my countrymen. *nd ho$ I can :latter# ho$ I can $ooJ 5ore than once ha4e I had a tasty snac& prepared especially :or meD a mutton chop :ried $ith peppers and chi4es# or a slice o: ham and tomato on bread $ith a $edge o: goatsB mil& cheese. I: I can carry $ater or :ire$ood in return# I do so gladly# as a to&en#
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though I am not as strong as I used to be. *nd i: :or the time being I ha4e e;hausted my sources in the to$n:or I must be care:ul not to become a burden on my bene:actorsI can al$ays stroll do$n to the :isher:ol&Bs camp and help them clean :ish. I ha4e learned a :e$ $ords o: their language# I am recei4ed $ithout suspicion# they understand $hat it is to be a beggar# they share their :ood $ith me. I $ant to be :at again# :atter than e4er be:ore. I $ant a belly that gurgles $ith contentment $hen I :old my palms o4er it# I $ant to :eel my chin sin& into the cushion o: my throat and my breasts $obble as I $al&. I $ant a li:e o: simple satis:actions. I $ant 64ain hopeJ7 ne4er to &no$ hunger again. *** Nearly three months since it departed# and still there is no ne$s o: the e;peditionary :orce. Instead# terrible rumours e4ery$hereD that the :orce has been lured into the desert and $iped outG that un&no$n to us it has been recalled to de:end the homeland# lea4ing the :rontier to$ns :or the barbarians to pic& li&e :ruit $hene4er they choose to. E4ery $ee& there is a con4oy o: the prudent lea4ing to$n# going east# ten or t$el4e :amilies tra4elling together Fto 4isit relati4esF# as the euphemism has it# Ftill things settle do$n againF. /hey lea4e# leading pac&Atrains# pushing handcarts# carrying pac&s on their bac&s# their 4ery children laden li&e beasts. I ha4e e4en seen a long lo$ :ourA$heeled cart dra$n by sheep. Pac&Aanimals can no longer be bought. /hose $ho depart are the sensible ones# the husbands and $i4es $ho lie a$a&e in bed $hispering# ma&ing plans# cutting losses. /hey lea4e their com:ortable homes behind# loc&ing them Ftill $e returnF# ta&ing the &eys as a memento. By the ne;t day gangs o: soldiers ha4e bro&en in#
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looted the houses# smashed the :urniture# :ouled the :loors. 1esentment builds up against those $ho are seen to be ma&ing preparations to go. /hey are insulted in public# assaulted or robbed $ith impunity. No$ there are :amilies that simply disappear in the dead o: night# bribing the guards to open the gates :or them# ta&ing the east road and $aiting at the :irst or second stoppingAplace till the party that accumulates is large enough to tra4el sa:ely. /he soldiery tyranniHes the to$n. /hey ha4e held a torchAlight meeting on the sCuare to denounce Fco$ards and traitorsF and to a::irm collecti4e allegiance to the Empire. W$ *+,& has become the slogan o: the :aith:ulD the $ords are to be seen daubed on $alls e4ery$here. I stood in the dar& on the edge o: the huge cro$d that night 6no one $as bra4e enough to stay at home7 listening to these $ords chanted ponderously# menacingly :rom thousands o: throats. * shi4er ran do$n my bac&. *:ter the meeting the soldiers led a procession through the streets. Ioors $ere &ic&ed in# $indo$s bro&en# a house set on :ire. /ill late at night there $as drin&ing and carousing on the sCuare. I loo&ed out :or 5andel but did not see him. It may be that he has lost control o: the garrison# i: indeed the soldiers $ere e4er prepared to ta&e orders :rom a policeman. -hen they $ere :irst Cuartered on the to$n these soldiers# strangers to our $ays# conscripts :rom all o4er the Empire# $ere $elcomed coolly. F-e donBt need them here#F people said# Fthe sooner they go out and :ight the barbarians the better.F /hey $ere denied credit in the shops# mothers loc&ed their daughters a$ay :rom them. But a:ter the barbarians made their appearance on our doorstep that attitude changed. No$ that they seem to be all that stands bet$een us and destruction# these :oreign soldiers are an;iously courted. * committee o: citiHens ma&es a $ee&ly le4y to hold a :east :or them# roasting
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$hole sheep on spits# laying out gallons o: ram. /he girls o: the to$n are theirs :or the ta&ing. /hey are $elcome to $hate4er they $ant as long as they $ill stay and guard our li4es. *nd the more they are :a$ned on# the more their arrogance gro$s. -e &no$ $e cannot rely on them. -ith the granary nearly empty and the main :orce 4anished li&e smo&e# $hat is there to hold them once the :easting stopsE *ll $e can hope :or is that they $ill be deterred :rom deserting us by the rigours o: $inter tra4el. <or premonitions o: $inter are e4ery$here. In the early hours o: the morning a chilly breeHe rises in the northD the shutters crea&# sleepers huddle closer# the sentries $rap their cloa&s tight# turn their bac&s. Some nights I $a&e up shi4ering on my bed o: sac&s and cannot get to sleep again. -hen the sun comes up it seems :arther a$ay each dayG the earth gro$s cold e4en be:ore sunset. I thin& o: the little con4oys o: tra4ellers strung out along hundreds o: miles o: road# heading :or a motherland most ha4e ne4er seen# pushing their handcarts# goading their horses# carrying their children# nursing their pro4isions# day by day abandoning at the roadside tools# &itchen$are# portraits# cloc&s# toys# e4erything they belie4ed they might rescue :rom the ruin o: their estates be:ore they realiHed that at most they might hope to escape $ith their li4es. In a $ee& or t$o the $eather $ill be too treacherous :or any but the hardiest to set out. /he blea& north $ind $ill be ho$ling all day# $ithering li:e on the stal&# carrying a sea o: dust across the $ide plateau# bringing sudden :lurries o: hail and sno$. I cannot imagine mysel:# $ith my tattered clothes and castAo:: sandals# stic& in hand# pac& on bac&# sur4i4ing that long march. 5y heart $ould not be in it. -hat li:e can I hope :or a$ay :rom this oasisE /he li:e o: an indigent boo&&eeper in the capital# coming bac& e4ery e4ening
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a:ter dus& to a rented room in a bac& street# $ith my teeth slo$ly :alling out and the landlady sni::ing at the doorE I: I $ere to @oin the e;odus it $ould be as one o: those unobtrusi4e old :ol& $ho one day slip a$ay :rom the line o: march# settle do$n in the lee o: a roc&# and $ait :or the last great cold to begin creeping up their legs. *** I $ander do$n the $ide road do$n to the la&eside. /he horiHon ahead is already grey# merging into the grey $ater o: the la&e. Behind me the sun is setting in strea&s o: gold and crimson. <rom the ditches comes the :irst cric&etsong. /his is a $orld I &no$ and lo4e and do not $ant to lea4e. I ha4e $al&ed this road by night since my youth and come to no harm. "o$ can I belie4e that the night is :ull o: the :litting shado$s o: barbariansE I: there $ere strangers here I $ould :eel it in my bones. /he barbarians ha4e $ithdra$n $ith their :loc&s into the deepest mountain 4alleys# $aiting :or the soldiers to gro$ tired and go a$ay. -hen that happens the barbarians $ill come out again. /hey $ill graHe their sheep and lea4e us alone# $e $ill plant our :ields and lea4e them alone# and in a :e$ years the :rontier $ill be restored to peace. I pass the ruined :ields# cleared by no$ and ploughed a:resh# cross the irrigation ditches and the shoreA$all. /he ground beneath my soles gro$s so:tG soon I am $al&ing on soggy marshgrass# pushing my $ay through reedbra&es# striding an&leAdeep in $ater in the last 4iolet light o: dus&. <rogs plop into the $ater be:ore meG nearby I hear a :aint rustle o: :eathers as a marshbird crouches ready to :ly. I $ade deeper# parting the reeds $ith my hands# :eeling the cool slime bet$een my toesG the $ater# holding the $armth
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o: the sun longer than the air# resists# then gi4es $ay# be:ore each stride. In the early hours o: the morning the :ishermen pole their :latAbottomed boats out across this calm sur:ace and cast their nets. -hat a peace:ul $ay to ma&e a li4ingJ Perhaps I should lea4e o:: my beggarBs trade and @oin them in their camp outside the $all# build mysel: a hut o: mud and reeds# marry one o: their pretty daughters# :east $hen the catch is plenti:ul# tighten my belt $hen it is not. 3al:Adeep in the soothing $ater I indulge mysel: in this $ist:ul 4ision. I am not una$are o: $hat such daydreams signi:y# dreams o: becoming an unthin&ing sa4age# o: ta&ing the cold road bac& to the capital# o: groping my $ay out to the ruins in the desert# o: returning to the con:inement o: my cell# o: see&ing out the barbarians and o::ering mysel: to them to use as they $ish. -ithout e;ception they are dreams o: endsD dreams not o: ho$ to li4e but o: ho$ to die. *nd e4eryone# I &no$# in that $alled to$n sin&ing no$ into dar&ness 6I hear the t$o thin trumpet calls that announce the closing o: the gates7 is similarly preoccupied. E4eryone but the childrenJ /he children ne4er doubt that the great old trees in $hose shade they play $ill stand :ore4er# that one day they $ill gro$ to be strong li&e their :athers# :ertile li&e their mothers# that they $ill li4e and prosper and raise their o$n children and gro$ old in the place $here they $ere born. -hat has made it impossible :or us to li4e in time li&e :ish in $ater# li&e birds in air# li&e childrenE It is the :ault o: EmpireJ Empire has created the time o: history. Empire has located its e;istence not in the smooth recurrent spinning time o: the cycle o: the seasons but in the @agged time o: rise and :all# o: beginning and end# o: catastrophe. Empire dooms itsel: to li4e in history and plot against history. One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind o: EmpireD ho$ not to end# ho$ not to die# ho$ to
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prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless# it sends its bloodhounds e4ery$here. By night it :eeds on images o: disasterD the sac& o: cities# the rape o: populations# pyramids o: bones# acres o: desolation. * mad 4ision yet a 4irulent oneD I# $ading in the ooHe# am no less in:ected $ith it than the :aith:ul 3olonel ?oll as he trac&s the enemies o: Empire through the boundless desert# s$ord unsheathed to cut do$n barbarian a:ter barbarian until at last he :inds and slays the one $hose destiny it should be 6or i: not he then his sonBs or unborn grandsonBs7 to climb the bronHe gate$ay to the Summer Palace and topple the globe surmounted by the tiger rampant that symboliHes eternal dominion# $hile his comrades belo$ cheer and :ire their mus&ets in the air. /here is no moon. In dar&ness I grope my $ay bac& to dry land and on a bed o: grass# $rapped in my cloa&# :all asleep. I $a&e up sti:: and cold :rom a :lurry o: con:used dreams. /he red star has barely mo4ed in the s&y. *s I pass along the road to the :ishermenBs camp a dog starts to bar&G in a moment it is @oined by another# and the night bursts out in a clamour o: bar&ing# shouts o: alarm# screams. Iismayed# I shout out at the top o: my 4oice# FIt is nothingJF but I am not heard. I stand helpless in the middle o: the road. Someone runs past me do$n to$ards the la&eG then another body cannons into me# a $oman# I &no$ at once# $ho gasps in terror in my arms be:ore she brea&s :ree and is gone. /here are dogs# too# snarling about meD I $hirl and cry out as one snaps at my legs# tears my s&in# retreats. /he :renHied yapping is all round me. <rom behind the $alls the dogs o: the to$n bay their response. I crouch and circle# tensed :or the ne;t attac&. /he brassy $ail o: trumpets cuts through the air. /he dogs bar& louder than e4er. Slo$ly I shu::le to$ards the
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camp# till one o: the huts suddenly looms against the s&y. I push aside the mat that hangs o4er the door$ay and pass into the s$eaty $armth $here until a :e$ minutes ago people slept. /he clamour outside dies do$n# but no one returns. /he air is stale# dro$sy. I $ould li&e to sleep# yet I am disturbed by the resonance o: that so:t impact on me in the road. +i&e a bruise my :lesh retains the imprint o: the body that :or a :e$ seconds rested against me. I :ear $hat I am capable o:D o: coming bac& tomorro$ in daylight still aching $ith the memory and as&ing Cuestions until I disco4er $ho it $as $ho ran into me in the dar&# so as to build upon her# child or $oman# an e4en more ridiculous erotic ad4enture. /here is no limit to the :oolishness o: men o: my age. Our only e;cuse is that $e lea4e no mar& o: our o$n on the girls $ho pass through our handsD our con4oluted desires# our ritualiHed lo4ema&ing# our elephantine ecstasies are soon :orgotten# they shrug o:: our clumsy dance as they dri4e straight as arro$s into the arms o: the men $hose children they $ill bear# the young and 4igorous and direct. Our lo4ing lea4es no mar&. -hom $ill that other girl $ith the blind :ace rememberD me $ith my sil& robe and my dim lights and my per:umes and oils and my unhappy pleasures# or that other cold man $ith the mas& o4er his eyes $ho ga4e the orders and pondered the sounds o: her intimate painE -hose $as the last :ace she sa$ plainly on this earth but the :ace behind the glo$ing ironE /hough I cringe $ith shame# e4en here and no$# I must as& mysel: $hether# $hen I lay head to :oot $ith her# :ondling and &issing those bro&en an&les# I $as not in my heart o: hearts regretting that I could not engra4e mysel: on her as deeply. "o$e4er &indly she may be treated by her o$n people# she $ill ne4er be courted and married in the normal $ayD she is mar&ed :or li:e as the property o: a stranger# and no one $ill
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approach her sa4e in the spirit o: lugubrious sensual pity that she detected and re@ected in me. No $onder she :ell asleep so o:ten# no $onder she $as happier peeling 4egetables than in my bedJ <rom the moment my steps paused and I stood be:ore her at the barrac&s gate she must ha4e :elt a miasma o: deceit closing about herD en4y# pity# cruelty all masCuerading as desire. *nd in my lo4ema&ing not impulse but the laborious denial o: impulseJ I remember her sober smile. <rom the 4ery :irst she &ne$ me :or a :alse seducer. She listened to me# then she listened to her heart# and rightly she acted in accord $ith her heart. I: only she had :ound the $ords to tell meJ F/hat is not ho$ you do it#F she should ha4e said# stopping me in the act. FI: you $ant to learn ho$ to do it# as& your :riend $ith the blac& eyes.F /hen she should ha4e continued# so as not to lea4e me $ithout hopeD FBut i: you $ant to lo4e me you $ill ha4e to turn your bac& on him and learn your lesson else$here.F I: she had told me then# i: I had understood her# i: I had been in a position to understand her# i: I had belie4ed her# i: I had been in a position to belie4e her# I might ha4e sa4ed mysel: :rom a year o: con:used and :utile gestures o: e;piation. <or I $as not# as I li&ed to thin&# the indulgent pleasureA lo4ing opposite o: the cold rigid 3olonel. I $as the lie that Empire tells itsel: $hen times are easy# he the truth that Empire tells $hen harsh $inds blo$. /$o sides o: imperial rule# no more# no less. But I temporiHed# I loo&ed around this obscure :rontier# this little bac&$ater $ith its dusty summers and its cartloads o: apricots and its long siestas and its shi:tless garrison and the $aterbirds :lying in and :lying out year a:ter year to and :rom the daHHling $a4eless sheet o: the la&e# and I said to mysel:# FBe patient# one o: these days he $ill go a$ay# one o: these days Cuiet $ill returnD then our siestas $ill gro$
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longer and our s$ords rustier# the $atchman $ill snea& do$n :rom his to$er to spend the night $ith his $i:e# the mortar $ill crumble till liHards nest bet$een the bric&s and o$ls :ly out o: the bel:ry# and the line that mar&s the :rontier on the maps o: Empire $ill gro$ haHy and obscure till $e are blessedly :orgotten.F /hus I seduced mysel:# ta&ing one o: the many $rong turnings I ha4e ta&en on a road that loo&s true but has deli4ered me into the heart o: a labyrinth. In the dream I am ad4ancing to$ards her o4er the sno$A co4ered sCuare. *t :irst I $al&. /hen as the $ind gathers :orce I begin to be dri4en :or$ard in a cloud o: $hirling sno$# $ith arms e;tended on either side and the $ind catching my cloa& li&e a boatsail. Gathering speed# my :eet s&imming o4er the ground# I s$oop do$n upon the solitary :igure at the centre o: the sCuare. FShe $ill not turn and see me in timeJF I thin&. I open my mouth to cry out a $arning. * thin $ail comes to my ears# $hipped a$ay by the $ind# borne up into the s&y li&e a scrap o: paper. I am almost upon her# I am already tensing mysel: :or the impact# $hen she turns and sees me. <or an instant I ha4e a 4ision o: her :ace# the :ace o: a child# glo$ing# healthy# smiling on me $ithout alarm# be:ore $e collide. "er head stri&es me in the bellyG then I am gone# carried by the $ind. /he bump is as :aint as the stro&e o: a moth. I am :looded $ith relie:. F/hen I need not ha4e been an;ious a:ter allJF I thin&. I try to loo& bac&# but all is lost :rom sight in the $hiteness o: the sno$. 5y mouth is co4ered in $et &isses. I spit# sha&e my head# open my eyes. /he dog that has been lic&ing my :ace bac&s o:: $agging its tail. +ight seeps through the door$ay o: the hut. I cra$l out into the da$n. S&y and $ater are tinged $ith the same rosiness. /he la&e# $here I ha4e gro$n used to seeing e4ery morning the bluntApro$ed :ishingAboats# is
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empty. /he camp $here I stand is empty too. I $rap mysel: tighter in my cloa& and $al& up the road past the main gate# $hich is still closed# as :ar as the northA $est $atchto$er# $hich does not appear to be mannedG then bac& do$n the road and# cutting across the :ields# o4er the earth$all to$ards the la&eside. * hare starts at my :eet and dashes a$ay in a HigHag. I &eep trac& o: it until it has circled bac& and is lost behind the ripe $heat in the :ar :ields. * little boy stands in the middle o: the path :i:ty yards :rom me# peeing. "e $atches the arc o: his urine# $atching me too out o: the corner o: his eye# cur4ing his bac& to ma&e the last spurt go :urther. /hen $ith his golden trail still hanging in the air he is suddenly gone# snatched a$ay by a dar& arm :rom the reeds. I stand on the spot $here he stood. /here is nothing to be seen but tossing reedAcrests through $hich :lic&ers the daHHling hal:Aglobe o: the sun. F%ou can come out#F I say# barely raising my 4oice. F/here is nothing to be a:raid o:.F /he :inches# I notice# are a4oiding this patch o: reeds. I ha4e no doubt that thirty pairs o: ears hear me. I turn bac& to the to$n. /he gates are open. Soldiers# hea4ily armed# po&e around among the huts o: the :isher:ol&. /he dog that a$o&e me trots $ith them :rom hut to hut# tail high# tongue lolling# ears alert. One o: the soldiers hea4es at the rac& $here the gutted and salted :ish hang to dry. It comes crea&ing do$n. FIonBt do thatJF I call# hurrying my steps. Some o: these men I recogniHe :rom the long days o: torment in the barrac&s
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yard. FIonBt do it# it $asnBt their :aultJF -ith deliberate nonchalance the same soldier no$ strolls o4er to the largest o: the huts# braces himsel: against t$o o: the pro@ecting roo:Astruts# and tries to li:t the thatched roo: o::. /hough he strains he cannot do it. I ha4e $atched these :ragileAseeming huts being built. /hey are built to $ithstand the tugging o: $inds in $hich no bird can :ly. /he roo: :rame is lashed to the uprights $ith thongs that pass through $edgeA shaped notches. One cannot li:t it $ithout cutting the thongs. I plead $ith the man. F+et me tell you $hat happened last night. I $as $al&ing past in the dar& and the dogs began to bar&. /he people here $ere :rightened# they lost their heads# you &no$ ho$ they are. /hey probably thought the barbarians had come. /hey ran a$ay do$n to the la&e. /hey are hiding in the reedsI sa$ them a short $hile ago. %ou canBt punish them :or such a ridiculous incident.F "e ignores me. * comrade helps him to clamber on to the roo:. Balancing on t$o struts# he begins to stamp holes in the roo: $ith the heel o: his boot. I hear the thuds inside as the grass and clay plastering :alls. FStop itJF I shout. /he blood pounds in my temples. F-hat ha4e they done to harm youEF I grab at his an&le but he is too :ar a$ay. I could tear out his throat in this mood. Someone thrusts himsel: be:ore meD the :riend $ho helped him up. F-hy donBt you :uc& o::#F he murmurs. F-hy donBt you @ust :uc& o::. -hy donBt you go and die some$here.F Under the thatch and clay I hear the roo:Astrut snap cleanly. /he man on the roo: thro$s out his hands and plunges through. One moment he is there# his eyes $ide $ith surprise# the ne;t moment there is only a pu:: o: dust hanging in the air. /he mat o4er the door$ay is pushed aside and he staggers out clutching his hands together# co4ered :rom head
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to toe in ochre dust. FShitJF he says. FShit# shit# shit# shit# shitJF "is :riends ho$l $ith laughter. FItBs not :unnyJF he shouts. FIB4e hurt my :uc&ing thumbJF "e sCueeHes his hand bet$een his &nees. FItBs :uc&ing soreJF "e s$ings a &ic& at the $all o: the hut and again I hear plaster :all inside. F<uc&ing sa4agesJF he says. F-e should ha4e lined them up against a $all and shot them long ago$ith their :riendsJF +oo&ing past me# loo&ing through me# declining in e4ery $ay to see me# he s$aggers o::. *s he passes the last hut he rips o:: the mat o4er the door$ay. /he strings o: beads $ith $hich it is decorated# red and blac& berries# dried melonA seeds# brea& and cascade e4ery$here. I stand in the road $aiting :or the Cui4ering o: rage in me to subside. I thin& o: a young peasant $ho $as once brought be:ore me in the days $hen I had @urisdiction o4er the garrison. "e had been committed to the army :or three years by a magistrate in a :arA o:: to$n :or stealing chic&ens. *:ter a month here he tried to desert. "e $as caught and brought be:ore me. "e $anted to see his mother and his sisters again# he said. F-e cannot @ust do as $e $ish#F I lectured him. F-e are all sub@ect to the la$# $hich is greater than any o: us. /he magistrate $ho sent you here# I mysel:# you$e are all sub@ect to the la$.F "e loo&ed at me $ith dull eyes# $aiting to hear the punishment# his t$o stolid escorts behind him# his hands manacled behind his bac&. F%ou :eel that it is un@ust# I &no$# that you should be punished :or ha4ing the :eelings o: a good son. %ou thin& you &no$ $hat is @ust and $hat is not. I understand. -e all thin& $e &no$.F I had no doubt# mysel:# then# that at each moment each one o: us# man# $oman# child# perhaps e4en the poor old horse turning the millA$heel# &ne$ $hat $as @ustD all creatures come into the $orld bringing $ith them the memory o: @ustice. FBut $e li4e in a $orld o: la$s#F I said to my poor prisoner# Fa
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$orld o: the secondAbest. /here is nothing $e can do about that. -e are :allen creatures. *ll $e can do is to uphold the la$s# all o: us# $ithout allo$ing the memory o: @ustice to :ade.F *:ter lecturing him I sentenced him. "e accepted the sentence $ithout murmur and his escort marched him a$ay. I remember the uneasy shame I :elt on days li&e that. I $ould lea4e the courtroom and return to my apartment and sit in the roc&ingAchair in the dar& all e4ening# $ithout appetite# until it $as time to go to bed. F-hen some men su::er un@ustly#F I said to mysel:# Fit is the :ate o: those $ho $itness their su::ering to su::er the shame o: it.F But the specious consolation o: this thought could not com:ort me. I toyed more than once $ith the idea o: resigning my post# retiring :rom public li:e# buying a small mar&et garden. But then# I thought# someone else $ill be appointed to bear the shame o: o::ice# and nothing $ill ha4e changed. So I continued in my duties until one day e4ents o4ertoo& me. *** /he t$o horsemen are less than a mile a$ay and already beginning to cross the bare :ields by the time they are spied. I am one o: the cro$d that# hearing shouts :rom the $alls# pours out in $elcomeG :or $e all recogniHe the green and gold battalion standard they bear. *mong scampering e;cited children I stride across the :reshly turned clods. /he horseman on the le:t# $ho has been riding shoulder to shoulder $ith his companion# turns a$ay and trots o:: to$ards the la&eside trac&. /he other one continues to amble to$ards us# sitting 4ery erect in the saddle# holding out his arms :rom his sides as i: intending to embrace us or to :ly up into the s&y.
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I begin to run as :ast as I can# my sandals dragging in the earth# my heart pounding. * hundred yards :rom him there is a thud o: hoo4es behind and three armoured soldiers gallop past# racing to$ards the reedAbra&es into $hich the other horseman has no$ disappeared. I @oin the circle around the man 6I recogniHe him# despite the change7 $ho# $ith the standard :lapping bra4ely abo4e his head# gaHes blan&ly to$ards the to$n. "e is lashed to a stout $ooden :rame$or& $hich holds him upright in his saddle. "is spine is &ept erect by a pole and his arms are tied to a crossA piece. <lies buHH around his :ace. "is @a$ is bound shut# his :lesh is pu::y# a sic&ly smell comes :rom him# he has been se4eral days dead. * child tugs at my hand. FIs he a barbarian# uncleEF he $hispers. FNo#F I $hisper bac&. "e turns to the boy ne;t to him. F%ou see# I told you#F he $hispers. Since no one else seems prepared to do it# I am the one to $hose lot it :alls to pic& up the trailing reins and lead these tidings :rom the barbarians bac& through the great gates# past the silent $atchers# to the barrac&s yard# there to cut their bearer loose and lay him out :or burial. /he soldiers $ho set out a:ter his lone companion are soon bac&. /hey canter across the sCuare to the courthouse :rom $hich 5andel conducts his reign and disappear inside. -hen they reappear they $ill spea& to no one. E4ery premonition o: disaster is con:irmed# and :or the :irst time true panic o4erta&es the to$n. /he shops are s$amped $ith customers bidding against each other :or stoc&s o: :ood. Some :amilies barricade themsel4es in their houses# herding poultry and e4en pigs indoors $ith them. /he school is closed. /he rumour that a horde o: barbarians is camped a
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:e$ miles a$ay on the charred ri4erAban&s# that an assault on the to$n is imminent# :lashes :rom street corner to street corner. /he unthin&able has occurredD the army that marched :orth so gaily three months ago $ill ne4er return. /he great gates are closed and barred. I plead $ith the sergeant o: the $atch to allo$ the :isher:ol& inside. F/hey are in terror o: their li4es#F I say. "e turns his bac& on me $ithout reply. *bo4e our heads on the ramparts the soldiers# the :orty men $ho stand bet$een us and annihilation# gaHe out o4er la&e and desert. *t night:all# on my $ay to the granary shed $here I still sleep# I :ind my $ay bloc&ed. * :ile o: t$oA$heeled horseA dra$n commissariat carts passes along the alley# the :irst loaded $ith $hat I recogniHe as sac&s o: seed grain :rom the granary# the others empty. /hey are :ollo$ed by a :ile o: horses# saddled and blan&eted# :rom the garrison stablesD e4ery horse# I $ould guess# that has been stolen or commandeered in the past $ee&s. 1oused by the noise# people emerge :rom their houses and stand Cuietly by $atching this e4idently longA planned manoeu4re o: $ithdra$al. I as& :or an inter4ie$ $ith 5andel# but the guard at the courthouse is as $ooden as all his comrades. In :act 5andel is not in the courthouse. I return to the sCuare in time to hear the end o: a statement he reads to the public Fin the name o: the Imperial 3ommandF. /he $ithdra$al# he says# is a Ftemporary measureF. * Fcareta&er :orceF $ill be le:t behind. /here is e;pected to be Fa general cessation o: operations along the :ront :or the duration o: the $interF. "e himsel: hopes to be bac& in the spring# $hen the army $ill Finitiate a ne$ o::ensi4eF. "e $ishes to than& e4eryone :or the Fun:orgettable hospitalityF he has been sho$n.
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-hile he spea&s# standing in one o: the empty carts :lan&ed by soldiers holding torches# his men are returning $ith the :ruits o: their :oraging. /$o struggle to load a handsome castAiron sto4e looted :rom an empty house. *nother comes bac& smiling in triumph bearing a coc& and a hen# the coc& a magni:icent blac& and gold creature. /heir legs are bound# he grips them by the $ings# their :ierce birdAeyes glare. -hile someone holds open the door he stu::s them into the o4en. /he cart is piled high $ith sac&s and &egs :rom a looted shop# e4en a small table and t$o chairs. /hey un:old a hea4y red carpet# spread it o4er the load# lash it do$n. /here is no protest :rom the people $ho stand $atching this methodical act o: betrayal# but I :eel currents o: helpless anger all about me. /he last cart is loaded. /he gates are unbarred# the soldiers mount. *t the head o: the column I can hear someone arguing $ith 5andel. F?ust an hour or so#F he is sayingD Fthey can be ready in an hour.F FNo Cuestion o: that#F replies 5andel# the $ind carrying the rest o: his $ords a$ay. * soldier pushes me out o: his path and escorts three hea4ily bundled $omen to the last cart. /hey clamber aboard and seat themsel4es# holding up their 4eils to their :aces. One o: them carries a little girl $hom she perches on top o: the load. -hips crac&# the column begins to mo4e# the horses straining# the cart$heels crea&ing. *t the rear o: the column come t$o men $ith stic&s dri4ing a :loc& o: a doHen sheep. *s the sheep pass the murmur in the cro$d gro$s. * young man dashes out $a4ing his arms and shoutingD the sheep scatter into the dar&# and $ith a roar the cro$d closes in. *lmost at once the :irst shots crac& out. 1unning as :ast as I can in the midst o: scores o: other screaming running people# I retain only a single image o: this :utile attac&D a man grappling $ith one o: the $omen in the last cart# tearing at her clothes# the child $atching $ideA
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eyed $ith her thumb in her mouth. /hen the sCuare is empty and dar& again# the last cart trundles through the gates# the garrison is gone. <or the rest o: the night the gates stand open and little :amily groups# most o: them on :oot and $eighed do$n under hea4y pac&s# hurry a:ter the soldiers. *nd be:ore da$n the :isher:ol& slin& bac& in# meeting $ith no resistance# bringing their sic&ly children and their piti:ul possessions and their bundles o: poles and reeds $ith $hich to begin all o4er again the tas& o: homeAbuilding. *** 5y old apartment stands open. Inside the air is musty. Nothing has been dusted :or a long time. /he display casesthe stones and eggs and arti:acts :rom the desert ruinsare gone. /he :urniture in the :ront room has been pushed against the $alls and the carpet remo4ed. /he little parlour seems not to ha4e been touched# but all the drapery carries a sour stu::y smell. In the bedroom the bedclothes ha4e been tossed aside $ith the same motion I use# as i: I mysel: had been sleeping here. /he odour :rom the un$ashed linen is alien. /he chamber pot under the bed is hal: :ull. In the cupboard there is a crumpled shirt $ith a ring o: bro$n inside the collar and yello$ stains under the armpits. *ll my clothes are gone. I strip the bed and lie do$n on the bare mattress# e;pecting some sense o: unease to creep o4er me# the ghost o: another man lingering still among his odours and disorders. /he :eeling does not comeG the room is as :amiliar as e4er. -ith my arm o4er my :ace I :ind mysel: dri:ting to$ard sleep.
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It may be true that the $orld as it stands is no illusion# no e4il dream o: a night. It may be that $e $a&e up to it inAeluctably# that $e can neither :orget it nor dispense $ith it. But I :ind it as hard as e4er to belie4e that the end is near. I: the barbarians $ere to burst in no$# I &no$# I $ould die in my bed as stupid and ignorant as a baby. *nd e4en more apposite $ould it be i: I $ere caught in the pantry do$nstairs $ith a spoon in my hand and my mouth :ull o: :ig preser4e :ilched :rom the last bottle on the shel:D then my head could be hac&ed o:: and tossed on to the pile o: heads on the sCuare outside still $earing a loo& o: hurt and guilty surprise at this irruption o: history into the static time o: the oasis. /o each his o$n most :itting end. Some $ill be caught in dugouts beneath their cellars clutching their 4aluables to their breasts# pinching their eyes shut. Some $ill die on the road o4er$helmed by the :irst sno$s o: $inter. Some :e$ may e4en die :ighting $ith pitch:or&s. *:ter $hich the barbarians $ill $ipe their bac&sides on the to$n archi4es. /o the last $e $ill ha4e learned nothing. In all o: us# deep do$n# there seems to be something granite and unteachable. No one truly belie4es# despite the hysteria in the streets# that the $orld o: tranCuil certainties $e $ere born into is about to be e;tinguished. No one can accept that an imperial army has been annihilated by men $ith bo$s and arro$s and rusty old guns $ho li4e in tents and ne4er $ash and cannot read or $rite. *nd $ho am I to @eer at li:eAgi4ing illusionsE Is there any better $ay to pass these last days than in dreaming o: a sa4iour $ith a s$ord $ho $ill scatter the enemy hosts and :orgi4e us the errors that ha4e been committed by others in our name and grant us a second chance to build our earthly paradiseE I lie on the bare mattress and concentrate on bringing into li:e the image o: mysel: as a s$immer s$imming $ith e4en# untiring stro&es through the
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medium o: time# a medium more inert than $ater# $ithout ripples# per4asi4e# colourless# odourless# dry as paper.

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6
Sometimes in the mornings there are :resh hoo:prints in
the :ields. *mong the straggling bushes that mar& the :ar limit o: the ploughed land the $atchman sees a shape $hich he s$ears $as not there the day be:ore and $hich has 4anished a day later. /he :isher:ol& $ill not 4enture out be:ore sunrise. /heir catch has dropped so lo$ that they barely subsist. In t$o days o: coAoperati4e e::ort in $hich $e laboured $ith our $eapons at our sides# $e ha4e har4ested the :ar :ields# all that $as le:t a:ter the :looding. /he yield is less than :our cups a day :or each :amily# but better than nothing. *lthough the blind horse continues to turn the $heel that :ills the tan& by the la&eshore that irrigates the gardens o: the to$n# $e &no$ that the pipe can be cut at any time and ha4e already begun $ith the digging o: ne$ $ells $ithin the $alls. I ha4e urged my :ello$AcitiHens to culti4ate their &itchen gardens# to plant root 4egetables that $ill $ithstand the $inter :rosts. F*bo4e all $e must :ind $ays o: sur4i4ing the $inter#F I tell them. FIn the spring they $ill send relie:# there is no doubt o: that. *:ter the :irst tha$ $e can plant si;tyAday millet.F
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/he school has been closed and the children are employed in tra$ling the salty southern :ingers o: the la&e :or the tiny red crustaceans that abound in the shallo$s. /hese $e smo&e and pac& in oneApound slabs. /hey ha4e a 4ile oily tasteG normally only the :isher:ol& eat themG but be:ore the $inter is out I suspect $e $ill all be happy to ha4e rats and insects to de4our. *long the north rampart $e ha4e propped a ro$ o: helmets $ith spears upright beside them. E4ery hal:Ahour a child passes along the ro$ mo4ing each helmet slightly. /hus do $e hope to decei4e the &een eyes o: the barbarians. /he garrison that 5andel beCueathed us consists o: three men. /hey ta&e turns in standing guard at the loc&ed courthouse door# ignored by the rest o: the to$n# &eeping to themsel4es. In all measures :or our preser4ation I ha4e ta&en the lead. No one has challenged me. 5y beard is trimmed# I $ear clean clothes# I ha4e in e::ect resumed the legal administration that $as interrupted a year ago by the arri4al o: the 3i4il Guard. -e ought to be cutting and storing :ire$oodG but no one can be :ound $ho $ill 4enture into the charred $oods along the ri4er# $here the :isher:ol& s$ear they ha4e seen :resh signs o: barbarian encampments. *** I am $o&en by a pounding on the door o: my apartment. It is a man $ith a lantern# $indburnt# gaunt# out o: breath# in a soldierBs greatcoat too large :or him. "e stares at me in be$ilderment. F-ho are youEF I say.
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F-here is the -arrant O::icerEF he replies# panting# trying to loo& o4er my shoulder. It is t$o oBcloc& in the morning. /he gates ha4e been opened to let in 3olonel ?ollBs carriage# $hich stands $ith its sha:t resting on the ground in the middle o: the sCuare. Se4eral men shelter in its lee against the bitter $ind. <rom the $all the men o: the $atch peer do$n. F-e need :ood# :resh horses# :odder#F my 4isitor is saying. "e trots ahead o: me# opens the door o: the carriage# spea&sD F/he -arrant O::icer is not here# sir# he has le:t.F *t the $indo$# in the moonlight# I catch a glimpse o: ?oll himsel:. "e sees me tooD the door is slammed shut# I hear the clic& o: the bolt inside. Peering through the glass I can ma&e him out sitting in the dim :ar corner# rigidly a4erting his :ace. I rap on the glass but he pays no attention. /hen his underlings shoulder me a$ay. /hro$n out o: the dar&ness# a stone lands on the roo: o: the carriage. *nother o: ?ollBs escort comes running up. F/here is nothing#F he pants. F/he stables are empty# they ha4e ta&en e4ery single one.F /he man $ho has unharnessed the s$eating horses begins to curse. * second stone misses the carriage and nearly hits me. /hey are being thro$n :rom the $alls. F+isten to me#F I say. F%ou are cold and tired. Stable the horses# come inside# ha4e something to eat# tell us your story. -e ha4e had no ne$s since you le:t. I: that madman $ants to sit in his carriage all night# let him sit.F /hey barely listen to meD :amished# e;hausted men $ho ha4e done more than their duty in hauling this policeman to sa:ety out o: the clutches o: the barbarians# they $hisper together# already reAharnessing a pair o: their $eary horses. I stare through the $indo$ at the :aint blur against the
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blac&ness that is 3olonel ?oll. 5y cloa& :laps# I shi4er :rom the cold# but also :rom the tension o: suppressed anger. *n urge runs through me to smash the glass# to reach in and drag the man out through the @agged hole# to :eel his :lesh catch and tear on the edges# to hurl him to the ground and &ic& his body to pulp. *s though touched by this murderous current he reluctantly turns his :ace to$ards me. /hen he sidles across the seat until he is loo&ing at me through the glass. "is :ace is na&ed# $ashed clean# perhaps by the blue moonlight# perhaps by physical e;haustion. I stare at his pale high temples. 5emories o: his motherBs so:t breast# o: the tug in his hand o: the :irst &ite he e4er :le$# as $ell as o: those intimate cruelties :or $hich I abhor him# shelter in that beehi4e. "e loo&s out at me# his eyes searching my :ace. /he dar& lenses are gone. 5ust he too suppress an urge to reach out# cla$ me# blind me $ith splintersE I ha4e a lesson :or him that I ha4e long meditated. I mouth the $ords and $atch him read them on my lipsD F/he crime that is latent in us $e must in:lict on oursel4es#F I say. I nod and nod# dri4ing the message home. FNot on others#F I sayD I repeat the $ords# pointing at my chest# pointing at his. "e $atches my lips# his thin lips mo4e in imitation# or perhaps in derision# I do not &no$. *nother stone# hea4ier# perhaps a bric&# hits the carriage $ith a thunderous clatter. "e starts# the horses @er& in their traces. Someone comes running up. FGoJF he shouts. "e pushes past me# beats at the door o: the carriage. "is arms are :ull o: loa4es. F-e must goJF he shouts. 3olonel ?oll slips the bolt and he tumbles the loa4es in. /he door slams shut. F"urryJF he shouts. /he carriage hea4es into motion# its springs groaning. I grip the manBs arm. F-aitJF I cry. FI $ill not let you go
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until I &no$ $hat has happenedJF F3anBt you seeEF he shouts# beating at my grasp. 5y hands are still $ea&G to hold him I ha4e to clasp him in a hug. F/ell me and you can goJF I pant. /he carriage is nearing the gates. /he t$o mounted men ha4e already passed throughG the other men run behind. Stones clatter against the carriage out o: the dar&ness# shouts and curses rain do$n. F-hat do you $ant to &no$EF he says# struggling 4ainly. F-here is e4eryone elseEF FGone. Scattered. *ll o4er the place. I donBt &no$ $here they are. -e had to :ind our o$n $ay. It $as impossible to &eep together.F *s his comrades disappear into the night he $restles harder. F+et me goJF he sobs. "e is no stronger than a child. FIn a minute. "o$ could it be that the barbarians did this to youEF F-e :roHe in the mountainsJ -e star4ed in the desertJ -hy did no one tell us it $ould be li&e thatE -e $ere not beatenthey led us out into the desert and then they 4anishedJF F-ho led youEF F/heythe barbariansJ /hey lured us on and on# $e could ne4er catch them. /hey pic&ed o:: the stragglers# they cut our horses loose in the night# they $ould not stand up to usJF FSo you ga4e up and came homeEF F%esJF FIo you e;pect me to belie4e thatEF "e glares desperately bac& at me. F-hy should I lieEF he shouts. FI donBt $ant to be le:t behind# that is allJF "e tears
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himsel: loose. Shielding his head $ith his hands# he races through the gate and into the dar&ness. *** Iigging has ceased at the third $ellAsite. Some o: the diggers ha4e already gone home# others stand around $aiting :or orders. F-hat is the troubleEF I say. /hey point to the bones lying on a heap o: :resh earthD a childBs bones. F/here must ha4e been a gra4e here#F I say. F* strange place :or a gra4e.F -e are on the 4acant plot behind the barrac&s# bet$een the barrac&s and the south $all. /he bones are old# they ha4e absorbed the colour o: the red clay. F-hat do you $ant to doE -e can start digging again nearer the $all i: you li&e.F /hey help me to climb into the pit. Standing chestAdeep I scratch a$ay the earth around the side o: a @a$bone embedded in the $all. F"ere is the s&ull#F I say. But no# the s&ull has already been dug up# they sho$ it to me. F+oo& under your :eet#F says the :oreman. It is too dar& to see# but $hen I chop lightly $ith the mattoc& I stri&e something hardG my :ingers tell me it is bone. F/hey arenBt buried properly#F he says. "e sCuats at the lip o: the pit. F/hey are lying @ust any old ho$# on top o: each other.F F%es#F I say. F-e canBt dig here# can $eEF FNo#F he says. F-e must :ill it in and start again nearer the $all.F "e is silent. "e reaches out a hand and helps me clamber out. /he bystanders say nothing either. I ha4e to toss the bones
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bac& in and sho4el the :irst earth be:ore they $ill pic& up their spades. *** In the dream I stand again in the pit. /he earth is damp# dar& $ater seeps up# my :eet sCuelch# it costs me a slo$ e::ort to li:t them. I :eel under the sur:ace# searching :or the bones. 5y hand comes up $ith the corner o: a @ute sac&# blac&# rotten# $hich crumbles a$ay bet$een my :ingers. I dip bac& into the ooHe. * :or&# bent and tarnished. * dead bird# a parrotD I hold it by the tail# its bedraggled :eathers hang do$n# its soggy $ings droop# its eye soc&ets are empty. -hen I release it# it :alls through the sur:ace $ithout a splash. FPoisoned $ater#F I thin&. FI must be care:ul not to drin& here. I must not touch my right hand to my mouth.F *** I ha4e not slept $ith a $oman since I returned :rom the desert. No$ at this most inappropriate o: times my se; begins to reassert itsel:. I sleep badly and $a&e up in the mornings $ith a sullen erection gro$ing li&e a branch out o: my groin. It has nothing to do $ith desire. +ying in my rumpled bed I $ait in 4ain :or it to go a$ay. I try to in4o&e images o: the girl $ho night a:ter night slept here $ith me. I see her standing barelegged in her shi:t# one :oot in the basin# $aiting :or me to $ash her# her hand pressing do$n on my shoulder. I lather the stoc&y cal:. She slips the shi:t up o4er her head. I lather her thighsG then I
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put the soap aside# embrace her hips# rub my :ace in her belly. I can smell the soap# :eel the $armth o: the $ater# the pressure o: her hands. <rom the depths o: that memory I reach out to touch mysel:. /here is no leap o: response. It is li&e touching my o$n $ristD part o: mysel:# but hard# dull# a limb $ith no li:e o: its o$n. I try to bring it o::D :utile# :or there is no :eeling. FI am tired#F I tell mysel:. <or an hour I sit in an armchair $aiting :or this rod o: blood to d$indle. In its o$n good time it does. /hen I dress and go out. In the night it comes bac&D an arro$ gro$ing out o: me# pointing no$here. *gain I try to :eed it on images# but detect no ans$ering li:e. F/ry bread mould and mil&root#F the herbalist says. FIt may $or&. I: it does not# come bac& to me. "ere is some mil&root. %ou grind it and mi; it to a paste $ith the mould and a little $arm $ater. /a&e t$o spoon:uls a:ter each meal. It is 4ery unpleasant# 4ery bitter# but be assured it $ill not do you any harm.F I pay him in sil4er. No one but children $ill ta&e copper coins any more. FBut tell me#F he saysD F$hy should a :ine healthy man li&e yoursel: $ant to &ill o:: his desiresEF FIt has nothing to do $ith desire# :ather. It is simply an irritation. * sti::ening. +i&e rheumatism.F "e smiles. I smile bac&. F/his must be the only shop in to$n they did not loot#F I say. It is not a shop# @ust a recess and a :ront under an a$ning# $ith rac&s o: dusty @ars and# hanging :rom hoo&s on the $all# roots and bunches o: dried lea4es# the medicines $ith $hich he has dosed the to$n :or :i:ty years.
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F%es# they did not trouble me. /hey suggested that I lea4e :or my o$n good. B/he barbarians $ill :ry your balls and eat themBthat $as $hat they said# those $ere their $ords. I said# BI $as born here# IBll die here# IBm not lea4ing.B No$ they are gone# and itBs better $ithout them# I say.F F%es.F F/ry the mil&root. I: it doesnBt $or&# come bac&.F I drin& the bitter concoction and eat as much lettuce as I can# since people say that lettuce ta&es a$ay oneBs potency. But I do all this hal:heartedly# a$are that I am misinterpreting the signs. I also call on 5ai. /he inn had closed do$n# there being too little customG no$ she comes in to help her mother in the barrac&s. I :ind her in the &itchen putting her baby to sleep in its cot near the sto4e. FI lo4e the big old sto4e you ha4e here#F she says. FIt &eeps its $armth :or hours. Such a gentle $armth.F She bre$s teaG $e sit at the table $atching the glo$ing coals through the grate. FI $ish I had something nice to o::er you#F she says# Fbut the soldiers cleaned out the storeroom# there is hardly anything le:t.F FI $ant you to come upstairs $ith me#F I say. F3an you lea4e the child hereEF -e are old :riends. %ears ago# be:ore she married the second time# she used to 4isit me in my apartment in the a:ternoons. FIBd rather not lea4e him#F she says# Fin case he $a&es up alone.F So I $ait $hile she $raps the child# and then :ollo$ her up the stairsD a young $oman still# $ith a hea4y body and shapeless spreading thighs. I try to recall $hat it $as li&e $ith her# but cannot. In those days all $omen pleased me. She settles the child on cushions in a corner# murmuring
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to it till it :alls asleep again. FIt is @ust :or a night or t$o#F I say. FE4erything is coming to an end. -e must li4e as $e can.F She drops her dra$ers# trampling on them li&e a horse# and comes to me in her smoc&. I blo$ out the lamp. 5y $ords ha4e le:t me dispirited. *s I enter her she sighs. I rub my chee& against hers. 5y hand :inds her breastG her o$n hand closes o4er it# caresses it# pushes it aside. FI am a bit sore#F she $hispers. F<rom the baby.F I am still searching :or something I $ant to say $hen I :eel the clima; come# :arAo::# slight# li&e an earthAtremor in another part o: the $orld. F/his is your :ourth child# isnBt itEF -e lie side by side under the co4ers. F%es# the :ourth. One died.F F*nd the :atherE Ioes he helpEF F"e le:t some money behind. "e $as $ith the army.F FI am sure he $ill come bac&.F I :eel her placid $eight against my side. FI ha4e gro$n 4ery :ond o: your eldest boy#F I say. F"e used to bring me my meals $hile I $as loc&ed up.F -e lie :or a $hile in silence. /hen my head begins to spin. I reAemerge :rom sleep in time to hear the tailAend o: a rattle :rom my throat# an old manBs snore. She sits up. FI $ill ha4e to go#F she says. FI canBt sleep in such bare rooms# I hear crea&ing all night.F I $atch her dim shape mo4e as she dresses and pic&s up the child. F3an I light the lampEF she says. FIBm a:raid o: :alling on the stairs. Go to sleep. I $ill bring you brea&:ast in the morning# i: you donBt mind millet porridge.F
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*** FI li&ed her 4ery much#F she says. F-e all did. She ne4er complained# she al$ays did $hat she $as as&ed# though I &no$ her :eet ga4e her pain. She $as :riendly. /here $as al$ays something to laugh about $hen she $as around.F *gain I am as dull as $ood. She labours $ith meD her big hands stro&e my bac&# grip my buttoc&s. /he clima; comesD li&e a spar& struc& :ar a$ay o4er the sea and lost at once. /he baby begins to $himper. She eases hersel: a$ay :rom me and gets up. Big and na&ed# she $al&s bac& and :orth across the patch o: moonlight $ith the baby o4er her shoulder# patting it# crooning. F"e $ill be asleep in a minute#F she $hispers. I am hal: asleep mysel: $hen I :eel her cool body settle do$n again beside me# her lips nuHHle my arm. *** FI donBt $ant to thin& about the barbarians#F she says. F+i:e is too short to spend $orrying about the :uture.F I ha4e nothing to say. FI donBt ma&e you happy#F she says. FI &no$ you donBt en@oy it $ith me. %ou are al$ays some$here else.F I $ait :or her ne;t $ords. FShe told me the same thing. She said you $ere some$here else. She could not understand you. She did not &no$ $hat you $anted :rom her.F FI didnBt &no$ you and she $ere intimate.F FI $as o:ten here# do$nstairs. -e tal&ed to each other about $hat $as on our minds. Sometimes she $ould cry and
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cry and cry. %ou made her 4ery unhappy. Iid you &no$ thatEF She is opening a door through $hich a $ind o: utter desolation blo$s on me. F%ou donBt understand#F I say hus&ily. She shrugs. I go onD F/here is a $hole side to the story you donBt &no$# that she could not ha4e told you because she did not &no$ it hersel:. -hich I donBt $ant to tal& about no$.F FIt is none o: my business.F -e are silent# thin&ing our o$n thoughts about the girl $ho tonight sleeps :ar a$ay under the stars. FPerhaps $hen the barbarians come riding in#F I say# Fshe $ill come riding $ith them.F I imagine her trotting through the open gate$ay at the head o: a troop o: horsemen# erect in the saddle# her eyes shining# a :orerunner# a guide# pointing out to her comrades the lay o: this :oreign to$n $here she once li4ed. F/hen e4erything $ill be on a ne$ :ooting.F -e lie in the dar& thin&ing. FI am terri:ied#F she says. FI am terri:ied to thin& $hat is going to become o: us. I try to hope :or the best and li4e :rom day to day. But sometimes all o: a sudden I :ind mysel: imagining $hat might happen and I am paralyHed $ith :ear. I donBt &no$ $hat to do any more. I can only thin& o: the children. -hat is going to become o: the childrenE F She sits up in the bed. !What is going to #ecome of the children?! she demands 4ehemently. F/hey $onBt harm the children#F I tell her. F/hey $onBt harm anyone.F I stro&e her hair# calm her# hold her tight# till it is time again to :eed the baby. ***
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She sleeps better do$nstairs in the &itchen# she says. She :eels more secure $hen she can $a&e up and see the glo$ o: coals in the grate. *lso she li&es to ha4e the child $ith her in the bed. *lso it is better i: her mother does not :ind out $here she spends the nights. I too :eel it $as a mista&e and do not 4isit her again. Sleeping alone# I miss the scent o: thyme and onion on her :ingertips. <or an e4ening or t$o I e;perience a Cuiet# :ic&le sadness# be:ore I begin to :orget. *** I stand out in the open $atching the coming o: the storm. /he s&y has been :ading till no$ it is boneA$hite $ith tones o: pin& rippling in the north. /he ochre roo:tiles glisten# the air gro$s luminous# the to$n shines out shado$less# mysteriously beauti:ul in these last moments. I climb the $all. *mong the armed dummies stand people staring out to$ards the horiHon $here a great cloud o: dust and sand already boils up. No one spea&s. /he sun turns coppery. /he boats ha4e all le:t the la&e# the birds ha4e stopped singing. /here is an inter4al o: utter silence. /hen the $ind stri&es. In the shelter o: our homes# $ith the $indo$s bolted and bolsters pushed against the doors# $ith :ine grey dust already si:ting through roo: and ceiling to settle on e4ery unco4ered sur:ace# :ilm the drin&ing $ater# grate on our teeth# $e sit thin&ing o: our :ello$Acreatures out in the open $ho at times li&e this ha4e no recourse but to turn their bac&s to the $ind and endure.

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*** In the e4enings# in the hour or t$o I can a::ord at the :ireplace be:ore my ration o: $ood gi4es out and I must creep into bed# I occupy mysel: in my old hobbies# repairing as best I can the cases o: stones I :ound smashed and tossed a$ay in the courthouse gardens# toying again $ith the decipherment o: the archaic $riting on the poplar slips. It seems right that# as a gesture to the people $ho inhabited the ruins in the desert# $e too ought to set do$n a record o: settlement to be le:t :or posterity buried under the $alls o: our to$nG and to $rite such a history no one $ould seem to be better :itted than our last magistrate. But $hen I sit do$n at my $ritingAtable# $rapped against the cold in my great old bears&in# $ith a single candle 6:or tallo$ too is rationed7 and a pile o: yello$ed documents at my elbo$# $hat I :ind mysel: beginning to $rite is not the annals o: an imperial outpost or an account o: ho$ the people o: that outpost spent their last year composing their souls as they $aited :or the barbarians. FNo one $ho paid a 4isit to this oasis#F I $rite# F:ailed to be struc& by the charm o: li:e here. -e li4ed in the time o: the seasons# o: the har4ests# o: the migrations o: the $aterbirds. -e li4ed $ith nothing bet$een us and the stars. -e $ould ha4e made any concession# had $e only &no$n $hat# to go on li4ing here. /his $as paradise on earth.F <or a long $hile I stare at the plea I ha4e $ritten. It $ould be disappointing to &no$ that the poplar slips I ha4e spent so much time on contain a message as de4ious# as eCui4ocal# as reprehensible as this. FPerhaps by the end o: the $inter#F I thin&# F$hen hunger truly bites us# $hen $e are cold and star4ing# or $hen
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the barbarian is truly at the gate# perhaps then I $ill abandon the locutions o: a ci4il ser4ant $ith literary ambitions and begin to tell the truth.F I thin&D FI $anted to li4e outside history. I $anted to li4e outside the history that Empire imposes on its sub@ects# e4en its lost sub@ects. I ne4er $ished it :or the barbarians that they should ha4e the history o: Empire laid upon them. "o$ can I belie4e that that is cause :or shameEF I thin&D FI ha4e li4ed through an e4ent:ul year# yet understand no more o: it than a babe in arms. O: all the people o: this to$n I am the one least :itted to $rite a memorial. Better the blac&smith $ith his cries o: rage and $oe.F I thin&D FBut $hen the barbarians taste bread# ne$ bread and mulberry @am# bread and gooseberry @am# they $ill be $on o4er to our $ays. /hey $ill :ind that they are unable to li4e $ithout the s&ills o: men $ho &no$ ho$ to rear the paci:ic grains# $ithout the arts o: $omen $ho &no$ ho$ to use the benign :ruits.F I thin&D F-hen one day people come scratching around in the ruins# they $ill be more interested in the relics :rom the desert than in anything I may lea4e behind. *nd rightly so.F 6/hus I spend an e4ening coating the slips one by one in linseed oil and $rapping them in an oilcloth. -hen the $ind lets up# I promise mysel:# I $ill go out and bury them $here I :ound them.7 I thin&D F/here has been something staring me in the :ace# and still I do not see it.F *** /he $ind has dropped# and no$ the sno$:la&es come :loating
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do$n# the :irst :all o: the year# :lec&ing the roo:tiles $ith $hite. *ll morning I stand at my $indo$ $atching the sno$ :all. -hen I cross the barrac&s yard it is already inches deep and my :ootsteps crunch $ith an eerie lightness. In the middle o: the sCuare there are children at play building a sno$man. *n;ious not to alarm them# but ine;plicably @oy:ul# I approach them across the sno$. /hey are not alarmed# they are too busy to cast me a glance. /hey ha4e completed the great round body# no$ they are rolling a ball :or the head. FSomeone :etch things :or the mouth and nose and eyes#F says the child $ho is their leader. It stri&es me that the sno$man $ill need arms too# but I do not $ant to inter:ere. /hey settle the head on the shoulders and :ill it out $ith pebbles :or eyes# ears# nose and mouth. One o: them cro$ns it $ith his cap. It is not a bad sno$man. /his is not the scene I dreamed o:. +i&e much else no$adays I lea4e it :eeling stupid# li&e a man $ho lost his $ay long ago but presses on along a road that may lead no$here.

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