A mixture of metals
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A mixture of metals A mixture of metals Document Transcript

  • A Mixture of MetalsbyBrian H. Jones Therefore the first and mostimportant of God’s commandments tothe Rulers is that they must exercisetheir functions as Guardians withparticular care in watching themixture of metals in the characters ofthe children ... For they know thatthere is a prophecy that the state willbe ruined when it has Guardians ofsilver or bronze (from ‘The Republic’by Plato)A Mixture of MetalsOne: They will decide
  • Then, when the light-skinned races ofthe north had exhausted theircountries by their wastefulness andgreed, they turned on each other,struggling for mastery of the depletedresources that were still under theircontrol. (From ‘The AuthorisedHistory of Society: the FoundingYears, YS1 – YS15’, by A Collectiveof the Executive Committee: screen56, section 3)‘Papa’, we asked, ‘When is mamacoming home?’When we asked that question, I wasabout five and a half years of age andKana had just turned seven. About aweek after our mother left, wedecided that we’d had enough of notknowing where she was and when wewould see her again. Normally, wewouldn’t have made a fuss. We wereused to our mother going away on
  • business. But this time we sensed thatthings were different.On our way home from school,crowded shoulder to shoulder in thetravtube, Kana said, ‘She didn’t takeher equipment with her. She alwaysdoes, but not this time.’Feeling panic rising, I added, ‘Andyou know what? Her clothes are allthere. She took nothing. Nothing,nothing!’Kana nudged me and flicked his headwarningly at one of our fellowstudents, who was craning his neckand ears to eavesdrop. Kana growledat him, saying menacingly, ‘Hey, you!Shove off! Your ears are so big itlooks like someone might bite themoff.’ When we found a place where wecouldn’t be overheard, Kanamuttered darkly, ‘This time it’sdifferent. Something’s happened toher.’
  • The speeding sway of the travtubeseemed to accelerate. I felt as if it wasrushing us away from the greatestplace of certainty in my life towards avoid that was darker even than thetunnels through which, so they said,the travtube passed when it hurtledunder the New Metropolitan Hubs. Iasked in near panic, ‘What can wedo?’Kana muttered tersely, ‘They knowall about it.’‘Who?’‘Papa and Alini. They know.’‘But what can we do?’Kana pulled my ear nearer to his lipsand hissed, ‘Simora, don’t startblubbing or I swear I’ll …’ He left thethreat unfinished but pinched my earso hard that I squirmed. Stillsqueezing me, Kana put his chinforward and muttered, ‘We’ll askthem. That’s what we’ll do.’
  • Although I knew that Kana was right,I hesitated because I sensed that itwasn’t going to be easy. Kana grippedmy shoulder and said fiercely,‘Simora, we stand together on this. Nobacking out! Agreed?’ I nodded withmore conviction than I felt when hetightened his grip and hissed,‘Agreed? No backing out? We standtogether?’I whispered, ‘All right, Kana. Iagree.’ I tried to wriggle out of hisgrasp, protesting, ‘Hey, you’rehurting me. Quit! I said that we standtogether. Let go!’Come to think of it, that was one ofthe few occasions on which Kana andI ever agreed and acted in unity. Iguess that shows how serious we wereabout the matter – even if I acted asmuch out of fear of Kana as I did outof conviction.
  • So it was that after the evening meal,just as my father pushed his chairback from the table, Kana and Iasked in unison, ‘Papa, when is Mamacoming home?’Alini, who was tidying up after themeal, came forward and saidbrusquely, ‘Now, boys, don’t botheryour father. Can’t you ever let himrelax?’ He tried to usher us away butwe weren’t put off so easily.Squirming in Alini’s grasp, Kanasaid, ‘Papa, we want to know.’My father blinked, looked at usappraisingly, and said slowly, ‘I’mnot sure.’ Then he gathered himselfand said in a subdued tone, ‘Boys, wecan talk about this later. Now is not agood time.’Pulling against Alini’s grasp, Kanatried another approach: ‘Papa, willshe bring us gifts when she comes?’When he dug a thumb into my ribs
  • and glared at me, I got the messageand blurted out, ‘Can we go to thetravtube terminal to meet her?’Alini tightened his grip on ourshoulders and, while he manoeuvredus out of the room, said firmly, ‘Comeon now, you two, I told you not tobother your father. That’s enough!’We had been shepherded as far as thedoor when my father suddenly said,‘It’s all right, Alini. They have toknow some time. Now is as good as atime as any.’ I remember the bleaklook on my father’s face as hemotioned to us to sit down. He put hiselbows on the table, rested his chin onhis folded hands, and looked at usclosely for what seemed a long time –so long that I began to wriggleuncomfortably until Kana gave me asharp-fingered nudge under the table.Finally, Papa sighed and said starkly,
  • ‘Your mother isn’t coming homeagain.’‘Not ever?’‘Why not?’Papa rubbed his forehead andgrimaced as if he was in pain; then hesaid heavily, ‘Your mother has beensent away to a far place.’‘A far place!’‘How far, Papa? Where is it?’Papa blinked as if keeping back hisemotions and then continued in thesame heavy tone, ‘I can’t speak aboutit, but she will be safe and well there.Please believe me when I say that.Also believe me when I say that shedoesn’t want you to worry about her.’‘But why can’t she come homeagain?’‘She always came home before now,Papa. Why not this time?’Although my father shook his headslowly, heavily, as if dark forces were
  • buffeting him, we insisted on ananswer, crying out, ‘Not even to visitus, Papa?’My father leaned forward and tookour hands gently. ‘No, boys! No, itwon’t be possible for her to visit. It’sa very far place.’‘How far, Papa?’He answered us with bleak finality:‘It’s so far that she can’t ever comeback to us. Never! We will never seeher again. Please – that’s all that I cansay. Believe me, I can say no more. Nomore! Please! We will never see heragain! That’s final!’Kana tore his hands away fromPapa’s grasp and began to beat hisfists against the table while I howledout my misery.Papa stood up, leaned over us, put hishands on our shoulders, and said in ashaky voice, ‘Control yourself, boys.Your mother thinks very well of you.
  • She always did and she always will.She will never stop thinking well ofyou.’ Even in the midst of my owndistress, I sensed that he was on theverge of tears himself.Kana howled, hammered his fistsagainst his forehead, and shoutedwildly, ‘Why? Why? What did youdo?’Alini came forward and restrainedKana while my father said in a leadenvoice, ‘It must be like this. It’s notwhat she chooses and it’s not what Ichoose. It’s just the way it must be.They decide, not us.’Kana was still howling as he struggledagainst Alini’s grip. He cried out, ‘No!It’s your fault! You did something toher. You made her go away! Makeher come back!’Papa replied in the same leaden tone,‘It’s the way things are. One dayyou’ll understand. Believe me, you
  • will.’ He slumped into a chair with hisarms tightly folded and his shouldersdrawn inwards as if he was trying toward off our howls and accusations.His face was so taut and drawn thathe looked like one of the ancientinfirmary patients who sat basking inthe sun in the Victory WelfareReserve. The sight set me wailingeven louder while Kana howled as ifscythes were lacerating his intestines.He screamed, ‘Then she never caredfor us! Never!’I was heaving with sobs, overwhelmedwith dark nothingness. I can stillremember the feeling of utter,complete desolation. Still sobbing,helpless in our hopelessness, weallowed Alini to usher us out of theroom to prepare for bed. Later, justbefore I dropped off to sleep, myfather came to my bedside. He put ahand on my forehead, leaned over me,
  • and said gently, ‘I miss her too,Simora. I miss her very much.’ Hislips brushed my forehead and hewhispered, ‘We will have to bear thisthing together.’I asked, ‘Papa, did you send heraway?’‘No! No, of course not! I would neverdo that. Believe me, Simora, I wouldnever do that.’‘Then, Papa, why? Why, Papa?’‘They decide, Simora, not us.’‘Who, Papa? Who decides?’‘Them! They decide! One day you willunderstand. Believe me, Simora, oneday when you’re older you willunderstand.’My father pressed his hand againstmy forehead, held it there for a while,and then went out, closing the doorsoftly behind him. Then I heard thesound of Kana’s door being opened,followed by Kana shouting, ‘No!
  • Don’t come in here! You made her goaway!’I heard my father say with gentleurgency, ‘Kana, sometimes life bringsus things that we can’t control.’ Thenthe door closed and I could only hearmuffled voices.That night I cried myself to sleep. Ascan be expected, Kana didn’t fare anybetter. In fact, in the morning his eyeswere so red and his face was soswollen that it looked as if he had notslept at all.Like all other children in Society, as Igrew up I learned that history beganwith the War of Restitution. Anythingbefore it, the Old Time as it’s called,was just a discredited prelude.Everyone knows that. In fact, a goodcitizen shouldn’t even think about theOld Time. Not even the swiftest littleglimmer of a thought about it shouldpass through your mind. The Old
  • Time should be altogether absentfrom your thoughts. And yet, as Igrew up, it pressed upon myimagination. I grew up with theguilty, secret, unutterable knowledgethat I wanted to know what wasunknowable. In fact, the older I got,the more curious I became. Why wasthis? A lot of people would say that itwas because of my characteristicstubbornness. Maybe so! But maybe italso had a lot to do with the fact thatmy mother went away when we wereso young – and that, in so doing, shepassed into the domain of theunknowable, into which I would havefollowed her, if I had known how.How do you explain to a child that hismother has gone away, gone for ever,not because of something that he did,not because it’s his fault, but becauseof – what? Because of Them? Whowere They? Where was she? Was she
  • well? Was she happy? Did she missus? For a long time, in fact all thetime while I was growing up, thequestions were always in my mind,like a blurred but pervasive image atthe edge of my line of sight. I onlystopped asking the questions recently,when I found the answers, here in thisplace where I now am – by whichtime, ironically, it was too late to doanything about the matter.Yes, I reckon that there was a bigconnection between what happened tomy mother and my interest in the OldTime.Later, as we learned about the War ofRestitution, and as we studied thediscredited Old Time, I began tomake connections. Intuitively, I sawthat it was all one. I saw that it wasthe same effaced authorities, the samenameless They and Them, the samepeople who declared the Old Time to
  • be terra incognito, who took mymother away and surrounded her fatein secrecy.Wanting to know, asking questions,digging a little deeper – if it hadn’tbeen for those things, right now Iwouldn’t be in this place where I canask an eternity of questions, where Ican know as much as my head canhold, but where it’s all uselessknowledge. However, at least I havesome satisfaction, if that’s what it canbe called. At last I know whathappened to my mother when shewent away.Two: Don’t rage at your brotherTo feed their insatiable greed, thestates of the Northern Alliance grewmore and more aggressive andrapacious. In pursuit of economic
  • growth, the rulers ignored theworsening plight of the masses oftheir populations and claimed thatinequality was only a temporaryfeature on the road to improvedmarket efficiency. (From ‘TheAuthorised History of Society: theFounding Years, YS1 – YS15’: screen61, section 5)Not long ago, Fatima and I were inbed together with our heads proppedagainst the pillows and with the lightsturned down low, enjoying ourfavourite night-cap, a tot of marulaliqueur. Fatima balanced the glass inone hand while with her other handshe completed her daily report.Sucking at the end of the electro-stylus, she asked, ‘How much winedid I have with dinner?’‘Oh, I guess about two hundredmillilitres.’
  • ‘Can’t you be more precise thanthat?’‘How about two hundred and fivepoint three millilitres? Will that do?’Fatima sighed soulfully. ‘Oh, you!Really, Simora! Can’t you be serious?You know how often I’ve asked you tohelp by measuring my intake. Youdon’t take my job seriously, do you?’I said, ‘I am being serious. In fact,I’m seriously impressed – suchattention to detail in a mere dailyreport! That’s seriously impressive.’Fatima gave me a dark look, sighedtheatrically, and said, ‘Oh, you!’ Sheshrugged and turned her attentionback to the report.Fatima was looking as winsomelydesirable as always, her hair hangingloose in the way that makes me wantto fold it in my hand and caress it. Notthat I would do that – it would becruel to Fatima, to raise her hopes
  • without raising anything else towardsa profitable consummation. At thesame time, she had a neat littlespecovid strapped over her eyes,frowning over the number ofmillilitres of wine and whatever elsehad to be entered in the Companions’Daily Report, seemingly oblivious ofmy confused tumult of desire andsuppression. Advance and retreat,feint and withdraw – so often Fatimaand I are like that, like the symbioticdance of the mongoose and the snake.Fatima swept back her hair andasked, ‘And how many millilitres ofcoffee?’‘The same as always – always thesame as always.’‘All right, Simora, don’t be soimpatient. You served it so you shouldknow. I’m just making sure. Youknow how it is with these officialreports.’
  • I wanted to say, Yes, sure, I know allabout the official reports. But whatabout the unofficial ones – presumingthey exist, which I’m sure they do? Ofcourse, I didn’t ask. I wouldn’t havegot an answer, anyway, exceptperhaps a frown and an ‘Oh, you!’shake of her head.Fatima pushed back the specovid andswitched off the electro-pad, whichwent to its rest with a drawn-out,receding whine, as if it was protestingat leaving our company. But, ofcourse, it wasn’t really idle.Underneath the surface, it was stillactive, pulsing and whirring silently,surreptitiously transmitting datawhenever it was called on to do so. Ithought, If Otto is right, then it’srather like someone I know – someonelooking winsomely attractive, withcaressable hair, sipping at her marulaliqueur, often appearing to be in
  • repose, but never really in thatcondition. But, of course, I didn’t saythat either.Fatima picked up my hand, laid itagainst her cheek, and looked at mesidelong in speculative fashion,asking, ‘When will you tell me?’‘Tell you what?’‘You know what – about yourbackground, your home, yourparents! You never want to tell me.You always put me off.’‘You really want to know? Rightnow?’‘Why not? Now is as good a time asany, isn’t it?’‘Ah! I understand. You need thedetails for the daily report!’‘Of course not! What can you mean?Really, Simora, the things you say!’I teased her by stretching and saying,‘I’m feeling lazy. Now isn’t really agood time.’
  • ‘It’s as good a time as any. Anyway, itwould only be fair. After all, youknow just about everything there is toknow about me.’‘Do I?’‘Of course you do! I told you all aboutme, just the other night – my parents,my brother, my education, beingrecruited as a companion –everything. Remember?’‘Everything?’Fatima tightened her hold on myhand. She paused, chewed on herbottom lip, then got a grip on herselfand said decisively, ‘Yes, of course -everything.’ She flushed and loweredher eyes as she said it.When I ran the back of my handacross her belly in a slow circularmotion, Fatima shivered withpleasure. That gave me time to think.And that was when I thought, Oh,well, what does it matter? Why
  • shouldn’t I tell her what she wants toknow, here where we are, where itcan do no good and it can do noharm?I said, ‘Tell you all about myself?Well, as far as I can remember, I wasborn to a woman in the normal way,no other way being approved at thetime. That woman was my mother.’‘Simora -!’I continued, ‘Being born at arelatively young age, I started withthe advantages of youth on my side -’‘Please! Don’t tease me! I really wantto know.’ Fatima pushed my handaside and shifted away from me.There were tears in her eyes. How is itthat so often I have this effect onFatima?I mumbled, ‘All right. Calm down.I’ll tell you.’She bit her lip and said resentfully,‘You! Always so stubborn! Always
  • going your own way, no matter how itaffects other people. Do you thinkthat’s social behaviour?’ She sniffedloudly and wiped her eyes with acorner of the sheet.There it was again: stubborn! Imumbled, ‘Sorry. I’ll tell you whatyou want to know.’‘Yes. Please do!’I took a large sip of the marula tofortify myself and said, ‘Well, I wasborn into a privileged household. Itwas in the upper twenty per cent ofpairings by income.’Fatima said, ‘Our income was alwayson the median. It hardly ever varied.’I was about to say, ‘I’m not at allsurprised’, but I checked the impulse.Instead, I continued, ‘Our home wasin grounds that were almost like apark. There was even a small lake.’‘Was this your own property?’
  • ‘No, of course not. But it justhappened to be a relic of the OldTime. It was allocated to my parentsin recognition of their work. Whenmy father dies, it will return to thecommon holding as usual.’Fatima responded, ‘It sounds verynice. You must miss it.’ She snuggledup to me and her lips moistened. Itlooked as if she really was enjoyingmy reminiscing – but with Fatima younever can tell.I said, ‘Yes. But being here -’ Fatimanodded and slid closer to me until ourflanks were pressed together whileshe took my hand and laid my palmagainst her stomach once again.Equanimity had been restored. Aftera short pause and a few more sips atthe liqueur, I began to tell her aboutmy childhood, about my father andKana, and about how my motherwent away when we were young. I
  • said, ‘When I say I was privileged, Idon’t want to be misunderstood. I’mnot referring to privilege as in thedays before the War of Restitution –nothing like that, not at all.’Fatima said, ‘That must have been aterrible time. I don’t understand howit was possible. Sometimes, I wonderif it ever happened.’I said teasingly, ‘That’s a daringthought. It might even be disloyal.’Fatima blushed. ‘You know I don’tmean it like that. I mean - what I wastrying to say is, it all seems so hard toimagine – like another world ...’ Hervoice trailed off.I said, ‘I know what you mean.’ It’strue. I did know what she meant.When I said ‘privileged’, I didn’tmean that we lived at an income levelten or fifteen times more than theincome of fellow citizens, as wascommon in the Old Time. Nor was I
  • referring to a situation wheredesperate masses, hardened byhopelessness, preyed on the privilegedsectors of society like hordes of ratsgnawing at the obesity of a gorgedgiant. That, too, happened in the OldTime -- but not any longer, not in ourpost-War Society.I told Fatima, ‘What I mean by“privileged” is that we had the houseand the lake. Also, as members of theAssembly, my parents were allowed tohave a housekeeper.’‘Both of your parents were membersof the Assembly?’‘Yes, at different times. My motherwas appointed first and my fatherlater.’‘Did the Assembly pay for thehousekeeper?’‘Yes. Any member with children wasallowed to have a housekeeper.’‘That was a generous allowance.’
  • ‘Perhaps it was. In our case it wasuseful because my parents’ officialduties didn’t allow them much timefor family matters. They were awayfrom home a lot, attending sessions ofthe Assembly or travelling.’Fatima nodded thoughtfully and said,‘Tell me about your mother.’‘I only remember her vaguely. Shewent away when I was very young,remember?’She said, ‘I’m sorry.’I replied, ‘It’s so distant that Isometimes wonder if some of mymemories are genuine.’‘What do you mean?’‘Perhaps I’ve been influenced byother people’s memories – myfather’s, or other relatives. Perhapsthey aren’t really my own memories. Ino longer know. It’s all so distant.’It’s true. It’s as if I’m viewing thatfar-off time through a hazy tunnel
  • that winds and expands until itgradually assumes the form of a mist-covered delta. My mother is no morethan a diffuse image that driftssomewhere in that mist of time.However, when I really focus, Iassociate her with the cool half-lightof shade in mid-afternoons duringautumn, when the glare of the sunwas dappled by the lushness of thefoliage, fresh from the rainy season. Ialways visualise my mother as a vagueform dressed in white andshimmering with golden accessories,such as a broad belt, dress trimmings,and chunky necklaces. However, nomatter how much I concentrate, I canhardly ever see her features clearlybecause in my memory her face iseither darkened or light-washed as itmerges with the shade or catches thesun through the foliage.
  • Fortunately, I do have one clearimage of my mother at that time.Probably because of the light on thatparticular day, I can see her, bathedin sunshine, seated in a cane chair onthe terrace by the waterside. It wasmy parents’ favourite place,particularly during late afternoonsand warm evenings.Fatima interrupts my reverie, saying,‘It must have been lovely’‘Huh? What did you say?’‘It must have been lovely to have yourown lake.’‘It was, especially in summer. It was agreat place to get away from the heat.You know how it is before the rainscome?’ I closed my eyes, hauling outscenes from the well of memory. Along-forgotten image came to mymind and I said, ‘Sometimes, myfather played the mbonsa there.’‘Really? The mbonsa?’
  • ‘Yes, you know. It’s an instrumentthat rests on the musician’s kneeswhile he ...’‘Oh, I know that, silly! I saw oneonce.’ Fatima laughed lightly. ‘Fancythat, your father playing the mbonsa!’‘In fact, he played it a lot. He wouldeven sing songs from the Old Time.’‘The Old Time! Was that allowed?’‘He only played the safe ones.’‘Safe ones? From the Old Time? Ididn’t know that there were any!’‘Look, Fatima, I don’t know how hedecided, or how anyone else decided,whether they were safe or not!Anyway, what does it matter now?’‘All right, Simora, calm down! Goodgrief, there’s no need to get so upset! Iwas only asking.’I sighed inwardly. Fatima is asupremo at the art of provokingirritation while affecting surprisedinnocence. Good grief, Simora, don’t
  • get so excited! Simora, I do believethat you will have a heart attack oneof these days, if you don’t controlyourself. And all said with a taken-aback, slightly injured tone andexpression. However, of all herstratagems probably her favourite isthe ‘I was only asking’ ploy. It’sguaranteed to get a rise out of me nomatter how much I try to stay calm.I fought down my irritation andcomposed myself. If Fatima wanted tohear my story, then so be it – shewould get a good, sizeable chunk of it,enough to keep her satisfied for thenext few months, at least. And, for allI cared, she could put all of it into herdaily report, or any other damnreport for that matter, official orunofficial – if there was still anythingthat they wanted to know about me.I said, ‘Anyway, safe or not, myfather played the fables and the
  • children’s songs. Mostly, they weresongs that he learned from hisparents.’‘It must have been very nice.’Fatima’s voice wavered as if shewasn’t too sure about the matter.I nodded. Right then, my mind wasn’tfully on the conversation. I wasremembering that my father neverplayed the mbonsa after my motherwent away. I said that to Fatima andshe replied, ‘Oh, that’s so sad!’ - justas I knew she would.Thinking of the lake, I rememberedthe occasion when my brotherhumiliated me at the waterside. Imust have been about four years oldat the time. It was late in the dryseason and the water had receded,leaving an expanse of black mud.Kana and I were skimming rings inthe shade by the waterside. One of therings landed in the mud just beyond
  • reach and I fetched a stick to retrieveit. As I leaned forward, at the apex ofmy reach, I felt a quick push againstmy back. It was no more than a touchbut it was enough. With a squeal Itoppled forward, face down in themud.When I told Fatima about theincident, she said, ‘Oh, your brothersounds like a nasty person!’‘Nasty? That’s for sure.’‘Simora! How can you say that aboutyour own brother?’‘You said it first.’‘Yes, but your own brother…’Fatima’s voice trailed off and she bither lip.I grinned inwardly and went on withthe story. ‘I got to my feet, wiping themuck from my eyes. I was humiliated.I raged at Kana.’‘What did he do?’
  • ‘Kana? Huh! He did just what you’dexpect him to do. He stood back andlaughed at me.’‘And then -?’‘I rushed at him, spitting out mud andfilthy debris. I hated him. I wantedrevenge. I wanted to beat him to apulp.’ I stopped. I could visualise it allso clearly. More than that, I wasreliving the emotions – the sheer forceof the all-encompassing urge to getmy hands on Kana, to beat him, topulverise him, so that never againwould I see him laughing at me withthat smirking face. With a shock, Irealised that the urge was still withme – so much so that I had to calmmyself before I went on with thestory.‘And -?’‘I never reached him. My mothercaught me from behind. That gaveKana time to run into the house.’
  • ‘So you never came to blows? That’sgood. It would have been unsocial.’‘Unsocial? Yes, it would have been. Infact, it would have been supremelyunsocial, I can assure you of that.’Even now, after all this time, Iclenched my fists as I rememberedhow Kana spluttered with laughterwhile he ran away, grinning back atme over his shoulder.Fatima’s hand wriggled under mygrasp as she cried, ‘Simora, you’rehurting me! Let my hand go!’I hardly heard Fatima’s words. Shehad to pry my fingers loose from herhand. I was visualising how mymother held me close to her while Istruggled, writhed and shouted. Iwanted to pursue Kana, seize him,wound him, and pound at him untilmy rage was assuaged. I could havekilled him.
  • Holding me tight from behind myshoulders, her arms across my chest,my mother leaned over with her faceclose to mine and murmuredsoothingly, ‘Don’t rage at yourbrother like that. You’ll do yourselfan injury’. She restrained me, talkingto me gently, until my passion abated.Then I wept as she held me to her. Isuppose that I cried for many things:humiliation; frustration at being keptfrom the object of my anger; theaftermath of passion; gratitude thatsomeone cared.I told Fatima what my mother hadsaid and Fatima replied brightly, ‘Ohthat was a clever thing to say.’Clever? Perhaps it was. But it wasn’tcleverness that made my mother’swords stay with me for so long.Perhaps it was the way the wordsblended with other sensations fromthat small incident. Perhaps, lying
  • there besides Fatima, in the cossetedintimacy of the moment, Iremembered them all the morevividly. I remembered the gentlemould of my mother’s thighs andstomach against my back as shepressed me to her. I remembered thesoft press of her breasts against theback of my head as she leaned overme. I recalled the feel of her cheekagainst mine as she spoke to me softly.In fact, these are amongst the mostvivid and most sensuous memoriesthat I have of the woman who was mymother.I remarked, ‘Childhood is a transientdream.’Fatima replied, ‘Oh, yes, isn’t thattrue? And it’s also so short.’Of course, now I have more recentimpressions of my mother – muchmore recent. But, surprisingly,they’re nowhere near as vivid as that
  • one childhood image of my motherholding me tight and talking to meinsistently.‘Don’t rage at your brother like that.You’ll do yourself an injury’. Mymother’s words only came home tome some hours later. Although theyseemed to carry a rich truth, themeaning was tantalisingly obscure.That night I fell asleep while stilltrying to penetrate the veil.Fatima and I lay there quietly side byside sipping at our liqueurs.Unusually, Fatima had the good sensenot to interrupt the silence. After awhile, I told Fatima, ‘My mother wastalented.’Still holding my hand firmly, Fatimaasked, ‘What was her occupation?’‘She was a civil engineer.’‘Doing what?’
  • ‘Her specialisation was researchingthe load-bearing capacities ofconstruction materials.’Fatima looked at me shrewdly andasked, ‘Do you remember all thesethings?’I said, ‘My father told us about her.’That’s partly true. Did I want to tellFatima more? But, on the other hand,what prevented me from telling herthe truth? As I’ve said before, whatharm could it do, here where we are?Also, I must admit that I like to shockFatima by challenging her sense ofrectitude. I enjoy hearing her draw inher breath sharply – ‘Oh, you, howcould you?’ – and I like to see herlower her eyes and avert her facebefore she glances at me shyly as ifshe is the guilty party. Guilty? Forsure, back in Society she would beguilty, just for listening to theimproper things that she hears from
  • me. We are like the mongoose and thesnake, circling, darting, withdrawing– but always wary and alert.However, unlike the mongoose andthe snake, I doubt that there will everbe a fatal strike. As far as I can see,we will always be linked in thisunconsummated dance of approach,retreat, feint, and dart.I said, ‘I learned a lot about mymother from a file of her papers that Ifound in my father’s library.’Fatima sucked in her breath – ‘Ha!’ -once again, just as I knew she would.She asked sharply, ‘When did youfind them?’‘When I was about nine years old.’Fatima said, ‘Oh!’ She pursed herlips, wriggled uncomfortably, andsaid, ‘Yes. Go on. I’m listening.’I said, ‘I was excited. It was the firsttime that I ever actually held anything
  • that belonged to my mother after shewent away.’Fatima moved away and looked at mewith a wary, sidelong glance, asking,‘What did you do with the file?’‘I ran off to my room with it. Then Istudied the papers.’‘And..?’‘Mostly, they were plans and designs.’‘Is that all?’‘There was more. My mother hadwritten notes and comments on themargins of some of the diagrams.’Fatima gave me the familiar, averted-eyes look and asked softly, ‘And..?’I told her that I learned a lot. For onething, there was a clue to where mymother was based. The name‘Anjima’, and a date and time for anappointment, were scrawled on aloose piece of paper in the file. Itdidn’t convey anything at all to me atthe time, but now it means a lot.
  • Anjima is in the southland. Fatimawouldn’t know that designation. It’sthe local name for the SouthernTerritory, which was being opened upat about that time.When I told Fatima that I decided tocopy the papers on to my personalaccessor files so that they would bemine for always, she shook her headvigorously and cried, ‘No! I don’tbelieve it! Say it’s not true!’‘Well, actually, in the end I didn’tcopy them.’Fatima relaxed and sighed, ‘That’sgood.’‘I didn’t copy the papers because theydisappeared from my room.’Fatima tensed again. She asked,‘Someone found them?’‘Someone did. Perhaps ourhousekeeper, or perhaps my father – Idon’t know. I looked in the cupboarddownstairs where I found them. They
  • weren’t there. In fact, I lookedeverywhere that I could think of.Then I went into my father’s storagefiles on the accessor and tried everysearch code that I could think of tocall up the documents.’‘What! You searched your father’sstorage files? You didn’t!’‘Yes, I did.’‘Don’t you have any shame? Don’tyou know that’s unsocial –completely, entirely, absolutelyunsocial?’As usual, I couldn’t resist anopportunity to tease Fatima, so Iresponded, ‘Well, perhaps now youknow why I’m here.’She gave me her sleek-mouse-eyeing-a-mangy-cat look and said heatedly,‘Well, that might be why you’re here -but it’s not why I’m here.’‘No, of course not. Companions aren’tunsocial, are they?’
  • ‘What are you implying?’I leaned over and nuzzled myforehead against hers, murmuring,‘Sociability is the first quality ofcompanions. It’s their prime virtue,isn’t it? Without it, they wouldn’t becompanions.’Although Fatima sniffed, I could seethat she wasn’t displeased. Sheresponded, ‘Well, I’m glad that yourecognise that.’ We lay there for awhile in silence before she asked,‘What happened next?’ ‘Nothing happened.’‘Nothing? Just like that – nothing?’‘That’s right – nothing! I heardnothing more about the matter.’I didn’t tell Fatima that for some timeafter that, I caught my father lookingat me thoughtfully. At those times, helooked very melancholy. Was itbecause of what I did, or was itbecause he had been reminded of my
  • mother? I never did find out. Andnow I never will.Recollections were still flooding in. Isaid, ‘My mother was young when shewas elected to the Assembly - onlyabout thirty years of age, I guess.’Fatima agreed, ‘That’s young, for amember of the Assembly.’I continued, ‘She was in her fifth yearin the Assembly when she went away.’Fatima repeated reflectively, ‘Shewent away.’ She gave my hand asympathetic squeeze.I said, ‘That was about three yearsbefore my father was elected to theAssembly.’Fatima gave me an appraising look,pursing her lips thoughtfully beforeshe asked, ‘Was your father still amember when – you know – when -?’‘When I was last in Society? No. Heresigned after a few years.’
  • ‘I didn’t know that members areallowed to resign.’‘Well, my father did.’Fatima had been holding my handpalm-down on her stomach. When Itried to release it from time to time,she laughed and held it all the moretightly, saying, ‘You don’t need totalk with your hands, you know. Notwith both hands, anyway. One’senough.’It’s a game she likes to play, teasingme in this way. Although I knew thatshe meant it affectionately, even as Ismiled, I was irritated. It was as ifpart of my creativity had been reinedin, as if I couldn’t delve deeply intoimagination and memory withoutusing both of my hands to conjure apath into the air, a path back into thepast. When I leaned over andwrestled my hand free, Fatima gaspedlightly and curved her body towards
  • me as my weight pressed on her. Isaid, ‘There. Now I’m free to talk.’She tried to compose herself, saying,‘That is what you’ve been doing,anyway, isn’t it?’ I grunted. Shesettled back, smoothed down thecovers over her body, and said, ‘Well,go on. You’ve got my attention.’‘What shall I go on about?’‘Your grandparents - tell me aboutthem.’I said, ‘I never knew my mother’sparents. They were both killed duringthe War.’She said, ‘Mine too. All of mygrandparents, in fact.’I asked her, ‘Do you know anyone oftheir generation who doesn’t havesome story to tell about suffering,violence, and death?’She shook her head and replied,‘People of the old generation used tocome to our school sometimes, to
  • speak at social awareness classes.They told us their stories. Then,afterwards, we could ask themquestions, get them to explain thingsthey’d said –’ She stopped, shook herhead, then continued, ‘Sometimesthey’d break down and cry - juststand there, crying, saying theycouldn’t go on.’ She shook her headagain as if trying to get rid of theburden of the memory.I said, ‘And before they left, yourecited the Social Creed - all of you,the students, the teachers, the oldpeople - and then your teacher said,‘We have much to be thankful for, allof us’, or something like that?’Fatima looked at me suspiciously andasked sharply, ‘Don’t you accept it?’‘What?’‘That we have much to be thankfulfor?’‘Why do you think that I don’t?’
  • She said even more sharply, ‘Youseem to be dismissive.’Suddenly, I felt that I had to becareful. As evenly as I could, I said,‘The War was a terrible time.’Although Fatima nodded inagreement, she was still looking at mequizzically. Then she dropped hergaze and asked, ‘And your father’sparents? They weren’t killed in theWar?’‘No. They died when I was about - oh,I guess, about nine years old. Theydied within two weeks of each other.’‘Was there a connection betweentheir deaths?’‘Yes. One didn’t want to live withoutthe other. That was the beginning andthe end of it.’‘Yes. Go on. I’m listening.’‘My grandmother died first. She hadcancer of the bowels. Even when thedistrict health officer made out an
  • order for treatment, she wouldn’t gofor it.’‘Why not?’‘Oh, were just like that, completelyself-sufficient.’‘And your grandfather?’‘He was still in good health at herfuneral. He stood by her grave and hesang a sort of song.’‘A song?’‘Well, not really a song. It was morelike a declamation, very passionate,something from the Old Time. Myfather told me afterwards that it wascalled praise singing. Then, when mygrandfather had finished, he went tothe side of the grave and called downthat he would be following soon andthat her spirit should wait for him.’‘Her spirit?’‘That’s what he said.’
  • Fatima frowned, shook her headdisapprovingly, and said, ‘Oh!’ Thenshe said, ‘Sorry - I interrupted you.’I continued, ‘Then my grandfatherturned to my father and he said thathis period of waiting had begun.’Fatima asked, ‘You said that yourgrandmother was buried in a coffin?Did she have a regular burial?’Again, she gave me that look.Suspicious? No, perhaps more adisbelieving look, as if she wasthinking, I can’t believe that thesethings happened, and, what’s more, Ican’t believe that you talk about themso freely.‘They were both buried in coffins. Iguess they had to get specialdispensation.’‘And how did your grandfather die?’‘He was just dead in his bed onemorning, fully clothed. My father saidthat the night before, my grandfather
  • told him that his time of waiting wasnearly over. And next morning he wasdead.’Fatima said, ‘I didn’t know any of mygrandparents so I don’t miss them.But what about you?’‘To tell the truth, at first Kana and Iwere embarrassed by them.’‘Why?’‘Because they kept to the old ways, ofcourse. My father used to say theyhad unreconstructed consciousnesses.When he said that, or somethingsimilar, they just looked at him - well,I don’t know how to describe it. Theyjust looked at him calmly, almostamused - as if it didn’t matter whatanyone thought, not even their ownfamily. They just took it in theirstrides, as if they were going tocontinue being the people they were,no matter what, no matter how much
  • fuss the world made about it. Andthat’s what they did.’‘And no one ever complained?’‘Not officially, anyway.’‘I would have thought –’‘I guess one reason was that they livedalone, out in the countryside.’‘They were rurals?’‘The most rural of rurals, believe me.I don’t think they’d been into a cityfor more than a few days in theirwhole lives. They were reallyisolated.’‘How did they live?’‘Their life-style was primitive.’Fatima withdrew a little, frowned atme narrowly, and asked, ‘Whatexactly do you mean by primitive?’‘For instance, they didn’t useelectricity, even though they werelinked up to the grid about ten yearsafter the War.’
  • ‘Then why did they have electricity, ifthey didn’t use it?’‘The Soc-Power officials insisted oninstalling it. They wouldn’t take ‘no’for an answer. So my grandparentssaid, all right, go ahead, but don’texpect us ever to use it or pay for it.And they never did.’‘That’s unsocial behaviour.’‘Maybe. But that’s not what theythought.’‘Oh? What did they think?’‘It amused them because they had theofficials over a barrel. If theycomplained about not being paid,then my grandparents just shruggedand said, well, go ahead and cancelthe service. That suits us fine. And ofcourse the officials wouldn’t do that,because that would spoil theirhundred per cent modernisationrecord.’ I paused, grinning,remembering how it was. Then I said,
  • ‘That sort of behaviour used toembarrass us.’‘Used to? Not now?’‘No. Now I find it amusing.’‘Amusing?’ Fatima wriggled as if shewas trying to get rid of anuncomfortable itch. Again, she gaveme that look.I replied straight-faced, ‘Yes. That’swhat I said - amusing.’‘How can you find it amusing?’ Hertone was sharp.Once again, I got the feeling that Ishould be careful. It annoyed mebecause it wasn’t what I wanted tofeel, lying there relaxing, letting theevents of the day spin out behind me.I countered by asking Fatima, ‘Canyou always say why you findsomething amusing?’She thought about it and then replied,‘No. But I wouldn’t find somethinglike that amusing. I know that, for
  • sure.’ She looked at me appraisinglyfor a moment and then continued, ‘Itsounds to me as if you’re like yourgrandparents. Maybe that’s whereyou got it from.’‘Got what?’‘Being stubborn. Wanting to go yourown way.’‘Fatima – please! Let’s not analyseme. I don’t feel up to it right now!’Fatima wrinkled her nose and said inan annoyed tone, ‘Fine! As you wish.But I’m glad we didn’t havesomething like that in our family. Itwould be hard to live with. It mighteven lead to –’‘Yes?’Fatima took a breath, gatheredherself, and said firmly, ‘It might leadto an enquiry.’‘Well, it didn’t. Nothing like that everhappened.’
  • Fatima gave me her perhaps-I-know-something-you-don’t look, just for amoment. Then she lifted her chin andsaid brightly, ‘That’s good!’I said, ‘My parents were bothmembers of the Assembly, for onething.’‘Yes. But our parents’ achievementsare not our own.’ She produced thistrite little dictum triumphantly as ifshe had just invented it. Then sheasked pointedly, ‘You’re sure it hasnothing to do with you being here?’‘Damn it, Fatima! Let’s leave it alone!Forget about it!’She shrugged, adjusted the pillowbehind her head, settled back, andlooked at me. What are you thinking,Fatima? I think I know. But I can’t besure. She fluffed her hair back andasked, ‘When you said that yourgrandparents were primitive, was it
  • just the fact that they didn’t useelectricity?’‘No, it was much more than that.Their whole way of life was – oh, Idon’t know - just completelydifferent. For instance, they raisedgoats and pigs. They bred them,slaughtered them, everything.’Fatima wrinkled her nose in distaste,muttering, ‘They ate mammals? Theyeven killed them themselves? That’sprimitive, for sure.’‘They also cooked outside over a fire,using a three-legged iron pot.’‘What? You’re not serious!’ Fatimashook her head vigorously.I was enjoying myself, laying it onthick for Fatima. I continued, ‘Eventheir eating customs came from theOld Time. My grandmother used toserve my grandfather first, togetherwith any other men who were present.Then, when everything was settled,
  • she’d eat on her own at a small tablein the corner. Talk aboutembarrassing - we couldn’t ever getused to it. But it didn’t matter whatwe said to her. She just looked at us,shook her head as if she was hearingsome foolishness, and said that it washer custom. Nothing we said evermade any difference - none at all.’Fatima said heatedly, ‘They weredefinitely unsocial. Definitely,absolutely, unsocial! It could havebeen dangerous for your family.’Fatima frowned deeply and bit herlip. No doubt she was thinking that itmight not even be proper to speakabout these things. I decided to teaseher by telling her more. I’d hadenough of being careful. As happensso often, I thought, What does itmatter anyway, here where I am? Isaid, ‘When they walked anywhere,my grandfather used to go in front.
  • But when they came to a narrowplace, like a gate or a footbridge, thenthey changed places, and mygrandmother went in front. Thenafterwards they changed placesagain.’Fatima sniffed loudly. ‘You’remaking it up. Please say it’s not true!’‘It’s true. Every word of it is true.’Fatima said, heatedly, ‘It’s no wonderthat –’ She stopped and bit her lipagain.I ignored her. I knew what she meantto say and why she had to say it. Isaid, ‘Also, my grandfather used tocarry a walking stick with a carvedhead. He had a collection of them.Each one had a story attached to it.For instance, the one that I liked mostrepresented the story of the gourdthat met the water-spirit. Another onerepresented the story of the man who
  • told the future when he threw thebones.’‘He told you these stories?’‘Yes. Why not? He was a good story-teller.’Fatima shuddered and drew thecovers up higher around her neck.She turned her face away and said,‘I’m not sure that I want to hear anymore.’I grinned at her. I was beingprovocative but the impulse wasirresistible. I said innocently,‘Perhaps I should publish thesereminiscences.’‘Publish? Is that what you’re doing,when you say you’re scribing?’ Hervoice rose sharply.I replied, ‘Not exactly. I’m doing -well, something else.’Fatima put up her hands and snappedat me, ‘Whatever it is, please don’t
  • scribe about these things. Don’t evenconsider it.’‘Why not?’She pursed her lips primly, looked atme severely, and said, ‘I’m acompanion. They evaluate us.’‘Ah, you mean that you might bepromoted one day? You mean thatthere might be better things in storefor you than just being a companionto a newcomer like me, even if I amthe First Secretary?’Fatima sighed – the sort ofexasperated sigh that implies ‘You seewhat I have to put up with?’ She said,‘Oh, you -’ Then she yawnedtheatrically and mumbled, ‘I’m tired.I’m going to turn over and go tosleep.’I said, ‘Goodnight’, and rested myhand on the curve of her shoulder. Asshe adjusted her pillow, I thought thatI heard a faint click - just that,
  • nothing more. I thought, probably herbracelets. Fatima mumbled somethingthat I couldn’t hear and shiftedfurther down under the covers. Soonher breathing became deeper andmore regular. Perhaps she really wasasleep. Perhaps what I heard was justthe click of her bracelets fallingagainst each other. Why didn’t Icheck? When I put my hand underthe edge of her pillow, her breathingremained the same. I pushed my handa little further. Fatima stirredrestlessly. I withdrew my hand,thinking that perhaps it really wasnothing more than the sound of herbracelets. Perhaps that’s all it was.There was a sequel of sorts to thiswhen, a few days ago, I mentionedFatima to Otto during a conversation.Otto said, ‘Ah, yes, your companion.’He looked at me closely and thenremarked with studied casualness,
  • ‘Companions - it’s hard for them,giving up their life in Society. They doso voluntarily - not like us.’I replied, ‘Perhaps they don’t reallyhave a choice either.’Otto replied, ‘Oh, they have a choice.I know that for certain. Nevertheless,choice or no choice, they’re a public-spirited group.’‘Perhaps being public-spirited iswritten into their job description.’Otto smiled briefly and rubbed hischin. His eyes glinted as he saidknowingly, ‘Whatever the case, itmakes you wonder at the devotionthese companions show towards -’ Hescratched his chin again andconcluded, ‘ - towards a conditionthat is not their own.’ Otto turned tomove off down the passageway, thenlooked around and remarked, ‘We’refortunate that they are so devoted -and so discreet. Imagine if they
  • weren’t.’ He shrugged andmurmured, ‘They get to know us well,these companions.’ He nodded andmoved off down the passageway.Three: I miss her too15.4. All data and materials relatingto the Old Time shall be archivedunder sole supervision of theExecutive Committee.15.5. Only the Keepers of the Archiveand authorised members of theCommittee shall have access to thearchive.15.6. Under direction of the Truthand Knowledge Sub-committee, theKeepers of the Archives shall fromtime to time arrange materials fromthe archives for public access. (Fromthe minutes of Meeting 17 of theExecutive Committee,17/YS3/Resolution 15 – AR)
  • Although my father and Alini tried toobliterate all signs and reminders ofmy mother, they couldn’t wipe theslate completely clean. They couldclear out cupboards, delete files,remove ornaments, and sendfurniture away – but they couldn’tdelete our memories.For a long time after my mother wentaway, Kana suffered from bouts ofdark depression that lasted forseveral days. At those times, Aliniwould say to me, ‘Kana’s in one of hismoods again. My advice to you is tostay away from him.’‘But he’s my brother!’‘Don’t be so stubborn, Simora. Stayaway from him. It’ll blow over in itsown time.’‘But it’s horrible when he’s like this.’‘Well, then, if you go near him, you’llhave to put up with the sharp edge of
  • his tongue. You know that just as wellas I do.’Usually, feeling abandoned andhating the way that the whole houseseemed to be filled with forebodingduring these dark periods, I would tryto make some sort of contact withKana. Perhaps remembering mymother’s touch, I would reach out tohim, laying a hand on his arm ortrying to take him gently by hisshoulder. However, he alwaysrejected me, snarling, ‘Don’t touchme!’ Then he would withdraw with adark glare, saying, ‘Don’t do thatagain!’I would protest, ‘Don’t push meaway!’‘I will if I want to!’‘Come on, Kana - ‘‘What?’‘Let’s go outside and play.’‘I told you – leave me alone.’
  • Usually, at this stage push wouldcome to shove and Alini would haveto separate us.About one week after our motherwent away, all traces of herdisappeared from the house: heraccessors and electronic apparatus,her ornaments, her clothes, her officefurniture, even her compo-discs. Wecame home from school one day tofind Alini supervising the removal ofa pile of boxes. Kana asked, ‘Whatare you doing, Alini?’Alini looked embarrassed and replied,‘Oh, these are just some old thingsthat were lying around the house,getting in the way.’‘Can we look at them?’Alini placed himself squarely in frontof the boxes and said firmly, ‘No, youcan’t. I’ve just finished packing them.I don’t want you two rummagingabout.’
  • I asked, ‘Where are they going to,Alini?’‘I’m sending them to the Social Well-being Opportunity Store. They’ll bemore useful there than they are here.’Alini beckoned to the men who werestanding by and they began to carrythe things away. He shooed us away,saying, ‘Don’t hang around, boys.You’ll just get in the way. Go and getcleaned up for lunch.’As we went upstairs, I said, ‘Theywere hers.’ Kana nodded, tense-faced.I spent a long time face-down on mybed until hunger drove medownstairs.Before he became a member of theAssembly, my father was a scriber oftransound documentaries for thePeople’s True Information Authority.I loved going into his office at home,where he worked surrounded byshelves, compo-discs, accessors, and
  • the sprawling disorder of electronicapparatus. I can still remember mysense of wonder at the fact that threewalls of the study were almost fullycovered with apparatus and discholders, from floor to ceiling andfrom wall to wall. Could there be somany in the whole world?After my mother went away, althoughmy father tried to compensate bybeing more affectionate towards us, atthe same time, he was somehow alsosomewhat distant. Looking back on it,it seems to me that losing my motherdeadened some vital spot in myfather. He couldn’t give his affectionsfull rein – not because he didn’t wantto, but because it was if somethinginside him had been anaesthetised.We sensed it and, worse still, he knewit. Above all, there was alwayssomething in his bearing that
  • reminded us of how he once saiddespairingly, ‘I miss her too.’Sometimes I imagine that I could havethe relationship with my father that Inever had. I imagine that we couldretrace our experiences back throughall those years, to the loss of a womanwho we loved in our different ways. Iimagine that we could irrigate thatstunted place with sympathy andunderstanding, so that it would putout fresh, new tendrils. But if thatimpossible step could ever beundertaken, I would go back withnew knowledge. Could I ever tell himwhat I now know about my mother?In the meantime, I’ve had to bear myown loss of another woman who Iloved and who loved me as men andwomen love. I have entered mostcomprehensively into a vital part of aman’s estate. I tell myself that myfather would understand and I
  • imagine how he would reach out tome. However, these are fantasies andvain imaginings. There’s no goingback from this place, even although,recently, Otto hinted at somethingdifferent … well, we shall see.After my mother went away, Aliniplayed a larger role in our household.He should have left us after my fatherleft the Assembly, but by then Alinihad almost reached retirement age.He didn’t want to go anywhere else –in fact, after such a long time with ourhousehold, he didn’t have anywhereto go. He said that he liked beinguseful and needed in a familyatmosphere and so he stayed on withus.Alini was born during the Old Timeand grew up during the War. Whilewe were fascinated by every aspect ofhis stories about the War, perhapswhat impressed us most was the
  • general disorderliness anddesperation that he described. Alini’sstories gave us vivid images of a timewhen things were chaotic andunpredictable, when people walkedthe edge between life and death,making momentous decisions underconditions of extreme danger andominous uncertainty. It was in suchstark contrast to the orderly routineof our daily lives that it was likelistening to ghost stories while beingsecurely tucked into bed.‘This is what we were fighting for, meand my comrades,’ Alini would say,sweeping his arm around the house,lake, neighbouring fields, distanthousing estates, the sky, and thehorizon. Especially when I wasyounger, when Alini spoke andgestured in such sweeping terms, Ihad a vivid image of a dashing Aliniand his gallant group of comrades
  • battling their way across the nearbylandscape. I could see them makingtheir way onto our grounds, fightingforward around the edge of the lake,across the terrace, right up to thedoors of the house. However, it wasunclear to me what happened afterthat, no matter how hard I tried toimagine it. I suppose it wasinconceivable, even in myimagination, that this place, ourchildhood home, should be a site ofdisorderly invasion, infected bystrange and violent intrusions. Thenoise, smoke, hoarse shouts andunmentionable atrocities alwaysstopped short of the safe haven of ourhouse.Whenever Alini spoke about the War,at some stage he would say, ‘Whatyou’ve got now, that’s what we werefighting for. Peace, security, a decentlife, not exploiting others, giving
  • everyone a fair chance, well-regulatedsocial behaviour - that’s what it wasall about, isn’t it?’Although we would nod in agreement,we weren’t interested in the waythings were now. What was sointeresting about the present time? Itwas boring and predictable. Wewanted to hear great stories about theWar and so we would ask, ‘Did youkill anyone, Alini?’‘That’s none of your business!’‘Oh, come on Alini, tell us!’ ‘No, I won’t! It’s none of yourbusiness. But I can tell you that it’snot easy to live with – at least, that’swhat I heard -- not easy at all. Maybeif you can forget that others havefeelings and lives like your own – huh!And it’s better, much better, if youcan’t see their faces – that’s what Iheard.’ Alini waved his hands
  • dismissively and, with a tight face,said,. ‘Now, as I was saying –’‘You did kill someone, Alini, didn’tyou?’‘You boys aren’t listening to me, areyou? What’s wrong with you? Don’tyou have ears? I’m telling you what Iheard, that’s all.’ After a reflectivepause, he would add, ‘I only knowwhat they told me.’When it looked as if Alini was comingto the end of a story-telling session wewould try to keep him going byasking, ‘Are you going to see Nicholassoon, Alini?’ Nicholas was an oldcomrade who sometimes visited Alini.He had only one leg, the other havingbeen blasted away at the knee bysomething called anti-personnel mine.Although Nicholas got around on onlyone crutch, he impressed us by beingso agile that he could beat us in racesover short distances.
  • ‘Nicholas?’ said Alini. ‘I might beseeing him next week, depending onhis plans.’ He would look at us sternlyand then growl, ‘And if he does cometo visit, don’t start pestering him withquestions about the War.’‘But, Alini …!’‘Enough! The War is long gone now –ancient history! No one is interestedany more. Who wants to dig up oldstories?’Of course, they weren’t old stories tochildren like us whose imaginationswere still being formed, whoseexperiences did not extend beyond thesmall confines of home, family, andschool. We would press Alini, asking,‘Tell us about the time you helpedNicholas to get out of trouble in thearmy, Alini.’‘You know that story, don’t you?You’re just leading me on to waste
  • time. You think I’m not wise to whatyou’re up to, isn’t it?’‘Your stories are super, Alini! Comeon, Alini, there’s plenty of time. Tellus again.’‘Well, it won’t do any harm, Isuppose, but there’ll be no more timewasting after that. Understood?’This was the story: Alini and Nicholasbegan army life together in the sametraining camp at a time when the Warwas poised at a desperate juncture.Both were under-age but, in suchdesperate conditions, nobody wasasking questions about age. One day,after a hard week of training in thebush and on the parade ground,Nicholas’s company was marched intothe camp’s recreation hall for apolitical education session.Alini would enact what happenedthere: ‘Now there’s this officer, see,standing on the stage. All the men are
  • sitting on the floor – they couldn’tafford chairs in those days. Anyway,the floor was good enough forordinary rookies. The officer iswaving a piece of paper.’‘That’s Nicholas’s letter, isn’t it,Alini?’‘You know it was! Why do you wantto hear it again?’‘Come on, Alini, tell us! We like thestory.’‘Well, all right, once more won’t doany harm. So, like I said, the officer iswaving this piece of paper. He’ssaying, “The enemy is everywhere.The enemy is cunning. You neverknow where you will find the enemy.The enemy is probably right here inthis camp. The enemy has spieseverywhere.”‘‘Was that true, Alini?’‘What?’
  • ‘About the enemy being in the campand having spies everywhere?’‘Most probably it was true. You neverknew with the enemy. The enemy wasdiabolical.’‘What does that mean?’‘Diabolical? Well, it means terrible,evil – well, something like that.’‘Was the enemy really like that,Alini?’‘Of course they were! That’s why theenemy was the enemy, isn’t it?Anyway, the officer is waving thepiece of paper around, saying, you seethis letter? We found it in a garbagedrum right outside a bungalow. Theofficer reads the letter. It says, “DearMama and Papa, we have been onmanoeuvres for four days in the bush.We only got back to camp today.”And so on.’‘What are manoeuvres, Alini?’
  • ‘Manoeuvres? It’s when you pretendthat you’re fighting. It’s when youpractise how to fight in the real war.’‘Did you go on manoeuvres, Alini?’‘Of course! Do you think I wasn’tproperly trained? Huh, you boys!Anyway, like I was saying, the officerreads from the letter. Then he says,“This information is useful to theenemy. People might die because of it.We know who wrote the letter. Hisname is Nicholas Koboli. Where isrookie Koboli? We know you’re in thehall. Stand up and show yourself.”That’s what the officer said. It lookedpretty bad for Nicholas. But to makematters worse, Nicholas wasn’t evenin the hall where he should havebeen.’Nicholas was absent because he hadskipped the session to have a catnapin his bungalow. The penalty forwilfully absenting oneself from duty
  • could be full pack drill (‘Guaranteedto drop you inside a half hour,’ saidAlini meaningfully) or even a week onhalf rations in the detention cells.Understandably, when Nicholas heardthat his absence had been discovered,he started to look for a way out.Right then, Alini was passing by oncleaning duty. He told us whathappened next: ‘I see Nicholas pacingaround, looking really worried. So Isay, What’s up, Nicholas? What’s theproblem? You look like someonewho’s just been given time in thedetention barracks. Nicholas says,“Well, my friend, it might come tothat, if I don’t think of somethingfast.” He was biting his lip andwringing his hands so hard that Icould see that he was reallydesperate.’‘What were the detention barracks,Alini?’
  • ‘Detention barracks? They werehorrible places, little dark rooms withiron bars and concrete floors, wherethey locked you up and treated youworse than a dog. Not to mention thefood -- huh!’‘Did they lock you up there, Alini?’‘Me? No, of course not! I didn’tvolunteer to waste my time sitting in acell. Huh! Let’s get on with the story.Nicholas explained the situation to meand I said, “It’s simple. When theycome looking for you, tell them thatyou were there but that you wereashamed. Lay it on. Tell them youdidn’t want to be pointed out as theone who endangered everyone else.Tell them you’re just a rookie whomade a mistake. Beg for forgiveness.Have tears in your eyes and have twoof your mates standing by to swearthat you were there.” That’s what Itold him.’
  • The ploy worked and Nicholasescaped with a warning. Nicholas andAlini became friends and arranged tobe in the same squad when they weredespatched on active service. Theyfought through the War together andwere only parted when Nicholas wasinjured. They had been friends eversince.This story and others like it werealways accompanied by a caveat fromAlini, who would wag his head, pointan admonishing finger at us, and say,‘But don’t think that sort of deceptionis all right nowadays. Those days arepast. They were desperate days. Wedidn’t know any better, whereas youdo. Now we’ve got what we foughtfor, what we all wanted - security,equality, prosperity, goodgovernment.’‘Yes, Alini, we know that’
  • ‘You boys aren’t listening to me, areyou? I don’t know why I bother.’‘We are listening, Alini! Of course weare!’‘Huh! Like I said, I don’t know why Ibother. What do the old days mean toyoungsters like you? Everything isfresh and new for you, isn’t it?Anyway, that just proves what Ialways say, that you don’t know howlucky you are. You should take myadvice. Use your opportunities andappreciate what you have.’ Thenwould come the inevitable conclusion:‘I don’t know why I let you talk meinto telling you these things.’We would nod solemnly, and, whenwe retired for the night, we wouldmimic Alini’s words, giggling as wedid so. We loved Alini and, perhaps,loved him all the more because hisstories made us feel just how securewe were in our comfortable house by
  • the lake. Only the shadow of ourmother’s absence darkened ourinnocent happiness.That was when I was a child. Sincethen, I have known the ProtectedTerritory over the river from thesouthland. I have known Mary on thedark, secluded bank of the river. Ihave known the Colony. Mostdisturbing of all, I have seen far intothe dark recesses Kana’s heart. Yes,Kana - and the SSB. I have seenthrough all those illusions ofpermanence and security, thosecultivated myths of a harmoniousexistence. However, through it all, thememory of my childhood innocence isstill seductive, like a lost love of one’syouth - perhaps all the more so now.When I was younger, there wassomething that I wanted even morethan finding out about the Old Time.More than anything in the whole
  • world, I wanted to be better thaneveryone else at school. Above all, Iwanted to outdo my brother, to shamehim for his taunts and his lofty air ofsuperiority. I wanted to pay him backfor rejecting me so often especiallywhen I needed someone to help mesuppress the aching hollowness thatsometimes nagged at me like atoothache. I didn’t know it at the timebut now, looking back, I realise thatlike a lot else in my life, mydetermination and ambition had a lotto do with my mother going away.When Kana started school a yearbefore me, I resented being left in thekindergarten while he moved up inthe world. It didn’t help that he triedto lord it over me. For instance, Iremember that, about a month afterhe started school, Kana showed us hiselectro-pad, saying boastfully, ‘Lookat this. Isn’t it good? You see what the
  • teacher copied next to it? He says I’mthe best in the class.’Alini looked at it approvingly andremarked, ‘It’s very good, Kana. Welldone.’ Then, showing it to me, heasked, ‘Don’t you think so, Simora?’I took a cursory look at it and replied,‘It’s a bit wiggly but I guess it’s allright.’Kana snatched the pad away fromAlini, snarling, ‘How would Simoraknow? He’s still a baby. He doesn’tknow about school things.’‘Yes, I do!’‘No, you don’t. You don’t knowanything.’ Kana clicked on the padand showed us a new field. ‘Look atthis. We learned how to do semantopatterns. Good, hey?’Alini held the pad under his nose andpeered at it short-sightedly, saying,‘Hmm – very good, Kana. Maybe oneday you’ll be a software architect.’
  • ‘I don’t want to be one.’‘No? What do you want to be?’‘I want to be a spaceman.’I said triumphantly, ‘There are nospacemen. Isn’t that right, Alini?’‘That’s right. They haven’t got themoney for it. Also, since the spaceprograms of the Old Time -’ Alinishrugged diffidently. ‘Maybe one day– who knows? But not right now.’I rounded on Kana, saying, ‘Thereyou are – you can’t be a spaceman!You heard what Alini said.’‘I don’t care! One day there will bespacemen. Then I’ll be one.’Alini moved in to cool things. Heseparated us and asked, ‘How areyour friends, Kana?’‘Oh, I’ve got plenty of friends. Andyou know what?’Alini asked, ‘What?’
  • Kana smirked in the way that I nevercould stand. He said, ‘I’m theirleader. I’m the leader of all the boys.’I cried out, No, you’re not!’‘Yes I am! Anyway, what do youknow? You just play baby things withlittle kids. Huh!’Alini could see that push was about tocome to shove, so he held us apart andtold us to go to our rooms to do ourhomework. Later, he took me asideand said, ‘Simora, don’t get upset.Kana doesn’t mean everything that hesays.’Still aflame with resentment, I criedout, ‘Then why does he say thosethings?’‘Well, I guess that he’s proud of thefact that he’s going to school. Hewants us to know how he feels.’I wiped my eyes and said fiercely,‘I’m going to be better than Kana –you’ll see.’
  • Alini patted my shoulder, sayingsoothingly, ‘Don’t be impatient,Simora. Your turn will come.’ Thenhe put his hands on my shoulders andsaid quietly, ‘Kana misses yourmother. I think that’s his biggestproblem.’‘So do I, Alini! I also miss her!’ I saidit so fiercely that tears came to myeyes.‘Yes, Simora, I know. Believe me, Iknow. The fact is that we all missher.’ Alini’s voice thickened as hesaid, ‘Things haven’t been the samesince she left.’‘Then why should Kana -?’Alini silenced me by putting a fingeracross my lips. He sat down oppositeme, took my hands, and saidconfidentially, ‘I’m going to tell yousomething important. Do you promisethat you won’t tell Kana?’ I nodded.
  • Alini repeated, ‘Promise? Word ofhonour?’‘Yes, I promise.’Alini leaned forward and said quietly,‘You were your mother’s favourite.’Even as I looked at Alini dumbly, notknowing how to respond, I felt a flushcourse through my body, like a firethrough winter savannah grass. Aliniasked, ‘Did you know that?’ I shookmy head, still dumb.Alini said, ‘Well, it’s a fact. Yourmother tried not to show it. But Icould see it clearly and so could yourfather. It was plain to see.’‘You mean that mama didn’t likeKana?’‘No, I didn’t say that! Of course sheliked Kana! She cared a lot for bothof you. She was a good mother – thevery best. But we could see that shefavoured you, no matter how muchshe tried to hide it.’
  • My heart began to beat more rapidlyand my skin felt as if it had suddenlybecome over-heated. I asked, ‘AndKana -?’Alini rubbed his nose, looked at mespeculatively, and then said slowly,‘Kana knew it. You see, Kana knew it,and he was jealous.’‘Jealous, Alini?’‘Oh, yes, Kana was very jealous. Hestill is.’ Alini sat back and blew hisnose, muttered, ‘Huh!’ gruffly, andsaid, ‘Now here’s the real problem:your mother went away before Kanacould change things.’ Seeing that Iwas not following his reasoning, Aliniexplained, ‘It’s like this - now thatyour mother has gone, Kana is leftwith the knowledge that he can neverchange the situation. It’s as if thingshave become frozen, or as if they’restanding still forever. And theproblem is that Kana’s feelings are
  • just the same as they were on the daythat your mother went way, with nochance of ever changing them.’Now I understood. I said, ‘Yes. Hecan’t change it.’Alini said, ‘Sometimes it’s terrible tohave to deal with things that are fixedforever in the past.’ His face cloudedas he said, ‘One day you’ll see thatthings from the past can hang aroundour necks like a big weight. Thingsthat are still going on, people who arestill around and about – well, you canstill deal with them, or at least youcan hope that you can. But whensomething is over and done with andyou have regrets – well, that’s heavy,and it’s with you forever. Do youunderstand?’I nodded. Alini sat back and said,‘That’s the way I see it, and that’swhat I think is bothering Kana.’ Hesqueezed my hands, saying, ‘Maybe it
  • won’t make things easier between youand Kana, but at least you’llunderstand a bit more about hisbehaviour.’I could only nod, quite overcome bywhat I had heard. Alini squeezed myhands again and got up to go.Suddenly the present came floodingback to me. I remembered Kana’saggression towards me earlier thatday. I remembered how he shook myhand away when I touched him andhow he clicked his tongue in – what?In contempt? In disdain? In spite ofwhat Alini had said, my resentmentflared up again. I cried out, ‘You’llsee, Alini, you’ll see! I’m going to bebetter than Kana. I’m going to bebetter than anyone.’Alini gave me a startled look. Then heshook his head heavily as if a heftyobject had struck him and walkedaway without saying anything more.
  • It was petty. I shouldn’t have said it.Later, lying in bed, I was ashamed.But deep down, under the layer ofregret, I knew that I had spoken thetruth about the way I felt. Come whatmay, I would be better than Kana.No matter how much Alinisympathised with my frustration, hecouldn’t do much to assist me. It wasbetween Kana and me. SometimesAlini would find me out on theterrace, sobbing in frustration.Sometimes he would find me raging atKana, accusing him of exaggerating,of being a mediocre performer inspite of his boasting, of making up thestories of his achievements. My furyand sense of humiliation wereexacerbated when Kana just laughedat these accusations, taunting me:‘Little boy! Goes to a little kid’s play-school. Plays with little boys.’ Aliniwould put a hand on my shoulder to
  • quieten me and I would shake him off,angry that he had caught me out inmy moment of weakness and angrythat I wanted him to care.Once Alini took me aside and saidurgently, ‘If you go on like this, you’llinjure yourself.’I cried out, ‘She said that!’‘Who did?’‘My mother did! She said that.’Alini looked at me knowingly andsaid, ‘Your mother was a cleverwoman. She knew what she talkingabout.’ He held me tightly by myshoulders and murmured, ‘Thinkabout it, Simora – think about it veryseriously.’Sometimes, goaded by Kana’s taunts,I would launch myself at him inconsuming rage. These encounterswere passionate and in real earnest. Iwould have injured Kana if I hadpossessed the strength or the means.
  • Usually, in spite of Kana’s greatersize, he had to exert all his strength tohe subdue me. Even when I finallyhad to surrender to his superiorstrength, I tried by all means not tolet him see me cry. At least I usuallyhad that satisfaction.After an encounter, the passion wouldrecede. For the next few days wewould co-operate in play and in thehousehold chores, or cheerfullycollaborate in teasing Alini. However,as inevitably as thunder followslightning, the tension would build upagain. The truth was that we werenever reconciled on these issues. Theyalways lay in wait, submerged likecrocodiles under the waters of ourchildhood, primed to appear in shorttime from below the depths. Then,when they thrashed their way to thesurface, they swept us away in thetumult of their ferocity.
  • I don’t say that it was always Kana’sfault. In fact, I must admit that I alsoplayed my part in the disagreementsand contests that came between us.Perhaps, in one sense I was moreculpable. I mean that having the leastto gain, it was in my best interests toavoid these tussles - and yet I wouldalmost always rise to the baitwhenever it presented itself. Perhapssome people have an instinct to findout just how near the brink they canwalk. Perhaps they are driven tochallenge their fates. Was that true ofme as a child? Is it still true?Four: StalkingNow the Coalition of the South wasformed. Under the leadership ofKolile, later known as the GreatShepherd, the armed forces of thecoalition intervened in the
  • destructive, internecine strugglesbetween the states of the north. Sobegan the War of Restitution, whichaimed to end forever the exploitationof humans by fellow humans and toallow the regeneration of the naturalenvironment, which had been sogrievously damaged by the greed ofthe northerners. (From ‘TheAuthorised History of Society: theFounding Years, YS1 – YS15’: screen67, section 9)I was nine years old when my fatherwas appointed to the Assembly. It wasonly on the evening before he had toleave home to attend the first sessionthat he broke the news to us. Just aswe were finishing our meal hesuddenly said, out of the blue, ‘Boys,I’m leaving on a trip tomorrow.’ Myfather’s work took him away fromhome quite often so the news wasn’t a
  • surprise. However, his sombre lookand the hesitation in his voicesuggested that something wasdifferent this time. Suspiciously, Iasked, ‘Papa, will you be home by theweekend?’My father took a long time before hereplied. After exchanging glanceswith Alini, he said, ‘No. This time I’llbe gone for five or six weeks.’‘Why, Papa?’Kana cried out, ‘Five or six weeks,Papa – so long?’Alini broke in, saying, ‘Boys, yourfather has been appointed to theAssembly. You should be proud ofhim.’There was silence while we digestedthe news. Then Kana shouted, ‘Mamawas also a member of the Assembly.Look what happened to her!’This time, there was an even longersilence. Alini began to remove the
  • plates from the table, eyes down, insombre mood. Then my father said,‘Kana, Simora – I will be cominghome again. I’ll head for home assoon as the Assembly completes itssession.’ He tried to jolly us along,saying, ‘I promise you, I’ll take awhole week off when I get home.We’ll do a lot of things together. Hey,cheer up! We’ll spend a few days inthe Letibo Hills.’Kana’s face was swollen withapprehension as he muttered sullenly,‘She went away and now you’re alsogoing away!’Alini put his face around the scullerydoor, calling out, ‘Boys, your fatherhas a lot on his mind. The Assembly isan important place. You shouldn’t beworrying him with all these questions.What’s more, you should believe himwhen he says that he’ll be home assoon as he can.’
  • Kana said fiercely, ‘She wasn’t yourmother!’ Alini recoiled as if he hadbeen hit in his face and retreated.My father said, ‘Kana! That’senough!’ Kana was about to burst outwith a reply when my father said evenmore firmly, ‘I said that’s enough! Doyou hear me – enough!’There was an uncomfortable silencebefore my father said firmly, ‘Nowlisten to me! Listen carefully! I don’twant any more crying and outbursts.The fact is that I have been appointedto the Assembly. I didn’t ask for it butI can’t refuse it. Do you understandthat?’ We nodded sullenly and hecontinued, ‘It’s a five-yearappointment. I’ll be away from homethree times a year, each time forabout five or six weeks. I will alsohave to make shorter trips from timeto time. Do you understand?’ He said
  • it in a way that brooked no dissentand we subsided sullenly.Later, Kana muttered to me, ‘He’salso going to go away.’I just nodded in dumb agreement. Ihad exactly the same miserablethought.In fact, my father resigned from theAssembly after he had served forthree years. At that time, an air ofcrisis pervaded the house, making usnervous and apprehensive. Official-looking people came and went, set-faced and tight-lipped. There werelate-night consultations in my father’sstudy, with raised voices behind theclosed door. It was the only time thatAlini was ever short-tempered withus. In time, the crisis passed,outwardly at least. My fatherresumed his position as a scriber withthe People’s True InformationAuthority and Alini returned to even-
  • tempered affability. Life reverted tonormal. We were thankful.After that, my father intensified hisefforts to be with us when hisschedule permitted. Most of all, heenjoyed taking us on outings to awilderness park that spread over thehills about fifty kilometres from ourhome.Otto liked to hear about theseexpeditions because, he said, mystories reminded him of his ownchildhood. He used to nod inagreement when I told that I liked themornings and evenings best when thehills burned like the glow of fire as thelight of the sun touched the rockfaces.Otto’s eyes had a far-away look whilehe listened to me. He said softly,‘Burned like the glow of fire? Yes,that’s a good description. I know it.I’ve seen it many times.’
  • ‘You know the Letibo Hills?’‘No, not those hills, not those ones inparticular. But I’ve seen it manytimes, in many other places.’ Heshook his head briefly, focused on me,and said, ‘Yes, go on. Tell me aboutit.’‘You really want to hear about it?’‘Yes, of course.’ The corners of Otto’smouth turned down in a wry smile ashe said, ‘It brings back memories.’ Hewaved a hand. ‘Take us away fromthis place, Simora. Take us tosomewhere else.’I said, ‘In the evenings, standing on ahigh place, as the light faded, wewould strain our eyes to pick outfeatures of the landscape. It was if wedidn’t want to allow such atransformation to come to an end.’Otto murmured, ‘Yes, that’s it,exactly. You’ve said it well.’
  • Returning from these excursions withmy father driving the hovercar, theswish of the vehicle threw up a cloudof dust behind it, dust that penetratedand permeated the interior with acharacteristic acridity. I can recall thelights illuminating the road, the glowof the instrument panel on myfather’s face, the slight sway andquiver of the vehicle as it negotiatedbends and responded to unevenpatches in the road. When we arrivedat home, I was hardly aware of Alinicarrying me from the hovercar to myroom, where he removed my shoesand socks and put me to bed just as Iwas.Otto said, ‘Ah! Childhood memories!Do you know, when our memoriesstart to go, those remain the longest?’Often I am comfortable with Otto,almost companionable. There is noone else in this place who can make
  • me feel more at ease. Nevertheless,and paradoxically, there are timeswhen Otto can discomfort more thananyone else can. At these times, he notonly seems to be thinking far ahead ofme but also, which is morediscomfiting, to know things about methat a person in his situation shouldnot know.Otto looked at me lazily, amusementflickering in the back of his eyes. Hesaid, ‘Tell me about the paintings.’‘The paintings?’‘Yes. There were paintings, not so?’‘How do you know about them?’Otto paused and looked at meappraisingly before he replied easily,‘You referred to them once.’‘Did I?’‘Yes, you did.’I couldn’t remember ever havingdone so. It was another one of thoseoccasions when I wondered just how
  • much Otto really knew and how muchI never would know about what heknew. Nevertheless, I swallowed mysurprise and said, ‘Yes, at some of ourfavourite sites there were paintings inthe rock overhangs.’‘Clear images?’‘Well, a lot of them were faded butyou could make them out if the lightwas good and if you looked at themclosely.’Otto leaned back, closed his eyes, andsaid reflectively, ‘Yes, I can visualisethem clearly - elegant figures, long ofstride, full of grace and energy,delicate but vigorous, done in finebrush-strokes.’ He spoke the wordsslowly, dreamily, as if he had beentransported to the scene.I said, ‘Yes. That’s what they werelike.’‘Animals too..?’‘Yes. There were always animals.’
  • ‘Sometimes slender antelopes, leapingand running?’‘Yes, that’s right.’‘And sometimes great bulking shapes,dwarfing the human figures.’‘Yes. Great, powerful shapes.’‘And the greatest of all were the elandbulls – huge shoulders, massivechests?’‘Yes. They were everywhere.’Otto was still leaning back, eyesclosed. He murmured, ‘Yes, thepaintings! That’s how they are –exactly how they are.’ Then heopened his eyes and asked, ‘Did yousee how the humans are connected tothe animals?’‘Connected? How?’‘The humans are entranced? Not so?’‘Entranced?’‘Yes. Didn’t you see representationsof women sitting in circles, clappingtheir hands?’
  • ‘Come to think of it, I did.’‘And did you see groups of mendancing?’‘Dancing? Yes, that’s correct.’Otto said, ‘You saw how some of themen leaned on sticks or were almostdoubled over. Not so?’‘Yes, I did.’‘That’s the trance dance. Didn’t youknow? The power of the trancecontracted the men’s stomachmuscles, doubling them over, forcingthem to support themselves ondancing sticks, or inducing nosebleeds.’I said, ‘Yes. I remember. I saw thosethings in the paintings. But I didn’tunderstand what I was seeing.’‘You had the experience but youmissed the meaning, eh?’‘I guess so.’Otto continued, ‘The animals and theother objects in the paintings
  • represent dreams and visions - aboutrain, about sickness and healing,about success in the hunt, aboutconflicts and dangers – that’s whatthe paintings are about.’ Ottochuckled, rubbed his nose, and thensaid ironically, ‘They’re dangerousthings, those paintings.’‘Dangerous? Why?’‘Oh, come on, Simora! Surely yourealise that trances are highlyunsocial? Imagine the effects if fellowcitizens were transported into privateworlds regularly. Imagine if theycame back and reported what theyexperienced in the world of thespirits.’ Otto grinned, chuckledknowingly, and then laughed outright.I couldn’t help laughing as well.When he subsided, grinning broadly,Otto said, ‘Why, Simora, imagine thereports that would be written aboutyou if you disseminated tales about
  • dreams and visions!’ His eyes glintedmischievously.We sat there grinning at each otherbefore I asked, ‘How do you know somuch about ancient rock art?’‘Oh, I’ve studied the subject.’ Ottochuckled affably. ‘Come, come,Simora, don’t look so prim! Widenyour horizons! You know that hereyou can find anything on theaccessors. Nothing is proscribed here.Use it to your advantage.’It’s true that I still have not got usedto the fact that I can enquire into anysubject that takes my fancy - anysubject at all. I guess it will take timefor the old habit of cautious unease todissipate. More than that, it will besome time before I can discuss anyand all subjects as frankly as Ottodoes. Of course, he has been heremuch longer than I have.
  • During our expeditions with ourfather, we never spoke about thepaintings. We shared the unspokenapprehension that it was probablyimproper, at the least, to study them,and definitely illegal to try to extractfrom them the meanings that thoselost people expressed through theirart. We sensed that even the fact thatthe sites were so isolated would notprotect us from the charge ofreconstructing the Old Time.When I said that to Otto, he grinnedat me conspiratorially and observed,‘There are no limits to the Old Time.It reaches back further thanknowledge or imagination.’I said, ‘So it seems. The proscriptioneven applies to paintings that are soold that no one seems to know whoproduced them.’‘As you found out, I think?’
  • The remark took me aback. How didOtto know about the connectionbetween the paintings and whathappened to Kana and me during ourlast years at school – presuming thathe was referring to the tribunalhearing, which he must have been? Ishot a sharp look at Otto but he onlylooked back at me blandly, at ease,nibbling on a biscuit.I thought, Perhaps I did tell himabout the Young Pillar’s expeditionand its consequences. Perhaps I did.But, try as I might, I really couldn’tremember doing so. It was anotherone of those cases where I couldn’t besure whether Otto knew more than heshould, or whether I couldn’tremember everything that I had toldhim.Otto gave me another knowing lookand a half-smile, as if he could readwhat was going through my mind. He
  • said easily, ‘You were telling meabout the Letibo Hills.’I brought myself back to the presentand replied, ‘There’s nothing muchmore to tell.’‘You liked to explore them, didn’tyou?’‘That’s right. My father used to takeus climbing to the highest parts of therange. He loved everything aboutclimbing but most of all he loved to siton the peaks while we took in theviews all around us.’Otto said dreamily, ‘Yes, I know thefeeling. When I was young … Well, nomatter. I apologise for interrupting.Go on.’I continued, ‘Up on top, my fatherused to be more light-hearted than atany other time. His mood respondedto the air and space around us. Hewould congratulate us on ourmountaineering skills, relive the
  • hazards of the climb, and point outthe animals on the plains below –zebras, wildebeest, springboks –’‘Giraffes?’‘Yes, giraffes as well.’‘They have delicate eyes, giraffes. Idon’t know of anything more delicatein the whole of the animal kingdom.They peer at you gently, asking younot to make fun of the rest of theirshape.’ Otto leaned forward, trying toimitate a giraffe. He stretched hisneck, flickered his eyelids, andmunched imaginary vegetation withrotating movements of his jaw. For aman of his rotund bulk – not tomention his status - it was ludicrous.It was also touching. I laughed, asmuch out of surprise as out of sheeramusement. Otto resumed his normalposture, grinned self-consciously, andasked, ‘Don’t you think so?’
  • ‘Yes, I suppose so.’ I was stillchuckling. I got myself under controland said, ‘I’d never thought of it likethat, but – yes, I suppose so.’Otto was leaning back again with hiseyes closed. He said, ‘Next time yousee a giraffe, take a close look at it.You might have the same experience.’I said, ‘But surely not an experiencelike I’ve just had.’Otto gave me a slow grin and replied,‘No, I would suppose not. It’s one of akind.’ He leaned back again and, stillwith his eyes closed, said, ‘Don’t mindmy interruptions. Sometimes we needto escape from this place, even if onlyin memory. Please go on.’I continued with my story: ‘Then,gradually, we would all grow silent. Ifit was the last peak to be climbed, wewould remain there as long aspossible, taking in the changingcolours -- the ochre and flaxen shades
  • of the rocks and grasslands againstthe mauve of the hills in the east, andin the west the suffusion of orange asthe sun declined.’‘Yes, that’s the way it is. You’ve put itvery well, Simora, very well indeed.’Otto got to his feet lazily and ambledover to the dresser to pour more wine.Raising the bottle, he looked at mequizzically. I shook my head.When I remember those times in thewilderness with my father, I see us asif in a fixed image from a greatdistance. We are three small figureson a remote peak, made even tinier bythe immensity of the arch of the sky,back-grounded by the great expanseof jumbled rocks and muted colours.Now, at this distance, it’s difficult torecognise myself as one of thosefigures. Yet it was me, in that vastspace, in that vanished time.
  • Otto sat down, sipped at his wine,grunted in satisfaction, and asked,‘Your brother?’‘Kana? What about him?’‘Did he enjoy these expeditions?’‘At first he did. But after a while hegot to be impatient with climbing andrambling. He wanted more.’‘Ah! And then -?’‘He preferred to stalk animalsinstead. There were no predators inthe park, so he could do that.’‘What do you mean by “stalk”?’‘Kana played the role of a sort ofpredator. He tried to move in as closeas possible to animals while theygrazed.’‘Patience, subtlety, and guile – all theskills of the hunter. Yes?’‘Yes. Kana became very good at it.’‘What did you and your father dowhile your brother was stalking?’
  • ‘We stayed at a distance, watchinghim.’‘Did your father approve of yourbrother’s actions?’‘No, not really. My father thoughtthat crawling around near wildanimals could be dangerous. Heinsisted that Kana should only stalkanimals that were timid enough to fleeonce they sensed his presence.’‘Was your brother satisfied with thearrangement?’‘No, not at all. In fact, as he improvedhis technique, he wanted to try hisskill on a wider and more challengingvariety of animals.’‘Such as -?’‘Such as animals that might stand atbay when they detected him – animalslike oryxes, elands, even warthogs.’Otto whistled in surprise and raisedhis eyebrows. I continued, ‘But myfather wouldn’t allow that. He said it
  • was too dangerous. He also said thatsuch predatory practices wereunsocial.’Otto said urbanely, ‘Quite so.’ Icouldn’t make out whether he wasbeing ironic or not. He raised his glassagainst the light and looked at itreflectively before he asked, ‘Didanyone else ever accompany you onthese expeditions?’‘No. Never.’Otto pursed his lips and rubbed hischin. Then he asked abruptly, ‘Didyour father remarry?’‘No.’Otto said, ‘Ah! I see!’ For a moment,I thought that I heard regret in hisvoice. However, I must have beenmistaken because there was no reasonwhy Otto would be interested in thematter.I said, ‘He was married to mymother.’
  • ‘True. But when someone goes away–’‘Yes?’‘Well, officially, that’s the end of theliaison. According to law, the pairingis dissolved.’‘That wasn’t the way my father sawit.’Otto rubbed his chin and murmured,‘Ah! I see! Public rules and privatemorality!’ Again, he soundedregretful. Again, I thought that I wasmistaken. After a few seconds, Ottosaid, ‘Pardon my asking, but did yourfather ever have a relationship with awoman?’ He coughed, lookingembarrassed. ‘I mean, a specialwoman friend, someone – well, youknow –’ His voice trailed off and hecoughed again.Although I couldn’t understand whyOtto was interested in the matter,there was no reason why I shouldn’t
  • state the facts, so I told him, ‘As far asI know, my father never had arelationship with any woman besidesmy mother.’‘None at all?’‘Well, I can’t speak for what he did ordidn’t do when he was away fromhome. That was his private business.But I can say for certain that the onlywomen he brought to the house werethere on business. In fact, he went outof his way to make that absolutelyclear.’ Otto raised his eyebrowsenquiringly as if he wanted to hearmore. I said, ‘He didn’t avoid women.He had both male and female friends.But looking back on it, I have thefeeling that after my mother left healways kept a distance in hisrelationships with women.’‘Distance?’‘Well, what I mean is – it’s hard toexplain – it was if he didn’t want to
  • allow himself to get too close to any ofthe women that he knew. Perhaps hewas afraid to get too close, perhaps itwas the memory of my mother – Ireally don’t know.’Otto merely replied, ‘Ah! I see.’When we were rambling in the LetiboHills, my father opened up and spokeabout our mother more frankly thanhe ever did at home. He talked abouthow he and our mother met - ‘Ithought she was the most beautifulwoman I had ever seen’, he saidsimply. He told us how they hadestablished a trial liaison and howlater they had applied to be ratified asa formal pairing. It was a relationshipsuch as hundreds of thousands ofothers, even millions of others, musthave experienced and in the greatscheme of things there was nothingspecial about it. It was only special tothem and to us.
  • However, in spite of our closeness onthese occasions, my father wouldnever speak about why she wentaway. No matter how much wepressed him, he would only say, ‘Yourmother always felt deeply for you. Shedidn’t leave because of anything thatyou did, or anything that I did – onthe contrary, in fact. She would havestayed forever, if she could have.’ Hewould never say more. He alwaysshook his head and grimaced when weraised the matter, always remindingme of a wounded animal trying todislodge a painful dart.Five: reconstructing the past?The educational project of Society isbased on the principle that educationis a social enterprise in which Society,through its collective efforts, provides
  • individuals with advantages that theycannot personally attain.(Extract from the ‘EducationalMandate of Society – Appendix 5 tothe Citizens’ Charter’, as amended bythe Eighth Annual Gathering of theAssembly, AS8 – 32.4)By the time I started school, I waseven more resolute in mydetermination to outshine Kanaacademically. In fact, I began to giveso much time to my schoolwork thatAlini and my father would sometimesforce me to take a break.In my third year, I was already aregular user of the adult electronicbank while most of my schoolmateswere still only hooked up to the junioraccessor collections. I also did a lot ofgeneral reading and accessorlistening, hooking in to whatever wasavailable, sometimes exhausting
  • myself in my determination tounderstand subjects that should havebeen too difficult for someone of myage. Not surprisingly, the results ofthe Junior Transit examinationshowed that I had an intellectualdevelopment three years above theaverage. It gave me a lot ofsatisfaction when I was placed in anacademic acceleration programbecause, for the first time, I had gotmy nose ahead of Kana.In the acceleration program wesometimes encountered material fromthe Old Time. To me, it looked as if itwas fed to us sparingly, as if we wereanimals in an experimental project.That’s a crude image, but, lookingback, that is the way that I thinkabout it. It really did look as ifsomeone, somewhere was monitoringand testing our reactions to thematerial. At one time, we would see
  • only a short clip. Later, we would seethe same clip embedded in a largerone. Sometimes we would see earliermaterial that had been re-arranged. Itwas easy to infer that somebody,somewhere, had control of a largestock of materials from the past andthat the same somebody was makingdecisions about what should beavailable, when, and to whom.Once, I asked Alini, ‘Do you have anydocuments from the Old Time?’Alini rocked back as if he had walkedinto a hurtling rock and growled,‘What? I beg your pardon!’‘Do you have materials from the OldTime?’Alini rubbed his forehead and closedhis eyes for a long time. Then helooked at me narrowly and grunted,‘There are none.’‘Don’t you have any?’
  • Alini continued to look at me in thesame way before he said severely, ‘Itis not to be spoken of. Don’t you knowthat?’‘Oh, Alini, you’re so old that youmust have some.’‘What are you talking about?’‘Well, maybe some books, or letters,or pages from newspapers.’‘Books? Newspapers? Who told youabout those things?’‘They show us things from the OldTime in the accelerated program.That’s where I see them.’‘Is that what happens in educationnowadays?’ Alini sat down, rested hischin on his folded hands, and lookedme in the eye. He said firmly, ‘Forgetabout it! Forget about it completely!’‘But, Alini –’‘No buts! I said forget about it!’ Hepointed a finger at me. ‘Do youseriously think that I would keep
  • things like that? Don’t you know thelaw? Do you think I want to beaccused of reconstructing the past? Inany case, law or no law, it’s myopinion that these things are over anddone with. Finished! Behind us!’ Heleaned forward, let out his breath,and snorted, ‘Documents from thepast! Ha!’ He thumped the table. ‘Idon’t ever want to hear you talkingabout these things again! Do you hearme? Never again!’‘I’m sorry, Alini. I didn’t mean to -’‘Well, in future you’d better thinkbefore you speak.’ Alini sighed,collected himself, and looked at mesadly. He said, ‘It’s this stubbornstreak of yours, Simora. It will getyou in trouble one day, you mark mywords.’That was that. After experiencingAlini’s reaction, I certainly didn’tintend to broach the subject with my
  • father. Nevertheless, that didn’tchange what I knew, and it didn’tchange my desire to know more.True to his early ambition, Kanadeveloped an interest in space traveland extraterrestrial matters,encouraged by the fact that, afteryears of frozen budgets and afterdecades in limbo, the spaceexploration program was beingrevived. This was a major reversal ofpolicy because during theReconstruction period spaceexploration was discredited as ameans of social control in the OldTime. Back then, so the official linewent, it was employed to dazzle theinhabitants of the wealthy countrieswith evidence of the superiority oftheir system. At the same time, ithelped to keep the poorer countries intheir place by continually confrontingthem with the evidence of their
  • ignorance and inferiority. Thespacecrafts orbited above, sendingback panoramic images. There wasthe Earth, laid out for delectation as acolourful feast for the eyes and as agreat boost to pride. What the imagesdidn’t show was that hundreds ofmillions of people barely eked outlivings on the Earth’s surface,suffering grinding poverty andoppression. They lived in filth,hunger, and disease, without decentshelter and lacking even the basicamenities such as clean water,sanitation, and electricity. The grandscale of the panorama convenientlyobscured them. That, we were told,was the worst aspect of the spaceprogram during the Old Time – it didnothing at all to alleviate any of themany ills that afflicted humansocieties. In fact, if anything it madethem worse. And that was why it was
  • discredited during the early days,while Society was in itsReconstruction phase.The first sign of a change in policycame during the third year of ouracceleration program, when we wereallowed to access recordings of thevoices of some of the space-workers ofthe Old Time. Although thetechnology was advanced for the time,the attitudes expressed by those earlyspace pioneers were strangelyprimitive. As they viewed the brightEarth spinning against the depths ofspace, they referred quaintly tosomething called a god – whateverthat was. The voices on thoseantiquated sound systems crackledtinnily on our accessors while weheard them say, ‘Oh god what aview’, or ‘I feel closer than ever togod up here’. Once, searching theaccessor files, I came across a
  • recording that I hadn’t heard before.The crackling voice seemed to bequoting from some source, saying,‘God saw all that he had made, and itwas very good. And there was eveningand there was morning –’A voice broke in, ‘Hey, Chuck!Mission control here. That’s the sixthday, isn’t it?’The first voice said, ‘Commander tomission control – you bet! Can’t catchyou out, can I? But listen to how itcontinues: Thus the heavens and theearth were completed in all their vastarray.’The second voice replied, ‘Missioncontrol to forerunner one commander– yeah, that’s very good – all theirvast array, eh? Yeah, that’s verygood. Hey, what a view you guys musthave. What a great experience.’ Thevoice faded away.
  • When I tried to call up the recordinga few days later, I couldn’t find it.The empty file just hissed bleakly likeair escaping from a punctured tyre.I wondered about the characteristicsof this mysterious ‘god’. What didthose space-workers know aboutsomeone or something that createdeverything? Anyway, what couldthose simple creatures of the OldTime know that we didn’t know?Even as I dismissed it as just anotherprimitive belief, I became more andmore curious. At the very least, Iwanted to know what they believed,and why. I wanted to know theirstory.One day, I screwed up courage andasked my father, ‘What is god?’Papa sat back, looking surprised. Herubbed his cheek and then asked mebrusquely, ‘God, eh? Where did youhear about god?’
  • ‘On the recordings of old spaceexpeditions.’He looked at me thoughtfully and saidcautiously, ‘I don’t know much aboutit. But I suppose that they believedthat god was a very powerful being.’‘How powerful, Papa?’My father grunted, spread his hands,and said, ‘Now look here, Simora, Idon’t know any more about thematter than you do. I’m just tellingyou what I’ve heard from time totime.’‘Yes, Papa, I understand. But howpowerful do you think god was?’‘All-powerful, I would think. But let’snot -’‘Do you think that this god wasespecially for them, Papa?’My father looked at me narrowly andput up his hands as if to say ‘Enough’.Then he relented and asked,‘Especially for whom?’
  • ‘Especially for the people who workedon the space exploration program andfor the people who supported them?Especially for all the rich oppressorsof the Old Time?’My father looked at me even morethoughtfully and replied slowly,‘Well, I suppose it’s possible.’‘But, Papa, what about all the poorand oppressed people? The world wasfull of them in the Old Time.’‘What about them?’‘Didn’t they also have a god?’My father spread his hands again,shrugged, and said with more than ahint of impatience, ‘I told you that Idon’t know. Perhaps there was onlyone god. Perhaps they all had thesame god.’‘No, Papa, I don’t think so.’‘Why not?’‘If there was only one god then therewouldn’t have been so many poor and
  • oppressed people. An all-powerfulsomething wouldn’t have allowed that– not if it was for everyone.’My father replied, ‘Why should thatbe true? After all, as we know fromthe Old Time, power isn’t alwaysassociated with goodwill.’We sat there thoughtfully for a whilebefore I asked, ‘in any case, Papa,why would there be a god of the poorand the weak?’My father rubbed his cheek againbefore he responded, ‘Forconsolation, perhaps.’ He got up, puta hand on my shoulder, and said,‘That’s enough idle speculation,Simora. We’ve got things to do. Inany case, you’d better be carefulwhere you ask questions like this.Don’t forget that this god-beingcomes from the Old Time. You knowas well as I do that we’re not allowedto talk about these things.’ Then he
  • added, ‘But fortunately, even if we doneed consoling from time to time, wehave Society, our regulations, and ourfellow citizens, so we have no need tocreate a god of any sort.’ He gave mean ironic look.‘Yes, Papa, I’ll remember that.’‘Yes, Simora, you do that! Also,remember that you’re on verydangerous ground.’‘But, Papa –’My father’s tone sharpened: ‘Simora!I’m warning you - leave these thingsalone! If you don’t, you’ll get into asituation where no one, me included,will be able to help you. Leave thesethings alone! Do you understand?’‘Yes, Papa, I understand.’For a long time after that, I thoughtabout what my father said about agod for consolation. Most of the time,it didn’t make sense. But then,sometimes, it almost did.
  • Occasionally, when I felt the achingvoid that had begun when my motherwent away, I wished that I could alsohave this consolation-god - if that waswhat it was.The first space launches took placewhen we were in higher elementaryschool. Now we could see new imagesof the Earth, showing the green-blueglobe wheeling its way through space.However, clear as the images were,the Protected Territories wereblanked out just as they were on themaps. Although I believed the officialaccount that these territories wereuninhabited, that they were placesgiven over to environmentalrestoration and to ecological studies, Iwas still curious about them and theblanking-out only increased mycuriosity.Kana badgered my father until hewas given money to buy a small but
  • powerful electro-telescope with whichhe studied human-made objects inspace. Although it kept him busy andout of my way, he annoyed me byassuming that others shared hisinterest in things that whirled aroundin space. For instance, I canremember how, on a lazy afternoonafter school when we were lolling onthe terrace, Kana suddenly snappedhis fingers and announced, ‘Kwambishould be down by now.’‘What?’‘Citizen Kwambi. Luzile Kwambi. Isaid that he should be down by now.’I responded irritably, ‘Down fromwhere?’‘He’s been repairing that loose solarpanel on RB133. You know, the onethat’s doing experimental work onenergy storage.’I decided to test Kana by asking,‘Does Kwambi know about god?’
  • ‘What?’‘Does he know about god?’‘What are you talking about?’‘Well, the spacemen from the OldTime knew about god, so I thoughtmaybe Kwambi also knows about it.’Kana’s eyes narrowed. He put out hischin, poked a finger at me, and askedbelligerently, ‘Are you trying toannoy me?’‘No! It’s a serious question.’Kana replied fiercely, ‘Because if youare, you’d better watch out.’Still keeping my cool, I said, ‘Ithought that people like Kwambiwould know at least as much as theOld Time space-workers.’Kana snorted: ‘Huh! You’d better notbe so free with questions and remarksabout the Old Time. People aretalking about you, you know.’‘Oh? Who’s talking about me?’
  • Kana said, ‘Just people. Plenty ofpeople, in fact! You’d better watchyourself.’ He snorted again andwalked away.In his pre-final year, Kana won theprestigious ‘Shooting Star’ award foryoung scientists. It was a clearindication of where his career washeading. At about the same time, Ibecame interested in urban sociologyand joined a student club. Duringweekends we toured areas of the city,looking at settlement patterns, talkingto members of residents’ associationsas well as to people involved in thecity administration.Even on these heavily chaperonedexcursions, I sometimes stumbledacross something from the Old Timethat roused my curiosity. Once wecame across old brickwork while thecommissar of the residents’association was showing us around
  • the site of a new housing project. Shestopped and said, ‘The work has gotbehind schedule. The builders arehaving trouble with that old site overthere.’Someone asked, ‘Why?’The commissar said, ‘The oldfoundations are too deep and solid.They tell me that it’s like trying toextract an old back tooth.’When some of us walked over to havea look, the commissar stayed rightthere with us. The builders hadexcavated a trench more than twometres deep and as we peered into it,someone asked, ‘Are those thefoundations?’The commissar said, ‘Yes. You cansee how thick they are. They saythey’ll have to use explosives to loosenthem.’The brickwork was about fifteen rowsdeep and about four bricks thick,
  • with the top row just below thesurface.I leaned over to pick up a small pieceof brick that had broken away fromthe foundations but the commissarstopped me by putting her foot overit. There was an embarrassed silence.As much to smooth over the incidentas for any other reason, I asked,‘What’s holding the bricks together?’The commissar said, ‘It’s cement.’Someone sniggered: ‘Cement! That’sprimitive.’The commissar was getting uneasy.She said in a brusque, shepherdingtone, ‘Well, we’d better be getting onwith our tour.’ My fellow studentsmoved off with her but I stayedbehind. As I stooped down to lookmore closely at the brickwork, a smallirregularity caught my eye. It was thedelicate imprint of a leaf that hadbeen caught in the cement while it
  • was being mixed. I thought, Was thewind blowing when the buildersmixed the cement? How did they mixit, by hand or by machine? I couldalmost visualise the vanishedbricklayer bending to the task, abrick in one hand and a trowel in theother, probably dressed in a baggyoverall and wearing a stained felt hat,just as I once saw it in a video clipfrom the Old Time. I could almosthear the sharp clink-clinking as thehandle of the trowel tapped on thebrick to settle it into place.The commissar walked over to meand asked stiffly, ‘What are youlooking at, citizen-student?’‘I’m looking at the imprint of theleaf.’ I pointed to the place.‘What about it?’‘Oh, madam commissar, it’s nothingspecial! It just looks interesting.’
  • The commissar sniffed and saidsuspiciously ‘You seem to beinterested in old remains.’She looked at me so narrowly that awarning bell began to ring. I back-pedalled from the matter and asked,‘Are they thinking about preservingit?’ Even as I asked the question, Ihad the sense that I was walking toonear the edge.‘Preserve it! Don’t be foolish! It’sfrom the Old Time. It should bedestroyed.’ She moved closer to meand said icily, ‘By this time tomorrow,it will be gone. Then the builders canget on with their work.’ She looked atme even more narrowly and said, ‘Wecan’t allow the Old Time to interferewith reconstruction, can we, citizen-student?’ I caught her glancing at mespeculatively as she led me away,holding my arm firmly. A fewminutes later, in the hoverbus, I
  • noticed that she was talking quietlyinto a voicerec. She glanced at meonce or twice while she doing so and Iwondered what she saying.As we grew up, Alini kept a watchfuleye over us, making sure that we keptto regular schedules, especially onweekdays. Bedtimes were strictlyobserved, even when we were seniorsat school. This didn’t worry mebecause I’ve always preferred earlynights and early mornings. However,it was just the opposite for Kanabecause the schedule interfered withhis passion for gazing through histelescope. Nevertheless, no matterhow much Kana protested, Alini wasalways adamant that bed-times wouldbe strictly observed, and that wasthat.Soon it caused a serious conflictbetween Kana and Alini. When Kanamade his first serious protest, Alini
  • was implacable as always, saying, ‘No,there’ll be no extension of bedtime.You know the rules as well as I do,isn’t it?’Kana pleaded with him: ‘It’s a clearnight, Alini. I won’t get a betterchance.’Although there was more of this, itended predictably with Aliniadamantly refusing to give in andKana sulking. During the encounter, Ihad been sitting at an accessor,preparing an assignment for school.After a few minutes of silence, Kanasuddenly turned on me and saidangrily, ‘You could have supportedme.’Trying to concentrate on my work, Ijust grunted, ‘Huh? Support you inwhat?’Kana snorted and leaned over toswitch off the accessor but I caughthis hand just in time. ‘Hey, quit that,
  • man! What are you doing? I’mworking here!’‘And I’m talking to you!’ He glared atme but moved away. I was relievedthat it hadn’t come to a tussle. Iwasn’t in the mood for it and he wasstronger than me – a lot stronger, infact. I swivelled around to face himand asked, ‘What’s bugging you,Kana?’‘You are!’‘Me?’‘Yes, you! Don’t look so surprised,mister goody-goody Simora! Younever support me. Never!’ Heslammed a fist against the wall.I made an effort to be patient becauseI really didn’t want to get into aquarrel with Kana. I said, ‘Look,Kana, I was just sitting here gettingon with my work when you and Alinistarted arguing. It was none of mybusiness.’
  • ‘That’s the trouble!’‘What do you mean?’‘You don’t get involved. You neversupport me.’‘That’s not –’‘It’s true all right! I’m your brother.You owe it to me.’Still trying to be reasonable, Iresponded, ‘Look, I’m sorry abouthow you feel. I would have saidsomething if I thought you wanted meto intervene. But it wouldn’t havemade a difference, in any case.’Kana pointed his finger and jutted hischin at me while he growled, ‘At leastit would have shown whose sideyou’re on.’‘Whose side I’m on? I guess I’m noton anyone’s side.’‘I’m your brother!’‘Well, yes ... Look, Kana, for me it’snot a matter of choosing sides. It’syou and Alini arguing about bedtime.
  • It’s between the two of you. It’s notsomething I have to take sides on.’‘But I lost!’‘Well, what do you expect? If you’regoing to -’ I checked myself and said,‘You know the rules. You know thatPapa says no exceptions.’ Kanasnorted. We looked at each othersquarely for a moment before I said,‘You’re not being fair on Alini.’‘Huh? Not fair? How come?’‘If he bends the rules and Papa findsout - which he will - then Alini will bein trouble. That’s what I mean.’‘So you’re on their side?’‘I told you -’ I sighed and tried a newtack: ‘I think it’s a reasonable rule. Iwas reading something the other day,about getting enough sleep and -’‘Reasonable for you, maybe! All youdo is sit at that damn accessor dayand night.’ He put his face close to
  • mine and said shrilly, ‘You knowwhat they say about you?’I put my hands up to ward off whatwas coming, trying to keep my voicecalm. ‘Kana, let’s not get into aslanging match. Okay?’‘Slanging match? I could do morethan just slang you!’ His eyes weregleaming and his mouth was clenched.I thought that he was going to grabhold of me so I pulled a chair betweenus while saying, ‘Don’t do it! It won’tdo either of us any good.’ I was stilltrying to keep calm, trying not toprovoke him. Kana glared into myface before he blinked and grunted,‘Coward!’ He turned on his heels andleft the room. But almost immediatelyhe put his face around the door andsnarled, ‘I’ll tell you what they sayabout you, even though you don’twant to hear it. They say that youhaven’t got a life. They say that
  • you’re a cold fish.’ He snorted anddisappeared.I sat there, thinking, What was thatabout? Was it really a dispute aboutbedtime rules? I sensed that it wasabout a lot more than that - but aboutwhat, exactly? I also sensed thatwhatever it was really about, wouldbe between us for a long time.However, back then I never knew forjust how long and just how deep theill-feeling would stretch.Kana was more socially active than Iwas, with a wide circle of friends andacquaintances. But Kana’sfriendships were never deep or lastingbecause it looked as if what he wasreally looking for was appreciation ofhis talents, a cheering section toconfirm him in what he knew abouthis abilities – or thought that he knew.When Alini told Kana that his friendswere interchangeable and disposable,
  • Kana just laughed it off andshrugged, saying lightly, ‘Hey, sowhat? I like a lot of friends. I make itmy business to get on well withpeople. I don’t mooch around lookingmelancholy and waiting for the oneand only right friend to find me likeSimora does. There’s no shortage ofpeople who appreciate what I’ve got.’Kana became involved in sexualrelationships before he was fifteenyears of age. This was another issuebetween him and Alini, because Alinirefused to give permission for Kana’sgirlfriends to sleep over in Kana’sroom. Papa agreed with Alini, sayingthat it would disrupt the householdroutine. However, I sensed that therewas more to it than that; my intuitionwas that both my father and Alinididn’t want to have a female presencein the house, no matter for how briefa time.
  • Kana cajoled, pleaded, sulked andraged. To get his way, he evenappealed to me for support, saying,‘Come on, Simora, you can’t say thisdoesn’t affect you. You can’t justwalk out on this one.’‘Actually, Kana, I don’t care much,either way.’Kana put his face against mine andsnarled, ‘I should have expected it.’‘Meaning..?’‘Meaning that you’re not man enoughto go with girls! Meaning maybeyou’re not equipped for it.’This was a decidedly unsocial opinion.In fact, it was so unsocial that it leftme dumbfounded. While I just stoodthere looking at him – open-mouthedand wide-eyed or something similar, Iguess - Kana seemed surprised by hisown vehemence. He dropped his eyesand bit his lips before he recovered
  • his composure. Then, when he lookedat me, his eyes were bright and hard.I managed to mutter feebly, ‘Well, Ilike them.’‘You like them? Girls?’‘Sure I do! Why not?’Kana gave a short laugh. ‘Ha! Butthere’s liking and then there’s realliking.’‘I don’t follow your meaning.’‘Of course you don’t! That’s thepoint, isn’t it? Real liking is going tobed with a girl. It means knowing howto satisfy a girl. It means striking up aliaison. That’s real liking!’ Kanasneered at me. ‘You’re pathetic,Simora! You don’t know anythingabout it, do you? You don’t have eventhe vaguest idea what I’m talkingabout.’‘Sure I do!’‘Have you done it? Have you eventried to do it?’
  • ‘Well, no, but -’‘That’s what I mean. You’re reallypathetic.’ He snapped his fingers.‘Pathetic!’My blood was rising and I saidheatedly, ‘I’ll tell what I do know - Ilike things the way they are in thishouse. You understand that? Youwant me to take sides? Well, now I’mtelling you that I like things just theway they are.’ I was angry enough tomove forward towards Kana, whowas so surprised that he took a stepbackwards before he stood hisground. I said, ‘I’m saying that I likeit this way! I’m saying I want to keepit this way. And I’m saying I won’t beintimidated. You hear me?’Kana raised his fists, clenching themtight. Then his eyes flickered and helowered his hands, showing that hewasn’t prepared to fully enter theterritory of unsocialness – not yet,
  • anyway, even although his eyes toldme that he was tempted. However, hewent as far as to shove a hand into myshoulder, pinning me against the wall.Anger flamed deep within me and Istruck back with a blow that I hadbeen keeping in reserve, cultivating itin its dark recess, ready to beunleashed on just such an occasion. Icried out, ‘Don’t take it out on mebecause you weren’t Mama’sfavourite.’‘What? What are you saying?’‘You heard me, Kana! You heard meclearly! I said, Don’t take it out on mebecause you weren’t Mama’sfavourite.’Kana’s eyes went yellow and hisbreathing got heavier. We stoodthere, eye to eye, balanced on thebrink of territory that neither wasprepared to enter yet. Then hedropped his gaze and loosed his grip
  • as if he was sagging inward. I hadstruck him a heavy blow and Irejoiced at having done so. Kanamuttered something that I couldn’tcatch, turned abruptly, and left theroom.Later, I cursed myself for having saidthat to Kana. I had struck a tellingblow in my defence but at the sametime I had betrayed Alini’s trust. I feltas if the words had turned to ashes inmy mouth.What did I really feel about girls atthat time? Ambiguous, I guess. On theone hand, I felt comfortable andcompanionable with them most of thetime. On the other hand, girls weredifferent enough for there always tobe an underlying swell of unease andself-consciousness when I was withthem. It was like walking on a levelpiece of savannah on a calm andsunlit day while suspecting uneasily –
  • but not really knowing whether it wasso -- that quicksand lay just aheadunder the smiling surface of thegolden, waving grass.Kana was so popular that it seemedthat he could have almost any girlwho he wanted. Yet, ironically, he didnot manage to keep Arila, the girl hewanted most of all.When I told Fatima about the earlyrelationship between Kana and Arila,she gave a knowing smile and said,‘Your brother was just being a typicalman. He wanted her because hecouldn’t have her.’I asked, ‘You think that men are likethat? Really?’Fatima gave me a pitying look, saying,‘Oh, Simora, you can be so naïve.’I asked, ‘Is that what they teach youin the companions’ training courses?’Fatima gave me the same look. Itlooked like she was going to snort
  • before she managed to moderate itinto a companion-like sniff of disbeliefwhile he cried out, ‘Simora, I’mtelling you, it’s the way men are. It’sabsolutely, one hundred per centnormal behaviour for men. Whydon’t you see it?’I replied, ‘Because when I likesomeone, I like them irrespective ofwhether or not I can have them.’Fatima gave a short laugh: ‘Oh, yes!For sure! Do you really believe that?’‘Yes, I do.’‘Well, you might believe it, but you’reonly fooling yourself.’I did think about it. The problem wasthat the more I thought, the morecomplex the issue became. I reviewedmy relationship with Mary from anew angle. Was I attracted to herbecause she seemed to beunattainable? Perhaps that was true.But, on the other hand, I did attain
  • her, didn’t I? True – to some extent,anyway - but perhaps that didn’tinvalidate the general principle onwhich I had acted. Also, perhaps withthe attainment of my goal, familiaritywould have set in, if they hadn’t comebetween us... I couldn’t follow thistrain of thought for long. It was toopainful.I considered the possibility that mycuriosity – for instance, my desire toknow about the Old Time - wasanother instance of my hankeringafter the unattainable. Perhaps it was.Perhaps it wasn’t. It’s a complexmatter and I can never reach a firmconclusion.I was with Kana and Arila on the lastoccasion before they broke up and Isecretly rejoiced to see Kana putdown so firmly. However, I wouldn’thave been so satisfied if I could have
  • foreseen the train of events thatfollowed.That day, Arila came around to ourhouse to discuss a school project withKana. I liked being around Arila so Imade sure that I was included in theaftermath of the discussion byoffering to serve refreshments. Arilawas popular with just abouteveryone: she was vivacious, easy toget on with, and deceptively light-hearted. I say ‘deceptive’ because shewas in fact a high achiever. Herlightness of spirit and easy sociabilityconcealed the fact that she workedlong and hard at her studies.I served the refreshments to Arila andKana, who were sitting together onthe recliner, holding hands. It was ahot and dry afternoon but Arilalooked cool and light in one of thebright caftans that she favoured. Herhair was stretched back in braided
  • plaits that set off the delicate shape ofher face and her eyes glowed with thereflection of the yellow-gold colour ofthe dress material.I asked, ‘How’s the project going?’Arila wrinkled her nose in a so-soexpression but Kana saidemphatically, ‘It’s going just fine!’ Hegave Arila a hard look and said, ‘Weonly have to settle the question of thespecifications for the launch pad.When that’s done, we can startwriting it up.’Arila removed her hand and shiftedaway from him, saying, ‘Not so fast,citizen Kana. We agreed to look at thesocial impacts in more detail at ournext meeting. Remember?’Kana said dismissively, ‘Oh, come onArila, that was another one ofEnudu’s half-baked ideas. He wasmaking a fuss as usual. Leave it to me.I’ll handle it.’
  • Arila pursed her lips and looked athim narrowly while she shifted away,saying firmly, ‘It was also mysuggestion. Have you forgotten?’Kana reached over and ran the backof his hand across her cheek, sayingdismissively, ‘Yes, yes, I know that.But you do agree with me, don’t you?Anyway, it’s not a big deal.’Arila removed his hand and plonkedit by his side, asking firmly, ‘What isa big deal, then? Whatever Kana says- is that a big deal?’I applauded her silently. Aloud, Iasked, ‘So your team hasn’t reachedagreement?’‘Of course we have!’ said Kana. ‘Wejust have to settle a few small details,that’s all.’Arila said firmly, ‘It’s not just a fewsmall details, mister Kana. You knowthat.’ She turned to face himsquarely. ‘Why do you have to make
  • light of anything that doesn’t fall inwith your plans? That’s not co-operative behaviour.’ Her facetightened and her eyes took on asteely look. I thought, Oh-oh, treadcarefully here. However, Kana justbarrelled his way ahead, saying, ‘Ialways like co-operating with you.’ Hemoved closer, trying to put his armaround Arila, saying, ‘We can workthis out together. The others willfollow our lead. Here’s what we haveto do --’Looking affronted, Arila held up herhands as a barrier between them,stating firmly, ‘‘No! Don’t trivialiseit!’ And don’t give me “we” when youmean “Kana”. I’m part of the projectgroup, not a Kana groupie.’Kana just grinned confidently andreplied, ‘Oh, come on, don’t let a littlething like this come between us.’
  • Things went on like this for a fewminutes more, with Kana trying tosweet-talk his way around Arila whileshe looked more and more annoyed.It ended when Arila got up, smootheddown her caftan, and said, ‘We’re notgetting anywhere, are we? Anyway,I’ve got to go. I’ll see you around.’Although Kana’s eyes flickered insurprise and his face went taut, hecaught her hand and said smoothly,‘All right, no problem! I’ll see you onFriday.’Arila stopped and looked straight athim. ‘Friday? Where?’Kana replied, ‘We’re going to thetracer show at the Pioneers Club onFriday evening. Remember?’Arila shook off his hand and put herhands on her hips as she replied in aput-down tone, ‘I didn’t know that wehad a date.’
  • ‘But we always go…’ Kana trailed offas Arila continued to look him in theeye. Then he swallowed hard andasked, ‘Shall we go to the tracer showon Friday? Together?’ He asked thequestion civilly but his face was eventauter and one of his eyelids wastwitching.Arila replied frostily, ‘Perhaps, if I’mnot busy with anything else. I’ll thinkabout it.’ She waved towards us, justa light flutter of the hand, and wasgone.Kana stood in the middle of the roomwith a face like thunder, mutteringhard words under his breath beforehe stalked out of the room. I called tohis retreating back, ‘Arila looks reallypretty when she’s angry, doesn’t she?’Although Kana didn’t reply, I knewthat he had heard me.When Arila ended their liaison notlong after that, the break-up affected
  • Kana badly. He slumped around thehouse looking morose and withdrawn,growling at anyone who approachedhim. Kana had gone through quite afew liaison break-ups but this was thefirst time that I ever saw himbothered by one. It was quite arevelation.As things turned out, that wasn’t theend of the matter – not by a long shot.Some time later, Kana went afterwhat he couldn’t have – namely, Arila– and he went after it in a shatteringway. However, that episode belongs toanother phase of my life so I’ll scribeabout it later.Six: Who brought the charge againstyou?At its founding gathering, theAssembly resolved that Year One ofSociety marked the end of the period
  • of exploitation of humans by human,and of the human-made degenerationof the natural environment. Notingthat citizens of Society should neveragain be infected with the destructiveideology of greed, rapacity, andexploitation that characterised theperiod before the War of Restitution,the gathering resolved that it wouldbe illegal for to attempt anyreconstruction or recovery of anyaspect whatsoever of the Old Time.(From ‘The Authorised History ofSociety: the Founding Years, YS1 –YS15’: screen 72, section 9)Alini once told us a fanciful storyabout a man who killed a butterflyand by doing so significantly changedthe course of the future, producingeffects that were visible more than amillion years later. As far as I know, Ididn’t kill any butterflies. But I did
  • have a role in a seemingly innocentevent that had far-reachingconsequences.Kana and I were members of the localchapter of the Young Pillars League,a state-sponsored organisation thatpromoted leadership qualitiesamongst scholars in their final yearsat school. There were no fixed criteriafor membership; usually a teacher ora youth leader would approach aprospective member with aninvitation to attend some of theactivities arranged by the club. Thereal reason for an invitation was totry you out. It was a way ofscrutinising people for their futurepositions in Society. In the process,some were rejected while others wereselected for future advancement. Thecream was being skimmed off the top.A few months after Kana and Arilabroke up their liaison, there was a
  • Young Pillars excursion to the LetiboHills wilderness area. That evening,after a long day of hiking andobservations, we were all sittingaround our camp site under the shadeof rock overhangs waiting for thepreparations for the evening meal tobegin when Arila said, ‘I’d like a walkbefore we eat. Is there anythingspecial to see around here?’I said, ‘There are rock paintings upthere.’Arila’s eyes lit up with interest andshe asked, ‘Where? Nearby?’‘Just up the ravine and over the ridge.Do you want to see them?’When Kana saw us moving off, hejoined us, saying, ‘The paintings? I’llgo with you.’I looked at Arila, whose facetightened with displeasure. However,she shrugged and said, ‘Sure! Let’sgo.’
  • I wondered why Kana wanted to gowith us when he had never shownmuch interest in rock paintings,which he called ‘primitive daubing’.Perhaps he wanted to make animpression on Arila. On the otherhand, perhaps he was jealous of me --although there wasn’t any reason forthat. Arila and I had an easy-goingfriendship and nothing more.Whatever his reasons, on the way upto the paintings Kana chattedpleasantly and amused Arila bytelling exaggerated stories abouttrekking in these parts with ourfather. To me, it looked like he wastrying to re-conquer the citadel ofArila’s affections. I thought that itwas a useless attempt.When we reached the first paintings,the low light of the sun waspenetrating into the rock overhang,illuminating the figures. Watching
  • Arila going up close to inspect themreminded me of when I saw my firstgallery of rock paintings. Arila wasexperiencing the same pleasure, evenawe, that I recollected from my firstexperience.After her initial inspection, Arilastood back and said, ‘Beautiful! Butwho did them?’More or less in unison, Kana and Isaid, ‘We don’t know.’Arila laughed and replied, ‘At leastyou two agree about something.That’s got to be a first.’She looked more closely at one sectionof the paintings, which depicted agroup of dancers, some wearinganimal masks and others wearingfeathered headpieces. Peering closer,she said, ‘Those look like guinea fowlfeathers.’ She pointed to the adjoininggroup of figures and asked, ‘Are thosemusicians?’
  • I said, ‘I don’t know, but I alwaysthought that they might be sievinggrain.’Arila said, ‘No, I don’t think so. Ithink it’s a celebration.’ She tracedher fingers across the group offigures, careful not to touch thesurface, saying, ‘I’ll tell you what Ithink. To me, the animals representthe prey, the hunters are dancing tocelebrate a good hunt, and thosefigures - they look like women -they’re clapping their hands toprovide the beat.’Kana pointed to a group of figuresover to the side of the dance party andasked sceptically, ‘And what aboutthem?’Arila laughed. ‘To me, it looks likethey’re embracing each other. It’s acelebration.’Kana grunted in disagreement butsaid nothing.
  • Standing on the ledge, we could seedown the ravine to the flaxen expanseof the savannah grassland below. Farin the distance, a small herd of zebrasmade their way across the plain.Arila turned her attention back to thepaintings and asked, ‘Doesn’t anyoneknow who the painters were?’Kana just shrugged indifferentlywhile I replied, ‘I think theydisappeared a long time ago – toolong ago for anyone to remember.’‘How long ago?’‘A very, very long time ago, I reckon.’Standing in front of the rock face withher head cocked to one side, Arilaasked, ‘How do you know?I replied, ‘I don’t know for sure. Butlook at their lifestyle and look at theirweapons - bows and arrows. Theymust have lived by hunting. Nobodydoes that today and I guess that
  • nobody has lived like that for a longtime.’Arila leaned forward and looked atthe paintings, still with her head toone side. She said thoughtfully, ‘Yes,that sort of life must have died out along time ago.’Kana, who had been standing to oneside looking at us with a mixture ofcynicism and disdain, now cried outscornfully, ‘You two! What do youknow about these things? It’s justspeculation – nothing but idlespeculation!’Arila ignored Kana, turned back tothe paintings, and said reflectively,‘They weren’t dark-skinned like us.Their skins were copper-coloured, ormaybe ochre-coloured, if the coloursare true to how they looked.’I said, ‘It’s hard to say. The paintingsare so old that the colours must havefaded.’
  • Arila inspected the central group offigures and said speculatively,‘Whenever they lived, I don’t thinkthat they were the sort of people tofight in something like the War. Idon’t think they had the technology toproduce destruction on that sort ofscale.’ There was a short silencebefore Arila looked around andasked, ‘Where did they live?’I said, ‘I guess that sometimes theylived here. That was when they didthe paintings. Then they moved on,following the animals. Later, whenthe conditions were right, they cameback again. There’s no way ofknowing for sure, but that’s how I seeit.’Arila peered closely at the largestgroup of human figures and said tome, ‘I think you’re right. They livedby hunting because they had to. Butthey weren’t violent people. I don’t
  • think they would harm anyone unlessthey had to defend themselves. I don’tthink they had the inclination tocommit war.’Kana, who was still standing to oneside, turned on her fiercely and criedout, ‘Nonsense! Complete nonsense!All humans in the pre-War days werewarlike and bloodthirsty. You knowthat as well as I do! In any case, it’snot open to interpretation.’Arila looked hard at him and said,‘It’s not interpretation - it’s clearfrom the paintings. Do you reallythink that people with bows andarrows could build missiles anddestroy cities? You must be a fool ifyou think that!’ She put her chinforward and said firmly, ‘Don’t try tointimidate me, Kana! It won’t work!’There was a short, tense silence. ThenArila turned her back on Kana andstrolled around, looking at the shelter
  • and at the view. Standing on the edgeof the rock, she said to me, ‘It’s sostrange to think that where peopleonce lived, there’s nothing left exceptpaintings and speculations.’Kana broke in, saying, ‘Speculationsare undoctrinal!’Without looking at him, back stillturned, Arila asked calmly,‘Undoctrinal? Do you really thinkso?’There was a heavy pause. Sensingthat Kana was about to produceanother heated observation, I quicklysaid, ‘It’s time to move. We’ll getback after dark if we hang aroundhere much longer.’We walked back in stolid silence andarrived back at the camp in fadinglight to find that the food was alreadysimmering on the portable stoves. Aswe joined the group, someone askedus, ‘How was it?’
  • Arila said, ‘It was beautiful!’Someone else asked, ‘Did you see anypaintings?’Arila replied, ‘The whole place is likea painting, don’t you think?’ Shemoved away and, turning her back onthe group, began to arrange hersleeping bag and groundsheet.Later, we all sat around the firecontainer, singing well-known songsof the War. The songs have rousingtunes and simple, memorable linesthat speak of comradeship, solidarity,suffering and endurance -- poignantthemes for a younger generationrelaxing around a fire on a fineevening. When the singing ended,someone read from the diary of asoldier who fought in that part of thecountry during the War. As the wordsand images rolled forth in the darkand warm night, someone else softlystrummed on a zintar.
  • Finally, at the end of the evening’sentertainment, one of the councillorsstepped forward and said, ‘Tomorrowwe will visit some of the sites that weheard about in the diary.’ She pausedand then said softly, ‘We have muchto be thankful for.’ From all around,there came the response: ‘You havespoken rightly. We have much to bethankful for.’At the time, our expedition to the rockpaintings seemed like an innocentdiversion that wasn’t worth a secondthought. However, within a few daysit came back to hit me like a summerstorm coming out of a calm, clear sky.The first clap of thunder of thegathering storm burst loose whenArila was summoned to appear beforea tribunal. It was followed by moreturbulence when I was summoned toappear as a witness.
  • Arila’s summons stated that she wasaccused of reconstructing aspects ofthe Old Time with the intention ofinfluencing others. It was a less severecharge than that of heresy, butserious enough nevertheless. If adultswere found guilty of reconstruction,they could be demoted from theirpositions or heavily fined. In the caseof a student like Arila, a convictionwould, at the very least, result in asevere blemish on her record.The hearing would take place underthe jurisdiction of the Young PillarsClub. Because it was a statutoryorganisation, the verdict would be anofficial one.I found Arila and asked her, ‘What’sall this about? Reconstructing what?Where and when?’Arila just shrugged miserably and bither lip, saying nothing, but looking atme in a hostile manner. I asked her,
  • ‘Who brought the charge againstyou?’ In reply, Arila only looked atme knowingly before she shruggedagain. I tried a new tack byremarking, ‘Perhaps it’s a joke.’ Itsounded feeble even as I said it.Arila was sitting in a hunchedposition, as if she was trying to shieldherself against the pressing troublesof the world. She looked at mesidelong and said grimly, ‘If it is ajoke then they’re taking it toextremes, don’t you think?’ She puther head down again, looking somiserable that I was didn’t knowwhat to say.When I asked Kana whether he knewanything about the matter, he smiledsmugly and said, ‘It’s a seriouscharge.’‘I’m well aware of that! I want toknow what you know about it. I wantto know who brought the charges,
  • what the charges are based on, who’sbeen called to witness -’‘You have,’ he said.On sudden suspicion, I said, ‘Youhave something to do with it, don’tyou?’ Kana’s eyes narrowed but hedidn’t reply. I said, ‘This is an act ofcruelty towards Arila!’Kana just shrugged and said,rhetorically, ‘The well-being of theindividual is subordinate to that ofSociety.’ I snorted and left him indisgust. Kana called after me jauntily,‘Why worry? Good citizens don’t fearthe truth.’The hearing was held in the schoolauditorium a few days later. Thepanel of assessors consisted of a seniorcouncillor from headquarters, whoacted as lead-person, together withone of the local councillors and thestudent leader of our chapter of theYoung Pillars League. About thirty
  • members of the chapter attended thehearing and with so few people insuch a large auditorium, theatmosphere was remote andforbidding.When I picked up a copy of thecharge sheet, my suspicions wereconfirmed -- Kana had laid thecharge. Kana! What was he playingat? Whatever it was, I knew that itstemmed from malice and a desire forrevenge. Suddenly, at that moment, Isaw deeper than ever into mybrother’s heart – and what I sawthere sent a shiver down my spine, asif it was being spiked with icicles.After the charge was read, Kana tookthe stand as the first witness. Ofcourse, I wasn’t in the auditorium atthe time, so I have reconstructed hisevidence from the reports of otherpeople. To begin with, the chiefassessor asked him why he had
  • brought the charge and Kana replied,‘It is the duty of every citizen toreport violations of the Regulations.’‘Please give your reasons for thinkingthat the Regulations have beenviolated.’Kana said confidently, ‘On the day inquestion, we were on a Young PillarsLeague outing in the Letibo Hillswilderness area. Three of us left themain group to view some rockpaintings.’There were puzzled looks amongst theassessors and one of them asked,‘Rock paintings? Do you meansomething like wall murals, citizen?’Kana described the paintings. Therewere uncertain frowns and nods fromthe panel before the chief assessorasked, ‘You seem to be familiar withthese paintings?’‘Yes, councillor, I am. When we wereyounger, we hiked in the Letibo Hills
  • with my father. We sometimes cameacross paintings.’‘Came across them, citizen Kana?You didn’t go looking for them?’‘No, councillor. When we wereclimbing, we found them under rockoverhangs when we stopped to rest.’‘Are they easily accessible?’‘Well, councillor, once you startclimbing, you come across them quiteoften.’‘And, when you came across thesepaintings – then you looked at them?’‘Yes, sometimes.’‘Weren’t you violating theRegulations by looking at thepaintings?’Kana answered confidently, ‘No,citizen. The Regulations say thatviolations arise from thoughts andwords, not from what is observed.The law recognises that people can’talways regulate what they see. I don’t
  • know of a case where someone hasbeen prosecuted merely for seeingsomething.’Kana continued giving his evidence,recounting how Arila had interpretedthe paintings. He said, ‘She said thatthey were a hunting people. She saidthat one scene represented acelebration, probably after a hunt,with people making music, dancing,embracing each other, and similaractivities.’The chief assessor frowned. ‘This isinteresting, citizen Kana, but hardlyenough to support the charge.’The junior assessor said, ‘We are onlyhearing a description of somepaintings. Wasn’t citizen Arila simplyreporting what she saw?’This didn’t put Kana off his stride. Heremained composed, projecting animage of someone who was only doinghis duty. Looking at him, no one
  • could think that he might harboursuch unsocial motives as resentmentor revenge.Kana replied, ‘It is probably more tothe point that she said that the peoplerepresented in the paintings had aclose relationship with the animalsthey hunted. She said that they had alifestyle that was environmentallyfriendly. She also said that they weretechnologically unsophisticated.’Kana paused, looking aroundconfidently like a boxer who has dealthis opponent a number of hefty bodyblows.The chief assessor said, ‘Yes, citizen.Go on.’Kana said, ‘From that, she deducedthat they had lived a long time beforethe War of Restitution.’‘Why was that?’‘She deduced that because they didnot have the means to take part in the
  • War. She said that they could nothave launched missiles and attackedcities.’There was an air of breathlessattention in the auditorium. Again,the chief assessor said, ‘Go on.’Kana said steadily, ‘In my opinion,citizen Arila reconstructed the pastwhen she said that the people in thepaintings were not the type to commitwar. For instance, she definitely saidthat they could not possibly haveproduced the scale of destruction thattook place in the War of Restitution.’There were low sounds of pent-upbreath being released in theauditorium while Kana lookedaround with a satisfied smile, like aboxer who knows that he is close tofinishing off his opponent. Hecontinued, ‘She said that they werenot violent people. She said that they
  • would not harm anyone unless theywere forced to it.’The local assessor asked, ‘Did shedefinitely state that they had no partin the War?’‘No. But citizen Arila did say that thepeople in the paintings died out a longtime before the War.’While the assessors took time out toconfer, there was a ferment ofexcitement in the auditorium. Arilasat motionless, staring straight ahead,expressionless. Fortunately she didn’ttry to talk to her friends because ifshe had, she would have seen thatthey had slid away from her and hadturned away from her.The chief assessor gestured for silenceand then asked, ‘Citizen Kana, wasmore than one person engaged inthese speculations?’After a short pause, just enough tosuggest reluctance, Kana replied
  • stolidly, ‘My brother was also partyto the speculations.’There were more low gasps andexhalations of breath. The assessoragain gestured for silence and asked,‘And yet you did not lay chargesagainst him?’Kana shook his head and saidsteadily, ‘No. My brother didn’tinstigate anything. He only respondedto the lead provided by citizen Arila.’Kana looked straight ahead and said,‘You see, citizens, my brother isyounger than citizen Arila is. I believethat she has unfavourably influencedhim.’There were sniggers of amusementthat were cut short by glares from themembers of the panel. The chiefassessor asked, ‘Is your brother oldenough to be heard on this charge aswell?’
  • Kana shook his head. ‘No, he is not.’It was true. I was still a few monthsbelow the statutory adult age.‘Would you have brought chargesagainst him if he had been of age?’‘No, councillor, I would not have. Ithas nothing to do with his age. As Isaid, he wasn’t the instigator.’‘Now, citizen Kana, answer frankly --would you have brought charges if hewasn’t your brother?’‘No, councillor! I have already givenmy reasons and I stand by them.’After more conferring, the localassessor said, ‘In any case, thisenquiry is only concerned with thecase of citizen Arila, not with otherpeople.’I was the next and only witness. As Itook the stand, I noted Arila’s stonyexpression and hunched position. Itwas clear that she knew that thingsweren’t going well for her.
  • As you can imagine, I wasn’t happy tobe testifying. I would much rather begiving evidence in Arila’s favour thanagainst her. However, I had the goodsense to know that I should be ashonest as possible because it wouldn’thelp Arila if the assessors didn’t trustme.I was in the witness stand for less thanten minutes because the assessorswere only interested in confirmingwhat they heard from Kana and, inany case, there wasn’t anything newthat I could tell them. When I stooddown, I glared at Kana, for whom Ifelt real contempt. Kana just gazedback at me blandly.Finally, Arila took the stand towitness in her defence.‘You know the charge, citizen Arila?’‘Yes, citizen. I do.’ She was tense butsteady.‘How do you answer?’
  • ‘I do not accept the charge.’‘You have heard what the witnesseshave said. Do you wish to questioneither of them?’She shook her head almostimperceptibly and said, ‘No. I do not.’There was a stir in the auditorium.‘Do you accept that they spoke truly?’‘Yes, I do - for what it is worth.’The assessors glanced at each other insurprise before the chief assessorasked, ‘Do you want to refuteanything in the evidence?’Arila was silent for a while. Afterlooking hard at Kana, she gatheredherself and said clearly, ‘Nothing thathas been said has shown that I havereconstructed aspects of the OldTime. I could not do so since it doesnot exist.’‘What? It doesn’t exist? Pleaseexplain yourself, citizen Arila.’
  • Arila’s hands were gripping the sidesof the lectern that served as thewitness stand but her voice was steadyas she said, ‘I mean that we knownothing about the people in thosepaintings. Nobody knows anything atall about them. They are irrelevant, asfar as history is concerned.’In summary, that was the core ofArila’s defence, namely that one couldnot reconstruct what did not exist incontemporary knowledge. It was atenuous argument, perhaps, buttogether with the sympathy thatexisted for Arila, it was enough to gether off with a caution that her actionsconstituted interpretation –significantly, not reconstruction - andthat she should avoid such activities inthe future. The chief assessor told herthat the caution would go onto herrecord and could only be removed bya decision of a tribunal of higher
  • appeal. However, Arila indicated thatshe would not appeal. I guess that,like most of us, she wanted to get thewhole sorry business behind her asfast as possible.When the tribunal adjourned, most ofArila’s fellow students gatheredaround to show their support.However, not surprisingly, Kanawalked away without speaking toanyone. Was he pleased ordisappointed with the result? As Iwatched him walking out of theauditorium, suddenly I felt stale anddispirited through and through. Itwas as if I knew that my childhoodhad finally, irrevocably, slipped awayfrom me - and with it, a large part ofwhatever brotherly feelings stillexisted between Kana and me.Seven: The ways of dissimulation
  • It shall be an offence of the first gradefor a citizen to use physical force or tocommit violence against anothercitizen. The minimum sentence for anoffence shall be a deduction of thirtyexpendnorms. (Social Regulation 45:version 3 of the Regulations asamended by the Fourth AnnualGathering of the Assembly: AS4-56.2)After the hearing, I was angry - veryangry. Kana avoided me at home butnext day I managed to accost him onthe way to school, where I accusedhim of betraying friendships andconfidences. He replied smugly,‘Simora, my dear brother, surely youknow that personal considerations areless important than promoting thesocial good?’‘The social good! Don’t try to put agloss on your motives! You were justout to get Arila.’
  • ‘Does Arila have special privilegeswhen it comes to the SocialRegulations?’‘No. But you had a liaison with her.’Kana asked truculently, ‘Are yousuggesting -?’‘Yes, I am! I’m saying that Arilaoffended you by ending your liaison.I’m saying that you found a way ofstriking back at her.’‘Why would I do that?’‘For simple revenge! You acted out ofsimple spite and revenge!’Kana grabbed hold of my scarf knot.For the first time since we werechildren, I felt his strength and weightat close quarters and knew that I wasno match for him, younger andslighter as I was. ‘Don’t do it!’ I said,trying to keep control. ‘It won’t lookgood.’Kana didn’t loosen his gripimmediately. Instead, he said grimly,
  • ‘You won’t look good either, if I -’Even in his rage he could not admitthe socially inadmissible, that he wascapable of injuring me - indeed, thathe was on the point of doing so.Suddenly, I saw how I could get backat him. Instead of trying to back off, Ithrust my face into his and tauntedhim, saying, ‘You’re a coward!You’re a windbag! You always were!You don’t have the courage to doanything.’ Then, trying to drive himto a pitch of fury, I shouted, ‘You lostyour courage when Mama wentaway.’Kana’s grip tightened. With eyesaflame and stuttering with rage, hetilted his head back and eyed me as ifhe was going to head-butt me.Although I was frightened - my throatwas dry, my stomach was like aleaden ball, and my limbs were
  • shaking - I dropped my arms to mysides, leaving myself defenceless.Breathing harshly, eyes aflame, Kanasnarled, ‘I could kill you!’‘Do it!’ I said. I was speaking withdifficulty, both because I was badlyfrightened and because he waschoking me. I shouted into his face, ‘Iknow why you did it! Coward!’For a moment it looked as if I hadsucceeded in getting him to loose hisrage on me. Even as he flayed blowsand kicks at me, I would have won.His reputation would never survivesuch an attack because he would haveviolated one of the most fundamentalproscriptions of Society. He wouldhave been heavily censured andwould never have the career that hewanted.My mind celebrated my victory evenas my body awaited the pain of hisassault. But it was not to be. Kana
  • gradually relaxed his hold, forcing meaway from him until I was at arm’slength. I still left my guard down,hoping to goad him into an attack. Igrunted, ‘You’re good at lies anddishonesty. That’s all you’re good for.Coward!’He was still breathing heavily and hiseyes told me what he would have doneif the weight of Society had notrestrained him. Suddenly he gruntedand thrust me away, sending me half-sprawling against the wall, growling,‘Too clever! You’d like me to give youwhat you want. You’d have me beforea tribunal, wouldn’t you?’I knew I had lost but I tried a last shotand cried out, ‘I know why you did itto Arila. I’ll never stop knowing.You’ll never stop knowing that Iknow.’By now, Kana had partially regainedcontrol of himself. His breathing was
  • easier but his eyes still glinted and hisvoice grated as he said, ‘You nearlygot what you wanted! But you didn’tand you won’t! I’ll settle with you, butnot in the way that you want.’I looked at him steadily. Now I spokeboth because I meant it and because Istill wanted to hurt him. I said, ‘WhenI said that you’re a coward, I meantit. You don’t have any courage.That’s what I think of you – andyou’ll always know it.’Kana backed off slowly, sayingtersely, ‘We’ll see about being acoward, my dear brother. We’ll seewhether that’s true or not! But I’mnot a fool, my brother. I’m not a fool,as you hoped I was.’ He sneered,turned, and walked off.I bit my lip, staring at his departingback, fighting to hold back the tearsso that he would not have thesatisfaction of seeing them. Then, as I
  • had expected, he turned to get in thelast shot. ‘You’re right about onething! I won’t forget what you know -or think you know. I’ll never forgetwhat happened here today.’I said nothing. If I had spoken, myvoice would have betrayed mydistress. In any case, I had nothingmore to say.When Kana disappeared around thecorner, I covered my face with myhands and allowed the tears to come. Isat down and sobbed. I hadn’t sobbedlike that since the time when mymother went away. However, Icouldn’t say exactly why I wasweeping. For sure, I was weeping inrelief, in the aftermath of passion -that was so. I was also weepingbecause of the gulf that had nowopened between Kana and me, aswide and deep, it seemed to me then,as the Great Canyon down north
  • across the Gariep River. Also, I guessthat I was weeping for the death ofold certainties and for the bleaknessof the desolate space that lay beyond.I was afraid, not so much of Kana’sblows and schemes, but afraid forboth of us in ways that I could not yetname. The crocodile had reappearedfrom the murky depths, thrashing itsway to the surface, throwing thewater into a maelstrom and rippingflesh from bone with its nakedferocity. I sensed that from now on itwould always remain near thesurface.I had been there for only a fewseconds, hunched over with my facein my hands, when someone touchedme. It was Kari, one of Arila’sfriends. ‘It’s all right,’ she said gently.‘I would also be crying.’
  • I nodded, trying to regain control. Isaid, ‘It’s Kana -’ I stopped. I stillcouldn’t trust myself to speak.She said gently, ‘I know. I saw it.’ Shepressed my arm and led me to anearby bench. We sat down and Karisaid, ‘I don’t have to stay if you don’twant me to.’I shook my head. Her kindness wasalmost more difficult to bear than thewrack of emotions from which I wasemerging. I said, ‘No, don’t go. I’m allright.’She tried to tease me out of mydespair, saying, ‘Well, if you’re allright, I wouldn’t like to see you whenyou’re upset.’I wiped my eyes and asked, ‘You sawwhat happened?’Kari nodded. She paused, as ifwondering how to frame her nextwords, before she said, ‘I thought hewas going to beat you up.’
  • I replied, ‘I thought so too.’ I lookeddirectly at her and said, ‘That’s whatI wanted him to do.’‘Yes. I know.’‘I really wanted him to do it!’‘For Arila?’‘Yes, partly for her.’ ‘For yourself as well?’I nodded. We sat there in silence for awhile, her hand resting lightly on myarm. Then she said, ‘I would alsohave done it for Arila.’I asked, ‘How is she?’‘She’s leaving.’‘Leaving? Leaving what?’‘She’s applied for a transfer toanother school. She’s also resignedfrom the Young Pillars League.’I was shocked not only because ofwhat it meant for Arila but because itrepresented a victory for Kana. I said,‘She shouldn’t have done that.’
  • ‘I know. It won’t be good for herfuture. We’ve talked to her, but –well, she’s made up her mind and shewon’t change it.’ Kari shrugged,squeezed my arm, and said, ‘Thankyou for caring.’I watched her as she went down thepassageway and remembered howKari and her friend seemed to beabandoning Arila during the hearing.Now she was taking Arila’s side,supporting and defending her. I sawthat Kari had gone through her owntrial as well. I hoped that she hadcome through it well, in her ownestimation.After our encounter, Kana and Iavoided each other for the rest of theweek. One day, at lunch, Alini asked,‘What’s come between the two ofyou?’Kana and I glanced sidelong at eachother and said, ‘Nothing!’
  • Alini grunted, put his hands on hiships, and said, ‘It’s a big nothing,then, judging by the fact that you’rehardly talking to each other.’There was a heavy silence beforeKana said, ‘Girls!’Alini clicked his tongue and askedsuspiciously, ‘Huh! What do youmean - girls?’Kana said smoothly, ‘Just what I said– girls! We’re having a disagreementabout girls.’Alini looked at him narrowly andasked, ‘You mean you’re arguingabout girls in general?’‘No, not girls in general. It’s aboutone girl in particular.’Alini wagged a finger and said, ‘Ah!You want to watch that. In myexperience, no girl should comebetween brothers.’‘My sentiments exactly,’ said Kanasmugly.
  • ‘Well, what about it?’ asked Alini,turning to me. ‘You heard what yourbrother said. Surely you don’t want tospoil your relationship, all because ofa girl?’I said, ‘No. I’d prefer us not to have abad relationship, if possible.’Alini wagged a finger at us again andsaid, ‘There you are then! Sort thingsout and get rid of these long faces.’ Tome, Alini said, ‘Don’t be stubborn.’To Kana, he said, ‘Don’t provokeyour brother.’‘We’ll do our best,’ said Kana.Alini said, ‘So you should. Take myadvice, you’ll value your relationshipas brothers long after you’veforgotten this girl, whoever she is.’Still smug, Kana said, ‘Quite right!She’s not worth making a fuss about.’Alini looked at us appraisingly andsaid, ‘My boys are growing up to bemen. It’s amazing how time flies.’
  • When we were alone, I said acidly,‘Clever!’‘But not untrue,’ replied Kana.‘Especially what I said about her notbeing worth it.’ He laughed andwalked away.When the annual election for thecommittee of the Young PillarsLeague took place, the senior adviser,Councillor Dahkena, canvassed forKana to be elected as lead-person inspite of the fact that it was improperfor an adviser to get involved in anelection in any way. When Kana wasduly elected and at the inauguration,Councillor Dahkena said that it wasonly fitting that a young man withsuch excellent qualities should leadthe Young Pillars Club. She also saidthat Kana’s interest in the spaceprogram would surely bring inadditional funds for the club and forthe school.
  • She was right. Within a few weeks,the Academy of Space Scienceawarded the school a research grantwith Kana named as the chief studentresearcher.During Kana’s last year at school, theYoung Pillars Club proposed him as acandidate for one of the few placesavailable the Academy. Later, I heardthat Councillor Dahkena, alwaysKana’s champion, made a personalvisit to the Academy to press Kana’sclaims to a place. He was dulyaccepted, completed his schoolingwith credit, and left home to enrol atthe Academy.Although I was pleased to know thatKana was going, I regretted that wewould part on bad terms. Could wehave settled our differences? Could Ihave made a reconciliatory move inKana’s direction? I tried to quietenmy conscience by making one attempt
  • to discuss the matter with Kana.However, he was adamant that he hadacted properly in bringing a chargeagainst Arila. He said loftily, ‘Oh,Simora, when will you stop taking uplost causes? Are you going to be aloser all your life?’Although we argued about the matterfor more than half an hour, we nevergot anywhere near to resolution. Withthis matter unresolved, I knew thatwe could never confront the deeperand more intractable issues that laybetween us.After Kana left home, I began to seemore of my father, especially duringthe sunset hour by the lakeside underthe trees. Soon it was a regular part ofour daily cycle. Why, at this time, didmy father begin to draw closer to me?Perhaps it was because Kana’sdeparture alerted him to how soon hewould lose me as well. Perhaps the
  • tensions between Kana and me hadinhibited him, even although he neversaid anything about the matter.Perhaps he just felt more at ease inmy company.Kana corresponded regularly with myfather, who passed the news on to me.My brother seemed to be makingexcellent academic progress. After hehad a look at the report on Kana’swork during the first quarter, myfather said, ‘I’m not surprised. Afterall, he’s doing what he really wants todo’. Then he added, ‘Kana will dowell if he is not diverted.’I asked, ‘Diverted?’My father looked at me in a half-amused fashion and said, ‘There aretwo great attractions for Kana:women and power. Either one of them–’ He shrugged eloquently. We sat incompanionable silence sipping at ourbowls of tea. After a while, my father
  • said thoughtfully, ‘In some ways,Kana has had it too easy. People havepushed his cause and smoothed theway for him.’ He pulled at an ear,sipped his tea again, and said quietly,‘I hope that Kana can give them whatthey want when they want it.’One evening, my father began toreminisce about how he and mymother had served in the Assembly.He told me that she was ambitious tobe a member of the Assembly andthat she was one of the youngestmembers ever to be appointed.I asked, ‘Why did she want to go tothe Assembly?’‘Your mother was full of energy andideas. She liked to be at the centre ofthe action. That’s why she offered towork in the new territories. Sheworked in Anjima, as you mightknow.’ My father gave me ameaningful look and a faint smile
  • before he continued, ‘Just abouteveryone with any initiative wanted tobe involved in the reconstructionprograms in the new territories. Butafter a few years it no longerchallenged her. She began to getrestless.’ He pursed his lips and saidregretfully, ‘She got involved withsomething to do with a ProtectedTerritory –’‘A Protected Territory? Where?’‘Oh, somewhere near the newterritories. There are a few ProtectedTerritories up south. They’re smallcompared to the ones down north, but– well, anyway, they’re there, and shegot involved in something to do withthem.’‘Do you really not know what she wasdoing, Papa?’My father’s eyes flickered and hesaid, ‘No, I don’t know!’ He said it sofirmly that I dropped the matter.
  • There was a break in the conversationbefore my father said, ‘Your motherwas appointed to the Assembly aboutsix months later.’‘After getting involved in somethingto do with a Protected Territory?’‘Yes, that’s correct. I had the feelingthat she knew something that theyvalued.’‘Did she enjoy being in theAssembly?’‘She did, at first. She liked theexcitement of policy-making andbeing at the centre of negotiations anddecisions. But after a while shediscovered that there was a lot moreposturing and hot-air than there wasaction. Also, there was a lot ofcommittee work, a lot of travellingaround wards, and a lot ofentertaining, with not much to showfor it at the end.’ My father rubbedhis cheek thoughtfully and then
  • continued, ‘It would have been betterif she hadn’t been so idealistic. If shecould have been like most of the othermembers of the Assembly –’ Heshrugged and left it at that, then wenton, ‘But she wasn’t like that. If shehad been, she wouldn’t have beenyour mother.’ He waved his hands -just a small flutter - as if to say,There, now I’ve spoken about it.There was only one more questionthat I wanted answered: Why did shego away? However, I knew that Icouldn’t ask it and that I wouldn’t getan answer anyway. So I followedanother line of enquiry and asked myfather, ‘Did you want to be appointedto the Assembly?’He made a wry face and shrugged.‘You know, I never found out whythey appointed me. Believe me, itwasn’t something that I wanted.Because of my closeness to your
  • mother, I knew a lot about how thingsworked. Perhaps that’s why theyappointed me. Sometimes when oneknows about certain things –’ Hestopped and the look on his facesuggested that he’d said too much. Hestraightened and said, ‘Also, perhapsthey thought that I could completesome of the tasks that she left behindwhen – you know, when she left theAssembly.’‘Could you?’‘No. I wasn’t your mother, whateverelse I was. So after a while I asked tobe allowed to stand down.’ Hegrinned almost boyishly. ‘It caused abig stir. At first they wouldn’t grantmy request. They put me under a lotof pressure. But fortunately, andprobably because I didn’t know toomuch about the special projects orabout the inner executive committee,eventually I was allowed to leave.’
  • ‘Did you regret it?’‘Regret leaving the Assembly? Not atall! Believe me, not at all! I havebetter things to do with my time!’We sat quietly for a while, enjoyingthe peace of the evening. It was socompanionable that after a while Idared to ask, ‘Was my mother amember of the inner executivecommittee?’My father looked at me so sharplythat I thought he was going to refuseto answer. Then he said shortly, ‘Yes.She was a member for two yearsbefore she went away.’ He half-turnedhis back to me and sat watching thelight fade over the lake. It was clearthat he did not want to say any moreon the subject.For a while we sat silently by thedarkening expanse of water as thebreeze rustled the leaves above us. Irecalled that this was my mother’s
  • favourite place, especially on just suchwarm summer evenings. Right then, Ifelt about as close to her as I had feltsince she went away. Was my fatheralso thinking about her?My father sighed, stood up, andstretched. He passed a hand over hiseyes and said heavily, ‘Nothing everstays the same.’ As he began packingthe tea things onto the tray, he said,‘Soon it’ll be too dark to see anything.We’d better go inside.’Kana’s absence and the relaxedrelationship with my father seemed tospur me on to even higher academicachievements. However, not everyoneadmired my progress at school.Thinking back on it, it was probably acase of too fast, too far, too soon. Forinstance, when I was required tosubmit a research project along withthe other final-year students, I gotinto trouble with my proposal for a
  • study of the sociology of urbangroups. My supervisors opposed itand pointed me in the direction ofwhat they called ‘academicallyapproved projects’. They said thattoeing the line would not only attractfunding but would also look good inmy application for admission to aninstitution of higher education.However, I resisted their arguments.Why should I embark on a projectthat had been selected by someunknown bureaucrat? I knew what Iwanted to do and I intended to do it.When I discussed the matter withAlini, he said, ‘Well, I don’tunderstand much about these thingsbut it sounds like your instructorshave given you good advice. Surelyit’s in your interests to listen tothem?’
  • ‘But, Alini, I already know what Iwant to do! It’s a project that hasn’tbeen tackled before, and it’s local.’Alini looked at me narrowly and saidsternly, ‘Now you listen to me,Simora! You know that you’re like ason to me. However, that doesn’t stopme from seeing that you have one bigfault. Do you know what it is?’ Ishook my head. I guessed what he wasgoing to say, but I didn’t want toadmit it. Alini said, ‘Stubbornness!That’s your big fault – stubbornness!’‘But, Alini –’‘No buts about it! It’s time yourealised that stubbornness is unsocial.Do you think this is the Old Timewhen everyone could follow their owninclinations? You know that was oneof the big problems with the Old Time- cut-throat individualism and crudeambition, not so? Well, we’re not
  • living in the Old Time, thankgoodness for that.’‘I didn’t suppose that we were!’‘Now listen to me, Simora, and youlisten good! Are you going to keep oncrying for the moon or are you goingto be grateful for what you’ve got?That’s the real question, isn’t it?Well, you know my opinion, and Iadvise you to think about it carefully.’I didn’t recognize just how muchopposition there was to my proposaluntil I was called to the office ofCouncillor Dahkena, the seniorstudies supervisor. She told me in nouncertain terms that she and hercolleagues didn’t like my project andthat they expected me to producesomething of which they approved.With Councillor Dahkena glaring atme, looking as if she would like todrive a large icicle into my heart, Ifelt as if I’d come around a corner on
  • a carefree day and suddenly walkedfull-face into a glacier. Warning bellsrang. Caution was definitelyadvisable. I said, ‘Well, citizencouncillor, I’m pleased that you havepointed these things out to me. In thelight of what you have said, I do thinkthat there are other factors that mightdeserve attention. To tell the truth, Iwas about to do redraft my proposal.This discussion has just - uh,advanced the process.’‘Then we can expect to hear from yousoon?’‘Yes, councillor, of course! It shouldtake about two or three days ... well,perhaps a bit longer. I’m rather busyat the moment, with the end of term -’Councillor Dahkena waved a handdismissively. ‘Yes, yes, two or threedays will be time enough.’ She tookout her time co-ordinator andpretended to be consulting it. After
  • making a perfunctory note, she stoodup and ushered me towards the door,saying, ‘I trust that we understandeach other.’Keeping a lid on the boiling pot of myreal feelings, I replied, ‘Citizencouncillor, thank you for giving mesome time to put in a new proposal.I’ll do my best to come up withsomething worthwhile.’‘We are sure that you will, citizen-student Simora!’Within a few days, I produced acomprehensive, new proposal. Theassignment was awarded an excellentgrade.I had conceded to the heavier weightof authority and had practised theways of dissimulation. They were notat all difficult to learn. However, Iwondered if others disliked the tasteof the dry dust of expediency as muchas I did.
  • Eight: Now there is nothing to be seenOn both sides of the sea formerlycalled the Atlantic, the populations ofthe northern states had almost beencompletely wiped out by theirinternecine struggles and by theignorant resistance that they offeredto the forces of Society. Thisfacilitated the establishment of theMain Protected Territories, in whichthe regeneration of the environmentcould take place. (From ‘TheAuthorised History of Society: theFounding Years, YS1 – YS15’: screen91, section 4)Things don’t always work out as youthink that they will. When you’reyoung it offends you mortally whenyour plans and hopes areconfounded,. You feel cheated and
  • betrayed. But, by contrast, whenyou’re older, you are often surprisedwhen things do work out as planned.Otto says that’s maturity. He alsosays that life is essentially ironic. Ididn’t grow up with a sense of irony;in fact, no one even taught me themeaning of the word. But I’mbeginning to understand what Ottomeans.After Kana had been at the Academyfor about six months, he sent myfather electronic files containingimages taken from space. He braggedthat what he called ‘spaceobservation’ was an area in which heplanned to specialise and said that heand his classmates had been workingon the images in the file.Although the images were thesharpest that I had ever seen, with theFree Domains showing up in the finestdetail, as usual the Protected
  • Territories, comprising at least athird of the land surface of the globe,were completely concealed. In earlierdays, the territories were brushed outartistically to look as if they werecovered by cloud. Nowadays theywere just blatantly blanked out withno attempt at subterfuge.Consequently, the popular image ofthe Earth as depicted in maps andatlases was an odd one because hugeareas of the north, as well as a fewareas in the south, were covered by awhite blur. It was just the same on theelectronic images that I wasexamining.A better name for the ProtectedTerritories would have been theHidden Territories – or TerraeIncognito, a phrase that I’ve learnedfrom Otto -- because the averageperson knew almost nothingwhatsoever about them. Citizens were
  • not allowed to enter the Territoriesand there was absolutely nomovement of people or goods acrosstheir boundaries in either direction.In fact, the official line was that therewas almost nothing to move orexchange because only a few hundredthousand natives inhabited the hugeexpanses of these Territories. Wewere told that these natives were thestubborn remnants of the vast hordesthat had almost decimated each otherand then foolishly opposed the forcesof the Coalition during the War ofRestitution. After the War, thesurviving natives were disarmed andrendered harmless so that they wouldnever again inflict injury onpeaceable, free citizens.The official line also stated that themain reason for the existence of theProtected Territories was that theywere set aside for conservation
  • because the environment needed to beallowed to rest and restore itself afterthe pollution and degradation thatprevailed before the War. Further,went the official version, as theyrecovered, the Territories wouldbecome the natural lungs and heartsof the planet. Finally, we were told,never again would the Earth sufferfrom the over-population andenvironmental pressures that markedthe pre-War period. There wouldalways be large areas of the globe thatwould be shut off from humanintrusion. To ensure this, birth rateswould be monitored and regulated.With so many unanswered questionsto arouse my curiosity, you won’t besurprised to hear that I wanted to digbehind the official line about theProtected Territories. The firstquestion that I asked myself was this:If the Protected Territories were
  • simply conservation areas, why werethey inaccessible? What was there tohide? Secondly, who were these nativeinhabitants? How did they live? Ifthey were the successors to a societythat had been technologicallysophisticated not long ago, was itreally true that they were living inconditions of ignorance and savagery?Finally, I asked myself why there wasso much secrecy and concealment ifthese natives were harmless and ifthere were so few of them.Fired by curiosity, I started toexamine the images that Kana hadsent my father, starting by scanningthe white blur that covered theProtected Territories. After about tenminutes of scrutiny, I could still seenothing but uniform blankness.Whoever had worked on these partsof the images had done a good job.Then, suddenly, I came across
  • something different - a defect in thebrush-out, like a tiny break in thickcloud cover. I zoomed in on the placeand thought that I could detect somedetails on the ground. I focused moreclosely and tried a few printouts,using different degrees of resolution.Yes! There was definitely somethingthere. It appeared to be straight andshiny, as if something was glinting insharp sunlight. I examined it fromdifferent angles and concluded that itwas definitely human-made. Nothingin nature could be as die-straight asthat.I studied the print from differentangles and then sat back and thoughtabout the matter. What was I lookingat? It was die-straight, glinting in thesunlight, and probably metallic.Furthermore, there seemed to be twolines, running parallel. One wasabsolutely straight, while the second
  • line seemed to make a regular seriesof loops, rising and falling. It washard to be certain because the smallopening into which I was peeringallowed me to see only four loops, ifthat was what they were.What could be human-made, straight,glinting, and probably metallic?Suddenly it came to me - a travtubetrack! But if it was a track, then whatwere the loops? Just as suddenly, therest of the answer came to me. Thesecond line probably wasn’t a track atall. I punched my fists into the air inelation. That was it – not a track atall! I dashed downstairs and searchedthrough the library shelves, lookingfor an disk titled ‘A History ofTransportation in Society - The FirstAge.’ I accessed it and found what Iwas looking for -- images of theearliest travtubes. It was just as Ithought -- they had been powered
  • from overhead cables. An aerial shotof one of the old travtube systemsshowed the track with suspendedpower cables rising and falling aboveit like a delicate frieze. Usingcallipers, I measured the distancebetween the cable supports and thendid the same on the image taken fromspace. The proportionate distanceswere the same. That was it! Now Iknew almost for sure that I waslooking at an image of an old travtubesystem.The map reference for the spot wasabout 57 degrees north and 107degrees east. That was far down to thenorth, more than half a globe awayfrom where I was. I felt bothapprehensive and elated, like atraveller who unexpectedly comesacross rich geographical features in aplace where there should be nothingat all. I re-focused on the break in the
  • brush-out, hoping to learn more.However, I was looking into a tinywindow in an image taken from agreat distance and it was almostimpossible to make out furtherdetails. The ground cover seemed tobe predominantly white - snow,perhaps? From what I knew, thatwould be right for the NorthernHemisphere at this time of the year, atthat latitude. Was the track crossing agreat plain or was it simply a small,open space in otherwise broken andrugged country? I couldn’t tell. Itlooked as if I had extracted all theinformation that I was going to getfrom the print. The rest was hiddenbehind the pervasive white blur.All that I could be reasonably certainabout was that I was looking at atravtube track of antiquated design,deep in one of the largest portions ofthe Protected Territories. However, I
  • wasn’t disappointed. Far from it –what I had was enough to set myimagination racing. From the glint ofthe metal, it appeared that the trackwas still in regular use. Who used it?If the natives used it, did that meanthat their level of technology andorganisation was more advanced thanwe were given to believe? On theother hand, perhaps Free Domainsused the system. If so, that wouldmean that citizens were active in theProtected Territories. One thing wasclear: we weren’t being told the truth.In a fit of what was probablyperversity – while convincing myselfthat it was generosity -- I made print-outs of the images and gave them tomy fellow students in the Topographyclass. A few days later I wassummoned to Councillor Dahkena’soffice. I groaned inwardly as Iknocked on her door. Judging by the
  • look on her face, she didn’t enjoy mypresence any more than I enjoyedhers. Today her sucked-in,disapproving mouth made her lookeven more like a prune that has tastedtoo much sour juice.We exchanged perfunctory greetingsand she motioned me to a low chair infront of her desk. She looked downher nose at me and said, ‘I’ve heardfrom your brother recently. Itappears that he’s doing well at theAcademy.’I replied, ‘Yes. We have also heardthat.’‘Your father must be proud of Kana.’‘Yes, councillor, I believe that he is.’She raised her eyebrows. ‘Ah! Andhow is your father?’‘Very well, thank you.’Her mouth primmed even more andher raised eyebrows furrowed thewrinkles on her forehead so much
  • that they looked like a kicked-offblanket. ‘Devoted to his work, asalways?’‘Yes. He’s very busy.’Councillor Dahkena said with ironsilkiness, ‘He’s such a talented man,your father.’ She clicked her tongueregretfully. ‘I’ve always thought thatit was a pity that he couldn’t haveserved longer in the Assembly. It’s agreat honour, and for a man of yourfather’s abilities –’ CouncillorDahkena shrugged and brandished anenvelope at me. ‘However, that’s notwhy I want to speak to you.’ Openingthe envelope, she showed me copies ofthe prints that I had distributed inclass and fired a question at me: ‘Didyou give these to your classmates?‘Yes, councillor. I did.’She asked sharply, ‘How did you getthem?’‘Kana sent them to us.’
  • She looked directly at me, eyesnarrowed, and observed, ‘Yes. That’swhat Kana told me when I contactedhim.’Now I was fully on the alert.Contacting Kana? Why? CouncillorDahkena poked a finger at me andbarked, ‘Let me get straight to thepoint! Your brother told me that aftertransmitting them, it was discoveredthat there was a defect in one of theimages. Is that correct?’‘A defect, councillor?’‘You know what I’m talking about!I’m referring to the ProtectedTerritories.’‘Could you be more precise,councillor?’She took a deep breath and saidirritably, ‘Don’t play innocent! I’mtalking about the brush-out on part ofthe Protected Territories.’
  • ‘Yes, councillor, they’re alwaysbrushed out. It’s doctrine. It has to dowith environmental preservation andthe status of the natives.’Councillor Dahkena puffed hercheeks in exasperation, saying tersely,‘I know the reasons, Simora! Pleasedon’t give me a lesson on the subject.’‘I apologise, councillor. It’s just that Idon’t know what you’re getting at.’She thrust a print under my nose,pointed to a spot on it, and said, ‘Youdon’t? Well, have a closer look. Thisis the place.’I said, ‘I can’t see anything there,councillor. It’s all blank.’She clicked her tongue inexasperation and waved the image atme, saying, ‘Exactly! Exactly! Butwhen you received the images, therewas - ah - less than perfect blurring atthis point.’
  • ‘Yes, councillor. That’s correct. It wasat about fifty-seven degrees north andone hundred and seven east, quite fardown in the Northern Hemisphere.’Councillor Dahkena drew in herbreath and leaned even furtherforward, looking at me closely andasking suspiciously, ‘But now there isnothing to be seen. Not so?’I examined the print again, turning itaround and studying it from differentangles. ‘You’re right, councillor.There’s nothing at all.’ Her chairsqueaked as she rocked backwardsand forwards in suppressedexasperation. I said, ‘Councillor, letme answer your question before youask it. There is nothing to be seen atthat point because I brushed it out.’‘Why?’ She almost jumped at me asshe asked the question.‘Because’ - and here I quoted fromthe Regulations - ‘we are all equally
  • responsible for promoting the welfareof our fellow citizens.’‘Yes, yes! We all know theRegulations. But –’ She pointed anaccusing finger at me. ‘But youshould have reported it – as you verywell know.’‘But why, councillor? I didn’t want totake any risks. I was only thinking ofothers, councillor. Imagine if someoneyoung and impressionable got hold ofthe original image.’Councillor Dahkena leaned back andlooked at me narrowly – verynarrowly. She asked coldly, ‘Did youstudy the print?’‘Study it?’‘Yes, study it. Did you look at it? Didyou scrutinise it for details that mighthave been revealed in the - ah - clearspace?’‘No, councillor, of course I didn’t. Butin any case there would have been
  • nothing to see. As we all know, theProtected Territories are completelyundeveloped.’‘You didn’t study the print?’Councillor Dahkena accented eachword in deep suspicion.‘No, councillor. It is every citizen’sduty, even when alone -’She silenced me with an impatientgesture and barked, ‘You arebecoming tedious, Simora! Verytedious!’ She brandished the pages atme and almost shouted, ‘These areonly printouts. There is still theoriginal.’‘It doesn’t exist, councillor. I deletedthe whole file.’‘There is still the archive copy, notso?’‘I deleted that too, councillor. When itcomes to protecting other people’s –’‘You deleted the archive version!?’
  • ‘Only by good fortune, councillor. Iwas fiddling about, just out ofcuriosity, and somehow – I don’tknow how – there was an open-codewindow and –’‘Yes, yes, just a million in one chance,and you took advantage of it. What anamazing stroke of good fortune.’ Shepuffed out her cheeks so far that thewrinkles almost disappeared. ‘Andnow the original has disappeared forever, eh?’‘Councillor, if you really want toexamine an original image, I’m surethat Kana will send you a copy.’Now Councillor Dahkena’s cheekspuffed so far that she looked like abladder-fish that was about toexplode. She pressed her handsagainst her forehead, regainedcontrol, and said in a tight voice, ‘I’msure he would oblige me. But thatwon’t be necessary.’ She pen-lighted
  • some notes on her processor screenand then looked at me quickly andsharply, saying. ‘Thank you. You maygo now.’ As I opened the door, shesaid, ‘Oh, there’s something else aswell.’ She wagged a finger at me.‘Take my advice, Simora. Take it veryseriously. I advise you to drop yourinterest in the Old Time. Oh, don’tlook so innocent! You know what Imean. Looking at rock paintings andold brickwork, too much time on theaccessors calling up records of theOld Time – that’s what I’m talkingabout.’ She waved a hand anddismissed me.At home a few days later my fatherasked, ‘Why did you erase the imagesthat Kana sent us?’I said, ‘There was a break in thebrush-out in one part of the images. Itseemed to be safer to destroy the file.’
  • My father said, ‘Ah! I see!’ The lookon his face suggested that the matterwas closed, even if he was still turningit over in his mind.I was now in the last months at schooland, like everyone else in theaccelerated programme, I expected togo directly to higher studies.Unusually, even Councillor Dahkenadidn’t seem to have any objections. Itlooked like I was all set to study for adegree in the social sciences. Thingswere going so well that, aftersubmitting applications to a numberof institutions of higher education, Iwaited confidently for the letters ofacceptance to begin arriving.However, the road didn’t lead where Ithought it was going. One day, as wesat in the quiet companionship of ourevening hour by the lake, my fathersaid, ‘Councillor Dahkena spoke tome today.’
  • ‘Councillor Dahkena? What did shewant?’My father fidgeted awkwardly andthen said, ‘She has some news aboutyour further studies.’I felt as if storm clouds were suddenlymassing in a sky that had been calmand clear only a few minutes earlier. Icould only say, inadequately, ‘I don’tunderstand. I thought that thingswere settled.’My father said, ‘Apparently not.’I said, ‘But I discussed this with mysupervisors! They didn’t have anyproblems with my plans.’My father shifted uncomfortably,picked up a fruit knife and held it bythe handle as if he was weighing it,and then said, ‘As you know, theCharter and Social Regulations saythat education is a social enterprise.They also say that society through itscollective efforts provides individuals
  • with advantages that they cannotpersonally attain.’ I was beginning tosense what was coming and justnodded dumbly. He picked up anapple and began to peel it. Eyes on histask, he continued, ‘Some peoplethink that your studies might betterbe - that it would be more – um,useful - if you changed your course ofstudy.’‘Useful for whom?’My father looked at me sharply andresponded, ‘I don’t find this easy, youknow.’I said, ‘I’m sorry. It’s a shock.’ Wesat there, looking at each other as ifwe had both come up against a blankwall. I asked, ‘What do they want?’Still peeling the apple, my father saidquietly, ‘Civil engineering.’‘Civil engineering? They want me tostudy civil engineering?’‘So it seems.’
  • ‘That’s ridiculous!’‘They don’t think so.’‘But I don’t have any interest in it!You know that! Everyone knowsthat!’My father dropped the peel onto aplate and looked at the apple as if itwould provide him with inspiration.He grimaced and said quietly,‘Councillor Dahkena says that yourgrades in science and mathematicsare good enough for you to qualify forstudies in civil engineering.’‘But it’s not what I want! It’s notwhat I’m preparing for!’My father grimaced again. ‘I knowthat. I told her that it would be betterif you were allowed to choose foryourself.’‘And -?’‘She said that education was a socialenterprise and so on. You know therest. She also said that the directive
  • came from higher levels.’ There wasan unhappy silence. After a while myfather said, ‘It’s not the worstpossible fate, you know. After all,your mother was a civil engineer.You’ll be following in her footsteps.’I replied, ‘It didn’t do her much good,did it?’My father looked at me as if I hadstruck him in the face. Without sayinganything more, he stood up andwalked towards the house.When I saw Councillor Dahkena thenext day, she told me what I alreadyknew and looked pleased to be tellingme. I asked what choice I had. Shesmiled thinly and replied coldly, ‘Youhave no choice – none at all.’ As I wasleaving, she called after me: ‘I need tohave your answer before middaytomorrow.’Just before the deadline, I pushed anote under her door, saying that I
  • accepted the suggestion that I shouldstudy civil engineering. When I toldmy father, he sighed and said quietly,‘All things considered, it’s for thebest.’Although I obtained excellent resultsin my school-leaving examinations,even better than Kana’s results, mysuccess was clouded by the fact that Iwould be studying civil engineeringinstead of what I really wanted to do.My father tried to console me,pointing out that civil engineeringcould be a challenging occupation,with opportunities to work in placesthat most people would never knowexcept as distant dots on maps. Aliniwas characteristically pragmatic. Hesaid, ‘When I was your age, peoplelike me didn’t have much chance ofgetting a job at all, let alone highereducation with it. Be grateful for whatyou have.’
  • I replied, to both of them, ‘I thoughtthat I had a choice. Finding out that Idon’t have options -- that’s what getsto me.’My father said gently, ‘Perhaps yourexpectations weren’t realistic.’‘What do you mean, Papa?’‘Perhaps you haven’t yet properlyunderstood how we are –’ He rubbeda cheek and said softly, ‘- how we areguided.’‘Yes, but I was betrayed - I don’t geta choice, and they dissimulate aswell?’‘Dis-what?’ asked Alini.My father explained, ‘Dissimulate.Practise deceit. Pull wool overpeople’s eyes.’Alini replied, ‘Ah! I thought you weretalking about an illegal activity.’ Hesnorted impatiently. ‘However, whatI’m saying is that we fought to have adecent life for all. A lot of us died for
  • it, too. The bottom line is that Simorashould appreciate what he’s got. I’mtelling you, I knew people who died inthe War, hoping to be civil andmechanical and what-not engineerssome day, hoping to have somethingworthwhile to do in the future, whenthe fighting was finished. How manysurvived? Ha! About half the people Iknew, maybe even more, were dead ormaimed before they were evenproperly grown.’ He snapped hisfingers. ‘Blown to pieces, legs andarms taken off by mines, bayoneted,gassed, flamed – that’s just the peoplewho I knew, my own mates, not tomention hundreds of thousandsothers, or probably millions, whowent the same way.’ He shook hishead heavily and slowly as if trying todislodge an oppressive weight ofmemory before he said, ‘So, Simoramy boy, in my opinion what they’re
  • offering you doesn’t seem too bad atall.’ He clapped me on my shouldersand cried, ‘Come on, now, put yourchin forward and square yourshoulders! Be strong! The sky’s notgoing to fall in, eh?’My father said, ‘Alini’s got a point,you know.’I asked, ‘What? About the sky notfalling in?’As you can gather, I set off on theelevated path of higher educationwith mixed feelings. Not only was Inot doing what I really wanted to butI was also leaving home.Kana came home for only a few daysduring the summer vacation beforegoing on to take part in a satellite-tracking project. The tracking stationwas in an extinct volcano in a desertarea, a place where a similar stationhad existed more than a century ago,long before the War. With a faint
  • smirk, Kana told me, ‘You’d enjoythe place.’Innocently, I asked, ‘Why?’He said, ‘There are some old ruinsaround the station - old foundations,an old garbage pit, that sort of thing.It’s a great place for people like youwho enjoy sniffing around trying toreconstruct the past.’ He guffawed asif he had said something reallyamusing. Then he sniggered and said,‘Except, of course, they wouldn’t letyou near the place. You have to getsecurity clearance to take part inthese projects.’‘How do you know they wouldn’t giveme clearance?’Kana looked hard at me before heshrugged and said, ‘No reason! Justguessing.’During his year at the Academy,Kana had changed. His frame, alwayssquare and solid, had filled out and
  • had become even more impressive.His favourite subject of conversationwas his exercise program, whichincluded cycling, bodybuilding, androad running. Also, he had begun topay even more attention to hisgrooming. Now he sported a flat-tophairstyle, cut short at the back andsides while his clothes were carefullyselected for cut and colour co-ordination. If Kana was to bebelieved, then all this care andpampering had paid dividends in thesense that he had doubled his rate ofsexual conquests – or so he said.Irritated by Kana’s boastful self-assurance, I decided to prick his self-satisfaction by referring to the space-images that he had transmitted to myfather’s accessor. I said blandly, ‘Thequality was excellent. You know, Imagnified them and I could see everylittle detail clearly.’
  • That stopped him so decisively that hewinced as if something sharp anduncomfortable was jabbing the solarplexus of his memory. Then herecovered and said suavely, ‘Theywere good images. We’re workingwith the latest equipment, makingsome improvements.’‘Improvements?’‘The aim is to improve the precisionof the equipment to the point where,for instance, we can read a label on acompo-disk from space.’‘But that’s intrusive!’‘Intrusive? Why?’‘Man, Kana, even you can see thatnobody would be free fromsurveillance, even in their ownquarters. There would be no privacy.’Kana spread his hands in a so-whatgesture, shrugged nonchalantly andsaid, ‘There’s nothing in the Charteror the Social Regulations about
  • preservation of privacy, not so? Oram I wrong?’I had to admit that he was correct.He continued, ‘In any case, we’redoing the work with the fullknowledge of the authorities.’All the better to effect control, Ithought. I was surprised at thethought even as it came to me. Kananoticed my expression and saidpointedly, ‘Good citizens havenothing to fear.’‘Who then?’He spread his hands again. ‘Not goodcitizens, for sure. It’s just scientificimprovement, that’s all.’I wasn’t sorry when Kana departedafter a stay of only a few days.Nine: Welcome to the SouthlandAllies of the former alliance of thenorthern states who are at present
  • being detained within the borders ofSociety shall be removed to territoriesespecially assigned for the purpose, inwhich all conditions pertaining toProtected Territories shall apply,including grade one securityarrangements. (From the minutes ofMeeting 2 of the ExecutiveCommittee, 13/YS1/Resolution 10 –AS.)Within a few years, I followed in mymother’s footsteps when they postedme to Anjima region. At the time, Ididn’t realise how soon I would followher in other ways as well.I was happy enough at university, andsuccessful too, graduating after fouryears with a distinction in the civilengineering course. During that time,I also contracted my first seriousliaison. This was with Arila’s schoolfriend, Kari, who entered the
  • university a year ahead of me. Wetook a small apartment together, andour liaison lasted for about a year.After the initial novelty wore off, Ibegan to think that it was a mistake. Ihad given up my privacy in favour ofintimacy but soon I began to questionwhether it was a good trade-off. Thatbeing the case, our relationship took alot of strain towards the end.Naturally, our physical relationshipalso began to go downhill as well.There were moments when we tried tocompensate for the strains andshortcomings by subduing all topassion – which worked for a whilebut didn’t solve our problems longer-term. After one such indulgence in thepleasures of intimacy, Kari said,‘You’re a good liaison partner.’I stroked her lazily as she lay facedown on the bed. In the languidaftermath of our encounter, I said, ‘I
  • should be good. You inspire me.’ Itickled her shoulders and added, ‘Ittakes two to play.’Kari nuzzled my torso, sayinglanguorously, ‘Times like this makeeverything seem all right.’I gave an agreeable grunt, although Iwas already thinking of other things,such as the fact that we hadn’tresolved the question of what we weregoing to do that evening.After a few minutes of contentedrelaxation, Kari said, ‘This is so good!I really don’t know why we quarrel sooften.’I murmured in agreement.‘Mmm,’ said Kari, mimicking mefondly while I stroked the insides ofher thighs. She wriggled contentedlyand then said, ‘Don’t get me going.’‘Why not?’ I applied myself evenmore enthusiastically to my task.
  • Kari pushed me away with a laugh,slipped off the bed, pulled on herrobe, and said, ‘I’ll get something forus to eat. I won’t use the food selector.I’ll create it de novo.’I remarked lazily, ‘With your ownattentive hands. It sounds good.’Kari pirouetted, her robe flaring outaround her, briefly exposing her trimdancer’s legs up to mid-thigh. Myinterest stirred anew. I reached outfor her but she chuckled and evadedmy hands, saying, ‘Not now! Maybelater!’I grunted and lay back on the bed.Later, amidst the rich aroma of whatshe called ‘real food’, I crept upbehind Kari and seized her aroundthe waist. With exaggerated growls, Inuzzled the nape of her neck. ‘Lots ofreal food here as well,’ I said.She pushed me away, half annoyedand half amused, crying out, ‘Get
  • away, Simora! I told you, there’s timefor that later.’Sitting down on a kitchen stool whileshe re-arranged her robe, I openednegotiations cautiously, saying, ‘Uh ...Kari - about that lecture.’‘Lecture? What lecture?’‘You know - the lecture onurbanisation patterns.’Kari clasped her robe up close aroundher neck, stepped back, looked at menarrowly, and said, ‘We agreed togive it a miss. You said we’d stay intonight - just the two of us.’I said, ‘Well, I thought I’d kind of leftit open.’From there, the evening wentdownhill, following the generalpattern of our relationship.At the end of the year we brought ourliaison to an amicable conclusion.Kari even cancelled the reservationsthat we had made for a vacation. I
  • thought that this was going too farand protested that we could still havegone on the vacation together.‘What! After ending our liaison?’Kari looked incredulous.I said, ‘We’re still friends, aren’t we?We could still -’‘There are friends and then there arefriends!’I tried to reason with her, saying,‘Well, yes, but we could still have keptthe reservation. You enjoy hiking, Ienjoy hiking -’‘Oh, yes! And I can guess that you’dlike a bit of cuddle and what-notevery evening! Just to round off agood day, no doubt!’I protested: ‘Nothing was further -’‘ - from your mind,’ she concluded.‘Well, nothing is further from otherparts of you as well.’Kari could be acerbic, even spiteful,when she was roused against me. It
  • always surprised me that someonelike her, with a fine mind for thesciences, could unleash her emotionswith such scathing effect. I concludedthat we probably hadn’t beenproperly suited to each other from thevery beginning and that the ending ofour liaison was for the best. Also, Ihad to face the fact that the liaisonhadn’t been good for my grades. Iwould have to use the vacation periodto make up for lost time.We wrapped up our liaison with afinal meal together at a restaurant.Assisted by two bottles of wine, we fellto reminiscing. After a while, Kariraised the subject of Arila and thetribunal. Running a finger around theedge of her wine glass, she askedthoughtfully, ‘Was Kana’s evidencecorrect?’I said, ‘I wasn’t thinking very clearlyat the time but, from what I do
  • remember, there wasn’t muchfactually wrong with what he said.’Kari wrinkled her nose sceptically,frowned, and arranged the cutleryinto a neat square, saying, ‘Come tothink of it, there wasn’t muchdifference between what the two ofyou said.’‘Look, Kari, I couldn’t do anythingelse! I couldn’t have given falsetestimony.’‘No, you couldn’t have!’ She said itflatly.I said, ‘It wouldn’t have helpedanyway. Just imagine if my testimonydidn’t agree with what Kana said.There would have been more cross-questioning. They would havewondered what I was hiding and whyI was hiding it.’Kari responded slowly, ‘Yes. I guessso. Maybe you’re right.’
  • I said, ‘The question is -- not what Isaid at the tribunal -- not even whatKana said -’‘No? What, then?’‘The question is whether it shouldhave happened at all.’Kari gave me a quick, startled lookand looked around nervously beforeshe responded, ‘Yes. That’s the realquestion ...’ She looked down at thetable and murmured pensively, ‘Andthat can’t be spoken about.’ We sat inawkward silence for a while. Then shegathered herself and said, ‘There’s nosense in crying over spilt milk, isthere?’After a short pause, I asked,‘Speaking of Arila -- have you seenher lately?’‘Not since around mid-year, I guess.’‘Is she still at that college inOnendja?’
  • ‘She’s just finished her course there.’Kari shook her head gloomily andsaid sceptically, ‘Secretarial college!Learning how to access and toprocess, doing file managing andinformation routing - huh!’I said, ‘But all at a higher level. It’san advanced secretarial college,remember?’Kari took up the ironic tone,responding, ‘Sorry! I forgot -- anadvanced secretarial college.’‘Society needs good secretaries.’Kari gave me a sharp look andresponded, ‘Oh, yes! For sure! And itneeds good electro-mail routers, goodplumbers, and good -’ Kari’s voicetrembled and she reached for ahandkerchief. She wiped her eyes andcontinued, ‘That’s not the point! Thisis not what Arila wanted! She wantedsomething quite different.’
  • ‘Okay, you don’t have to convinceme! I know! It was a big slap in theface for her.’Kari said, ‘Exactly! She had her mindset on a career in environmentalmanagement, right through highschool. And then this thing happened…!’ She didn’t have to say any more.After a pause during which she re-arranged the cutlery again, shesuddenly said, ‘Kana is seeing Arila.Did you know?’‘What? I had no idea! I am surprised.In fact, I am amazed.’Kari said, meaningfully, ‘I’m notsurprised.’‘No?’‘No! He never really gave up on her.We all knew that.’‘What do you mean by “seeing her”?’‘He’s been visiting her at weekends.’
  • I was flabbergasted. ‘Arila and Kanatogether again, after everything thathappened? I just can’t believe it!’Kari shrugged and said despondently,‘He sees her quite a lot.’‘And she welcomes him?’Kari shook her head emphaticallyand shot me a wondering look. ‘No!Of course not! How can you evenask?’ She repeated the look, shookher head, and said, ‘In any case, shewas in a serious liaison until Kanaarrived on the scene.’I said, ‘I’m trying to understandwhat’s going on. Arila breaks off herliaison and takes up with Kana butshe doesn’t really want to see him? Isthat correct?’Kari leaned forward, making surethat she couldn’t be overheard, andsaid in a low voice, ‘To be frank, Arilafinds him repulsive.’‘Then why -?’
  • Still keeping her voice low, Kari said,‘She’s scared of Kana. In fact, she’svery scared.’ I just sat and looked ather, trying to make sense of thisastonishing news. Kari added, ‘Kanacan be very threatening when peopledon’t go along with him.’‘Threatening?’Kari picked up a knife, ran the edgelightly across her thumb, grimaced,and said, ‘Brutal! To speak frankly,Kana can be very brutal.’ She lookeddirectly at me, and said, ‘I’m sure thisisn’t news to you. After all, you knowhim only too well, don’t you?’In response, I just nodded, feelingoverwhelmed by bewilderment andapprehension.Kari and I left the restaurant soonafterwards. It was late and our liaisonhad come to an end so we took leaveof each other and went our separateways into the soft summer night.
  • After I qualified, I was posted toAnjima. When I heard the news, I felta sense of inevitability, as if I hadknown for a long time that Anjimawould be one of my life’s destinations.For different reasons, my father andAlini were delighted that I had beenposted there. Firstly, it turned outthat Alini had been based in Anjimafor two years during the War. ‘Therewas very bad fighting there in thebeginning’, he said. ‘A number of mymates copped it during the first twoor three months. But later it eased off,when we got the upper hand.’ Hesliced a piece off an apple, paused,and then said, ‘Ha! But to se the placenow, you would never believe whathappened there! It’s all been resettledand rebuilt. In fact, I hear that it’sgetting to be quite prosperous andmodern.’
  • My father said, ‘Your grandparents -my mother and father - came fromthere originally. In fact, you know, Iwas born while they were on themove.’‘In Anjima, Papa?’‘There or thereabouts. At the time,they were walking north along with agroup of fellow refugees, trying to getaway from the fighting. When yourgrandmother’s time came, the rest ofthe party left them behind.’I said, ‘Not an act of social solidarity.’Alini said, ‘Ha! In spite of what youhear, in those days not everyone was ahero. That’s all that we hear aboutnowadays – heroes, heroes, heroes!Ha! But, I tell you, when people are indeadly danger or fleeing for their lives...’ He shrugged meaningfully and leftit there.My father continued, ‘My parentswere in a precarious situation.
  • Fortunately, somewhere in themountains of the escarpment theyfound a hide-out at the top of aravine, where there was a supply ofwater. That’s where they waited forme to be born.’Alini asked, ‘So they were all alonewhen you were born? Just the two ofthem?’‘That’s right – just the two of them.My father did what was necessary.You wouldn’t think it, but he could dothings like that when he had to.’Alini said, ‘Ha! They were people ofthe old school. We won’t see theirlikes again.’My father smiled reflectively and saidsoftly, ‘You’re right. We’re the newgeneration. We’re made differently.’He shrugged. ‘But, you know, it’s justas well that my parents are gone. Forbetter or worse, there’s no place for
  • people like them. In fact, there hasn’tbeen ever since the War.’I asked, ‘After you were born, Papa -what then?’My father said, ‘My parents managedto make their way over themountains. They found shelter withsomeone, an okunbunru, and he -’I interrupted, asking, ‘A what?’My father laughed and responded,‘An okunbunru - a clansman - onewho shares the same ancestry andterritorial rights, as well as the samelanguage.’‘Well, Papa, I didn’t know that youknew about things like that.’My father said half ironically,‘Knowing is not a deviation from thesocial norms. Speaking is, if it violatesdoctrine.’Alini said heatedly, ‘Let it die out! Letthem all die out and be buried in thedust – all these traditions, okunbunru
  • and what-what – huh! They justbrought trouble and strife.’There was a short silence while myfather looked hard at Alini. When hespoke again, there was reproach in hisvoice: ‘That’s as may be. But thisman, this okunbunru, renderedservice to my parents. He hid them ina broken-down cottage on amountainside and gave them foodfrom his own store. He evenslaughtered his own livestock forthem. In fact, I probably owe my lifeto him.’I asked, ‘Did grandma and grandpaever see him again?’‘No. After the War, the area wasdeclared a development region so noone could get in or out without officialpermission. However, when yourmother worked in the region, shetried to locate the place, from
  • directions my parents gave her. Butshe wasn’t successful.’I asked, ‘Why not? What was theproblem?’My father shot me a cautionaryglance and said, ‘It wasn’t that shecouldn’t find the place. The fact isthat she wasn’t allowed to look for it.’Alini chuckled knowingly and myfather smiled bleakly. He said flatly,‘The security officers stopped her.They’re thick on the ground in placeslike Anjima. No doubt you’ll seesomething of them, whether you lookfor them or not.’‘But hopefully you won’t see toomuch of them,’ said Alini. He snortedmeaningfully and growled, ‘Oh, yes –especially the SSB! Keep away fromthem.’I asked, ‘What’s the SSB?’ Alini justsnorted again while my father gaveme the same cautionary glance and
  • said, ‘Your mother was warned offasking questions in the area.’I asked, ‘Why?’‘Parts of Anjima region are too closeto some Protected Territories,’ saidmy father.Alini added, ‘And in the ProtectedTerritories – ‘ My father silenced himwith a sharp glance. After that, theywould say nothing more.The journey to Anjima region bytravtube took five-hours over adistance of about two thousandkilometres, longer than I had evertravelled before. As the travtube spedforwards, I followed our course on themap, trying to visualise the scenesoutside the capsules. I imagined thathere, surely, there were great plains,green and expansive with the ripenessof maize. Now it was an hour later -surely we were gliding throughfoothills? Then, as the travtube
  • rushed onwards, I imagined a morerugged upland country, broken by theheadwaters of rivers, with the mass ofthe central mountains rising in thedistance. Later still, trying to traceour position on a map, I thought thatwe must have entered the country ofhigh, drier plains, dotted with conicalhillocks and boulder-strewn massifs.Next we must have been speedingonwards into the mountains of thefinal escarpment. The travtubecapsules swayed gently as theytraversed what must have beengradients and cuttings.Somewhere around here, or at least incountry like this, I thought, my fatherwas born in a tumbledown cottage ona secluded mountainside whileconflict raged all around. Somewherearound here his parents were helpedby a man who had an ancientrelationship to them, that of a
  • clansman -- an okunbunru. I spokethe word under my breath in rhythmwith the swaying pace of the travtube:‘ok-un-bun-ru, ok-un-bun-ru, ok-un-bun-ru.’ The place where my fatherwas born could be close to where wewere passing, or it could be hundredsof kilometres away -- in fact,anywhere along the ragged mountainranges of the escarpment. There wasno way of telling.My thoughts oscillated continuallybetween the familiar and the new. Aswe sped towards this strange southernterritory, over and over again Ithought about what my father andAlini had said. I also thought aboutmy grandparents. How was it that Iwas so different to them and yet of thesame line? Finally, pummelling mymind and stretching it to the point ofexhaustion, I tried to imagine what Iwould find in Anjima. Dwelling on
  • these imponderables, lulled by theswaying pace of the travtube, I dozedoff.It was a relief to arrive at the travtubeterminus in Anjima town, where Icould stretch my limbs and breathefresh air after the air-filtered confinesof the travtube capsules. There wasno one to meet me when I arrived, so Istrolled along the reception area ofthe terminus, feeling the pricklyhumidity of the southern climate andbreathing in the scent of unusualvegetation.With the fresh eyes of the traveller, Istudied the people around me. Thefirst thing that I noticed was the widerange of complexions and physicalfeatures. I saw people with the richdarkness and broader features that Ihad always accepted as the norm, aswell as people with light skin, almostpink in some cases, and sharper,
  • longer facial features. Some peoplehad such angular noses and lips sothin that I thought that they must bedeformed. However, no one seemed totake any particular notice of them.With the same ease as everyone else,they went about their business,arriving, departing, standing about,chatting to friends and acquaintances,and greeting and taking leave.Some people had long, straight hair ofvarious colours, from jet black to thecolour of light flax. There were even afew redheads - something completelynew in my experience. I had seendifferent types of people in thehighlands, but I had never seen such avariety.Dress and style were flamboyant.Women wore flowing outfits incolourful prints. Necklines, sleeves,and hems were embellished withbroad embroidery. Already, only a
  • few minutes after arriving in Anjima,I could sense that this new territorywas different to the highlands, for allthe strictures of the SocialRegulations and for all the dogma ofSociety.My colleague arrived, apologising forbeing late, and we set off in hishovercar. After a short ride hedelivered me to a guest house called‘Korola Lodge’. The brass nameplatewas embellished with the stylised logoof a cactus-like plant that looked likea spiky candelabrum.‘I’ve only seen those in books,’ I said.My colleague shrugged. ‘Welcome tothe southland, citizen. You’ll seeplenty of them around here, especiallywhere you’re going.’As we walked up the path, I asked,‘They have a poisonous juice, don’tthey?’‘What do?’
  • ‘The korola plants. At least, so I’veread.’He shrugged and rang the doorbellwhile he replied, ‘I don’t know. Isuppose it’s possible. If it interestsyou, botany is a safe pursuit whereyou’re going.’My hostess at Korola Lodge was amiddle-aged woman named Balenda.With her resplendently flamboyantrobe and her breathless bustle, sherepresented what I had already cometo think of as characteristic of the newterritories.I unpacked a few things and thenjoined Balenda downstairs for a cupof red-bush tea. Sniffing at theunfamiliar flavour, I thanked her forher hospitality. She waved her handdeprecatingly, saying, Think nothingof it. We like to make people welcomein the southland.’
  • The patio walls, which were linedwith creepers and large pot-plants,were bathed in richly tinted lightunder the canopy of green shade-cloth. ‘I feel comfortable already,’ Isaid.‘That’s good,’ she said. She picked upa stray tealeaf and held it on the endof a finger. A chameleon, concealed ina branch above her head, took two orthree magisterial steps forward andmade a slight dart of its head.Suddenly the tealeaf was gone. Myhostess chuckled in satisfaction andobserved, ‘I never can see its tongue.It’s quicker than a human eye, nomatter how much you try to follow it.Marvellous!’I smiled at her delight and said, ‘Yes.They are marvellous. We have themat home.’She looked disappointed and asked,‘Do you? So it’s much like here?’
  • ‘In some ways,’ I said. ‘But differentin other ways.’ I teased her, saying,‘Our chameleons at home don’t liketea leaves.’She chuckled. ‘This one only likesred-bush tea leaves. He can afford tobe fussy.’After we chatted about my journey,my training, and my assignment inAnjima region, I asked her about theuse of the term ‘the southland’.She said, ‘You people from thehighlands often call it the NewTerritory. We call it the southland.It’s just our way of speaking. You’llget used to it. Perhaps you’ll bespeaking like we do before too long.’I said, ‘Well, perhaps I will. But it’sonly a two-year posting.’She looked at me keenly, paused, andthen asked, ‘Is that what they toldyou?’ She pursed her lips and lookedat me appraisingly with narrowed
  • eyes, then continued, ‘A lot of peoplewho come here from the highlandsseem to stay much longer than that.In fact, very much longer.’ She putthe emphasis on ‘very’, looking at meshrewdly.I said, ‘Perhaps they get to like ithere.’Balenda was about to say somethingbut checked herself. Although shenodded and smiled as if in agreement,there was something both knowingand shrewd about the manner inwhich she did so.Next morning after breakfast mycolleague drove me to my work site,which was about two hundredkilometres to the east of Anjima City.The route wound its way down intoriver valleys, rugged with cliffs andboulder-strewn floors. Then the roadclimbed back up to open plains dottedwith rocky outcrops and small
  • ravines. Up on the plains, there weredistant clusters of farm buildings,small villages, agro-industrycomplexes, and the slim towers ofpower-structs and sociocommnetworks. Everywhere, there werewind-generators on the high places.After the clear light and humanactivity of the plains above, the rivervalleys were gloomy, almost ominous.They seemed to have secretive lives oftheir own as if they had never beenfully subdued by the forces of Society.Ten: To build a bridgeCitizens may not enter a ProtectedTerritory unless authorised to do so.Nor may they have anycommunication whatsoever with anyinhabitant of a Protected Territory.(Social Regulation 7: version 1 of theRegulations as promulgated by the
  • First Annual Gathering of theAssembly: AS1-6.3)For a long time, just like the blanked-out history of the Old Time, theblanked-out spaces of the ProtectedTerritories had grasped myimagination. Now I was right on theedge of a Protected Territory. Soon Iwould roll back the covering ofsecrecy and silence and find out morethan I ever expected.I was assigned to a team working onthe construction of a new bridge at asite about fifteen kilometres inlandfrom the coast. Together with theother team members, I lived andworked in temporary quarters nearthe site where we were housed inbasic but comfortable mobile units.When I had my first look at the plans,I noticed what seemed to be ananomaly. The bridge was being built
  • some distance inland, necessitating adeviation in the road, although theterrain at the coast was even and flat,easily able to accommodate a bridgeof the size that was necessary to carrythe road. The anomaly was so markedthat I immediately assumed that therewas some fault in the coastal land thatprevented a bridge from being builtthere. Perhaps there were marshes, orsoft soil? I put this question to Anja,my colleague on the project, wholooked at me curiously and asked,‘Don’t you know?‘Know what?’Anja’s finger traced the line of theriver and then passed along theboundary line that headed north-eastwards from the river at a pointnot far from our encampment. Shesaid, ‘We can’t build down there.That’s the Protected Territory. Don’tyou know that?’
  • I looked closely at the map segmentsthat covered the parts across theriver. The territory across the riverwas almost a complete blank. It wastrue – I had forgotten just how closewe were to the Protected Territory.Nevertheless, some features puzzledme. I asked Anja, ‘Isn’t it true that nodetails of the Protected Territoriesare ever shown?’Anja looked at me quizzically andresponded, ‘And now you’re going toask -?’‘Well, there are some details on thesemaps. Not many, but some.’‘These are local maps and they’re forprofessional use only. Remember that,citizen -- they’re restricted to peoplewith official clearance – people likeus.’I pointed to the section just across theriver. ‘There’s a road that goes right
  • across this part of the ProtectedTerritory.’‘Of course! That’s why we’re here - toconstruct a bridge to connect up withit. The old low-level causeway getsflooded in the rainy season.’I said, ‘Yes, I know that. But that’snot what I’m asking about.’‘What, then?’‘I thought that the ProtectedTerritories were just that - protectedfrom intrusion from Society, sealedoff, not accessible under anycircumstances.’Anja looked at me closely for amoment before she said warily, ‘Theyare, citizen – to most people, anyway.’‘Then who -?’Anja folded the maps, switched on theaccessor, and pointed at theprojection table. She said pointedly, ‘Iwould advise you to keep yourquestions for work-related matters.
  • Are you any good at designing stress-bearing beams?’We got down to work, leaving mycuriosity piqued and unsatisfied.More than ever, I suspected that therewas a lot more to know about theProtected Territories than wascontained in the official line. Butwhy? I remembered trying to peerthrough a tiny gap in the brush-outover the image of a ProtectedTerritory, far down to the north. Nowhere I was, right next door to aProtected Territory – and I had solidproof that someone from Society hadaccess to it. Also, the fact that we werebuilding a bridge showed that accesswas far from infrequent. Whotravelled into the territory, and why?What was more, access wasn’t only byroad. The map showed that the roadpassed close to what looked like aspeed-shuttle landing site, which was
  • about seventy kilometres into theterritory and looked to be largeenough for intercontinental craft.Questions, questions, questions – butmy questions were not welcome. If Iwanted answers, I would have to findthem in other ways.Anja and I had an agreeable workingrelationship. However, although shewas competent at her work, sheseemed to be at a loss in her personalaffairs. In fact, she reminded me of aconfused puppy-dog that has lost itsmother and attaches itself to everypasser-by in the hope of making goodthe loss. Nevertheless, for all that, Ifound Anja physically attractive, withher round-compact body, pert nose,and large, liquid eyes.When she offered me a liaison, I wastempted. But did I really want to be asurrogate for whatever it was that shehad lost? I rejected her offer as
  • gracefully as I could, telling her that Iwas still trying to deal with the fall-out from another liaison – which wasnot entirely untrue -- and needed timeto come to terms with my emotions.However, I guess that the real truthwas that after my experience withKari, I wanted to proceed in my owntime and at my own pace. It wasanother instance of my naivety. I hadnot yet learned that in relationshipsbetween men and women, the timeand occasion can choose us, ratherthan the reverse.After a few weeks, I bought a pair ofhiking boots and began to ramble inthe countryside around ourencampment. At first I explored theuplands and plains country but latermy interest turned towards the rivervalley. It was wild and deserted, anattractive place for someone whowanted some solitude. Also, ever since
  • we had travelled through the firstriver valley on my first full day inAnjima region, I knew that I wouldhave to explore and come to termswith these secretive, reclusive places.Our encampment was situated aboutmid-way within a large U-bend of theriver, almost at the open mouth of thehorseshoe. The northern parts of thevalley were rugged, while thesouthern parts became more open asthe river approached the sea. Nearthe mouth, the river broadened andthe banks became lower until finallythey ran into the sand dunes and thewind-twisted coastal bush thatcovered the higher reaches of thedunes.I liked to ramble along the shore,exploring the rock pools at low tide,watching the creatures that scuttledaround amongst the discarded debrisat the margins of the sea. But I could
  • only explore in one direction becausethe Protected Territory was fenced offto the east of the mouth. At low tide Icould easily have made my wayaround the rusty, decrepit fence, but Iknew better than to do that.As I got to know the river valley, Ibegan to think that I saw signs ofhuman activities on the oppositebank. In fact, there were even placeswhere it looked as if paths led down tothe river’s edge through the impassivebush. In a few places I thought that Icould even see broad tracks that couldonly have been made by wheeledvehicles.Once, I thought that I saw a piece ofclothing lying under a bush on theother side of the river. I marked theplace opposite to where it lay and,when I returned next day, it had gone.There had been no wind and the riverhad maintained an even height, so it
  • seemed reasonable to assume that thegarment, or whatever it was, had beenremoved. But by who or by what –animal or human? I didn’t know.I sat down in the sun and, leaningback against a rock, studied theopposite bank, focusing on a smallbreak in the bush near to where theobject had lain. The break could havebeen the beginning of a footpath, but Iwasn’t sure. I relaxed and bathed inthe silence and the warmth of the sun,idly surveying the opposite bank.After about ten minutes, a jackalglided down to drink at the water’sedge. It rolled in the dust, shook itselfbriskly like a dog, and thendisappeared back into the bush. Afterthat, everything was still again.I must have dozed for about an hourbecause I was enveloped in shadewhen I surfaced from my nap. Lazily,I stretched and sat up. As I did so, I
  • glimpsed a movement on the oppositebank where the path emerged fromthe bush. A human figure suddenlyturned and receded into the gloom ofthe bushes. Just for a moment -- briefbut clear -- I got an impression of theperson across the river. It was ayoung woman, lean of face, with aslender neck and smooth skin of aslightly brown or olive complexion.Her head was uncovered and herdark hair, shoulder length, fell freelyaround her face. It swung against herneck, matching the swirl of her loosegarment as she turned quickly anddisappeared.It all happened so suddenly thatwithin a few moments I almostdoubted whether I had seen anythingat all. An illusion, perhaps? But itmust have happened - or why did Ihave such a clear and lastingimpression? Dark hair, lean face --
  • but well formed, my imagination toldme, pressing the image upon me --young and lithe as she swung backinto the cover of the foliage. Theimpression wouldn’t leave me. Timeand again, the image drifted into myconsciousness, more pervasive andoften more insistent than the workthat I was doing at the time.Eleven: A sweet and proper thingI like Otto. I’m wary of him, but I likehim. He’s different. For one thing,unlike most of the other guardians,Otto isn’t lethargic. Nor is hequerulous and peevish. In fact, he’sthe very opposite. He’s active andvigorous, always looking for ways tomake improvements. He gives animpression of urgency, of energy, ofcompetence, almost ofindefatigability.
  • Otto is also deceptive. If you standback and look at him objectively, yousee a short man in late middle age,balding, rotund, and ponderous in hismovements. Another striking featureabout Otto is the darkness of his skin,which is so black that it is positivelylustrous. As a black hole attractslight, so Otto, simply by being there,commands attention. All in all, Otto ismuch more than the sum of hisapparent parts.Recently, Otto invited me to havedinner with him. While we enjoyed aglass of wine before dinner, Ottostretched out lazily, tapped afingernail against his glass, and said,‘We were talking about you and thenew territory.’‘Were we?’‘Yes. This morning, in your office.’
  • As often happens, Otto had caught meoff balance. I said, ‘Yes, I remember.What about the new territory?’‘You were telling me about your map-making activities.’‘Was I?’Otto gave me an easy smile andresponded, ‘You were telling me whyyou started to make your own map. Iremember you said that you couldn’tget hold of any official maps to studyin your own time.’‘Yes, that’s right. They were alllocked up in the chief engineer’soffice. I couldn’t access the masterimages either because they were allpass-worded.’‘So you said. And then-?’It was clear that Otto wanted to hearmore. As so often, I thought, well,why not? What harm could it do, herein this place? So I relaxed and said, ‘Ibegan trying to map the parts of the
  • river that were within reach of theencampment. The valley fascinatedme because it was secretive, in a way– secluded, also -- anyway, whateverthe reason, at first I found it bothattractive and forbidding.’Otto sipped his wine and then turnedthe glass against the light,appreciating the lustre. It was donecasually -- but he was watching mekeenly. He asked, ‘And then youfound that its attractions grew justbecause of its isolation, and becauseyou could be alone with yourselfthere.’I said, ‘It’s true. I was finding that Ihad thoughts that I could becomfortable with, a kind of inner lifethat was as interesting as the outerlife around me.’Otto raised his eyebrows ironicallyand observed, ‘Not very society-minded.’
  • ‘No less than your classical research.’Otto grinned at me conspiratorially.‘Ah, yes. But you were in the newterritory and I am here.’ He waved ahand around. ‘Here our inner life is ofno consequence to anyone -- unless wemake a noise while cultivating it, inwhich case some of our neighboursmight complain.’ He chuckled, put hisarms behind his head, stretchedcomfortably, and chuckled againbefore he said, ‘Exploring, going offon your own, making a map – youdon’t get turned back easily, do you?’‘No, I suppose not.’Otto chuckled again. ‘You’restubborn, aren’t you? Has anyoneever told you that?’‘It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.’Otto waved a finger at me in friendlyadmonishment, saying, ‘Stubbornnessis unsocial. Everyone knows that. ButI’ll tell you one thing – stubbornness
  • makes life a lot more interesting.Some of these dodos we’ve got herecould do with some of it.’I asked, ‘Dodos? What are those?’Otto grinned and replied, ‘You’llhave to find out for yourself.’After the meal, we relaxed with minttea. I told Otto about how mycuriosity went into overdrive when,once, I saw a woman on the otherbank. He grinned sardonically andsaid, ‘Ah, Simora, your imaginationhas always seduced you.’‘But I did see something. It wasproved by what happened later.’‘Of course you did! Your eyes knewwhat they saw. But if you had been agood citizen, your mind would havedenied it – and that would have beenthe end of the matter, not so?’ Ottolooked at me sardonically. Then hesaid, ‘You were going to tell me aboutthe old ruins that you found.’
  • ‘That happened about two weekslater. I was wandering in the valley,downstream, about half-way betweenour base and the sea when I cameacross some old masonry.’‘Just by chance?’‘Yes, entirely by chance. I wasfollowing what I thought was an antbear trail when I stumbled across alow wall running across my path.’‘Where exactly?’ Otto leaned over therough map that I had sketched forhim.I said, ‘Right here. It’s a place wherethe riverbank is much lower. Thebank forms a bowl and runs gently uptowards the plain. There’s a rockyoutcrop about here –’ I sketched it onthe map ‘- but, for the rest, it’s just agentle slope.’Otto studied the map, then stood backwith his hands on his hips, grunted,and said, ‘Old masonry, eh?’
  • ‘That’s what it turned out to be,although at first I didn’t know what itwas. It was so low on the ground andso covered with grass that it wasalmost invisible except from close-up.’‘Foundations of a building, nodoubt?’‘Yes. I worked that out, after a while.The masonry was composed of large,shaped stones, probably quarriedfrom the cliffs nearby. The stoneswere held together by what appearedto be a lime-based compound.’Otto tugged at an ear and saidthoughtfully, ‘Lime, eh? That’s quitepossible. There was a time beforecement was developed –’ He tugged atthe ear again and asked, ‘Are yousure it was lime?’‘Yes, I’m just about certain.’‘Hmm! That would date it quite farback, a few centuries at least.’ Otto
  • smiled at me knowingly and asked,‘What next?’I said teasingly, ‘Oh, being a goodcitizen, I left the matter right thereand scuttled away before I wascorrupted.’‘Well, that’s a great pity. Then youwon’t be able to tell me anythingabout the shape or purpose of thebuilding.’‘That’s true. I won’t be able to tellyou that the structure wasrectangular, with thick outer wallsand a regular arrangement of wallsinside the structure.’‘Is there anything else that you won’tbe able to tell me, Good CitizenSimora?’‘I also won’t be able to tell you thatthe inside walls seemed to form roomsthat all backed against the outerwalls.’
  • Otto said, ‘Hold on! Let’s draw a planof the structure, so that I can followall the details that you also won’t beable to tell me about.’ He begantracing a shape across his electro-padand asked, ‘How big were theserooms?’‘Each room was about four pacessquare.’‘How many?’‘About ten of them.’‘All on one side?’‘No. They were distributed evenlyalong the two longer sides of thestructure.’Otto sketched the details and thenasked, ‘What was the length of theshorter sides?’‘Oh, I guess about twenty paces.’Otto showed me the pad. ‘Is that whatit looked like?’
  • ‘Yes, except that here –’ I pointed tothe southern side ‘- here there was nofoundation.’Otto altered the sketch and grunted.‘Hmm! I guess that was a gateway.’‘Yes, that’s what I thought.’Otto filled in a few details on the padand then asked, ‘What else can youtell me about it?’I traced my finger across the sketchand replied, ‘Here, in the north-western corner, I came across part ofa wall that was still standing to aboutwaist height. The outer walls were thesame thickness as the foundations.’‘Ah! That’s useful! What were theymade of?’‘The same rough stone blocks.’‘Anything else?’‘A portion of an inner wall was stillstanding.’‘Also made of stone?’
  • ‘No. It was constructed of a doublelayer of burnt bricks that were alsoheld together by the same limecompound.’Otto leaned over his sketch, sayingthoughtfully, ‘It had outer walls ofstone and inner walls of burnt brick.’He sketched for a few seconds, thensat back and said, ‘Hmm! Yes, thatfigures.’‘What figures?’‘It was a defensive structure –probably a fort.’‘Yes, I also thought that.’I told Otto that after I explored thesite, I followed a faint track that ledupwards towards the back of therocky outcrop where I found the firsttwo graves.‘Are you sure that’s what they were?’‘Positive. I knew what they werebecause my grandparents were buriedin the same way. Also, of course, in
  • school we learned about burial of thedead.’‘A primitive way of disposing of thedead in the barbarian cultures thatexisted before the War of Restitution– that’s what you learned, I guess?’‘Yes, that’s right.’Otto was still looking at mequizzically. He asked, ‘Tell me more.’‘The graves were around the back ofthe outcrop in a thick clump of bush.I had to crawl under thorn bushes toget close to them. Finally, I found sixmounds. There could have been morebut the bush was too thick for me tolook around further.’‘That’s all – just six mounds?’‘No. There was also a gravestone.’Otto’s eyebrows went up and hewhistled before he responded, ‘Ah!Now that’s really interesting!’
  • ‘When I stumbled over something, Ithought that it was just a flat stoneuntil an inscription caught my eye.’‘More and more interesting!’‘I dragged the stone out into thesunlight and examined it. It was aboutas long as my arm, with straight sides,a flat surface, and a rounded top. Icleared away the dirt and scraped itwith a twig to make the inscriptionclearer.’Otto was following me intently. Hesaid, ‘Whoa! Let’s sketch it.’ Hesketched as I told him about thegravestone and, after about tenminutes, he straightened, held out hiselectro-pad, and said, ‘There you are!How’s that?’I said, ‘I am impressed! That’s aboutas accurate as it can be.’Otto studied the drawing carefullyand then said, ‘Well, it’s a gravestone,for sure.’
  • I asked, ‘Belonging to which period?Which people?’Otto pursed his lips. ‘It’s hard to say.I don’t know much about the historyof the new territories before our time.Not many people do. It’s always beenhighly classified material.’‘Even to members of the innerexecutive committee?’He nodded. ‘To most of them -- in mytime, anyway. It’s probably still thesame. And there’s no one here whohad that sort of access in their time onthe committee. So I’ll only be able tomake a few educated guesses.’ Hescratched the tip of his nose slowlyand then said reflectively, ‘That word‘Sergeant’ - that was an army rankbelow that of an officer, I think. Now,let’s see - this dead man, this SergeantThomas Rathbone, served in the 55thRegiment.’I asked, ‘What’s a regiment?’
  • Otto said, ‘A regiment was anorganised body of soldiers -- aboutone or two thousand men, I guess.’ Ilooked at Otto in surprise and in someadmiration but he just shrugged andsaid, ‘One picks up things as one goesalong. Now, let’s see - those figures‘1796’ and ‘1826’ - those are datesfrom the Old Time. The last datewould mean that Sergeant Rathbonedied about two hundred and fiftyyears ago, at a rough estimate.’‘At the age of thirty?’Otto nodded. ‘Yes. It’s a pity that wedon’t know his place of birth. Thatwould give us a clue about the armyhe was serving in. I can only guessthat it was one of the imperial forcesof the time.’‘Imperial?’‘Empire -- a term referring to theextension of control over subjectareas and subject populations.’ Otto
  • added, sardonically, ‘Comparable toSociety’s control over the ProtectedTerritories.’Not long ago, I would have beenalarmed and shocked by such anobservation. Now I merely noddedand said, ‘So, what we do know is thatit was the grave of a soldier of a rankbelow that of an officer, who livedabout two hundred and fifty yearsago. He died at the age of thirty,probably far away from home.’Otto nodded, rubbed his chin, andsaid slowly and reflectively, ‘It lookslike it. There’s something else -- weknow that he died violently or itwouldn’t be worth noting ‘time ofpeace’. It’s possible that the buildingwas on the frontier -- and the rivercould have been the frontier.’‘Yes. That’s what I thought.’Otto gave me a knowing look andobserved, ‘If the river was the
  • frontier way back in the Old Time --that’s ironic, as you’ve no doubtnoted.’ He paused and then saidthoughtfully, ‘The name of theregiment -- Kings Own -- that’s aclue, too.’‘What sort of clue?’‘Well, if we had the information, wecould find out which empires weremonarchical at the time.’Monarchical? Well, that wassomething else that I could find outlater. I said, ‘And if we knew thehistory of that piece of new territory -who was where, and when - then a lotof the mystery would be solved.’Otto said, ‘Yes. It’s ironic that wehave almost unrestricted access toclassical history here. But the historyof, say, the last three or four hundredyears - that’s closed to us.’ Heshrugged. ‘Some of our colleagues areworking on it, but it’s a difficult
  • subject. To tell the truth, I sometimeswonder if there are any records atall.’‘No records? Why?’‘The purification units were verythorough after the War of Restitution.They began by working backwardfrom the most recent and nearestrecords, destroying everything thatthey could find.’Thinking about my experience atschool, I said, ‘Obviously they didn’tdestroy everything.’‘No, they didn’t. Later when theymoved north perceptions changed andthey were ordered to archive thematerials instead of destroying them.’For a short while, we sipped at ourwine companionably. Then Ottosnapped his fingers and said, ‘Thatinscription – ‘dulce’ and so on - Ithink it’s Latin.’ He grinned at me.‘Latin was a language that died out a
  • long time ago. Perhaps I can have ago at translating it.’He went over to an accessor andcalled up a program, studied thescreen for a while, and returned to hischair looking satisfied. He settled inand remarked, ‘I’m not good atgrammar, but ‘dulce et decorum est’seems to be part of a longer Latinphrase, meaning something to theeffect that it is a sweet and properthing to die for your country.’‘I wonder if Sergeant Rathbonethought so?’‘Probably not. But perhaps hissuperiors did. Or possibly he wascareless and they weren’t impressedwith him. Perhaps he caused a cross-border incident. Who knows?’ Ottolapsed into thought, resting his chinon his hands. Then he sat up and said,‘It’s interesting - the use of Latin. Itsurprises me. I’d have thought it
  • would have died out a long timebefore that – in fact, many centuriesearlier.’ He shrugged. ‘Perhaps theassociations of empire - present deedsreflecting ancient glories -’ Hesnapped his fingers again and said,‘Come to think of it, that reminds meof something I saw just the other day.’He got up, fiddled with the accessor,and then said, ‘Ah! Here it is -something to set your mind working.’He read from the screen:‘The swift will not escape,The strong will not muster theirstrength,And the warrior will not save his life.’I asked, ‘Is that also something fromLatin?’Otto gave me a sometimes-you-make-me-wonder look and said, ‘No. It’sfrom an old book called the Bible.’I said, ‘The Bible? I’ve heard of it.’‘You have? How?’
  • ‘Mary told me about it.’Otto smiled wryly and remarked,‘Your Mary seems to have taught youa lot.’ Then he said, ‘It’s aninteresting book, the Bible. Have alook at it some time.’‘Is it available on the accessors?’Otto waved a hand carelessly andsaid, ‘Oh, of course it is! Don’t youknow that the canon doesn’t applyhere? Just about everything in thearchives is available, especially the oldmaterial. After all, why not? Drop insome time and I’ll show you if youcan’t find it for yourself.’ Otto put hishead back, stretched out, and closedhis eyes. I could see that he was tired.Sometimes nature got under theguard of even the indefatigable Otto.I sat in silence for a while, thinkingabout graves, old forts, frontiers, andthe dead sergeant named ThomasRathbone. Then I took my leave. At
  • the door, Otto shook my hand andsaid, ‘Dulce et decorum est, eh?Perhaps they were right. But here,who would know? I mean, who wouldknow whether we lived or died and ifso, for what?’ He raised his hand ingreeting and closed the door.Twelve: My name is MarySocial Regulation 7: Version 1 ishereby amended to read: For thepurpose of commercial exchange only,citizens and inhabitants of theProtected Territory adjacent toAnjima region may communicatewith each other subject to thefollowing conditions: (1) Citizens shallnot enter the territory; (2)Inhabitants of the territory shall notenter more than one kilometre intoAnjima region; (3) Such exchangesshall initially be for a period of three
  • months, and shall be strictlysupervised by the Bureau forBarbarian Development. (From theminutes of Meeting 211 of theExecutive Committee,211/YS52/Resolution 3 AR.)When the officials in Anjima regionarranged a trade fair, it was amomentous step, a complete about-turn in policy, because for the firsttime the authorities were allowingcontact with inhabitants of aProtected Territory. The first that weheard about the fair was when anofficial from Anjima City paid a visitto our encampment, gathered us alltogether, and announced out of theblue that there was going to be across-border fair. You don’t have tohave much imagination to figure outthat the announcement generated abuzz of interest.
  • Operative Bomela was a pert youngwoman with an oval face that shonewith enthusiasm. She wore an iron-grey uniform with calf-length bootsand shoulder badges that I had neverseen before, depicting the globe of theEarth bursting forth at its top sidewith fruits and leaves. There was aneven greater hullabaloo of excitementwhen Operative Bomela announcedthat the fair would be held only a fewkilometres downstream from ourencampment at a place where theriverbanks sloped gently and thevalley was broader, allowing the riverto run shallower and wider. In fact, itwasn’t far from the old walls that Idiscovered a few months earlier. Itwould be ironic, I thought, if thepurpose of the old site had been thesame, namely to facilitate andregulate trade between the people on
  • either side of the frontier. But howwould I ever know?Operative Bomela announced that thefairs would be held monthly over athree-month trial period. She alsosaid that any inhabitant of theProtected Territory who had alegitimate interest in the fair would bepermitted to cross the river to takepart in the proceedings. When it wastime for questions, one of mycolleagues asked, quite daringly, ‘Andwho will decide which of thebarbarians has a legitimate interest inthe fair?’Bomela didn’t even blink when shereplied calmly, ‘The decision will beleft to the barbarian chiefs andgovernors of the areas near to the siteof the fair. However, our securityoperatives will work with them,checking their selections.’ There wasanother buzz of excitement, after
  • which Bomela continued, ‘You maybe assured that only those with agenuine interest in trade will beallowed to participate. Oh, and by theway, this applies to both sidesequally.’ She traced a pointer acrossthe map. ‘There will be only one roadto the site – right there, we’ll bewidening this path – and access withina radius of one kilometre of theterrain will be restricted to permit-holders only. Furthermore,fraternising between the inhabitantsof the two territories will be kept to aminimum. Also, there will be norefreshment stalls or amusements.This fair is strictly for business, andfor business only.’Someone asked, ‘Citizen officer, willwe be safe?’ The room went quiet butOperative Bomela waved her hand ina reassuring gesture and said, ‘Wewill ensure that there is strict control
  • and the highest security. You can restassured that there will be no dangerwhatsoever.’Someone else asked, ‘Citizen, can wehear more about this new bureau, theone that’s going to make all thearrangements?’‘Of course you can, citizen. There’sno secret about it, none whatsoever.It’s called the Bureau for BarbarianDevelopment.’ She tapped one of hershoulder badges and observed, ‘It’sonly a bureau at present because afull department hasn’t beenestablished yet. So it’s very much atrial. We have to work hard to makeit succeed. That’s why we’re relyingon all of you to help us.’The hum of excitement around theroom quietened when OperativeBomela pronounced with even greaterenthusiasm, ‘Of course, we’re dealingwith highly sensitive issues. Our
  • bureau represents a new developmentin thinking, about the future of the -’She stopped abruptly as if she hadalready said too much. Noticing thatpeople were looking at her intently,she half-laughed, looking both guiltyand flustered, waved her hands, andsaid, ‘Well, I don’t have to tell youthat this is a policy matter that isbeing handled at the highest level. Ican’t say any more. We’re relying onyou not only to help us but also tokeep it confidential.’After dinner that evening, when wewere all sitting around discussing thematter, Anja, who looked edgy andapprehensive, asked, ‘Can thesepeople be trusted?Someone asked, ‘Who? Whichpeople?’‘The savages in the ProtectedTerritory! After all, what do we knowabout them? All we know is that
  • they’re primitive barbarians left overfrom the War. What’s beenhappening since then, over there?’Anja gestured dismissively in aneasterly direction. Her voice was shrillas she said, ‘They haven’t developedas we have. They’re probably stillwarlike and aggressive, just like theywere before the War – maybe evenworse. That’s why they’re in aProtected Territory, isn’t it?’Someone said pensively, ‘Anja isright! How do we know this fair andwhatever else they’re planning won’tencourage the barbarians to startcoming across the river? They mightstart raiding and stealing. We won’tbe safe in our beds.’ There weremurmurs of agreement. However,someone squashed them by saying,‘We can trust the authorities to knowwhat they’re doing.’ However, itwasn’t said with great conviction.
  • Anja asked, ‘How can they know forsure?’ It was a daring question, onethat she would not normally haveasked.I said, ‘They should be well informed.People from our side go in there quiteoften. They must know what’s goingon inside the territory.’Someone said sharply, ‘That’s merespeculation, citizen! This is no time tobe speaking about things that you canonly guess at.’I replied, ‘Don’t be so naïve, citizen!Why is there a road across theterritory? Why is there a speed-shuttle landing site? Come to that,why are we building a bridge? Is it forghosts and phantoms to use?’Our chief engineer said sharply,‘Guard your words, citizen Simora!These things are not to be spoken of!’I replied, ‘They’ve been spoken aboutthis very afternoon - by the official
  • from the Barbarian Office, orwhatever it’s called. She said thatthey would exercise control and makearrangements on the other side of theriver. They couldn’t do that if theydidn’t know a lot about conditionsthere. Surely that’s simple enough foreveryone to see?’There was an embarrassed silenceuntil someone began to ask, ‘Whatspeed-shuttle -?’ but thought better ofit.One of the senior engineers said in adecisive tone, ‘We can trust theauthorities. We serve Society andSociety takes care of us. Has our trustever been misplaced?’ He looked atme fixedly, snorted dismissively, thenstood up and walked out.His departure broke up thediscussion. People began to talk aboutother things or to leave the room, andsoon only Anja and I were left. She
  • said half admiringly and halfapprehensively, ‘You really stuckyour neck out.’‘Did I?’‘That man can be dangerous. Youshould be more careful. He’s a badenemy.’ Anja was referring to thesenior engineer, the one who left theroom first.I said, ‘Thanks. I appreciate yourconcern. But after all, I was onlysaying what everyone was thinking.’Anja pursed her lips and said primly,‘You know, Simora, some things arebest left unsaid.’‘Of course, you are correct. But youknow as well as I do that, when itcomes to what’s across the river,we’ve only been told what we allknow anyway.’ Anja put a finger toher lips and looked around warily butI was in no mood to be silenced, so Icontinued, ‘How could any intelligent
  • person be working where we are, withthe Protected Territory just acrossthe river, with the maps we have ...?’Anja interrupted me, saying, ‘You’rebeing disingenuous, Simora! Youknow very well what our obligationsare -- what’s expected of us. Youknow that we can’t always speakabout everything that we know.’‘Yes, of course, but -’‘And more than that, as you know, tohave certain unapproved thoughts...’‘Yes, I know that too.’We sat in silence, looking at eachother awkwardly for about half aminute while Anja toyed with herneck scarf. When I stood up andmoved towards the door, she followedme, touched my arm, and said, ‘Don’tbe stubborn, Simora. It could bedangerous.’‘Thank you. I’ll remember what yousaid.’
  • Anja put a hand on my arm again andasked, ‘When you were hiking alongthe river, did you ever see anyone onthe other side?’‘No,’ I said. ‘Never!’‘Really?’‘No, never.’She said, ‘That’s a pity. I’d like toknow what they look like.’‘Well, at a guess, I would say thatsome of them might be quite fair-skinned, perhaps inclining to olivecoloured, with slim physiques anddark hair. But that would only be aguess, of course.’A few days later, the Bureau forBarbarian Development in AnjimaCity sent a memorandum that saidthat, because they were short ofpersonnel, they invited the staff of theengineers’ encampment to assist atthe fair. Most of us volunteered ourservices and, a few days before the
  • occasion, two officials came to ourcamp to give us a short trainingcourse. It was my first contact withthe people known as ‘security’ -- theofficers of the SSB, or the StateSecurity Bureau. Their appearanceagreed with their ominous reputation.They wore uniforms with grey, thigh-length tunics buttoned to the chin,with gleaming black boots thatreached to their upper calves. Theirflat grey caps had high peaks and ontheir belts they carried what I wastold were stun-lasers. I had never seenanyone carrying side arms and norhad my colleagues, judging by theuneasy glances that they were dartingat the weapons.The older of the two, a woman, didmost of the talking while her youngercompanion stood impassively to oneside. Only the movement of his eyesshowed his interest in the
  • proceedings. Occasionally, withouttaking his eyes off the gathering, hewould reach into his tunic, produce asmall voicerec, and speak into itquietly. Then, in the same deliberatemanner, he would replace it, stillmaintaining his impassive bearing, hisgaze moving slowly over thegathering. Sometimes he movedaround the edges of the room,stopping every few paces to look downfrom behind at someone or somethingthat took his interest.We learned that we would beemployed as marshals and securityofficials. To my disappointment, I wasassigned a position about half akilometre outside of the fair site, onthe hillside. Anja whispered to me,‘You see! I told you that youshouldn’t have spoken like that theother day. Everything gets back tosecurity.’
  • The SSB officer warned us to be onour guards at all times. She said, ‘Ourpeople have checked the lists of thetraders -- but you know how it is withsavages. They’re emotional andunstable, like children. They seesomething and then they suddenlyjust want it, on impulse. Alsoremember that they haven’t hadcontact with civilisation and we can’tpredict how they might behave.’Someone asked, nervously, ‘Are wegoing to be safe, officer citizen?’The officer looked at himdismissively, waved a hand, and said,‘Citizen, we would not be using yourservices if we thought there was anydanger. Just follow procedures andthere won’t be any trouble. Ourpeople will be everywhere. You won’teven know who some of them are, butthey’ll be there all right.’ This causednervous laughter. The officer
  • continued, ‘We haven’t had anytrouble from any of the ProtectedTerritories since just after the War ofRestitution, and that was a long timeago. We’re certainly not going to haveany trouble now. No more questions?Good. You can pick up your packagesfrom my colleague. We’ll see you nextweek.’Early on the day of the fair, weassembled at the site and were given aquick rehearsal of ourresponsibilities. When we dispersed toour positions, it turned out that myposition was more favourable than itseemed at first because I could see thewhole site clearly through thebinoculars that had been issued to me.This wasn’t so bad, after all! Icheered up and made myselfcomfortable, looking forward to aninteresting day.
  • The traders from Anjima regionarrived first. They filed through therope-cordoned entrance to the site,made their way through the securitymarquee, and began to set out theirwares on the tables that had beenprovided. Then, after about fortyminutes, there was movement on theother side of the river. This was whatI had been waiting for! At last aProtected Territory would begin togive up some of its secrets. I trainedmy binoculars on the place andwatched as people began to appear.Well, they were certainly human –just like us, in fact, with a head, twoarms, and two legs! No surprises yet!Soon there were about forty men andwomen gathered at the water’s edge.With them were two SSB officers,who began to direct them to cross theriver towards a group of waitingofficials.
  • The river was broad and shallow atthat point, reaching only up to waistheight at its deepest, and the womenwere able to wade through easily.Carrying bundles on their heads, theyshowed surprising balance and agilityas they made their way across. InAnjima territory, I sometimes sawwomen carrying loads on their heads,but I had never seen it done with suchskill and grace.Most of the barbarians’ produce wastransported on two-wheeled, bullock-drawn carts, which were lined up onthe bank, waiting to cross over.However, there was a hold-up at thewater’s edge -- some sort ofaltercation, it seemed. Through mybinoculars, I could see that the twoSSB officers were giving orders thatweren’t acceptable to the men whoclustered around them. However,after a while, clearly unhappy, the
  • men removed the bullocks from thetraces and began to pull the cartsacross the river themselves.The carts were sturdy and wide, witha seat in front for the driver and abroad tailgate at the rear. They werehigh enough for the floors to be abovethe level of the water, so that theproduce wasn’t damaged. The wheelshad solid iron rims and woodenspokes that were ornately carved anddecorated.In the meantime, most of the womenhad reached the trading area wherethey began to unpack their wares,laying them out in a line on cloths onthe ground facing the row of tables.When the carts arrived, they joinedthe trading line, laying out their goodson the tailgates. As they worked, Istudied them carefully, hardly able tobelieve that at last I was seeinginhabitants of a Protected Territory.
  • The most noticeable feature was thatall of them were light-skinned withstraight hair that varied in colourfrom the lightest to the darkest. Therewere even two or three individualswith ginger hair. Whereas most of themen had short-cropped hair, thewomen’s hair was generally longerand more ornately arranged.As I stared down at this novel scene, Iwondered about the flows ofhumanity across these territories intimes that were unknown to me. Wasthere once a time when the river wasnot a boundary or a barrier topassage and contact? But, then, if so,how could I explain the ruinedfortifications just upriver? Was thereonce a time when the river was aboundary, as it was now? If so, didpeople then trade across it as theywere doing today? And if the riverhad been a boundary in some distant
  • and unknown past, then who did itseparate from whom? Did it separatedark-skinned from light-skinnedpeople, or perhaps people with redhair from people with dark hair? Wasit a barrier between those who firstcarried loads on their heads and thosewho didn’t? Did it divide people withwheeled vehicles from ...? I gave uptrying to figure it out. Thepermutations seemed endless and Ididn’t even have enough evidence totake even a first step towardsresolving the questions.From what I could see, the peoplefrom over the river were offeringsimple goods such as leather wares,wooden bowls and carvings, andwoven linen fabrics. They were alsooffering highly glazed pottery, as wellas basic household and agriculturaltools. The traders from our side weredisplaying the more portable and
  • utilitarian types of goodsmanufactured in Anjima region, suchas pots and pans, cutlery andcrockery, light agriculturalequipment, and machine-woven cloth.Dotted amongst the groups of traderswere people who spent most of theirtime sauntering about, glancing at thewares and occasionally conversingwith each other. Obviously these werethe security personnel. I grinned as Iwatched them trying to look as if theywere traders, when in fact they stuckout like pine trees on a bare hillock. Itwas clear that they didn’t have muchto do – no more than I had to do inmy solitary position on the hillside.After about two hours, trading beganto flag and some of the traders startedto pack up their wares. Suddenly mytrans-com beeped. It was Anja,speaking from down below.
  • ‘Hullo, Simora. Do you have a goodview up there?’‘Excellent!’ I said, ‘But it’s quiet.There’s nothing much going on.’‘I bet you’d like to be down here?’‘I wouldn’t mind! I’ve been up herelong enough.’‘There’s nothing much to do downhere either. I’ll swap with you.Security says it’s all right if I do. Staythere until I can take over.’As I watched Anja making her wayup the hillside, I thought howdeceptively ordinary it all appeared tobe. Here was a young womanclimbing up a grassy hillside on abright morning, her dark plaited hairgleaming in the sun. Below her, in thedistance, people mingled with eachother. Beyond them, there was theriver, shining lazily, with two figuresmaking their way across it. Whatwould a stranger make of it if he or
  • she were to arrive on the scene out ofnowhere and without insights into thestructures and strictures thatinformed the lives of all of us in thispleasant place between the hillsideand the river?Anja arrived, panting from the climb.I asked her, ‘How’s it going downbelow?’She wiped the sweat from her face,shrugged, and said, ‘As I said --there’s nothing much going on.’‘Are the savages not being savage?’Anja looked at me sharply andresponded, ‘Huh! They’re all right. Infact, they’re well behaved. Very politetoo. They have funny accents and ofcourse they look different, but Isuppose that’s to be expected.’I said, ‘Security probably warnedthem to be on their best behaviour.’‘Yes, very likely. No one wants anyincidents. Anyway, you go down and
  • take my place.’ She looked around inappreciation. ‘It’s nice up here – quietand peaceful. It’s a good position. I’llenjoy watching them going backacross the river.’As I set off, Anja called after me,‘Wasn’t it funny, those men draggingthe carts across the river, just likeanimals.’I called back to her, saying, ‘The SSBofficials made them do it.’Anja pouted, said, ‘Oh! Is that so?’and waved at me brightly.I wandered around the stalls, tryingto get a good look at the barbarians.From close-up, they didn’t look muchdifferent to a number of people – thefair-skinned ones – whom I sawregularly in the southland. I hadexpected to see outlandish, primitivedress, but the barbarians weredressed much the same as the peopleon our side of the river. Perhaps they
  • got their clothes through some formof covert trading or perhaps theclothes came in via the road and thespeed-shuttle. Who knew?However, there were somedifferences. For instance, their shoeswere of light-coloured cured hide withlaces made of thongs. Anotherdifference was that most of the menhad beards, some of them long, whilemany of the women wore headscarvesthat matched the material of theirlong dresses. They reminded me ofmy grandmother, who used to dressin a similar manner. Anotherdifference was that the cuts and stylesof the women’s dresses were simplerand more flowing than the ones that Iwas used to seeing. They wereattractive, in their unconscioussimplicity and graceful lines. I alsonoticed something else: some of thebarbarians wore small crosses on
  • chains around their necks. Thecrosses reminded me of theinscription that I found on the stonenot far upriver from the site of thefair, and I wondered what theconnection was.Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye,I caught sight of a young womancoming around the corner of a nearbycart. She approached me and asked,‘Would you be interested in buying apair of these?’ Although she held herbasket towards me, I didn’t look atthe contents. Instead, I wanted to lookat her. Her face was firmly mouldedand lean, her skin somewhat brownerthan most of her group, and her neckattractively slender. Her head wasuncovered, allowing her dark hair,reaching to just below shoulderlength, to fall freely around her face.Her eyes were a clear brownish-green,filled with intelligence and good
  • humour. For a moment, I thought ofthe brief glimpse I had of a youngwoman on the opposite bank of theriver. Lean face, long dark hair,slender neck – no, it couldn’t be. Itwas probably just a coincidence.In a voice that was both amused andimpatient, she said, ‘I asked, wouldyou like to buy a pair?’ Embarrassed,I muttered something and transferredmy attention to her basket, in whichshe was displaying shoes made ofcured hide, laced with thongs, similarto those worn by many of thebarbarians. Although I wasn’tinterested in buying shoes, suddenly Iknew that I wanted to prolong thiscontact. To buy time, I inspected theshoes. After about a minute of closeinspection, I said, ‘They seem verysturdy.’ Even although I was turningthe shoe over in my hand, I lookeddirectly at her, wanting to meet her
  • gaze. She met my eyes frankly. Ithought, To her I’m just anothercustomer. It was a disappointing anddeflating thought. She said, ‘Theywill last for over a year of normalwear and probably much longer.They’re very hardy.’ Her voice hadthe same melodious intonation withwhich I was becoming familiar. Shesaid ‘hardy’ almost as if it was aquestion.Looking for a way of makingconversation, I asked, ‘Do you makethem?’‘No, not I! Not myself. They’re fromour factory. I work there.’I inspected her wares again. Whatdiscerning things could I say about ashoe? I tried anyway and remarked,‘The laces -- I’m not used to laces -’ Itsounded inept, even as I said it.‘Ah, but you’ll soon get used to them.Many of your people do.’
  • Later I mulled over her words, tryingto figure out what lay behind them.How did she know what many of ourpeople did? Surely she was implyingthat her people were accustomed tocontact with citizens of Society? If so,who were these people?Still turning the shoe over in myhands, I said, ‘I’d like to try a pair on.Is that all right?’She looked at me with someamusement, I thought. I must haveseemed gauche -- not at all giving thegood impression that the securitypeople wanted us to project, toimpress the barbarians from over theriver.She said, ‘Surely you may. It is theright of the customer. Is that not alsoyour custom?’I mumbled some reply and sat downon a bale of cloth. She knelt in front of
  • me and asked, ‘Shall I help you takeyour shoes off?’‘No, that’s all right, thank you. I canmanage.’ She was leaning forward,her eyes level with mine, her foreheadinclined towards me. I thought that Icould smell the soap and lotion withwhich she had washed her hair. Oneof her knees almost touched mine andher dress fell forward at the neck,increasing the intimacy of theencounter. Fool, I thought, what am Ito her?I took my shoes off and she helped meto fit the new shoes. Suddenly shelooked up as if to say something,caught my gaze, flushed slightly, anddrew the neckline of her garmenttighter. Fool, I thought again. That’sthe way to impress a woman who’sjust doing her job -- looking at theswell of her breasts and imagining thefragrance of her hair.
  • She showed me how to tie the lacesand I stood up to test the feel of theshoes. They were very comfortable --but that hardly mattered, because Iwould have bought ten pairs, nomatter how they felt, just to prolongthis contact. With those thoughts inmy mind, I walked around, looking ather as I did so. She smiled at me andasked, ‘Do you find them to becomfortable?’I said ‘Yes,’ and was about to saysomething else -- something amusing,I hoped, something that would focusher attention on me as more than justa customer -- when one of the oldermen interrupted her, saying that theywere preparing to go.She replied, ‘I’m with a customer. I’llbe ready in a minute.’ To me, shesaid, ‘I’m sorry. He’s only a transportrider. He doesn’t know anythingabout sales and customers.’
  • I said, ‘That’s all right. I have to go aswell.’ I stood there looking at her,wriggling and shuffling my feet as ifstill trying the fit of the shoes. Shesmiled, glanced at my feet, wrinkledher nose, and said, ‘You’ll wear themout before you’ve bought them.’Later, thinking back, I cursed myown awkwardness and banality whenin fact I wanted to impress her withmy wit and intelligence. Stillwriggling my toes, I said, ‘I’ll takethem. In fact, I’ll wear them.’We concluded the transaction and shewrapped my old shoes in brown paperand handed them to me. I wanted totake hold of her hands, to sit downwith her, to require her attention insome way or other. She thanked meand turned to go. The moment wasslipping away. Desperately, I askedher, ‘What is your name?’
  • She turned back towards me, flickingher hair off her face. How would itfeel to hold her hair gently at the napeof her neck and to stroke its weightsoftly with my other hand?She looked at me directly, surprised,and said softly, ‘My name is Mary.’There was a brief silence. Whatshould I say? She shrugged as ifsaying, I must go now. I said, ‘Mary’,pronouncing the unfamiliar nameslowly. She looked at me teasingly,saying, ‘Oh, but you do say it well.’My blood ran faster at the knowledgethat I had got her attention for a littlelonger. I responded, ‘It’s an easyname to say. I haven’t heard it before.Does it mean anything?’‘Should a name mean anything?’‘I suppose not.’She challenged me, asking, ‘Do all ofyour people’s names meansomething?’
  • ‘I suppose not. Perhaps they did once.But now we don’t know.’Mary said tartly, ‘That’s right - youwouldn’t! The Old Time is lost to youpeople, isn’t it?’ She half-turned to goand then said, ‘Mary was the motherof Jesus. Perhaps I’m named afterher. I’m not sure.’ She shook myhand briefly, saying, ‘Thank you forbuying the shoes.’ I muttered a replyas she turned and walked off to join agroup of men who were busymanoeuvring one of the carts towardsthe river.I watched her go, wanting to call herback but not knowing how to do it.There was an empty feeling in mystomach as I thought that that soonthe impassable barrier of the riverwould lie between us again. I followedher with my eyes as she helped toguide the cart across the river, herdress hitched up at her thighs, the
  • bright fabric trailing behind in thewater. On the other side, she shookher dress free with both hands, tossedback her hair and tied it with aribbon, said something to hercompanions, and disappeared up thepath into the bush. She did not lookback to where I stood on the otherbank.Thirteen: If we don’t kill you, yourown people will‘My name is Mary.’ I couldn’t forgetthe encounter. I lay awake night afternight, reliving that bright day,replaying the image of her shakingfree her dress, tying her hair with aribbon, and disappearing along thepath into the bush. The memory dugitself into me, clawed fast at my mind,and troubled me into restlessyearning.
  • For the next few weeks, I foundconsolation by burying myself in mywork. Keeping busy was the only waythat I knew to escape, even if onlytemporarily, from these memories.When I was alone in my room, Irehearsed our encounter in my mind,recalling her words, the tone of hervoice, the look on her face, and themanner in which she tossed back herhair. An image, vague and distant, ofa face and form glimpsed across theriver -- an image that had drifted inthe back of my consciousness -- nowhad shape and substance. How wouldit feel to hold her hair gently, tostroke its weight? Fool! Fool! But theimage and the desire would not leaveme.A few days after the fair, four SSBofficers visited our encampment toconduct what they termed a‘debriefing’. The officer who
  • addressed us, Sectional OfficerKatchi, thanked us for our work andsaid that everything had goneaccording to plan -- ‘Better thananyone dared to hope for’, he said. Infact, he said, the fair had been such asuccess that the trial period might beextended. It was even possible that thesystem might be extended to otherareas that adjoined ProtectedTerritories. Then Officer Katchismoothed his moustache with amoistened finger and saidconspiratorially, ‘But I must tell youthat we have to take precautions. Inthis business, there are dangerseverywhere.’Of course, that provoked a buzz ofconsternation from my faint-heartedcolleagues. One of them asked intrepidation, ‘What sort of dangers?’‘Oh, no danger to life or limb, nothinglike that, I assure you. As always, you
  • may trust us to take good care ofyou.’ Officer Katchi gave a superiorsmile and continued, ‘I mean thatmisleading ideas and inappropriatetechnology should not be transferredto the barbarians.’ That caused anaudible release of tension in the room.Katchi continued, ‘It is an absolutepriority that the simple life-style ofthe barbarians should not becontaminated. I think you understandwhat I mean by that?’ There werenods of agreement all over the room.He continued, ‘On the other hand, thetime has come for these territories tomake greater contributions to theirown upkeep. If it is handled properly,the inhabitants can develop slowly,under wise guidance, along the pathwhich nature and their own historieshave destined for them.’ OfficerKatchi paused and looked at usclosely as if he was a junior school
  • teacher facing a notoriously dim-witted class. There were more nods ofagreement. He concluded, ‘Also, itwould be good for our own economy.’Then came the blow. He announcedthat there would be no need for us toassist in future because the Bureaufor Barbarian Development would beable to handle the fairs from its ownresources. When he said this, Anjagave me a quick look but flushed anddropped her eyes when she caught myeye. I wondered what she meant bythe look which seemed to me to beboth knowing and guilty.The debriefing concluded withindividual interviews. The SSB officerwho dealt with me asked a number ofgeneral questions relating to myduties on the day of the fair before shesaid with studied casualness, ‘Youtalked to a young woman. Do you
  • have anything to report in thatregard?’I replied, ‘Report? I don’t understand-’She said impatiently, ‘Come now,you’re not a fool. You understand thesensitivity of contacts of this nature.’I wanted to be alone, to reflect on thenews that I had just heard, not to besitting here with a sharp-faced,intrusive SSB officer with a turned-upnose and a too-studied poker face. Ihad to fight back my anger as I said,‘I bought a pair of shoes from a youngwoman -- that’s all.’‘That’s all?’‘Yes, that’s all! She was selling and Iwas buying. So what? After all, aren’tbuying and selling the main businessof the fair?’‘You didn’t have a conversation withher?’
  • ‘Of course I spoke to her. Do youthink that we did business in signlanguage?’The officer grunted and scribedsomething onto her portable accessor.Then she accessed a file and sat therestudying it thoughtfully. She tucked astray strand of hair under her cap,fiddled with the accessor again,looked at me closely, and said, ‘Youdid have a short conversation withher -- more than was necessary just todiscuss business.’I replied, ‘I asked the woman whetherthe shoes were sturdy. She said theywere. That’s all I can remember.’The officer consulted her accessor fileagain, tapping her electro-stylusagainst the arm of the chair. Tic-tic,tic-tic-thoc … It annoyed me so muchthat I had to restrain myself fromleaning over to grab the stylus. Then,after about one minute, the officer
  • looked at me sceptically and saidflatly, ‘In view of the time taken, youmust have said more than that.’‘I don’t remember any more. Whyshould I? It was only a commercialtransaction. Perhaps we discussed theprice or perhaps I asked her if theshoes were hand-made.’‘Would that interest you?’‘Yes. A lot of people like hand-madearticles.’‘Do you?’ The question was shot atme.I shrugged and replied, ‘It’s all one tome.’‘Are the shoes hand-made?’‘No, they aren’t.’The officer tucked another errantwisp of hair under her cap and thenscribed something into the accessor.While doing so, she said off-handedly,‘I see. So you might have asked herhow the shoes were made, but you
  • can’t remember what her answer was-- if you did ask her. Is that it?’I nodded. She sat for about half aminute, tapping the stylus on the armof the chair, idly scrolling the accessorfile, whistling tunelessly. I rememberthinking that she was trying to showme who was in control. I alsoremember thinking, Keep calm. I wasin uncharted territory and I knewthat I needed to make my waythrough it carefully.Next, the officer asked, ‘I see that youoften walk in the river valley?’ Inodded, trying to look unconcerned.She asked, ‘Have you ever comeacross anything of significance there?’I replied, ‘Oh, yes, all the time.’‘Such as -?’‘Jackals, ant bears, antelope -- of thebig and small varieties -- baboons,rock rabbits, signs of a leopardonce...’
  • ‘And an eagle in a thorn tree,’ shesaid sardonically, quoting from thewords of a popular song.I replied, ‘Yes, eagles once or twice,but only up on the cliffs and not inthorn trees.’She was studiously polite as shescribed into the accessor while saying,‘Ah, let’s see if I can remember them- jackals, ant bears, antelope -’ Shewent through the list as if she was astore man taking an inventory ofstock. Then, suddenly, she asked, ‘Is itnecessary to make a map to keeptrack of all these animals?’‘A map?’‘Oh, come, come! We know thatyou’ve been mapping the rivervalley.’I was shaken but tried not to show it.I replied, ‘I’m interested in nature.The river valley is my favourite place.I note natural features, such as rock
  • formations, soil types, the currents,tidal flows, and so on.’She echoed me ironically, saying,‘And so on!’ Then she demandedsharply, ‘We want to see the map.’I said, just as sharply, ‘You can’t!’She sat back heavily as if I had shovedher in the chest. Her face tensed andfor a moment she was lost for words.Then she asked, ‘Are you refusing togive it to us?’ She put the accentheavily on ‘refuse’, as if I was doingsomething illegal.I said, ‘I’m sure that I don’t have totell you the rights of a citizen underthe Charter and the SocialRegulations.’‘I can make you give it to us, youknow.’‘You have to get a warrant from apeace justice if you want to attach myproperty.’‘So you’re refusing to let us see it?’
  • I replied, ‘You say “refuse” as if youhave a right to see it. Let me tell yousomething very clearly -- you don’thave a right, unless you can convincea peace justice to give you a warrant.So my answer is: No, I’m not“refusing” you anything. I’m justexercising my rights.’ We glared ateach other. Then I leaned forward,pointed to her accessor and asked,‘Can I see that, please?’‘What? Are you crazy? You want tosee my accessor?’‘Yes, I want to see it.’‘This is SSB property.’‘I know.’‘It contains security data. You reallymust be crazy!’‘Ah! So you’re refusing to let me seeit?’ I accented ‘refuse’.She slammed the accessor shut andgot to her feet while saying through
  • gritted teeth, ‘We know how to dealwith people like you.’I also got to my feet, facing hersquarely. ‘I’m sure you do. But nexttime, come with a warrant in yourhand.’She growled something that I couldn’thear and stomped across the room. Atthe door, she turned and looked at memalevolently, saying, ‘One of mysuperiors knew your mother when shewas in Anjima territory. From whatI’ve seen and heard, you’re a lot likeher. Stubbornness must be a familycharacteristic.’ She sniffed with whatwas probably intended to be contemptand stalked out.I called after her, ‘Don’t forget to putthe piece about the eagle in a thorntree in your report.’That evening, I unfolded my map andsat for a while looking at it. Therewere a lot of good memories in that
  • map: memories of times when I hadwandered contentedly alone in thevalley with my spirit responding tothe wildness around me. Although themap didn’t have much that could beused against me, except that I hadmarked the sites of the ruins and thegraves, I sensed that even that wouldbe enough to give them a pretext toharass me. I knew that they wouldcome back, and I didn’t want to givethem anything at all to use againstme. Reluctantly, I destroyed the map.The news that our services wouldn’tbe required at the fairs in future wasa staggering blow to me. I had beencounting on being able to see Maryagain and now the hope hadevaporated. I was disconsolate. Morethan ever, I threw myself into mywork, trying to abolish the desolationthat overcame me when I was alone. Iwas on a roundabout of moods. When
  • I was on my own, I thought about thesituation with such frustration andregret that I reached a point where Icould no longer bear my ownhopelessness. When I was incompany, a sudden desire to be aloneswept over me.About one week later, I wandereddownriver again. Thinking aboutrecent events and not giving muchattention to the surroundings, Irambled down as far the place wherethe fair had been held. There I satdown and stared at the place oppositewhere the tracks disappeared into thebush.Visualising the scene on the day of thefair, I recalled how Mary helped tomove the cart across the river, sawher dress trailing in the water, sawher shaking out her hair on the otherbank, saw her making her way up thepath and disappearing without a
  • backward glance ... Ah! What was theuse of staring at the bush? It juststared back at me impassively.I shook my head to clear it of thesefutile images, stood up, stretched, andlooked around. I knew what I hadcome here for and I couldn’t resist itany longer. I checked around thearea, scanning the banks on bothsides just to make sure. Everythingwas quiet. My mind repeated therhetorical question that it hadharboured all morning, the one thathad brought me here: Surely itwouldn’t do any harm just to take alook? Just a quick look, just a fewminutes on the ground where she hadstood, and then I’d make my wayback again. What harm could it do?The river was running even lowerthan when the fair was held. I wadedinto it, crossed over, and emerged onthe other bank. A little way up the
  • path, concealed in the bush, I stoppedand thought, What now? I leanedagainst a tree, perfectly still, strainingmy ears. There was nothing to beheard except the common, smallnoises of the bush. I knew that I hadto go on until I saw something thatmade the risk worthwhile. Saw what?Saw Mary waiting for me with awelcoming smile? Be realistic, I toldmyself. If I could just go as far as thetop of the bluff, it would surely bringme to a higher place with a view overthe surrounding countryside. Then Iwould be able to satisfy my curiosity.I told myself that I would take just aquick look, just to see what laybeyond, and then I would turnaround and cross back to my side ofthe river.Again I listened carefully. Everythingwas quiet so I began climbing up thepath. In some places the bush had
  • been cut back, probably to allow easypassage for the carts. I thought, whatis there to fear? This is just a pathmade by simple traders who aretrying to earn a living like the rest ofhumankind. What could there be tofear?Soon I came out on top and movedtowards the edge of the bush, where Ilay down behind a rocky outcrop andgazed eastwards. I was looking acrossrolling grasslands leading to a seriesof low ridges that brought the horizonto within a few kilometres of myposition. Away to my left, some cattlewere grazing. The path that I wasfollowing continued across thecountryside towards the horizon.Suddenly two boys appeared frombehind the ridge to the south of thecattle. I wriggled into a moreconcealed position and watched themclosely. Each boy carried two sticks
  • and one had a type of whistle --perhaps a hollow disc -- between histeeth. As they approached the cattle,he gave a series of sharp, shrill blasts,alternating long with short notes. Thecattle pricked up their ears and raisedtheir heads.Boys herding the cattle, I thought,remembering that my grandfathertold us about how he had roamedacross the grasslands with the cattlewhen he was a boy. Here on themargin of the Protected Territory, Iwas observing a scene that dated farback into the unrecorded Old Time.The boys began to round up thecattle, driving them in a direction thattook them across my field of view. Asthey got nearer, I wriggled furtherforward to get a better look at them.Suddenly I heard a noise behind me,just a swift rustle. I jerked my headaround, got a brief glimpse of a shape
  • bulking up behind me, and then felt ashattering pain on the back of myskull.When I recovered, I was on the move.My head was throbbingly sore and Iwas lashed over a horse with my headdangling close to the ground. I tried topull my head forward to breathemore easily but the effort made thepain shoot through my head evenmore violently. To make it worse, thejolting pace of the horse exacerbatedmy pain and discomfort. Twisting myhead, I could see no more than thelower part of the body of a man whowas walking next to me. He waswearing high boots laced with thongsand wide pants made of a coarsematerial. I could also see a largemachete dangling from his belt.The pain and discomfort were soacute that I tried to call out in spite ofmy mouth being gagged. The man
  • halted the horse, which gave me somerelief. The lower part of a second mancame into view and the first mansquatted down in front of me, his facelevel with my eyes. He was wearing acrude mask that concealed all excepthis eyes and nose. As I struggledagainst the rope, he brought his facecloser to mine, raised the machete in athreatening manner, and passed itacross his throat. I struggled againand produced muffled gurgles. Thistime he grabbed hold of my hair,forcing my head upwards until Icould hardly breathe. He passed themachete across my throat and then letmy head drop. Then the other mansaid something impatiently and thejolting of the horse recommenced. Ilapsed into passivity, washed over bywaves of pain. Soon after that, I musthave passed out.
  • Next, I dimly heard the sound ofvoices as I was carried off the horseand dumped onto something soft. Imust have passed out again becausethe next thing I saw was faces peeringdown at me in the gloom inside aroom. There was a heated argumentgoing on. Someone growled, ‘Whatdoes it matter? He’s going to dieanyway.’Someone else said, ‘Then he shouldhave died away from here where no-one could connect him with us.’Another voice asked, ‘What if he’sbeen planted? If the Territorials raidus -’The first voice said, ‘They won’t findhim. And he was not planted. Wetracked him all the way from theriver. We also searched him. He’s notbugged.’‘But if the Territorials come, someonemight talk.’
  • The debate continued while I tried tofocus on my situation. I stretched toease my limbs and rubbed the back ofmy head, looking around cautiously. Iwas lying on a bed, unbound, whileeight men, their faces covered withthin stretch material, were standingaround me having a heateddiscussion. They glanced at me idly,almost indifferently, as if I wasnothing more than a sidelinedaccessory. I knew that it boded nogood for me that they were discussingmy position so openly within myhearing.Soon the room cleared, leaving mewith three men. From their voices, Irecognised two of them as the oneswho had captured me. The third man,the one whom they addressed as‘captain’, stood at the foot of the bedrubbing his chin and looking at me
  • speculatively. After a while he asked,‘Which unit do you belong to?’‘The engineers’ unit at the bridgesite.’He leaned over me with and said withquiet menace, ‘I mean whichterritorial unit, as you well know.’‘Territorials?’He sighed, rubbed his chin slowly,and said in the same tone, ‘Don’t playgames with us, mister –’ He looked atmy identity card and continued,‘mister so-called Simora. Save yourcourage for later when you’ll need it.’He sighed again. ‘Now why don’t youmake a good start by giving us thename of your unit?‘I don’t anything about Territorials.’I was badly frightened, with goodreason. Firstly, I didn’t even knowwhere I was: somewhere in theProtected Territory, that was all Iknew. Secondly, I didn’t know who
  • these men were, why they capturedme, and what they wanted from me.However, what frightened me mostwas the fact that they didn’t seem tocare much about my answers. Itlooked as if they had already decidedto kill me and now were just trying towork out how much effort it wasworth expending on me before theinevitable happened.My head pounded like an insistenthammer-drill, my body ached inevery joint, my blood was racing, andI was sweating all over. In short, I wasin no state to concoct some or otherplausible story, even if there was achance that it might soundconvincing. I answered theirquestions honestly, telling them aboutmy background, my position as anengineer, the details of the bridge wewere building, and my excursions upand down the river valley.
  • When they asked why I had crossedover the river, I told them the truth.They were incredulous and asked,‘You did it on impulse? You thinkwe’re going to believe that?’I replied, ‘I told you - I met a womancalled Mary. Maybe it was impulse,maybe it was a long time coming, butthe fact is that right at that moment, Ididn’t plan it.’ Mind you, I mustadmit that it sounded improbableeven as I said it. Well, for better orworse, it was the only story that I hadand I had to stick with it.The captain growled, ‘All right, let’shear more about this wonderfulMary.’ In spite of my fear, I couldhear that he was interested. Perhapsthey were starting to believe my story.Perhaps so – or perhaps they werejust stringing me along.After I told them about my encounterwith Mary, they went into a huddle in
  • a corner of the room, engaged inheated discussion. Then the captainstraightened and said, ‘It sounds likeMary Thompson. Go and fetch her.Tell her I want her right away.’One of the men left the room and theother two said nothing for a while,merely regarding me appraisingly, asif I was an alien creature that wasprobably innocuous but that mightyet injure them. Then the captainchuckled shortly and asked, ‘Do youthink he’s in love?’ They bothlaughed.His companion snorted, ‘Asentimental territorial, eh! Soundslikely, doesn’t it?’The captain asked me, ‘Is that whatyou’re telling us – that you’re inlove?’‘I don’t know. What do you mean?’The captain gave a dry, disbelievingchuckle and the other man said, ‘You
  • can joke if you want to – it won’tmake any difference in the end. If wedon’t kill you, your own side will.’I recognised Mary immediately as shecame through the doorway framedagainst the sunlight beyond. My bloodraced and I wanted to say somethingbut couldn’t find the words. Thecaptain asked Mary, ‘Do you knowthis person?’Mary came to the side of the bed and,with her eyes still adjusting to thegloom of the room, bent down andlooked at me closely. I smelled thesame soap-and water aroma of herhair and had to fight back the urge toreach up and touch it. Her eyes lit upwith a start of recognition and shesaid, ‘I have met him, yes.’The captain asked, ‘How and where?’Mary said, ‘I met him at the tradefair. He bought a pair of shoes fromme.’
  • ‘Is that all?’‘Yes. That’s all.’‘How does he know your name?’I said, ‘I asked her. She told me.’ Themen looked at me in silence. For thefirst time, they appeared to besurprised rather than hostile. Icontinued, ‘She told me her name wasMary. I asked her what it meant. Shesaid she might have been named afterthe mother of someone called Jesus.’Mary asked softly, ‘You rememberthat?’The captain asked, ‘Did you lead thisman on?’Mary shook her head and I said, ‘Sheisn’t implicated. I couldn’t forget her.I did this on my own initiative.’The captain turned on me fiercely,saying, ‘Don’t you people havewomen of your own? You people –curse you! - you keep us in isolation,you take our men, you ransack our
  • homes, you steal what we produce –and then you call us barbarians! Willyou never leave us in peace?’One of the men said, ‘Not until wemake them leave us alone. I told you,he’s just another -’ The captainmotioned him into silence.I looked up at them wordlessly. Ididn’t have the least idea of what theywere talking about.Mary said, ‘If his story is true, as itseems, then at least I can say this inhis defence: that he hasn’t come hereto rob and to kill.’One of the men said, ‘But the factremains -- he is one of them.’Mary said quietly, looking straight athim, ‘And the fact is that you and Iare of the same people. Yet we havedifferent ways of looking at thingsand different ways of doing things, asyou well know.’
  • The man responded truculently,‘Well? What of it?’Mary replied, ‘It’s the same withthem. Do you think they’re all SSBmembers or Territorials? Do youthink they’re all raiders and killers?’The man retorted, ‘They’re all thesame breed and they grow in the samedirt. Scratch him under the skin andyou’ll find his true nature.’The captain said, ‘That’s enoughbickering! We’ll speak about thiswhere he can’t hear us.’ They wentout, leaving me alone. I got off thebed, stretched, rubbed my limbs, andlooked around. I was in a simplebedroom, containing a bed, two easychairs, a high cupboard, a roundwicker table, and a dressing table.The carpet looked as if it was hand-woven and featured a colourfulgeometric design. All in all, the roomwas plain and sparse, but neat and
  • clean. Two more things struck me: allthe furniture was made of wood, andthere was no electronic apparatus orelectrical wiring to be seen. Forinstance, the two lamps that stood onthe table near the door were fuelledby oil.After stretching and looking aroundthe room, I sat down on the edge ofthe bed and reviewed my position.However, like a homing drone, I keptcoming back to base – namely, to theconclusion that I was in danger andthat I was completely at their mercy.If I felt any slender feelings of hope –not that there were many of those -- Iimmediately remembered how one ofthe men said, ‘If we don’t kill you,your own side will.’ The matter-of-fact tone in which he said it onlyadded to my feeling of bleakness.The men came in together with Maryand the one they called ‘captain’ said,
  • ‘You can go!’ I just looked at himdumbly. He continued, ‘We’ll takeyou back to where we found you.That’s where you’ll be released.Follow orders and you’ll be all right.’I was so overcome by a tumult ofapprehension, surprise, and relief thatall I could do was to nod woodenly.The captain said, ‘Vengeance is mine,says the lord.’ He chuckled dryly.‘Your own side will settle with you ifthey find out where you’ve been.That’s for them to decide. As for us,we want you out of here and off ourhands. We have enough trouble withyour people as it is without riskingfurther trouble with a fool like you.’Mary said, ‘I’ll go with you, as far asthey take you.’ The captain lookedhard at her as if he wanted to disagreebefore he muttered truculently, ‘It’son your own head’. Before he left theroom, he said to me, dispassionately,
  • ‘Don’t come back. If we find you onthis side of the river again, we’ll killyou, for sure.’They blindfolded me, led me outside,and mounted me on a horse. Marygave me a few hurried instructionsabout how to keep my balance andthen we set off, with me bumping upand down on the saddle and clingingto the horse’s neck. I more or lessadjusted to the rhythm after a fewminutes of bobbing and jolting, bywhich time the settlement had beenleft behind. As the tension eased andas my ears took in the fading soundsof human activity, I was sorry that Ihad not been able to see more of theplace.The horse stumbled suddenly and Ifelt a hand on my thigh, supportingme. Mary said, ‘Careful, now! Justride with the movement.’ I was aboutto reply when one of the men growled,
  • ‘Quiet! No talking! Do you think thisis a pleasure ride?’ Mary withdrewher hand.After about twenty minutes wearrived at our destination, where themen pulled me off the horse and ledme forward for about fifteen paces.One of them said, ‘We’re going totake the blindfold off. You’ll be ableto find your way from here. Don’tlook back. Do you hear?’When the blindfold was removed, thefirst thing that I saw was Mary, whowas standing in front of me on thepath. As I struggled to adjust to thesunlight, she said, ‘This is where wesay goodbye.’Behind me, the man said, ‘We’regoing now. Leave him alone, Mary!’Mary said to me quietly, ‘Don’t lookback. If you do, they’ll strike youdown for sure.’ She looked past me,
  • and said to the men, ‘Carry on. I’llfollow in a few minutes.’The man replied, ‘The captain’sorders were to leave him here, not tohang around.’Mary said, ‘Your captain doesn’t giveme orders. You might obey him butthat doesn’t mean that I do.’Behind me there was a mutteredconsultation. Then one of the mensaid truculently, ‘Suit yourself! Butthe captain won’t like it.’Mary looked at them steadily and saidcalmly, ‘I’m sure that he won’t.’There was some more mutteringbefore the men departed, leaving usalone. Mary watched them go andthen, with a finger to her lips,beckoned me to follow her down thepath. After a few minutes, she movedto her left, pushed aside somebranches, and beckoned again. Weentered a small clearing just off the
  • path. Mary gestured around theclearing and said, ‘We used to playhere when we were children. Ourparents didn’t know about it. Weweren’t supposed to come so near tothe river.’ She laughed lightly as ifremembering the mischief of children.When her laughter subsided we stoodthere looking at each other. Whatshould I say or do? Why had shebrought me here? I had the samefeeling that I had on the first occasion,of wanting to say many things all atonce and at the same time notknowing what to say. Along withthose feelings went the uneasysuspicion that this could be a trap or abetrayal.Mary looked at me closely as if shewas sizing up my intentions before shechuckled and said. ‘Oh, misterSimora, you travelled a hard road to
  • see me, if it’s true that you had me inmind when you came over the river.’‘It’s true’, I said. I wanted to say,Nothing that I have ever said or donehas been truer. I wanted to call out,saying, In spite of all that hashappened, there’s no place I’d ratherbe right now. Instead, I shuffled myfeet awkwardly and repeated, ‘Yes,it’s true.’She chuckled again, teasing me: ‘Doessaying it twice make it more true thansaying it only once?’‘I could say it a hundred times, if thatwould make you believe it! Since Ifirst saw you, at the fair -’Her eyes were serious now, as sheresponded, ‘Yes, since you first sawme -?’‘I’ve wanted to see you again.’Mary said, ‘Let’s sit down.’ Sheindicated a gnarled tree whose lowertrunk was growing almost
  • horizontally, low above the ground.She said, ‘You sit there. That’s whereI liked to sit when I was a child.’Facing me, she sat down on a largeboulder, smoothing her dress out oneither side. Patches of sunlight fallingthrough the leaves caught her hairand gave it a dark gleam. She leanedforward and said gravely, ‘You nearlygot yourself killed for wanting to seeme.’‘When I crossed the river, I meant togo only as far as the end of the path. Ijust wanted to look around fromthere, to see what lay beyond.’Mary leaned back and looked at mewith amusement. ‘Oh, is that so,mister Simora? Don’t tell me that youthought I might be waiting at the topof the path, just by chance?’‘I didn’t know what I might find.After all, what did I know about theother side of the river? But at least --
  • I supposed -- well, it was better toventure, not knowing, than -’‘Better than -?’I said, ‘You’re asking me to explainwhat I can’t put into words. I don’tknow what I was thinking I might see,or what might happen. I only know,since I met you -’ I looked at her,sitting there in the dappled lightfiltering into the clearing, and myheart leaped towards her. I leanedforward, trying to close off even thesmall space between us, and said, ‘Ionly know, since I met you -- I’vebeen thinking of a time like this, whenI could see you again.’Mary tossed back her hair, smoothedit behind the nape of her neck, andbegan to laugh -- and I was learningto my delight that her laughter wasthe merriest and most uninhibitedthat I had ever heard. I thought thatif necessary I would appear to be a
  • bumbling fool, an incompetent oaf,just to hear her laugh again andagain.As she subsided into chuckles, shesaid, ‘When I met you at the fair --there you were, trying out the shoes --walking around as if you’d wear theminto the dust before you boughtthem.’ She looked at me knowinglyand began to laugh again while sheimitated my shoe-testing steps at thefair.I responded lamely, ‘Well, I’m not sogood with words. I thought -- Isuppose I wanted to get to know you-- to draw the time out.’ Then, takingmy courage in my hands, I said,‘What’s wrong with that – trying toget to know an attractive woman? Isthere a law against it on this side ofthe river?’We looked at each other in silencewith recognition flickering between
  • us. She smiled and said, ‘I haven’tforgotten you either – not for amoment.’Her words elated me. I wanted toseize hold of the world, dance with it,swing it around, and proclaim thegoodness of the moment to all livingcreatures. Instead, all I said was,‘Ah!’ Then I said, ‘That makes mevery happy. I didn’t think that youalso – that you might feel the same.’ Isubsided into happy confusion.Mary leaned forward and shook sandout of one of her shoes. She looked upat me, her eyes teasing, and said,‘You’re not good with words. That’strue.’I went over to her side, knelt down,and said, ‘Let me help you with theother shoe.’Mary stretched out her foot and Itook off the shoe, holding her by theankle as I did so. Mary said gently,
  • ‘You don’t have to do that.’ She puther hands on my shoulders forbalance as I put the shoe back ontoher foot.I said, ‘It’s a pity that you only havetwo feet.’‘Ah! Getting a little better withwords, are you?’I didn’t want to let this sweet contactpass. I put my hands over hers as theyrested on my shoulders and looked upat her. She leaned forward slightly,her hair brushing my forehead. Herpresence encompassed the entireworld, in that quiet and secludedclearing. We stayed like that for a fewbreathless seconds. Then she turnedher hands upwards so that her palmsrested against mine and asked lightly,‘And how many feet should I have?’I stroked my fingers across hers,saying, ‘Only two! That’s enough forme. But you should have a thousand
  • shoes, so that I could shake the sandout of each one.’She touched one of her hands againstmy neck. Leaning forward, she saidquietly, ‘You’re not really so poorwith words, are you?’I didn’t want the sweetness of themoment to pass. I took her facebetween my hands and held her likethat, gently, afraid that the contactwould pass from me. I cupped herface between my hands as if I fearedthat any further move would shatterthe moment -- or that it would recedeagain, to be replaced by the gulf thatwas filled only with memories andhopeless longings. I mumbledsomething like that to her. Mary’sexpression clouded over and she tookmy face in her hands. She said ‘Mydear!’ so quietly that I could hardlyhear the words. Next, she leanedforward and kissed my lips
  • cautiously. Then she put her foreheadagainst mine, as if using it as a base tosupport the pressing weight of ourdifferences. I felt her tears against mycheeks. Still kneeling, I put my armsaround her shoulders, trying toassuage my own hopelessness even asI embraced her distress. After a littlewhile she leaned backwards andwiped her eyes, saying, ‘I didn’t meanto do that’.I held her by the knees, looking up ather, and mumbled, ‘Don’t distressyourself.’ It was inadequate. I knew iteven as I said it. I took her free handand held it against my cheek.She wiped her eyes again, looked atme seriously, and sighed with mockgravity. She murmured, ‘Ah! It’s notoften that I have a man kneelingbefore me.’We moved over to the tree trunk, andthere with the spark of recognition
  • that ran between us, we sat facingeach other, holding hands.‘What shall we do?’‘Your people won’t accept this.’‘True! Is there no way through this?’We dropped our gazes and sat lookingat the ground, consoled by thefirmness of each other’s hands,wrestling with our predicament.‘Perhaps ...’‘If only we could find a place...’‘And a safe time...’‘My dear ...’‘I didn’t think, when I first saw you,that ...’We looked at each other, smileduncertainly, and then began to laugh,sparked by the incongruousness ofour condition.I said, ‘I could come across the riverto see you. I’ve done it once and I cando it again.’
  • Mary sat back and looked at meintently. She murmured, ‘Oh? And bekilled for it? Is that what you want?Do you think that’s what I want?’ Shelooked at me sadly and then began tolaugh hopelessly, leaning her headagainst my chest. I caressed the backof her neck; at last I could hold theweight of her hair in my hands.Mary said, between splutters oflaughter, ‘We’re a fine advertisementfor love.’Although I didn’t know what theword meant, I knew that she spokefor our condition.When her laughter subsided, sherubbed her face against mine gently,as if the action could tease ourthoughts into resolution. Then shesaid, ‘My dear, I must go. They willbe waiting for me.’‘Those men -- will you be safe?’
  • Mary shook her head a few times,quickly, as if clearing her thoughts.Then she nodded and said, ‘Thosemen -- yes, it will be all right. It’s notas if the resistance people -’ She shookher head again and said, ‘I have myconnections too. They’ll grumble butthey won’t dare to touch me.’I asked, ‘The resistance – what is it?’Mary replied, ‘Some other occasion,perhaps, when there’s more time,then we can talk about these things.’I said, ‘I know you have to go. I don’twant to admit it, but I know you haveto.’ I lifted both her hands and kissedthem. Holding them like that, I said,‘You say, some other time, we cantalk more. There has to be anothertime!’ I placed the palms of her handsagainst my cheeks and pleaded, ‘Icouldn’t leave without -’‘Yes! I know!’
  • ‘After this, I couldn’t live if therewould be nothing more.’‘After this, it would have been better-- rather than that we should havebeen together like this ...’‘It would have been better that it hadnever happened.’‘Yes -- than not to see you again.’And so, in a confusion of elation andregret, we arranged to meet in twonights’ time, at a place on Mary’s sideof the river. Drawing a map in thesand, Mary described the location. Istudied it closely, knowing that tomistake the place could be tomiscarry our relationship, so greatwas the gulf between our two worldsand so tenuous our means ofcommunication.The place was about one kilometreupriver from where we were I hadcrossed over earlier that day. I said,‘I’ll find the place easily. It’s just
  • opposite the hanging rock, the onethat looks like an elephant’s ear.’‘Yes. But the light won’t be good. Themoon’s in the dark cycle now.’‘No problem -- I know the place well!I will be there. Do you think after this,that I wouldn’t come?’‘No, I don’t think that you’ll triflewith me. But there are difficulties.’‘I will be there! Believe me! Don’tever doubt me.’‘It won’t be easy to cross the river.’‘It’s at low ebb. I won’t have anytrouble.’‘My dear, be careful! I couldn’t bear-’‘Nor could I! Believe me, nor could I!’And so we parted, exchanging hastywords of commitment, with desire inour embraces, with attempts to spinout the touch of each other, knowingthat these memories would have tosustain us over the gulf of time that
  • lay before us until our next meeting.Then Mary was gone, slipping quicklyup the path, the swift grace of hershape lost to my sight within secondsbehind the impassive, dull grey-greenof the undergrowth that closed behindher.Fourteen: You must decide nowThe right to a fair trial, as in articles 7and 8 above, shall apply in all casesexcept where the charge relates tocommunication with inhabitants of aProtected Territory, or entry to aProtected Territory. In such cases,trials may be held in camera and/oraccording to regulations specificallyproclaimed for the purpose. (Article9(n) of the Citizens’ Charter)Although it was only about thirtypaces across the river, that short
  • distance across the dark, night-shrouded water changed my life.The river ran swiftly, swirling whereit passed over obstructions near to thesurface. The water was sullen with aflickering sheen in places where atwist in the flow or a small surgecaught the light of the stars, high andremote above the cliffs on either side,while the valley was still except forthe continuous murmur of the currentand the soughing of the wind passingover the bushes on the ridges above. Itwas a different place after dark,subdued in mood but seemingly evenmore alert to the slightest violations ofits silence.I entered the water, feeling my waycautiously over stones and weeds.Two or three times, I was almostswept off my feet when I stumbled orslipped. As I struggled for a footing,the sound of my splashing seemed to
  • be magnified, reverberating off thecliffs as if it was being broadcast tothe world above. After every few stepsI paused, listening for some indicationthat I had betrayed myself. The merebeating of my pulse and the rasp ofmy breathing seemed enough to giveme away.When I reached the other bank, Ipeered into the inky gloom of thebush. Was Mary there, or had I beenbetrayed in some way - betrayed intohope, or betrayed into the hands ofothers?Suddenly she was there, glidingforward without a sound. The darkrobe she was wearing allowed her toblend almost completely into thebackground. I moved forward eagerlyand said, ‘You’re here -’, but she puta finger on my lips. Taking my hand,she led me forward through the
  • foliage. After about twenty paces, shestopped and said, ‘This is the place.’I looked around, trying to accustommy eyes to even deeper darkness. Shedrew me downward onto my kneesand I felt the soft texture of a cloththat was supported by a springyunder-layer. We knelt facing eachother and I began to make out thefeatures of her face, framed by herdark hair and the high-necked robe.She leaned forward and took my facein her hands, then kissed me softly.There was a startling freshness to hertaste, set off all the more by my recentapprehensions. I put my arms aroundher and we kissed again. She sighedsoftly and drew me down onto softlayer that she had prepared.And so Mary and I became lovers -- aterm that I was learning from Mary,and was learning the meaning of.Afterwards, as she lay with her arm
  • over me, she said, ‘My dear, I thoughtthat it would be like this.’I stroked her hair and the smoothfirmness of her back. I wantednothing more in the world than to behere. I wanted time to stop. I wantedto be cosseted forever in this smallspace, concealed by the darkundergrowth, lulled by the soft rushof the water. I said this to Mary whomurmured in return, ‘We can makeour own world for a while, at least’.She ran her hand slowly over my face,her fingers like gentle sensors thatwere mapping my contours.For a while we lay there together inabsolute silence. Then, as theinsistence of the flesh asserted itself, Ipropped myself up on an arm andpushed aside the cover that she haddrawn over herself. She lay therelooking at me, smiling, her face lightlyluminous against the dark
  • surroundings. As I bent to kiss one ofher breasts, she said, ‘Simora, mydear, you do it like a traveller in anew world.’She meant it teasingly but she wascorrect. The light, almost luminousquality of her body, seeming to floatsuspended in the encompassing dark,was a delight to me. Her hair and thesmall hollows and declivities of herbody seemed to be part of that samedarkness that set off her beauty allthe more. I ran a hand down herbody, over her breasts and belly, andtrailed it across her thighs. Wheresmall patches of light penetrated thefoliage, the contrast between thedarkness of my skin and the lightnessof hers added a new variety anddelight to my already abundantpleasure.‘Look at the difference’, I said.
  • She pulled my head down against herbelly and laughed throatily, saying,‘Your women aren’t so light in thedarkness of night, are they?’I nuzzled her, growling softly, makingher giggle. I said, ‘But my woman is.This is how she is.’Mary said, ‘Yes, my dear. This is howshe is.’During our next meetings, I began tolearn more about the things thatseparated her people and mine. Notsurprisingly, it was a space muchlarger than the short distancebetween the river banks. However,when we were together it seemed littlemore than the space between thighand thigh, breast and breast, shoulderand shoulder, as we traced thecontours of our fresh affection.There was little that I could tell Maryabout Society that she didn’t alreadyknow. On the other hand, there was
  • always something new andunexpected that I could learn fromMary. For instance, once, trailing afinger across one of my cheeks, Marysaid reflectively, ‘Amor vincit omnia.’‘What?’‘Love conquers all. It was written ona bracelet worn by a woman who wasmaking a journey.’‘Who was she?’‘Someone called the prioress. It’s inan old book in our family library.’‘You have books?’She nodded and replied, ‘We’re notsupposed to. If we get raided -’ Sheshrugged fatalistically and continued,‘But we keep them anyway. There’salways a place to hide them.’I asked her, ‘What language is that –"amor" and the rest of it?’‘It’s Latin.’‘Latin? Who speaks Latin?’
  • Mary laughed. ‘Nobody speaks it anymore, as far as I know.’‘But you understand it?’‘No, I don’t.’‘Then how do you know what thosewords mean?’‘I got the meaning from notes in theback of the book.’I repeated the strange words: ‘Amorvincit omnia.’ I said the words a fewtimes while Mary smiled at me. Ithought – Latin? It reminded me ofsomething. Then I clicked my fingersin recollection and said, ‘I found someold graves not far from here on theother bank. There were some words Ididn’t know – ‘dulce et’ andsomething like ‘patria’, I think, aswell as other words. Does that soundlike Latin?’Mary said, ‘I can find out for you. Iknow someone who has a Latin
  • dictionary. Give me the words and I’llsee if I can work out the meaning.’She never did tell me what it meant.They parted us before she could giveme an answer.Mary was interested in the graves, soI told her what I could remember. Shesaid in excitement, ‘There’s a familyof Rathbones not far from us. I’ll askthem if they know anything abouttheir family background.’ I never didhave the time to give her a copy of theinscription on the gravestone, either.When I asked Mary about the crossesthat some of her people wore onchains around their necks, shereplied, ‘Oh, they’re Christians.’Then, seeing the look on my face, shetold me, ‘Christians are people whobelieve in God.’ She looked at me witha straight face but asked in a voicethat had a teasing ring to it, ‘Do youbelieve in God?’ I didn’t know what
  • to say and my face showed it. Marylaughed, put a hand over mine, andsaid, ‘Oh, Simora, forgive me! Ofcourse, you’re not allowed to thinkabout things like that, are you?’I told Mary that all that I knew aboutit was that I had heard the cracklingvoices of space explorers of the OldTime talking about god. I asked her,‘Where is this god? What is there tobelieve?’Mary lay back and looked at meseriously for a long while before sheanswered, ‘Some of the believers saythat God is some sort of all-powerfulbeing that lives out there --’ Shegestured upwards ‘-- and that Godnot only loves us but also punishes usfor whatever we do that’s wrong.’‘Up there with the spacemen?’Mary shrugged. ‘Perhaps – I don’tknow.’‘You’re not a Christian?’
  • ‘No. I think that life and other humanbeings hurt us enough, as it is,without bothering to try to learnabout some inscrutable being thatalso wants to harm us.’I asked, ‘Is that the only purpose ofthis god-creature – something topunish us?’Mary shrugged. ‘I don’t know muchabout the matter. It can be confusing.’‘How so?’‘Well, for instance, some people saythat we find God in what we doamongst ourselves, how we treat ourfellow human beings.’‘So it’s another name for socialconstruction? That’s not so strange.’Mary sat up and hugged her kneeswhile I stroked the back of her neck.She shrugged again and saidpensively, ‘No. It’s not really that – infact, it’s more than that.’ She tossedback her hair in the way that made
  • me stir with pleasure and said, ‘Godis an external force, higher than weare. We are mortals. God isn’t.’‘Mortals?’‘We don’t live forever.’‘Oh, I see. And god is beyond us andin us?’ I looked at Mary inpuzzlement. She answered by raisingher eyebrows at me. I asked her,‘What do you think?’‘Sometimes, when I believe anythingat all, I believe that God is theoriginator of love.’I teased her, saying, ‘I thought that itoriginated with our meeting.’Mary darted a disapproving glance atme and said, ‘That’s pride andconceit. You shouldn’t scorn whatpeople believe.’‘I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intention to-’
  • She touched my cheek and kissed me.‘It’s all right. You don’t know aboutthese things.’I said, impulsively, ‘I need to know.Then I can understand you evenbetter.’Mary smiled gravely. ‘Oh, yes, andwhen you’ve plumbed the depths,perhaps then I’ll be just a routinepart of your ordinary existence?’ Sherubbed her face against mine andembraced me. She said, softly, ‘Mydear, I couldn’t bear that. Not now --not with all that we have between us.’I took her hands and said, ‘That couldnever happen! Do you hear me?Never!’Mary’s eyes clouded and she replied,‘Simora, never is a very long time.’We lay back together in silence,holding hands. Mary traced the insideof my palm with her finger while I layso still that the only sensation that I
  • felt was the light press of her finger.With Mary, I was learning themeanings expressed by shared silence.After a while Mary said quietly, ‘Andnow there are these three things:faith, hope and love. And the greatestof these is love.’I repeated what she said, finding thewords strangely compelling. I askedher, ‘You’re quoting. From what?’Mary laughed. ‘A book, of course – abook from the Old Time. What else?’I lifted one of her hands to my mouthand held her fingers between myteeth. ‘Yes, a book! Of course! Andnow, if you don’t tell me which book-.’She giggled. ‘I’ll speak! It’s a bookcalled the Bible.’‘Who wrote it?’‘The Bible? I don’t know. A lot ofpeople wrote it.’‘It’s a collection of writings?’
  • ‘Yes. I heard that the writings werecollected over a period of more than athousand years and that it’s not clearwho wrote some parts of it.’I also learned about other aspects oflife in the Protected Territory whenMary said bitterly, ‘The Territorialsraid us just when and how it suitsthem.’‘Who are the Territorials?’‘They’re a unit of the SSB. They’respecially equipped to work inProtected Territories.’I asked, ‘What do they do when theyraid you?’Mary gave me a quick, astonishedlook as if she couldn’t believe thateven I didn’t know about thesematters. She said grimly, ‘It dependswhat’s on their agenda. Sometimesthey’re looking for banned items, likebooks or modern technology.’‘What do they do if they find them?’
  • ‘They destroy them, together with thehouse where they found them. Usuallythey make a show of it by makingeveryone in the village come andwatch.’‘What else do they do?’‘You don’t want to know! Believe me,Simora, you don’t want to know.’‘Don’t treat me like a child.’Hugging her knees, Mary said slowly,‘Sometimes they abduct our youngmen to work for them. Sometimesthey destroy houses – maybe even anentire village – if they think that theyhave something to do with theresistance. Sometimes, if the moodtakes them, they interfere with ourwomen.’I asked her, ‘Have they interferedwith you?’Mary said, ‘No! Never!’ Then shesaid, pensively, ‘Not yet.’ Seeing thelook on my face, she added, ‘Don’t
  • worry about it. It’s not like the olddays, just after the War, when theyused to come on horseback. The oldpeople say that made it difficult toescape. Nowadays we can hear thesound of the Wolves a long timebefore they arrive. I know where tohide.’I asked her, ‘What are the Wolves?’‘The Wolves? You really don’t know?They’re huge armoured vehicles.They can travel just about anywhere.’I shook my head. I couldn’t evenimagine them. Nor could I imaginelife in the shadow of the fear of theTerritorials and their Wolves.Mary also told me that there wasincreasing resistance to theTerritorials. Some people favourednon-violent measures and othersfavoured violent resistance. She toldme that her community was split overwhich strategy was best.
  • I also learned that the men whocaptured me were members of aresistance group that was based in anearby village. Mary said, ‘You werelucky that you weren’t killed.’ Shecaressed my face gently, saying, ‘Theywould have killed you if they’dthought there was half a chance thatyou were a spy.’ Suddenly shegrinned and rubbed her foreheadagainst mine, nuzzling me. Chuckling,she continued, ‘But you looked soconfused that even they couldn’tbelieve that the Territorials had sentyou.’Our relationship became the mostvital part of my being. It was morereal than that part of my life that wasconducted in public, amongst mycolleagues, in the office, and on theconstruction site. In fact, ourrelationship was so much part of methat I continually had to guard
  • against making public references toMary. I caught myself wanting to say,‘Mary said this’ or ‘Mary did that’. Iwas always afraid that words like thatwould just slip out when my guardwas down.When we were apart, the memory ofher sweetness and passion broughther to me as if she were right therewith me, in person. I would thinkabout the next meeting, dwelling onsome small trifle of news that I wouldshare with her or thinking of somesurprise that I could produce for her.I would anticipate the show ofpleasure that it would cause, thewidening of her eyes, the flush ofcolour on her cheeks and throat,the ... Well, you may believe me whenI say that she was almost always inmy thoughts – always, always! - likean aching sweetness. With pleasure --with great, great pleasure! -- I learned
  • from Mary that it was the same forher.As our relationship grew, we began todiscuss how we could be togetherpermanently. We even discussed thepossibility of hiding out in someunpopulated mountain area,somewhere on the escarpment, thesort of place that concealed mygrandparents when my father wasborn during the War. However, ourplans never got off the ground. Earlyone evening, two uniformed agents ofthe State Security Bureau visited me.A shiver went down my spine and Ibroke out into a cold sweat. However,I tried to be calm, outwardly at least,calm and invited them to be seated.The older one, the man, said, ‘Thatwon’t be necessary.’ He thrust adocument at me and, as I opened it,he barked, ‘We have a warrant to
  • apprehend you after we search yourpremises.’I checked the documents, whichseemed to be authentic – not that Iwould know, anyway. Trying to keepfrom showing any emotion, I handedthe papers back to the man, whogrunted and said, ‘Good It’s betternot to make a fuss. In our experience,it all comes out the same in the end.’His companion began to searchthrough my possessions in aperfunctory manner as if she didn’treally expect to find anything ofinterest. While this was going on, theolder agent and I stood in the middleof my room watching the search. Ilooked at him from time to time buthe avoided my eyes, his gazeexpressionless under the rim of hiscap. When I asked, ‘What’s all thisabout?’ he just frowned and motionedme to be silent. The man was
  • ominously at ease, as if he was theproprietor and I was the intruder inmy own quarters. When the searchwas over, he said, ‘Pack an overnightbag. You’re coming with us.’‘An overnight bag?’The woman chuckled knowingly andsaid, ‘That’s all you’ll need. Eitheryou’ll be back in the morning, or –’At a sharp glance from hercompanion, she stopped and saidnothing more.They put me into the back seat of thewaiting hovercar and got in on eitherside of me. Without a word beingsaid, the driver started the engine andthe vehicle lifted and picked up speed.Nobody spoke. My attempts atconversation were greeted withindifferent silence. The most that I gotwas disapproving frowns and narrowlooks, as if I was offending the
  • conventions of a ritual and shouldhave known better.I was confused and apprehensive.Although the journey took more thanan hour, giving me plenty of time tothink, I didn’t know what I should bethinking about. I was like a mothbeing sucked into a vortex, tumblingand plummeting down a dark, endlesstunnel, with thoughts that whirled asfast as my fall but could do nothing toprevent it.The hovercar stopped at a site on theoutskirts of Anjima City. From what Icould see in the dark, it was anisolated place, surrounded by treesthat were silhouetted darkly againstthe night sky like impassive sentinels.Mind you, I didn’t have much time tolook around. They hurried methrough a side door, down a dimly-litpassage and into a small room thatwas austerely comfortable in the style
  • of a doctor’s waiting room. The manmotioned to a chair and said, ‘Waithere.’ I sat down but stood up almostimmediately when I saw the womanpick up my bag and walk towards adoor. I called out, ‘Hey, I’ll keep thatwith me.’She put up a warning hand andbarked, ‘Sit down!’ I did so. Shepatted my bag and said, ‘You canhave it later if they decide that youshould.’ They left the room.My thoughts were still whirlingwithout direction or resolution. Whyhad I been brought here? Somethingto do with the fair? Were theyoffended because I had refused to givetheir agent the information that hewanted? If so, what did they wantnow? Revenge? Harassment? Then Iwould think that it had to do with myrelationship with Mary. But, in thenext moment, I would think, No that
  • can’t be true. Surely we had coveredour tracks too well for them to knowabout us. No, it must be somethingelse. But what?The building was eerily quiet. Afterabout ten minutes, I sensed thatsomeone was standing behind my leftshoulder. I looked around to see anSSB agent standing with his thumbstucked into his belt, looking at mecontemplatively. He must haveentered through the door in the wallbehind me, even although I had heardnothing. I glanced at him and thenlooked hard. Surely I knew the man?I was trying to make out his featuresin the subdued lighting when he tookoff his cap and looked straight at me.It was Kana! You could have knockedme over with a flywhisk! Kana! Ijumped up to greet him but, curtly, hemotioned me to be seated. Still
  • looking at me coldly, he said, ‘Mybrother.’I said, ‘Kana! What are you doinghere?’He looked at me hard-faced andswept his hand over his uniform, as ifto say, don’t you see what I am? Thenhe moved around and sat down in thechair opposite. He said in a matter-of-fact tone, ‘I would rather have metyou in other circumstances.’His cold attitude froze the warmth outof my feelings at seeing him againafter such a long time. I replied, ‘Ididn’t know that you were with theSSB.’By way of answer, he swept his handover his uniform again in a gesturethat said, You may believe it.I said, ‘I thought that you were withthe Space Agency.’
  • Kana replied dryly, ‘Even spaceagencies need security. The SSBprovides it there, too.’What should I say? I was searchingfor words when Kana broke thesilence by saying, ‘Unfortunately thisis business, not pleasure. We don’thave time to catch up on news.’ Heput up a finger and grinnedsardonically, saying, ‘However, Ithink I’m quite well informed aboutwhat you’ve been doing.’I said, ‘Ah. Then you’re ahead of me.’Kana nodded and said flatly, ‘It’s ourbusiness to be ahead of everybody.’He spoke into the talkie on his lapeland another agent came in. Kanagestured towards the newcomer andsaid, ‘My comrade here will act as therecording clerk. We never transactbusiness alone.’The man just grunted tersely andbegan to set up voicerec equipment.
  • After a short time he snapped hisfingers and announced, ‘Ready toproceed!’ He kept his cap on and satin the shadows as if he was trying toefface himself or was trying to concealhis identity.Kana inclined his head and looked atme speculatively like a tailormeasuring an unreliable customer fora suit. Then he said in an officialvoice, ‘You have been apprehended inthe matter of consorting with awoman who is an inhabitant of aProtected Territory.’So that was it! At least I knew even ifit was not what I wanted to hear.Kana asked, ‘Do you admit toknowing her?’ There was no sense indenying it so I nodded. Kana spoke inthe direction of the voicerec, saying ina formal tone, ‘The accused admits toknowing the woman.’ Then heswivelled around and asked me, ‘And
  • do you admit to consorting with herfor, let me see -’The other man said, ‘For a total ofnine meetings over a period of forty-six days.’Kana nodded and asked, ‘Do youagree?’I said, ‘I haven’t kept a record. Forty-six days is about one and a halfmonths. It sounds about right.’ I triedto keep my voice steady in spite of theapprehension and nervous tensionthat had seized hold of me.Kana looked at his colleague forconfirmation. When the man nodded,Kana said, ‘That’s good enough. Andyou admit to seeing her on a total ofnine occasions?’‘I told you that I haven’t kept arecord of our meetings.’Kana said coldly, ‘We have!’ He saidto his colleague, ‘Please provide therecord of meetings for verification.’
  • The man consulted his portableaccessor and began to read from it,stating that Mary and I had met onsuch and such a night for so manyhours and so many minutes. At theconclusion, Kana asked, ‘Does yourmemory agree with the record?’I shrugged. ‘Close enough, I suppose.I told you, I can’t say exactly -- suchand such a date, so many hours andminutes. That type of record-keepingis for spies, isn’t it?’Kana’s eyelid twitched but otherwisehe remained impassive. He directedhis voice towards the voicerec, saying‘We will accept that as an admission.’To me, he said, ‘If you don’t contestthe record, we can proceed.’I shrugged and Kana continued, ‘Thefirst charge is that you entered aProtected Territory. The secondcharge is that you had social relationswith an inhabitant of the territory.’
  • I allowed myself a wry smile. ‘Socialrelations’ seemed oddly stiff andrestrained as a description of whathad passed between Mary and me.Kana caught my expression andfrowned. He said rigidly, ‘The chargeis worded in accordance with theSocial Regulations.’I said, ‘Her name is Mary. Why don’tyou refer to her by name? She’s a realperson, not just "an inhabitant", asyou term her.’Kana’s eyes flickered as if I hadstruck home. After a short pause, hesquared his shoulders and replied,‘Using her name would not alter thecircumstances.’‘It would to me!’‘Ah! It would?’‘It would be less offensive to a womanfor whom I have great affection.’Kana and his colleague exchangedglances before Kana replied, ‘As I
  • said, it would not alter thecircumstances in which you findyourself. As to your admission of anillicit liaison we already know allabout my relationship with thewoman.’‘With Mary Thompson, you mean?’‘With the woman named Mary – yes,that is so.’‘And you all about our relationship?’‘Yes, we do.’‘Do you know all about how we felt,how we loved, how we planned anddreamed together?’Kana smiled dryly. ‘Come, come, mydear brother! Love and plans anddreams are of no interest to us. Weknow what we need to know, that’sall! But, anyway, do you think that wethought that you were meeting todiscuss old ruins or historical relics?’He clucked his tongue in mocksurprise, saying ‘We didn’t suppose
  • that your relationship with thewoman was not one of -’I interrupted him, saying, ‘I love her.It is a love affair and you -’’Now Kana interrupted me, sayingsharply, ‘Love? What is that? It’s aword you have brought with you fromthe Protected Territory. It is abarbarian notions. It’s not a term thatis admitted in the lexicon of Society,as you well know. The term “liaison”will do.’I burst out, ‘I told you it is arelationship of love - between her andme! What’s wrong with you? Are youdeaf? Write down what I say, notwhat you want to hear!’Kana waved a hand dismissively andsaid brusquely, ‘You may call it whatyou want to! The fact is that it was asexual relationship, and that is what iscalled a liaison. Those are the facts –no more, no less.’
  • His colleague said impatiently, ‘Geton with it, or we’ll be here all night!The exact nature of the relationshipisn’t relevant at this stage. It doesn’tmatter who feels what for whom, orwho is doing what, how and when.’He went over to Kana and spoke tohim quietly, looking at me once ortwice. Kana listened, nodded, andthen said to me, ‘As my colleaguesays, the exact nature of therelationship isn’t significant. Wemight need more details, if this mattergoes further - further than it seemslikely to. But not at the moment.’I asked, ‘Goes further? How?’The two men glanced at each otheragain before Kana said, ‘We intend toconclude this matter here, tonight.We expect that you will co-operate.’‘And if -?’‘If you don’t, then the matter willprobably take somewhat longer to
  • conclude. And then the nature of therelationship -- well, as we said, then itwill probably be a factor.’‘Why don’t stop beating about thebush? Did you lose the ability to saywhat you mean at the Academy, or inthe SSB, or wherever it is that you’vebeen?’Kana stiffened as if I had struck himand his eyelids narrowed warningly.Then he got hold of himself and said,‘I mean that a case can be madeagainst you that in terms of theRegulations, no relationship may beof such a nature that its affiliationssupersede those that citizens owe toSociety. That could be a furthercharge.’ He spread his hands and saidstiffly, ‘I’m sure you know theRegulations well enough. We don’thave to explain further.’I replied, ‘Oh, I know the Regulationspretty well. For instance, I know that
  • under the Charter, I have guaranteesas a citizen.’Kana smiled sardonically, leanedforward with a look of someoneproducing a trump card, and said‘My dear, dear brother, this is asecurity matter that’s covered byArticle Nine of the Charter. Itinvolves a Protected Territory. Asecurity board will review your case.A security board! Do youunderstand? Who knows what theymight decide?’ He put his chinforward in the old manner that Iremembered well and said, ‘You arein our hands.’‘Your hands? Yours alone?’Kana’s eyes flickered as if I hadcaught him out. He said hurriedly, ‘Imean, the hands of the SSB.’The other man said, ‘Let’s get on withit, man! We haven’t got all night.’
  • Kana’s said urgently, ‘You mustunderstand that if you were granted atribunal hearing -- and I say ‘if’ --then a full range of charges could bebrought against you. Evidence wouldbe led. The woman could be called toappear.’‘Mary -- what about her? Where isshe, anyway? Are you holding her?’Kana said coolly, ‘Holding her? Why,my dear brother, what on earth doyou think we are? Savages like yourwoman and her kind?’‘Where is she?’‘Oh, don’t worry, she’s at home, Isuppose, where she ought to be.’‘And she’s all right?’‘All right?’‘Don’t jest with me, Kana. You knowwhat I mean.’Kana appraised me like theproverbial cat toying with theproverbial mouse. Then he said, ‘Her
  • fate isn’t in our hands. It’s not amatter that’s covered by the SocialRegulations -- it’s outside ourjurisdiction. She’s been given over tothe local chief and his council. Whatthey might or might not decide -’ Heshrugged with feigned carelessness.Before I could find a reply, Kana said,‘Enough of that, eh? Let’s get back tothe matter at hand. Now, your firstoption is this -- you can request toappear before a tribunal.’I said, ‘Ah! A tribunal!’ I looked athim steadily. His eyes flickered withrecognition, momentarily, before hisface closed down.He said, ‘Yes, as I said, a tribunal. Ifyou choose to request a tribunalhearing -’‘As is my right -’‘No, it is not your right! Under theSocial Regulations it’s only a
  • possibility. I’ve already told you thatthis is a security issue.’‘A tribunal? Well, we know all aboutthat, don’t we? A tribunal as it waswith Arila?’Kana’s demeanour slipped and Iviewed the dark morass of hisvindictiveness just for a moment.Then he stiffened and said, ‘Arila hasnothing to do with it. This is an affairthat involves -- it’s between you andSociety. That’s all.’ He thumped a fiston the arm of the chair. ‘Enough! Nomore diversions.’Up until now, I had beenapprehensive and afraid. Now I wasbeing overtaken by anger. Ourhistory, our relationship – brothers,after all! – the things that had passedbetween us, were all coming to thefore. I said, ‘Where is Mary? Idemand to know!’
  • There was a pause while Kana triedto compose himself. Then he said,‘The woman will be dealt withaccording to her own laws andcustoms. I’ve already explained thatto you, haven’t I?’‘And who decides who administersthese laws and customs, as you callthem? Who appoints these chiefs, orwhatever they are? The Territorials?The same people as raid the territorywhenever they feel like it? The samepeople as kill, plunder, and takecaptives? And you speak aboutbarbarians? You – wearing thatuniform – you dare to speak aboutbarbarians!’The old signs of passion overcomingKana’s self-control were visible – thetwitching of the muscles at the cornerof his eyes, the way he bit his lip. Hegrowled, ‘Enough! This hearing isabout you, not me.’
  • The other man broke in, sayingsharply, ‘Get on with it! We’rewasting time.’ Then he turned to meand said coldly, ‘You don’t seem tounderstand that you are under ourauthority. We are SSB officials. Youcrossed into a protected territory.You had a relationship with abarbarian woman. We willrecommend what to do with you. Wewill recommend, and no on eels. Doyou understand that? You can twistand turn as you like, but the boardwill accept our recommendation.’ Heturned to Kana and said coldly,‘Either you finish this business now,or I will.’Kana flinched and looked away. Iwondered what his relationship waswith his colleague. Could this be a testof Kana’s loyalty? Ha she been set upto deal with his brother? If it was,then I sensed that Kana would pass
  • the test because the fate of his brotherwould be as nothing compared toKana’s ambition. Even as I thoughtthese things, I realised how long I hadknown this truth and how little hadchanged.Kana shifted uneasily in his chair,rubbing his chin and looking from meto his colleague and then back again.As I looked at him squirming andtrying to figure out his next move, Iwent dry and dead inside. I could seethat they would have their way, nomatter what I did. And yet, rightthen, I really didn’t care aboutmyself. In fact, I cared more aboutdefying Kana than I cared about self-preservation. However, above andbeyond anything, my main concernwas that I didn’t want Mary broughtinto this more than I could help it.Kana gathered himself and said in adry voice, ‘We’re not here to hold a
  • debate. If you want a tribunal hearing-- if you think you might have achance -- say so now, and we’ll makeour recommendations and concludeour business.’ Then he said, withoutany apparent irony, ‘We won’tdeprive you of your rights. But,remember this -- if you decide on atribunal hearing, we’ll issue animmediate order for the woman to betaken into custody.’ He smiled thin-lipped and said coldly, ‘It might beunpleasant. Some of her people mighttry to prevent it. They aren’t alwaysco-operative. And some of theTerritorials aren’t too delicate whenit comes to handling women --especially young and attractivewomen. There might be unfortunateconsequences.’His colleague snorted, chuckledknowingly, and said, ‘Ah! But, no
  • matter how things go, in the end, theyalways co-operate.’I asked, ‘And what’s the end of allthis?’‘The end?’‘If I stand on my rights for a tribunalhearing -- what will the outcome be?’The other man said, ‘We can’t predictwhat a tribunal will do. However,tribunals have heard other cases likeyours. In every instance, the sentencehas been banishment.’I said, ‘Banishment? Where to?’‘To the Colony.’‘The Colony? What’s that?’The other man said, ‘We don’t havetime to explain that now.’‘So, if I go before a tribunal, thesentence is likely to be banishment tothis place called the Colony?’Kana nodded. ‘It’ll come to the samething in the end. Tribunal or notribunal – the same thing, in the end.’
  • ‘And if I don’t appear before atribunal -?’Kana bit his lip, shot a quick look athis colleague, tapped his fingers onthe table, and said, ‘I’ve already toldyou. The result will be the same,except that you will have sparedyourself a few months in detentionwhile your case is being investigated.And of course you will save thewoman from being produced as awitness.’ He looked directly into myeyes, challenging me to believe him.‘As I’ve already told you, it might beunpleasant for her and her kind if wehave to go and fetch her. In fact, wecan’t even guarantee that she will bereturned to her home territory –’‘Not returned?’‘Once a barbarian has enteredSociety – well, sometimes other usesare found for them – especially ifthey’re young and good-looking.’ A
  • new light flickered through his eyes.He knew that he had struck home.I was getting so tired that I no longereven had the strength of will to rise toKana’s taunts and innuendoes. I knewthat I wasn’t thinking clearly. Mymind was a confusion of resentments,hopes, frustrations, and possiblestrategies. Also, I was drained byanger. Above all, like a suffocatingblanket, was the thought that itseemed hopeless. They had me andthey weren’t going to let go.It was obvious that they would preferto have me out of the way. It seemedthat I had only two choices. One ofthem would involve Mary in waysthat were unspecified but surelyunpleasant. The other probablywouldn’t involve her.I said, ‘I want time to think about it.’Kana replied, ‘You can’t delay anylonger.’
  • ‘I need until tomorrow morning. Ican’t decide now.’‘We won’t be here tomorrow. We’releaving tonight. We’ve only come toAnjima to deal with your case.’Kana’s colleague got to his feet andbegan to pack away the voicerec whilesaying brusquely, ‘We’ve wastedenough time with you. Our driver iswaiting. You’ve got two minutes todecide. That’s all – two minutes!’ Hebegan to tap his fingers on the table –thok, thok, thok. I put my head backand massaged my neck – I was stiff,prickly, and dead tired! – while I triedto work out my options. However,wherever my thoughts went, I cameback to the same conclusion, namelythat I didn’t want Mary involved anymore than she already was and thatthey were probably correct about theoutcome being the same, whichevercourse I elected to take. I was still the
  • moth in the vortex, whirling andtumbling in a dark space that had nodiscernible boundaries.The senior man growled, ‘One minuteremains.’Kana said, fiercely, ‘You must decidenow!’I was weary and sick to my heart. Isaid, ‘All right. Let’s settle it now.’Kana said, ‘It’s the best way.’ Heproduced a document from inside histunic and offered it to me, saying,‘Sign this, and we’ll conclude ourbusiness.’‘What? So quick? All ready andwaiting for me?’Kana replied, ‘We’re professionals.We think ahead.’ Although his facewas hard, giving nothing away, therewas a hint of a higher tone to his voiceand a slight inclination of his headthat suggested that he was relieved.
  • The document was in the form of adeclaration that I admitted to thecharge as specified, recognised mytransgression, and accepted thesentence of banishment as ‘fair andlegitimate’. It also stated that I gavemyself into the custody of the SSB for‘implementation of the sentence’.I completed reading the documentand said, ‘Oh, Kana, my dearbrother! You really want this, don’tyou?’‘Want it?’‘Yes, want it! You really want me tosign.’ I dangled the paper in hisdirection. ‘Why, Kana? Tell me why.’Kana shifted his position and rubbedhis hand hard on his chin as if bydoing so he could rub me out as well.He started to speak, swallowed, thenrubbed his chin again and said, ‘It’sbest for all.’‘And who is ‘all’?’
  • Kana’s companion interrupted:‘Time’s up! Let’s go!’I ignored him and said to Kana, ‘I’llgive you what you want. But I’m notdoing it for you. Remember that – it’snot for you.’ I signed the documentand walked over to him. Still holdingthe document, I looked at himsquarely. He stretched out his handbut I dangled the document just outof his reach, saying, ‘Remember mewhen you go to sleep tonight, Kana.Remember me every night when youdream of your ambitions. Andremember that I’m not doing this foryou. Oh, yes, one more thing --remember that you will never knowanything like as good or as fine aswhat I have had with Mary. For thatalone, I pity you my dear brother.’When I offered Kana the document,he snatched it and emitted a smallsigh, almost a gasp. Then he turned to
  • his companion and nodded. The manreplied with a perfunctory nod andsaid to me, ‘Wait here. They will fetchyou within five minutes.’They left the room, leaving me aloneto face the dark unknown.Fifteen: the strangers cameThe Colony is located far down to thenorth at a latitude of about 55degrees, deep within an area that ismarked on maps as a ProtectedTerritory. The camps are surroundedby fields that produce crops such asoats, barley, and a variety ofvegetables. Beyond the fields, thereare coniferous forests that cover lowhills and uplands. It is a fertile region,green and verdant for much of theyear except when it is gripped by thesterile cold of winter.
  • The winters are cold, damp, andmiserable, with frequent rain, frost,and snow. Blizzards sweep in fromthe northern hinterland, blanketingthe land. Even large rivers and lakesare frozen over for days or weeks onend.Even bleaker than the winter are thederelict sites that are scattered allover the countryside. As we travelledaround on work duties, I saw sitesthat must have accommodated largepopulations during the Old Time. Butnow everything is abandoned andreduced to rubble and ruins. Derelict,isolated, abandoned – nothingremains of what must once have beenbustling, crowded, busy cities. No oneenters them any longer, not evenscavengers or sight-seers, because theDirectorate of Development has listedthem as ‘sealed sectors’, with accessby permit only. The countryside has
  • taken over. Roads have disappearedunder carpets of plants and bushes,tarmac has buckled and folded, treeshave driven through ceilings androofs, and creepers have clawed wallsapart. Girders have collapsed on topof crumbling brickwork andmachinery has rusted and eroded. Allthis ruin and devastation happenedduring the War. Restitution had itsprice, and for many people the pricewas high.The local people live much like thepeople in the southern ProtectedTerritory, Mary’s home area. Theireconomy is mainly based onagriculture and small, home-basedmanufacturing. Their homes aremodest but sturdy, constructed oflocal materials such as stone, logs, andthatch. Although they use animal-drawn vehicles, they do haveelectrical power. Hills and higher
  • places are dotted with windgenerators, while power lines bringenergy from hydroelectricinstallations in distant mountains.You might wonder why sophisticatedtechnology is allowed to intrude into asimple rural way of life, until youremember that the ProtectedTerritories are conservation areas inwhich the destruction of the naturalenvironment is prohibited.An inter-continental cargo shuttlethat was waiting at the pad outsidethe city transported me directly fromAnjima City to the Colony. I was theonly person in the spherical cavern ofthe cargo bay, where the portholeshad been blacked out so that Icouldn’t even make out our directionof travel. The bay was so crammedwith boxes and crates that I haddifficulty in moving about. The cargomainly consisted of simple household
  • appliances, such as electric stoves,cold-chests, and even hand-operatedsewing machines. I wondered whowould use the sewing machines.Surely there wouldn’t be a market forthem in Society, where electricalpower was freely and cheaplyavailable? Then, almost immediately,I remembered that once, when Icomplimented Mary on a robe thatshe was wearing, she referredlaughingly to the hours of effort thateach garment took to make by handat her sewing machine. Could thesegoods be intended for a ProtectedTerritory?After about two hours, a member ofthe flight crew unlocked the bay andgave me a flask of tea, half a loaf ofcoarse bread, and an apple. Therewere no eating utensils. Did theythink that I was going to commitsuicide or perhaps attack the
  • members of the crew? I suppressedthe thought and asked the man wherewe were heading. He shrugged andsaid, ‘You’ll see, my friend, you’llsee.’ I also asked for whom the cargowas intended. He grunted and said,‘You ask a lot of questions, don’t you?Do you think you’ve got rights, orwhat?’ Then he sniggered, waved ahand around, and said, ‘Hey, it won’thurt you to know, not where you’regoing, will it? The fact is thatsomeone’s got to pay for all this,especially as the Assembly isn’t muchinterested in funding projects in theProtected Territories.’I asked, ‘Pay for all of what?’The man looked at me inquisitivelyand replied, ‘The Colony doesn’t runon fresh air, does it?’Although I tried to take stock of myposition during the flight, I couldn’tfocus because I was tired and stressed
  • and kept dozing off. My mind waswhirling with a jumble of images,almost hallucinations, as it grappledwith impressions of Mary, darkvisions of Kana, scenes from mychildhood, and events of only a fewdays or hours previously. At last,knowing only that I was exhaustedand bereft of the things that I helddearest, I fell into a fitful sleep.The flight took about five hours,which was long enough to span morethan half of the surface of the globe.When we landed, it was earlymorning, the air was chilly, and thesky was overcast. Two SSB menhauled me out of the cargo bay,hustled me to a waiting hovercar, anddrove at speed towards a group ofbuildings. I had just enough time tosee that this was a military base atwhich the low, functional buildingswere all painted uniform dark green,
  • while pods of missiles projected theirsharp-nosed menace towards theclouds.We drove past a line of men waitingoutside one of the buildings. They allwore long grey greatcoats andwoollen caps, and they were all light-skinned. As they stood against thewall, stamping their feet and rubbingtheir hands together against themorning chill, they had the impassive,resigned looks of men who wereunder orders and were awaitingnothing more but the nextinstructions.The driver stopped the vehicle andsaid, curtly, ‘Wait here, citizen. Don’tmove.’ He went into one of thebuildings and at last I could get agood look at the surroundings. Threevehicles standing right next to thebuildings dominated the view. Theywere heavily armoured, six-wheeled,
  • grey-green in colour, and as high asthe eaves of the buildings. The deeplytreaded tyres were huge, each onehigher than a man, while the noses ofthe vehicles were pointed and encasedin armour, as if they were thrustingforward to penetrate obstacles. Highup on the front of each vehicle was asmall cannon mounted on a swiveland down the sides were slits in thearmour. Even a greenhorn like mecould see that the slits would allow theoccupants to fire from behind theprotection of the armoured sides.Men in SSB uniforms sat on top of thevehicles observing the scene below.Occasionally one of them would swinga cannon, slowly, almost carelessly,but always in the general direction ofthe waiting men. It was an ominousscene: the dominating, squat hulks ofthe vehicles, the men in uniformsitting on top of them, idle but alert,
  • and the occasional swivellingmovement of the cannons, desultorybut menacing.A SSB man emerged from a doorway,shouted something, and wavedbrusquely at the men. They shuffledoff in his wake, moving towards theshuttle. While I was watching them,the driver came back and said off-handedly, ‘Welcome to ContinentalProtected Territory, citizen – andwelcome to the Colony.’ He jerked athumb towards the squad, saying,‘You’ll join them soon. Lookingforward to it, hey?’ As we drove pastthe vehicles he said, ‘Beautifulmachines, eh? Wolf armouredvehicles. These are the latest models.They can go anywhere, any time. Prayyou don’t get in front of one of themwhen they mean business.’ I lookedback at them and thought that thevehicles were aptly named. They were
  • unmistakably wolf-like with theirsharp noses, their grilles like baredteeth, curved slightly upwards at theouter edges, while the rising sweep ofthe armour plating looked like ears.The Colony is a depressing place, justa vast spread of camps. Each campcontains scores of low woodenbungalows, row after ordered row,each bungalow numbered on its roofand on its door to mark its place inthe arrangement. At intervals thereare large buildings that contain theeating halls and the ablution facilities.Inside the camps, men languish indepression and despair. They dreamof, and yearn for, escape to the worldoutside: the world of homes, families,and discretion to order the pace oftheir lives. Freedom? No, they don’tdream of that. There’s no freedom inthe Continental Protected Territory --whether inside or outside the Colony,
  • there’s no freedom at all. In any case,what does it matter what lies outsidethe camps? No one has ever escapedfrom the Colony. Each camp issurrounded by a perimeter ofconcrete ditches and razor wiresecured to ripbeam-charged fenceswhile the Wolves patrol around theouter barriers, moving up and downincessantly. Ah, the Wolves! Evennow, safe and secure in this place, Ihave nightmares about them. Morethan anything else, they embody thedesperation of the Colony.Everywhere the inmates see, hear,feel, and sense the Wolves. They arethe dreadful other that presses on youeven more insistently than the shabby,sullen, depressed surroundings, thesneering wardens, and the endlessnothingness of the future. Even deepinside the camp, you can never escapethe distant, pervasive, high-pitched
  • humming sound of the Wolves onpatrol. When you’re working outsidethe camp, the Wolves are alwaysthere, sometimes bulking close by andsometimes as low shapes on thehorizon, hulking darkly against thedistant foliage. Sometimes, likepredators, they circle around theworking parties. Always there areSSB men on top of the vehicles, theirfaces hidden behind dark visors,cradling their stun-lasers and idlyswinging the mounted cannons.Always, day or night, the Wolves arepresent in one way or another.The Colony consists of more thanthirty camps that are dotted aboutover a huge stretch of countryside.Although the camps don’t havenames, only numbers, the wardersand the internees differentiatebetween the camps by nicknames. Forinstance, ‘High View’ is a camp in the
  • bottom of a valley while ‘Hard Rock’is a camp that is notorious for its bad-tempered commander and the harshregime that he imposes on thewarders and they, in their turn, onthe internees. The camp nicknamed‘Beachside’ is celebrated as a placewhere the inmates spend a lot of dayson light duty inside the camp becauseof the fogs and gales that affect thecoastal area. Internees discuss thesecharacteristics and calculate theirchances of moving to a better camp,just as the citizens of Society discusscareer prospects.I was interned in Camp 12, otherwiseknown as ‘Camp Banjo’ in referenceto the noise that the wind makes as itwhistles through the power lines thatpass over the camp. I was allocated abed in a bungalow and was providedwith the standard internee’s garb,bedding, and other basic equipment.
  • When my belongings were takenaway from me, I was particularlyconcerned about a hand-madebracelet that Mary had given me onlya few days earlier. However, all that Igot for my protest was the assuranceof the stores operator, an interneehimself, who said to me,sympathetically if brusquely, ‘Don’tworry, mate. We don’t steal fromeach other here. Honour amongstthieves, hey?’Almost all of the inmates were light-skinned, just like the inhabitants ofthe Protected Territory adjacent tothe southland. They had the samegeneral physical characteristics, suchas straight, long hair, ranging incolour from fair through to darkwhile, just as in the south, there wereeven some redheads.A warder escorted me to thebungalow, where he placed a card on
  • the holder above my bed. When heread the details, he grinned at mesardonically and said, ‘A lifer, hey?’I said, ‘So it seems.’He observed casually, ‘There are afew more like you in this camp.’‘Like me?’‘Citizens in for life, just like you. Butdon’t think you get special treatment,being a citizen. You get treated thesame as everyone else.’ He looked atme appraisingly and asked, ‘What areyou in for?’When I told him, he laughedknowingly and said, ‘Fraternisingwith the barbarians, eh? Well, you’vegot plenty of time to get to knowbarbarians here -- if there’s stillanything you don’t know aboutthem.’ He grinned sardonically andsneered, ‘As for me, I’ve learned allthat I’ll ever want to know aboutbarbarians.’
  • ‘What have you learned?’‘Well, the first thing is that they’relike children. You have to be firmwith them. As long as they know therules, and they know they can’t getaway with anything, things are allright. We don’t take any nonsense,and they know it.’ Then he said in aconfidential tone, ‘If you ask me, it’sno good, putting people like you inwith these barbarians.’‘Why is that?’‘Well, they’ve got to respect uscitizens, isn’t it? Now, you might be acriminal, but you’re still one of us. Itdoesn’t help them to respect us whenthey see us treating our own kind justlike we treat them. It brings peoplelike you down to their level. Thatbeing the case, perhaps they’ll thinkthe rest of us are like that too.’ Hewalked towards the door, then turnedand remarked, ‘But maybe you won’t
  • mind being at the same level as them,since you’ve been mixing with theirwomen, eh?’ He gave me a mocksalute and said, ‘Enjoy your life withthe barbarians, citizen!’After the warder left, I sat down onmy bed and took stock of mycondition. Although I was so tiredthat my skin felt prickly and my headached dully, I couldn’t sleep. Norcould I order my thoughts into anycoherent form. Less than twelve hoursago I had been in my room in theengineers’ encampment in Anjimaregion, thinking of how to spend theevening -- and thinking about my nextmeeting with Mary, only two daysahead. Now I was imprisoned in someforsaken prison camp in some strangeland in another hemisphere.I tried to slow my thoughts and thinkthrough the events of the last twelvehours. Should I have accepted what
  • Kana and his colleague offered me?Would it have been better to insist ona tribunal hearing? Would theconsequences have been as severe forMary as they said they would be?Perhaps the mysterious ‘securityboard’ wasn’t all-powerful; in fact,perhaps it didn’t exist at all. If I hadinsisted on appearing before atribunal, I might have been granted aproper hearing -- probably wouldhave -- and in that event -?I dozed off amidst the disorder of mynew clothing and bedding and wasawoken by someone shaking meroughly, shouting, ‘Hey, you! Wakeup! Get your place tidy! Do you wantthe whole bungalow put on a charge?’I scrambled to my feet and said,‘Sorry. I’m tired.’ Rubbing my eyes,swaying with fatigue, I lookedaround, trying to focus on the facesaround me. The speaker, who stood
  • right in front of me with his hands onhis hips, was shorter than me, squat,with broad shoulders and an open,freckled face. I yawned widely andsaid, ‘I’ve just arrived.’The group of men laughed derisivelyand someone said mockingly, ‘Justvisiting, hey?’Someone else asked, ‘Where youfrom, mate?’I said, ‘From Anjima region.’ Theylooked at me with puzzledexpressions. I said, ‘It’s in thesouthland, in Society.’The person who asked the questionsaid, ‘I should’ve known. Sun’s burntyour skin, hasn’t it?’The group around me increased insize. One of the men peered at thecard above my bed and announced,‘Can you believe it? He’s a lifer!’There were whistles of surprise. Thefirst speaker said, in pretended
  • surprise, ‘A citizen, and a lifer, too!Have they no respect for their ownkind?’A voice from the back of the crowdshouted, ‘There’s another one likehim, over in M block. He’s been hereabout two years.’There was silence while the menstudied me with suspicious interest.Then the first speaker said, ‘Welcometo Villa Eldorado. My name is Johan.’He shook my hand and introduced meto the others: Matt, Berndt, Alan,Peter, Emmanuel, and others whosenames I couldn’t remember. Theynodded to me but held back withoutshaking my hand. Then Johan said, ‘Iwasn’t joking, friend. You’d betterget that mess tidied up or we’ll all bein trouble, for sure.’I spent the rest of the lunch hourgetting things straight. When Johanreturned from the food hall, he threw
  • me a few slices of bread, whistled indismay, and said, ‘That’s no way toarrange your things. We’d better getthings straight for you.’ He enlistedthe help of some of the others tostraighten out the bedding accordingto regulations, which includedarranging my spare boots on the shelfabove the bed. When they finished,Johan stood back and looked at mykit appraisingly, saying, ‘That’s allsquare with everything in its place.’He cocked his head to one side, peeredat my kit closely again, and said, ‘Nosense in looking for trouble. It’ll cometo you soon enough, anyway.’ Heclucked his tongue, stepped forward,and adjusted the pleats of mygreatcoat, which lay folded on the footof my bed. Then he stood back againand grunted in approval. ‘You’dbetter learn fast, my citizen friend,because this lot won’t give you much
  • more help. They’ve got their ownthings to look after.’ Just then a sirensounded and Johan said, ‘Lunchbreak’s over. Back to work. Come on,let’s get moving.’I joined the others outside, where theywere forming up in a squad. I stood inthe back row not knowing what toexpect and trying to remaininconspicuous. The squad grew silentas a warder approached. Someonenext to me whispered, ‘It’s Kotin!He’s a real bastard.’ The men aroundme grunted in agreement.The warder stood in front of thesquad and shouted something that Icouldn’t catch. The squad snapped toattention and stood motionless. Ilooked around and then followed suit,shuffling my feet in the dirt. Kotinpeered towards me and scowled. Thenhe barked another order and thesquad did a right turn. When I
  • shuffled around, trying to figure outwhat to do, someone behind mewhispered, ‘You’d better get thisright quickly, mate.’ Kotin shoutedanother order and the squad set off,marching three abreast, swingingtheir arms to belt height. After abouttwenty paces, just when I thought thatI was getting the hang of marching,Kotin barked something and thesquad came to an abrupt halt. Ibumped into the men in front of me,sending two of them stumbling.Someone swore in surprise andsomeone else snorted in contempt.Kotin rushed around and thrusthimself right up against me, glaring atme with pop-eyes. He roared, ‘Areyou trying to be funny, hey?’I said, ‘No! I’m not!’He put his face close to mine andshouted, ‘No -- what?’‘No. I’m not trying to be funny.’
  • Kotin grasped me by the front of myoverall, yanking me towards him, andshouted into my face, ‘No, WarderKotin! Yes, Warder Kotin! That’show you address me. Got it, prettyboy?’ His face was so close to minethat some of his spittle dribbled downmy cheek. I raised a hand to wipe itaway but he struck it down with asharp blow and shouted, ‘You’re atattention now! I’ll do the moving, notyou! Understand?’I said, ‘Yes.’ Then I added, ‘Yes,Warder Kotin.’He released his hold on my overalland shoved my chest contemptuously.I swayed backwards and he snarled,‘Stand still! I told you, you’re atattention!’ I regained my balance andstood motionless. The squad wasbreathlessly silent while Kotinprowled round me. Then he came to astop to my right and hissed, ‘I’ve
  • heard about you. We all have. Weknow what you did. Don’t think thatwe like it.’ He put his face close to myear and said balefully, ‘You’d betterlearn the drill fast, my man, or you’llbe on a charge. Don’t think you’ve gotany privileges here, citizen. Citizen!Ha! Barbarian-brother, that’s whatyou are, not a citizen!’For the rest of the march, I tried toadapt as best I could. Warder Kotingave me an occasional glance butgenerally ignored me.The work site was about twentyminutes march from the camp. Oncethere, we spent the afternoon pickingpotatoes. Then, at about six o’clockwe marched back to camp. By thattime I was so tired that I wasstumbling, almost in a trance. Whenwe reached the bungalow, I collapsedonto my bed and fell asleep as I hitthe blankets.
  • About twenty minutes later Johanwoke me, shouting into my ear, ‘Hey,you! What’s your name again?Spinoza?’‘Simora! My name is Simora.’ Irubbed my eyes and yawned, asking,‘What’s going on?’‘It’s meal time. Get up.’Meal time? I was so exhausted andmiserable that food didn’t featureanywhere on my list of priorities. Iwanted nothing else but to sleep --and to sleep some more. I mutteredsomething to that effect and closed myeyes. Johan shook me again andasked, ‘What have you eaten today?’I mumbled, ‘Not much. I’m nothungry.’ However, as I turned overand pulled the blanket over my head,two men grabbed me, pulling meupright. Johan said, ‘You’re comingwith us. You need to get some foodinto you.’ I muttered a protest and
  • slumped against the men but theyignored my words and half-carriedand half-guided me to the food hallwhere they sat me down on a narrowwooden bench while Johan fetched aplate of food. It wasn’t appetising; infact, after what I’d been used to, itwas disgusting. The plate contained arasher of thick, coarse bacon togetherwith boiled potatoes and cookedbeetroot, all covered with thin,grease-globuled gravy that sloppedaround the edges. But, appetising ornot, it was enough to make me realisehow hungry I was. Johan said, ‘Eat it.You’re not going back to thebungalow until you’ve finished it.’ Iate all of it, my hunger overcomingmy fatigue. Then I slumped across thetable while the others finished theirfood. After that, they got me back tothe bungalow -- I can’t rememberhow -- and I collapsed straight into
  • sleep, oblivious of my soiled overallsand sweaty, unwashed body.The following days passed in aconfused whirl of perplexingimpressions, of new things to learnand to accept, of apprehensions, offatigue, of adapting to the regimentedlife of the bungalow, the squad, andthe work party. There was no privacyand there was no relief from the pressof people and the dictates ofregulations and schedules. The onlyrespite was on one day in eight, whenthere was a rest day. Rest day? Ha!Rather, it gave us an opportunity todo all the tasks that couldn’t be doneat other times, such as patching,mending, cleaning and washing. Aftercompleting the chores, inmates spentany remaining spare time visitingfriends and acquaintances in otherparts of the camp, or, in the case of
  • the more energetic, in playing varioussports.On the evening of the first rest dayafter my arrival, Johan produced aguitar and someone else produced aflute from the locker at the end of thebungalow. Apart from the regulation-issue items, musical instruments andsporting equipment were the onlyarticles that were allowed in thebungalows.As Johan and the flautist settled downto a session of music, I joined thegroup, sitting on the outside of thecircle. It was crystal clear that Iwasn’t trusted or welcome in thiscompany. I guessed that the mensuspected that I had been planted as aspy. Although I shared their lot, aninternee amongst other internees, tothem I was first and foremost acitizen, a representative of anoppressive force.
  • I listened with interest to the songs,which were sentimental and lyrical.They were about love gained and lost,about daily hardships, aboutfrustrated hopes, and similar themes.One sweet and lilting song was aboutgoing over the sea to a place called‘Island’. The men sang the songslowly and nostalgically. It took myattention and afterwards I askedJohan, ‘Would you sing that verseagain?’He looked at me in surprise andasked, ‘Which one?’‘The one about the strangers comingand about lighting a candle.’Johan glanced at me curiously,nodded, and sang the verse again.Then he asked, ‘You like it, eh?’Before I could reply, someoneinterrupted me saying with a sneer,saying, ‘Oh, yes, strangers! You canwell talk about strangers! Let me tell
  • you, citizen, we’ve had enough ofstrangers lording it over us --strangers like you!’Johan said in a sharp tone, ‘Leavehim alone, Conrad! He’s not lordingit over us, is he?’Conrad muttered something andlooked as if he was going to reply untila sharp look from Johan silenced himcompletely.Later that evening I walked over toJohan, who was sitting on his bedpatching his blanket. I asked aboutthe place in the song, the one that wascalled ‘Island’. Johan laughed andsaid the song was about ‘Ireland’, not‘Island’.I asked, ‘Where is this place, thisIreland?’‘Nowhere!’‘Nowhere? How’s that?’‘It no longer exists.’‘It’s a place of the Old Time?’
  • Johan looked at me quizzically andreplied, ‘Before the War, Ireland wasa country on an island over to thewest.’ He jerked his thumb in thatdirection. ‘Now it’s just a part of theContinental Protected Territory.’‘Do people still live there?’Johan shook his head. ‘As far as Iknow, it’s a full conservation area,without any inhabitants at all --except that the SSB use it for rest andrecreation purposes. I hear they’verestocked it with game. They evenhave a few breeding stations there,trying to recreate extinct species or tostrengthen the line of threatenedspecies.’‘That doesn’t sound like the sort ofthings that the SSB would do.’Johan replied, ‘How about if I saidthat it provides more variety forhunting?’‘Hunting! Who goes hunting?’
  • In a hard tone, Johan replied, ‘Someof the SSB people use the area forhunting -- if that’s what you can callit, cutting animals down with laserguns or shooting them down from thebacks of Wolves.’I said, ‘Hunting is illegal! It’s againstthe Regulations. Only culling ispermitted and that has to be undersupervision of the Directorate ofWildlife.’Johan snorted sardonically and said,‘Welcome to the Protected Territory,my friend! I wouldn’t advise you toquote your regulations to the SSB. Ifyou’re lucky – very lucky -- they’lljust laugh at you. If you’re not solucky, if they think you’re beingcheeky or uppity -’ He shrugged andtwisted his hands together eloquently.I asked Johan how he knew aboutthese things. He replied, ‘It’s commonknowledge. Everyone knows about it.
  • When SSB people go on their rest andrecreation trips, some of our mateshave to go with them to act as waiters,beaters, servants and whatnots.’ Hesmiled wryly and added, ‘Oh, they sayit’s not so bad. In fact, they say it’s asoft job if you can stand being so closeto the SSB.’ Then Johan addedbitterly, ‘This rest and recreation,game stocking, and hunting -- that’show they spend the surplus profits oftheir enterprises. That, my friend, isone of the things that we’re workingto support.’ He grinned sardonicallyand said, ‘Ironic, isn’t it? We work tosupport our own oppression.’There wasn’t much that I could say tothat, so I asked Johan about thepeople called ‘the strangers’ in thesong. In reply, Johan called out, ‘Hey,Shamus, come over here. You knowsomething about Ireland, don’t you?’
  • Shamus sat down on the foot ofJohan’s bed and began to talk aboutIreland. He told us that his familyroots were there, stretching back foras long as anyone could remember.All of his ancestors were born there,up to his grandparents. Shamus toldus something about its history, but itwas so complex that most of it waslost on me. However, I do rememberthat Shamus spoke a lot aboutstruggles against people called ‘theEnglish’ who seemed to have taken afiendish pleasure in oppressing thepeople of Ireland. He said with deepfeeling, ‘They took away our land, welost our independence, and we evenlost our language.’Johan said, gently, ‘Not your land anylonger, my friend. It’s all gone now –just like it has for the rest of us.’Shamus replied, ‘True! The bastardshave taken it all. We are all strangers
  • in our own land, aren’t we?’ His eyedlit up with resentment when he lookedat me. By now, I was used to glanceslike that – but that didn’t make iteasier to deal with them.Johan and Shamus began discussingmore recent aspects of the history ofIreland, covering a period of aboutone hundred years before the War ofRestitution. When Shamus talkedabout divisions between people whocalled themselves Christians, I asked,‘These Christians you’re talkingabout - did they also have the cross asa symbol?’Johan nodded and asked, ‘How doyou know about Christians?’I said, ‘I had some contact withpeople in a Protected Territory up inthe south.’Johan observed dryly, ‘So we heard.’Shamus asked, ‘Are there Christiansthere?’
  • I told them that Mary knew a numberof people whom she called ‘believers’.Johan asked, ‘And is she a believer?’I said, ‘Not actually a believer, butshe knows a lot about it. She tried toexplain it to me but I didn’tunderstand most of it. Perhaps if we’dhad longer -’The conversation broke up and wejoined the others in getting thebungalow ready for First DayInspection, which was when thewarders descended on bungalows forthe formality that was known as ‘fullinspection’. They always indulged inso much nit-picking and fault-findingthat the occasion hardly ever passedwithout some of the internees beingput on charges. Sometimes, if thewarders were in a really foul mood,the whole bungalow would be placedon punishment duty. Nobody, except
  • possibly some of the warders, lookedforward to the First Day Inspection.We packed and repacked, scrubbed,mended, and arranged our belongingsin the prescribed order. Bedding hadto be squared off with items ofclothing arranged in set positions onthe blankets. Some internees evenslept on the floor on the night beforethe inspection. Although they didn’tsleep well, their kit was ready forinspection next morning while the restof us were scurrying around in a last-minute fluster.Sixteen: Kotin is not the enemyKotin inspected us, accompanied by awarder named Pevisa, who was amorose little man with stoopingshoulders and a perpetually wet-nosed sniff. We stood stiffly atattention in front of our beds while
  • the two of them moved down thebungalow, checking each person’s kit.The man next to me whispered,‘Pevisa is all right. He doesn’t givetrouble if you leave him alone. Butthat bastard Kotin looks for trouble.’Kotin stopped directly in front of me,appraised me for a long moment, andsaid fatuously, ‘Good morning,citizen.’Staring stiffly ahead in the prescribedmanner, I replied, ‘Good morning,warder Kotin.’He wiggled his swagger stick justunder my nose and said mockingly,‘Ah! Our fellow citizen has learnedhis manners. You haven’t beencontaminated by too much contactwith barbarians, I’m pleased to see.’Kotin began poking through my kit,muttering sceptically as he did so. Thebungalow was hushed as if everyinmate was waiting for the storm to
  • burst and was hoping fervently that itwould pass him by. After about half aminute of poking and muttering,Kotin grunted and moved around toface me, brandishing my spare pair ofboots. He cried triumphantly,‘Citizen, these boots are dirty.’I knew that wasn’t possible because,having been warned that I would betargeted during the inspection, I hadspent a lot of time double-checkingeach item. I replied, ‘I cleaned them,warder Kotin.’He thrust the undersides of the bootsbefore my face and said, ‘Ah! But thesoles are dirty.’I glanced down. They looked perfectlyclean to me so I replied, ‘I cleanedthem last night, warder Kotin.’‘Are you disagreeing with me?’I remained silent. Kotin grunteddisapprovingly, ran his finger acrossthe soles, and said, ‘Dust! There’s
  • dust on the soles.’ He held a finger upfor me to inspect. I couldn’t see anytrace of dust so I remained silent.‘What do you have to say, citizen?’Kotin said the last word with a sneer.‘Do you see the dust? Answer me!’‘I can’t see any dust, warder Kotin.’I heard the quick sounds of in-drawnbreath from the men around me.Kotin glanced around and smiled inmalicious satisfaction. Then he put hisface close to mine and sneered, ‘Yourboots are dirty! You’re disagreeingwith me! These are serious offences.’He showed the boots to Pevisa, whoregarded them lugubriously. Kotinasked, ‘Citizen Pevisa, what do yousay?’ Pevisa just frowned, sniffed,and shook his head despondently.Perhaps he was reflecting on theuniversal sadness of human existence.Perhaps he was dismayed at thetroublesome events that Kotin was
  • setting in motion. Perhaps he wassuffering from heartburn. It wasimpossible to tell what Pevisa meantto convey by a sniff and one briefshake of his head.Kotin said triumphantly, ‘Ah-ha! Yousee! Warder Pevisa agrees with me.’Pevisa, who was studying an invisiblespot on the wall above the cupboardat the end of the bungalow, just shookhis head sadly, sniffed, and wiped hisnose with the back of his hand. Thenhe rolled his eyes towards me and saidwith regretfully, ‘Ah, man! So goesthis world! Heh!’ After that eloquentoutburst, he redirected his attentionto the spot on the wall.Kotin paced the centre of thebungalow, twitching his swaggerstick, enjoying his moment on thestage. He said, ‘Here we have a newperson, just recently arrived. His kitisn’t in order. In fact, it’s filthy.’ He
  • stood with his hands on his hips,regarding the two lines of silent men,each one staring rigidly ahead. Kotincontinued, ‘Now, why isn’t his kit inorder? Did anyone help him toarrange his kit?’ Kotin turned on theman nearest to him and bellowed,‘You! Did you help him get ready forinspection?’‘No, warder Kotin. But -’‘But nothing!’ Kotin strutted to theend of the bungalow, slapping hisswagger stick against his thigh,revelling in the opportunity topromenade before a captive audience.Then he turned and bellowed, ‘This isa general bungalow offence! Now, theappropriate punishment is -’ Helooked at Pevisa, who was still staringat the same spot above the cupboard.Pevisa sniffed again and shook hishead sadly as if he was rememberingsins long past and wondering how
  • they came to be repeated today. Kotinsaid triumphantly, ‘There you are!Warder Pevisa agrees with me.’Pevisa rolled his eyes and said, ‘Heh!’while Kotin scratched the tip of hisnose with his stick, looked up anddown the lines, and pronounced, ‘Thepunishment is one hour’s pack drillafter work!’ There was the sound ofin-drawn breath from all over thebungalow. A few men coughednervously. Then there was silence asKotin sauntered to the door, turned,and said in a satisfied voice, ‘Theinspection is over. Form up outside.’We spent the day harvesting potatoessullenly. During the lunch break,back in the bungalow, I was accusedme of being responsible for thepunishment that had been imposed onus. Some of the men asked why I hadmeddled with a woman in a ProtectedTerritory and why I hadn’t kept to
  • what they called ‘my own kind.’Others accused me of being a spy andsaid that the bungalow was beingpunished to cover for me. I just satthere disconsolately without the heartto defend myself while a ring of angrymen closed around me. At thatmoment, I didn’t care about anythingat all. I didn’t even care if they killedme. It would be a merciful releasefrom the misery that infected my life.However, it didn’t come to thatbecause Johan pushed his waythrough, shoving men aside, andshouted, ‘Leave him alone! It’s not hisfault.’Someone pushed back at Johan andthe two of them squared off. Theother man said, ‘Not his fault? It washis boots that caused it.’Johan grabbed one of my boots fromthe rack, showed it to the group, anddemanded, ‘Has anyone touched this
  • boot since this morning?’ He facedthe men, challenging them. ‘Didanyone clean these boots afterinspection was over? No! Now have alook at the soles -- no dirt or dustanywhere!’ He held the boot up. ‘It’sjust one of Kotin’s schemes. Youknow that as well as I do.’One of the men shouted truculently,‘Maybe it is! But the fact is that heshould have left our women alone. It’shim that’s brought this trouble on us.’Johan rounded on the speaker, sayingscornfully, ‘Your women! What doyou mean by your women!’ His voicerose. ‘Ha! What makes them yourwomen all of a sudden? You don’teven damn well know where thissouthland place is! You’ve never seenthis woman, this person by name ofMary. She lives halfway across theplanet from here. How can she be“your woman”, eh?’ By now most of
  • the men were looking subdued,standing with downcast eyes andshuffling their feet. Johan paused andlet his eyes travel slowly around thegroup. No one returned his gaze.Then he cried, ‘Start thinking clearly!You fall into Kotin’s little traps overand over again, don’t you? Can’t yousee what he’s up to? He’s alwayslooking for a way to make our livesmore miserable. This is just anotherone of his miserable plans. And doyou know why he’s picking onSimora? No? Well, I’ll tell you why.It’s because he despises him for whathe did. Now, I ask you in all sincerity,is that any reason why we should feelthe same?’Someone asked sullenly, ‘Whyshouldn’t we?’Johan put a hand on my shoulder andreplied, ‘This man is a citizen, not so?You know what his kind usually think
  • about us, don’t you? Yes, that’s right.They despise us. They call usbarbarians. But not him! At least hehas the good taste to find one of ourown kind attractive.’ A few menlaughed. Johan continued, ‘Have youever known any other citizen who feltlike that? Give him his due! At leastdo that – give him his due!’’The tension began to subside andsomeone said, ‘That might all be true,but the fact remains that we’re goingto suffer today.’Johan said, ‘That’s a fact. We can’tchange that, for sure. All we can do isbite the bullet and see it through. Butwhile we’re doing it, at least let’s notgive Kotin the satisfaction of gettingwhat he wants.’Someone else asked, ‘What exactly isit that he wants?’Johan replied, ‘Kotin hates Simorafor what he’s done. He wants us to
  • share his opinion. He wants us tovictimise Simora. Now, I’m not askingyou to fall over yourselves with loveand affection for Simora, or anyoneelse, just to spite Kotin. But at leastyou can make up your own mindsabout the matter and not just followKotin’s lead.’ Johan looked aroundfiercely and said forcefully, ‘Damn it,don’t just be Kotin’s pawns! Thinkfor yourselves.’There were murmurs of agreementand Shamus said, ‘What Johan saysmakes sense. The oppressors alwayswant you to act and think like theydo. That’s when they complete theirvictory over you.’Johan nodded, looked steadily at thegroup, and then said, ‘That’s wellsaid! If you follow Kotin’s lead, you’llgive him another victory over us andin addition you’ll only confirm hisopinion of us. He’ll just laugh up his
  • sleeve while he despises us all themore.’The siren signalled the end of thelunch break and the squad formed upoutside. As you can imagine, I wasgrateful to Johan for his intervention.But, more than that, the incident wasone more in a chain of experiencesthat were challenging mypreconceptions and wereundercutting my old certainties.Later, as we prepared for thepunishment pack drill, we grumbledand swore as we loaded all ourregulation kit into our packs -- thesame kit that had been so carefullywashed, ironed, and folded for themorning inspection. To make mattersworse, we would probably be late forthe evening meal and would be luckyto find any food at all when wereturned.
  • Kotin appeared at the door of thebungalow, barked an order, and weswung our packs onto our shouldersand formed up outside. Most of uswere already bending under theweights of out packs and breathingmore deeply. I wondered how far wewould be required to march under theweight and for how long I could takethe pace. The squad set off at a fastjog and after only a few minutes I wassweating and panting. From allaround me there was the sound ofheavy breathing. Kotin jogged next tothe squad, calling the pace andshouting ironic exhortations at us.After about twenty minutes, when wewere well out in open country, Kotincalled a halt and shouted, ‘All right,packs off.’ He pointed to a distanttree: ‘You see that tree? You’ve gotfive minutes to get there and back.Get going.’ Muttering under our
  • breaths, we set off on the run. After afew minutes, the squad was stretchedout all over the route with the olderand less fit men already beginning tostruggle. When everyone hadcompleted the run, Kotin eyed usbalefully and sneered, ‘Too slow!Much too slow!’ He waved hisswagger stick towards the tree,shouting gleefully, ‘Do it again! All ofyou!’Behind me, I heard a gasp and thesound of someone falling. It wasShamus. As I turned, he got to his feetshakily and then collapsed again.Johan ran towards Shamus, saying tome, ‘He’s is finished. He’s not goingto make it. We’ll have to help him.’Shamus’s face was white and hisbreath was coming in gasps. Johansaid to him, ‘Come on. We’ll get youthere. Kotin won’t win this round,eh?’ We picked Shamus up and put
  • his arms over our shoulders. He said,between rasping gasps, ‘Thanks,mates! Can’t let the bastard finish meoff, eh?’ We set off at somethingbetween a trot and a stumble,supporting Shamus. It wasn’t easy,but we managed somehow.Not surprisingly, we were the last toreach the assembly point. When someof the men ran towards us to offerassistance, Kotin waved them backand stood waiting for us, twitching hisswagger stick. We reached the squadand laid Shamus on the ground,where he lay on his back, fullyextended, gasping and wheezing likean old boiler. Kotin shouted, ‘Tooslow! Do you think this is a picnic?’He pointed at us and commended,‘You three - do it again.’Johan straightened, faced Kotin, andsaid quietly, ‘Warder Kotin, you cansee that he’s finished. Have some pity,
  • for the sake of common humanity.He’s not a young man.’Kotin walked over to Shamus and dughim in the ribs with his foot, gruntingcontemptuously. When Shamus triedto rise and then collapsed onto hisback, Kotin dug his ribs again,snorted, and then said, ‘We don’twant to ruin him for work, do we?There are still plenty of potatoes todig, eh?’ He turned to Johan and meand barked, ‘A cripple could haverun faster than you two. Do the runagain!’‘But, warder, we were –’‘So what? Who told you to carryhim? Shut your mouths and getgoing!’ There were some rebelliousmurmurs from the men that subsidedwhen Kotin wheeled around andsnarled at them, ‘You’ve still gotbreath in your lungs, eh? Get your
  • packs on. We’ll do some drill whilewe’re waiting.’After we had run about thirty paces,Kotin called Johan and me back. Wereturned and he said, ‘Do you thinkyou’re getting away from the packdrill? You’ll do it piggyback. Getgoing. Change over every hundredpaces. We want to be fair, don’t we?’To me, Johan said tersely, ‘Get on myback. Count the paces.’ He carried mefor a hundred paces and then wechanged over. In this manner westaggered over the course. When wegot back, Kotin was drilling thesquad. He said to Johan, ‘Put yourpack on and join the drill’. To me, hesaid, ‘You didn’t run as fast as youcould. I don’t like your attitude.’ Hepointed to a small hill in the distanceand said, ‘Do you see those yellowflowers on the top of that hill?’I panted, ‘Yes, warder Kotin.’
  • ‘You have good eyesight in spite ofmessing with barbarian women, eh?’He pointed his swagger stick at thehill and shouted, ‘Bring me a bunchof flowers, and run fast while you’redoing it.’I set off, gasping. My legs wererubbery and my lungs were raspingunder the strain. Staggering up theside of the hill, I found some of theflowers, grasped a bunch, and beganthe return run. The squad was a darkblob in the distance, jogging back tocamp. I struggled into my pack andset off in pursuit as fast as I could inmy exhausted condition. On the way,I passed Shamus, who was lyingagainst his pack in a dazed condition.He gave me a tight, crooked grinbefore he began coughing. Then hesaid hoarsely, ‘Kotin – bastard! Don’tgive in. Keep your chin up, man.’
  • When I caught up with the squad,Kotin called a halt. I stood in front ofhim, gasping, light-headed, finding itdifficult to keep from swaying. Kotinasked, ‘The flowers?’I gave them to him. He looked at themdisdainfully and then, holding themup for all to see, methodically reducedthem to shreds. Scattering the pieces,he said, ‘This is a miserable bunch.Do you think you’re picking flowersfor your barbarian woman, whodoesn’t know good from bad?’ I bitmy lip and said nothing. Kotin lookedme up and down, like a sated catsizing up a scrawny mouse, and thencocked a thumb towards the group. Itook my place, Kotin shouted anorder, and the squad set off for campat a jog.I began dropping behind, stragglingalong with others who couldn’t keepthe pace. Kotin ignored us, perhaps
  • because he was in a hurry to get backfor his evening meal. Just outside thegates of the camp, he called the squadto a halt and dismissed it. Kotin eyedme with distaste and said with asmirk, ‘You didn’t keep up with thesquad.’I gasped, ‘Yes, warder Kotin.’He said, icily, ‘I’ll have to teach youwhat pack drill really is.’ He pointedto the ground and snarled, ‘Liedown!’ I did so. He shouted, ‘Give metwenty push-ups!’ I managed onlyfour push-ups before my armstrembled so violently under theweight of the pack that I collapsedonto my face. My muscles weretrembling, my head was throbbing,and my breath was coming in raspinggulps while I gagged and fought backthe urge to vomit. Kotin dug my ribswith his foot and ordered, ‘Take yourpack off and get up.’ I did so. He said,
  • ‘Your muscles need to be developed.Time for some catch and jerkexercises. Raise your pack to yourchest.’ I heaved the pack as far as mystomach and managed to hold itthere. Kotin bellowed into my face,‘Lift it above your head, man! Hold itfor a count of ten.’ I did that twice,my arms wobbling under the strainand my knees bending. Then I sank tomy knees, doubled over the pack.Kotin jeered at me: ‘Going withbarbarian women has made you soft.Well, you can do it on your knees, ifthat’s what you want.’In that position, I managed to lift thepack twice more. Then I fell forwardand began to vomit. My stomachheaved and my mouth and nose werefilled with the sour taste of bile. Icoughed, spluttered, and vomitedagain.
  • Just then, Johan and two other menarrived on the scene, carryingShamus. Dimly through my distress, Iheard Johan saying something aboutwarders getting into trouble if theyinjured or killed the internees. Kotinsnorted contemptuously and thenwalked off. Johan put his hand on myshoulder and said, ‘Stay here. I’ll takeyour pack and send someone back foryou.’ I rolled over and lay on myback, half-conscious, my stomach stillheaving. I thought, ‘At least he hasn’tkilled me. That’s a victory of sorts’.Then I passed out.Back in the bungalow, there weremutterings about retaliation andrevenge as my companions aired theirresentment at Kotin. After listening totheir talk for a while, Johan walkedinto the middle of the group and saidfirmly, ‘Kotin is not the enemy!’
  • The men looked at him inastonishment and one of them calledout, ‘Hey, man, are you a sell-out orwhat?’Johan replied quietly, ‘Don’t talknonsense, man! The question iswhether or not I’m talking sense.’‘Talking like Kotin’s doormat, I’dsay!’Johan maintained his composure,saying quietly, ‘I think it’s worthhearing me.’Someone else accosted himtruculently: ‘Man, you’re really goingsoft. Do you want the rest of us to gosoft, too?’Johan smiled at him gently, almostlazily, and asked, ‘Soft, eh? Is that afact? Do you think I went soft duringthe punishment drill? Do you think Iwas softer than you were?’There was silence and a few menshuffled uncomfortably. Johan
  • continued, ‘We have to understandKotin’s position. His career in theSSB is dead in the water. Anyone cansee that. He hasn’t got the intelligenceor the character to get promotion.’There were grunts of agreementaccompanied by a chorus ofresponses:‘What of it?’‘God, we’ll never get rid of him.That’s good news!’‘Be kind to Kotin! Pat him on thehead and wipe his backside!’‘Oh, hey, don’t forget -- say thankyou next time he kicks you in theribs.’‘Why don’t we just let him killShamus next time? Kotin would enjoythat.’‘Why don’t we let him kill all of us?’Someone asked me grimly, ‘What doyou think? I reckon you’re not feelingkindly about Kotin.’
  • ‘I’m not. But I’d like to hear whatJohan has to say.’Johan said patiently, ‘Don’tmisinterpret me, comrades. What I’msaying is that if we understand Kotin,then we’ll know how to deal withhim.’ Most of the men looked atJohan with curiosity, as if he wasstarting to make some sense. Johancontinued, ‘The more pressure we puton him, the more he’s going to reactwith force. It’s the only way he knowsto protect his self-image.’Someone asked, ‘What are yousuggesting?’Johan replied, ‘The more we resistKotin, the more he’ll use force andviolence to bolster his self-image andto convince his fellow warders of hisworth.’By now, most of the men werelistening with interest, even if it wasmixed with plenty of scepticism.
  • Johan continued, ‘So we have todevise strategies to break this cycle ofresponse and counter-response. Kotincan’t do it himself. He has neither theintellect nor the insight.’Shamus was lying on his bed, lookingexhausted. He propped himself up onan elbow and called out, ‘Enoughfancy ideas, man! Give us anexample.’Johan grinned at us. ‘You won’t likewhat I’m going to say, but thinkabout it before you chuck it out of thewindow.’‘Let’s hear it, man!’Johan said, ‘I suggest that we shouldtreat Kotin with the same dignity aswe want for ourselves.’ There weregrunts and snorts of disbelief. Johanwent on patiently, ‘We should teachhim to co-operate with us.’Now there were snorts of derision.One man even walked away, saying,
  • ‘Is that the best you can do --collaborate with the enemy! Huh!You’ll be climbing into bed with himnext.’Someone asked, ‘What are yousaying, man? Should we give theenemy what they want? Should wework harder to produce better profitsfor the SSB? God, they’ll love that,won’t they!’The man next to me snorted inagreement. ‘Man, Johan, I neverthought that I’d hear you talking likean SSB patsy.’Johan put his hands up and saidcalmly, ‘Whoa! Hold on! Comrades,you’re not hearing what I’m saying.’He spread his hands eloquently andsaid, ‘If you think I’ve become one oftheir patsies, then you think thatblack is white and day is night.’ Hisvoice rose with passion. ‘Do you thinkI don’t have a wife and family out
  • there, just like all of you? Do youthink I don’t mourn being separatedfrom them every moment of the day?Do you think I haven’t seen theWolves coming through my village,running over crops, destroyinghouses, and hunting our peopledown? Do you think I don’t knowwhy our children are dying of diseaseand starvation when there should beenough to feed them and keep themhealthy? Do you think that I haven’tsuffered like you? Do you think that Idon’t want to get out of here, morethan anything, just like you?’ Johanlooked around the group, challengingthe men for an answer. No onereplied. Most of them looked away,shuffling their feet and avoiding hisgaze. Johan continued gently, ‘WhatI’m saying is this -- we have to makethe best of what we’ve got. We mightbe confined, but we’re not insects on a
  • pin. We’ve got a bottle to flutter in.Let’s choose how we flutter.’A few of the men smiled wryly andsomeone called out, ‘Oh, yes, wefluttered today, didn’t we?’Johan replied, ‘Comrades, werecognise the SSB for what they are --the front-line of the oppressor,vicious, crude -’ He shrugged and saidin a matter-of-fact tone, ‘We hatethem, but we’re becoming more andmore like them. Don’t youunderstand? They’ll have completevictory over us if we become just likethem.’Shamus called out, ‘Enough high-minded talk, man! Tell us whatyou’re suggesting.’Johan replied, ‘We have to define theterms of our own existence as much aspossible, so that even the oppressorbegins to accept our definitions.’People were listening now, nodding in
  • agreement. Johan said. ‘Our victoryis in maintaining our dignity, ininsisting on it, in getting them toaccept it. That’s what I’m saying.’Now the group was quiet andthoughtful. Johan said, ‘Think aboutwhat I said, comrades. Let’s sleep onit. We can talk more about ittomorrow.’Johan and I became friends. I likedhis sense of humour, his quietstrength, his unassuming confidence,and his intelligence. I liked talkingwith him about the history of theContinental Protected Territory.From him, I learned about thepopulation clearances after the Warof Restitution. After numbers hadbeen drastically reduced by the War,as well as by the privations thatfollowed, the survivors were relocatedto make way for huge conservationareas. Johan called it ‘the clearances’.
  • At last, in a completely unexpectedmanner and place, I was gettinganswers to the questions that I askedwhen, during my school days, Istudied those blank spaces on themaps and wondered what there wasto know about the ProtectedTerritories. The longer the time that Ispent in the Colony, the more I feltthat that life was not only almostinfinitely complex but also wasessentially ironic.From Johan I learned that theDirectorate of Development and theSSB ran the Colony and the ProtectedTerritories as if they were privatebusiness enterprises. The profitsprovided better equipment, betterservice conditions, and higher salariesand benefits for the employees. Johangrinned sardonically and said, ‘I hearthey’ve accumulated such a big
  • surplus that they even subsidise theAssembly’s annual budget.’Life in the Colony was hard andunremitting, but I was young enoughand adaptable enough to survive. Thecamaraderie of the bungalow was aconsolation for what I had left behindand a palliative for the hardships thatI experienced every day. As I adaptedto the life, and as I became acceptedby my fellow internees, I learnedabout the conditions of their lives, andabout the lives of the families andcommunities from which they came.Slowly, unconsciously, things that Ihad once accepted without questionreceded into the background, whilemy viewpoint shifted to accommodateto my new relationships.However, no matter how much myviews changed, I could never forgetthat Mary was some place that I wasnot, that I didn’t know what had
  • happened to her, and that I wouldprobably never see her again. Theysay that when you’ve lost a limb, oftenyou can still feel it aching so muchthat you reach out to touch it beforeyou remember that it’s gone. It wasthe same with my hopeless yearningfor Mary.Seventeen: It could go badly withyour brotherI thought that I would never see Arilaagain and I certainly didn’t expect tomeet her in the Colony. In fact Arila,along with most of my life before theColony, was part of a past that was sodifferent from my present realitiesthat it seemed like someone else’sdream.I had been in the Colony for aboutnine months when Johan interceptedme one evening on the way to the food
  • hall and asked, ‘Do you knowsomeone called Arila?’Of course, I was amazed. I stammeredthat I did know her, but how did he -?Johan winked at me, grinning, andreplied, ‘Stop looking at me like that,comrade. I’m not a clairvoyant.’‘Then how -?’‘There’s a man here in this camp,name of Orville, who knows Arila,back in his home camp.’‘His home camp?’‘Orville only arrived here about threedays ago on temporary transfer froma camp in the south.’‘Arila? She’s here in the Colony?’Johan burst out laughing at the lookon my face. ‘It’s true, my friend,unless there’s an impostor passingherself off as the Arila you know andtelling believable stories about youand your brother and her when youwere at school together.’
  • ‘How is she? Is she all right?’‘Orville says that she’s fine.’‘How did she get to the Colony?When did she arrive?’Johan put up his hands. And said,Whoa! Hold it, my friend, hold it!Patience! I’m only the messenger.Why don’t we walk over and speak toOrville?’Orville was a man of about forty-fiveyears of age, thin, with a raggedginger beard and freckledcountenance. He had a shrunken,bent-over shape and a permanentlywary look as if he had studied how tocloak his personality against years ofbuffeting. He coughed a lot, deeplyand raspingly, from far down in hischest.Orville shook my hand and said, ‘Notused to meeting people from Societylike yourself. Not common where Icome from.’
  • Johan said, ‘It’s not common aroundhere, either.’Orville coughed again, holding ahandkerchief to his mouth but eyeingme keenly all the while. When thecough subsided, he said, ‘Johan saysyou’re all right.’ He looked at Johan,who nodded in agreement. Orvillemuttered, ‘Can’t trust everybody, noteven inside a camp, can we?’Johan said, ‘Perhaps especially in acamp. But he’s all right, comrade.’ Hetook Orville by the arm and led himtowards the door, saying, ‘Let’s talkoutside. It’ll be easier there.’We sat down on some boxes in acorner out of the wind, pulling ourgreatcoats around ourselves forwarmth. Johan said, ‘Orville makesceramic tiles. He’s good at it -- one ofthe best. He learned it as a youngman. Since he’s been in the Colony -’
  • ‘Been here more than fifteen years!Be getting a long service medal soon,eh?’ Orville coughed and spat into hishandkerchief. ‘See what it’s done tome. Hah!’ He shook his headmorosely and grunted, ‘I’ll never getout of here alive.’Johan laid a hand on Orville’s armand said gently, ‘Keep your courageup, man. The real losers are the oneswho lose hope.’ To me, he said, ‘TheSSB captured Orville for the Colonybecause he’s an expert tile-maker.They charged him with subversionbut that was just a scam. Theyactually wanted Orville so that theycould start a high-quality plant, toexport tiles to Society.’Orville snorted. ‘Hah! Not to mentiongood tiles to use in their own villasand private quarters, eh?’Johan nodded. ‘Anyway, to get to thepoint of the story, they transferred
  • Orville to this camp a few days ago tostart a new plant here. That’s correct,eh?’Orville said, ‘Correct. I’m just here tolook at the quality of clay, find a site,give them a list of basic equipment,and so on. Then I’m going back to myhome camp. I might be here a week,or it might be less than that. Itdepends on what the bastards decideto do with me. I’m in their hands -- aswe all are, eh?’I wasn’t sitting in the biting wind on arough box because I wanted to hearOrville’s history, so I asked him,‘How do you know Arila?’He eyed me narrowly and responded,‘Eager to hear, eh? Was she yourgirlfriend?’‘No. She was my brother’s girlfriendat one time.’‘And your brother’s name is -?’
  • ‘His name is Kana. He’s about a yearand a half older than me and he’s inthe SSB.’Orville laughed shortly, his breathragged. He said, ‘Right. I’m justchecking that your story is the sameas hers.’‘How do you know Arila?’‘Impatient, eh? All right, all right,keep your shirt on! It’s like this -- oneday, about three months ago, I’mworking at the kiln when I get aninstruction to go over to the office andcheck a consignment of materials.When I get there, I find a new personbehind the desk, wearing campoveralls and working as a secretary.It’s this dark-skinned young woman-- attractive, big-eyed, fine-boned, anddelicate. She introduces herself, nameof Arila. Speaks like you do, sameaccent, come to think of it. I say,pleased to meet you. We shake hands.
  • I say, we don’t see a lot of people likeyou around here -- not as internees,anyway. She says, as far as she cansee, she’s the only one from Society onthe bad side of the wire.’‘She’s in the same camp as you are?’Johan said, ‘There’s a camp forwomen near to Orville’s camp. That’swhere they’ve got Arila.’Orville nodded morosely. He coughedagain, long and deep, wiped hismouth, and said, ‘That’s right.Anyway, I’m the foreman, so I get tosee a lot of her while I’m checkingconsignments in and out, placingorders, and what-not. She offers me amug of tea whenever I’m in her office.Soon we start talking, friendly-like,about our experiences. I hear allabout her and your brother, and soon.’‘Is she well?’
  • ‘Sure, she’s fine. She’s been hurt a lotemotionally and she’s not happy --but physically she’s all right.’ Orvilleleaned forward, coughing, hisshoulders shaking. When the fit wasover, he sat up again with hisshoulders hunched and looked aroundhalf vacantly. He continued vaguely,Sorry! Where was I?’‘You and Arila got talking.’‘That’s right. I can see that she reallywants to tell someone about whatbrought her there, what they’ve doneto her, and so on. When people suffer,they want to talk. I’ve seen it a lot.It’s as if it helps relieve them ofsomething. Well, Arila and me can’ttalk for long, not at any one time orthe warders come and chase us up.But she tells me bits and pieces, oneday one thing, another day somethingelse.’ He looked at me knowingly andsaid, ‘She tells me a lot about your
  • brother, how she knew him at school,how she ended their relationship, howhe got back at her by having her upon some charge or other.’ Orvillelooked at me searchingly and asked,‘A tribunal hearing, wasn’t it?’‘Yes. During her last year at schoolthey charged her with attempting toreconstruct aspects of the Old Time.’Orville nodded. ‘Right! That’s whatshe said. I don’t understand it myself,too technical for me, but anyway, Itake her word for it. She tells me howit affected her career chances, so shecouldn’t study what she wanted to.’I said, ‘The last thing I heard abouther, she was a secretary somewhere.’I didn’t say that I also heard thatKana had forced her into a liaisonbecause I wanted to hear what Orvillehad to say.He started to reply but broke out intoa coughing fit again. Then he struck
  • his fist against his chest, forcinghimself back against the wall,shuddered, and said weakly, ‘Pardonme, comrades. It’s like there’ssomething that’s got hold of me inthere, something that needs to beshaken out.’Johan said, ‘You need medical care,my friend.’Orville laughed sceptically. ‘Oh, yes,sure! Easier said than done, eh?’‘Have you been to the clinic in yourcamp?’‘Sure I’ve been!’‘And -?’‘They say that I’ve got TB but theywon’t give me medication because I’mpast the age for treatment. Anyway,they say even if they wanted to theycouldn’t, because the budget’s beencut back. The camp doctor says I needplenty of rest. Hah!’ He laughedgrimly. ‘When I tell the warders, they
  • say this is a work camp not a restcamp. Well, what can you do? Thosebastards call all the shots, eh?’ Heshrugged morosely. ‘Hah! Enough ofthat! What’s the good of feeling sorryfor myself? You came here to talkabout Arila, so let’s do that. Let metell you that she’s a good person. Ilike her. She doesn’t deserve what’shappened to her. I guess she feels thesame about me. One day she tells mehow your brother tracked her downafter a few years to get her to resumetheir relationship.’ Orville looked atme, as if checking that I couldconfirm what he said.I replied, ‘Yes. That started when shewas at the college in Onendja.’Orville nodded. ‘She didn’t want tosee him again -- he disgusted her --but he forced himself on her. Hevisited her on weekends, slept there,used her as he wanted to. Sometimes
  • he beat her or brought other womenalong. He told her that he wastraining with the SSB. He said that ifshe had another man, or tried tobreak off with him, or whatever, thenhe’d use his contacts to get her intotrouble. Big trouble! Much worsethan the last time.’ Orville looked atme knowingly and said, ‘Yourbrother is typical SSB, eh? He’s lowerthan a scabby rat.’I said, with feeling, ‘I’ve had a taste ofit.’Orville continued, ‘Arila was scaredof him, really scared. She says thatshe knew him well enough by then toknow that he’d carry out his threats.’‘What happened next?’‘It goes on like this for a long time --maybe a few years -- then one dayshe’s had enough. She tells him it’s allover. She’s so disgusted that shethrows caution to the wind because
  • anything is better than to go on beingused by him.’‘And then?’‘Well, the rest is obvious, isn’t it?That’s how she got to the Colony.’‘You mean -?’‘Your brother fixed it, that’s whathappened. He used his influence to getrid of her.’‘You mean Kana had her transportedto the Colony?’Orville nodded matter-of-factedly,asking, ‘Why are you surprised, eh?He did it you too, not so? So whywould you think he couldn’t do it tosomeone else as well?’I sat back, lost for words, while thenews sank in.Orville leaned forward and coughedwrenchingly, covering his face withhis hands. Johan held him by theshoulders until the spasms subsided.After a pause, Orville sat up and said,
  • ‘I’m going to be coughing up bloodone of these days. It’s digging into me,getting its claws into my flesh, so tospeak. Then it’ll be all over with me.Pneumonia, bronchitis, tuberculosis –if the one doesn’t get you, another onewill. I’ve seen it often enough.’ Heslumped back against the wall withhis eyes closed. There was spittle onhis beard. Johan looked at me andcocked his head in a ‘let’s go’ motion.We got to our feet and Johan gaveOrville’s shoulder a squeeze. Orvilleopened his eyes wearily, almost inslow motion, looked up at me, andsaid, ‘Not much more I can tell you,comrade. That’s all that I know. Butcome over some time and maybe wecan talk some more.’I said, ‘Perhaps you can carry amessage to her?’Orville nodded, muttered, ‘Any time,comrade’ and closed his eyes again.
  • He wriggled his body slightly as iftesting the firmness of the supportand slumped lower against the wall.As he did so, the lights-out sirenblared across the camp. Johan and Iwalked back to our bungalow in thedark, keeping to the shadows to avoidany over-eager warders who might beabout. We didn’t speak to each other.A few days later, I had anotherconversation with Orville. He lookedeven more dejected than when I firstmet him and his cough was worse. Itwas a short conversation becausethere wasn’t much more that he couldtell me. He said that he would beleaving within two days and I askedhim to take a message to Arila.Putting something in writing was toorisky so I just outlined my situation asbriefly as possible. Orville said that hewould remember what I had told him.When I left him, he was sitting on the
  • edge of his bed staring glumly at thenearest wall.In the days that followed, I wonderedwhat to do about the news thatOrville had given me. There was nochance that I could get a transfer.Twist and turn as I might amongstthe range of possibilities, I alwaysended up hitting my head against awall. I would simply have to live withthe knowledge. There was nothingmore that I could do about it.Then, out of the blue, somethinghappened that gave me an opening.One day, about a month later, I wasordered to report to the campcommandant in his office. I walkedover to the office in a state oftrepidation because, in the Colony,you didn’t expect anything good tocome from an official summons.However, to my surprise and relief,the commandant received me civilly,
  • invited me to be seated, and evenoffered me a cup of tea and a biscuit. Ididn’t know how to interpret thiscourteous treatment but, stillsuspicious, I reckoned that thecommandant was softening me up forthe blow that was to come. Whatnext? Damn them for playing with uslike a cat with a mouse! Inwardly Icursed them for being perverts whogot pleasure out of tormentinghelpless creatures.Torn between anger and trepidation,I sat on the edge of the chair clutchingthe finely patterned saucer, consciousthat my work-stained overalls andcracked, grimy hands were out ofplace in the elegant surroundings ofthe commandant’s office. However,even as I thought it, I also thought, Tohell with them and all they represent.They made me grimy and shabby – I
  • wear it as a badge of their owndishonour, not mine.Commandant Jukela was a thin, wiryman of average height, about sixtyyears of age with a full head of closelycropped, iron-grey hair. He had anair of compactness, neatness, andprecision that was reflected not onlyin his appearance and dress but alsoin the orderliness of his desk andsurroundings. The commandant hadthe habit of pausing to polish thelenses of his gold-rimmed spectacles.Then before he put them back on, hewould peer through the lenses as ifsearching for an errant smear or spot.Once the spectacles were settled inplace he would resume what he hadbeen saying, taking up the sentence atthe exact place where he had brokenoff. The commandant had a reputationfor running the camp strictly
  • according to regulations, toleratingneither slackness nor irregularities.He also had a reputation for living ina modest style. For instance, it wassaid that he was one of the few whonever used the recreation facilitiesthat were available to the SSB officers-- the sort of facilities that Shamushad told me about. Moreover, it waswell known that he wouldn’t permitany of the inmates under his controlto serve in those facilities. In short,the commandant had a reputation forbeing hard but fair – as fair as youcould hope to find when you weredealing with an SSB officer.After checking on my biographicaldetails, most of which he had got frommy file, the commandant got straightto the point. He asked, ‘Do you knowAnjima region well?’I replied, ‘Commandant, I know theeastern region well from personal
  • experience. And I know quite a lotabout the rest of the region from whatI heard while I was there.’He grunted and went through theritual of cleaning his spectacles. Thenhe said, ‘I need information about theregion.’‘Information, commandant?’ I wasboth puzzled and suspicious.‘Yes. However, I don’t want anythingconfidential or classified, if that’swhat you were thinking I meant.’ Hesmiled at me bleakly and continued,‘We have our own sources for thatsort of information, as you probablyknow.’ I nodded and he explained, ‘Iwill be retiring from my work in sixmonths time. It has been decided thatI will settle in Anjima region,somewhere near the coast, and Iwould like some information aboutthe area. I’ve never been there so anyinformation would be useful.’
  • I relaxed, thinking that if that was allhe wanted then I would assist him. Itcouldn’t do any harm. Then,suddenly, I realised that I wouldprobably never again have theopportunity to speak to someone inhis position. Why not tell him aboutArila? They said that he was hard butfair. It was worth a try. So I said,‘Commandant, I’ll assist you in anyway I can. But first I want to tell yousomething.’He polished his spectacles again,peering at me keenly all the whilebefore he asked, ‘And if I don’t listento you, what then? Am I to supposethat you won’t give me informationabout Anjima?’ He grunteddismissively and wagged a finger atme, saying, ‘Don’t overrate theimportance of what you have to tellme. I can easily do without it or get
  • the information somewhere else.Remember your position.’‘Commandant, I only want to tell yousomething about an internee inanother camp. That’s all I want to do.What you make of it is your ownconcern.’He grunted and looked at mequizzically for a few seconds. Then hesat back, waved a hand at me, andsaid, ‘You may proceed.’I told him about Arila, about Kana,and about what I knew of thecircumstances under which Arila hadbeen consigned to the Colony. I triedto be as straight with him as possible,leaving nothing out but withoutembellishing the story. He would runa thorough check on what I told himand so all my facts should beverifiable. While I was talking, thecommandant listened carefully only
  • interrupting occasionally to check afact or to clarify a point.After I had given him an outline, hebegan to question me in detail,showing particular interest in theevents that led to me being sent to theColony. After I told my story, thecommandant got to his feet, stretched,and walked over to a pot-plantgrowing near the window. He pickedup a small watering can and began towater the plant. He did it carefully,pushing aside the leaves so that waterwould not drip onto the floor. Whenhe finished, he carefully re-arrangedthe leaves, gently smoothing them intoplace. Then he turned to me and said,‘What you have told me has been veryinteresting. You may go now.’I stood up and asked, ‘Commandant,what about Anjima? You wantedinformation about it.’
  • He waved his hand dismissively,saying, ‘Later! It can wait. Someother time.’I walked over to the door and, as Iopened it, he said, ‘Concerning whatyou have told me – we might see eachother again.’Three days passed without myhearing anything about the matter.Now that I had time to think aboutwhat I had done, I was apprehensive.Could any good come of talking to thecommandant? What had I hoped toachieve? Sympathy andunderstanding for my position? Did Ireally think that was likely? Did Ihope to improve Arila’s situation?Perhaps. But what was the likelyoutcome? I didn’t know and I had noway of finding out. Behind thequestions that tracked through mymind was the gnawing thought that Imight have made things worse instead
  • of better. Needing to talk through myanxiety with someone, one evening Itold Johan about the matter. When Ifinished, he looked at me quizzicallyfor a long moment and then said,‘Well, my friend, you’ve done it! It’swater under the bridge now.’‘Thank you, Johan! That’s reallyhelpful.’He chuckled wryly and asked, ‘Andwhat do you think the outcome willbe?’‘Do you think I’d be talking to youabout it if I knew?’Johan tapped his fingers absent-mindedly on the table, looking at mequizzically the whole time. Hemurmured, ‘Hmm! These SSBs...’Then he paused and started again,saying, ‘The question you’re askingyourself is this: Have I made thingsbetter or worse? Not so?’
  • ‘That’s right. But I’m not onlyconcerned for myself. I’m alsoworried about Arila.’‘Worried about what?’‘I’m worried that it will be usedagainst her.’Johan gave an ironic grin and said,‘Well, the commandant might just letyou stew, knowing that you’re sittinghere wondering what he’s going to do.That’s a type of punishment in itself,not so? It’s also a way of showingwho’s in charge.’I said, with feeling, ‘You’ve thought alot about these things, haven’t you -about how they think and operate?’Johan said softly, ‘Slaves alwaysstudy their masters. The slaves’welfare depends on it.’ He reachedover, touched my arm, grinnedfaintly, and said, ‘You’re looking verygloomy, my friend.’‘Wouldn’t you be?’
  • Johan wrinkled his nose and said, ‘Ofcourse, there’s another possibility.’‘And that is -?’‘That you have challenged him to dosomething to set matters right.’‘Is that likely?’‘Yes, it’s possible. These SSB officershave a type of professional ethos –some of them, anyway -- some of thetime, and especially some of the olderones like the commandant.’‘And if he wants to set matters right,what then?’Johan said thoughtfully, ‘Thecommandant is a senior officer. He’sbeen in the SSB for a long time,probably most of his adult life.Corruption could be an affront tohim. Also, it could be that, in his welldeserved retirement’ – Johan gave asardonic shrug – ‘that he doesn’twant his peace of mind, mainly hisprofessional self-image, disturbed by
  • the knowledge that he knew aboutirregularities like these and didnothing about them.’‘And if he’s thinking along thoselines?’‘Then it could go badly with yourbrother.’‘You reckon that’s likely?’‘Who knows, comrade, who knows?Even at the best of times, slaves neverreally know what their masters willdo.’Eighteen: InvestigationsJohan was right. Some SSB officershad a type of professional ethos --sometimes, anyway. Two days aftermy conversation with Johan, I wascalled to the commandant’s office.Well, I thought, at least I’ll knowwhat’s going to happen, for better orfor worse. Understandably, even
  • although I wanted to face thecommandant, I wasn’t feelingcomfortable or relaxed when I walkedover to the administration building.I was ushered straight into thecommandant’s office. He met me atthe door, pointed to the far corner ofthe desk, and said dryly, ‘I believethat you two know each other.’I looked at the person sitting there. Itwas Arila. Arila! I was amazed. Imoved towards her, handsoutstretched to greet her, but thecommandant stopped me, saying,‘Internees may not have physicalcontact with each other when in thepresence of a warder or an officer.Nor may they address each other.Please observe the regulations.’ Arilasmiled and leaned towards me,putting out her hands, palms forward,showing her regret at not being ableto do anything else. I looked at the
  • commandant uncertainly and hemotioned me to a chair in front of hisdesk at the corner opposite to whereArila was sitting.The commandant said, ‘I canunderstand that the two of you wouldlike to resume your acquaintance.Unfortunately, however, it will not bepossible to exchange pleasantries.’We glanced at each other briefly.Arila’s eyes were alight but her facewas taut. Even although it shouldn’thave been a surprise, I was takenaback to see that she was dressed inregulation camp overalls. In my mind,I always pictured her in brightcolours and flowing garments.However, that apart, she looked muchthe same. Although she had roundedout a little with the passage of theyears, her face still had the samedelicate features even if they werebeginning to pucker at the corners of
  • her mouth and eyes. Was it just thestress of the moment or were these thesigns of the passage of time andevents? Under these circumstances, Icouldn’t tell.The commandant said, ‘CitizenSimora, since our meeting, I havemade some enquiries. It appears thatyou have told me the truth. I willrepeat the main facts, as I understandthem. Firstly, you had an illicitrelationship with a woman from aProtected Territory. Someone in theSSB found out about that.’ He smiledfaintly and said with raised eyebrows,‘As I understand it, that wasn’t toodifficult. You weren’t particularlydiscreet. Then it was arranged thatyour brother would confront you withthe evidence, after which he wouldhave you disposed of. A colleaguecolluded with him. Am I correct sofar?’
  • ‘Yes, commandant, you are correct.’‘Good! I will proceed. At this stage,let me say that this was all mostirregular. It is not how citizens shouldbe treated whatever their faults.Society is governed by the Charterand by the Social Regulations -’ Hegestured to the framed Preamble onthe wall behind him and thencontinued, ‘- and the SSB does nothave a mandate to interpret theregulations. In a matter such as this,our role is purely and simply toinvestigate and then to implement thedecisions of the competentauthorities.’I asked, ‘Commandant, why did mybrother -?’The commandant wagged a silencingfinger at me, saying, ‘We’re notinterested in motives.’ He pursed hislips and said resolutely, ‘Regulations!That’s what an organisation runs on –
  • regulations! Regulations andpolicies!’ He waved a finger again andsaid, ‘What’s important is that therewas an irregularity. Of course, there’salso the fact of collusion, betweenyour brother and one or morecolleagues...’ His voice trailed off andhe rubbed his chin with his thumband puckered his lips as if he was stillthinking the matter through.Arila said heatedly, ‘I’ll tell you whathis motive is! It’s revenge! Revenge!That’s all it is, pure and simple. Kananever could take anyone opposinghim.’ She was leaning forward, tense,her hands clasped tightly about herknees. Her eyes were moist. She wipedthem with the edge of a sleeve.The commandant raised his eyebrowsand looked at her enquiringly, as if hewas surprised to find such passionsintruding into the orderedenvironment of his office. Arila
  • continued, ‘Kana was always like that– always! He never could abide anyopposition. Ever since I knew him atschool -’The commandant wagged a silencingfinger at her, saying, ‘Yes, yes. I’msure that you …’ He coughed.‘Anyway, as I said, we aren’tinterested in motives.’ He rubbed hischin again, looking at hercontemplatively before he continued,‘Hmm. Yes, as you say -’ For amoment, he looked about asvulnerable as, I suppose, any humanbeing could look while dressed in anSSB uniform. Then he collectedhimself and said, ‘I must ask you notto bring motives into the discussion.’Arila cried out, ‘But that’s whatlanded both of us here. How can yousay that motives have nothing to doit?’
  • The commandant leaned back,straightened his collar, and said, ‘Iwill not permit further discussionalong these lines.’ He looked narrowlyat Arila and asked sternly, ‘Is thatunderstood?’ She nodded. Heremoved his spectacles, saying, ‘I willcontinue to relate the facts, as we havethem.’ He breathed on the lenses,polished them, and looked at themagainst the light. Then, apparentlyfinding no smear or blemish, he puthis spectacles on again. He resumed,‘The second irregularity is similar innature to the first -- namely, that acitizen was relegated to the Colony.’He looked at Arila, saying, ‘I’mreferring to your case. As I have said,relegating a citizen to the Colony isirregular – apart from the fact that itwas done without proper procedure.In both cases, the same SSB officerwas involved. Whether or not the
  • others involved are equally culpable -’He shrugged and said, ‘We don’tknow that yet. But we will knowsoon.’Arila said, ‘Commandant, I didn’teven have a hearing. I didn’t evenhave a choice. I was kidnapped, plainand simple.’The commandant nodded and saidevenly, ‘We know that.’ Arila took abreath as if she was about to saysomething but was silenced by a lookfrom the commandant. He continued,‘The way you have both been treatedhas been a violation of the proceduresaccording to which we in the SSBoperate. We are a professional unitand we don’t permit such -’ Herubbed his chin again, thought for amoment, and then said, ‘- suchidiosyncratic actions. The offenderswill be dealt with accordingly.’
  • I asked, ‘What about us,commandant? We’re on the receivingend. We’ve suffered from theiractions.’He peered at me appraisingly andreplied, ‘I have been discussing yourcases with senior colleagues. It’s likelythat both of you will be released fromthe Colony and that you will beplaced where you are morecomfortable.’Arila got her question in before Icould:, asking, What do you mean?Where?’I asked, ‘Surely we will be returned toSociety?’The commandant’s eyes glinted againand he said tersely, ‘Don’t push toohard! We’re doing what we can toresolve the matter. Yes, it is true thatyou have been improperly treated.However, don’t forget that you arestill the responsibility of the SSB.’
  • I looked at Arila, who gave a smallshrug and lifted her eyebrows, as if tosay, Let’s allow the matter to rest. Inodded at her.The commandant said to Arila, ‘Youmay tell your story.’‘My story? Here and now?’‘Yes. I want to hear the story fromyour point of view. At present, I onlyhave an outline.’Arila looked at me uncertainly andthe commandant said, ‘Your friendknows about your case. As youprobably know, he heard the detailsfrom one of your fellow internees.However, he can leave if that wouldmake you feel more comfortable.’Arila said softly, ‘I’d like Simora tostay.’The commandant activated a voicerecand motioned to Arila, who began totell the story of her involvement withKana. The general details were much
  • the same as I heard from Orville butwhat I had not heard was how muchabuse Arila had suffered at Kana’shands. As she spoke, I began toremember my last conversation withKari. It seemed like a long time ago --before I had completed my training asan engineer, before I was sent to thesouthland, before I learned about theProtected Territory, before I metMary, before I was sent to the Colony-- but I remembered what Kari toldme just before we parted company atthe end of our liaison. She told methat Kana was seeing Arila and thatArila did not welcome his attentions.What else had Kari said about Kana?I remembered that she said that Kanacould be threatening, even brutal,when he chose to be.Arila described how Kana threatenedher with violence whenever she triedto break off with him. In addition,
  • Kana told her that he would use hiscontacts in the SSB to have herremoved from her position anddeported. She also described Kana’sextreme jealousy. He made her keep adiary, detailing all her movementsand contacts on hour by hour. Hewould check the diary whenever hevisited her and sometimes he wouldcopy details ‘for furtherinvestigation’, as he put it.The commandant asked, ‘And did hemake further investigations?’Arila nodded and said, ‘Yes, he did.Probably more often than I knew.’‘How did you know about them?’Arila said, ‘Sometimes he caught meout on some detail or other. Thatwasn’t too difficult because I hateddoing it. It was demeaning.Sometimes I would just make updetails a few days later. He caught meout on some of those entries.’
  • ‘Did he check up on these thingshimself?’‘Sometimes, yes -- but he also hadassistance.’‘Assistance?’‘There was a man training with himin the SSB -- about the same age asKana -- they were good friends. Hewas often with Kana. He used to dosome of the checking. Kana said thatit was part of their training to verifyfacts, to follow up contacts, to catchpeople out, and so on. They used tolaugh about it.’‘Can you describe this other person?’‘He was about the same age as Kana,a bit heavier, in fact stocky. Hiscomplexion was -- I don’t know howto describe it, perhaps light olive,perhaps olive brown -- well, not dark.No, he wasn’t very dark. He had abump on the bridge of his nose -- youknow, when a nose is broken and it
  • doesn’t set properly -- and he also hada grey streak in his hair, just over hisforehead.’The commandant said thoughtfully,‘Hmm. Yes, I know.’ I thought,They’re very thorough. He definitelyknows who this man is.The commandant asked, ‘Do youknow his name?’Arila said with distaste, ‘His name isMakrain.’The commandant pursed his lips andnodded, saying softly, ‘Yes, that is so.’Arila continued, ‘Then after abouttwo years of this treatment, I’d hadenough. I really couldn’t take it anymore. It was like being a -- I don’tknow, a slave, a chattel -- I wasscared, terrified, disgusted -’ Shestopped and wiped her eyes with theedge of a sleeve. She looked at me,then at the commandant, and said, ‘Idon’t want to say any more.’
  • There was a pause until thecommandant said evenly, ‘I’m sorry,but I must have all the details.’‘Haven’t you heard enough?’‘We need to corroborate the facts. Wehave been making investigations.’ Hesmiled faintly, and said, ‘In the SSB,we are trained in investigativetechniques, as you probably know.’‘Then you must know everything thatI can tell you.’‘Probably we do. But we still need tocorroborate the facts.’ He lookedclosely at Arila who didn’t look backat him. Instead, she sat downcast, herhands clasped across her knees,twisting and intertwining her fingers.After a short pause, the commandantsaid, ‘He abused you?’Arila nodded quickly, looked at mealmost guiltily, and then looked away.The commandant said, ‘I need to hearthe details, in outline, at least.’ He
  • gestured towards me, and said toArila, ‘Your friend may leave, if thatwould make it easier.’Arila straightened and said tautly,‘No. That won’t be necessary. Afterall, I’m not guilty of anything, even ifI feel like that sometimes. I didn’t dothese things. They were done to me.Kana was the perpetrator, not me.’She was struggling to keep her voicesteady as she continued, ‘It shamedme, but I have nothing to be ashamedabout, except that I was scared andcowed for too long. I put up with it fortoo long. That’s all that I’m ashamedof.’The commandant said, ‘Just anoutline. That’s all that is necessary.’Arila said, ‘He liked to beat me. Hewas very skilful at it. He used to boastthat he was trained never to leave amark.’ She gave the commandant alevel look and said, ‘He said that it
  • was a regular part of the SSBtraining.’The commandant inclined his headbriefly in acknowledgement, lookingregretful. Then he asked, ‘Underwhich circumstances did he useviolence against you?’‘He used it to intimidate me, ofcourse, and to keep me quiet. But,also -- the main reason, probably -’She stopped.‘Yes?’‘It excited him.’‘Go on.’‘It excited him sexually. Most of all,he liked to abuse me when there wereother people present. That’s whatreally excited him.’‘Other people?’‘Sometimes there were other women.He had other women rightthroughout the time that he washarassing me. He would bring them to
  • my apartment -- sometimes one,sometimes two. Then he would pickan argument with me. I tried to avoidit but nothing helped. If I saidsomething, anything at all, it was anoffence; if I said nothing, it was alsoan offence. Then he would startpushing me around or beating me.After a time, when he was reallyexcited, when he had me cringing, hewould start using me sexually.Sometimes the other women wouldjoin in -- perhaps they were alsoscared of him, but I think theyenjoyed it -- he said most of all heliked threesomes, or foursomes, orwhatever. He used to boast that onewoman wasn’t enough for him.Sometimes Makrain was there --sometimes with the other women, oneor two of them, sometimes only withKana. He also abused me. Kana calledit “group therapy”.’
  • ‘Did Makrain also beat you?’‘Not much. I think he was moreinterested in sex, plain andstraightforward. He didn’t needviolence to get him going.’The commandant sat back and lookedat Arila sympathetically. He saidgently, ‘I have enough details. I didn’tmean to distress you. You don’t needto tell me any more.’Arila’s face was set. She seemed not tohear him as she said in a set tone, ‘Itwas vile. It was disgusting. I couldhave killed him, many times. I wouldhave died, if I could have taken himwith me.’ Then she said softly, ‘Iunderstand them when they talkabout it, here in the Colony. Iunderstand them well.’The commandant asked, ‘Understandwhat?’‘I’m referring to my fellow inmates –when they talk about oppression and
  • resistance, when they talk about howthey suffer and who does it to themand how they feel about the ones whoinflict it on them. I know what’s intheir inner beings. I know that there’sa bright, hard centre there. It’s like adiamond. You can chip away at it, butit can only be overcome by destroyingit completely, by crushing it untilthere’s nothing left but scatteredfragments. And even then, each one ofthe fragments is still bright and hard.’She said it quietly, not defiantly, justas a matter of fact. She sat upright,looking directly at the commandant.Her eyes were moist but she didn’twipe them.The commandant lowered his gaze,cleared his throat, and murmured,‘Yes. I can understand that.’ Herubbed his thumb across his chin andbit his lower lip, saying, ‘Yes. Isuppose that is how it is.’ He got up
  • heavily and went across to the potplant in the corner, where he emptieda few pellets out of a container,crushed them between his fingers, andcarefully scattered the powder acrossthe soil in the pot. Glancing towardsus, he remarked, ‘It gives the plantstrength. You can always see when itneeds fertiliser. The leaves begin todroop.’ He took up a trowel andturned over the surface of the soil,working the powder into the base ofthe plant. Finally, he arranged theleaves, smoothing them down with thepalm of his hand. Then he returned tothe desk, pressed a button, and thesecretary appeared carrying a filerecorder. The commandant took itfrom him, switched it on, and handedit to Arila, saying, ‘Please identify thisperson.’Arila said without hesitation, ‘That’sMakrain.’
  • ‘The same person you were referringto earlier?’Arila nodded. The commandant gavethe file recorder to me and asked, ‘Isthat the man who was with yourbrother that night in Anjima City?’I said, ‘It looks like him, but I can’tbe sure, because the man never tookhis cap off and he sat in the shadowsmost of the time.’The commandant said, ‘No matter!We have enough information on thesepeople, anyway.’He gave the file recorder to thesecretary who nodded and left theroom. The commandant went throughthe ritual of cleaning his spectaclesand then said, ‘Thank you! You havebeen most helpful -- both of you.’Then he leaned back in his chair,smiled faintly -- it seemed to be allthat he allowed himself -- and lookedat us quizzically. After a few seconds,
  • he asked, ‘What now? That’s whatyou’re asking yourselves. Not so?’ Heanswered us before we could reply bysaying, ‘You will both be releasedfrom the Colony.’Arila asked, ‘Released to where?’I said, ‘To Society, surely?’The commandant shook his head.‘I’ve already explained to you thatreturn to Society might be -- ah –rather difficult. It’s for policyreasons, as I said earlier. Anyway,we’re working on the matter.’‘Working on it? When is it going to bedecided?’‘Soon -- very soon! You will knowwithin twenty-four hours at thelatest.’‘Who decides?’‘I make the final decision afterconsultation with other seniorofficers.’ He spread his hands andsaid, ‘You see my position here. I
  • need the advice of others -- peoplewho are better positioned -- they’remore in touch with policy ...’ His voicetrailed off.Arila said, heatedly, ‘But you’veadmitted that we’ve been badlytreated -- improperly treated –unjustly treated, so surely for the sakeof justice -’The commandant waved a hand andreplied, ‘I’ve already said that in theSSB, justice is not our province.’Arila replied, ‘Whatever the case, inmy view, we should be returned toSociety. That’s proper restitution.’The commandant replied calmly,‘Perhaps later! We’ll see.’ He satback and looked at us speculativelythen said, ‘Perhaps sooner, perhapslater! Time will tell.’We were all silent. A conclusion ofsorts had been reached. From outside,muffled by the walls and window,
  • there was the high-pitched hum of aWolf followed by the sounds of asquad marching by. As they passedthe window, we could hear faintly theshouted commands of the warder:‘Hup-hup! Hey, you, man! Keep upwith the pace. You think you’re outfor a stroll? You want the wholesquad put on punishment drill? Hup-hup.’The commandant pursed his lips andinclined his head slightly towards thesounds as if to say, There you have it.Then he shook his head, sat upright,and summoned his secretary on theintercom. When he entered, thecommandant asked, ‘You know whatto do?’ The secretary nodded. Thecommandant said to both of us, ‘Youwill be taken to private quarters. Youwill stay there overnight, separately.You will have further information -’He paused, rubbed his chin, and then
  • continued, ‘- by about mid-morningtomorrow, I would think.’I protested, ‘Commandant, wehaven’t seen each other for a longtime -- a number of years, in fact.Why can’t we -?’He interrupted me with a gesture,saying firmly, ‘Separately! You willnot communicate with each other.Don’t be stubborn. Accept things asthey are.’ He stood up and moved tothe corner of the desk where he said,‘You will be safe and comfortable.’He gave a small sigh and motioned tothe secretary who ushered us towardsthe door. At the doorway, I lookedback. The commandant was leaningover the pot plant, peering closely atthe leaves.I said, ‘Commandant?’‘Yes?’‘My bungalow mates – they’re goodmen.’
  • He looked at me over his shoulderand said bleakly, ‘Yes, I’m sure thatthey are. We are all good men.’He turned back to the pot plant anddid not look around as we left theroom.I don’t know where they kept Arila.When they escorted her away --courteously enough but notpermitting any lingering -- she justhad time to give me a rueful smile anda shrug. Then she disappearedaround the corner. That was the last Isaw of her.I was treated well enough. They putme into a detention cell for the nightbut with a clean mattress, freshbedding, and a bottle of water. My kitbag and other belongings werestanding in the corner. I noted thatthe toilet pot in the corner was sealedup with fresh tape which I interpretedas a small favour that marked my
  • new status. The warder grinned whenhe saw me looking at it. Then helocked me in and said, matter-of-factedly, ‘We have orders to keepdoor locked. But if you want anythingsuch as ablutions, refreshments,stretch your legs, whatever, then ourorders are that we let you out. Onlyone thing -- you can’t leave the cellblock.’ He looked at me with interest,gave a half-grin, then walked away.After a few paces, he stopped, turned,and said, ‘Orders also are we don’ttalk to you, no more than is necessaryfor what has to be done. Understood,citizen?’ I nodded. It was a long timesince someone of his sort hadaddressed me as ‘citizen’ in arespectful tone.Next morning, soon after breakfast, Iwas fetched from the cell. A warderwent through my kit removing allregulation issue items and anything
  • that was too closely associated withthe Colony. He even wanted toconfiscate a small wooden model of ahorse and cart which was somethingthat I had traded from one of mybungalow mates. I protested that itwas a personal item, something Ishould be allowed to take with me.The warder said, ‘No. It’s associatedwith the Colony. Not found in Society,are they, horses and carts?’I said, ‘Up in the southland - -when Ileft there -- they were trading with aProtected Territory. Citizens downthat way have seen wooden carts bynow. They aren’t secret objects.’ The warder shrugged, nodded, andput it to one side along with the smallpile of my personal belongings. Istripped off the camp overalls, dugaround in the bag, and got dressed insome of the clothes I found there. Itwas a strange feeling as if I was going
  • back in time even while my mind wasengaging with the future. I wriggledmy shoulders, flexed my arms, andtightened the belt. I had lost weightsince I entered the Colony. Snappingmy belt buckle shut, I nodded at thewarder and picked up my bag. I wasready to go.Outside, a middle-aged officer met meand introduced herself as the adjutantto the commandant. She saidbrusquely, ‘We haven’t got muchtime. The commandant has instructedme to give you the following message:Firstly, your brother and two of hisaccomplices will be interned in theColony. They are already beingtransferred. Others involved arebeing disciplined internally. Secondly,your acquaintance, the woman calledArila, will remain within the Colony,in a civilian capacity. She will havethe same freedom of movement and
  • privileges that are accorded to SSBpersonnel.’I asked, ‘How long will she stay in theColony?’‘She will stay here until it is suitableto change her status. That is all thatI’m authorised to say.’‘And where am I -?’The adjutant said in a matter-of-facttone, ‘You are being transferred tothe Settlement of the Guardians.’I had never heard of the place. Itshowed on my face. She added, ‘It isnot an uncomfortable existence. Youwill have useful employment. You willfind that you are very -’ She pausedand I asked, ‘Comfortable?’‘Yes. That is correct.’ The adjutantturned to the warder, saying, ‘Escorthim to the shuttle site. They’reexpecting him.’Within an hour, with me seated in thecavernous hold, the shuttle was on its
  • way, thundering and shuddering as itclawed for altitude. This time therewas no cargo and I was better treated.A passenger seat had been bolted intoplace and refreshments wereprovided. I was even welcome to jointhe pilots in the cockpit. I was on myway -- but I had no idea what awaitedme, in the place that they called theSettlement of the Guardians.Nineteen: Or we will all be forgotten1. Annually, the Assembly shall electseven members to the ExecutiveCommittee.2. A member of the ExecutiveCommittee shall serve for a period offive years, following which she or heshall not return to Society. Nor shallshe or he return to the Assembly.3. A member who has completed heror his service on the Executive
  • Committee shall be granted the statusof ‘Guardian of Society’ and shall beaccorded the comforts and privilegesdue to those who have served theirfellow citizens in the highest capacity.(From the minutes of the ThirdAnnual Gathering of the Assembly:AS3-75.8-AR)When you are not satisfied with thememory in an accessor, you change it.You save what you want, delete therest, and give it new bits of memory.However, it’s not that easy with ushumans. Memory is lodged too deeplyin its undiscovered lair. Also, itactivates itself outside of ourconscious control.There are many ways of dealing withmemory. I’m trying to accommodateto it – or accommodate it to me -- byscribing. Why? What do I really hopeto get out of it? To tell the truth, I’m
  • not sure. All I do know is thatsomething compels me to do it,something deeper than I can divine.I rationalise the compulsion by tellingmyself that I’m writing for areadership. Who exactly? I don’tknow. I really don’t know. It’s verylikely that, like everything else here inthis place, accessorised thoughts cannever leave the bounds of theSettlement. It might be no more thanshouting into the wind. But maybethat’s not really why I’m doing it.Maybe I’m really doing it for myself,for myself alone – and then I tellmyself that there could be a bonus,that I will live again when someone,somewhere, accesses my words andpossibly understands me even betterthan I understood myself.When the tide of dark futility swellsagainst my shores, I sense that itwould abate if only I were able to
  • erase swathes of my memories andexperiences. Vain hope! The mindcan’t be so conveniently arranged. Weare doomed to live with ourmemories. They mark our lives andoverlay our existences like the greatwaters of a flood plain.Well, then -- I can’t erase thesememories. What’s done is done. Itcan’t be undone. Anyway, life goes onand that’s a powerful antidote againstthe ravaging power of my memory. Ihave duties and responsibilities. Evenhere in the Settlement of theGuardians, there’s a life to be madeand new experiences to be had. Forinstance, the recovery of history isallowed here. There are noproscriptions on reconstructingaspects of the Old Time, or anythingelse that you might want toreconstruct. The dark tide is not soall-encompassing that it prevents me
  • from trying to find answers to theunanswered questions that I asked inSociety.There’s something else as well,something that sets my blood racingwith hope and expectation. Otto hashinted that perhaps there might be alife for me beyond this place. If so,then it would be unprecedented. Butdoes Otto really know somethingabout these things or is he just tryingto encourage me? Or, maybe, is heplaying a deeper game? I don’t knowand Otto won’t, or can’t, give meanything more than obscure hints.Fatima arrived as I was setting downthose words. She was wearing one ofthe bright-coloured, floor-lengthcaftans that she favours -- the oneswith the high bodices and wide sleevesthat have come into fashion lately.(Mary wore one once, on the bank ofthe river -- but that was in another
  • place and another time. Nevertheless,I remember it with a painful twinge.)As Fatima kissed me lightly on acheek, I caught a whiff of the spicyscent that she favours. She askedcheerfully, ‘Almost finished?’‘I’m just closing down. I won’t belong.’She hovered around me while I closeddown and then, when I finished thelast chores, she linked an arm in mineand we left the building. She asked,‘How far have you got with thereport?’‘Not as far as I should have. Therehave been too many interruptions.’ Ididn’t tell her that I stopped workingon the report hours ago. Fatimadoesn’t like to hear that I’ve beenscribing on my own account. Sheseems to think that it’s seditious. Shewrinkled her nose and said forcefully,
  • ‘That’s a nuisance. Who wasinterrupting you?’‘The guardians, of course! Who else?They’re always interrupting, askingme how far I’ve got, or whatever. Ifthey’d leave me alone and get out ofmy hair, I’d have it finished in halfthe time.’‘But of course you can’t say that toguardians.’‘No, not to guardians.’Fatima squeezed my elbow, kissed meon the ear, and murmured, ‘I don’tknow what they’d do without you.You’re invaluable to them.’ I gruntedand was about to say that it would beuseful if the guardians knew that toobut Fatima got in first by whispering,‘Forget about them! I’ll tell you what– I’ll be invaluable to you tonight.You’ll see.’We boarded the travtube and as wesettled in, Fatima shifted my seat into
  • a semi-reclining position catching meunawares. She laughed and pressedone of her cheeks against my facebefore snuggling down beside me.Holding my hand, she wrinkled hernose in disapproval and said, ‘Thesetravtubes are really out of date.’‘Are they?’‘For one thing, they don’t have IEV.’‘IEV? What’s that?’‘Impressionistic external video.Haven’t you seen it? All the travtubesin Society have IEV.’‘I’ve been away from Society for awhile. Remember?’‘Sorry, I forgot! Well, IEV gives youan impression of the places you’repassing through. They’re blurredimpressions, like a kaleidoscope. It’spretty. Sometimes you almost thinkthat you’ve seen something real ofwhat’s outside.’
  • I replied, ‘That would really besomething - to see something real.’We travelled in silence for a shorttime, Fatima’s hand resting on mythigh. I stretched out as completely aspossible, arms behind my head, feetand legs extended. I thought aboutwhat Otto said to me earlier that day,when he referred to the GuardiansCouncil’s recent resolution thatbiographical details of the guardiansshould be published in Society aftertheir deaths. He said, ‘Or we will allbe forgotten, after all that we’ve done,especially in these foundation years.’ Ishowed him the minutes of themeeting and after he checked them hegrunted in satisfaction and said, ‘Yes.It’s worded correctly. Let’s hope thatit gets a favourable reception.’Is Otto’s mind slipping or does heknow something that I don’t? Surelyhe knows that such a resolution could
  • never be placed before the Assembly?For one thing the inner executivecommittee would never allow it to betabled. The simple, insurmountablefact is that guardians may not return,not in any form whatsoever. As far asSociety is concerned, they have evenpassed beyond memory.I looked at Fatima, who was recliningsnugly beside me. She smiledexpectantly and shifted closer.However, even at this moment of lazyintimacy, I was thinking about Otto’sconcern: ‘Or we will all be forgotten’.But that’s the idea, isn’t it?Forgetting -- that’s why theSettlement of the Guardians exists.Otto knows that even better than I do.That being the case, what is heplaying at? Is it another case wherehe might know more than he sees fitto reveal? I really don’t know. I justdo not know.
  • Fatima and I walked from thetravtube stop to my apartment. Whywaste a token on a conveyor when Ineeded the exercise? Fatima held myhand and talked about ourarrangements for the evening,offering to arrange the menu on thefood selector. When I said that I wastired and would like a bath first,Fatima brightened at the suggestionand said that she thought it was agood idea.When the water was stabilised at acomfortable temperature and thewhirl jets were set at angles suitablefor relaxing parts of a weary body, weboth got into the bath. Fatima’sbreasts, pleasantly firm and luminousin the steam, bobbed provocativelyjust on the water line. She giggled andsaid, ‘Oh, Simora, I really like doingthis with you.’
  • I settled back, murmuring, ‘Mmm!It’s very pleasant.’ I stretched andflexed my shoulders. ‘Ah! Verypleasant!’ I closed my eyes andwriggled against the firm prickling ofthe jets but Fatima said, ‘Don’t relaxtoo much.’‘No?’‘Be a good boy -- kneel up where Ican reach you.’I muttered, ‘It’s no good. You knowthat.’ Nevertheless, I did as shesuggested.Fatima stretched forward, asking,‘Don’t you find me attractive? Don’tyou like women at all?’‘Affirmative on both counts. I’menjoying it. You shouldn’t have toask.’While Fatima busied herself skilfully,she said, ‘I still don’t understand.You’re strange. I thought I was quite
  • -’ She looked at me archly andconcluded, ‘ - quite pleasing.’I muttered, ‘Don’t be so egocentric.’Fatima laughed and I continued,‘We’ve been over this plenty of times.You know it’s nothing to do with you.Nothing at all!’After more stroking and fondling,lubricated by soap and lotion, sheteased me: ‘It’s a poor show, isn’t it?It’s not good for much.’Sadly, I had to agree with her. I said,‘The evidence is conclusive. But youknew it would be like this.’She smiled at me, encouraging me tokeep my spirits up if not much else.Fatima is good at supportivebehaviour. As she leaned back againstthe rim of the bath, arms stretchedout along the edges, I reachedforward and begin to stroke herunder the water, caressing the insidesof her thighs.
  • She said, ‘No, you don’t want to dothat.’ It wasn’t a convincing protest.I leaned further forward, nuzzled herforehead, kissed the tip of her nose,and said, ‘It’s what you deserve forvaliant service beyond therequirements of duty.’She wriggled, half in protest and halfin abandonment, protesting weakly,‘It’s not fair!’ Then she closed hereyes, relaxed, and gave herself over tosensation. Her sighs increased inintensity as she tightened her thighsand rode the rising wave. Together,we brought her safely through stormyseas to the port of great pleasure.Then Fatima leaned back, herbreathing becoming more regular asher body relaxed. Luminous in thesteam, her face was moist and flushedwith heat and pleasure. Shemurmured, ‘Naughty!’
  • In bed later that evening, I lay againstFatima’s back. I held her to me withmy free arm, lightly cradling one ofher breasts. She sighed and wriggledcontentedly, murmuring, ‘Nice! Sonice! Like being a regular pairing.’I murmured, ‘I suppose it could be.’Fatima half-turned towards me andasked, ‘Oh? Could be a regularcouple?‘I meant, could be like it. Theexperience could be like it.’She said nothing but I could sense herdisappointment.Before we settled down to sleep,Fatima fetched two tots of marulaliqueur. As we reclined in bed sippingour drinks, she said, ‘You seemdistracted lately.’‘It’s these guardians. Being with themso much -’
  • ‘You shouldn’t allow it to get to you.’She clucked her tongue indisapproval.‘I’m sorry. Perhaps when this reportis finished I’ll be able to get back tomy regular routine.’She giggled and sipped her liqueur.‘Oh, Simora, you know how much Icare about you.’ She took my hand,putting it palm down on her stomachwith one of her hands laid over it anddozed off in that position.I composed myself in the luxury of amoment when you expect nointerruptions, when the chores haveall been done, when the body iscomfortable if pleasantly weary. Ithought about Otto saying, ‘Or wewill all be forgotten ...’ It remindedme of how he recently presided overthe funeral of one of the mostdistinguished of the guardians, awoman named Raecheli. She was a
  • person of striking appearance, talland willowy, with a naturally elegantbearing. Raecheli made the most ofher rich brown complexion by settingit off against white ensembles withgold and orange accessories. Not long before she died, she spoke tome a number of times, showing a lotof interest in my background andfamily matters. Once, when I told herabout what happened between Kanaand me, she covered her face with herhands and turned away in distress. Iwas surprised and moved that astranger should feel so deeply aboutthese things.In many ways she was like the motherI lost so long ago; she was solicitous,interested to hear about myexperiences, and ready with sympathyand consolation. I warmed to her andwanted to get to know her better but,
  • unfortunately, I never had theopportunity.Raecheli was only fifty-six years ofage when she died. Reflecting on herdeath, Otto said regretfully,‘Sometimes a person just runs out ofa reason for going on. Sometimes thepast can’t be outpaced by thepresent.’ I can understand that. But itwas a terrible waste. She should nothave gone so soon.Watching Otto leading the ceremoniesof regard for the dead, I could seethat it meant more to him than justanother one of his performances asthe public orator. This was notsurprising because it was said that heand Raecheli had enjoyed a liaison.However, others said that they wereonly close friends and no more.Addressing the mourners, Otto said,‘We are here to honour our departedfriend and fellow Guardian, Raecheli,
  • who was known for her loyalty to herfriends, her wide affections, and hervaried accomplishments. Amongst hermany achievements, she was one ofour most respected classicists.’ Hisvoice died away and there was asympathetic silence while Ottocollected himself. After a short pause,he continued, ‘The recovery of historycannot yet be permitted in Society forreasons of which we are all aware.But here amongst us it has become anrespected activity. Raecheli made agreat contribution to recent advancesin this field, although she did not haveany training in this direction. Thatwas another sign of her versatility,which was one of her outstandingcharacteristics. When she wasyounger, she was a pioneer in thedevelopment of the new territories,under difficult conditions. Then, later,when she was -- when she joined us
  • here, in the Settlement -- shedemonstrated her intelligence andadaptability by becoming one of ourbest classicists.’Otto said a lot more in heart-felttribute to Rachaeli. Then thecremation took place and the asheswere put into an urn and given toOtto. He would act as custodian of theremains until, during the Ceremonyof Departure, he would put the urninto its niche in the wall of the deadoutside the Guardian’s GatheringHouse.The urn was of unusual design, deepochre in colour, with a raised whitefrieze that depicted people dressed inlong robes, each with one shoulderbare. Lithe women in coiled hair andloose robes led a procession, at thecentre of which was a cart drawn bybullocks. The animals were bellowingat the imposition, wide-eyed and
  • distracted by the discordant activitiesaround them. There was somethingstrange and ancient about the scene,as if it was an eloquent fragment of adistant and long-dead way of life. Ihad never seen anything like it.However, here in the Settlement ofthe Guardians, I was hearing andseeing many things that wereunprecedented and unexpected.All this happened a few weeks ago.But I often thought about thesethings, as I was doing now in thisconvenient space between labour andsleep. Or we will all be forgotten ...Twenty: We wait for releaseCommercial relations withinhabitants of the ProtectedTerritories will be reviewed, in theinterests of promoting the welfare ofSociety and to enhance the economic
  • sustainability of the ProtectedTerritories. Recalling and reiteratingthe proscription on contact betweencitizens and non-citizens, thecommittee recommends that: (1) Therelevant authorities should bereminded that, in terms of SocialRegulation 34 (Version 87) asamended at the recent AnnualGathering of the Assembly, under nocircumstances whatsoever may aninhabitant of a Protected Territorypermanently enter Society; (2) Allinformation exchanged betweencitizens of Society and inhabitants ofthe Protected Territory should bestrictly of an economic nature. (Fromthe minutes of Meeting 225 of theExecutive Committee,225/YS54/Resolution 6–AR.)Otto walks over to the window andlooks towards the eastern part of the
  • Settlement. The first clouds of theearly rainy season are gathering andwe have a clear view of them from ourposition on the fourth floor of thecouncil building. Although it is onlyjust past eleven in the morning,already white towers of air andvapour, great columns of cumulus,are beginning to mass against thestark blue of the sky. Perhaps theywill continue to assemble, massingtogether until their loweringperipheries are transformed into adark, grey canopy. Perhaps with asense-numbing display of sound andlight they will produce lashing sheetsof rain, washing the air clear of heat,releasing fragrance from the groundand from vegetation. On the otherhand perhaps the whole mighty effortwill dissipate, with nothing more thana parting grumble of thunder and afew flashes of lightning as marks of
  • the power and splendour that will bereined back until another time.I say, ‘This time, it might rain.’Otto grunts and continues to peer atthe gathering clouds. He says, ‘It’svery early in the season.’ He huncheshis shoulders, thrusts his headforward, and says, ‘But we can expectrain at any time from now on. Wealways go on expecting, because itcould just happen. Experiencesometimes teaches us to hope.’Being high above the ground as weare, there is a sense of lightness andspace almost as if we are amongstthose airy white masses. Theimpression is enhanced by the factthat the window extends from theceiling right down to the floor. We stand side by side gazing at thescene. Otto points to a bird wheelingand looping against the piles ofgathering cloud. He says, ‘A
  • peregrine falcon.’ We watch its flight.Then Otto remarks softly, ‘That’s afreedom that we can’t know, for allour charters and regulations.’ With the sweeping glides of the birdon the unseen air-streams, images stiralong the ridges of my memory. I say,‘That bird reminds me of a dreamthat I sometimes have.’‘Yes …?’‘I dream that I can fly and float asfreely as any creature of the air. Iseem to be much lighter than a thingof flesh and blood, more like a formthan a body.’ I stop and look at Otto.Surely he be won’t interested in mydreams? But Otto looks at me keenlyand says, ‘Yes? Your dream? Go on.’‘Even though I’m dreaming, I’maware of how light my body is. I cansense the brush of air over mysurfaces. It seems to me that I canswoop, glide, and go where I will.
  • Then, when I wake up, the dreamshave been so real and vivid that for awhile it seems impossible that I can’tmove through the air. It’s as if I mustre-inhabit my own body. I have toshake myself back into acceptance ofwhat I really am.’I glance at Otto, who is still lookingout at the great display that is beingarrayed before us. Have I offered toomuch? Perhaps the stuff of mydreams and fantasies has intruded toofar across the space that always liesbetween us. But he lays his hand onmy arm and says softly, ‘I know thefeeling.’ He sighs and adds, ‘Isometimes have the same experiencewhen I’m in high places. It’s as if thisearth has finally become unbearablyburdensome. Perhaps it’s becausewe’re always looking for something --for something greater than we are,something that will embrace us.
  • Perhaps we’re looking for somethingin which we can lose ourselves.’I say, ‘But always -- it comes back tothis.’‘Yes. Always this -- the Settlement ofthe Guardians.’‘From which there is no return andno escape?’‘Yes! That is so.’‘None at all? Never?’‘Not for us. And especially not forthose of us who have been members ofthe inner executive committee.’I say, ‘My mother was a member ofthe Assembly. She went away when Iwas still a child.’Otto looks at me speculatively, startsto speak, checks himself, then says, ‘Iknow.’‘Have I spoken about it before?’‘No. But I know about it.’‘How?’
  • He heaves his shoulders as if trying todislodge a weight. Then, slowly, heturns to me and says heavily,‘Raecheli was your mother.’ I amstunned. Otto asks gently, ‘Are yousurprised?’When I can speak, I say, ‘Yes! Yes, ofcourse I am! I didn’t know.’‘Didn’t you even suspect it?’‘I knew that she was sympathetictowards me. She was very kind to me.But she was like that to almosteveryone.’Otto says softly, ‘She was.’‘So I didn’t think that her attentionsmeant anything -- anything inparticular.’ It is impossible todescribe the emotions that runthrough me. I am buffeted by a greatstorm, tumbled by a tornado, sentreeling in a hurricane. I hardly knowwhat to say or do next. I ask Otto,‘Did you know her well?’
  • He says softly, ‘Yes, I did.’I remember his oration at Raecheli’sfuneral. I remember him strugglingwith his emotions while seeking tomatch words with occasion. Now Iunderstand. I say, ‘She went awaywhen I was about five years old.There was no warning. I wasmiserable for a long time. So was mybrother. We never really got over it.’‘Don’t blame her. She had no choice.’‘I never understood why she left us.’‘Perhaps now you do?’‘In a way, I do – and in a way, Idon’t.’Otto takes a few paces, stops and rubshis chin, then takes a few more paces.This is what he does when he’sthinking deeply. He says, ‘When shebecame a guardian, a member of theinner executive -’ Otto pauses, shrugs,and says, ‘Guardians aren’t allowedto resume their lives in normal society
  • when they have completed theirservice.’‘Yes, I know. But I don’t understandwhy.’Otto’s only reply is a grunt and afatalistic shrug.‘Did my mother complete her term onthe committee?’‘No. She was transferred here early inher service.’‘Did she fail in some way?’Otto shoots a quick glance at me,shakes his head, and says, ‘It dependswhose yardstick you apply.’ He putsa hand on my arm, sayingsympathetically, ‘I assure you thatyou have no reason to be ashamed ofyour mother. Believe me, no reason atall.’I recall her as I knew her here in theSettlement and I say, ‘To me, sheseemed exceptional. I admired her.
  • Not only that -- I could see that othersalso thought well of her.’Otto says, ‘They did. She was whollyadmirable.’We are silent, each busy with his ownrecollections. After a while, I ask,‘Did she know who I was?’I have broken into Otto’s train ofthought. He comes back to me from adistant place before he nods slowlyand says, ‘She did, but not at first. Ittook some time before was satisfied --before she knew for sure.’‘I remember her asking a lot ofquestions -- I guess I’d been here forthree or four months by then -- aboutwho my father was, our home, mybrother, and so on.’Otto responds, ‘When you firstarrived, she didn’t know it was you.After all, it had been -- how long?’‘More than twenty years.’
  • ‘Yes. She had no contact with you,had seen no images, didn’t know youradult appearance and voice.’ Then headds reflectively, ‘At first, you werejust another new arrival. Then, aftera while, she began to suspect thetruth. But for a long time she didn’twant to accept that this was you, herson.’‘Why not?’Otto looks at me as if I am beingunusually obtuse. He says, ‘It waspainful, to be surprised by happinessafter all that time. You know as wellas I do what it means to be confinedto the Settlement. It means giving upall hope of ever seeing your family orfriends again.’ He hunches hisshoulders, takes a few paces, and says,‘It’s painful for all of us. You knowthat. You can only stabilise your lifeby accepting that those things are
  • behind you, that they’re goneforever.’‘Yes, but -’Otto puts up a hand and says, ‘Thinkof it from your mother’s point ofview. When you’ve accepted what’shappened and built a new life, to haveyour son appear after more thantwenty years -’‘Yes! Yes, I know that! Butnevertheless, she could have madeherself known to me.’Otto sits down heavily. He saysslowly, ‘I urged her to do so but shewas reluctant. She thought it wouldbe painful for you, knowing howshe’d existed all these years. Sheknew that you had adjusted to herdisappearance -- that’s the way ofchildren, no discredit to you -- andshe thought it best to leave it at that.Perhaps in time- ‘ He shrugs sadly.‘Yes, but -’
  • ‘There was something else as well. Ithink that the main reason was thatshe knew that she wasn’t going to bewith us for much longer.’ Otto gets tohis feet slowly. He picks up a peachfrom the bowl on the table, regards itas if it is an alien object, sighs, andputs it down. He leans forward on thetable, hunched over. His face isdrawn. Suddenly, it comes home tome just how much he is also feelingthe loss. We stand there looking ateach other, two men thinking about awoman who they have known and lostin their different ways.I want to reach out to Otto but I don’tknow how to do it. I say stupidly, ‘Idon’t know what to say.’‘I’m sorry. I’d forgotten that youdidn’t know.’‘It’s all right. I’m grateful. But still –it’s staggering.’
  • Otto says gently, ‘We can speak moreabout these things later. You needtime to think.’Later that evening, I surprise Fatima.After we have finished our meal, Imove behind her chair and catch heraround her waist. I pull her upwards,pressing her to me. The chair fallsover. Fatima wriggles against me,laughing. She says, ‘You’rebeginning to act like a big boy.’I nuzzle her neck, growlingmischievously, ‘No! I’m a big fiercewolf.’ I feel a lightness of spirit, aplayfulness that I thought that I hadleft behind forever. At the same time,there is a gathering fierceness andintensity that I haven’t known since --when?She giggles, trying to push my headaway, asking, ‘A what?’‘Wolf,’ I say, growling into the napeof her neck. ‘A fierce wolf.’ I turn
  • her towards me and nuzzle my waydown her torso. Then I pretend tonip and snap at her breasts, grunting,‘Tasty morsels! Mmm!’She is defenceless with laughter. Igrab her around her shoulders,pressing her to me, shaking andworrying her. I roll her onto her backon the floor while I growl, ‘A wolfcome to eat you up.’Her laughter ebbs and is replaced bysighs of gathering desire. Shereciprocates, murmuring, ‘Mmm! Oh,yes, yes! I like this big wolf.’Our play subsides as the seriousnessof passion overtakes us. She caressesme and whispers into my ear, ‘Yes, ohyes! Such a big boy now!’It is a fierce and exultant fulfilmentfor both of us.Later, as we lie together in bed, shesays sleepily, ‘That was good. Thankyou.’
  • I stroke the top of her head. So soft,so thinly planted, this fine dark hair --so delicate and defenceless, the scalpunder the palm of my hand.‘Surprised by passion,’ I say.‘Mmm? What?’I repeat my words. She murmurs,‘Yes. That’s nice.’I say, ‘I learned something today.’‘Hmm?’ She is drifting off to sleep.‘Otto told me about my mother.’She murmurs something drowsily andsnuggles down. Her breathingbecomes slow and regular. Fatima isasleep. Gently, slowly, I reach underher pillow. She stirs. I stay my hand.She settles down again. I reachfurther, feeling my way. Yes, there itis - a voicerec. Small, no wider thanthe imprint of my heel, and waferthin. Ah, Fatima -- I no longerwonder at your devotion.
  • The next time I see Otto, I tell him,‘Fatima is spying on me.’He scratches his chin and chucklesironically. Then he winks and says,‘It’s as I said -- these companions aredevoted to their task.’I say, ‘You’re very casual about it.’Otto just shrugs and spreads hishands in a there-you-have-it gesture. Icontinue, ‘She might be a companion,but we have a relationship. This is abetrayal.’Otto shrugs again, saying, ‘Oh,Simora, don’t be so annoyed! It’s parfor the course. Companions do whatcompanions do. In any case, noteveryone would call it a betrayal.’‘I do!’Otto lowers his head, resting it on hisfolded hands. He shakes his headslightly, slowly, as if trying toreconcile the irreconcilable. He says,‘Don’t forget the Social Creed - we
  • are all obligated members of Society.Fatima has her obligations.’ Then hegrunts and asks, ‘And now you’rewondering -- what next -- how do youproceed?’‘Yes, of course!’‘It all depends on what you want.’‘By which you mean -?’Otto says, ‘Well, the choices are clear,aren’t they? Are you going to standon your dignity or will you use theknowledge for your own benefit?’‘You put it starkly.’‘You might as well face the facts.They’re not going to change justbecause you’re disillusioned.’‘But why me? What do they wantfrom me?’Otto looks at me knowingly fromunder hooded eyelids and says,‘You’re not the only one who has areporting companion, you know.
  • Plenty of people do. However, you arespecial in one respect.’‘Yes? How?’‘You are the only person who hasever come here from the Colony.’‘What of it?’Otto locks his fingers and rests hischin on them. He closes his eyes, longenough for me to think that he mightbe nodding off. Then he grunts andasks, ‘Do you have any idea why theysent you to the Settlement?’‘I don’t know. They never told me.’‘You have no idea who authorised it?I mean, besides the commandant?’I shake my head.Otto leans forward and saysthoughtfully, ‘Have you consideredthat your release from the Colonymight have something to do with achange of policy?’‘You mean policy in regard to theProtected Territories?’ Otto nods. I
  • continue, ‘I thought that it was justthat the commandant was trying toset things right, trying to assert someintegrity in the SSB.’Otto raises his eyebrows ironicallyand murmurs, ‘Ah, yes, integrity - ‘He pauses before he replies, ‘That’spossible. But if they’re looking forpeople who know and understand theway things are in the ProtectedTerritories -- that is, not just theoriesand figures, but someone whounderstand the way people think -’‘If it’s as you say -’‘Well, it could be a real possibility.’I say, ‘If it is -- I’m not sure that I canput my insights at their disposal.’Otto chuckles sardonically before hereplies, ‘My dear Simora, don’t be sostubborn. Think about what it couldmean for you.’‘Such as?’
  • ‘What if it means seeing certainpeople again? What if it means notonly seeing them, but doing somethingto their advantage -- and to yourown?’ My pulse begins to beat faster.I think, what if -? Otto is still peeringat me knowingly. He asks, ‘You seewhat I mean?’‘But what do I have to offer them?They know all about me. They’ve gotme completely documented in theirfiles and records, just like they havewith everyone else.’Otto gives a slow, sardonic grin – thesort that means that he knows morethan he wants to say. Then he shrugsand says, ‘That’s true, as far as itgoes. But what do they know aboutyour experiences -- your innermostthoughts and private knowledge?What do they know about whatyou’ve learned about the ProtectedTerritories from the inside? What do
  • they know about what you’ve learnedfrom Mary? Oh, don’t look soshocked! I don’t mean to be callousbut it’s the way things are. Whatabout the things you’ve learned fromJohan, for instance? What do theyknow about the things you keep toyourself, the things even you don’tknow that you know?’I ask, ‘You think that they could haveplans for me?’Otto is pacing the room again. Hereplies, ‘They could have. After all,you yourself saw how things wereopening up in the southland.’ Hescratches his chin pensively and says,‘Before I left the executive committee-’‘Yes?’‘These things were being discussed --no conclusions reached -- but beingdiscussed.’ He sighs -- more a wearyexhalation of breath -- and then says,
  • ‘Now that we’re talking about thesethings, there’s something that I’vebeen wanting to say to you.’‘Yes, go on!’‘Your brother -’ He pauses.‘Yes. What about Kana?’‘He didn’t tell you the truth. At least,not all of it.’‘When?’‘When he told you -- that night inAnjima City -- when he said that theoutcome would be the same.’‘If I chose to request a tribunalhearing instead?’ Otto nods. I ask,‘You mean that it might have beendifferent?’Otto leans on the back of his chair. Inotice his bulk, how heavy he looksand suddenly how weary. He says,‘This isn’t easy, but some things needto be said. I know you well enough bynow and I don’t want this between usgetting in the way of our
  • relationship.’ Otto hesitates and thenlooks at me steadily. He says, ‘I canunderstand what you were goingthrough, that night. I also knew awoman, once. I would have done a lotto protect her, to secure her comfortand her peace of mind, if it had beenpossible – and if it had been withinmy power to do so.’‘This woman -- was it here in theSettlement.’‘Yes, it was.’‘And -?’‘She was Raecheli. Your mother.’Otto waves a hand as if trying to easethe impact of his disclosure. ‘Someother time, perhaps -- we can talkabout it.’ He smiles resignedly andsays, ‘We should have plenty of time.’Otto stretches, wriggling hisshoulders, turning his head a fewtimes, vigorously, as if to clear his
  • neck of an obstruction. Then hegrunts and asks, ‘What was I saying?’‘You were talking about my brotherand me, that night in Anjima City.’‘Ah, yes -- your brother. Kana said,take the SSB offer, because it willcome to the same in the end?’‘Yes. He said that a tribunal hearingwould involve Mary, perhaps exposeher to more -- well, expose her further-- and the sentence would be the same,anyway.’Otto sits down and leans back in hischair. He locks his fingers together,stretches, flexes his arms, and frowns.‘Look, I don’t know everything. It’squite a time since I came to theSettlement. Things change. But whenI was a member of the innerexecutive, it was practice that notribunal would ever produce aninhabitant of a Protected Territory.Remember, officially nothing is
  • known about them and nothing oughtto be known about them. Only a fewpeople know the real situation.’‘The inner executive, for example? Dothey know?’‘Yes, of course. And the SSB has adivision that’s exclusively concernedwith Protected Territories.Ostensibly, its mandate is to developthe territories.’ He says the word‘develop’ wryly. He adds, ‘As youought to know, not so?’I ask, ‘Was my brother a member ofthis branch of the SSB?’Otto nods, saying, ‘He was recruitedabout a year after he left theAcademy.’The thought comes to me, not for thefirst time, that Otto might be morethan he seems. Is he really completelysealed off from Society? As aguardian in the Settlement, he should
  • be. But is he? I ask him, ‘So, you’resaying -?’‘I’m saying that it’s doubtful thatyour Mary would have faced atribunal hearing. And, from whatyou’ve told me about the trade fairand the opening up of contacts intothe Protected Territory -- well, itseems clear that policy is changing.’My heart has turned to stone. I lickmy lips, trying to moisten them. Theyare as dry as sandpaper. Otto’s eyesflicker quickly as he looks at me. It’sjust a quick flicker, so quick that Ican’t read what he’s thinking. I ask,‘And the sentence of banishment -?’Otto says, slowly, ‘I’m not sure aboutthat. But given what you’ve told me,together with what I know, I wouldguess that they might not havesummoned you at all, not with thingschanging as it seems they are. It’s
  • possible that, at most, there mighthave been an entry on your record.’‘I have the feeling that you’re nottelling me everything that you know.’Otto averts his gaze and shrugs,saying quietly, ‘I’ve told you what Ican.’‘Told me everything?’‘I have told you what I can!’‘And it’s all based on conjecture?’When he doesn’t reply, I ask, ‘In youropinion, why did Kana do what hedid?’‘I think that it was a test of loyalty. Inan organisation like the SSB, no-oneis ever fully trusted. They know toomuch about things that the rest of usdon’t and about things that coulddamage all of them if they got out intothe open.’ He spreads his hands andchuckles sardonically, then says, ‘Acolleague of mine, here in theSettlement, used to say, “The SSB is
  • bound together by guilt”. He wasprobably correct.’ Otto sighs, gets upheavily, and walks over to thewindow. He stands there against thelight, slightly hunched.After a while, I ask, ‘So they testedKana by giving him my case?’‘Yes, that is very likely.’‘I presume that he passed the test?’‘Yes, so it seems. But when it came topeople higher in the SSB, seniorofficers, it was a different matter. Iwould think they didn’t feelcomfortable with that sort of high-handedness. They probably thoughtthat it smacked of patronage anddivided loyalties. Who could tell whenhe’d do it again? Who might be hisnext target? I reckon that yourbrother and his colleagues over-reached themselves by a long way.That’s why they put him away.’ Ottorubs his chin, takes a few paces, and
  • stops at the window. He saysreflectively, ‘Of course, it wasprobably more than just that.Probably it also had a lot to do withpolicy changing, with newimperatives, as much as with - ‘‘As much or more than it had to dowith justice and integrity -- and withmy fate, and Arila’s fate?’‘Very likely!’ Otto says it flatly andwith finality. He rubs his chin andrepeats, ‘Very likely.’He beckons to me to join him at thewindow. We look out over theexpanse of the plain, golden in theearly evening light. From our vantagepoint nothing interrupts the view overthe great sweep of the grasslands thatleads to a fringe of rocky hillocksscattered on the horizon. Otto says,‘It’s still the dry season -- no rainsyet. It looks as if nothing much ishappening out there -- no growth, no
  • germination, everything lying fallow.But that’s not the whole story. Thewind blows, seeds are released andthey drift and scatter, waiting for theright conditions to bring them to life.And every one of those clumps ofgrass out there contains dormant lifethat is also waiting for release.’We stand there watching the lightdeepen, almost imperceptiblychanging the texture of the landscape.After a while, I say, ‘And here in theSettlement -- we also wait forrelease?’Otto says, ‘Yes. We also wait forrelease. But who can say exactly howit will come or what it will bring?’The EndDear reader, if you enjoyed this bookplease spare a moment to show yourappreciation by rating and reviewingit, even if you only write a few lines.
  • Writers want to be read, they like tohave contact with their readers, andthey like to know what their readersthink about what they have written.So, please, do rate and review thisbook!Something about Brian H. JonesBrian lives in a country town south ofSydney, Australia, together with hisadorable wife, Marie (Smashwordsauthor of Dangerous Journey), andtheir laid-back cat, Shaka. Havingsurvived being born and raised inSouth Africa, Brian then lived andworked in Canada, Namibia,Pakistan, and Australia. Thanks toflashes of optimism on days when thesun is shining as well as Mariesongoing influence, Brian believes thatlife holds more than politicalprevarication, economic and financialfailures, moral mendacity andspiritual spuriousness. Sometimes he
  • even thinks that writing is one of lifesmore elevated activities. And then,sometimes, he doesnt..!You can find out more about Brianand the hard-cover books that he haswritten at http://bhj.scriptmania.com/index.htmlIssues that could be useful fordiscussion at a book club meeting1. Does A Mixture of Metals remindyou of any other books? If so, how isit similar and how does it differ fromthem?2. What is the major theme of thebook (or themes) and has it beenhandled successfully?3. Is Simora successfully portrayed asa character?4. Reviewer Francis Porretto wrote,Simoras story of repeateddisillusionment and betrayal is nicelytold: neither too maudlin nor too
  • aloof. Do you agree? (You can findPorrettos full review athttp://www.smashwords.com/books/view/15666)5. Francis Porretto also wrote, Theone criticism I can make of it is thatKanas eventual role in Simorastroubles is somewhat telegraphed bythe early portion of the story; Kana isso relentlessly self-centered that thereader will know that he figures inlater events, to tragic effect. Do youagree? I f so, could Kana have beenportrayed differently?6. A third comment by FrancisPorretto in his review of the bookwas, The overall portrayal of"Society" is a wee bit heavy-handed,but that might have beenunavoidable, given the features it hadto have ... All the same, it worked forme, and it will work for many others.What is your opinion on this subject?
  • 7. Are any of the less significantcharacters, such as Arila, Mary,Johan, Orville, and the commandant,as well as others, effective andconvincing, or perhaps not?8. Which aspects of the book did youenjoy most?9. Which did you enjoy least?10. If you wrote a review of the book,on which aspects would you focus andwhat would you say? (By the way, theauthor would very much appreciatereviews and ratings on the site!)