A mixture of metals


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A mixture of metals

  1. 1. 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
  2. 2. 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
  3. 3. 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.’
  4. 4. 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.’
  5. 5. 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.
  6. 6. 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
  7. 7. 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,
  8. 8. ‘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
  9. 9. 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.
  10. 10. 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
  11. 11. 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,
  12. 12. 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!
  13. 13. 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
  14. 14. 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
  15. 15. 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
  16. 16. 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
  17. 17. 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.’
  18. 18. ‘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
  19. 19. 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.’
  20. 20. 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
  21. 21. 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.’
  22. 22. ‘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
  23. 23. 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
  24. 24. 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?’
  25. 25. ‘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
  26. 26. 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
  27. 27. 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.’
  28. 28. ‘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
  29. 29. 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.
  30. 30. 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?’
  31. 31. ‘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
  32. 32. 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
  33. 33. 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
  34. 34. 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?’
  35. 35. ‘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.’
  36. 36. ‘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.
  37. 37. 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
  38. 38. 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
  39. 39. 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?’
  40. 40. ‘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
  41. 41. 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
  42. 42. 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.
  43. 43. 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
  44. 44. 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?’
  45. 45. ‘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
  46. 46. 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.’
  47. 47. ‘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
  48. 48. 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
  49. 49. 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?’
  50. 50. 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
  51. 51. 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.’
  52. 52. 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
  53. 53. 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
  54. 54. 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.’
  55. 55. ‘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,
  56. 56. ‘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
  57. 57. 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.’
  58. 58. 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
  59. 59. 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,
  60. 60. 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.
  61. 61. 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
  62. 62. 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
  63. 63. 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,
  64. 64. 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,
  65. 65. ‘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
  66. 66. 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)
  67. 67. 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
  68. 68. 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.’
  69. 69. 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.’
  70. 70. 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
  71. 71. 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
  72. 72. 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
  73. 73. 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
  74. 74. 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
  75. 75. 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
  76. 76. 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
  77. 77. 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.
  78. 78. ‘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
  79. 79. 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
  80. 80. 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?’
  81. 81. ‘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?’
  82. 82. ‘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
  83. 83. 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?’
  84. 84. ‘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.’
  85. 85. 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’
  86. 86. ‘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
  87. 87. 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
  88. 88. 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
  89. 89. 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.’
  90. 90. ‘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?’
  91. 91. 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.’
  92. 92. 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.
  93. 93. 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.’
  94. 94. 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
  95. 95. 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
  96. 96. 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.
  97. 97. 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
  98. 98. 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.
  99. 99. 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.
  100. 100. 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
  101. 101. 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
  102. 102. 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
  103. 103. 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.’
  104. 104. 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
  105. 105. 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-
  106. 106. 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.’
  107. 107. ‘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.’
  108. 108. 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
  109. 109. 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
  110. 110. 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.’
  111. 111. ‘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?’
  112. 112. ‘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
  113. 113. 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
  114. 114. 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.
  115. 115. 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?’
  116. 116. 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
  117. 117. 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
  118. 118. 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?’
  119. 119. ‘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
  120. 120. 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.
  121. 121. 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?’
  122. 122. ‘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
  123. 123. 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.’
  124. 124. ‘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