Medium 9780253006653

The Past Ahead: A Novel

Views: 558
Ratings: (0)

The Past Ahead is the story of the destinies of two people after their experiences of the genocide in Rwanda. Isaro is orphaned, exiled, and now returned to her native country. Niko is a character in a novel that Isaro writes to help her understand her country's recent horrific past. Isaro's quest to recover the memory of the life she has lost is haunted by her nightmare imaginings, whose horror is given expression through Niko, a mute social outcast. When an army intent on massacre reaches his village, the once gentle young man is forced to become a killer. After the fighting ends, Niko retreats to a cave that he shares with a family of gorillas to try to escape the burden of his guilt. In his solitude, he is plagued with painful memories that will not leave him. As Isaro writes Niko’s story, she succumbs to the sadness of death, violence, and the dreadful reminders of her terrible past. Stunning and powerfully written, Gatore’s novel lays bare the unfathomable human cost of this international tragedy.

List price: $15.99

Your Price: $12.79

You Save: 20%

Remix
Remove
 

13 Slices

Format Buy Remix

One

ePub

2. Today, like yesterday and the day before, when night falls, Utiwonze, Uwera, and Shema come out of their holes to keep watch together. Niko, who himself is being watched by the monkeys, observes them from the opening to the cave. According to a rule that no one tries to justify, the piles of stones beneath which these three live should be seen as houses. What one really shouldn’t think about are the mounds indicating the fresh graves. The whole thing should be considered a village whose name, Iwacu, exists nowhere other than inside Niko’s mind.

3. Niko saw the other three people who live here in addition to the monkeys arrive one after another. Uwitonze came first, followed by Uwera. Shema was the last one to appear.

4. The cave is located at the top of the hill, which is itself an island. It lies in the center of a lake whose entire perimeter can be seen from the promontory.

5. If a stranger were to appear in the middle of Iwacu, he would surely ask himself a few pointless questions. He would wonder whether a pile of stones becomes a house by the simple fact of sheltering a human being. He wouldn’t understand why these three individuals remain consistently mute and burrowed inside their shelters as long as the sun hasn’t yet vanished below the horizon. He’d be astonished to find no trace of a path or a harbor on the island, as if coming and going were out of the question here. The intruder would be surprised to notice that in order to penetrate the three little mounds of earth you have to crawl feet first, like a snake moving in reverse. The troublemaker would end up thinking that Uwitonze, Uwera, and Shema are here as runaways. He’d assume that the houses of Iwacu look like graves so as not to attract any attention. That’s why there’s never any fire. And that’s also why the three inhabitants are attached to the silence, the disconnection, and the thinness that turn them into living abstractions. Proud of his analysis, the stranger disappears the way he’d come, without any warning.

 

Two

ePub

32. The cave Niko discovers resembles the one he’s spent years imagining in almost no way at all. When you enter it, the passageway widens as you move forward, opening into the first hollow space. His immediate plan is to make that his living area. Light and wind sometimes come this far, faintly, which eases the darkness and humidity. From the entrance to the cave it is impossible to see the high recess to which he will attach his bedding. Suspension is the only way to be protected from the animals and insects with which he must share his cave, he observes, congratulating himself on having brought twine with him. Yes, hanging the bedding is a good idea: the swinging movement of the setup will be enough to keep bats, rats, and cats at a distance. Cockroaches, spiders, and ants won’t be able to get at him except via the fastening point, and he promises himself to keep a particularly watchful eye on that. And if there are any mosquitoes and flies he’ll just have to get used to them. In the back of this first hollow space, a passageway he is forced to crawl through opens onto the ceiling of a very large room. Before he’s able to get down into it, Niko must first braid a long cord and attach it pretty firmly so that he can use it to climb up and down. So he goes out again to gather dried banana tree bark, which he dampens in order to work it without cracking the pieces, and from this he makes two long ropes. Still farther down the slope he finds a long stalk of bamboo, which he thrashes against the ground to soften it up. Three ropes are bound to provide him with what he needs to get down into the second hollow area. The twisted bamboo stalk assures solidity while the banana fiber cords will facilitate his grip.

 

Three

ePub

60. When the first two shots rang out, the monkeys had scattered into the forest, while Niko remained sprawled among the melons. Had the one monkey come to him to wake him up and flee with him? That’s when the shot, which must have been intended for him, had struck it down, Niko tells himself as he decides to approach the animal, whose moaning has stopped. He recognizes him as the same one who brought him back to consciousness the day he fell into the cave. He could recognize that massive body among thousands. It startles him to see that the expression on the monkey’s face hasn’t changed, as if death hadn’t really affected it. Were it not for the wound and the blood, you might assume he’s merely sleeping, Niko thinks. Perhaps that’s peculiar to those whom death catches by surprise. They don’t have time to see the end coming to annihilate them and to make the same grimace as those who are aware they’re dying.

61. Niko knows the face characteristic of those who’re dying all too well. He has embodied the warning often enough to take note of the common denominator in the expression of a prey. But he mustn’t let that sort of thinking run away with him.

 

Four

ePub

78. Niko has fallen asleep and when he wakes up he’s stretched out a few steps from the entrance to the cave. A smell of flesh and blood surprises him, and then he remembers what’s happened. Next to him, the eye of the monkey he disemboweled and brought back seems to be staring at him, asking him something.

79. Does one owe something to one’s guardian angel? What does he need to be protected from?

80. Just as it had seemed obvious to him that he couldn’t simply leave the monkey’s body where it had been shot, Niko feels that he can’t leave it lying out in the open like this either; nor can he bury it, which had been his original intention. So he starts to wash the body’s insides and then tells himself that it would be better if he managed to stuff something into the belly’s cavity and close it up again as if it had never been opened. To that end, he hurriedly searches for the longest, most pliable, fine but sturdy stalks and gathers all kinds of dried plants with which he plans to stuff the monkey. He needs a lot of them and has to make several trips back and forth to be able to restore the animal’s slightly rounded belly that had made him so likeable. After filling him and sewing him up, Niko gets busy cleaning the monkey’s coat, badly soiled from all the handling. By holding three small bamboo stalks very tightly in his fist, he discovers he can even groom the fur so that it ends up looking quite neat. To complete his mission it seems essential that he keep the monkey’s body suspended. It’s the most difficult part, but not impossible for someone whose patience and imagination have always served him well. A few steps behind the entrance, the archway seems the ideal spot. A root showing just above it forms an effective fastener, and the circulating air will ventilate the corpse better than it can in the back of the cave, in any case. Seen from inside the space, the monkey’s body looks as if it’s floating in the luminous opening of the entrance. Exhausted, Niko doesn’t have the strength to go see what impression it makes from the outside. He suspects that the corpse looks like a giant and probably frightening doll. Perhaps, he thinks, the monkey can keep watching over him. Now it’s no longer the sickening air that enters and leaves his nostrils but rather the air of stillness, growing increasingly calmer. He falls asleep.

 

Five

ePub

88. Usually, any little detail is enough to prompt Niko’s mind to stray into endless digressions. And yet, here, nothing that goes on around him arouses any musing in him whatever. He doesn’t try to figure out what the monkeys have against him nor whether he’s right in interpreting their behavior towards him as revenge or punishment.

His sole preoccupation is to make himself as unobtrusive as possible, to vanish from the glance of the monkeys, especially from the harsh female. From the way she’d shaken him he felt so weakened that it scared him more than anything ever had before. Of course, the discretion wasn’t commanded or indicated to him in any clear way. He senses it. At the risk of receiving a more severe punishment than eviction from his bed, he is to submit completely. He applies himself to this by eliminating every useless thought from his mind and generally abstaining from any kind of initiative. For a very brief moment, when his imagination eludes his vigilance, he sees himself as the last leg of a caterpillar, restricted to following the movement of all the preceding ones, indifferent to thought, anxiety, and feelings, since, when all is said and done, he’s obliged to follow the others.

 

Six

ePub

95. Ever since he was born, Niko had lived inside himself. He’d been told it wasn’t a problem, and he’d never had any reason not to believe that. From the very beginning he’d been inclined to accept everything.

96. The day he was born had coincided with the rainy season, which at this latitude can be unspeakably violent. A storm had announced his arrival to a preoccupied world. While the entire household was running around in every direction to reinforce the roofing and windows, bring in the cattle, gather the children, cover the water well, and protect the fire, his mother delivered him, alone in a corner, her voice muffled by the wind blowing through the cracks and the pelting raindrops on the sheet metal roof. His mother did not rise from the hard clay floor where she offered her last gift, and for a while the newborn rolled around on the ground unnoticed. In fact, more than once he was almost crushed. His faint cries and paltry little contortions, covered up by the noise and darkness in the house, brought him no aid.

 

Seven

ePub

114. As he grew older, Niko felt less and less like playing, and his daydreams were no longer an entertaining escape but rather the disconcerting echo of his loneliness. Being alone is one thing, but being aware of it is a problem, and being alone and aware of it is torture, he concluded. Niko had gone unnoticed for years since everyone was always too busy looking elsewhere. He only found company within himself.

115. The sole gaze under which Niko didn’t feel he was transparent was Gaspard’s. Without it ever being a conscious decision, Niko had become his son, his assistant, and his apprentice at the pottery-forge. He’d even been given tongs and a hammer so that he could replace his uncle should it be needed, a situation that occurred more and more frequently as the months went by, until the day when Niko realized he’d dropped out of school. Implicitly, it was understood that Gaspard would soon leave the forge in his hands to await death in a place that would suit his weakened body.

 

Eight

ePub

136. Niko’s dream goes beyond the scattering of his body. That vision is just the beginning of a whole series of still more incredible experiences.

137. In his dream, all the pieces land in one of the large containers stored on the shelves of the workshop and come together again to shape a new Niko. His skin is firmer, his shoulders broader, his heart more serene, his face more assured—and, he can feel it, his eyes now shine as if set with a diamond focusing its power. He has the feeling of being a lighter, a more robust, and a more self-confident version than the one he was before. Gaspard is no longer present when he comes out of the jar. The workshop is silent. The silence seems to express awe for this new being. He is respected for the first time. Alone, but respected. The solitude worthy of a lion or a gorilla and not the miserable loneliness of the hyena. Alone because no one dares to come near him and not because no one wants to come near him.

138. Perhaps I am able to speak, he tells himself without trying. He’s too afraid it might be true or that it might not. The two options seem equally terrifying to him, and he tells himself that in not attempting to speak, not even attempting to be disappointed or embarrassed by a new possibility it’s more reasonable not to risk getting all mixed up. Speech is the only limitation to his otherwise uncontainable power.

 

Nine

ePub

153. Getting up at last, recovered from his blackout, Niko had the odd sensation that the air had changed; it entered his nostrils with greater difficulty and blocked his lungs like a gooey liquid. Besides being heavy, the air seemed noisier to him. A combination of songs, speeches, cries, explosions, and prayers filled his ears. All the stages of his dream, nightmare or delirium, were piling up inside his head: the old woman, the young girl, the scattering of his body, the goat, the story of the clouds, the cave and the crows, the tree of life. Then there was the pain in his head as well, and the fatigue that weighed each part of his body down to the point where he had the impression it was a leaden skeleton that kept him upright.

154. As he chases away his drowsiness with yawns and stretches, he hears cries and then sees Hyacinthe running past the workshop. She throws him a panic-stricken look but doesn’t stop. A group of men is in pursuit, machetes and clubs in hand. Without thinking about what he’s doing, Niko drops a jar, and the noise catches the attention of the group that stops and now heads in his direction.

 

Ten

ePub

182. When no trace whatsoever was left of the massacres, Niko went right back to work at the forge. Generally speaking, business wasn’t as good as it had been before, for lack of customers, but no one complained—especially not Niko, for whom things couldn’t be worse, in any case, than when he’d been segregated for the expressions and drawings he engraved on his articles, among other reasons. The others found solace in persuading themselves that having less work wasn’t so bad: less water to be drawn from the well, fewer bags to carry for the merchants, fewer people for the mayor to have to listen to, fewer travelers for the taxi driver to transport, and so forth. Niko agreed with this view since, as the workshop was less busy, he had time to finish his articles with greater precision. He spent countless hours fiddling with the curve of a sickle, the roundness of a jug, or the firmness of a handle. On the other hand, for reasons he couldn’t explain to himself, he’d stopped engraving expressions or drawings on his products. He now preferred geometric figures, which he invented with unconcealed curiosity and talent. He probably no longer needed to be noticed. The aura he’d acquired during the period that shouldn’t be called to mind still surrounded him. Nobody called him Niko the Monkey anymore.

 

Eleven

ePub

206. With time Niko is sure he’s a kind of prisoner of the monkeys. He must stay where he is, surrounded by them or at least within sight of the one who guards him. His activity is restricted to staying in the cave, following the group when it goes out in search of food, and for the rest of the time being as unobtrusive as possible. If he strays from these rules his guardian grabs his neck as if to strangle him, violently shakes him, and lets out an indeterminate scream, fixing him with a dark look. Then he throws the lifeless skeleton on the ground, staying there to hit him if he tries to get up. Some time later the guard monkey withdraws, a sign that the punishment has come to an end, and Niko can stop inhaling dust, can sit down or stand up again. At the slightest lapse in behavior, punishment comes down on him, brutal and relentless. In the beginning, Niko submits to it, over and over again, but in time he learns to eliminate all that could lead him to be anywhere but at circumspect attention to what’s going on around him. Even the nightmares and visions that keep on startling him no longer make him lose control. His eyes, invisible in their sunkenness, let the visions that once undid him file past without betraying any emotion. His empty belly is no longer receptive to the nausea that overcomes him at such moments. Reduced to a motionless shell, his body seems foreign to anything that might stir his mind. He has grown numb to memory.

 

Twelve

ePub

214. Reduced to the most extreme acquiescence, Niko still managed to preserve one uncontrollable part of himself. In his nook, everything he was except for his physical body was blooming.

215. Far from this resilient bit of ground, where darkness covered him, Niko stared at the three people who arrived at the cave’s entrance one at a time, saw the ragged mummy, and, shrieking loudly, turned away from it.

216. The first one was Uwitonze, his now aged schoolteacher. Obviously spent, stooped over his cane, he’d waited to raise his head until he was right in front of the cave. Then when his eyes crossed the dark eyes of the monkey’s corpse, he wielded his cane as if to defend himself against the specter. It was the middle of the day and, sweating as much from the effort as from fear, he withdrew without lowering his cane, muttering something at the threat. Once he’d gained a little distance, he knelt down, undoubtedly to ask forgiveness for almost having blasphemed by crossing the entrance.

 

Thirteen

ePub

235. Niko realized that Uwitonze, Uwera, and Shema had come here only to wait for death. Nothing they do links them to life. They’re lying down most of the time, and at dusk they go out. That is all they do.

236. As if they’d agreed on it beforehand, the three of them have built their shelters side by side. They’ve made horizontal excavations in the ground, covered them with foliage and stones against the rain. From where Niko can see them, the little earthen hillocks look like ill-protected graves.

237. They stay put all day long, and only when the sun has vanished completely below the horizon do they all come out to sit at the entrance to their holes, facing the eastern constellations. That’s how, in silence, they keep watch until fatigue or weariness overcomes them and they crawl back into their hole.

238. Niko feels he lives with them and so considers the three earthen hillocks as a village of which he is a virtual inhabitant. His fear of the monkeys and his frailty don’t allow him to actually join them and dig a fourth lair beside the other three, as he would like to do. In his mind he has named the village: Iwacu, which means at home. He enjoys thinking that his idea has taken flight and reached them and that they, too, think of it in those terms. That way, both the image and the name would be the secret link between them.

 

Details

Print Book
E-Books
Slices

Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Sku
B000000031729
Isbn
9780253009500
File size
1.31 MB
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Format name
ePub
Encrypted
No
Printing
Allowed
Copying
Allowed
Read aloud
Allowed
Sku
In metadata
Isbn
In metadata
File size
In metadata