13 Slices
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Twelve

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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Thirteen

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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Eight

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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Nine

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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Six

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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