13 Chapters
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Four

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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Five

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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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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Two

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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