13 Slices
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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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Three

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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One

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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Seven

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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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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