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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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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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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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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