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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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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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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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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Ten

Gilbert Gatore Indiana University Press 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.

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