(limit computer screen radiation. print for educational porpoises.)
from Exile and the Kingdom, by Albert Camus,
Carol Cosman translation, Random House, 2006.
The car veered heavily along the muddy, red dirt path. Suddenly, first on one side, then on the other, the headlights piked out two wooden shacks covered with corrugated iron. Near the second one, on the right, a tower built of crude beams could be glimpsed in the light fog. From the top of the tower a metal cable emerged, invisible at its starting point but glittering as it descended into the headlights’ glare before disappearing behind the embankment that blocked the road. The car slowed down and stopped a few meters from the shacks.
The man who got out on the driver’s right had difficulty extricating himself from the car. Once on his feet, he swayed a little on his colossal body. In the darkness near the car, sagging with fatigue and planted heavily on the ground, he seemed to be listening to the idling motor. Then he walked in the direction of the embankment and entered the cone of light from the headlights. He stopped at the top of the slope, his huge back outlined against the night. After a moment he turned around. The driver’s black face gleamed above the dashboard, smiling. The man signaled; the driver cut the motor. At once, a great cool silence fell over the road and the forest. Then they heard the sound of water.
The man looked at the river down below, indicated only by a vague broad movement flecked with shiny scales. A denser motionless darkness, far off, must have been the other bank. Looking steadily, however, one could glimpse on that motionless bank a yellowish flame, like the eye of an oil lamp in the distance. The colossus turned toward the car and nodded his head. The driver switched off his headlights, turned them on again, then blinked them at regular intervals. On the embankment the man appeared and disappeared, taller and more massive at every resurrection. Suddenly, on the other side of the river, at the end of an invisible arm, a lantern was raised several times. At a final sign from the man watching, the driver switched off his headlights for good. The car and man disappeared in the night. With the headlights off, the river was almost visible, or at least some of its long, liquid muscles shone intermittently. From each side of the path, the dark masses of the forest were outlined against the sky and seemed to loom near. The fine rain that had soaked the path an hour before still floated in the humid air, weighing on the silence and stillness of this large clearing in the middle of virgin forest. Misty stars flickered in the black sky.
But from the other bank rose the sound of chains, and muffled lapping. Above the shack, to the right of the man still waiting there, the cable tightened. A muffled creaking began to run along it, while a faint surge of churning water rose from the river. The creaking leveled off, the sound of the water grew more pervasive, then became clearer as the lantern loomed. Now the yellowish halo surrounding it could be clearly seen. The halo gradually dilated and contracted again, as the lantern shone through the mist and began to illuminate a kind of square roof of dried palm leaves, supported at its four corners by thick bamboo posts. This crude shed, with vague shadows moving around it, was slowly approaching the bank. One could see midway across the river three small, dark men, naked to the waist and wearing conical hats, distinctly outlined by yellow light. They stood motionless on their slightly parted legs, their bodies leaning a little to compensate for the drift of the river, pressing with all its invisible waters on the side of a large, crude raft that emerged from the night and water. As the ferry came still closer, the man could make out behind the shed, on the downstream side, two tall blacks wearing only broad straw hats and grey cotton trousers. Side by side they leaned with all their might on the long poles that sank slowly into the river toward the back of the raft, while with the same slow motion they leaned above the waters as far as their balance allowed. In the front, the three mulattoes, motionless and silent, watched the bank approach without raising their eyes toward the man who was waiting for them.
The ferry suddenly knocked against the end of the wharf that extended into the water and was only now revealed by the lantern, which had begun to sway with the shock. The tall Negroes stood still, their hands above their heads, gripping the ends of the poles, which were barely dug in, but their tense muscles quivered constantly, as if from the water itself and its weight. The other ferrymen threw chains around the wharf posts, jumped onto the boards, and pulled down a sort of crude plank that covered the front of the raft with an inclined plane.
The man came back toward the car and climbed in as the driver started his engine. The car slowly climbed the embankment, pointed its hood toward the sky, then lowered it toward the river and tackled the downward slope. With the brakes on, it rolled and slid a little on the mud, stopping and starting. It crossed the wharf in a racket of jolting boards, reaching the end where the mulattoes, still silent, stood on either side, and plunged gently toward the raft. The raft dipped its nose in the water when the front wheels reached it and almost immediately resurfaced to receive the car’s full weight. Then the driver kept his machine running until they reached the square roof at the back where the lantern hung. Instantly, the mulattoes refolded the inclined plank back onto the wharf and jumped with a single movement onto the ferry, at the same time pushing it off from the muddy bank. The river braced itself under the raft and raised it on the surface of the waters where it drifted slowly to the end of the long rail that was now running in the sky along a cable. The tall Negroes relaxed their efforts and brought up the poles. The man and the driver got out of the car and came to stand motionless on the edge of the raft, facing upstream. No one had spoken during this maneuver, and even now each man stood in his place, still and silent, except one of the tall Negroes, who was rolling a cigarette in coarse paper.
The man was looking at the gap where the river surged out of the great Brazilian forest and swept toward them. Several hundred centimeters wide at this place, the river’s opaque and silky waters pressed against the side of the ferry, then, loosed at both ends, flowed over it and spread out again in a single powerful flood running gently through the dark forest toward the sea and the night. An unpleasant odor, coming from the water or the spongy sky, floated on the air. Now the lapping of the heavy waters under the ferry could be heard, and from both banks the intermittent calls of the buffalo toads or the strange cries of birds. The colossus walked over to the driver. The small, thin man, leaning against one of the bamboo posts, stuck his fists in the pockets of his overalls, once blue but now covered with the red dust they’d swallowed during their daylong drive. A smile spread over his face, which was lined despite his youth, and he was looking distractedly at the fading stars still swimming in the damp sky.
But the birds’ cries were clearer, mingled with strange chattering, and almost instantly the cable began to creak. The tall Negroes sunk their poles into the water and groped blindly for the bottom. The man turned toward the shore they had just left. Now it was covered by the darkness and the waters, vast and savage like the continent of trees that stretched beyond them for thousands of kilometers. Between the nearby ocean and this sea of vegetation, the handful of men drifting at this hour on a savage river seemed lost. When the raft struck the new wharf, it was as if, having cast off all moorings, they had reached an island in the dark after days of terrifying navigation.
After landing, they heard men’s voices at last. The driver had just paid them, and in the heavy night, in strangely cheerful tones, they said farewell in Portuguese as the car started up again.
“They said sixty, the kilometers to Iguape. Three hours you drive and it’s over. Socrates is happy,” the driver announced.
The man laughed, a good laugh, hearty and warm, like him.
“Me to, Socrates – I’m happy too. The road is hard.”
“Too heavy, Monsieur d’Arrast, you too heavy,” and the driver was laughing, too, as if he couldn’t stop.
The car had picked up a little speed. It was moving between high walls of trees and tangled vegetation, amidst a faint sugary smell. The crisscrossing flights of fireflies passed constantly through the darkness of the forest, and every once in a while birds with red eyes would knock against the windshield for a moment. Sometimes, a strange growling would reach them from the depths of the night, and the driver would look at his passengers, comically rolling his eyes.
The road looped back and forth, crossing small streams over bridges of rattling planks. At the end of an hour, the mist began to thicken. A fine drizzle began to fall, dimming the headlights. Despite the jolting, d’Arrast was half-asleep. He was no longer driving in the damp forest but on the roads of the Sierra, which they had taken that morning as they left Sao Paulo. The red dust they could still taste in their mouths rose without respite from those dirt tracks, and on every side, as far as they could see, it covered the sparse vegetation of the plains. The heavy sun, the pale mountains full of ravines, the scrawny zebus encountered on the roads with a red flight of ragged urubus as their only escort, the long, long navigation across a red desert… He gave a start. The car had stopped. They were now in Japan: fragile houses on either side of the road, and in the houses, furtive kimonos. The driver was talking to a Japanese man wearing dirty overalls and a Brazilian straw hat. The car started again.
“He said only forty kilometers.”
“Where were we? In Tokyo?”
“No, Registro. In our country, all the Japanese end up there.”
“Don’t know. They’re yellow, you know Monsieur d’Arrast.”
But the forest was clearing a little, the road was easier, if still slippery. The car was skidding on the sand. A damp breeze, warm and slightly sharp, blew through the car window.
“Smell it?” the driver said eagerly. “it’s good sea. Soon Iguape.”
“If we have enough gas,” d’Arrast replied.
And he went peacefully back to sleep.
Sitting up in bed after waking early the next morning, d’Arrast looked around the room in surprise. The lower half of the high walls was freshly painted a chalky brown. They had once been painted white above, and now shreds of yellowish crusts covered them up to the ceiling. Two rows of six beds faced each other. D’Arrast saw only one bed unmade at the end of his row, and the bed was empty. But he heard some noise to his left and turned toward the door, where Socrates, a bottle of mineral water in each hand, stood laughing.
“Happy memory!” he was saying. D’Arrast shook himself. Yes, the hospital where the mayor had lodged them the evening before was called Happy Memory. “Sure memory,” Socrates continued. They told me first to build the hospital, later build water. While waiting, happy memory, have some bubbly water to wash up.” He disappeared, laughing and singing, not in the least exhausted, it seemed, by the cataclysmic sneezes that had shaken him all night and had kept d’Arrast from closing his eyes.
Now d’Arrast was fully awake. Through the grill work on the windows across the room he could be seen noiselessly dripping on a bunch of tall aloes. A woman passed by, raising a yellow scarf above her head. D’Arrast lay down again, then sat up at once and got out of the bed, which buckled and groaned beneath his weight. Socrates entered at the same moment: “For you, Monsieur d’Arrast. The mayor is waiting outside.” But seeing d’Arrast’s expression, he added: “Don’t worry, he’s never in a hurry.”
After shaving in mineral water, d’Arrast went out onto the porch of the pavilion. The mayor – who was slim and under his round, gold-rimmed glasses looked like a friendly weasel – seemed absorbed in gloomy contemplation of the rain. But a delighted smile transfigured him as soon as he saw d’Arrast. Straightening his small body, he hurried over and tried to throw his arms around “Monsieur Engineer.” At that moment, a car began to brake in front of them on the other side of the low wall of the court, skidded in the damp clay, and came to a lopsided halt. “The judge!” said the mayor. The judge, like the mayor, was dressed in navy blue. But he was much younger, or at least seemed to be because of his elegant figure and his fresh face, which looked like a surprised adolescent. He was crossing the court now in their direction, gracefully avoiding the puddles of water. A few steps away from d’Arrast, he was already holding out his arms and bidding him welcome. He was proud of Monsieur Engineer, who was bestowing such honor on their poor town; the judge was thrilled at the invaluable service the engineer would render Iguape by constructing the little dam that would prevent the periodic flooding of the town’s riverside quarters. To command the waters, to conquer rivers, ah! – a great profession, and surely the poor people of Iguape would remember the engineer’s name and for many years to come would still utter it in their prayers. D’Arrast, captivated by such charm and eloquence, thanked him and didn’t ask what a judge had to do with a dam. Besides, according to the mayor, he had to visit the club where the town dignitaries wanted to give Monsieur Engineer a worthy welcome before he could visit the poorer quarters. Who were the dignitaries?
“Ah, well,” said the mayor, “myself, as mayor, Monsieur Carvalho, here, the captain of the port, and several other less important men. Anyway, you won’t have to bother about them, they don’t speak French.”
D’Arrast called Socrates and told him that he would look for him at the end of the morning.
“Yes, okay,” said Socrates. “I’ll go to the Jardin de la Fontaine.”
“To the Jardin?”
“Yes, everyone knows it. Don’t worry, Monsieur d’Arrast.”
The hospital, d’Arrast saw on his way out, was built at the edge of the forest, whose massive foliage cascaded almost to the roofs. On every surface of the trees a fine veil of water was falling, which the thick forest was noiselessly absorbing, like an enormous sponge. The town, some hundred houses covered with faded tile roofs, extended between the forest and the river, whose distant murmur reached as far as the hospital. The car entered the rain-soaked streets and came out almost at once onto a rectangular, rather large square, which preserved in its red clay between numerous puddles the traces of tires, iron wheels, and horseshoes. All around, low houses covered with multicolored plaster enclosed the square, and behind it could be seen two round blue and white towers of the colonial-style church. Against this stark backdrop floated a salty smell from the estuary. In the middle of the square, several drenched silhouettes were wandering. A motley crowd of gauchos, Japanese, half-breed Indians, and elegant dignitaries, whose dark suits seemed exotic here, were strolling slowly with leisurely gestures past the houses. They stepped aside, in an unhurried fashion, to make way for the car, then stopped and gazed after it. When the car stopped in front of one of the houses on the square, a circle of wet gauchos silently surrounded it.
At the club – a kind of little bar on the second floor furnished with bamboo counter and iron cafe tables – the dignitaries were numerous. They drank cane liquor in d’Arrast’s honor after the mayor, drink in hand, had welcomed him and wished him all the best. But while d’Arrast was drinking near the window, a tall beanpole of a fellow in riding breeches and leggings came staggering up to deliver a rapid and obscure speech, in which the engineer recognized only the word passport. He hesitated, then took out the document which the other fellow grabbed voraciously. After leafing through the passport, the beanpole displayed his bad temper. He resumed his speech, shaking the passport under the nose of the engineer, who, without much emotion, merely looked at the furious man. Just then the judge, smiling, came over to ask what the matter was. For a moment the drunk examined the frail creature who had dared to interrupt him then, staggering even more dangerously, shook the passport in the face of this new listener. D’Arrast sat peacefully beside a table and waited. The dialogue became very lively, and suddenly, to his surprise, the judge let loose with a deafening voice. Unpredictably, the beanpole beat an abrupt retreat with the look of a child caught in the act. At a final order from the judge, he headed toward the door, moving sidelong like a scolded dunce, and disappeared.
The judge immediately came over to explain to d’Arrast, in a voice once again harmonious, that this uncouth character was the chief of police, that he dared to claim the passport was not in order, and would be punished for his misdemeanor. Monsieur Carvalho then addressed the dignitaries, who were circled around, and seemed to be asking their opinions. After a short discussion, the judge expressed solemn apologies to d’Arrast, urged him to grant that only drunkenness could explain such an abysmal lack of respect and gratitude, which the entire town of Iguape owed him, and finally begged him to be so good as to decide himself on the punishment to be inflicted on this dreadful character. D’Arrast said that he did not want any punishment, that it was a trivial incident, and that he was in no particular hurry to go to the river. The mayor then spoke again to assert with fond good humor that really, a punishment was indispensable, that the guilty man would remain under arrest, and that they would wait, all of them, for their eminent visitor to be so good as to decide his fate. No protestations could sway this smiling severity, and d’Arrast had to promise that he would think about it. Afterward, they decided to visit the riverside quarters of the town.
The river was already spreading its yellowish waters on the low, glistening banks. They had left the last houses of Iguape behind them and were meandering between the river and a steep embankment, where huts of mud and branches clung. In front of them, at the end of the embankment, the forest began again without transition, as on the other bank. But the breach of the waters swiftly broadened between the trees up to an indistinct line, more gray than yellow, which marked the sea. Without saying a word, d’Arrast walked toward the slope, where marks of various floodwaters were still fresh on its flank. A muddy path climbed toward the huts. In front of them, blacks stood silently watching the newcomers. Several couples were holding hands, and at the very edge of the embankment, in front of the adults, a row of little Negroes, their bellies bulging over skinny legs, stare round-eyed.
Reaching the front of the huts, d’Arrast beckoned to the commander of the port. He was a fat, laughing black man dressed in a white uniform. A’Arrast asked him in Spanish if it were possible to visit a hut. The commander was certain of it, he even thought it a good idea, and Monsieur Engineer would see some very interesting things. He addressed the black men at length, pointing to d’Arrast and the river. They listened without a word. When the commander was finished, no one moved. He spoke again, in an impatient voice. Then he asked one of the men, who shook his head. The commander said a few brief words then, in an imperative tone. The man detached himself from the group, stood in front of d’Arrast, and with a gesture showed him the way. But his gaze was hostile. He was an older man, his head covered with short grizzled wool, his face thin and shriveled; his body was still young, with hard spare shoulders and muscles visible under his cotton pants and torn shirt. They advanced, followed by the commander and the crowd of blacks, and climbed up a new, even steeper slope, where the huts of mud, tin, and reeds clung to the soil with such difficulty that their base had been shored up with big stones. They met a woman coming down the path, sometimes slipping on her bare feet, carrying an iron jug of water on her head. Then they arrived at a small, squarelike area formed by three huts. The man walked toward one of them and pushed open a bamboo door whose hinges were made of lianas. He stepped aside, without a word, fixing the engineer with the same impassive gaze. In the hut, d’Arrast saw nothing at first but a dying fire set right on the ground at the exact center of the room. Then he made out in a back corner a brass bed with a bare, broken frame, a table in the other corner covered with an earthenware dish, and between the two a sort of trestle where a color print representing Saint George held pride of place. For the rest, nothing but a heap of rags to the right of the entrance, and hanging from the ceiling a few colorful loincloths drying over the fire. Standing still, D’Arrast breathed in the odor of smoke and poverty that rose from the ground and caught him by the throat. Behind him the commander clapped his hands. The engineer turned around and on the threshold, against the daylight, hje saw the graceful silhouette of a young black girl holding something out to him: he took a glass and drank the thick cane liquor it contained. The young girl held out her tray to receive the empty glass and left with a movement so supple and lively that d’Arrast suddenly wanted to stop her.
But going out behind her, he didn’t recognize her in the crowd of blacks and dignitaries gathered around the hut. He thanked the old man, who bowed his head without a word. Then he left. The commander behind him resumed his explanations, asked when the French company from Rio could begin the work and whether the dam would be built before the big rains. D’Arrast did not know, but wasn’t really thinking about it. He went down toward the cool river, under the implacable rain. He was still listening to that great pervasive sound he had been hearing since his arrival: was it the rustling of the waters or the trees? Reaching the bank he looked at the distant, indefinite line of the sea, thousands of kilometers of solitary waters and Africa, and beyond that, Europe, where he came from.
“Commander,” he said, “these people we’ve seen, what do they live on?”
“They work when they’re needed,” said the commander. “We are poor.”
“Are these the poorest?”
“They are the poorest.”
The judge, who arrived at that moment by gliding lightly on his fine soles, said that they already loved Monsieur Engineer, who was going to give them work.
“And you know,” he said, “they dance and sing every day.”
Then, without transition, he asked d’Arrast if he had thought of the punishment.
“Ah well, our chief of police.”
“You should let him go.” The judge said that this was not possible, and that he had to be punished. D’Arrast was already walking toward Iguape.
In the little Jardin de la Fontaine, mysterious and pleasant under the fine rain, clusters of exotic flowers cascaded along the lianas between the banana trees and the pandanus [panda anus versus pandavas, pananda] Piles of wet stones marked the intersection of the paths where at this hour a motley crowd was circulating. Half-breeds, mulattoes, a few gauchos were chatting quietly or strolling farther on, as slowly as before, along the bamboo paths to the place where the groves and underbrush became thicker, then impenetrable. There, without transition, the forest began.
D’Arrast was looking for Socrates among the crowd when the man came up behind him. “It’s a holiday,” said Socrates, laughing, and leaned on d’Arrast’s high shoulders to jump up.
“Ah!” Socrates was surprised and now faced d’Arrast. “You don’t know? The holiday of the good Jesus. Each year everyone comes to the grotto with a hammer.”
Socrates was pointing not to a grotto, but to a group that seemed to be waiting in one corner of the public garden. “You see, one day the statue of the good Jesus, it came from the sea, floating down the river. Some fishermen found it. So beautiful! So beautiful! Then they washed it here in the grotto. And now a stone has grown in the grotto. Every year there’s a holiday. With a hammer you break, you break off pieces for a blessing. And then what happens? It keeps growing, you keep breaking. That’s the miracle.”
They had reached the grotto and could see its low entrance above the waiting men. Inside, in the darkness punctuated by flickering candle flames, a squatting figure was striking the stone with a hammer. The man, a thin gaucho with a long moustache, stood up and came out, displaying in his open palm a piece of damp schist. After a few moments, before going away, he closed his hand on it as a precaution. Another man then stooped and entered the grotto.
D’Arrast turned around. On every side pilgrims were waiting, without looking at him, impassive beneath the water that fell from the trees in thin veils. He too was waiting, in front of the grotto, under the same film of water, and he did not know for what. The truth is, he had not stopped waiting since he had arrived in this country a month before. He was waiting – in the red heat of humid days, under the tiny stars at night, despite his tasks, the dams to build, the roads to cut through – as if the work he had come here to do were merely a pretext, the occasion for a surprise or an encounter he could not even imagine, but that had been waiting for him, patiently, at the end of the world. He pulled himself together, walked away without anyone in the little group taking notice, and headed toward the exit. He needed to return to the river and go to work.
But Socrates was waiting for him at the entrance, lost in voluble conversation with a short, sturdy man, with yellow rather than black skin. The man’s completely shaven head made his nicely shaped forehead seem even broader. By contrast, his large, smooth face was adorned with a very black beard, trimmed square.
“This guy, the champion!” said Socrates by way of introduction. “Tomorrow, he makes the procession.”
The man, dressed in a sailor’s suit of rough serge, a blue-and-white-striped jersey under a nautical blouse, examined d’Arrast attentively with his calm, black eyes. At the same time he was smiling widely, showing his very white teeth between full, glistening lips.
“He speaks Spanish,” Socrates said, and turning to the stranger:
“Tell Monsieur d’Arrast.” Then he danced off toward another group. The man stopped smiling and looked at d’Arrast with frank curiosity.
“This interests you, Captain?”
“I’m not a captain,” d’Arrast said.
“Never mind. But your a lord. Socrates told me.”
“Not me. But my grandfather was. His father too, and all those before his father. Now, there are no more lords in our countries.”
“Ah!” the man said, laughing, “I understand, everyone is a lord.”
“No, it’s not that. There are neither lords nor commoners.”
The other man reflected, then made up his mind:
“No one works, no one suffers?”
“Yes, millions of men.”
“Then those are the common people?”
“In that way, yes, there are common people. But their masters are the police and the tradesmen.”
The mulatto’s kind face closed up. Then he grumbled:
“Humph! Buying and selling, eh? What garbage! And with the police, the dogs are in command.”
Without transition, he burst out laughing.
“You, you don’t sell?”
“Hardly. I make bridges, roads.”
“That’s good! Me, I’m a ship’s cook. If you want, I’ll make you a dish of black beans.”
“I’d like that.”
The cook approached d’Arrast and took his arm.
Listen, I like what you tell. I am going to tell you too. You will like perhaps.”
He led him near the entrance to a damp wooden bench beneath a stand of bamboo.
“I was at sea, in waters off Iguape, on a little tanker that supplies shipping for the ports along the coast. There was a fire on board. Not my fault, eh! I know my job! No, bad luck. We were able to put lifeboats in the water. During the night, the sea rose, it overturned the lifeboat, and I fell out. When I came up, I knocked my head against the boat. I drifted. The night was dark, the waters big and besides, I swim badly, I was afraid. All at once, I saw a light in the distance and recognized the dome of the church of the good Jesus in Iguape. Then I told the good Jesus that in the procession I would carry a stone of fifty kilos on my head if he saved me. You don’t believe me, but the waters grew calm, my heart too. I swam slowly, I was happy, and I reached the shore. Tomorrow I will keep my promise.”
He looked at d’Arrast, suddenly suspicious.
“You’re not laughing, eh?”
“I’m not laughing. A man has to do what he’s promised.”
The other hand clapped him on the shoulder. Now, come to my brother’s place, near the river. I’ll cook you some beans.”
“No,” d’Arrast said, “I have things to do. This evening, if you like.”
“Good. But tonight we dance and pray in the big hut. It’s the festival of Saint George.” D’Arrast asked him if he was dancing too. The cook’s face hardened all at once; for the first time, his eyes shifted away.
“No, no, I won’t dance. Tomorrow I must carry the stone. It’s heavy. I’ll go this evening to celebrate the saint. And then I’ll leave early.”
“Does it last long?”
“All night, into early morning.”
He looked at d’Arrast sheepishly.
“Come to the dance. And you will take me back afterward. Otherwise, I’ll stay, I’ll dance, I might not be able to stop myself.”
“You like to dance?”
The cook’s eyes shone with a sort of avidity.
“Oh, yes! I like. Besides, there are cigars, the saints, the women. You forget everything, you let yourself go.”
“There are women? All the women from town?”
“From the town, no, but from the huts.”
The cook smiled again.
“Come. I’ll obey the captain. And you will help me to keep my promise tomorrow.”
D’Arrast felt vaguely annoyed. What did this ridiculous promise have to do with him? But he looked at the handsome, open face that was smiling at him trustingly, and the yellow skin shining with health and vitality.
“I’ll come,” he said. “Now I’ll walk along with you a bit.”
Not knowing why, he could still see the young black girl holding out the welcome offering.
They left the garden, walked along several muddy streets, and arrived at the square full of potholes that looked larger because of the low houses surrounding it. The humidity was streaming down the plaster walls, although the rain had not intensified. Across the spongy expanse of the sky the muffled murmur of the river and the trees reached them. They were walking in step, d’Arrast heavily, the cook with an athletic stride. From time to time the man would raise his head and smile at his companion. They went in the direction of the church, which could be seen above the houses, reached the end of the square, then walked again along muddy streets suffused with aggressive cooking odors. Now and then a woman holding a plate or a cooking utensil showed a curious face in one of the doors and immediately disappeared. They passed in front of the church, plunged into an old quarter of town between the same low houses, and suddenly emerged at the sound of the invisible river, behind a neighborhood of huts that d’Arrast recognized.
“Good. I’ll leave you. Till tonight,” he said.
“Yes, in front of the church.”
But the cook held on to d’Arrast’s hand. He was hesitating. Then he made up his mind:
“And you, did you ever call out or make a promise?”
“Yes, once, I think.”
“In a shipwreck?”
“If you like.” And d’Arrast roughly pulled his hand away. But just as he was turning on his heels, he met the cook’s gaze. He hesitated, then smiled.
“I can tell you, although it wasn’t very important. Someone was about to die because of me. I think I called out.”
“No. I would have liked to promise.”
“Was it a long time ago?”
“Just before coming here.”
The cook took his beard in both hands. His eyes were shining.
“You are a captain,” he said. “My house is yours. And then, you’re going to help me keep my promise, it’s as if you made it yourself. It will help you too.”
D’Arrast smiled. “I don’t think so.”
“You’re proud, Captain.”
“I used to be proud, now I’m alone. But just tell me, has your good Jesus always answered you?”
“Always, no, Captain.”
The cook burst into fresh, childish laughter.
“Ah well,” he said, “he’s free, isn’t he?”
At the club, where d’Arrast was lunching with the dignitaries, the mayor told him that he should sign the municipality’s guest book at least as a testimony to the great event of his arrival in Iguape. The judge on his side found two or three new formulations to celebrate, in addition to their guest’s virtues and talents, the simplicity with which he represented among them the great nation to which he had the honor to belong. D’Arrast said only that this was indeed an honor, he was sure, and also an advantage for his company to have won the bid for this big construction job. Once more the judge exclaimed at such humility. “By the way,” he said, “have you thought of what we should do with the chief of police?” D’Arrast looked at him, smiling. “I have.” He would consider it a personal favor, and an exceptional gesture, if they would be so good as to pardon this thoughtless person in his name, so that his stay here – his, d’Arrast’s, as he was taking so much pleasure in getting acquainted with the lovely town of Iguape and its generous inhabitants – could begin in a climate of concord and friendship. The judge, attentive and smiling, nodded his head. As a connoisseur, he meditated a moment on this formulation, then called upon the audience to applaud the magnanimous traditions of the great French nation, and turning toward d’Arrast, declared he was satisfied. “Since that’s settled,” he concluded, “we shall dine this evening with the chief.” But d’Arrast said that he was invited by friends to attend the dance ceremony in the huts. “Ah, yes!” said the judge, “I am happy you are going. You will see one cannot help loving our people.”
That evening, d’Arrast, the cook, and his brother were sitting around the remnants of the fire at the center of the hut, which the engineer had already visited that morning. The brother had not seemed surprised to see him again. He hardly spoke Spanish and mostly just nodded his head. As for the cook, he was interested in cathedrals, then spoke at length about the black bean soup. Now daylight was fading, and while d’Arrast could still see the cook and his brother, he had trouble making out at the back of the hut the squatting silhouettes of an old woman and the same young girl who had served him. Below, they could hear the monotonous river.
The cook stood up and said: “It’s time.” They rose, but the women did not move. The men went out alone. D’Arrast hesitated, then joined the others. Night had fallen now, the rain had stopped. The pale black sky still seemed liquid. In its dark, transparent water, low on the horizon, stars were beginning to flare. They flickered out almost at once, falling one by one into the river, as if the sky were spilling its last lights, drop by drop. The thick air smelled of water and smoke. And they could hear close by the murmur of vast, motionless forest. Suddenly drums and chanting rose in the distance, at first muffled then distinct, coming closer and closer and then ceasing. Soon after, they saw a procession of black girls dressed in long white dresses of raw silk. Wearing a fitted red tunic and a necklace of colored teeth, a tall black man was following them, and behind him, a disorderly troop of men in white pajamas and musicians carrying triangles and broad, short drums. The cook said they should follow them.
Along the riverbank, several hundred meters from the last huts, they reached the large, empty hut, which with its plaster walls was relatively comfortable inside. There was a dirt floor, a roof of thatch and reeds supported by a central pole, and bare walls. On a little altar at the back lined with palm fronds and covered with candles that barely lit up half the hall, they glimpsed a wonderful color print in which Saint George, with seductive gestures, was getting the better of a mustached dragon. Beneath the altar in a sort of niche decorated with paper rocks, a little clay statue painted red, representing a horned god, stood between a candle and a bowl of water. The savage-looking god was brandishing an enormous sword made of silver paper.
The cook led d’Arrast to a corner where they stood leaning against the walls near the door. “This way,” murmured the cook, “we can leave without disturbing.” Indeed, the hut was full of men and women squeezed against each other. The heat was already rising. The musicians took their places on either side of the altar. The male and female dancers separated into two concentric circles, with the men on the inside. Into the center stepped the black leader in the red tunic. D’Arrast leaned against the walls, crossing his arms.
But the leader, cutting through the circle of dancers, came toward them and gravely spoke a few words to the cook. “Uncross your arms, Captain,” said the cook. “You’re hugging yourself, you’re preventing the saint’s spirit from descending.” Obediently, d’Arrast let his arms fall to his sides. Still leaning against the wall, with his long, heavy limbs, his large face already gleaming with sweat, he himself now resembled some bestial and reassuring god. The tall black man looked at him and then, satisfied, went back to his place. At once, in a ringing voice, he chanted the first notes of a melody that everyone took up in chorus, accompanied by the drums. The circles began to turn in opposite directions in a kind of heavy, insistent dance rather more like stamping, lightly accented by the double swaying of hips.
The heat had increased. Yet the pauses gradually became less frequent, and the dance took off. Without slowing the others down, continuing to dance himself, the tall black man again cut through circles toward the altar. He came back with a glass of water and a lit candle, which he stuck in the earth at the center of the hut. He poured water around the candle in two concentric circles, and standing again, raised his wild eyes toward the roof. His whole body tense, he was waiting, motionless. “Saint George is coming. Look! Look!” whispered the cook, whose eyes were widening.
Indeed, several dancers seemed in a trancelike state, but a rigid trance, their hands at their sides, their steps stiff, eyes fixed and vacant. Others quickened their rhythm, convulsing backward, and began to utter inarticulate cries. The cries rose gradually and once they had mingled in a collective howl, the leader, his eyes still raised, gave a long, barely comprehensible shriek at the top of his lungs, in which some words kept recurring. “You see,” whispered the cook, “he says that he is in God’s battlefield.” D’Arrast was struck by the change in his voice and looked at the cook, who, leaning forward, his fists clenched and his eyes staring, was stamping rhythmically in place like the others. He perceived, then, that for a moment, without moving his feet, he too had been dancing with all his weight.
But all at once the drums let loose and suddenly the tall red devil was unleashed. His eyes inflamed, his four limbs writhing around his body, he hopped first on one leg then on the other, bending his knees, his rhythm accelerating so fast it seemed he would surely come apart. But abruptly he stopped in full flight to look at the spectators with a proud and terrible expression as the drums thundered. Immediately a dancer leapt from a dark corner, knelt, and held out a short saber to possess the man. The tall black leader took the saber without taking his eyes off the dancers around him, then whirled it above his head. At the same moment d’Arrast saw the cook who was dancing among the others. The engineer had not seen him move away.
In reddish, uncertain light a stifling dust was rising from the ground, thickening the already heavy air that clung to the skin. D’Arrast felt gradually overcome by fatigue; it was harder and harder for him to breathe. He did not even see how the dancers had gotten the enormous cigars they were now smoking as they continued to dance, and whose strange odor filled the hut and made him dizzy. He saw only the cook who passed near him, always dancing, and also puffing on a cigar: “Don’t smoke,” he said. The cook grunted, without losing his rhythm, staring at the central pole with the expression of a groggy boxer, the nape of his neck constantly twitching with a long shudder. At his side, a stout black woman, moving her animal face from right to left, kept up a continuous barking. But the young Negro girls in particular were entering into the most terrifying trance, their feet glued to the ground and their bodies shuddering from head to foot in spasms that grew increasingly violent as they reached the shoulders. Their heads began to nod back and forth, as if separated from decapitated bodies. At the same time, everyone began to howl without letup, a long collective, toneless howl, seemingly without pause for breath or modulation, as if their bodies were entirely knotted together, muscles and nerves, in a single powerful outburst that at last gave voice in each of them to a being which had until then been absolutely silent.
And still howling, the women began to fall one by one. The black leader knelt beside each of them, quickly and convulsively pressing their temples with his big black muscled hand. Then they would stand up, stagger, begin to dance, and take up their cries once more, at first weakly, then ever faster and more high pitched, only to fall again, and not get up again, begin once more, and for a long time still, until the general howl weakened, changed, deranged into a sort of raucous, gulping bark that shook them all. D’Arrast, exhausted, his muscles in knots from his long motionless dance, suffocated by his own muteness, fell faint. The heat, the dust, the smoke of the cigars, the smell of human bodies was making the air completely unbreathable. He looked for the cook: he had disappeared. D’Arrast managed to slide along the walls and crouched over, feeling nauseous.
When he opened his eyes, the air was still stifling, but the noise had stopped. The drums alone were beating out a continuous bass, while in all the corners of the hut, groups of people covered with white fabric were stamping. But in the center of the room, now unencumbered by the glass and the candle, a group of young black girls in a semihypnotic state were dancing slowly, barely keeping up with the rhythm. Their eyes closed, yet still erect, they were swaying lightly back and forth on their toes, almost in place. Two fat girls had faces covered with a curtain of raffia. They stood on either side of another tall, slim young girl in costume, whom d’Arrast suddenly recognized as the daughter of his host. In a green dress and wearing a huntress’s hat of blue gauze turned up in front and adorned with musketeer plumes, she held in her hand a green and yellow bow armed with an arrow at the end of which a colorful bird was skewered. On her lithe body her pretty head rolled slowly, tilted back a little, and her sleeping face reflected both melancholy and innocence. Whenever the music halted, she staggered sleepily. The pounding rhythm of the drums alone acted as a kind of support around which she wrapped her languid arabesques until, once again pausing in time to the music, staggering at the edge of balance, she uttered a strange bird cry, piercing and yet melodious.
D’Arrast, entranced by this slow motion dance, was watching the black Diana when the cook loomed before him, his smooth face now distorted. The goodwill had disappeared from his eyes, which reflected only a kind of unfamiliar avidity. Coldly, as if speaking to a stranger, he said: “It’s late, Captain. They’re going to dance all night, but they don’t want you to stay now.” With a heavy head, d’Arrast stood up and followed the cook, clinging along the walls to reach the door. On the threshold, the cook stepped aside, holding the bamboo door, and d’Arrast went out. He turned and looked at the cook, who had not moved. “Come on. Soon you’ll have to carry the stone.”
“I’m staying,” the cook said firmly.
“And your promise?”
Without answering, the cook gradually pushed against the door as d’Arrast held it open with one hand. They remained this way for a moment until d’Arrast gave in, shrugging his shoulders. He walked away.
The night was full of fresh, aromatic scents. Above the forest, the few stars in the southern sky, blurred by an invisible mist, shone weakly. The humid air was heavy. Yet it seemed deliciously cool outside the hut. D’Arrast climbed up the muddy slope and reached the first huts. staggering like a drunk on the potholed paths. Close by, the forest was growling a little. The sound of the river grew louder, the whole continent was emerging in the night, and d’Arrast was overcome with nausea. It seemed to him that he would have liked to vomit up this whole country, the sadness of its great spaces, the murky light of its forest, and the nocturnal lapping of its great empty rivers. This land was too vast, blood and seasons mingled in it, time was liquefying. Life here was at ground level, and to be part of it one had to lie down and sleep for years on the muddy or parched earth. Over in Europe there was shame and fury. Here, exile or solitude among these listless throbbing madmen who were dancing to death. But through the humid night, full of vegetable scents, a wounded bird’s strange cry, uttered by the beautiful sleepwalker, still reached him.
When d’Arrast, his head heavy with a crushing migraine, had wakened after bad sleep, a humid heat was weighing upon the town and the motionless forest. At this moment he was waiting on the porch of the hospital looking at his watch, the broad daylight and silence that rose from the town. The sky, an almost clear blue, hung on the first dull roofs. Yellowish urubus, transfixed by the heat, were sleeping on the houses across from the hospital. One of them suddenly shook itself, opened its beak, conspicuously prepared to fly, flapped its dusty wings twice against its body, rose a few centimeters above the roof, and fell back, going to sleep again almost instantly.
The engineer went down toward the town. The main square was deserted, like the streets he had just crossed. Far off, and from both sides of the river, a low mist floated over the forest. The heat was falling vertically, and d’Arrast looked for a scrap of shade where he could take refuge. Then he saw a little man gesturing to him under the awning of one of the houses. Coming closer, he recognized Socrates.
“So, Monsieur d’Arrast, you like the ceremony?”
D’Arrast said that it was too hot in the hut and that he preferred the sky and the night.
“Yes,” Socrates said, “where you come from, it’s only the mass. No one dances.”
He rubbed his hands, jumped on one foot, spun around, laughing until he was breathless.
“Impossible, they’re impossible.”
Then he looked at d’Arrast with curiosity:
“And you, you go to mass?”
“So where do you go?”
“Nowhere. I don’t know.”
Socrates was laughing again.
Impossible! A lord without a church, without anything!”
D’Arrast was laughing too:
“Yes, you see, I never found my place. So I left.”
“Stay with us Monsieur d’Arrast, I love you.”
“I’d like that, Socrates, but I don’t know how to dance.” Their laughter echoed in the silence of the empty town.
“Ah,” Socrates said, “I forget. The mayor wants to see you. He is having lunch at the club.” And without warning, he left in the direction of the hospital. Where are you going?” d’Arrast called. Socrates imitated a snore: “To sleep. Soon the procession.” And half running, he started his snoring again.
The mayor simply wanted to give d’Arrast a place of honor to watch the procession. He explained this to the engineer while making him share a plate of meat and rice fit for a regiment. First they would take their places on the balcony in the judges house opposite the church to see the cortege come out. Then they would go to the town hall on the main street that the penitents would take on their return to the church square. The judge and chief of police would accompany d’Arrast, smiling continuously, lavishing him with incomprehensible but obviously benevolent words. When d’Arrast came down, the chief of police hurried to make way for him, holding all the doors open before him.
Under the intense sun, in the still empty town, the two men headed toward the judge’s house. Their steps alone echoed in the silence. But suddenly a firecracker went off in a nearby street and caused the mangy-necked urubus to take flight in heavy, startled bunches on all the rooftops. Almost at once dozens of firecrackers went off in all directions, doors opened, and people began to leave the houses and fill the narrow streets.
The judge expressed to a’Arrast the pride he felt in welcoming him to his unworthy house and led him up on floor of beautiful baroque staircase painted chalk blue. On the landing, as d’Arrast passed by, doors opened and filled with dark-haired children who then disappeared with muffled laughter. The main room, architecturally lovely, contained nothing but rattan furniture and large cages full of birds that kept up a deafening chatter. The balcony where they settled looked out over the little square in front of the church. The strangely silent crowd was beginning to fill it now, standing motionless beneath the heat that fell from the sky in nearly visible waves. Only the children ran around the square, stopping abruptly to light firecrackers that kept going off in quick succession. Sen from the balcony, the church, with its plaster walls, its dozen steps painted chalk blue, its two blue and gold towers, seemed smaller.
All at once the organ burst forth from inside the church. The crowd, gathered on the sides of the square, turned toward the portico. The men uncovered their heads, the women knelt down. For a long time the distant organ played a kind of slow march music. The strange sound of insect wings came from the forest. A tiny airplane with transparent wings and a frail fuselage, unexpected in this ageless world, emerged above the trees, swooped down above the square, and passed with a grinding rattle above the heads raised toward it. The plane then veered off toward the estuary.
But in the shadow of the church, an obscure bustling attracted attention again. The organ had fallen silent, overtaken now by bass and drums, invisible on the threshold. Penitents dressed in black surplices came out of the church one by one, gathered in groups on the portico, then began to go down the steps. Behind them came white penitents carrying red and blue banners, then a little troop of boys dressed like angels, societies of the children of Mary, with their small, serious black faces. And at last, on a colorful reliquary borne by sweating dignitaries in their dark suits, stood an effigy of the good Lord Jesus himself, a reed in his hand, his head crowned with thorns, bleeding and tottering above the crowd that filled the steps of the portico.
When the reliquary reached the bottom of the steps, there was a pause while the penitents tried to arrange themselves in a semblance of order. It was then that d’Arrast saw the cook. He had just come out onto the portico, naked to the waist, carrying on his bearded head an enormous rectangular block resting on a cork mat on top of his skull. He came down the church steps with a firm tread, the stone precisely balanced in the arc of his short, muscular arms. When he stood behind the reliquary, the procession began to move. Then the musicians burst from the portico dressed in bright colored jackets and blowing into beribboned horns. To the rhythms of a quick march, the penitents stepped up their pace and reached one of the streets leading off the square. When the reliquary disappeared after them, nothing could be seen but the cook and the last musicians. Behind them, the crowd began to move amidst exploding firecrackers, while the airplane, with a great clash of pistons, circled back above the last of the procession. D’Arrast was looking only at the cook disappearing down the street; his shoulders, the engineer thought, were sagging. But at this distance he could not get a good look. Through the empty streets, between closed stores and locked doors, the judge, the chief of police, and d’Arrast reached the town hall. As they moved farther away from the fanfare and the exploding firecrackers, silence once more claimed the town, and already a few urubus were returning to the roofs where it seemed hey had always lived. The town hall looked out onto a long, narrow street leading from one of the outlying quarters to the church square. For the moment it was empty. From the balcony of the town hall they could make out nothing but a pavement full of potholes where the recent rain had left several puddles. The sun, now slightly lower, was still devouring the blind facades of the houses on the other side of the street.
They waited a long time, so long that d’Arrast, watching the reflection of the sun on the wall across the street, once more felt the onset of fatigue and dizziness. The empty street, the abandoned houses, both attracted and sickened him. Again, he wanted to flee this country, and at the same time he was thinking about that enormous stone; he would like this trial to be over. He was about to propose going down to check the news when the church bells began to peal at full force. Just then, at the other end of their street to the left, a clamor burst forth and a crowd in a fever of excitement appeared. From a distance, clustered around the reliquary, pilgrims and penitents mingled and were advancing amidst firecrackers and shouts of joy along the narrow street. In a few seconds they filled it to overflowing, coming toward the town hall in indescribable disorder – ages, races, and costumes melted into a motley mass covered with eyes and shouting mouths, an army of tapers issuing from it like lances with flames fading in the intense light. But when the crowd drew near, so dense beneath the balcony that it seemed to climb along the walls, d’Arrast saw that the cook was not there.
Without stopping to excuse himself, he left the balcony and the room, hurtled down the staircase and into the street beneath the thunder of bells and firecrackers. There he had to struggle against the joyful crowd, the taper bearers, and offended penitents. But insistently pushing with all his weight against the human tide, he cut a path with such abandon that he staggered and nearly fell when he found himself free, beyond the crowd, at the end of the street. Leaning against the burning wall, he waited to catch his breath. Then he continued on his way. At that moment, a group of men came into the street. The first were walking backward, and d’Arrast saw that they were surrounding the cook.
The man was visibly exhausted. He would stop, then, bent under the enormous stone, he would run a little, with the hurrying step of laborers and coolies, the rapid little trot of the wretched, the foot slapping the ground with its full weight. Around him, the penitents in surplices dirty with melted wax and dust encouraged him whenever he stopped. On his left, his brother was walking or running in silence. It seemed to d’Arrast that they were taking an interminable time to cover the space that separated them from him. Almost reaching him, the cook stopped again and looked around dully. When he saw d’Arrast – without seeming to recognize him – he stood still, turning toward him. An oily, dirty sweat covered his grey face; his beard was laced with saliva, a dry brown froth glued his lips. He tried to smile. But motionless beneath his burden, his whole body was trembling except for his shoulders, where the muscles were visibly knotted in a sort of cramp. The brother, who had recognized d’Arrast, said to him only: “He has fallen already.” And Socrates, appearing out of nowhere, had just murmured in his ear: “Too much dancing, Monsieur d’Arrast, all night. He’s tired.”
The cook advanced again with his jerky trot, not like someone who wants to progress but as if he were fleeing a crushing burden, as if he were hoping to lighten it by moving. Without knowing how, d’Arrast found himself on his right. He put a hand lightly on the cook’s back and walked beside him, with quick, heavy steps. At the other end of the street, the reliquary had disappeared, and the crowd, which surely now filled the square, seemed to pause. For a few seconds, the cook, flanked by his brother and d’Arrast, gained some ground. Soon, barely twenty meters separated him from the group that had gathered before the town hall to watch him pass. Again, however, he stopped. D’Arrast’s hand grew heavier. “Go on, cook,” he said, “a little more.” The other man was trembling; the saliva began to drip from his mouth again, while his whole body was literally spurting sweat. He took a deep breath and stopped short. He began to move again, took the steps, swayed. And suddenly the stone slipped onto his shoulder, gashing it, then down in front of him onto the ground, while the cook, losing his balance, collapsed on his side. Those in front of him leaped back, shouting encouragement; one of them grabbed the cork mat while others tried to lift the stone onto him again.
Leaning over him, d’Arrast used a hand to clean the blood and dust from the smaller man’s shoulder as he lay facedown on the earth, gasping for breath. He heard nothing and did not move. His mouth opened avidly with each breath, as if it were his last. D’Arrast clasped him under the arms and lifted him as easily as if he were a child, holding him tightly against himself. Leaning with all his height, he spoke into the cook’s face, as if to imbue him with his own strength. After a moment, the other man, bleeding and dirty, detached himself with a haggard expression. He staggered once more toward the stone, which the others were raising a little. But he stopped, looking at the stone with a vacant stare, and shook his head. Then he let his arms fall to his sides and turned toward d’Arrast. Huge tears ran silently down his ravaged face. He wanted to speak, he was speaking, but his mouth had hardly formed the syllables. “I promised, he was saying. And then: “Ah, Captain! Ah, Captain!” and the tears drowned his voice. His brother came up behind him, took him in his arms, and the cook, weeping, let himself go slack against him, defeated, his head lolling back.
D’Arrast looked at him but could find no words. He turned toward the crowd in the distance, now shouting again. Suddenly, he snatched the cork mat from the hands holding it and walked toward the stone. He gestured to the others to lift it and took it almost effortlessly. Slightly compressed beneath the weight of the stone, his shoulders hunched, panting a little, he looked down at his feet, listening to the cook’s sobs. Then he began moving on his own with a vigorous stride, steadily crossing the space that separated him from the crowd at the end of the street, and cut a path decisively through the first rows, which stood aside to let him pass. He entered the square between two rows of spectators, suddenly gone silent and looking at him in astonishment amidst the din of church bells and exploding fire crackers. He was advancing with the same resolute step, and the crowd opened a path for him up to the church. Despite the weight that was beginning to crush his head and neck, he saw the church and the reliquary, which seemed to be waiting for him on the portico. He was walking toward it and had already passed the center of the square when abruptly, without knowing why, he veered to the left and turned away from the path to the church, forcing the pilgrims to face him. Behind him, he could hear someone running. In front of him, everyone was openmouthed. He did not understand what they were shouting, although he seemed to recognize the Portuguese word they kept hurling at him. Suddenly, Socrates appeared in front of him, rolling his frightened eyes, speaking incoherently and pointing out the path to the church behind him. “To the church, to the church” – that was what Socrates and the crowd were shouting to him. D’Arrast, however, continued on his way. And Socrates stepped aside, his arms comically raised to the sky, while the crowd gradually quieted down. When d’Arrast entered the first street, familiar to him from his stroll to the riverside quarters with the cook, the square was no more than a vague murmur behind him.
The stone now weighed painfully on his head and he needed all the strength of his huge arms to lighten it. By the time he reached the first streets with their slippery incline, his shoulders were already knotted. He stopped to listen. He was alone. He straightened the stone on its cork support and went down cautiously but steadily toward the huts. When he got there, he was nearly out of breath, and his arms were trembling around the stone. He walked faster, finally reached the little square where the cook’s hut stood, ran to it, kicked open the door, and in one movement heaved the stone into the center of the room, onto the still-glowing fire. And there, straightening up to his full height, suddenly enormous, inhaling with desperate gulps the familiar smell of poverty and ashes, he listened to the wave of joy surging inside him, dark and panting, which he could not name.
When the hut’s inhabitants arrived, they found d’Arrast standing against the back wall, his eyes closed. In the center of the room, in the hearth space, the stone was half-buried in cinders and earth. They stood on the threshold without coming in and stared at d’Arrast in silence, as if questioning him. But he was quiet. Then the brother led the cook to the stone, where he let himself drop to the ground. The brother sat down too, gesturing to the others. The old woman joined him, then the young girl of the night before, but no one was looking at d’Arrast. They were squatting silently around the stone. Only the murmur of the river rose to them through the heavy air. Standing in the dark, d’Arrast was listening without seeing anything, and the sound of the waters filled him with tumultuous happiness. His eyes closed, he joyously honored his own strength, honored once more the life that was beginning again. At the same moment, a firecracker exploded nearby. The brother moved away from the cook and, half turning to d’Arrast, without looking at him, motioned him to an empty place: “Sit down with us.”