When his ancestor returned from the expedition to the Plateau, he returned penniless and lacking in mobility. He and his friend hadn’t even been paid by the red-headed Westerner; they had upped and left one night and made straight for home. The village gathered round to hear what occurred. His ancestor was in his element as the centre of attention and began telling wild stories of whirlpools, darkness and frozen donkeys, punctuated with jabs of the preserved foot at the enraptured audience. His arms flailing as he tried to maintain his balance on a single foot.
As they originally approached the village; his ancestor was running, well hopping, like a madman in an erratic and convulsive manner. With each hop he bawled out for help from the villagers. He bounced straight into the scarecrow of the village elder that was standing guard in the small field of cabbages. Once the exasperated elder had rebuilt the effigy, he asked him how he hadn’t seen it and moved out of the way. His ancestor replied that his eyes were closed shut.
‘Why were they closed shut you simpleton? Who hops with eyes closed?’
‘I had my eyes closed,’ his ancestor retorted ‘because I needed to concentrate on hopping. If I don’t concentrate I fall over.’
The village elder frustrated with the idiocy of the man told him in no uncertain terms that from now on he was to hop slowly around the village before he did any more damage.
He opened his eyes. Sat on a latrine in the barracks, the old Private caught his breath after the fracas outside. They had been lined up on parade; most of the men acted reverently towards him, as though he was still their commanding officer. One man though, a new one with blonde hair took an instant dislike to him. Taunting his age, the new soldier pushed and jostled the old Private after they were dismissed. The drill sergeant stepped in between the pair as blows started to be exchanged; only to be thrust aside by the new soldier brandishing his bayonet.
The other men gathered nearby held the younger man back and disarmed him. Spitting on the floor, blood mingled with saliva he swore at the old Private. “Your days are numbered old man.” Fists clenched with impotent fury, he walked from the crowd with shoulders hunched.
The drill sergeant dismissed the remaining men and slack-jawed onlookers and took the old Private to one side. “That new one;” he said thumb jerking towards the back of the man now disappearing into the main building. “He’s one of Pero’s. There are a lot of Pero’s men here now and my friend, they do not like you.”
He got up and walked to a sink; washing his face with the cool water and wiping away blood from his once again broken nose. He sighed.
Gathering his overcoat and hat from the mess, the old Private left the barracks for home. Since his demotion, he could no longer afford the house he once shared with his wife. He had moved to a new abode, a small one roomed flat above an adult video shop. It was as far as his meagre pay and savings could take him.
Up the metal stairs to the outside entrance; minding not to stand in anything around the dumpsters outside, he unlocked his door and entered the dark room. Flicking a wall switch, a dim bulb cast a dying yellow light over the tattered sofa and old bed. On one wall he had piled his books up, next to a cardboard box of his office effects. On the other wall on the floor were clothes and mementos he had rescued from his old house before leaving. Not just his, but his wife’s things that she had left behind and her sister had not quickly relieved from him following the separation.
His jaw was aching and his eyes felt watery. At the sink, he poured himself a glass of water after washing the dust first from the cup. The water was saltier than he was used to but he drank anyway, draining the glass without pause. Squinting, he looked over the room with a final mouthful of water puffing out his cheeks. Over by the wall, next to the plant his wife had bought for him to cheer his office up was the object he was searching for.
Swallowing, the old Private placed the glass down next to the sink and walked to the pile of books; with fingertips touching a couple in one stack, he withdrew one and took it over to the sofa. Flicking through, he found his place and settled back into the ripped brown and grey cushions.
As we shifted the soil it became apparent that this was plausibly the site of some sort of sanctuary or rudimentary church to the pagan goddess. A most exciting find! As we brushed the earth and stone away, a black object became visible beneath the…”
To Chapter Sixty-One – Whirlpools, Darkness and Frozen Donkeys
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