فصل 08

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فصل 08

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Chapter eight

John

Outside, in the dust and among the rubbish (there were four dogs now) Bernard and John were walking slowly up and down.

‘So hard for me to realize,’ Bernard was saying, ‘to put it all together. As though we were living in different worlds, in different centuries. A mother, and all this dirt, and gods, and old age, and disease…’ He shook his head. ‘It’s almost unbelievable. I shall never understand unless you explain.’

‘Explain what?’

‘This.’ He pointed to the village. ‘That.’ And it was the little house outside the village. ‘Everything. All your life.’

‘But what is there to say?’

‘From the beginning. As far back as you can remember.’

‘As far back as I can remember.’ John thought deeply. There was a long silence.

It was very hot. They had eaten a lot of bread and vegetables. Linda said, ‘Come and lie down, Baby.’ They lay down together in the big bed. ‘Sing,’ and Linda sang, nursery songs. Her voice grew fainter and fainter. ..

There was a loud noise, and he woke suddenly. A man was standing by the bed, enormous, frightening. He was saying something to Linda, and Linda was laughing. She had pulled the bedclothes up to her chin, but the man pulled them down again. His hair was like two black ropes, and round his arm was a lovely silver band with blue stones in it. He liked the band, but all the same he was frightened; he hid his face against Linda’s body. Linda put her hand on him and he felt safer. In those other words he did not understand so well, she said to the man, ‘Not with John here.’ But the man took hold of one of his arms, and it hurt. He screamed. The man put out his other hand and lifted him up. Linda held him, saying ‘No, no.’ The man said something short and angry. He kicked and struggled; but the man carried him across to the door, opened it, put him down on the floor in the middle of the other room, and went away, shutting the door behind him. He got up, he ran to the door. Standing on the tips of his toes he could just reach the big wooden handle. He turned it and pushed; but the door wouldn’t open. ‘Linda,’ he shouted. She didn’t answer.

He remembered a huge room, rather dark; and there were big wooden things with strings tied to them, and lots of women standing round them - making cloth, Linda said. Linda told him to sit in the corner with the other children, while she went and helped the women. He played with the little boys for a long time. Suddenly people started talking very loudly, and there were the women pushing Linda away, and Linda was crying. She went to the door and he ran after her. He asked her why they were angry. ‘Because I broke something,’ she said. And then she got angry too. ‘How should I know how to do their stupid weaving?’ she said. ‘Horrible savages.’ He asked her what savages were. When they got back to their house, Pope was waiting at the door, and he came in with them. He had a big bottle full of stuff that looked like water; but it wasn’t water, it was something with a bad smell that burnt your mouth and made you cough. Linda drank some and Pope drank some, and then Linda laughed a lot and talked very loudly; and then she and Pope went into the other room. When Pope went away, he went into the room. Linda was in bed and so fast asleep that he couldn’t wake her.

Pope used to come often. He said the stuff in the bottle was called mescal; but Linda said it ought to be called soma, only it made you feel ill afterwards. He hated Pope. He hated them all - all the men who came to see Linda. One afternoon, when he had been playing with the other children - it was cold, he remembered, and there was snow on the mountains - he came back to the house and heard angry voices in the bedroom. They were women’s voices, and they said words he didn’t understand; but he knew they were bad words. Then suddenly, crash! something fell over; he heard people moving about quickly, and there was another crash and then a noise of someone being hit; then Linda screamed, ‘Oh, don’t, don’t, don’t!’ He ran in. There were three women in dark clothes. Linda was on the bed. One of the women was holding her wrists. Another was lying across her legs, so that she couldn’t kick. The third was hitting her with a whip. Once, twice, three times, and each time Linda screamed. Crying, he caught hold of the woman’s brown hand and bit it as hard as he could. She cried out, pulled her hand free and gave him such a push that he fell down. While he was lying on the ground she hit him three times with the whip. It hurt more than anything he had ever felt - like fire.

‘But why did they want to hurt you?’ he asked that night.

‘I don’t know. How should I know? They say those men are their men.’ And she burst into tears.

He pressed against her. He put his arm round her neck. Linda cried out. ‘Oh! be careful. My shoulder. Oh!’ and she pushed him away, hard. His head knocked against the wall, painfully. ‘Stupid boy!’ she shouted; and then, suddenly, she began to hit him.

‘Linda,’ he cried out. ‘Oh, mother, don’t!’

‘I’m not your mother. I won’t be your mother. Turned into a savage,’ she shouted. ‘Having young ones like an animal… If I hadn’t had you, I might have gone to the Inspector. I might have got away. But not with a baby. That would have been too shameful.’

He saw that she was going to hit him again, and lifted his arm to protect his face. ‘Oh don’t, Linda, please don’t.’

He shut his eyes, expecting the blow, but she didn’t hit him. After a little time, he opened his eyes and saw that she was looking at him. He tried to smile at her. Suddenly she put her arms round him and kissed him again and again.

The happiest times were when she told him about the Other Place - how you could go flying whenever you liked, and how you could have music out of a box, and about the other boxes where you could see and hear what was happening at the other side of the world, and babies in lovely clean bottles - everything so clean, no smells and no dirt at all - and people never lonely, but living together and being happy all the time.

Sometimes, when he and the other children were tired with too much playing, one of the old men of the village would tell them strange stories of the gods and of the beginning of the world. Strange stories that he did not fully understand. Lying in bed later he would think of Heaven and London and rows of clean bottles and Jesus and Linda flying up and the great Director of World Production and Our Ford himself.

The boys said bad things about Linda and about the men who came to see her. Sometimes they laughed at him for being such a mess. When he tore his clothes, Linda did not know how to mend them. In the Other Place, she told him, people threw away clothes with holes in them and got new ones. But Linda taught him to read, drawing pictures and letters on the wall with the point of a burnt stick; and when the other boys shouted at him, he said to himself, ‘But I can read, and they can’t. They don’t even know what reading is.’

When he could read well enough, Linda gave him a thin little book that she had kept in a box with her clothes from the Other Place. It was a book of instructions for Beta Embryo-Store workers, telling them what chemicals to use for various processes in the treatment of the bottled embryos. Soon he could read all the words quite well. Even the longest. But what did they mean? He asked Linda; but even when she could answer, it didn’t seem to make it very clear. And generally she couldn’t answer at all.

‘What are chemicals?’ he would ask.

‘Oh, different kinds of salts for making bones develop, and solutions for keeping the Deltas and Epsilons small and unintelligent, and all that sort of thing.’

‘But how do you make chemicals, Linda? Where do they come from?’

‘Well, I don’t know. You get them out of bottles. And when the bottles are empty, you send up to the Chemical Store for more. It’s the Chemical Store people who make them, I suppose. Or else they send to the factory for them. I don’t know. I never did any chemistry. My job was with the embryos.’

It was the same with everything else he asked about. Linda never seemed to know. The old men of the village had much more definite answers about how the world began.

One day (John thought it must have been soon after his twelfth birthday) he came home and found a book that he had never seen before lying on the floor in the bedroom. It was a thick book and looked very old. The binding had been eaten by mice. Some of its pages were loose or torn. He picked it up and looked at the title page. The book was called The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.

Linda was lying on the bed, drinking that horrible-smelling mescal out of a cup. ‘Pope brought the book,’ she said. ‘He found it in an old chest in the corner of the temple of the gods. It’s supposed to have been there for hundreds of years. I expect it’s true, because I looked at it and it seemed to be full of nonsense. Uncivilized. Still, it’ll be good enough for you to practise your reading on,’ she continued in a thick, drunken voice. She took a last drop, set the cup down on the floor beside the bed, turned over on her side and fell into a deep sleep.

He began to read. The strange words rolled through his mind, like talking thunder. Like the drums at the summer dances, if the drums could have spoken. Like the men singing the Corn Song, beautiful, beautiful, so that you cried; like old Mitsima saying magic over his feathers and his sticks and his bits of bone and stone - but better than Mitsima’s magic, because it talked to him. He could only half-understand the words, but they were full of a beautiful and terrible magic.

When he was fifteen, Mitsima taught him the art of making water pots. His first pot was so badly made that it leaned over to one side. ‘But the next one will be better,’ he said to himself and began to shape another piece of clay. He learned to love the work. He found an extraordinary pleasure in making things with his hands and in learning every time to do them better. They worked all day, side by side on the river bank, singing as they sat there making pots.

‘Next winter,’ said old Mitsima, ‘I will teach you to make a bow and arrows.’

When boys reached sixteen, at the time of the full moon, they would go into the temple, where secrets were told to them, and they would come out men. At last it was the day when he should go in his turn. The sun went down, the moon rose. He went with the others. Men were standing, dark shapes, at the entrance to the temple. A ladder went down into a big opening below, where a red light shone. Already the leading boys had begun to climb down. Suddenly one of the men stepped forward, caught him by the arm, and pulled him out. He broke free and ran back to his place among the others. This time the man struck him, pulled his hair. ‘Not for you, white hair!’

‘Not for the son of the she-dog,’ said one of the other men. The boys laughed. ‘Go!’ And as he still waited, standing on the edge of the group, ‘Go!’ the men shouted again. One of them bent down, took a stone, threw it. ‘Go, go, go!’ There was a shower of stones. Bleeding, he ran away into the darkness. From the red-lit hole in the ground came the sound of singing. The last of the boys had climbed down the ladder. He was alone.

All alone, outside the village, on the empty plain. The rock looked like white bones in the moonlight. Down in the valley wild dogs cried at the moon. His body hurt, the cuts were still bleeding, but it was not for pain that he cried. It was because he was all alone, because he had been driven out, into this empty world of stone and moonlight. At the edge of a high rock he sat down. The moon was behind him; he looked down into the black shadow, into the black shadow of death. He had only to take one step, one little jump… He held out his right hand in the moonlight. From the cut on his wrist the blood was still flowing gently. Every few seconds a drop fell, dark, almost colourless in the dead light. Drop, drop, drop. Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow…

He had discovered Time and Death and God.

‘Alone, always alone,’ the young man was saying.

The words awoke a sad memory in Bernard. Alone, alone… ‘So am I,’ he said in a sudden desire to share his feelings with someone else. ‘Terribly alone.’

‘Are you?’ John look surprised. ‘I thought that in the Other Place… I mean, Linda always said that nobody was ever alone there.’

Bernard reddened uncomfortably. ‘You see,’ he said almost in a whisper, turning his eyes aside in shame, ‘I’m rather different from most people, I suppose. If something happens to one’s treatment and one comes out of the bottle different…’

‘Yes, that’s just it.’ The young man nodded. ‘If one’s different, one’s certain to be lonely. They’re very cruel to one. Do you know, they shut me out of absolutely everything? When the other boys were sent out to spend the night on the mountains - you know, when you have to dream which your holy animal is - they wouldn’t let me go with the others. They wouldn’t tell me any of the secrets. I did it by myself, though,’ he added. ‘Didn’t eat anything for five days and then went out alone into those mountains there.’ He pointed.

Bernard smiled a little smile of pity at the ignorance and simplicity of the young man. ‘And did you dream of anything?’ he asked.

The other nodded. ‘But I mustn’t tell you what.’

They fell silent for a while, then Bernard said, ‘I wonder if you’d like to come back to London,’ taking the first step in a plan which he had decided to carry out ever since, in the little house, he had realized who the ‘father’ of this young savage must be. ‘Would you like that?’

The young man’s face lit up. ‘Do you really mean it?’

‘Of course. If I can get permission from the World Controller, that is.’

‘Linda too?’

‘Well…’ He paused doubtfully. That horrible creature! No, it was impossible. Unless, unless… It suddenly occurred to Bernard that her very ugliness might be enormously useful. ‘But of course!’ he cried, making up for his first uncertainty with a show of great pleasure.

The young man drew a deep breath. ‘How amazing that it’s coming true - what I’ve dreamt of all my life. Do you remember what Miranda says?’

‘Who’s Miranda?’

His eyes shone and his face was full of bright colour. ‘You know, Shakespeare’s Miranda. She says how beautiful the world is…and the people in it.’ The colour suddenly grew deeper; he was thinking of Lenina - of a heavenly creature in bottle-green clothes, shining with youth and skin food, beautifully rounded in shape, sweetly smiling. ‘O brave new world,’ he began, then suddenly stopped and turned pale. ‘Are you married to her?’ he asked.

‘Am I what?’

‘Married. You know - for ever. They say “for ever” in the Indian words. It can’t be broken.’

‘Ford, no!’ Bernard couldn’t help laughing.

John also laughed, but for another reason - he laughed for pure joy.

‘O brave new world,’ he repeated. ‘O brave new world that has such people in it. Let’s start at once.’

‘You have the strangest way of talking sometimes,’ said Bernard, staring at the young man in surprise. ‘And, anyhow, hadn’t you better wait till you actually see the new world?’

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