My camouflage, begun so many years before under the persecution of the Judge, was now threatening to become the complete man. It was time to slough the mottled and cunningly contrived outer skin to emerge as myself, to face the risk of exposure, to regain the power of one. I had reached the point where to find myself was essential.
Doc had taught me the value of being the odd man out. The man assumes the role of the loner, the thinker and the searching spirit who calls the privileged and the powerful to task. The power of one was the courage to remain separate, to think through to the truth and not to be beguiled by convention or the plausible arguments of those who expect to maintain power, whatever the cost.
Sometimes it’s best just to walk away from your memories, just put one memory in front of the other and walk them right out of your head.
In retrospect, Dustin couldn’t remember much that was significant about that particular morning when they discovered the body. The day was clear and cold and sunny, and he woke up and felt fairly happy—happy in that bland, daily way that doesn’t even recognize itself as happiness, waking into a day that shouldn’t expect anything more than a series of rote actions: showering and pouring coffee into a cup and dressing and turning a key in the ignition and driving down streets that are so familiar that you don’t even recall making certain turns and stops; though the mind must have consciously carried out the procedure of braking at the corner and rolling the steering wheel beneath your palms and making a left onto the highway, there is no memory of these actions.
I don’t want him to read my slowness as fear, as weakness, as me not being old enough to look at death like a man should, so I grip and yank.
It was better to visit the Adler apartment in New York than the Ferguson houses in Union and Maplewood, not least because the drive through the Holland Tunnel was something he relished, the curious sensation of traveling through an underwater tube lined with millions of identical square tiles, and each time he made that subaquatic journey, he would marvel at how neatly the tiles fit together and wonder how many men it had taken to finish such a colossal task.
As for developing into a writer—she owed that not to any decision to sit down each day and try to be one but to their stifling life. That, of all things, seemed to have nurtured her talent! Truly, without the terror and the claustrophobia of the achterhuis, as a chatterbox surrounded by friends and rollicking with laughter, free to come and go, free to clown around, free to pursue her every last expectation, would she ever have written sentences so deft and so witty?
It was by her own choice that she sat here. It was by her own choice that she had married Cliff, in a field of cow parsley on a May evening. She had obeyed her body, she had opened her legs, had pulled him into her and said, Now, come, now. What was, what could have been wrong about that? She had thought to free herself, through nature, through the violence of nature. But nature was cunning and had kept her trapped. What did it want her for? She had obeyed sex, she had trusted sex, she had loved sex, and it had betrayed her, had deceived her, had left her sitting here, a middle-aged housewife, mother of three, playing cards, with nothing before her but old age.
This has been the century of the great immigrant experiment. It is only this late in the day that you can walk into a playground and find Isaac Leung by the fish pond, Danny Rahman in the football cage, Quang O’Rourke bouncing a basketball, and Irie Jones humming a tune. Children with first and last names on a direct collision course.
They knocked around ideas that Archie did not entirely understand, and Samad offered secrets into the cool night that he had never spoken out loud. Long, comfortable silences passed between them like those between women who have known each other for years. They looked out onto stars that lit up unknown country, but neither man clung particularly to home. In short, it was precisely the kind of friendship an Englishman makes on holiday, that he can only make on holiday. A friendship that crosses class and color, a friendship that takes as its basis physical proximity and survives because the Englishman assumes the physical proximity will not continue.
“But Auntie,” begs Neena, raising her voice, because this is what she really wants to argue about, the largest sticking point between the two of them, Alsana’s arranged marriage. “How can you bear to live with somebody you don’t know from Adam?”
In response, an infuriating wink: Alsana always likes to appear jovial at the very moment her interlocutor becomes hot under the collar. “Because, Miss Smarty-pants, it is by far the easiest option. It was exactly because Eve did not know Adam from Adam that they got on so A-OK. Let me explain. Yes, I was married to Samad Iqbal the same evening of the very day I met him. Yes, I didn’t know him from Adam. But I liked him well enough. We met in the breakfast room on a steaming Delhi day and he fanned me with The Times. I thought he had a good face, a sweet voice, and his backside was high and well-formed for a man of his age. Very good. Now, every time I learn something more about him, I like him less. So you see, we were better off the way we were.
Was she invincible? She wondered if she was guided by some higher power. Was her mission, avoiding Carl, leaving civilization, a holy one? There was no other answer.
The library performed a similar function to the English church—it gathered together the exiles who had left England partly because they did not wish to be gathered together but who had changed their mind once they had arrived on the Côte d’Azur, settled in their retirement homes or apartments, redecorated and furnished the interior, cleaned up and planted the garden, and then sitting back to enjoy the arrival of the long-anticipated time for living, found that it was late, or it had been and gone, or it was only a dream.
Menton is a city of innumerable retirement dreams quietly being wrecked by reality. The lizard ideal of sun and warmth, the human ideal of unlimited leisure, of unbroken views of ocean, sky, mountains, trees, make Menton a promised paradise for all when reaching their troisième âge they try to follow the tradition of stopping suddenly their pursuits of twenty, thirty, forty years.
She could drive all night, she decided. She could pull over anywhere. It didn’t matter. She was free and her children were safe. She felt powerful, capable, heroic as she had when they’d left the bed and breakfast. She wanted a drink.
But there was Jordan beside me who, unlike Daisy, was too wise ever to carry well-forgotten dreams from age to age.
For some time now he had felt the need to urinate, but he did not get up. Until last night he would have hopped out of bed and gone in the can in the corner of his cell. But now he was daunted at the thought of walking down the hall to a room marked by a wooden sign bearing the letters WC. The realization that he could open the door of his own free will and walk to the toilet without being watched by a guard filled him with something approaching terror.
I lived responsibly in the real. I didn’t accept this business of life as a fiction, or whatever Klara Sax had meant when she said that things had become unreal. History was not a matter of missing minutes on the tape. I did not stand helpless before it. I hewed to the texture of collected knowledge, took faith from the solid and availing stuff of our experience. Even if we believe that history is a workwheel powered by human blood—read the speeches of Mussolini—at least we’ve known the thing together. A single narrative sweep, not ten thousand wisps of disinformation.