Saturday, May 13, 2017

It was a countenance as enigmatic as a stone statue facing the sea on a forgotten island.

The Knowledge Knows

FOR TWO YEARS the Gcwi came and went and Delfan saw that Hob was happy in their company and that he began to converse with them in their language. In the evenings the boy would squat among them, all but naked himself, and listen to the clicking syncopations of their speech as they told old tales of Mantis when the world was new, and the Gcwi would laugh and applaud when Hob imitated phrases and sentences and caught their meaning. Seen from the decks above in the dimness of dusk, lit by the flames where the three logs joined, they formed a circle of glowing faces, humans at ease before the hearth in a configuration as old as story.
These were not, it must be noted, the thoughts that arose in Jack Delfan’s mind. Often when that man looked away and looked again he would begin to doubt if he knew which was his son and which but a naked savage. He would turn then, fierce and muttering, they have broken the world boy and I am trying to engineer our survival and I am your father and god knows there’s digging to do, and he would make his way to his lonely hammock and he would lie there and sweat and curse and he would stare up at the bulkheads and long for the lilt of a southern ocean swell beneath his rusted prow.
   Down on the sands by the trunk of the rapture tree Hob listened to the talk which sounded to him like the sounds of the wild, the clicks and chirps of insects and frogs and birds and the grunts and moans of antelope and carnivores and ruminants as heard around a reedy waterhole beneath a star shot sky. He would listen and watch and he came to know how the Gcwi split the cocoons they dug from the roots of the rapture tree and removed the larvae of the Chrysomelid Beetle, Diamphidia simplex, for the haemolymph which poisoned their arrows and which will turn a man’s urine red during the long hours it takes to kill him and for which there is no antidote.
            Hob came to know the Gcwi, the old woman, the Knowledge, and Gcumm and the men whose names were Long Gau and Lazy Gau, and the girl, Ntuswa. Delfan saw that the boy was happy in that company and he saw how he watched the girl. And Delfan grumbled and muttered but he knew that since the coming of the Gcwi, Hob had ceased to ask questions about his mother. So father and son came to an agreement and after Hob had laboured from sunrise for six hours and the shadow of the rapture tree had reached the stake placed in the sand to mark the time he was free to be with the Gcwi. And even sometimes to accompany them on their shorter expeditions to the scrublands in the north west, the Schrödinger Plains, where there survived small groups of the animals they loved to hunt and the nuts and roots and fruits and grubs and honey which had provided their sustenance through the ages.
            Early in the first year after the coming of the Gcwi, Delfan and Hob hauled an old diesel motor out of a container on the deck. When the motor was hanging on its rig and ready to be winched along the cable to the lift, man and boy paused for breath and Delfan pointed at the boxes of clothing and the beds and wardrobes and tables finely wrought from the wood of trees no longer seen upon this earth.
            Look at that, said Delfan. Some deluded fool found it worth the trouble to pack his life and his family’s life into a metal box and transport it from one continent to another on the grounds that the economy in the one he travelled to was better than that in the one they left.
            Why was he deluded?
            Use your brain, Hobblet.
            The tone of the patriarch’s words was like a lash on Hob’s heart and in the heat of those young emotions he did not see that the very existence of the furniture on a shipwreck in the desert was proof enough that its owners attempts at relocation had been to little purpose. Indeed father and son were become like a man and woman who have been knotted too long together and they could hardly say a word to each other without feeling the pain of belittlement or failure or revenge upon them. Often they worked in silence and so it was when the motor was placed on its bolted frame and connected to the winches so that drums and timbers could be lowered down to form the first raft on the lake. These were the beginnings of the explorations here below.
            And then the fugitive came. The Knowledge knew first of his coming, smelt it perhaps, a hint of fear on the desert air, and she told Gcumm and Gcumm told Hob and Hob tolled the bell. Delfan came up from below and interrogated Hob and Hob said that not long after tomorrow's sunrise, someone would come from the east.
            Someone, said Jack Delfan.
            You've become a prophet?
            No, said Hob.
            How then, do you know this?
            I don't know it. The Knowledge knows it.
            The knowledge?
            Hob pointed and Jack Delfan looked where the crone sat upon her heels. She felt his gaze, but did not meet it. Her eyes were focussed on the horizon. They lived in deep grooves that might have been chiselled in her skull to echo in their curvature the grooves of her forehead. Profound wrinkles arched out from the corners of her eyes and turned down to meet the lines at the edge of her mouth. The hair upon her head grew in little clumps of grey and black like the desert scrub that failed to properly cover certain high plains in the time before the flood. It was a countenance as enigmatic as a stone statue facing the sea on a forgotten island.
            She told you that someone comes tomorrow?
            Delfan looked at the elevation of the sun and then he looked at the shadow of the rapture tree.
            We knock off, he said, when the shadow meets the stake. Is that right?
            It is, said Hob.
            Good, said Jack Delfan. That's two hours yet. When I ring the bell, commence to lower.
            And he turned and went down the shaft.

No comments: