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Archive for the ‘short stories’ Category

Among my fellow practitioners I was at the same spot at the same rush hour as I did every other 364 day, pan handling. I scraped my pan with my wooden spoon. Every other beggar was doing the same. The noise must have ratcheted up a few decibels the cop on the beat  swiveled around to bark, “Beat it.”

“This aint drum ,-and no retreat either,” I said like a pro.

Seeing his sickly smile I said, ” I found a rabbit foot this morning. A lucky day for me, Pennies from heaven, sure. ” I told him to stick around. Poor fellow he beat a hasty retreat.

Hardly I went back to scraping all the beggars were scraping their pans and I felt I was the conductor and the orchestra was there to follow suit.

The beggars said, “Success smiles on us fellows!”

Suddenly there was a bang! ear splitting one at that. Pieces of people whatever left of them flying before their legs could catch up with them. What carnage! what bedlam.

Before we caught on what was happening a miracle!

Our pans were filled to brim with nails, ball bearings and iron rivets and what not. We beggars looked at the days earnings . No word was necessary. All that metal would fetch a couple of thousand pounds. No pennies from heaven. Who cares?

Scraping pans louder brings luck for beggars everywhere, I believe.

benny

 

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Eyamba I. of Calabar was a very powerful king. He fought and conquered all the surrounding countries, killing all the old men and women, but the able-bodied men and girls he caught and brought back as slaves, and they worked on the farms until they died.

This king had two hundred wives, but none of them had borne a son to him. His subjects, seeing that he was becoming an old man, begged him to marry one of the spider’s daughters, as they always had plenty of children. But when the king saw the spider’s daughter he did not like her, as she was ugly, and the people said it was because her mother had had so many children at the same time. However, in order to please his people he married the ugly girl, and placed her among his other wives, but they all complained because she was so ugly, and said she could not live with them. The king, therefore, built her a separate house for herself, where she was given food and drink the same as the other wives. Every one jeered at her on account of her ugliness; but she was not really ugly, but beautiful, as she was born with two skins, and at her birth her mother was made to promise that she should never remove the ugly skin until a certain time arrived save only during the night, and that she must put it on again before dawn. Now the king’s head wife knew this, and was very fearful lest the king should find it out and fall in love with the spider’s daughter; so she went to a Ju Ju man and offered him two hundred rods to make a potion that would make the king forget altogether that the spider’s daughter was his wife. This the Ju Ju man finally consented to do, after much haggling over the price, for three hundred and fifty rods; and he made up some “medicine,” which the head wife mixed with the king’s food. For some months this had the effect of making the king forget the spider’s daughter, and he used to pass quite close to her without recognising her in any way. When four months had elapsed and the king had not once sent for Adiaha (for that was the name of the spider’s daughter), she began to get tired, and went back to her parents. Her father, the spider, then took her to another Ju Ju man, who, by making spells and casting lots, very soon discovered that it was the king’s head wife who had made the Ju Ju and had enchanted the king so that he would not look at Adiaha. He therefore told the spider that Adiaha should give the king some medicine which he would prepare, which would make the king remember her. He prepared the medicine, for which the spider had to pay a large sum of money; and that very day Adiaha made a small dish of food, into which she had placed the medicine, and presented it to the king. Directly he had eaten the dish his eyes were opened and he recognised his wife, and told her to come to him that very evening. So in the afternoon, being very joyful, she went down to the river and washed, and when she returned she put on her best cloth and went to the king’s palace.

Directly it was dark and all the lights were out she pulled off her ugly skin, and the king saw how beautiful she was, and was very pleased with her; but when the cock crowed Adiaha pulled on her ugly skin again, and went back to her own house.

This she did for four nights running, always taking the ugly skin off in the dark, and leaving before daylight in the morning. In course of time, to the great surprise of all the people, and particularly of the king’s two hundred wives, she gave birth to a son; but what surprised them most of all was that only one son was born, whereas her mother had always had a great many children at a time, generally about fifty.

The king’s head wife became more jealous than ever when Adiaha had a son; so she went again to the Ju Ju man, and by giving him a large present induced him to give her some medicine which would make the king sick and forget his son. And the medicine would then make the king go to the Ju Ju man, who would tell him that it was his son who had made him sick, as he wanted to reign instead of his father. The Ju Ju man would also tell the king that if he wanted to recover he must throw his son away into the water.

And the king, when he had taken the medicine, went to the Ju Ju man, who told him everything as had been arranged with the head wife. But at first the king did not want to destroy his son. Then his chief subjects begged him to throw his son away, and said that perhaps in a year’s time he might get another son. So the king at last agreed, and threw his son into the river, at which the mother grieved and cried bitterly.

Then the head wife went again to the Ju Ju man and got more medicine, which made the king forget Adiaha for three years, during which time she was in mourning for her son. She then returned to her father, and he got some more medicine from his Ju Ju man, which Adiaha gave to the king. And the king knew her and called her to him again, and she lived with him as before. Now the Ju Ju who had helped Adiaha’s father, the spider, was a Water Ju Ju, and he was ready when the king threw his son into the water, and saved his life and took him home and kept him alive. And the boy grew up very strong.

After a time Adiaha gave birth to a daughter, and her the jealous wife also persuaded the king to throw away. It took a longer time to persuade him, but at last he agreed, and threw his daughter into the water too, and forgot Adiaha again. But the Water Ju Ju was ready again, and when he had saved the little girl, he thought the time had arrived to punish the action of the jealous wife; so he went about amongst the head young men and persuaded them to hold a wrestling match in the market-place every week. This was done, and the Water Ju Ju told the king’s son, who had become very strong, and was very like to his father in appearance, that he should go and wrestle, and that no one would be able to stand up before him. It was then arranged that there should be a grand wrestling match, to which all the strongest men in the country were invited, and the king promised to attend with his head wife.

On the day of the match the Water Ju Ju told the king’s son that he need not be in the least afraid, and that his Ju Ju was so powerful, that even the strongest and best wrestlers in the country would not be able to stand up against him for even a few minutes. All the people of the country came to see the great contest, to the winner of which the king had promised to present prizes of cloth and money, and all the strongest men came. When they saw the king’s son, whom nobody knew, they laughed and said, “Who is this small boy? He can have no chance against us.” But when they came to wrestle, they very soon found that they were no match for him. The boy was very strong indeed, beautifully made and good to look upon, and all the people were surprised to see how like he was to the king.

After wrestling for the greater part of the day the king’s son was declared the winner, having thrown every one who had stood up against him; in fact, some of his opponents had been badly hurt, and had their arms or ribs broken owing to the tremendous strength of the boy. After the match was over the king presented him with cloth and money, and invited him to dine with him in the evening. The boy gladly accepted his father’s invitation; and after he had had a good wash in the river, put on his cloth and went up to the palace, where he found the head chiefs of the country and some of the king’s most favoured wives. They then sat down to their meal, and the king had his own son, whom he did not know, sitting next to him. On the other side of the boy sat the jealous wife, who had been the cause of all the trouble. All through the dinner this woman did her best to make friends with the boy, with whom she had fallen violently in love on account of his beautiful appearance, his strength, and his being the best wrestler in the country. The woman thought to herself, “I will have this boy as my husband, as my husband is now an old man and will surely soon die.” The boy, however, who was as wise as he was strong, was quite aware of everything the jealous woman had done, and although he pretended to be very flattered at the advances of the king’s head wife, he did not respond very readily, and went home as soon as he could.

When he returned to the Water Ju Ju’s house he told him everything that had happened, and the Water Ju Ju said—

“As you are now in high favour with the king, you must go to him to-morrow and beg a favour from him. The favour you will ask is that all the country shall be called together, and that a certain case shall be tried, and that when the case is finished, the man or woman who is found to be in the wrong shall be killed by the Egbos before all the people.”

So the following morning the boy went to the king, who readily granted his request, and at once sent all round the country appointing a day for all the people to come in and hear the case tried. Then the boy went back to the Water Ju Ju, who told him to go to his mother and tell her who he was, and that when the day of the trial arrived, she was to take off her ugly skin and appear in all her beauty, for the time had come when she need no longer wear it. This the son did.

When the day of trial arrived, Adiaha sat in a corner of the square, and nobody recognised the beautiful stranger as the spider’s daughter. Her son then sat down next to her, and brought his sister with him. Immediately his mother saw her she said—

“This must be my daughter, whom I have long mourned as dead,” and embraced her most affectionately.

The king and his head wife then arrived and sat on their stones in the middle of the square, all the people saluting them with the usual greetings. The king then addressed the people, and said that he had called them together to hear a strong palaver at the request of the young man who had been the victor of the wrestling, and who had promised that if the case went against him he would offer up his life to the Egbo. The king also said that if, on the other hand, the case was decided in the boy’s favour, then the other party would be killed, even though it were himself or one of his wives; whoever it was would have to take his or her place on the killing-stone and have their heads cut off by the Egbos. To this all the people agreed, and said they would like to hear what the young man had to say. The young man then walked round the square, and bowed to the king and the people, and asked the question, “Am I not worthy to be the son of any chief in the country?” And all the people answered “Yes!”

The boy then brought his sister out into the middle, leading her by the hand. She was a beautiful girl and well made. When every one had looked at her he said, “Is not my sister worthy to be any chief’s daughter?” And the people replied that she was worthy of being any one’s daughter, even the king’s. Then he called his mother Adiaha, and she came out, looking very beautiful with her best cloth and beads on, and all the people cheered, as they had never seen a finer woman. The boy then asked them, “Is this woman worthy of being the king’s wife?” And a shout went up from every one present that she would be a proper wife for the king, and looked as if she would be the mother of plenty of fine healthy sons.

Then the boy pointed out the jealous woman who was sitting next to the king, and told the people his story, how that his mother, who had two skins, was the spider’s daughter; how she had married the king, and how the head wife was jealous and had made a bad Ju Ju for the king, which made him forget his wife; how she had persuaded the king to throw himself and his sister into the river, which, as they all knew, had been done, but the Water Ju Ju had saved both of them, and had brought them up.

Then the boy said: “I leave the king and all of you people to judge my case. If I have done wrong, let me be killed on the stone by the Egbos; if, on the other hand, the woman has done evil, then let the Egbos deal with her as you may decide.”

When the king knew that the wrestler was his son he was very glad, and told the Egbos to take the jealous woman away, and punish her in accordance with their laws. The Egbos decided that the woman was a witch; so they took her into the forest and tied her up to a stake, and gave her two hundred lashes with a whip made from hippopotamus hide, and then burnt her alive, so that she should not make any more trouble, and her ashes were thrown into the river. The king then embraced his wife and daughter, and told all the people that she, Adiaha, was his proper wife, and would be the queen for the future.

When the palaver was over, Adiaha was dressed in fine clothes and beads, and carried back in state to the palace by the king’s servants.

That night the king gave a big feast to all his subjects, and told them how glad he was to get back his beautiful wife whom he had never known properly before, also his son who was stronger than all men, and his fine daughter. The feast continued for a hundred and sixty-six days; and the king made a law that if any woman was found out getting medicine against her husband, she should be killed at once. Then the king built three new compounds, and placed many slaves in them, both men and women. One compound he gave to his wife, another to his son, and the third he gave to his daughter. They all lived together quite happily for some years until the king died, when his son came to the throne and ruled in his stead.

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The Tortoise With A Pretty Daughter-

There was once a king who was very powerful. He had great influence over the wild beasts and animals. Now the tortoise was looked upon as the wisest of all beasts and men. This king had a son named Ekpenyon, to whom he gave fifty young girls as wives, but the prince did not like any of them. The king was very angry at this, and made a law that if any man had a daughter who was finer than the prince’s wives, and who found favour in his son’s eyes, the girl herself and her father and mother should be killed.

Now about this time the tortoise and his wife had a daughter who was very beautiful. The mother thought it was not safe to keep such a fine child, as the prince might fall in love with her, so she told her husband that her daughter ought to be killed and thrown away into the bush. The tortoise, however, was unwilling, and hid her until she was three years old. One day, when both the tortoise and his wife were away on their farm, the king’s son happened to be hunting near their house, and saw a bird perched on the top of the fence round the house. The bird was watching the little girl, and was so entranced with her beauty that he did not notice the prince coming. The prince shot the bird with his bow and arrow, and it dropped inside the fence, so the prince sent his servant to gather it. While the servant was looking for the bird he came across the little girl, and was so struck with her form, that he immediately returned to his master and told him what he had seen. The prince then broke down the fence and found the child, and fell in love with her at once. He stayed and talked with her for a long time, until at last she agreed to become his wife. He then went home, but concealed from his father the fact that he had fallen in love with the beautiful daughter of the tortoise.

But the next morning he sent for the treasurer, and got sixty pieces of cloth and three hundred rods, and sent them to the tortoise. Then in the early afternoon he went down to the tortoise’s house, and told him that he wished to marry his daughter. The tortoise saw at once that what he had dreaded had come to pass, and that his life was in danger, so he told the prince that if the king knew, he would kill not only himself (the tortoise), but also his wife and daughter. The prince replied that he would be killed himself before he allowed the tortoise and his wife and daughter to be killed. Eventually, after much argument, the tortoise consented, and agreed to hand his daughter to the prince as his wife when she arrived at the proper age. Then the prince went home and told his mother what he had done. She was in great distress at the thought that she would lose her son, of whom she was very proud, as she knew that when the king heard of his son’s disobedience he would kill him. However, the queen, although she knew how angry her husband would be, wanted her son to marry the girl he had fallen in love with, so she went to the tortoise and gave him some money, clothes, yams, and palm-oil as further dowry on her son’s behalf in order that the tortoise should not give his daughter to another man. For the next five years the prince was constantly with the tortoise’s daughter, whose name was Adet, and when she was about to be put in the fatting house, the prince told his father that he was going to take Adet as his wife. On hearing this the king was very angry, and sent word all round his kingdom that all people should come on a certain day to the market-place to hear the palaver. When the appointed day arrived the market-place was quite full of people, and the stones belonging to the king and queen were placed in the middle of the market-place.

When the king and queen arrived all the people stood up and greeted them, and they then sat down on their stones. The king then told his attendants to bring the girl Adet before him. When she arrived the king was quite astonished at her beauty. He then told the people that he had sent for them to tell them that he was angry with his son for disobeying him and taking Adet as his wife without his knowledge, but that now he had seen her himself he had to acknowledge that she was very beautiful, and that his son had made a good choice. He would therefore forgive his son.

When the people saw the girl they agreed that she was very fine and quite worthy of being the prince’s wife, and begged the king to cancel the law he had made altogether, and the king agreed; and as the law had been made under the “Egbo” law, he sent for eight Egbos, and told them that the order was cancelled throughout his kingdom, and that for the future no one would be killed who had a daughter more beautiful than the prince’s wives, and gave the Egbos palm wine and money to remove the law, and sent them away. Then he declared that the tortoise’s daughter, Adet, should marry his son, and he made them marry the same day. A great feast was then given which lasted for fifty days, and the king killed five cows and gave all the people plenty of foo-foo and palm-oil chop, and placed a large number of pots of palm wine in the streets for the people to drink as they liked. The women brought a big play to the king’s compound, and there was singing and dancing kept up day and night during the whole time. The prince and his companions also played in the market square. When the feast was over the king gave half of his kingdom to the tortoise to rule over, and three hundred slaves to work on his farm. The prince also gave his father-in-law two hundred women and one hundred girls to work for him, so the tortoise became one of the richest men in the kingdom. The prince and his wife lived together for a good many years until the king died, when the prince ruled in his place. And all this shows that the tortoise is the wisest of all men and animals.

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We were camping in the oasis. My companions were asleep. An Arab, tall and white, went past me. He had been tending to his camels and was going to his sleeping place.

I threw myself on my back into the grass. I wanted to sleep. I couldn’t. The howling of a jackal in the distance—I sat up straight again. And what had been so far away was suddenly close by. A swarming pack of jackals around me, their eyes flashing dull gold and going out, slender bodies moving in a quick, coordinated manner, as if they were being controlled by a whip.

One of them came from behind, pushed himself under my arm, right against me, as if it needed my warmth, then stepped in front of me and spoke, almost eye to eye with me.

“I’m the oldest jackal for miles around. I’m happy I’m still able to welcome you here. I had already almost given up hope, for we’ve been waiting for you an infinitely long time. My mother waited, and her mother, and all her mothers, right back to the mother of all jackals. Believe me!”

“That surprises me,” I said, forgetting to light the pile of wood which lay ready to keep the jackals away with its smoke, “I’m very surprised to hear that. I’ve come from the high north merely by chance and am in the middle of a short trip. What do you want then, Jackal?”

As if encouraged by this conversation, which was perhaps far too friendly, they drew their circle more closely around me, all panting and snarling.

“We know,” the oldest began, “that you come from the north. Our hope rests on that very point. In the north there is a way of understanding things which one cannot find here among the Arabs. You know, from their cool arrogance one cannot strike a spark of common sense. They kill animals to eat them, and they disregard rotting carcasses.”

“Don’t speak so loud,” I said. “There are Arabs sleeping close by.”

“You really are a stranger,” said the jackal. “Otherwise you would know that throughout the history of the world a jackal has never yet feared an Arab. Should we fear them? Is it not misfortune enough that we have been cast out among such people?”

“Maybe—that could be,” I said. “I’m not up to judging things which are so far removed from me. It seems to be a very old conflict—it’s probably in the blood and so perhaps will only end with blood.”

“You are very clever” said the old jackal, and they all panted even more quickly, their lungs breathing rapidly, although they were standing still. A bitter smell streamed out of their open jaws—at times I could tolerate it only by clenching my teeth. “You are very clever. What you said corresponds to our ancient doctrine. So we take their blood, and the quarrel is over.”

“Oh!” I said, more sharply than I intended, “they’ll defend themselves. They’ll shoot you down in droves with their guns.”

“You do not understand us,” he said, “a characteristic of human beings which has not disappeared, not even in the high north. We are not going to kill them. The Nile would not have enough water to wash us clean. The mere sight of their living bodies makes us run away immediately into cleaner air, into the desert, which, for that very reason, is our home.”

All the jackals surrounding us—and in the meantime even more had come up from a distance—lowered their heads between the front legs and cleaned them with their paws. It was as if they wanted to conceal an aversion which was so terrible, that I would have much preferred to take a big jump and escape beyond their circle.

“So what do you intend to do,” I asked. I wanted to stand up, but I couldn’t. Two young animals were holding me firmly from behind with their jaws biting into my jacket and shirt. I had to remain sitting. “They are holding your train,” said the old jackal seriously, by way of explanation, “a mark of respect.” “They should let me go,” I cried out, turning back and forth between the old one and the young ones. “Of course, they will,” said the old one, “if that’s what you want. But it will take a little while, for, as is our habit, they have dug their teeth in deep and must first let their jaws open gradually. Meanwhile, listen to our request.” “Your conduct has not made me particularly receptive to it,” I said. “Don’t make us pay for our clumsiness,” he said, and now for the first time he brought the plaintive tone of his natural voice to his assistance. “We are poor animals—all we have is our teeth. For everything we want to do—good and bad—the only thing available to us is our teeth.” “So what do you want?” I asked, only slightly reassured.

“Sir,” he cried out, and all the jackals howled. To me it sounded very remotely like a melody. “Sir, you should end the quarrel which divides the world in two. Our ancestors described a man like you as the one who will do it. We must be free of the Arabs—with air we can breathe, a view of the horizon around us clear of Arabs, no cries of pain from a sheep which an Arab has knifed, and every animal should die peacefully and be left undisturbed for us to drain it empty and clean it right down to the bones. Cleanliness—that’s what we want—nothing but cleanliness.” Now they were all crying and sobbing. “How can you bear it in this world, you noble heart and sweet entrails? Dirt is their white; dirt is their black; their beards are horrible; looking at the corner of their eyes makes one spit; and if they lift their arms, hell opens up in their arm pits. And that’s why, sir, that’s why, my dear sir, with the help of your all-capable hands, with the help of your all-capable hands you must use these scissors to slit right through their throats.” He jerked his head, and in response a jackal came up carrying on its canine tooth a small pair of sewing scissors covered with old rust.

“So finally the scissors—it’s time to stop!” cried the Arab leader of our caravan, who had crept up on us from downwind. Now he swung his gigantic whip.

The jackals all fled quickly, but still remained at some distance huddled closely together, many animals so close and tense that it looked as if they were in a narrow pen with jack o’ lanterns flying around them.

“So, you too, sir, have seen and heard this spectacle,” said the Arab, laughing as cheerfully as the reticence of his race permitted. “So you know what the animals want,” I asked. “Of course, sir,” he said. “That’s common knowledge—as long as there are Arabs, these scissors wander through the deserts and will wander with us until the end of days. Every European is offered them for the great work; every European is exactly the one who seems to them qualified to do it. These animals have an absurd hope. They’re idiots, real idiots. That’s why we’re fond of them. They are our dogs, finer than the ones you have. Now, watch this. In the night a camel died. I have had it brought here.”

Four bearers came and threw the heavy carcass right in front of us. No sooner was it lying there than the jackals raised their voices. Every one of them crept forward, its body scraping the ground, as if drawn by an irresistible rope. They had forgotten the Arabs, forgotten their hatred. The presence of a powerfully stinking dead body wiped out everything and enchanted them. One of them was already hanging at the camel’s throat and with its first bite had found the artery. Like a small raging pump which—with a determination matched only by its hopelessness—seeks to put out an overpowering fire, every muscle of its body pulled and twitched in its place. Then right away all them were lying there on the corpse in a mountainous heap, working in the same way.

Then the leader cracked his sharp whip powerfully all around above them. They raised their heads, half fainting in their intoxicated state, looked at the Arab standing in front of them, started to feel the whip now hitting their muzzles, jumped away, and ran back a distance. But the camel’s blood was already lying there in pools, stinking to heaven, and the body was torn wide open in several places. They could not resist. They were there again. The leader once more raised his whip. I grabbed his arm. “Sir, you are right,” he said. “We’ll leave them to their calling. Besides, it’s time to break camp. You’ve seen them. Wonderful creatures, aren’t they? And how they hate us!”

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The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his deathbed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, a tiny shadow which has taken refuge at the furthest distance from the imperial sun. He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his death bed and whispered the message to him. He thought it was so important that he had the herald repeat it back to him. He confirmed the accuracy of the verbal message by nodding his head. And in front of the entire crowd of those who have come to witness his death—all the obstructing walls have been broken down and all the great ones of his empire are standing in a circle on the broad and high soaring flights of stairs—in front of all of them he dispatched his herald. The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forward easily, unlike anyone else. But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvelous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts. He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. He will never win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to stride through the courtyards, and after the courtyards the second palace encircling the first, and, then again, stairs and courtyards, and then, once again, a palace, and so on for thousands of years. And if he finally did burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the centre of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment. No one pushes his way through here, certainly not with a message from a dead man. But you sit at your window and dream to yourself of that message when evening comes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A REPORT FOR AN ACADEMY

Esteemed Gentlemen of the Academy!

You show me the honor of calling upon me to submit a report to the Academy concerning my previous life as an ape.

In this sense, unfortunately, I cannot comply with your request. Almost five years separate me from my existence as an ape, a short time perhaps when measured by the calendar, but endlessly long to gallop through, as I have done, at times accompanied by splendid people, advice, applause, and orchestral music, but basically alone, since all those accompanying me held themselves back a long way from the barrier, in order to preserve the image. This achievement would have been impossible if I had stubbornly wished to hold onto my origin, onto the memories of my youth. Giving up that obstinacy was, in fact, the highest command that I gave myself. I, a free ape, submitted myself to this yoke. As a result, however, my memories have increasingly closed themselves off against me. If people had wanted it, at first the entire gateway which heaven builds over the earth would have been available to me for my journey back, but as my development was whipped onwards, the gate simultaneously grew lower and narrower all the time. I felt myself more comfortable and more enclosed in the world of human beings. The storm which blew me out of my past eased off. Today it is only a gentle breeze which cools my heels. And the distant hole through which it comes and through which I once came has become so small that, even if I had sufficient power and will to run back there, I would have to scrape the fur off my body in order to get through. Speaking frankly, as much as I like choosing metaphors for these things—speaking frankly: your experience as apes, gentlemen—to the extent that you have something of that sort behind you—cannot be more distant from you than mine is from me. But it tickles at the heels of everyone who walks here on earth, the small chimpanzee as well as the great Achilles.

In the narrowest sense, however, I can perhaps answer your question, nonetheless, and indeed I do so with great pleasure.

The first thing I learned was to give a handshake. The handshake displays candor. Today, when I stand at the pinnacle of my career, may I add to that first handshake also my candid words. For the Academy it will not provide anything essentially new and will fall far short of what people have asked of me and what with the best will I cannot speak about—but nonetheless it should demonstrate the direct line by which someone who was an ape was forced into the world of men, in which he established himself firmly. Yet I would certainly not permit myself to say even the trivial things which follow if I were not completely sure of myself and if my position on all the great music hall stages of the civilized world had not established itself unassailably.

I come from the Gold Coast. For an account of how I was captured I rely on the reports of strangers. A hunting expedition from the firm of Hagenbeck—incidentally, since then I have already emptied a number of bottles of good red wine with the leader of that expedition—lay hidden in the bushes by the shore as I ran down in the evening in the middle of a band of apes for a drink. Someone fired a shot. I was the only one struck. I received two hits.

One was in the cheek—that was superficial. But it left behind a large hairless red scar which earned me the name Red Peter—a revolting name, completely inappropriate, presumably something invented by an ape, as if the only difference between me and the recently deceased trained ape Peter, who was well known here and there, was the red patch on my cheek. But this is only by the way.

The second shot hit me below the hip. It was serious. It’s the reason that today I still limp a little. Recently I read in an article by one of the ten thousand gossipers who vent their opinions about me in the newspapers that my ape nature is not yet entirely repressed. The proof is that when visitors come I take pleasure in pulling off my trousers to show the entry wound caused by this shot. That fellow should have each finger of his writing hand shot off one by one. So far as I am concerned, I may pull my trousers down in front of anyone I like. People will not find there anything other than well cared-for fur and the scar from—let us select here a precise word for a precise purpose, something that will not be misunderstood—the scar from a wicked shot. Everything is perfectly open; there is nothing to hide. When it comes to a question of the truth, every great mind discards the most subtle refinements of manners. However, if that writer were to pull down his trousers when he gets a visitor, that would certainly produce a different sight, and I’ll take it as a sign of reason that he does not do that. But then he should get off my back with his delicate sensibilities.

After those shots I woke up—and here my own memory gradually begins—in a cage between decks on the Hagenbeck steamship. It was no four-sided cage with bars, but only three walls fixed to a crate, so that the crate constituted the fourth wall. The whole thing was too low to stand upright and too narrow for sitting down. So I crouched with bent knees, which shook all the time, and since at first I probably did not wish to see anyone and wanted to remain constantly in the darkness, I turned towards the crate, while the bars of the cage cut into the flesh on my back. People consider such confinement of wild animals beneficial in the very first period of time, and today I cannot deny, on the basis of my own experience, that in a human sense that is, in fact, the case.

But at that time I didn’t think about that. For the first time in my life I was without a way out—at least there was no direct way out. Right in front of me was the crate, its boards fitted closely together. Well, there was a gap running right between the boards. When I first discovered it, I welcomed it with a blissfully happy howl of ignorance. But this hole was not nearly big enough to stick my tail through, and all the power of an ape could not make it any bigger.

According to what I was told later, I am supposed to have made remarkably little noise. From that people concluded that either I must soon die or, if I succeeded in surviving the first critical period, I would be very capable of being trained. I survived this period. Muffled sobbing, painfully searching out fleas, wearily licking a coconut, banging my skull against the wall of the crate, sticking out my tongue when anyone came near me—these were the first occupations in my new life. In all of them, however, there was only one feeling: no way out. Nowadays, of course, I can portray those ape-like feelings only with human words and, as a result, I misrepresent them. But even if I can no longer attain the old truth of the ape, at least it lies in the direction I have described—of that there is no doubt.

Up until then I had had so many ways out, and now I no longer had one. I was tied down. If they had nailed me down, my freedom to move would not have been any less. And why? If you scratch raw the flesh between your toes, you won’t find the reason. If you press your back against the bars of the cage until it almost slices you in two, you won’t find the reason. I had no way out, but I had to come up with one for myself. For without that I could not live. Always in front of that crate wall—I would inevitably have died a miserable death. But according to Hagenbeck, apes belong at the crate wall—well, that meant I would cease being an ape. A clear and beautiful train of thought, which I must have planned somehow with my belly, since apes think with their bellies.

I’m worried that people do not understand precisely what I mean by a way out. I use the word in its most common and fullest sense. I am deliberately not saying freedom. I do not mean this great feeling of freedom on all sides. As an ape, I perhaps recognized it, and I have met human beings who yearn for it. But as far as I am concerned, I did not demand freedom either then or today. Incidentally, among human beings people all too often are deceived by freedom. And since freedom is reckoned among the most sublime feelings, the corresponding disappointment is also among the most sublime. In the variety shows, before my entrance, I have often watched a pair of artists busy on trapezes high up in the roof. They swung themselves, they rocked back and forth, they jumped, they hung in each other’s arms, one held the other by the hair with his teeth. “That, too, is human freedom,” I thought, “self-controlled movement.” What a mockery of sacred nature! At such a sight, no structure would stand up to the laughter of the apes.

No, I didn’t want freedom. Only a way out—to the right or left or anywhere at all. I made no other demands, even if the way out should also be only an illusion. The demand was small; the disappointment would not be any greater—to move on further, to move on further! Only not to stand still with arms raised, pressed against a crate wall.

Today I see clearly that without the greatest inner calm I would never have been able to get out. And, in fact, I probably owe everything that I have become to the calmness which came over me after the first days there on the ship. And, in turn, I owe that calmness to the people on the ship.

They are good people, in spite of everything. Today I still enjoy remembering the clang of their heavy steps, which used to echo then in my half sleep. They had the habit of tackling everything extremely slowly. If one of them wanted to rub his eyes, he raised his hand as if it were a hanging weight. Their jokes were coarse but hearty. Their laughter was always mixed with a rasp which sounded dangerous but meant nothing. They always had something in their mouths to spit out, and they didn’t care where they spat. They always complained that my fleas sprung over onto them, but they were never seriously angry at me because of it. They understood well enough that fleas liked being in my fur and that fleas are jumpers. They learned to live with that. When they had no duties, sometimes a few of them sat down in a semi-circle around me. They didn’t speak much, but only made noises to each other and smoked their pipes, stretched out on the crates. They slapped their knees as soon as I made the slightest movement, and from time to time one of them would pick up a stick and tickle me where I liked it. If I were invited today to make a journey on that ship, I would certainly decline the invitation, but it’s equally certain that the memories I could dwell on of the time there between the decks would not be totally hateful.

The calmness which I acquired in this circle of people prevented me above all from any attempt to escape. Looking at it nowadays, it seems to me as if I had at least sensed that I had to find a way out if I wanted to live, but that this way out could not be reached by escaping. I no longer know if escape was possible, but I think it was: for an ape it should always be possible to flee. With my present teeth I have to be careful even with the ordinary task of cracking a nut, but then I must have been able, over time, to succeed in chewing through the lock on the door. I didn’t do that. What would I have achieved by doing it? No sooner would I have stuck my head out, than they would have captured me again and locked me up in an even worse cage. Or I could have taken refuge unnoticed among the other animals—say, the boa constrictors opposite me—and breathed my last in their embraces. Or I could have managed to steal way up to the deck and to jump overboard. Then I’d have tossed back and forth on the ocean for a little while and would have drowned. Acts of despair. I did not think things through in such a human way, but under the influence of my surroundings conducted myself as if I had worked things out.

I did not work things out, but I did observe things with complete tranquility. I saw these men going back and forth, always the same faces, the same movements. Often it seemed to me as if there was only one man. So the man or these men went undisturbed. A lofty purpose dawned on me. No one promised me that if I could become like them the cage would be removed. Such promises, apparently impossible to fulfill, are not made. But if one makes the fulfillment good, then later the promises appear precisely there where one had looked for them earlier without success. Now, these men in themselves were nothing which attracted me very much. If I had been a follower of that freedom I just mentioned, I would certainly have preferred the ocean to the way out displayed in the dull gaze of these men. But in any case, I observed them for a long time before I even thought about such things—in fact, the accumulated observations first pushed me in the proper direction.

It was so easy to imitate these people. I could already spit on the first day. Then we used to spit in each other’s faces. The only difference was that I licked my face clean afterwards. They did not. Soon I was smoking a pipe like an old man, and if I then also pressed my thumb down into the bowl of the pipe, the entire area between decks cheered. Still, for a long time I did not understand the difference between an empty and a full pipe.

I had the greatest difficulty with the bottle of alcohol. The smell was torture to me. I forced myself with all my power, but weeks went by before I could overcome my reaction. Curiously enough, the people took this inner struggle more seriously than anything else about me. In my memories I don’t distinguish the people, but there was one who always came back, alone or with comrades, day and night, at all hours. He’d stand with the bottle in front of me and give me instructions. He did not understand me. He wanted to solve the riddle of my being. He used to uncork the bottle slowly and then look at me, in order to test if I had understood. I confess that I always looked at him with wildly over-eager attentiveness. No human teacher has ever found on the entire earthly globe such a student of human beings. After he’d uncorked the bottle, he’d raise it to his mouth. I’d gaze at him, right into his throat. He would nod, pleased with me, and set the bottle to his lips. Delighted with my gradual understanding, I’d squeal and scratch myself all over, wherever it was convenient. He was happy. He’d set the bottle to his mouth and take a swallow. Impatient and desperate to emulate him, I would defecate over myself in my cage—and that again gave him great satisfaction. Then, holding the bottle at arm’s length and bringing it up once more with a swing, he’d drink it down with one gulp, exaggerating his backward bending as a way of instructing me. Exhausted with so much great effort, I could no longer follow and would hang weakly onto the bars, while he ended the theoretical lesson by rubbing his belly and grinning.

Now the practical exercises first began. Was I not already too tired out by the theoretical part? Yes, indeed, far too weary. That’s part of my fate. Nonetheless, I’d grab the proffered bottle as well as I could and uncork it trembling. Once I’d managed to do that, a new energy would gradually take over. I lifted the bottle—with hardly any difference between me and the original—put it to my lips—and throw it away in disgust, in disgust, although it was empty and filled only with the smell, throw it with disgust onto the floor. To the sorrow of my teacher, to my own greater sorrow. And I still did not console him or myself when, after throwing away the bottle, I did not forget to give my belly a splendid rub and to grin as I do so.

All too often, the lesson went that way. And to my teacher’s credit, he was not angry with me. Well, sometimes he held his burning pipe against my fur in some place or other which I could reach only with difficulty, until it began to burn. But then he would put it out himself with his huge good hand. He wasn’t angry with me. He realized that we were fighting on the same side against ape nature and that I had the more difficult part.

It was certainly a victory for him and for me when one evening in front of a large circle of onlookers—perhaps it was a celebration, a gramophone was playing, an officer was wandering around among the people—when on this evening, at a moment when no one was watching, I grabbed a bottle of alcohol which had been inadvertently left standing in front of my cage, uncorked it just as I had been taught, amid the rising attention of the group, set it against my mouth and, without hesitating, with my mouth making no grimace, like an expert drinker, with my eyes rolling around, splashing the liquid in my throat, I really and truly drank the bottle empty, and then threw it away, no longer in despair, but like an artist. Well, I did forget to scratch my belly. But instead of that, because I couldn’t do anything else, because I had to, because my senses were roaring, I cried out a short and good “Hello!” breaking out into human sounds. And with this cry I sprang into the community of human beings, and I felt its echo—“Just listen. He’s talking!”—like a kiss on my entire sweat-soaked body.

I’ll say it again: imitating human beings was not something which pleased me. I imitated them because I was looking for a way out, for no other reason. And even in that victory little was achieved. My voice immediately failed me again. It first came back months later. My distaste for the bottle of alcohol became even stronger. But at least my direction was given to me once and for all.

When I was handed over in Hamburg to my first trainer, I soon realized the two possibilities open to me: the zoological garden or the music hall. I did not hesitate. I said to myself: use all your energy to get into the music hall. That is the way out. The zoological garden is only a new barred cage. If you go there, you’re lost.

And I learned, gentlemen. Alas, one learns when one has to. One learns when one wants a way out. One learns ruthlessly. One supervises oneself with a whip and tears oneself apart at the slightest resistance. My ape nature ran off, head over heels, out of me, so that in the process my first teacher himself almost became an ape and soon had to give up training and be carried off to a mental hospital. Fortunately he was soon discharged again.

But I went through many teachers—indeed, even several teachers at once. As I became even more confident of my abilities and the general public followed my progress and my future began to brighten, I took on teachers myself, let them sit down in five interconnected rooms, and studied with them all simultaneously, by constantly leaping from one room into another.

And such progress! The penetrating effects of the rays of knowledge from all sides on my awaking brain! I don’t deny the fact—I was delighted with it. But I also confess that I did not overestimate it, not even then, even less today. With an effort which up to this point has never been repeated on earth, I have attained the average education of a European man. Perhaps that in itself would not amount to much, but it is something insofar as it helped me out of the cage and created this particular way out for me—the way out of human beings. There is an excellent German expression: to beat one’s way through the bushes. That I have done. I have beaten my way through the bushes. I had no other way, always assuming that freedom was not a choice.

If I review my development and its goal up to this point, I do not complain, but I am not content. With my hands in my trouser pockets, the bottle of wine on the table, I half lie and half sit in my rocking chair and gaze out the window. If I have a visitor, I welcome him as is appropriate. My impresario sits in the parlor. If I ring, he comes and listens to what I have to say. In the evening I almost always have a performance, and I could hardly be more successful. When I come home late at night from banquets, from scientific societies, or from social gatherings in someone’s home, a small half-trained female chimpanzee is waiting for me, and I take my pleasure with her the way apes do. During the day I don’t want to see her, for she has in her gaze the madness of a bewildered trained animal. I’m the only one who recognizes that, and I cannot bear it.

On the whole, at any rate, I have achieved what I wished to achieve. You shouldn’t say it was not worth the effort. In any case, I don’t want any human being’s judgment. I only want to expand knowledge. I simply report. Even to you, esteemed gentlemen of the Academy, I have only made a report.

 

 

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Mio Strand is in the Province of Suruga. Its sand is yellow and fine, strewn with rose shells at the ebb tide. Its pine trees are ancient and they lean all one way, which is the way that the wild wind wills. Before Mio rolls the deep sea, and behind Mio rises Fuji, the most sacred, the mountain of mountains. Small marvel that the Strange People should come to Mio.

Of the Strange People not much is known, even at Mio, though it is sure they come there. It seems they are shy indeed, more’s the pity. They come through the blue air, or across the mysterious paths of the sea. Their footprints are never, never seen upon the wet beach, for they tread too lightly. But sometimes in their dancing they sweep their robes upon the sand and leave it ribbed and ruffled; so, often enough, it may be seen at Mio.

This is not all. Once a fisherman of Mio set eyes upon a maiden of the Strange People, and talked with her and made her do his bidding. This is a true thing, and thus it came about.

The fisherman was out in his boat all night. He cast his net here and he cast his net there, but he caught nothing at all for his pains. It may be believed that he grew weary enough before the morning. In the cold of the dawn he brought his boat to shore and set foot on Mio Strand, shivering.

Then, so he says, a warm wind met him and blew through his garments and his hair, so that he flushed and glowed. The very sand was full of comfort to his chilly feet. Upon the warm wind a fragrance was borne, cedar and vervain, and the scent of a hundred flowers.

Flowers dropped softly through the air like bright rain. The fisherman stretched out his hands and caught them, lotus and jessamine and pomegranate. And all the while sweet music sounded.

“This is never Mio Strand,” cried the fisherman, bewildered, “where I have pulled my boat ashore a thousand times or flown kites upon a holiday. Alack, I fear me I have sailed to the Fortunate Isles unawares, or come unwilling to the Sea King’s garden; or very like I am dead and never knew it, and this is Yomi. O Yomi, Land of Yomi, how like thou art to Mio Strand, my dear home!”

After he had said this, the fisherman looked up the beach and down the beach, and he turned and saw Fuji, the mountain of mountains, and then he turned and saw the deep rolling sea and knew he was at Mio and no other place, and gave a long sigh.

“Thanks be,” he said, and lifting his eyes he saw a robe of feathers hanging upon the branch of a pine tree. In the robe were feathers of all the birds that fly, every one; the kingfisher and the golden pheasant, the love bird, the swan, the crow, the cormorant, the dove, the bullfinch, the falcon, the plover, and the heron.

“Ah, the pretty fluttering thing!” said the fisherman, and he took it from the pine tree where it hung.

“Ah, the warm, sweet, fairy thing!” said the fisherman; “I’ll take it home for a treasure, sure no money could buy it, and I’ll show it to all the folk of the village.” And off he set for home with the fairy feathers over his arm.

Now the maiden of the Strange People had been playing all this time with the White Children of the Foam that live in the salt sea. She looked up through the cold clear water and marked that her robe hung no longer on the pine-tree branch.

“Alas, alas!” she cried, “my robe, my feather robe!” Swifter than any arrow she sprang from the water, and sped, fleet of foot, along the wet sand. The White Children of the Foam followed at her flashing heels. Clad in the cloak of her long hair, she came up with the fisherman.

“Give me my feather robe,” she said, and held out her hand for it.

“Why?” said the fisherman.

“’Tis mine. I want it. I must have it.”

“Oho,” said the fisherman, “finding’s keeping,” and he didn’t give her the feather robe.

“I am a Fairy,” she said.

“Farewell, Fairy,” said the fisherman.

“A Moon Fairy,” she said.

“Farewell, Moon Fairy,” said the fisherman, and he made to take his way along Mio Strand. At that she snatched at the feather robe, but the fisherman held fast. The feathers fluttered out and dropped upon the sand.

“I wouldn’t do that,” said the fisherman. “You’ll have it all to pieces.”

“I am a Moon Fairy, and at dawn I came to play upon fair Mio Strand; without my feathers I cannot go back to my place, my home in High Heaven. Therefore give me my feathers.”

“No,” said the fisherman.

“Oh, fisherman, fisherman, give me my robe.”

“I couldn’t think of it,” said the fisherman.

At this the maiden fell upon her knees and drooped like a lily in the heat of the day. With her arms she held the fisherman about the knees, and as she clung to him beseeching him, he felt her tears upon his bare feet.

She wept and said:

I am a bird, a frail bird, A wounded bird with broken wings, I must die far from home, For the Five Woes are come upon me. The red flowers in my hair are faded; My robe is made unclean; Faintness comes upon me; I cannot see—farewell, dear sight of my eyes; I have lost joy. Oh, blessed flying clouds, and happy birds, And golden dust in the wind, And flying thoughts and flying prayers! I have lost all joy.

“Oh, stop,” said the fisherman, “you may have your robe.”

“Give,” she cried.

“Softly, softly,” said the fisherman. “Not so fast. I will give you your robe if you will dance for me here on Mio Strand.”

“What must I dance?” she asked.

“You must dance the mystic dance that makes the Palace of the Moon turn round.”

She said, “Give me my feathers and I will dance it. I cannot dance without my feathers.”

“What if you cheat me, what if you break your promise and fly immediately to the moon and no dancing at all?”

“Ah, fisherman,” she said, “the faith of a Fairy!”

Then he gave her the robe.

Now, when she had arrayed herself and flung back her hair, the Fairy began to dance upon the yellow sand. In and out of the feather robe crept her fairy feet. Slowly, softly, she went with folded wings and sang:

Oh, the gold and silver mountains of the Moon, And the sweet Singing Birds of Heaven! They sing in the branches of the cinnamon tree, To entertain the thirty kings that are there. Fifteen kings in white garments, To reign for fifteen days. Fifteen kings in black garments, To reign for fifteen days. I hear the music of Heaven; Away, away, I fly to Fairy Places.

At this the Fairy spread her rainbow-coloured wings, and the wind that they made fluttered the red flowers in her hair. Out streamed the robe of feathers bright and gay.

The Fairy laughed. Her feet touched the waves of the sea; her feet touched the grass and the flowers inshore. They touched the high branches of the pines and then the white clouds.

“Farewell, fisherman!” the Fairy cried, and he saw her no more.

Long, long he stood gazing up into the sky. At length he stooped and picked up a little feather from the shore, a grey dove’s feather. He smoothed it out with his finger and hid it in his girdle.

Then he went to his home.

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