Authors: Cheikh Hamidou Kane
“But it seems to me,” the boy objected, “that we ought to rejoice in this prospect instead of regretting it.”
“No,” his father replied. “At the same time that work gets along without human life, at that same time it ceases to make human life its final aim; it ceases to value man. Man has never been so unhappy as at this moment when he is accumulating so much. Nowhere is he thought so little of as in the places where this accumulation is going on. That is why the history of the West seems to me to reveal the insufficiency of the guarantee that man offers to man. For man’s welfare and happiness we must have the presence and the guarantee of God.”
He paused, then added, thoughtfully:
“Perhaps Pascal had caught a glimpse of this. Perhaps his piercing gaze had seen from afar what the methodological myopia of the scholars had not seen.”
Suddenly the knight raised his eyes toward the sky, and said:
“But now it is the hour of twilight. Let us pray.”
These moments had brought Samba Diallo a renewal of peace. The words of his father had once more restored his serenity, as in former days the words of the teacher had done. There are those who believe and those who do not believe; the division is clear. It leaves no one outside its neatly drawn line.
Thus, there are those who believe. They, as the knight had said, are those who are justified before God. Samba Diallo paused to consider this new step. The idea was just. In effect, he said to himself, the act of faith is an act of allegiance. There is nothing in the believer which does not draw a particular significance from that allegiance. So the action of a believer, if it is voluntary, is different
in its essence from the identical material action of a non-believer. So it is with his work. At this moment in his reflections Samba Diallo heard, like an echo brought to him out of his memories, the voice of his teacher, who, many years before, had been commenting on one of the sacred verses of the Word. It is God Who has created us,” the teacher was saying, “ourselves and all that we do.” And he insisted upon the second part of the sentence, explaining that it flowed, of necessity, from the first. He used to add that the greatness of God was measured by the fact that in spite of such a total legislation man nevertheless felt himself free. “For being in the water, is the fish less free than the bird in the air?” he would say. Now, Samba Diallo had to make an effort to detach his thought from the memory of the teacher.
“If a man is justified of God, the time he takes from prayer to do his work—that is still prayer.…” The knight was right. Everything was coherent, satisfying to the mind and spirit. At that moment, so, Samba Diallo had found peace again. The prayer that he offered, there behind the knight, was a prayer in serenity.
When he had finished the prayer, he became lost in his thoughts again. He went over the conclusions the knight had drawn, and set himself to consider them. Always he felt a high degree of pleasure in turning those clear thoughts over in his mind, when he caught up with them, as if to verify their fine quality. Whatever might be the slant at which he took them, he was assured of finding them identical and stable: compelling. This toughness of ideas delighted him. At the same time, he was testing out his intelligence here, as the blade of a razor is tested on the file.
“The work of him who believes is justified of God.” That seemed to him true, however he might consider it. To believe: that is to recognize one’s own will as a small fragment of the divine will. It follows from this that activity, the creation of will, is the creation of God. At this moment his thought brought back to him, in memory, another recollection, a page from Descartes. Where had he read that? In the
, perhaps. He no longer remembered. He only recalled the thought of the French master: The rapport between God and man is first of all a rapport of will to will; can there be a rapport more intimate?
“So,” he said to himself, “the masters are in agreement. Descartes, as well as the teacher of the Diallobé, as well as my father—they have all experienced the irreducible inflexibility of this idea.” Samba Diallo’s joy increased with the realization of this convergence.
“What is more,” his thought went on, “to proceed from God, will to will, is to recognize His Law, which is a law of justice and harmony among men. Work is not, therefore, a necessary source of conflict between them.…”
The darkness had completely fallen by this time. The knight in the dalmatic was still crouched motionless, facing the east. Stretched out on his back beside him, Samba Diallo opened wide unseeing eyes upon the star-studded firmament.
“There is no antagonism between the discipline of faith and the discipline of work. The death of God is not a necessary condition to the survival of man.”
Samba Diallo was not seeing the shining firmament, for the same peace reigned in the heavens and in his heart. Samba Diallo was not existing. There were innumerable
stars, there was the earth chilled anew by the coming of night, there was the shade, and there was their simultaneous presence.
“It is at the very heart of this presence that thought is born,” he reflected, “as on the water a succession of waves is set off around a spot where something has fallen. But there are those who do not believe.…”
Samba Diallo suddenly saw the sky. In a flash, he realized its serene beauty.
“There are those who do not believe.… We who believe—we cannot abandon our brothers who do not believe. The world belongs to them as much as it does to us. Labor is a law for them as much as it is for us. They are our brothers. Often, their ignorance of God will have come to them as an accident of their labor, in the workyards where our common dwelling is being put up. Can we forsake them?
“In addition, my God, to those who have lost Thee, there are those who, today as since the beginnings of history, have never known Thy grace—can we abandon them? We implore Thee to accept them, as Thou alone knowest how to accept those whom Thou dost accept, for they have built the world with us, whence we are able, with a thought each day less preoccupied, to seek Thee and salute Thee. It must not be at the cost of Thy grace that man conquers his liberty. Must it be so?”
Samba Diallo rose from his place, and opened his mouth to question the knight. But he did not dare.
“What is it?” his father asked.
“I am cold,” he said. “I am going to bed.”
WHEN SAMBA DIALLO ENTERED THE DRAWING-ROOM, everyone rose with a single movement. Lucienne came to meet him, rosy and smiling, her hand outstretched.
“Has Socrates at last drunk the hemlock?” she asked, with a smile in her voice.
Samba Diallo smiled back at her.
“No,” he answered. “The sacred vessel has not yet returned from Delos.”
Addressing her parents, Lucienne explained: “Samba Diallo is preparing a work on the
for our study group, and he is so passionately absorbed in this task that for a moment I was afraid he was forgetting to come.”
Then, turning toward Samba Diallo, she introduced her family: her father, her mother, and her cousin Pierre, a medical student.
“I hope, Monsieur, that you will excuse us for receiving you like this, in complete simplicity,” Madame Martial said. “Lucienne and I want you to feel entirely at ease here, as in your own home.”
“I thank you for your kindness, Madame, and for your invitation.”
“Then add that you are only making this reply from politeness,” Lucienne’s father cried out. “My wife imagines that your African milieu is distinguished from ours only by a lesser complexity.”
Behind the glasses that corrected his vision, the man’s face was sparkling with mischief.
Paul Martial was a Protestant pastor. The head that topped a robust, almost massive, body would have seemed prematurely old if it had not been for the freshness of the glance behind those eyeglasses. Beneath a thick and greying thatch of hair gleamed the whiteness of a broad forehead which, in spite of the difference in color, reminded Samba Diallo of the forehead, with its skin hardened by long prostrations, of the teacher of the Diallobé. The long narrow nose overhung a grave, distressful mouth. In the dryness of the lips, their puckering at the moment of speaking, Samba Diallo recognized the unfitness of this mouth for the utterance of futile words. The forehead and eyes, nevertheless, sparkled with serenity, as if to envelop with clarity and reduce to nothingness in light the chaos evoked by the terrific mouth. But at this moment the man was forcing himself to gayety, and seemed entranced by the confusion into which he saw that his remark had plunged his wife.
“You—to put your own thoughts on the lips of others,” Madame Martial protested.
“Good thrust, aunt!” said Pierre. Then he turned and addressed himself mainly to Samba Diallo. “You have before you a beautiful embodiment of what you philosophers call, I believe, a dialectic pair. Do you feel a call to arbitrate?”
Monsieur and Madame Martial looked at each other with an air of comic bewilderment.
“My poor Marguerite, you heard?” said Monsieur Martial. “We are a pair of screech-owls.…”
They made as if to throw themselves into each other’s
arms, and everybody burst out laughing. Lucienne, meanwhile, insisted on their sitting down, and went to get the drinks.
When she offered his glass to Samba Diallo he held out his hand to take it, then interrupted the movement halfway.
“Oh, Lucienne, I am truly confused,” he said. “I forgot to tell you that I don’t drink anything alcoholic. But don’t bother to get me anything else. I am not thirsty.”
“But yes, of course,” Madame Martial put in. “Lucienne, give him a glass of fruit juice. There is some there. No, don’t protest!”
Samba Diallo felt crushed. He had lost track of the occasions, since his arrival in France, when the refusal of an offered glass had suddenly and absurdly come close to spoiling the first fragile moments of his contact with other people.
“What, you don’t drink? You have never drunk the least drop of alcohol?” demanded Pierre, as if bewildered.
“No,” Samba Diallo apologized. “My religion forbids it. I am a Moslem.”
“But I have Moslem acquaintances who drink, Arabs, Negroes.”
“Yes, I know.”
Monsieur Martial looked attentively at Samba Diallo. “How he spoke those words!” he said to himself. “He made his chahâda
wave like a banner in the wind!”
Lucienne and her mother were busying themselves between the kitchen and the dining table. Samba Diallo, who felt the gaze of both Pierre and the pastor fixed upon him, took up his glass of fruit juice and emptied it, to put himself in countenance. He realized that the pastor was addressing him:
“Lucienne has often spoken of you, here at the house. She has been very much impressed by the enthusiasm and the aptitude with which you are carrying on your studies in philosophy.”
“Your daughter is too kind, Monsieur. She will have found this flattering way for me to tell you what considerable trouble I am having with those studies.”
“Then you intend to teach?”
“Perhaps I shall teach. Everything will depend on what will have happened to me by the time I reach the end of my studies. You know, the fate of us Negro students is a little like that of a courier: at the moment of leaving home we do not know whether we shall ever return.”
“And what does that return depend on?” asked Pierre.
“It may be that we shall be captured at the end of our itinerary, vanquished by our adventure itself. It suddenly occurs to us that, all along our road, we have not ceased to metamorphose ourselves, and we see ourselves as other than what we were. Sometimes the metamorphosis is not even finished. We have turned ourselves into hybrids, and there we are left. Then we hide ourselves, filled with shame.”
“As for you,” said the pastor, with a very sweet smile, “I do not believe that you will ever experience that shame, or that you will lose your way. I believe you are one of those who always return to the sources. Isn’t it this attraction of sources, moreover, which has oriented you toward philosophy?”
Samba Diallo hesitated before replying.
“I don’t know,” he said, at last. “When I think about it now, I can’t help wondering if there hasn’t also been a little of the morbid attraction of danger. I have chosen the itinerary which is most likely to get me lost.”
“Why?” Pierre asked again. “Is it through a will to challenge?”
It was the pastor who answered, addressing Samba Diallo.
“No, I believe it is through honesty. Isn’t that so? You have chosen to become acquainted with us through what has appeared to you as most characteristic, most fundamental. But I should like to ask you: from what you have been able to grasp of the history of our thought, has it seemed to you radically foreign, or have you indeed recognized yourself a little, just the same?”
Samba Diallo replied without hesitation, as if he had already pondered this question for a long time.
“It seems to me that this history has undergone an accident which has shifted it and, finally, drawn it away from its plan. Do you understand me? Socrates’ scheme of thinking does not seem to me, at bottom, different from that of Saint Augustine, though there was Christ between them. The plan is the same, as far as Pascal. It is still the plan of all the thought which is not occidental.”
“What is it?” Pierre asked.
“I do not know. But don’t you feel as if the philosophical plan were already no longer the same with Descartes as with Pascal? It is not that they were preoccupied with different problems, but that they occupied themselves with them in different ways. It is not the mystery which has changed, but the questions which are asked of it, and the revelations which are expected from it. Descartes is
more niggardly in his quest; if, thanks to this and also to his method, he obtains a greater number of responses, what he reports also concerns us less, and is of little help to us. Don’t you think so?”
Pierre’s only answer was a dubious pursing of his lips. The pastor smiled.
“Hold firmly to this opinion,” he said, “even if it seems to you that you do not back it up sufficiently. It constitutes a line of demarcation, and those who are on your side become fewer every day. What is more, those of the opposition put forth something deceptive by their assurance and their success in piling up partial answers.”