Authors: Cheikh Hamidou Kane
“If you are a Diallobé, why didn’t you stay in the Diallobé country?”
“And you, why did you leave Pau?”
Jean was embarrassed. But Samba Diallo went on at once:
“This is where I live, it is where I live all the time. It is true that I should have preferred to stay in the country, but my father lives here.”
“He is a big man, your father. He is a bigger man than mine.”
“Yes, he is a very big man.”
While they were talking twilight had fallen. The golden rays had thinned out a little, and the purple had turned to pink. Along their lower edges the clouds had become a frozen blue. The sun had disappeared, but already in the east the moon had risen, and it, too, shed a light. One could see that the ambient light was made up of the paling rose from the sun, the milky whiteness from the moon, and also the peaceful penumbra of a night which was felt to be imminent.
“Excuse me, Jean,” said Samba Diallo. “It is twilight, and I must pray.”
He rose, turned toward the east, lifted his arms, with
his hands open, and slowly let them fall. His voice echoed in the quiet air. Jean did not dare to walk around his companion in order to see his face, but it seemed to him that this voice was no longer his. Samba Diallo remained motionless. Nothing in him was alive except this voice, speaking in the twilight a language which Jean did not understand. Then his long white caftan—turned violet now by the evening light—was swept through by a kind of shiver, which grew more pronounced in measure as the voice was rising. The shiver became a tremor which shook his entire body, and the voice turned to a sob. To the east the sky was like an immense lilac-colored crystal.
Jean did not know how long he remained there, held fascinated by Samba Diallo weeping under the sky. He never knew how much time was consumed by this pathetic and beautiful death of the day. He only regained consciousness of his surroundings when he heard the sound of footsteps not far away. He raised his head and saw the knight of the dalmatic, who came toward him, smiling, and held out his hand to help him get up. Samba Diallo was crouched on the ground, his head lowered, his body still trembling. The knight knelt down, took his son by the shoulders, set him on his feet, and smiled at him. Through his tears Samba Diallo smiled back, a bright smile. With a fold of his boubou the knight wiped the boy’s face, very tenderly.
They conducted Jean, in silence, back to the marl street, then they retraced their steps to go to their own home. In the moonlight the street had the white sheen of lilies. Jean had watched the two figures disappearing in the distance, holding each other by the hand, then, slowly, he had gone back to his own house.
That night, thinking of Samba Diallo, he was overcome by fear. But that happened very late, when everyone had retired and Jean was alone, in his bed. That twilight’s violence and splendor were not the cause of Samba Diallo’s tears. Why had he wept?
For a long time the little boy was haunted by the two faces, of the father and the son. They continued to obsess him, until the moment when he sank into sleep.
Thursday is the holiday in French schools. Tr.
AS SAMBA DIALLO AND HIS FATHER WALKED down the long road the boy remained silent, as did his father also. They walked slowly, each holding the other’s hand. Samba Diallo’s agitation had quieted down. At last he spoke:
“Have you news of the teacher of the Diallobé?”
“The teacher of the Diallobé is in good health. He says that you are not to worry about him. He thinks of you. You must not cry any more.… You are a man now.”
“No, it isn’t that.…”
It was not sadness that had made him weep, that evening. He knew now that the teacher of the Diallobé would not leave him, even after his death. Even Old Rella, held to Coumba by nothing but a memory—a fleshly love—continued to stir her daughter. When the teacher’s fragile body had disappeared, what would remain of him would be more than a love and a memory. For the rest, the teacher was still living, and yet Samba Diallo no longer knew what he looked like—that ridiculous appearance of his!—except in a blurred fashion, through memory. Nevertheless, the teacher continued to keep him on guard and to be present to his attention, as effectively as if he had been there, holding the burning faggot. When the teacher died, what was left of him would be more exacting than memory. Old Rella, when she was living, had had nothing
but her love; when she died her body disappeared completely and her love left a memory. The teacher, Samba Diallo was thinking, has a body so fragile that already it seemed to be scarcely there. But, in addition, he has the Word, which is made of nothing corporeal, but which endures.… which endures. He has the fire which runs like flame through the disciples and sets the hearth aglow. He has that restless concern which had more force than his body has weight. The disappearance of this body—could it negate all that?
Dead love leaves a memory—and dead fervor? And restless concern? The teacher, who was richer than Old Rella, would die less completely than she. Samba Diallo knew that.
This evening, in this twilight that was so beautiful, he had felt himself swept by a sudden exaltation while he was praying, an exaltation such as he had formerly felt when he was near the teacher.
He lived over in his mind the circumstances of his departure from the Glowing Hearth.
Some time after the chief of the Diallobé had found Samba Diallo peacefully asleep close to Old Rella’s grave in the cemetery, there had been a long private meeting between the chief, the teacher, and the Most Royal Lady. The little boy never knew what they said to one another. Afterward, the chief had called him into his presence and had announced to him that he was going to go back to L., to be with his father. At the moment, Samba Diallo’s joy had been overwhelming; he had begun at once to think of L., and of his parents, with extraordinary intensity.
“But before you leave, you are going to say goodbye to the teacher,” the chief had added.
At this word, Samba Diallo had felt his heart rising in his throat and choking him. The teacher.… What it amounted to was that he was about to leave the teacher. That was what his departure for L. meant. He would not see the teacher any more. The teacher’s voice reciting the Word.… The look of the teacher as he listened to the Word. Far from the teacher, there were indeed his father and mother, there was indeed the sweetness of his home in L. But at the teacher’s side Samba Diallo had known something else, which he had learned to love. When he tried to envisage to himself what it was that kept him so attached to the teacher, in spite of his burning faggots and his cruelties, Samba Diallo saw nothing, except perhaps that the reasons for this attraction were not of the same order as those which made him love his father and mother and his home in L. These reasons belonged rather with the fascination which the mystery of Old Rella exercised over his mind. They must be of the same order as those which made him hate being reminded of the noble status of his family. Whatever they might be, these reasons had an imperious power.
“Well, well, you are crying?” said the chief. “Think of that, at your age! You are not pleased to be going back to L.? Come here. Come close to me.”
The chief of the Diallobé had taken the little boy on his knee. He had dried his tears gently and tenderly with a fold of his boubou, as his father, later, had done.
“You know, Samba Diallo, the teacher is very well satisfied with you. Come, stop crying, that is finished.…”
The chief had dried still other tears, as he held the trembling body of his little cousin tight against his breast.
“You know—when you go to see the teacher you will
take him Tourbillon. I have given the necessary instructions to have him ready.”
Tourbillon was a magnificent Arab thoroughbred that belonged to the chief.
“You will not be afraid? You will not let yourself be unseated, will you? In any case there will be someone with you. Ah, in that connection, the Most Royal Lady has some presents for you. Come with me to see them.”
And that had been an unpacking of a treasure chest! There had been boubous in rich colors, Turkish slippers, woven loin-cloths, all made especially for Samba Diallo by the best artisans among the Diallobé. Later in the afternoon the little boy, mounted on Tourbillon and accompanied by a servant who was holding the horse’s bridle to restrain his mettlesome spirits, set out for the teacher’s house.
When he came near it he dismounted, and walked the rest of the way. At the teacher’s door he removed his Turkish slippers, took them in his hand, and went in.
The teacher was seated among his disciples, who formed a noisy circle around him. As soon as he saw Samba Diallo, he smiled at him, and got up to greet him. Samba Diallo, overwhelmed, ran to him and obliged him to remain seated.
“You see, my son, I do not even know how to get up any longer. But how handsome you are! Lord, how handsome you are! Just let me look! Come, come, what is this? You are weeping? But let us see—we know you are courageous nevertheless. You never used to cry when I beat you.…”
The disciples were silent. Samba Diallo felt a little ashamed of having wept before them.
“Master, I have come to say goodbye to you,” he stammered. “I am very sad.”
Tears choked him anew. He pulled the fold of his boubou over his head.
“My cousin begs you,” he managed to go on, “to do him the favor of accepting—” He pointed his finger toward Tourbillon.
“Heavens above! Your cousin is lavishing his benefactions upon me, and that is the truth! This horse is too beautiful! And I cannot make a draft horse of him.” The teacher was silent for a moment. “No, this horse cannot be a draft horse,” he said, again. “His head is too high. He is too beautiful. One cannot ask a thoroughbred to draw the plough.…”
Then he had the look of awaking from a deep meditation.
“So you are going back to L.? You will not forget the Word, will you, my son? You will never forget it?”
“Lord,” the teacher had prayed in thought, “never forsake this child. May the smallest measure of Thy sovereign authority not leave him, for even the smallest particle of time.”
Then Samba Diallo had taken a heavy package from the hands of the servant who accompanied him; it contained all the presents which had been given to him. Turning back, he had handed it to the teacher.
“I should like to give this to the disciples who might want it,” he said.
“We shall pray for you, my child,” the teacher had replied.
Samba Diallo had been almost running as he left the Hearth. Behind him he had heard the teacher, in a stern
voice, asking the disciples what they were waiting for, to continue with the intoning of the Word.
That evening, the Diallobé people learned that the teacher had made the director of the new school a present of a thoroughbred horse. “This engaging animal,” the teacher assured him, “will be more in place at the new school than at the Glowing Hearth.”
A few days after that, Samba Diallo had set out for L.
A letter had announced to the knight that the older members of the Diallobé family, the Most Royal Lady as well as the chief, had decided to send Samba Diallo back to him so that he might be enrolled in the new school.
What the knight felt when he received the letter was like a blow in his heart. So, the victory of the foreigners was complete! Here were the Diallobé, here was his own family, on their knees before a burst of fireworks. A solar burst, it is true, the midday burst of an exasperated civilization. The knight was suffering deeply in the face of this irreparable thing which was being accomplished here, before his eyes, upon his own flesh. Those who, even down to his own family, who were racing headlong into the future, if they could only understand that their course was a suicide, their sun a mirage! If only he himself were of the stature to rise up before them on their road, and put an end to that blind contest!
“In truth, it is not acceleration which the world needs,” the knight reflected. “What we must have is a bed, a bed upon which, stretched out, the soul will determine a respite, in the name of its salvation. Is civilization outside the balance of man and his disposability? The civilized man, is he not the expendable man—expendable for the love of his fellows, expendable above all for the love of
God? But, a voice within him will object, man is surrounded by problems which prevent this quietude. He is born to a forest of questions. The substance of matter in which he participates through his body—which the soul hates—harasses him with a cacophony of demands to which he must respond. ‘I am hungry. Give me something to eat,’ his stomach orders. ‘Are we going to rest at last? Let us rest,’ his limbs keep murmuring. To his stomach and his limbs, a man gives the answers that are called for; and this man is happy. Then a voice implores him: ‘I am alone. I am afraid to be alone. I am not sufficient in loneliness. Find me someone to love.’ And this voice, particularly plaintive, lamenting day and night: ‘I am afraid. I am afraid. What is my native country? Who brought me here? Where are they taking me?’ The man rises and goes in search of man. Then he isolates himself and prays. This man is at peace. Man must respond to all the questions. You, you wish to ignore some of them.… No,” the knight objected for his own part, “no, I only wish for harmony. The most strident voices try to drown out the others. Is that good? Civilization is an architecture of responses. Its perfection, like that of any dwelling house, is measured by the comfort man feels in it, by the added portion of liberty it procures for him. But, precisely, the Diallobé are not free—and you would like to maintain this condition? No, that is not what I want. But man’s slavery amid a forest of solutions—is that worth anything more?”
The knight was turning these thoughts over and over in his mind, in a thousand ways.
“Happiness is not a function of the mass of responses, but of their distribution. There must be balance. But the West is possessed by its own compulsion, and the world is
becoming westernized. Far from men’s resisting the madness of the West at the time when they ought to do so, in order to pick and choose, assimilate or reject, we see them, on the contrary, in all latitudes, a-quiver with covetousness, then metamorphosing themselves in the space of one generation, under the action of this new egotism which the West is scattering abroad.”