Authors: Henning Mankell
CHRONICLER OF THE WINDS
Henning Mankell is the prize-winning and internationally acclaimed author of the Inspector Wallander Mysteries, now dominating bestseller lists throughout Europe. He devotes much of his time to working with Aids charities in Africa, where he is director of the Teatro Avenida in Maputo.
Tiina Nunnally is known for her many award-winning translations of Nordic fiction, including Per Olov Enquist's
The Visit of the Royal Physician,
which won the
Foreign Fiction Prize in 2003. Most recently, she has produced a new translation of the stories of Hans Christian Andersen.
ALSO BY HENNING MANKELL
The Dogs of Riga
The White Lioness
The Man Who Smiled
The Fifth Woman
One Step Behind
The Return of the Dancing Master
Before the Frost
A Bridge to the Stars
I Die, but the Memory Lives on
TRANSLATED FROM THE SWEDISH BY
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Published by Vintage 2007
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Copyright © Henning Mankell 2006
English translation copyright © Tiina Nunnally 2006
Henning Mankell has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work
This electronic book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser
First published with the title
Ordfronts Förlag, Stockholm
First published in Great Britain in 2006 by
Random House, 20 Vauxhall Bridge Road,
London SW1V 2SA
Addresses for companies within The Random House Group Limited can be found at:
The Random House Group Limited Reg. No. 954009
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library
The human being has two eyes;
one sees only what moves in ephemeral time, the other
what is eternal and divine.
If this is the best of all possible worlds,
what must the others be like?
When there were no depths,
I was brought forth;
when there were no fountains abounding with water.
On a rooftop of sun-scorched, reddish clay on a sultry, humid night beneath the starry tropical skies, I who bear the name José Antonio Maria Vaz stand waiting for the world to end. I am filthy and feverish, my clothes are hanging in tatters, as if they were in wild flight from my gaunt body. I have flour in my pockets, which for me is more precious than gold. A year ago I was still somebody, a baker; whereas now
am nobody, a beggar roaming aimlessly beneath the searing sun in the daytime and then spending the endless nights on a desolate rooftop. But even beggars possess traits that give them an identity, that distinguish them from all the others on the street corners who hold out their hands, as if they wanted to give them away or sell their fingers, one by one. José Antonio Maria Vaz is the vagrant who became known as the 'Chronicler of the Winds'. Day in and day out, my lips move without cease, as if I were telling a story to which no one has ever bothered to listen. As if I have finally accepted that the monsoon which sweeps in from the sea is my only listener, always attentive, like an old priest waiting patiently for the confession to come to an end.
At night I retreat to this deserted rooftop, since here I feel I gain both space and a viewpoint. The constellations are mute, they do not applaud me, but their eyes flash and I feel as if I can speak straight into the ear of eternity. And I can look down and see the city spread out before me, the city of night, where uneasy fires flicker and dance, unseen dogs laugh, and I wonder about all the people down there asleep, breathing and dreaming and making love, while I stand on my roof and talk about a person who no longer exists.
I, José Antonio Maria Vaz, am also part of this city which clings to the slopes down the wide estuary. The buildings perch like monkeys along the steep banks, and for each day that passes, the number of people living there seems to swell. They come wandering from the unplumbed interior, from the savannah and the remote, dead forests, down towards the coast where the city lies. They settle there and do not seem to notice all the malevolent glances that meet them. No one can say with certainty what they will live on or where they will find a roof over their heads. They are swallowed up by the city, become a part of it. And every day more strangers arrive, all with their parcels and baskets; the statuesque black women with enormous cloth bundles atop their noble heads, walking along the horizon like lines of small black dots. More and more children are born, more buildings clamber along the steep slopes, to be washed away when the clouds turn black and the hurricanes rage like murderous bandits. This is the way it has been for as long as anyone can remember, and there are many who lie awake at night, wondering how it will end.
When will the city crash down the slopes and be swallowed by the sea?
When will the weight of all the people finally become too great?
When will the world come to an end?
Once I too, José Antonio Maria Vaz, would lie awake at night and ask myself these questions.
But no longer. Not since I met Nelio and carried him up to the roof and watched him die.
The anxiety that I sometimes felt is now gone. Or rather, I have come to understand that there is a crucial difference between feeling afraid and feeling anxious.
That was something else that Nelio explained to me.
'If you're afraid, it's like you're suffering from an insatiable hunger,' he said. 'But if you're anxious, you can fight off your anxiety.'
I think about his words, and I now know that he was right. I can stand here and look out over the night-time city, the fires flickering uneasily, and I can recall everything he told me during those nine nights that I spent with him and watched him die.
This rooftop is a vital part of the story. I feel as if I were at the bottom of the sea; I have sunk down and can go no further.
am at the bottom of my own story; it was here, on this roof, that it all began and it all ended.
Sometimes I imagine my task to be this: that for all eternity I will wander at the bottom, on this roof, and direct my words to the stars. Precisely that will be my task, for ever.
So here is my strange story, a story impossible to forget.
It was on that night a year ago, near the end of November, when the moon was full and the night was clear after the heavy rains, that I placed Nelio on the filthy mattress where nine days later, as dawn broke, he would die. Since he had already lost a great deal of blood, the bandages – which I did my best to fashion from strips that I tore from my own worn clothing – did little good. He knew long before I did that soon he would no longer exist.
That was also when everything started over, as if a peculiar new way of measuring time was suddenly established. I remember that quite clearly, even though more than a year has passed since then and many other things have happened in my life.
I remember the moon against the dark sky.
I remember it as a reflection of Nelio's pale face on which salty beads of sweat glittered as the life left his body slowly, almost cautiously, as if trying not to wake someone who was asleep.
Something important came to an end on that early morning, after the ninth night, when Nelio died. I have a hard time explaining what I mean. But at some moments in my life I feel as if I am surrounded by a vast emptiness. As if I were inside an enormous room made of invisible membranes from which I cannot escape.
That was how I felt on the morning when Nelio lay dying, abandoned by everyone, with me as the only witness.
Afterwards, when it was over, I did as he had asked me to do.
I carried his body down the winding stairs to the bakery, where the heat was always so intense that I never got used to it.
I was the only one there at night. The huge oven was hot, awaiting the bread that would soon be baked for the hungry day to follow. I shoved his body into the oven, closed the door, and waited for exactly one hour. That's how long it would take, he had said, for his body to disappear. When I opened the door again, there was nothing left. His spirit blew past me like a cool gust from the heat of the inferno, and then there was nothing more.
I went back up to the roof. I stayed there until night fell again. And it was then, beneath the stars, in the faint moonlight, with the gentle breeze from the Indian Ocean brushing my face, in the midst of my grief, that I realised I was the one who had to tell Nelio's story.
Quite simply, there was no one else who could do it. No one but me. No one at all.
And the story had to be told. It could not be left lying there like some abandoned and cast-off memory in the storerooms that are housed in every human brain.
The fact is that Nelio was not merely a poor, filthy street boy. Above all else, he was an unusual person, elusive and enigmatic like a rare bird that everyone talks about but which no one has actually seen. Though he was only ten years old when he died, he possessed the experience and wisdom of someone who had lived to be a hundred. Nelio – if that was his real name, because from time to time he would surprise me by calling himself something else – wrapped himself in a magnetic field that no one could see or penetrate. Everyone treated him with respect, even the brutal policemen and the always nervous Indian shopkeepers. Many sought his advice or hovered timidly nearby in the hope that some scrap of his mysterious powers would be transferred to them.
And now Nelio was dead.
Sunk in a deep fever, he had laboriously sweated out his last breath.
A solitary wave travelled across the sea of the world, and then it was finished and the silence was terrifying in its emptiness. I stood looking up at the starry sky and thought that nothing could ever be the same.
I knew what many people thought. I had thought the same thing myself. That Nelio was not really human. That he was a god. One of the ancient, forgotten gods who had defiantly, perhaps foolishly, returned to earth and slipped inside Nelio's thin body. Or if he wasn't a god, then he was at the least a saint. A street-child saint.
And now he was dead. Gone.
The gentle breeze from the sea which had brushed my face suddenly felt cold and ominous. I gazed across the dark city that was clinging to the slopes above the sea. I saw the flickering fires and the solitary street lamps where the moths were dancing, and I thought: This is where Nelio lived for a brief time, here in our midst. And I am the only one who knows his whole story. I was the one he confided in after he was shot, and I carried him up here to the roof and laid him on the filthy mattress, from which he would never rise again.
'It's not that I'm afraid of being forgotten,' he told me. 'It's so that the rest of you won't forget who
Nelio reminded us who we really are. Human beings, each of us bearing secret powers we know nothing about. Nelio was a remarkable person. His presence made all of us feel remarkable.
That was his secret.
It is night by the Indian Ocean.
Nelio is dead.
And however unlikely it may sound, it seemed to me that he died without ever being afraid.
How can that be possible? How can a ten-year-old boy die without betraying even a glimmer of terror at not being allowed to partake of life any longer?
I don't understand it. Not at all.
I, an adult, cannot think about death without feeling an icy hand around my throat.
But Nelio only smiled. Clearly he had yet another secret that he would not share with the rest of us. It was odd, since he had been so generous with the few possessions he had, whether it was the dirty shirts made of Indian cotton that he always wore, or any of his unexpected thoughts.
The fact that he no longer exists I take as a sign that the world will soon come to an end.
Or am I mistaken?
I stand here on the roof and think about the first time I saw him lying on the filthy floor, struck down by the bullets of the demented killer.
I call on the soft night wind blowing in from the sea to help me remember.
Nelio once asked me, 'Do you know what the wind tastes like?'
I didn't know what to answer. Does the wind really have a taste?
Nelio thought so.
'Mysterious spices,' he said – I think it was on the seventh night. 'That tell us about people and events far away. That we can't see. But that we can sense if we draw the wind deep into our mouths and then eat it.'
That's how Nelio was. He thought it was possible to eat the wind.
And that the wind could dull a person's hunger.
Now when I try to recall what I heard on those nine nights I spent with Nelio, it occurs to me that my memory is neither better nor worse than anyone else's.
But I also know that I am living in a time when people are more likely to forget than to remember. For that reason I understand more clearly my own fear, and why in fact I am waiting for the world to end. Human beings exist to create and to share their good memories. But if we are to be honest with ourselves, we should recognise that these are dark times, as dark as the city beneath my feet. The stars shine reluctantly on our neglected earth, and memories of good times are so few that the vast rooms in our brains where memories are stored stand empty and locked.
It is in fact quite odd for me to be saying these things.
I am not a pessimist. I laugh much more often than I cry.
Even though I am now a beggar and a vagrant, I have retained the baker's joyful heart.
I see that I'm having trouble explaining what I mean. If you have baked bread as I have in a hot and suffocating bakery since the age of six, then words might not come so easily to you either.
I never went to school. I learned to read from scraps of old newspapers, often so old that when the city was mentioned it still bore the now discarded colonial name. I learned to read while we waited for the bread to bake in the ovens. It was the old master baker Fernando who taught me. I can still remember quite clearly all those nights when he raged and cursed at my laziness.
'Letters and words don't come to a person,' he would say with a sigh. 'A person has to go to
In the end I learned. I learned to deal with words, although from a distance and always with the feeling that I was not truly worthy of them. Words are still strangers to me. At least when I am trying to explain what I think or feel. But I have to try. I can't wait any longer. A year has already passed.
And yet I still haven't spoken of the dazzling white sand, the rustling palm trees, or the sharks that are occasionally seen just beyond the crumbling jetty in the harbour.
But I will do that later.
Right now I'm going to talk about the remarkable Nelio. The boy who came to the city from nowhere. The boy who made himself a home inside an abandoned statue in one of the city's plazas.
And this is where I'm going to start my story.
Everything begins with the wind, the mysterious and enticing wind that sweeps in over our city from the eternally wandering Indian Ocean.
I, José Antonio Maria Vaz, a lonely man on a rooftop under the starry tropical sky, have a story to tell.