Their women were in general very loathsome. The right ear of most of them, for instance, had been cut off. It was terrible even to imagine the pain they must have suffered and it was still more terrible to look at these unfortunate, deformed figures. Unbelievable as it may seem, these women had not been mutilated by sanguinary murderers or sadistic madmen : they, themselves, had submitted to the operation, they even paid for it, because they held it kipu. And the men instead of turning away from them in pity, on the contrary, preferred the earless women.
But they not only had their ears cut off. They tried using all kinds of absurd and disgusting methods to spoil the natural beauty of the body. They painted their noses white using lime, their posteriors they smeared with a stinking, sticky blue paint and kept them naked, while on their stomachs they tied thick pillows, and as to their mouths-as we already know — they kept them permanently covered with handkerchiefs.
The woman, by the way, whom my wretched fate brought across my path, was called Zukrula, and I made her acquaintance at a shukk. At that time I myself did not know what a shukk was.
Zemoeki told me the news on one occasion that there would be a shukk that day, and suggested that I should go to it as it would be very interesting.
Out of curiosity, I went with Zemoeki and Zeremble. On the way, it struck me that at the foot of the trees some tin sheets completely eaten with rust had been set up which I had not seen there the day before.
I asked why they did not move them out of the way; somebody might be injured by them.
In reply I was given a most resentful look.
"I would have you know," said Zemoeki, "that they are the Bigrusts which are displayed on solemn occasions." From this I understood only that I had made a blunder again, so, much more softly and with respect, I inquired after the nature of the Bigrusts, at which it came to light that that too, was an aneba.
"I'm no boaster," Zeremble said, "but I can tell you that my sheet of iron became holed with rust no less than eighty years ago."
And he looked around proudly.
But Zemoeki remarked that on his sheet of iron the rust was already two inches thick.
Now I was very curious and, to avoid any blunder, on the basis of my previous experiences, I flatteringly praised Zemoeki's Bigrust though I had no idea what that signified.
This method did indeed open their hearts and while we proceeded they explained every rusty sheet of iron.
I had to stand for a long time in front of Zeremble's Bigrust, as he called my attention to every hole. It was undoubtedly in a very pitiable state, and was saved from falling apart only by being nailed onto a board. And with a folding ruler Zemoeki measured the thickness of the individual Bigrusts and any that were thinner than his own — even by a hair's breadth — he called brand new, a usable piece, and made derogatory remarks about it. About one he said that the proprietor might do better to make a bowl for his spirituality out of it, at which even Zeremble looked round in fear and warned him of the ketni.
Zemoeki, however, was in his element. One particularly impressive layer of rust he pronounced a forgery, the proprietor having glued it onto the sheet. He expressed his surprise that he had not yet been punished for false rusting.
Of another he claimed it did not belong to the man in question, but he had suddenly become a betik, and he had purchased it from a rust-owner who was now reduced to poverty.
"Although," he said, "everybody knows that he was not even born here. Twenty years ago he worked outside as an ordinary and rough designer of elevated railways; his fingers are still gnarled from the compasses. Regrettably, however, it is not possible to take steps against him because he sits in the Rust Measuring and Record Office."
He was greatly indignant that the cause of public rust was committed to the charge of such people. However, he did not omit to emphasize that his — that is Zemoeki's — great-grand-father had been brought in when he ate his shoes, and he, too, was a remarkable man within the community: it was he who succeeded in bringing about the squeezing of the yellow pebble under the right arm instead of the left. His grandfather skinned a kemon alive. For weeks he greased his earlobe with his fat, for which many people admired him, but there were also those who envied him, as is usual with great men. As for his father, he was a great scientist, one of the founders of ellipsology. He had established why the circle was an ellipse for the kona, as a result of which he significantly contributed to bringing to the surface the specific popular sciences latent in the kona.
Conversing in this fashion we arrived at the shukk. We reached an enclosed area outside the rail of which many people were standing.
We had scarcely been there two minutes when two Behins suddenly dashed into the enclosure, eyes flashing with fury, and huge clubs in their hands. They began to thrash each other about the head and back and within a short space of time blood was streaming all over the place and their skin hung in shreds.
I cried for help, even the crowd began to shout inarticulately, but nobody attempted to separate them. Finally, I myself jumped over the rail but they grasped me and pulled me out. I demanded the separation of the adversaries in vain. They answered that it was a shukk and I should keep my mouth shut.
Around the two maniacs there was a third jumping about, who likewise had not the slightest intention of separating them. He only watched the fight and from time to time called out to them, "Bruf!"
And the crowd in ecstasy after him shouted, "Bruf! Bruf!"
It appeared therefore that the third person in the enclosure incited the fighters and the crowd. The only strange thing was that some of the mass in turn shouted: "No bruf! No bruf!"
Whereupon those who were bruffing hooted them down.
At the time I took it that there were still some sensible people in the crowd who resisted the incitement. But not at all! Later I came to know that bruf meant something entirely different, but to this very day I have no clear idea what.
The fight ended when the skull of one of the fighters caved in with a loud crack; the crowd gave a yell, rushed into the field, surrounded the murderer, vaked to him, scratched the pants on his posterior into rags until he, too, collapsed because of the loss of blood and the strain on the heart.
And when I indignantly asked the by-standers how they could tolerate such a barbaric settling of differences, they said that they had not been enemies and that this was a shukk which was for developing health. And I referred in vain to my medical degree from Oxford University, claiming that a man with a broken skull was less healthy than a sound one, and only madmen cracked each other's head in cold blood; it was they who became enraged, fists rose, and I would certainly not have been able to avoid being lynched if I had not been quick to take to my heels.
I went to the other side and watched the events from there.
Now two more maniacs dashed in and the preceding scene recommenced. The instigator sometimes shouted the bruf to which an increased howl responded.
In one instance, however, the bruf- bruf came from the crowd without the instigator having cried out. Nor did they calm down afterwards, but commenced to bruf even more loudly, and abused the instigator because he had not seen the bruf. Others, on the other hand, were shouting, "No bruf!"
The situation began to get dangerously out of hand and I tried to cower suspecting that some trouble was brewing. But the Reader is wrong if he believes I succeeded in remaining in peace in this way, as one of them suddenly turned to me.
"Did you see the bruf?"
"No, I didn't," I hastened to excuse myself, but he, instead of calming down, set upon me all the more angrily.
"Didn't you? Do you deny it? Do you hear?" He turned to the others. "This base blue-eared did not see the bruf!"
"Pitch into him!" yelled ten voices at the same time and the blows already began to hail on me.
Fortunately, however, another ten interfered.
"No bruf, no bruf!" they shouted and fell upon the first group, each wildly thrashing the other.
Making use of the uproar, protecting my head with my arms, I hurried to disappear from the scene and at the price of a few bruises I succeeded. But now I did not stop until I reached home and I pledged myself never even to show my face at a shukk.
The next day Zemoeki dashed into my room out of breath. In his great zeal he stumbled over the threshold and almost came down on his nose. He was in a pitiable state, poor thing. His head was bandaged, his face stuck all over with plasters.
"Well," I thought, "this one will not go to a shukk for a long while either."
But Zemoeki, it seemed, did not care a fig for all this and poked at my chest.
"Did you see the bruf?"
"I did, I did!" I hastened to give him the pat answer lest the same should happen to me as the day before. But instead, of calming down he turned on me.
"Oh, you wretch! Was it a bruf for you? Don't you have eyes? Or perhaps you, too, side with that incorrigible, foolish green-yellow gang?"
Naturally, I had again made a blunder, so I hastened to explain that I had seen it, but I had seen only that it was not a bruf but some fools had cried out that it was. With this I just about managed to appease him.
Stepping to the tap he put a fresh compress on his head and in the meantime related that the rascal who had cracked his head had not got away with it either, as he had kicked him on the shin-bone so that he had immediately fallen off his feet and, his accomplices had had to carry him away by his legs and arms, they had even to run with him, while Zemoeki had managed to make off on his own two feet. And the cause of the great hurry was that the public peace guards were. already on the way, who then indiscriminately beat within an inch of their life any able-bodied people with an unbroken skull who still remained, or, as Zemoeki expressed it, "They restored law and order."
I listened to him shuddering and in my mind, thanked, my lucky stars for having got my blows prior to the restoration of law and order."But all this because of a bruf!" I exclaimed. "What do. you mean by 'all because of a bruf'?" he rapped out. "Well, if we don't take the bruf seriously, there is no point in the whole shukk!"
I would have liked to applaud wholeheartedly but I did not dare, which made Zemoeki still more annoyed.
"Well, tell me: is there a point or not?"
"There is not," I replied hesitatingly.
"There you are ! Then we might as well stop organizing shukks!"
Now I approved somewhat more boldly at which he added, "And we should destroy our whole human culture and go back to the jungle among the beasts!"
This, therefore, was how I learned the essence of the shukk. If someone strikes a fellow human being dead, he will be punished. But if he first utters the magic word shukk he will be excused!
With the Behins everything depends on the words.
And it was quite lucky that they did not punish those who did not want to have their heads broken on the score of the shukk!
Of course, the Reader considers this last sentence a feeble witticism and smiles at my words. To my regret I have to interrupt his pleasure because there was actually also a magic word which, if the murderer pronounced it, not only exempted him from punishment, but they punished one who did not want to kill. This was the buku. But of this I shall speak later. Now I had better perhaps not comment on this sort of madness, all the more so as I later became involved in a much more serious affair which did in the end literally ruin me.
Among the spectators of the shukk I noticed a woman emaciated to the bone and on her last legs. In her hand the handkerchief trembled and she could hardly press it to her mouth.
In spite of my disgust I was moved to pity. Her weakness was so deplorable that as a physician I was unable to look upon her without a helping word. I was somewhat perplexed, I looked for words to suggest, without offending the ketni, better nourishment for her, and finally I decided that, instead of the egg-dance of uneasy explanations, I would offer her, in a chivalrous manner, a part of my spirituality.
In order to do this I stepped up to her and made the offer that I would willingly abandon my dispensable spirituality available at home for her consumption.
The Reader would never have believed what a heated reproach I received in answer. She called me a bivak, who had no idea of the ketni. She asked what kind of a woman I took her for?. Did I really think that she would be able to perpetrate such a foul deed?
"Are you thinking of eating?" — the words slipped out.
"Ugh! Bivak!" she screamed. "How can you imagine that I would even think of such things! And if you were to say it, then it should never have been said in such a way!"
But seeing her lamentable state and obvious hunger which she was not even able to conceal, my most basic human feelings dictated that I should violate the rules and satisfy her hunger — why, she was about to collapse. So I said, "Whatever we say, the truth is that we all take spirituality."
Squealing with anger she fell upon me asking what did I imagine? That she should need such a horrid thing? She had never desired it in all her life for she was not that sort of woman and that I should not forget that. Any ketni man, by the way, would never behave like this on such an occasion but would ask whether she had wanted the bikbam and would not abuse a defenceless female.
This was where I committed my next blunder. This confirmed stubbornness of stupidity made me lose my temper and I did not leave it at that. I let her know that I was a physician, I recommended that she should look into a mirror and she would see how the hunger was visible on her. That after all, there was nothing to be ashamed of. Why, we all ate which was sufficiently proved by the fact that we existed.
I guessed that she would at least take offence but I no longer cared, after all I had nothing to lose by it, and with my advice she would gain.
Of course what actually happened would have been beyond my wildest dreams.
The woman gasped for breath and then cried for help at the top of her voice. The guards gathered round and she lied to them that I had attacked her and wanted to rob her of something. What it was she did not disclose, of course, but only spoke of some dearest treasure of hers even though she had nothing worth a penny on her.
This audacious slander repelled me and I announced that not only had I not wanted to take anything from her, I had wanted to give her a share in the pleasure of spirituality.
Then followed my real surprise.
The guards had a good laugh at my words, called me a fool, stated that that was precisely the point at issue, and dragged me before the betik who in turn sentenced me to a week's imprisonment because I had wanted to feed a woman!
I did not want to believe my ears and could not even defend myself for astonishment, but stood as though paralysed with no control over my thoughts or what was happening to me.
I had been imprisoned for some hours before I could sufficiently arrange my thoughts to enable me to understand the situation. I had been jailed like some pickpocket and why? Because I had been good and sober.
After my discharge I complained to Zemoeki indignantly, but instead of sympathizing he laughed at me, called me a bivak and began teaching me the ketni.
Although the superciliousness of a lunatic annoyed me, I tried nevertheless to hear him through with patience hoping that with what I "acquired" I would be able at least to steel myself against similar traps.
I am bound to say that hair-raising things came to light.
I already knew that eating passed as an impropriety but so far as women were concerned the sorts of tortuous ideas that were assigned to it I would never have believed.
Now I came to know, for example, that they wore a pillow over the stomach and a handkerchief on the mouth because both organs were connected with eating.
It was forbidden even to mention the mouth. One had to make out that women had no mouth.
Of course from the European point of view this seems. to be unbelievable — that one should hold one's natural and honest function of life to be shameful — that we should think in such a way about something without which we could not even live, but the tortuous way in which the women had to conceal it defied all imagination. If a man and a woman came together both spoke as if they had no idea that such a thing as a mouth existed, though both of course knew that it did and moreover that this was known by the other. They named the mouth only when it was inevitably necessary, and even then in a periphrastic manner in terms prepared especially for the observation of the ketni calling it now midface then thoughtflower, though„ it had nothing to do with thought, just like spirituality, as it was even denied that this was eaten by people but had to be mentioned as if it were carried away by the stork. Of course, everybody realized that they themselves lied as well as knowing that others knew that they lied.
And the miserable women carried this loathsome bundle of lies throughout their lives with no sense of shame or decency and without raising a protesting voice at any time!
I, who am purely and simply describing all this, gave a great deal of thought whether it would be at all proper to publish such monstrosities. Certainly among my Readers there will be a fair number of my country's chaste and ingenuous maidens who, having been brought up in the sound European civilization, have always learned that to lie is immoral, and who will surely not be able to read all this without blushing. May it serve as my justification that when I remember the shameless Behin women I cannot stifle my rightful patriotic pride.
As to the monomania of wearing a handkerchief, I can relate one fantastic episode. On one occasion a woman appeared in the yard with her mouth uncovered. My Readers cannot possibly imagine the resulting scandal. The bystanders blushed and turned away, they covered their eyes, the women ran screaming in all directions, and at the end the guard came and took the woman away. But the interesting point was the explanation they said that the woman — had gone mad!
I would still have liked to know what the bikbam was that the woman had spoken of and which I would have come to know had she wished it. But after so many failures I did not dare to ask because, although I was sure that this, too, would be some concocted nonsense, I did not feel a bit like adding fresh fuel to Zemoeki's derision and humiliating superciliousness. They laugh at anyone who does not know the concocted wordproducts of their fantasy. If, on the other hand, somebody does not know what an ecliptic or pancreas is, they view him with respect as it adds to his distinction.
So that I should discover without being laughed at what the bikbam was, following my discharge I again called upon the woman concerned and asked her, first of all, to excuse me for my earlier bivak behaviour, then asked her whether she had wished the bikbam.
The woman's face became considerably friendlier, she stated that she kvared my words, did not enoate because of me, and as to the bikbam, she had wished it.
So I managed to make her acquaintance. That was when I came to know that she was called Zukrula. We started out for a walk and were joined by Zemoeki and, considering my lack of resources, the conversation could be called sufficiently smooth. I tried to choose subjects to which I hoped that the shackles of ketni, kipu and other freaks did not apply. Of course, even so, I burnt my fingers right at the start.
With my headstrong approach, I dared to utter the seemingly innocent sentence, "The sky is blue."
(I thought that with this no possible difficulties could arise.)
But Zukrula emphatically replied, "Yes, it was blue."
"It is now, too," I answered ingenuously and received a contemptuous look in reply. I blushed and under some pretext called Zemoeki aside to ask him about the matter. However, no sooner were we in private than he heaped reproaches on me; how could I speak in the present tense in the presence of a woman?
Thus it came to light that in a conversation between a man and a woman, every verb had to be in the past tense; one could speak in the present tense only to a woman who had already taken off her mouthkerchief in one's presence.
Returning, I was at pains to observe this requirement but, I may say, the compulsory past tense caused me the greatest confusion on several occasions as I did not know whether the present or the past was concerned. I have no idea why they do it. Why! Doesn't speech exist in order to communicate actual ideas and, moreover, without endeavouring to cause misunderstanding?
But we had scarcely begun to continue our conversation when Zemoeki again called me aside and asked with resentment in his voice, why I kept calling her Zukrula, and why didn't. I call her Zaikuebue.
"Because she is called Zukrula," I answered simply.
"Just call her Zaikuebue."
"She herself has said that she is Zukrula."
"Oh you bivak!" laughed Zemoeki. "She says it because ketni does not permit her to do otherwise, but you should address her as Zaikuebue."
Somebody else might well have gone mad in my place and I realized only then how much one can endure. Thus we returned and the conversation continued.
Gradually Zukrula became kinder to me again and then asked me to touch with her a buipiff.
Somewhat frightened I looked at Zemoeki as I was unaware of what kind of new trap awaited me, but he reciprocated my glance with a reassuring wink that I might do this safely.
Even so, of course, things were far from being in order, and I stammered out my confession that I was unversed in the buipiff. This elicited a contemptuous pouting from Zukrula and she remarked that it seemed that the men today received a rather theoretical education which did not meet the requirements of practical life.
Eventually Zemoeki came to my help and explained the matter.
The buipiff consists of a man and a woman touching the tips of their fingers in accordance to different arrangements of sequence and rhythm. Once the man's thumb touches the woman's third finger, then the third finger the little one, then again the third finger and the little finger the woman's forefinger, and so on; and from time to time they point at each other's mouth. The buipiff has a thousand variations, the only common gesture being the pointing at the mouth which occurs in each of them. But what they point at is kept strictly secret because they are ashamed of it, and mention it only as the phagmak figure. I have no idea why they are ashamed of it, and if they are ashamed of it why they do it.
I also came to know that the buipiff was usually performed to music. This came in useful in so far as when I turned out to be a very blockheaded pupil, I could say by way of excuse that I could certainly have done it better to music.
They suggested instead that we should go for a walk on the hillside. We set off. Zukrula at this point suddenly expressed the wish that she would very much like to have a butterfly with dark-brown wings striped with blue. After a lengthy, chase I managed to catch one for her, but it was not suitable because it was dark-brown with blue stripes, whereas she would have preferred a blue-winged one with brown stripes, whose wings she would cut off, frill and glue onto the bristles of her clothesbrush as it would look good. She had always desired a man who carried out all her orders; a strong and tyrannous one who would whip his woman if she did not obey.
Then it occurred to her that she would like to see a rainbow the arch of which was down and the foot up, and she did not understand what science was for if they were unable to produce this; that it would be good to run with open arms in hot snow, and it would be good to say everything at one breath but without sound because only that was true speech, and we could attain perfection if we did not speak; and paint our forehead yellow; and what I would say to that scientist who had recently discovered the solution to all integral equations whether it was true that it was his habit to cover his spirituality with a red-and-lilac kerchief, for I should note that he had made a great impression on her, and she wore a copy of his article on her midface in her mouthkerchief.
I heard in surprise these words which had a familiar ring; they were so strangely different from the madness of the Behins which melted into paroxysm. I even realized, that Zukrula's chatter, her whims, ideas were a veritable relaxation for me because they definitely reminded me of the sweet chatter of the ladies in my beloved country, of their petty problems and the music of a thousand variations emanating from the lovely female soul which makes the weaker sex so exciting, mysterious and desirable, and induces men to dash off in pursuit of the beautiful creature, to catch her, to solve the mystery, the real and tangible content that excitingly hides among the trills and fugues of the rhapsodic moods — or at least we believe that there is something to hide.
I must say that at that moment I did not feel so out of place, I even joined in the chattering happily stating that although the Behins turned every custom and institution upside down, they were not able to divest the female soul of its true and natural character.
But my pleasure did not last for long because Zukrula suddenly asked, "My little finger was thinner than my thumb, wasn't it?"
This, of course, had to be understood in the present tense.
Although the question was ridiculous, I was already accustomed to it and instead of laughing I obligingly inspected her hand and agreed with clear conscience, that her little finger was indeed thinner.
At this Zukrula jumped up and looked me up and down with flashing eyes.
"Bivak!" she cried and then added, "And as to the bikbam, I did not wish it! So it was out of question!" and she ran away.
I gazed idiotically at Zemoeki who without waiting for my question heaped abuse on me yet again. He, too, called me a bivak, and it took some minutes before he could calm down sufficiently for me to ask for an explanation.
This was how I learned that it was the strict obligation of a man to qualify the woman's little finger as thicker than her thumb and anyone who failed to do so perpetrated a kave thing.
The normal Reader, of course, might well feel that there were some natural grounds for this : that they made the thumb thinner in some way or something like that. I have to affirm that this is not so. Their fingers are just like those of anyone else, but somebody has conjured up the idea that a thinner thumb is something to be proud of and though everybody knows this is not true of anybody, one still has to say so, to assert it, and even to argue with the woman who says that her little finger is thinner while the man claims it is thicker. Then they debate about it for hours, and the woman is happy, although she is well aware the whole time that the man is lying. While other people honour each other by telling the truth, the measure of honouring each other with the Behins is the ability to tell the greatest lie.
For the madness to be complete, I also mention the rule of the ketni that all this may only be stated about the woman to whom we are speaking. To say it of another woman is the greatest insult to the one present.
The question of the bikbam gave me no rest, so the next day I again called upon Zukrula, anew I offered my apologies, assuring her that she had misheard, I had not said thinner but thicker.
As I had now lied doubly, Zukrula was appeased, and I urged her to tell me whether she had wished the bikbam. (The Reader is already aware of the function of the past tense.)
Zukrula became very kind once more, she announced that this way it was quite different, and as for the bikbam, she had wished it.
With this she took me together with Zemoeki and Zeremble to a betik who fastened the baking-sheets upon his soles, and then unfastened them and took them off. This he did three times, then threw a heated copper cube into some water, half of which he drank; having wrapped the cube into a punched cloth he hit both of us on the head, unwrapped it, and asked me for money.
I found the sum a little too much; however, as I did not dare to mention it inside, I broached it to Zemoeki after coming out suggesting that for such a short bikbam the betik could have asked less. However, Zemoeki benevolently explained that the money was not for the betik but for the bikru. I vehemently protested saying that the bikru was a concept and one cannot pay a concept, besides I had seen with my own eyes that the betik had taken the money, but Zemoeki reproachingly warned me that it was kave to say such a thing and that I had again made an unfortunate reference to my eyes. I should therefore note once and for all that I had given the money to the bikru.
As to what the bikru meant I was not, of course, at all aware; I only gathered that it was a concept concocted to unify the reasons for all bad things. If they confiscated my food, it was carried away by the bikru, my money I paid to the bikru. If somebody died of a sickness he was killed not by the germs but by the bikru. If he fell from the roof-top it was the bikru who had pushed him off. When Zemoeki egged me on to beat the kemons, I had to note that it was not he but the bikru who had compelled me to fight.
It was on account of the bikru that one had to feed on pebble instead of food, to vake for the betik, to water the grass, to burn clothes, and in general for the whole topsy-turvy life and its being unbearable they blamed the bikru which was ideally suited for excusing the germs, fire, water, confiscators, and most of all the betiks of all responsibility. The Reader may imagine, after all this, how every trouble and disease was rife here and they were unable to perceive the simple and obvious reasons, which even one of our schoolchildren would have known.
However, a dramatic turn of events ensued.
After the bikbam we took leave of Zemoeki and Zeremble with a warm pricc- prucc, then Zukrula grasped me and started at the double towards my flat.
"Did you, perhaps, want to come to me?" I asked.
"I most certainly do," she said decisively.
"What?" I was struck dumb with surprise at the unexpected present tense. "Was it now ketni for you to speak so?"
"Don't tease me," Zukrula chided. "Have you already forgotten the striking on the head with the copper cube?"
No sooner had we arrived home than Zukrula slammed the door to and removing her handkerchief from her mouth, she gasped in choking ecstasy. "Feed me, please, I'm suffering the pangs of hunger, let me have that food, stuff it into my mouth, into my stomach so that I'll be satisfied at last!"
It gave me the creeps. She revelled in the forbidden words to such an extent that I, who had gradually become accustomed to the ketni, ran out in alarm lest I should be imprisoned again.
And Zukrula ran after me screaming abuse.
I flew with my hands on my ears lest I should fall under the suspicion that I had even listened to such horrible words.
My Readers can have no idea what happened next.
They dragged me off to the betik again who sentenced me to one month's imprisonment because I had NOT fed a woman!
As I came to know later, as a result of the bikbam, everything that had been forbidden and was shameful before, afterwards became a duty to be performed and everything that had been ketni before became kave afterwards!
My Readers, if they believe any of this at all, must be holding their sides with laughter reading the comic adventures of a sane man among the lunatics. The piquancy of this is provided by the paradoxical situation whereby I did everything to follow their ideas with my unfortunately sane mind in order to avoid their being shocked and everything turned out in reverse because it is the essence of the Behins' madness that they are: not consistent even in their madness.
After the month was up and I was discharged, 1 wanted' at any rate to get to the bottom of how things were in connection with the rules of eating for women.
So from then on I paid more attention to the women.
Once 1 saw one who, on passing me, stealthily, so that nobody else should see it, momentarily lifted her handkerchief from her mouth, from which I concluded that she was hungry but did not dare to let me know openly.
I rejoiced at the opportunity; I hoped I would be able to learn a lot through her. I therefore joined her and in a roundabout way I asked her her opinion of spirituality. At this she hurriedly called me aside and whispered frankly that she was, indeed, hungry and would be happy if she could have some of my spirituality.
I admit, these words surprised me very pleasantly. Foolishly, I believed that I had found the first woman of sound mind whose words had some connection with the natural world. I led her into my room and uncovered my food for her with good heart.
The woman sat down opposite me and fell upon my spirituality with a visibly good appetite. More than once she expressed her rapture; that it was only I who could give such good food to her, while I showed my gratitude with a smile, knowing that my food was the remains of the regular daily Hin lunch.
Once the woman swallowed painfully then, opening her mouth wide, rose and approached me as if she wanted to bite my nose. The strange move somewhat surprised me and I drew back frightened and she sat back in her place with an expression no less surprised.
"Don't you want to look into my throat?"
"Into your throat? Why should I look into your throat?"
She shook her head.
"You are a strange man. Others would stipulate in advance that I should open my mouth wide after every bite."
I remarked that I abandoned any such demands in advance, as according to me eating is for satisfaction. She, for her part, went on taking nourishment and related that on one occasion she had eaten a whole goose at some man's and, with a roguish smile, assured me that she could eat even more than this, and then requested me to turn to her at any other time should I want to feed a woman, and I should not believe other women as they would not be able by any means to eat as much of my food as she, nor with such a good appetite.
I gave her my word, at which she gave me her address and then proceeded to tell me about her former host, how in addition to having to open her mouth wide at his request, she had also to eat the goose with chocolate as well as having to show her teeth after every bite.
I was already beginning to suffer from rather dissonant feelings but the real surprise was still to come. The woman went on and remarked that although she had had to eat a lot then, she also earned a lot. He had been a very generous man.
With this she wiped her mouth and — asked for money.
This unexpected turn of event surprised me so much that I could only stammer a protest, saying she had eaten her fill of my spirituality so she had no right to ask for extra payment.
The woman suddenly became furious, flew into a rage, called me names, termed it the greatest villainy that when she had devoted her midface to me I was not even prepared to compensate her, although she had charged comparatively little for the eating.
I asserted in vain that she had no right to ask for extra payment for her own pleasure. The more I tried to reason with common sense, the angrier she became.
"You worthless bivak!" she shouted. "I come in to you, allow myself to be satisfied and at the end you would run away with the fee of it? I'll give you something to think about!"
One word led to another but I trusted that she would not dare to spread the news of her having taken her fill with me. Of course, I was again disappointed in my calculations.
The woman, with a dreadful howl, flung the door open and ran away.
And the next day I was summoned to the betik who let me know that again a complaint had been lodged against me: I had not paid a woman to whom I had given spirituality.
The accusation stunned me. I did not even deny that I had given her spirituality; on the contrary, I referred to it myself saying that I did not owe her any extra payment.
At this the betik burst into a loud laugh.
I looked around idiotically. I had no idea why I should be laughed at and added that it had been the woman herself who had stated that she was hungry. So what right could she possibly have — when, taking pity on her ravenousness, I had appeased her appetite — to make, in addition to my kindheartedness, extra financial claims?
The betik laughed still more loudly, called me an amusing fool, and in no time everybody was doubled up with laughter.
This made me lose my temper completely and I remarked that the matter was much more deplorable than to be dismissed by laughing and stated that being aware of my rights, I was now setting up a counter- claim and demanded from the woman the price of the pleasure to which I was at least as much entitled as she.
The laughter that burst out at this almost brought down the walls. It took many minutes for the betik to recover, and wiping away his tears he affirmed that it had been a very long time since he had had such a good laugh; but after all the matter was much more serious than any that could have been dropped simply by laughing at it, and after all, the law was the law. He was compelled to apply the laws as without them order and sane civilization would have been overturned.
Whether the Reader believes it or not, they imprisoned me again!
And I had a week to ponder about what harm I had actually done.
The whole case was completely beyond me. Once I heard from Zemoeki of an instance when a man withdrew the bikbam offered because it came to light that the woman had already accepted spirituality from another man. But in my case the woman herself had told me that she had already been fed by several men and yet with her they not only failed to take it as a sin but held that I should even have paid her for eating my food!
After my discharge I complained to Zemoeki of my adventure, but he, too, only laughed at it, especially at my having believed that the woman was hungry, although I could have known that it was not out of hunger that that sort asked for spirituality I asserted in vain that the woman herself asked for food and he simply replied that I should have known from that itself that she did not want to eat but to earn money, for a woman who was really hungry would not say so.
This was the last straw. I could not endure this tight-rope any longer. I never knew when the sword of Damocles permanently hanging above my head would drop onto me.
Oh, how many times I yearned: that my mind become deranged so that I would be similar to them and I would always know when white should be called black and when yellow! But for anyone who with his sound mind clearly sees the white, this faculty of clear sight is so confusing that he can never find the suitable lie and fails. Once he violates the ketni, then he infringes the bikbam, or violates the child's bruhu. How much better off the lunatics are, how happy are the Behins and also how happy are the subjects of the glorious British state that they can all live among their fellow-citizens, of sound mind, similar to themselves.
Before long, however, they informed me that because of my run of scandals I had lost my job.
That was all I needed! I ran to and fro, asked Zemoeki to help me, but he, too, turned away from me as from some evildoer. And after a few days I was thrown out of my cell and was left to go out into the world.
I went back to the betik and implored him that if they were to deprive me of spirituality then they should also kill me. Why, it was an incontestable reality that everybody had a midface to receive the spirituality, which I could not abandon together with my job, and I felt I would die.
The betik, however, comforted me saying that there was one truth only in the world, the kona that was aneba, but if I wished to regain my life, I had turned to the proper quarter; why it was his very purpose to afford nourishment to the needy and the errant.
With tears in my eyes I stammered a few words of gratitude and he asked me to pass him from the shelf the box inscribed with the bikru's name.
When I had given it to him, he took out a yellow pebble, which he knocked against the side of the box a few times then handed over to me to be squeezed under my arm.
I was astounded by this heartless cynicism which enabled him to play a practical joke on a fellow-man pleading for .his life. Regrettably my exposed situation prevented me from giving an appropriate reply.
Instead snatching my foot with one hand, and putting the other on my head, I had to implore him to give me spirituality as well as the anebas for nourishment that I could preserve my life.
The betik, however, far from getting friendlier, jumped up and shouted at me with flashing eyes that I should not dare to claim of the spirituality that it nourished, and I should especially not mention this ignominious word in the vicinity of the yellow pebble, because for such an outrage of the anebas he would be compelled to levy very harsh punishment.
As a feeble defence I tried to mention only that each of us had spirituality, even the elak betiks — in fact, they even more.
This was my ruin. He assured me that the betiks — as was known to all — did not use spirituality and added that for this he would surely put me in my place. With this he took me by the scruff of my neck and threw me out.
Trembling with impotent rage I sobbed for along time. With my stomach rumbling hungrily I loitered aimlessly until I had to resort to the last means: I sat under a tree and begged.
I lived in this way for a week. I also slept under this tree the whole night, cold, and wrapped in my tatters. And the night became more and more chilly and I could not even clean myself properly. I contracted lice and scab and nobody cared for me.
Eventually one day a saving idea occurred to me. I remembered the woman on account of whom I had lost my job. I decided to follow her example, in which way it would be easy to obtain food and money.
So I called aside the very first woman and confidently whispered to her that I was very hungry and willing to take some spirituality cheaply. At this without any introduction she began shrieking frantically. Many people gathered around to whom, between fits of swooning, she related what had happened.
Terrible things followed with the description of which I do not wish to make excessive demands on the Reader's nerves. To cut a long story short, within five minutes I 'was sprawling on the ground in blood.
It turned out that eating for money was valid only for women; men were excluded. And the Reader is thoroughly wrong if he believes that I was knocked about by the female sex united in the defence of their interests. On the contrary: it was the men who beat me most thoroughly and viciously. Precisely the man whose food was usually eaten by this woman. So, though a whole world separated me from this unfortunate race, I sincerely took pity on this miserable, deplorably stupid and deceived male sex, as they defended their own humiliation and exploitation. And it was the man mentioned before who shouted after every blow that I had wanted him to be deceived.
Yes, however difficult it is to understand, I have to add that these men not only fail to perceive their being deceived : each is ready to believe that he would have been deceived if the woman had eaten the food of another man and not his. But this I do not even try to explain. Let us rather return to our subject, for my sufferings had not yet come to an end.
The next day an official came up to me and told me that Zukrula had laid a charge against me for having requested food of another woman, and I would probably be punished heavily. Amazed, I asked him why. He replied that only Zukrula was entitled to do so for she had been hit on the head with the copper cube.
Thrilled with joy I told him that I would also accept food from Zukrula, I even suggested that four or five women should team up to feed me alternately by which the burden borne by each would be less. He stated in consternation that that was impossible because it was Zukrula who had been hit on the head.
I suggested that the others should also be hit on the head at which he looked me up and down with utter contempt and said it seemed to him I had sunk to the very depths of squalor and I deserved to be burnt at the stake.
I spent the following days in the quiet lethargy of semi-madness and believed that matters could at least not become any worse.
Alas, in this, too, I was mistaken.