restricted access Chapter 7
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22 7 When the note came Shechem was taking his own turn at cleaning the toilets, which required pulling the overflowing buckets from under the plank stands on which users squatted, and emptying them into the ravine two hundred metres away towards the southern turret. The containers, thirty-seven of them, were lined out in one long hall, the zinc partitions of which had been torn down after the prison authorities discovered that inmates used the cubicles for other things outside answering nature’s call. The zinc sheets were exposed in the yard for one week for inmates to take stock of their own filthy literature; and it was interesting how the authors themselves transformed into curious, even astonished visitors. He returned to their cell later in the afternoon to an excited reception by Levi. “Here,” he said, holding the clipped note at him. “The warder slipped it under shortly after you left. The trial, I suspect.” He was right. The note was announcing their trial at the Tole Magistrate’s Court in a fortnight. It said they were to be tried separately within two days’ interval, Shechem first. “They have finally made up their minds,” Shechem said. “They were going to, sooner or later.” “We are entitled to legal advice.” “I don’t need it. Such services can only be a smokescreen. We have the facts, so why surrender them to counsel that may end up using them against our interest?” “We shall assume our own defence then?” “Don’t we have the head for it?” For all that reporting had exposed him to the basic iniquity of human nature, Levi continued to believe that the human being carried some residual goodness in him and could be trusted for right action. He viewed the biblical myth of the fall as a fallacy meant for no other purpose than to burden the human conscience with unwarranted guilt. To subject Adam and Eve to the daily temptation of the flesh was to him a much graver offence than the benign act of tasting of the fruit. The Garden of Eden was not the paradise it claimed to be – unless by paradise was meant a place of suffering – but hell where man burnt in the eternal fire of hunger and thirst, where man saw fruit of the most attractive kind but could not touch; smelt fruit of the most appetizing 23 kind but could not eat, where man saw beauty but was barred from its enjoyment. Armed with his cause-and-effect logic Levi thought it was enough for him to appear in court and proclaim Motine guilty of the B.O. collapse for the latter to be handcuffed and locked up in prison forever. Levi’s was the kind of dazzling gullibility that blinded him to the difference between having the head for one’s defence and being allowed to assume that defence in all objectivity. Because the outcome of their trial was uncertain, Shechem elected to use the intervening time to round up his manuscript and have the project out of the way. Levi regarded his friend’s passion for writing with benign curiosity. “If you had a writer anywhere in you I’d tell you,” he cautioned with paternalistic gravity. “A good reporter, yes. There’s proof of that…your many outstanding articles…Tole Slab Saga, The Biwume Wedding,…many more. Good material. But writing…the discipline…the demand on the imagination…you don’t seem to me to come anywhere near those rigours.” And he was not laughing! “Why don’t you taste my palmwine before flinging it outside, calabash and all?” the besieged writer pleaded. “I know you well enough not to need to taste your harvest. Your problem is that you want to emulate the writers you like… Ngugi… Knight and Lomas…by the way, see how you opened your arrest report? One would think one was entering Petals! But there’s a difference between enjoying a writer and picking up your own pen in the hope that you’ll be like him. I’m in prison just like Ho, but I cannot start a Notebook from Prison just because I want to be like that great Vietnamese figure.” “What stops you from trying? You’ll be surprised at the writer slumbering in you.” “You are filled to the brim with visions of a master.” “And why shouldn’t I? How are masters born? I will plod on, and rise and fall, and rise and fall...