A Trail of Shadows
I halt, panting, and rest my elbows against the parapet. In the terrarium of urban routine, my little ants come and go. If only they knew. Each one of them believes he's just a passerby, no more, on his way to the office or the factory. That's not true: the path itself is destiny. They have reached their destination, sure thing. Nobody is going their separate ways, for chance is secretly binding together all the loose threads of a thousand wanderings. What matters is the general drift of things, not the little moves each can make in private. I'm telling myself: they're gathered here to trace ovals, circles and triangles. The small pieces of the mosaic get wider or narrower. At times they brace up and yawn their boredom away. Often they scatter in all directions and I can see daggers, swift like lightning, protrude menacingly from their ribs. Funny how, from the great hall, with its restaurants, cafés and news stands, the little army of ants veers toward the escalator, in a thin column that grows more dense, blacker. Before stepping on the carpet, they let their legs hang hesitatingly in the air, for a split second, their eyes boring deep into the lower floors, where they never fail to behold an uncanny sight: an old black man, in a green and yellow uniform, casting a serene and ironic look at them. A floor cleaner. Me. Nothing really unsettling, right? I'm not guarding the Gates of Hell. In any case, they only saw me in their minds. Fleetingly.
How do they manage to reproduce the same mechanical gestures, every single day? It's a closed, sticky mass, so compact I hardly see it move. On a normal day, I see all sorts of hair on their heads: brown, blonde, red, salt and pepper; there are also long, windblown locks, or cut short, cropped, curly, plaited, braided, bound in a ponytail or tucked under a hat, a turban or a headscarf. Ah yes, I almost forgot about the hairless, bald ones, with nothing on their heads. They're usually of every hue, I'm telling you. So all this variety should have blossomed into a thousand shapes and colors. Not too much of it, one has to be realistic. Just a tiny little bit. Yet instead, there is only a forest of dark heads, stretching as far as the eye can see.
It reminds me of the times when Thierno Bâ the shepherd used to drive his animals across our community, looking for pastures. Sure, they were different, Thierno's oxen, I'll grant that. Still, that was hardly noticeable. Everywhere around us we saw the same animal: same odor, same finely curved horns, same look, alternately mocking and perplexed. Just a bunch of animals, you know. Sure, I'm no keeper at the Gates of Hell, and like folks back home would say, God isn't my sibling. But one thing I do know is, God has decided to punish these people by taking away, every new dawn, a bit of that variety which is the salt of the earth. Before long their city will be overpopulated with the same person.
He told me one day, Sydia, “Dad, evil lives inside these people.” Always angry, my little Sydia.
No, my son, they're not free. Me I just pity them. They're the slaves of their passions and their fears. That's all. One must break the circle. The day one of them will pause to shout anything at the world, you know, nice little obscenities, then on that day they'll be free.
Sometimes you catch loose bits of morning trivia, when they pass near you.
That one is a real asshole. But he ain't going to get away with it, is he? Wait until we nail his ass down, he's going to die like a rat, the son of a bitch.
Me, vote? Are you kidding?
You're right, they all stink of shit, telling us pure lies.
A bit expensive, don't you think?
Tu me manques in French means I miss you
It turns out they had eleven games fixed. God, you don't seem to realize how scandalous this is, do you?
Oh yes, I read it in the paper.
Or you catch silences.
The silence of mechanical ants, their jaws tightly pressed. So many hearts filled with hate, so early in the morning. The bitter silence of grim-faced, cold-hearted creatures. I find it really amusing: there are all these buildings, yet instead of raising their heads they keep their eyes glued to the muck oozing from the gutters.
At times there is like a small crack in the glary mass. On the same spot, almost. Like a desperate gasp for air. Somebody has dared to turn his head left or right. I recognize him. This young man is always in a rush. It's never fast enough for him. So he bumps into everybody, elbowing his way through the crowd, mumbling ”Pardon me, sir, pardon me, miss, I have to catch the six-nineteen-train.” It's like this every day, seconds before he boards his six-nineteen-train, and the funny thing, you see, is that the young fellow doesn't even cause a stir, his restlessness is one of the ancient tribe's mysterious rituals. I'm not going to mess with their business, but this young fellow here, he must be doing it on purpose, to always be seconds from narrowly missing his train, or else my name isn't Seydou Keita, son of Mouhamadou Keita and Awa Kanouté.
The crowd is leaning on one side, then on the other, like a small craft battling a storm at night. But I know theirs won't capsize, for they scare the sea so much that she recoils from them.
The ants, the real ants I mean, they don't think. At least this is how it looks to me. They go in the same direction, they charge toward the same goal. Which direction? Go figure. As for the goal, it's definitely no trivial private matter. These ants of mine, bustling in the glass jar, they are smoke puffs, whirling round before turning into a thin shaft, then the thin shaft becomes invisible. They are right, their earth is round. They turn around it. Here the kettle is boiling. The One is split into thousands of meaningless fragments. It's the second punishment from God: their differences won't be a nourishing element, but the deadliest venom. In their head, and in the course of their death-time on this earth, each one of them will destroy the world, from sunrise to sunset.