Monday 9th May 2011
A meeting with one of the inhabitants
ARMS are for wrapping, hands for clapping, as we are often told.
When the man who had warned me of the drones drew near, I prepared to greet him in the customary Rhetan manner: smile, look in the eye, speak your name and offer an embrace. It was at once apparent that he and I had differing expectations.
Rather than looking directly at me, he inspected my overall appearance, with his arms crossed in front of his chest, as if I had antagonised him. The lips formed not into a smile, but a spout, through which he poured out a name of some twenty syllables, announced in an urgent, imperious tone.
Fuangabow – for that was the overture to the opus of the man’s name – was tall, bony, brown-haired and in the early years of his fifth decade. The pallor of his skin and a shortage of breath after rushing down the track indicated ill-health. All his facial hair had been removed.
His apparel reminded me of those stark drawings I have come across in history books: the grey leggings, the white shift with a vertical line of studs, the dark halter looped through a rigid collar and knotted under the throat. His left hand reached up to this tether, which he loosened with a tug, enabling him to unclasp the stud at the neck. As he did so, I noticed a cumbersome metal band on his wrist.
Movement and manacle thus verified his status as that of a forlorn serf.
Had he recently fled the city of the drones? Did he seek others not yet enslaved? Had he left some hide-out in the woods, risking capture in order to caution me against the perils of this place? Was the gesture with halter and collar-stud symbolic of a hoped-for fraternity?
These and many other questions did I, a newcomer to this land, wish to ask of my tense and troubled companion.
Some time would elapse before I discovered that his name was not Fuangabow-blah-blah-blah-woodwie, but Martin, and that such attire and mannerisms are commonplace among those of his people who are called ‘business men’.