Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, November 01, 2012

Story: Ibrahim
Art: Sadia Islam/E R Ronny


Story: The Gruesome Statistic and The Awful Fact
Art: E R Ronny

Sine ceras - Flawless
They carved me out from stone; white marble with veins running through it. Not gold, just a few mineral veins. I was locked in that slab, and they chiselled me out, etching my features, my contours into stark relief. Sine ceras - without wax. I was perfect and few who came to see me realised it.

And when I was completed, they put me on a plinth, surrounded by a fountain of clear water. The square I lived in was so steeped in history that the buildings that I could see from my frozen berth were as brothers to me.

The first people that came to see me, they spoke long words alluding to the finesse and skill of my maker. They talked of the feats of the one whom I personify. I recall nothing of the grandeur they whisper about in awed voices. I haven't fought any battles; I haven't rescued any cities; there are no damsels I have saved. The flesh and blood man I once was is rotting in a grave in another square where these very same people make their pilgrimage. And there at his tomb, the women come and go and speak of Michelangelo. And they humbly place their wreaths in respect of a man who left behind nothing but a statue. Me.

The house in front of me where my flesh-image once grew up and learned the art of war is just as unfeeling as I am, the fountain around me keeping the people at bay. In time, they come in droves. Large crowds with curiously similar faces; a mixture of longing, hope, and beneath it all, resignation at a fruitless search for greater meaning. Their whispers turn to prayers and they caress my stone limbs as if the shock of the cold would transfer something ineffable, intangible; the very thing they are seeking. I cannot speak, and even if I could, I doubt I would have the heart to point out their folly. I am, after all, just a block of stone.

And in time, their caresses become more than just a simple touch for luck. They come to my fountain and pray for release. They look up at me, with my unmoving face, and I see in their eyes myself, moving in their thoughts. Saving them, releasing them. They impress upon me the image of their hopes and their dreams. And they seek to buy their wishes from me. At first, they try to give me totems, to help me aid them in their endeavours; rings, locks of hair, ribbons and dolls, small trinkets. Soon it turns into gold and silver. Thirty pieces of silver could buy them nothing here.

Visio Dei - Ascension
The house across from me is being restored. Painted in new colours that hearken back to its infant days, when my flesh counterpart still lived there. I am being polished. In a fit of celebratory pique, they dress me in fine clothes, over the stone ones I always wear. A general's stripes rest on my shoulders as around the square, a parade traipses around the fountain. Every now and then one would break off and come to me; they would look up and thank me for their prosperity. In their eyes I can see myself being raised above this plinth, onto an altar.

I want to tell them to stop. It is not me who gave their harvests fruit. I did not put food upon their tables; clothes upon their backs. But they still come to me and profusely shed their gratitude. I did not give counsel to their Lords.

In the warm afternoons of the waning summers, couples walk the courtyard, hand in hand. They are bold in their affections, caring nothing for prying eyes, of which there are few. Doves frolic at my feet and occasionally void themselves over my shoulder. I do not mind. It is comforting to stand among the merry and joyous. In feats of daring and utter lack of foresight, the children etch their names on my body. In their hopes to lay claim to eternity, they forget that I am but a small glimpse in history and they are fleeting still. In the depths of the night, I see their heartache, their little pains. Sometimes I feel disdain and those tiny lapses of sympathy make me feel monstrous. Do stones have hearts?

The occasional patrol passes by to see that everything is in order. Sometimes the guards lounge in the sun, sharing a smoke of contentment. My fountain is now showered with more and more gifts. Their prosperity has given them conviction. Through the clear water, the glittering miasma of offerings and tributes shine like a kaleidoscope. It is almost beautiful in the refracted sunlight and a part of me feels pride. That in itself is troubling. Can stone lay claim to emotions? To possession?

Lema Sabachthani - Forsaken
There are protesters in the square. Ministers stand on their own wooden podiums in front of my fountain and scream of injustice, of hate and robbery. They scream to the massed gatherings of the decrepit, the forgotten. And the people scream right back. In those moments, when their collective roars shake the eaves of the house across from me, when the birds leave my shoulders in fright, I can feel their hate. I can see them look at me anew. In their eyes, I can see myself become a symbol of their suffering. The patrols are fewer now, and during the nights, I can see my faithless flock lurking at the edges of the darkness. Sometimes they throw stones. Sometimes they yell obscenities and run before they are caught. The Watchmen are indifferent.

The young couples dwindle slowly, until there are none left. In exchange, I now play host to a multitude of young widows. Some come to grieve. Others come with knives to scratch out the names. War touches everyone, even me. In the dead of the night, the miserable dregs of their broken society come to my fountain. They stare up at me with their challenging eyes and steal from my hoard of trinkets. I do not know if the sculptor who carved me graced me with memory, but some of them look achingly familiar.

Around me in the square the houses that were once my brothers are changing. I do not recognise them. On their front steps drunks sleep and squat. Their facades are a mural to the people's rage, garlanded as they are with graffiti. The thrown stones have taken out their windows. They are like dead eyes staring back from flayed faces.

One night, when broken members of my flock are once again defacing another of my brothers, a rare example of a patrolman catches them at it. From my vantage point I can see the people turn. I can see them decide not to run. I bear witness as allegiance becomes just a word and nothing more.

The patrolman floats in the fountain, a grotesque parody of honour.

Quaeso. Miserere. - Pleading Child
They burned down the house. It was quietly done and there were no witnesses, no foolishly brave patrolmen. It was a bonfire for my audience alone and my marble eyes only saw shadows in the dark. It wasn't long before shovels and spades came and raped the once-pristine edges of the fountain. They took the bricks in broad daylight. Dead eyes threw hostile stares and, for the first time, I felt no urge to stop the crowd.

They have denuded the clear waters around me of the simple trinkets that it once held. Everything that once glittered is now gone. All that is left are the totems; the personal and the useless. Now they don't come to me for prayers. They come and they accuse me, for inspiring their corrupt leaders, for setting up a regime they cannot accept. They throw trash at my feet. At night, the drunks defecate and sprinkle their urine over my legs.

But it doesn't stop there. One night, a man came to me, his gimp leg dragging. He looked at me with such hate and such rage. He proceeded to tell me his tale, all his woe and his pain laid bare. And once again I saw myself in his eyes. Now I am just a statue. I do not move in his thoughts. At the end of his tirade, he took the knife he had in his hands and tore out my eyes. He is but the first. In time, with different men, my hands are hammered to dust. My toes are ground down. Crumbs of white now mix with the greenish yellow dregs that remain in the broken fountain.

They forget. I am a statue. I have no eyes. I have no hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions. I am not fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons nor subject to the same diseases. If they cut me, I do not bleed. But then, why do I feel this pain?

Vae Magnus - Woe to the Great
Their war is now over. The doves have returned and Patrolmen have cleaned up the square once again. But they are different. They wear different clothes. And I am different. I am broken. Reduced to stone. They have left me a husk, a scarecrow, a reminder of their common tragedy. I am what was.

Debts of Inspiration: Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin, Cult of Personality by Living Colour, TS Eliot, Schumann, Shakespeare. And Rome.


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