A Short Story
“Strange neighbourhood this,” I thought, looking out the window. It was a Sunday afternoon. A golden glow filled the quiet street. “There’s the old lady, picking nuts.” She spent her life in the neighbourhood, never moving beyond its tree-lined streets.
I had never before seen a neighbourhood like this, where all the trees were nut trees. Acacia, macadamia and pecan. Even Brazil nuts. And if anyone knows about which types of trees bear which types of nuts, and when to pick them, and how to eat them, it’s the old lady. “The lower ones begin to grow through the husk,” she said.
The old lady even has disciples. About half a dozen young men follow her around some days, not today though. She teaches them all about nuts. “How much is there to learn about them?” I asked her. “Huh!” she laughed with a rough look in her eye and a chafe of her rough hands, “There’s more to nuts than the eating, but even that you can’t do right.”
“She’s right,” I realized, as I looked down at the crushed pecan nut in my hand, bits of nut mingled with hard fragments of shell. Rather than struggle to pick this I cast it aside, turning the other way.
“When you crush your nuts you got to scrape off the shell with the flick of the chafing thumb,” she said to the group of disciples following her, and she demonstrated with a deft flick of the thumb. The shell came off cleanly, leaving the nut oily and whole in her brown palm. She teaches them how to crack them open without crushing the inner bits, so that each half of the nut can be picked from its wooden shell, whole and clean.
That day she had a class at two thirty, so she could afford to speak to me about the art of cracking them open. One of her senior students was with her, and she asked him to demonstrate. He did a pretty good job of it too, cracking the nut deftly in half, each half resting in its shell like a boat. Still, he did not do it half as well as the old lady. She saw me struggling with a shallow imperfect nut, so she offered me the fruit of the one she had cracked open. That was a good day. We were sat outside the hotel. My partner was sick. Too many nuts improperly prepared. Although the old lady hasn’t travelled, she has gained a great depth of knowledge.
That was all in the past. Now I’ve got business to do. A score to settle. A friend to kill, whom I have not seen in years. Why must I kill him? It’s a long story. The long and short of it was he introduced me to a friend of his and the introduction didn’t please me, so I decided to take grave insult and kill the bastard.
The sunlit street no longer interests me, so I look back into my hotel room. Everything I need is here. I’ve got my knife. A few slices and twirls. Still got the touch. Thuds cleanly against the dart board. No problem. And if that doesn’t finish the bastard off, I’ve got another little surprise for him right here, in my small chest. Unlocking the wooden lid, the faint wisp of herbs tickles the nostrils. Right here, in this small box, my deadly poisons. This one, the green misty bottle with the aging cork, will thicken his blood like cement. This other one, flaming orange, will set it on fire. I know where the bastard takes his lunch. The restaurant in the corner. Likes burgundy, the bastard. I’ll give him one he will never forget.
Should I give a damn about whether what I’m going to do is right or wrong? Maybe. Otherwise I’m nothing more than a puppet. A puppet of my hate, my envy. Where am I in this? Do I even exist? What the hell am I doing? But I don’t want to wake up. I’ve got to see this thing through.
No. Forget it. Let the bastard live.
That was all a couple of days ago. Strange place this. No one is around. Some building stood here once. Now all that’s left is the cracking foundation and a few crumbling walls. Grass is growing in the cracks, and birds screech their strange language all around. I’ll be meeting him here soon, without my puñal. This is a meeting of peace, of settling our quarrel. No need for the knife, and no need for the poison.
It’s true, I called him here to finish the business. He understood the message. One of us would leave his body here, food for the jackals. But I’ve changed my mind. I’ve decided to forgive him. There he is.
“Look here man. I’m not going to fight.”
He looks at me. He’s not carrying any weapon. “Me too.”
He approaches me. What the hell. I hug the bastard. And then something strange happened. I was lifted, by God’s grace, out of my body, just so that I could see what the hell was going on. I was viewing events from the outside.
After hugging his friend, the other guy walked away, throwing down his knife. He walked towards an old sagging football. It had been lying there, in the deserted ruin. He turned around and kicked it towards his friend, who had been me, whom he had stabbed in the back. The friend, who had been me, not fully aware that he had been stabbed, agreed to play and kicked back the ball, but then he stumbled, the patch of red on his back growing larger.
I feel now the last breath leaving my lips. But you know what? I don’t mind what that bastard did. I think of my bronze leaflike blade, I think of my box of eastern poisons. I remember sheathing the blade and putting the box away. I remember my resolve to forgive the bastard. But now, as I lie here dying, I love the bastard. I made this partial choice dimly, through the haze of things. I remember: it was wrong to want to kill him. It was wrong to be totally driven by unreal forces, bent on wrong.
Two Chinese gods, the male facing West, pointing West and North, and the Female facing East, pointing East and South; the flight home; Quaishiao