Monthly Archives: March 2011

Here is the next instalment of Lindy. Those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.

Chapter Seventeen:
In Which Lindy Begins The Journey Home

When Lindy walked out the cottage door and along the path and into the woods the next morning, she had the feeling that she was only just then beginning her real journey.  Jumping down from Mister Hat’s wall and passing through the arch and finding The Crofts and looking for the cottage and losing the crown to Khurshid all seemed like preparations for the journey that she was about to make now, the journey back home to Clinton and Penates and The Crofts.  She had felt this way from the moment she woke, and she had tried to explain it to Amena as best she could as they ate their breakfast of fresh bread and butter and honey with lemon balm tea to wash it all down.  Amena had only smiled at her.  “Our most important journeys are often our journeys home,” she had said, and Lindy felt how true this was now as she began her own journey home.

The Crofts was not her real home, of course.  She had only lived there for a few days, three or four, she could never quite remember how many, but it was the only home that she had in The Weald.  It had felt like home to her almost right away, and she knew now that it was where she belonged, no matter how angry the house might be with her.  So she was going home now, at least in a way, and she knew somehow, just as Amena had said, that this was her most important journey.

When at last she had said her goodbyes, she followed Saffi from the clearing onto a path so completely overgrown that it hardly seemed worth the name.  It went weaving around trees and along ridges and through valleys and yet, in the end, somehow managed to find the main road just when Lindy had begun to wonder whether Saffi was leading her in circles. He bobbed about, ducking and diving and seeming to choose his way at random when the path disappeared, but he always knew his way, and the two of them always found the path again, and they did eventually come at last to the main road.  More importantly, they saw nothing of the fearsome creatures that Lindy now knew were lurking about in the forest, only a few squirrels and a few songbirds now and again, and these were pleasant enough company.

Once they came to the main road their journey was even less eventful, and I will spend as little time describing it to you as Lindy spent describing it to me.  She stopped once to eat some of the food that Amena had sent with her, and she stopped again that night to sleep in a dry little cave that Saffi found, but nothing much else happened throughout the day besides putting one foot in front of the other.  Even going to sleep that night, which Lindy had thought might be a bit difficult, was much easier than she expected.  She just laid her head on her pack, pulled her wool blanket over herself, glanced at Saffi keeping guard at the mouth of the cave, and fell asleep straight away, which is more than I can manage myself most nights, even in the comfort and safety of my own bed.

She woke the next morning to see Saffi still standing guard, and so she began the day feeling as safe and as happy as could be expected, but there was no one really to share her happiness, and she had to make do with talking a little to Saffi as she ate her breakfast of wild strawberries and bread.  She told him about how strange it was to be in a place so unlike her home, and how worried she was about her mother and about what Khurshid would do to The Crofts, and how much better she felt now that she was going back to The Crofts.  Saffi could say nothing back to her, of course, and she was not really sure how much he could understand, but it made her feel a little less alone to tell him what she was feeling.

They set off again while it was still quite early.  The coolness of the morning had woken Lindy before it was even light, and it had not taken very long to eat her simple breakfast, so the sun was only just filtering through the leaves when they reached the main road again.  The dew was heavy on everything, and Lindy’s pants and shoes were soon very wet from the plants that were overgrowing the cobblestones, but the sky was clear, and the sun promised to dry everything before very long.  Lindy thought that she should probably reach the bridge before dark if she walked quickly enough, so she set herself a good pace, and she hardly even stopped for lunch, eating the last of her wrinkled apples as she walked.

The sun had grown as warm as it had promised by the afternoon, and Lindy began to sweat as she walked.  The warmth of the day reminded her that it would not be long until it was really summer, and this made her wonder what day it was and how close it was exactly until Midsummer.  She even thought for a moment that it might have passed and that it might be too late to go back to The Crofts.  Her sense of time told her that this was not probably true, but she knew that time moved strangely in The Weald, and the trees did now look full enough for Midsummer, so she could not quite put aside the sense that she was running out of time.

She began to walk even faster now, though she was quite tired from walking so far, and she even found herself breaking into a jog at times, her feet starting to run on as fast as her mind.  She could only think now of how she might be late and come to The Crofts only to find that there was almost nothing left of it.  She began imagining the most terrible things, and the worst of it was that she knew these things might really be true or that they might really become true at any moment.

Saffi did not seem to be concerned by any of this, of course.  He just kept humming along beside her, matching his speed with hers, but after a time, he too began to act strangely.  He kept landing on the path for a few seconds at a time, keeping very still and seeming to feel for something in the ground, or he would suddenly sweep up very high above the tree canopy, as if he was looking for something, and all the while his buzzing became agitated and frenzied.

It took only a few minutes more until Lindy too began to hear something now and again.  At first it was only faint and muffled and intermittent, sounding a little like the works of a big factory, only very far away.  Then, after a few minutes more, she could hear that the sounds were actually drums beating, and then, when she was closer, she could also hear shouting and singing and growling and roaring and all sorts of other noises.  Soon she could also make out the orange light of bonfires mixing with the setting sun through the last of trees, and then, at last, she came upon the great horde of creatures that had gathered in the meadow before the bridge, all eating and drinking and carousing and dancing and singing and fighting.  Most of them looked at least a little human, though they were almost always wrong somehow, either too beautiful or too hideous or too something that Lindy could not quite name but could still feel in the pit of her stomach.  They all had a sense about them that they did not belong, a sense that they were out of place.  Even looking at them made her feel wrong somehow.

Lindy was too surprised by all this to be as frightened as she probably should have been.  She just kept walking along the road toward the bridge, right through the middle of the fires and the noise, with Saffi hovering above her like a halo in the deepening evening dim.  Some of the creatures stopped to look at her as she passed, and soon others were looking as well, and before long it seemed as if every eye was on her and that every voice was hushed.

Ahead of her, right in the middle of the path, nearly at the foot of the bridge, there was something like an old fashioned carriage, only it was covered in complicated carvings and painted everywhere in red and gold.  Its wheels were huge, twice as tall as Lindy, and it had steps leading up from the ground to a throne that sat high on the bed of the carriage.  Khurshid was lounging on the throne and eating something from a golden bowl as Lindy approached, but when she reached the foot of the carriage, he passed the bowl to one of his servants and leapt to his feet with such a show of joy that Lindy knew he could only be mocking her.

“Oh, Lindy,” he cried, “I’m so glad you’ve come to join us in our celebrations.”   He lowered his voice to a loud whisper, “In fact, I have the most marvellous surprise for you tomorrow night.  Do tell me that you’ll be there to see it.”  He moved down the stairs toward her, stepping around a large golden chest that was set in front of his throne like a footstool.  It was carved all over with impossible animals and plants, all holding each other in their patterns with teeth and claws and barbs and stings, and Lindy found her eyes strangely drawn to it.

“Ah, yes,” Khurshid said, noticing her gaze, “you’ve seen my chest of crowns.  Would you like me to show it to you?”

He took her hand and led her up the first steps of the throne so that he could lift the lid of the golden chest.  It was filled to its very brim with crowns, all piled carelessly, as if they had been thrown simply at random.  Lindy knew that they must be the crowns of the Keepers, but they were not all the same as she had imagined they would be.  Some were simple circles of gold and some worked in ornate patterns, some heavily made and some quite delicate, some very plain and some covered in jewels.

“You recognize this one, I’m sure,” Khurshid said.  He picked up the crown that Lindy had worn for so short a time and that Alisdair had worn for so long before her.  He placed the crown on his own head.  “It looks very regal, you must admit,” he said, “almost as if it was made for me.”

He picked up another and tossed it to Lindy.  It was heavier than it looked, and she staggered back under its weight, almost stumbling on the stairs.  As soon as she touched it, her mind was filled with the image of a handsome man, his green eyes quiet and grave, his red hair and beard closely cut like fur and shot with grey.  “He’s dead now,” said Khurshid, “that man you’re seeing.  I killed him with my own hands, as I killed all the Keepers who tried to resist me.  They were the foolish ones, and none of them survived, except you, of course, though I don’t expect you’ll live much longer.”

He took the crown from her and handed her another.  It was even heavier and set with three large rubies, and she saw in her mind a woman, dark-haired but light-eyed, and with the sense of something feline about her, something large and carnivorous.  “She was one of the wise ones,” Khurshid said, and he nodded to the left of the throne.  Lindy saw that a small crowd of people were now gathered there, and among them was the same woman, with the same hair and eyes, the same sense of cat-like grace and cruelty.  She stared back at Lindy, and Lindy turned her eyes away.

The images from the crowns saddened her.  They seemed to say just what Khurshid had said, that her only choice was either to surrender or to die, and a feeling of hopelessness began creeping over her.  She found herself wondering whether there was really any point of going back to The Crofts or even of going any further.  After all, had Khurshid not already taken all the crowns?  What difference would it make if she went back now or not?  She tried to remember why it was that she needed to go back home, but she could think of nothing but the faces she had seen in the crowns, and they threatened to shut out everything else.

It was then, Lindy said, that Saffi saved her for a second time.  Whether or not he really knew that she needed saving is a question that neither Lindy nor I can answer, but for whatever reason, whether because he saw Lindy’s distress or because of some instinct of his own, Saffi chose just that moment to land on the steps of the carriage and brush up against Lindy’s leg, like a cat looking for attention, and iLindy said herself that it was as if he had shone his light right into her heart.  In that soft, clean light everything became much clearer again.  She suddenly saw how Khurshid was using the crowns to drive her into hopelessness, and she saw too that going back to The Crofts was exactly what she needed to do, whatever else might happen.

She handed the crown back to Khurshid and straightened herself up as tall as she could.  “That’s enough,” she said.

Khurshid met her eyes with a look of surprise. “Is it now?”

Lindy held his gaze for a moment, then she turned and descended the stairs with Saffi once again flying close beside her.  She rounded the edge of the carriage, past its huge wheels, between the traitor-kings who had gathered beside it, and onward toward the bridge.  No one tried to stop her.  They only followed her with their eyes, and Lindy was already beyond them before she heard Khurshid calling after her from the height of his throne.

“Until tomorrow, Lindy,” he cried, his melodious voice singing out into the coming night.  “You won’t want to miss you’re surprise, I promise you.”

Lindy neither turned nor answered, only stepped from the path onto the bridge and kept her course for home, even as the sounds of Khurshid’s camp swelled once more behind her, growing fuller and louder with every step, until she reached the forest and found it echoing again with sounds of distant shouts and drums.

Previous Chapter < > Next Chapter

The light is dim, and the writing seems to appear a fraction of a moment after the pen has passed, a fraction of a moment too late, an illusion of the lighting, surely, but an illusion that is like a metaphor of how we only see for ourselves what we are doing once the moment is already gone, and then the writing stops altogether, and perhaps this is a metaphor also, because it is now too dark to see what has been written.

As readers of Jacques Derrida’s Of Hospitality, we are from the very first confronted by the question of how to receive the text.  How is such a text to be read?  Should we first read Anne Dufourmantelle’s essay, which she labels an “Invitation”, and which appears on the left-hand pages, always visually preceding Derrida’s own words on the right-hand pages?  Or should we first read Derrida’s lectures, which were delivered first and to which Dufourmantelle’s “Invitation” responds?  Is it possible that we might read the two together, one alternating with the other, page alternating page?  How, in other words, are we to receive this singular text, how do we make a reception for it, keeping in mind the connotations of hospitality that these words ‘receive’ and ‘reception’ bear with them?  To read Of Hospitality, therefore, is to involve ourselves in the question of reading as hospitality, in the question of how to receive what Dufourmantelle and Derrida have written.

When I take up a text to read it, any text, I extend an invitation through it, not an invitation to the author in person, of course, except perhaps in certain exceptional senses, but an invitation to what the author has written, or, in the case of Jacques Derrida’s Of Hospitality, to what has been transcribed on behalf of the author, but in any case, to the words beneath which the author’s name has been signed.  The act of reading opens the reader to this text like the act of invitation opens the home to the guest.  It makes the reader available, attentive, receptive, concerned with the text, puts the reader in the position of the host.  To read is to host what arrives through the text as a guest.

In this sense, Of Hospitality imposes gravely on my hospitality as a reader, not only in the ways that every guest always imposes on any hospitality, but because my hospitality, my invitation, which was extended to Derrida, to whom my invitation has been extended so many times in the past, becomes also, though I did not bargain for it, did not account for it, an invitation to Dufourmantelle as well, whom I do not know, to whom I would never have made my invitation had she not come in Derrida’s company, had she not arrived with him as his guest.  I invited one, but this other came to claim my hospitality also, this one who now becomes my guest through my guest, whom I am forced to receive as the guest of my guest.

This arriving-with makes all the difference.  Dufourmantelle does not arrive before Derrida, does not arrive in a preface or an introduction or a note on the text.  Nor does she arrive after him, as a postscript or an envoi or an epilogue.  She arrives at almost precisely the same moment, she on one page, he on the other, her text interpolated with his.  For this reason she is not merely a stranger who happens to arrive before or after Derrida, a stranger who might still require my hospitality, who might even demand it, but who could in either case be extended hospitality in her own right.  She is instead a stranger who arrives with Derrida, with an already invited guest, and her arrival presumes on an invitation that was never hers, assumes a hospitality, not in her own name or her own right, but in the name and the right of another.  She does not receive her invitation directly from the host, from me, but only indirectly, through the invitation that I extend to another.  She is not my guest.  She is the guest of my guest.  I am not her host.  I am the host of her host.

This relation between the guest-of-the-guest and the host-of-the-host arises because of the one who first received the invitation and then extended it to another, because of the guest who presumed to offer an invitation on behalf of the host, because of the guest who takes the place of the host.  This guest-host is invited, but also invites, stands between his host and his guest, offers his host to his guest and his guest to her host in a way that is necessarily an imposition on them both, even if this imposition is in some cases a welcome one.  The host is imposed on the guest just as much as the guest is imposed on the host.  My hospitality is imposed on Dufourmantelle, just as her arrival is imposed on me, and this is the case even when the guest-host extends the invitation unwillingly, even when he does not extend it at all, for even if Dufourmantelle has merely seized upon Derrida’s text and written herself into it without his assent, my invitation to hospitality, extended through Derrida, is as much an imposition on her as her arrival, enabled by this invitation, is an imposition on me.

It is not necessary, therefore, that either the guest-host or the guest-of-the-guest intend to impose on the host’s invitation or the host’s hospitality, because the imposition takes place quite apart from any intention, in the very structure of the relationship between the three parties.  The imposition is structural and insuperable, even when it is not unwelcome.  It arises essentially in the asymmetry between the invited guest and the uninvited guest, between the expected guest and the unexpected guest, between one kind of hospitality and another.  The host, extending an invitation, expects to receive the guest in a certain way and to be hospitable in a certain way, but discovers that there is expected of him another kind of reception and another kind of hospitality, an unexpected hospitality that arrives like a parasite on the expected.

This figure of the guest-of-the-guest is a risk that is implicit in every invitation and every hospitality.  Anyone whom I welcome across my threshold, whether a complete stranger or my spouse, whether my friend of my child, may extend an invitation to others to cross my threshold also, may extend an invitation that is not mine but that my hospitality is nevertheless obligated to recognize and to respect.  Any of those who enter my home, whatever their relationship to me, may be accompanied by another, may arrive with another, and this other must be received as a guest, or better, as the guest-of-my-guest.  This risk only grows as I extend an invitation to the hospitality of my home more often, since each such invitation bears in it the possibility that it will be extended to another, that my guest will arrive in the company of one or more that I did not expect.

The invitation that I extend, therefore, whether to my friend or to the words of Derrida, always implicitly invites the possibility of the guest-of-the-guest.  It does not merely accept this possibility, but in fact invites it in the same act of invitation that it extends to the guest, since the guest always implies the possibility of the guest-of-the-guest.  The first is not possible without the possibility of the second.  In the very act of opening the home to the guest, the host opens it also to the guest-of the-guest, not necessarily in person, not as such, but always in possibility, in potentiality.

This is one of the senses in which I read Derrida’s declaration that “the right to hospitality commits a household, a line of descent, a family,” because the hospitality that any member of the household might extend to another always commits the whole of the household to receive a guest that it did not in fact invite, and commits them to receive this guest as though she were invited, as though the household as a whole had together extended an invitation to her.  In this way, a member of the household is never able to extend an invitation to hospitality on his own behalf only, but is always necessarily making his invitation on behalf of the entire household, asking the household to host both his guest and himself as the host of his guest.  The household becomes the host-of-the-host, and the guest becomes the-guest-of-the-guest, in every case.

This figure of the guest-of-the-guest, this figure who is in this case embodied in the “Invitation” of Dufourmantelle, imposes on the hospitality of the host, on my hospitality, precisely because it blurs the boundary of the threshold, or, to be more precise, because it blurs where the guest-host stands in relation to this threshold.  The guest who extends my invitation to another and thereby acts as a host in my place bears an ambiguous relation to the threshold of my home, stands on both sides at once, straddles this boundary and therefore obscures it.  Likewise, the member of the household who extends an invitation on behalf of the household and thereby makes of himself a guest in his own home also straddles the threshold in this way.  Yet, as Derrida says, “any reflection on hospitality presupposes, among other things, the possibility of a rigorous distinction of threshold or frontiers: between the familial and the non-familial, between the foreign and the non-foreign, between the citizen and the non-citizen.”  The guest-host, standing with one foot in the home and one foot without, obscures these thresholds, these definitions, these categories, and therefore also prevents a clear reflection on the very idea of hospitality.

Much of what Derrida has to say in Of Hospitality is concerned with the relationship, both of conflict and collusion, that exists between the absolute law of hospitality and the conditional laws of hospitality.  He argues that “there is an antimony, an insoluble antimony between, on the one hand, the law of unlimited hospitality, and on the other hand, the laws, those rights and duties of hospitality that are always conditioned and conditional.”  He goes on to say that, between the law of absolute hospitality and the laws of conditional hospitality, “there is distinction, radical heterogeneity, but also indissociability. One calls forth, involves, or prescribes the other.”  Thus, the law and the laws of hospitality are both opposed absolutely and involved absolutely, which is one of the reasons that Derrida describes hospitality as the impossible and even as being defined by this impossibility.

This impossible relationship between the law and the laws of hospitality is, I think, critical to understanding the figures of the guest-of-the-guest and the guest-host as I have been describing them.  This is the case, not only in the most obvious sense, where the law of absolute hospitality requires me to receive both the invited and the uninvited guest “before any determination, before any anticipation, before any identification,” while the laws of conditional hospitality require me to receive them precisely as they are determined, anticipated, and identified.  It is also the case in the sense that the laws of conditional hospitality by which I receive one guest are being used to invoke the law of unconditional hospitality and to impose on me, as the host, a further conditional hospitality that I would not otherwise have extended.  In other words, the guest-host is making use of the impossible relationship between conditional and unconditional hospitality in order to manipulate the rights and duties of my hospitality against my will and my choice.  If I refuse to receive the guest-of-the-guest according to the expectations of the guest-host, then I am seen as having transgressed against the law of absolute hospitality.

Yet, as I have already argued, the risk of this guest-of-the guest, the risk of this manipulation of my hospitality through an appeal to an unconditional hospitality, is inherent in every invitation and in every hospitality.  In every invitation to hospitality that I extend, I also invite an imposition on my hospitality, a manipulation of my hospitality, a turning of my hospitality against my will.  The hospitality that I offer is always potentially the means to impose on me a hospitality that I did not offer.  Hospitality always, at least in potentiality, imposes on hospitality.

The implications of this imposition of one conditional hospitality on another are not insignificant, because they are deeply ethical in nature. As Derrida says, “The problem of hospitality is coextensive with the ethical problem.  It is always about answering for a dwelling place, for one’s identity, one’s space, one’s limits, for the ethos as abode, habitation, house, hearth, family, home.”  The ethics of the home are at stake here, are bound up in the impossibility of hospitality, in the imposition of hospitality on hospitality.  If it is the case that the guest-host imposes a hospitality on the host, then the hospitality of the home, the ethics of the home, are always in fact, at least in part, determined from beyond the home, apart from the home, by the one who enters the home and extends its hospitality beyond what it has in fact offered.  The hospitality and the ethics of the home are never what they offer themselves to be, but are always imposed upon, distorted, made other than they would choose to be.

This is the situation in which Of Hospitality places me, in which it places all of its readers.  Derrida’s text, to which we offer a conditional hospitality, appeals to the law of unconditional hospitality on behalf of Dufourmantelle’s text, imposes on us a hospitality that we would not otherwise offer.  It imposes a hospitality, already also an ethics, for which the dwelling place and the family and the home and the reader as self will be made to answer.

Here is the Sixteenth Chapter of Lindy, right on my promised schedule. Those who are new to the story can find the beginning at Chapter One, and those who would like to have the story thus far in a single file can find it in both .pdf and .rtf formats on the Longer Works page.

Chapter Sixteen:
In Which Amena Offers Some Wise Advise

The next day and the next after that passed in much the same way.  Lindy slept much of the time, and she ate the simple, wholesome food that Amena prepared for her, and she healed at a marvellous rate.  By the end of the third day, in fact, she was feeling almost completely whole.  The little stings and bites and scratches were all healed, and there were only scars left to remind her of the deeper scratches on her forehead that were mostly hidden by her hair anyway.  The only wound not yet healed was the deep bite in her shoulder, which still caused her some discomfort and which Amena said might keep her from ever moving her arm normally again.

Lindy was not sleeping the whole of the three days, of course.  She had enough energy to sit up and talk or to walk around a little, especially on the third day, but Amena was not always available to keep her company.  She had a garden to tend, she said, and cows to milk, and eggs to collect, and animals to feed, and rabbit snares to check, and wild strawberries to gather, so she only had time to sit with Lindy while preparing their meal or while changing Lindy’s dressings.  This meant that Lindy was by herself with nothing much to do for hours at a time, and she was very much bored.  There was only a single book in the cottage, and it was written in a language that Lindy did not know with letters that she did not even recognize.  She tried to pass the time by sweeping the floor and tidying up the room, but the floor was small and there was not much to tidy, so this did not distract her long, and when she tried to go outside, Amena sent her back in directly, because she said that it was best if Lindy stayed out of sight from prying eyes, so Lindy was mostly trapped indoors alone.

This was not actually so bad, though it was not very pleasant at first.  The truth is that she needed to think about some things, but they were not exactly comfortable things, and she was trying to avoid them no matter how much they needed to be thought, but when she was left alone with nothing to do for hours on end, she could hardly avoid the things that needed thinking, which is very likely what Amena intended in the first place.  And so, eventually, she found herself asking how it was that she had gotten into such a mess, and how it was that she could have let Khurshid take the crown from her, and how it was that her vision could have led her so wrong, and most of all what it was that she should do now.  This last question was the most perplexing because it was also the most pressing.  Her mother was being held captive, and Khurshid was about to cross the bridge into The Weald, but she had no idea what to do about either of these things.  Staying where she was would not help anything, even if Amena were to permit it, and The Crofts would certainly not welcome her back, not after what she had said on the morning she left, and not after everything that had happened since, but there was really nowhere else to go.  She thought about these things for a long time without coming much closer to any answer, but she felt a bit better somehow anyway, as if just facing her problem and deciding that she needed to do something had mended her spirits a little, even if she had not yet determined exactly what her decision should be.

When Amena came in from the garden that third afternoon, she let Lindy help prepare their dinner of roasted vegetables and she began kneading the bread that had been rising beside the hearth.   “So,” she asked, as if she knew perfectly well what Lindy had been thinking about all that while, “have you decided what you will do?”

Lindy shrugged and kept chopping the carrots.  “I don’t really know,” she said, and then kept quiet for a moment, and then thought better of it and let everything out all at once in a rush.  “I don’t even know why I’m here,” she said. “I thought I was supposed to come here, because the dream told me to, but then everything went wrong, and when I got here it didn’t help anything.  I mean, you saved my life, and you’ve been really good to me, but I thought that coming to your cottage would make everything better, that it would help me understand what to do.  I thought that’s why I was supposed to come here.  But things are even worse now than when I started.”

“And just what did you think you would find here?” Amena asked, looking amused.  Her sleeves were rolled up past her elbows, and there was flour dusted on her arms.

“I don’t know.  Answers, I guess.  Maybe how to bring Alisdair back.”  Lindy remembered how clear her vision had seemed.  “I was sure it was the right thing to do,” she said, “but it all turned out wrong.  My Mom is captured, and the crown is gone, all because of me.”

“Well, things look very bad at the moment, it’s true,” replied Amena, “but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you didn’t do the right thing.  Doing what you’re supposed to do doesn’t guarantee that things will turn out as you want.  That isn’t why you do the right thing.  You do the right thing just because it’s the right thing, no matter what.”

“So then how do you even know if its the right thing to do?”

“Yes, that certainly is the problem,” Amena answered.  She began shaping the dough into loaves.  “Unfortunately, there’s no way you can ever really be sure what the right thing is.  You can talk with people who might know, with people you trust.  You can try to think things through as clearly as possible.  You can look back at your own experience.  Most importantly, you can listen carefully to what your soul has heard.  But, in the end, you can never be sure, and all you can do is try your best.”

Lindy sighed and scraped the chopped carrots into the pan.  “And what if your best isn’t good enough?  What if you get it wrong, like me?  Then it’s all your fault.”

“No, no. It’s not all your fault.  It’s partly your fault, true, but many people had to make decisions along the way in order to get us where we are  now, and some of those decisions were made before you were even alive.  You can only ever be responsible for the decisions that you make yourself.”

So, you’re saying that maybe I was supposed to come here, even though all those bad things happened?”

“I don’t know.  We’ll probably never know.  All you can know is whether you tried to do what you were asked to do.”

“I think I did.”

“Then you chose as best you could,” said Amena, putting the bread into loaf pans. “You failed, like everyone fails sometimes, but that doesn’t mean your choice was wrong, and if you really believe that it was right choice to make, perhaps you just need to do to see that choice through.”

“But my choice was to come here, and I did see it through.  I just don’t know where to go from here.”

“Seeing a decision through to its end also means seeing its consequences through to the end.  It means taking responsibility for what you decided.  It means facing the people that were depending on you, and probably apologizing to them, and then helping them try to fix the problems that you created.”

“So I came all this way for nothing.  I lose my Mom and my crown getting here, just so I can turn around and go back with nothing to show for it.”

“Oh, you have more to show for it than you might think.  You know now just how terrible a foe we face, and you know also that you have friends in places you might not expect, and you know too what it means to choose and to fail and to learn from your failure, and hopefully you are learning right this moment what it means to face the consequences of your failures.”

“What if I fail that too?”

“You might.  In fact, you probably will in one way or another.  But you still need to do it.”

“But if I fail, how will I save my Mom?  How will I stop Khurshid?”

Amena looked Lindy very seriously in the eye, and there was a sadness in her face that Lindy had not seen before.  “Maybe no one will stop him,” she said.  “Maybe he’ll cross the bridge and destroy The Crofts despite everything we do.”

“But he’ll kill my Mom, and Alisdair, and Penates, and all those people.”

“Maybe, and that would be a most terrible thing, so terrible I can hardly bear to think of it, but it wouldn’t be the end of everything.  Good is an easy thing to tear down, but it’s a very difficult thing to get rid of altogether.  I was living here in Khurshid’s country long before he chose to betray The Weald, and I lived through the sorrow of losing my friends to him, but I’ve survived all this time in spite of everything he can do.  And you’ve seen for yourself that there are other things here that aren’t evil, like Saffi, like the deer.  We couldn’t stop Khurshid from betraying us, but we’ve done our best to do what is good and right despite him.  It’s not our task to make sure that good triumphs over evil in the world, though we must always strive for this as best we can.  Our task is only to make sure that good triumphs over evil in ourselves.  That’s all we can do.”

The vegetables were all peeled and chopped by now, and Amena set the roasting pan in the oven.  Then she put the loaf pans beside the oven to let the bread rise again.  Lindy watched her wrinkled hands move deftly around the hearth, and she wondered how Amena had kept going so many years, one day after another, planting and growing and tending and gathering all alone.  “What keeps you from just giving up and moving somewhere else?” she asked.

Amena looked up from the dishes that she was stacking beside the washstand.  “I stay because this is my home,” she answered, “and because I couldn’t bear to see Khurshid have it, and because, most of all, it’s what I know I need to do.  It’s the right thing for me to do.  So I do it.”

“But how do you keep Khurshid from just coming in and taking it?”

“Because this is my home, and he has no right to it unless I grant the right to him, just as he had no right to take your crown until you gave the right to him.”

Lindy thought about this for a moment.  “Is it the same for me?  Can I keep my home from him?  I mean, I don’t have a home here exactly, but The Crofts is sort of like my home.  Can I keep The Crofts from Khurshid if I go and live there?”

“No, no.  At least not the whole of it.  The Crofts is the home of many people, living and dead, and you have as little right to it as Khurshid does, but as a Keeper, some small part of it is yours, and you may be able to keep that small part good and whole.”

“Yes,” said Lindy, remembering her cubby, “I think I know what part is mine.  It’s my cubby from my real house, but now it’s in The Crofts too.  And I can keep Khurshid from taking it?”

“Certainly.  Even if all the rest of The Crofts falls into ruin, you can keep your cubby from him, and Penates can keep the kitchen, and there will be some others also, and a little good will be kept alive in it still, and then who knows what great good may come from it someday.”

“Well,” said Lindy, and she discovered that she had made her mind up almost without realizing it, “I guess that’s what I need to do then.  But it’ll be hard to go back. I’ll have to tell The Crofts about everything that happened.  It told me this would happen, and I didn’t listen.”

“Yes, well, admitting when you’ve made a bad choice is one of the responsibilities of making decisions in the first place.  This won’t be the last time you make a bad choice, I assure you. So you may as well learn how to face the consequences now.”

Something about this made perfect sense to Lindy, and she felt better than she had since before the terrible night in the forest.  “You’re right,” she said.  “I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”  But she thought right away of all the creatures hiding in the woods, and she was already afraid of the choice that she had made.  “Could you came with me?” she asked.

“I would love to, Lindy” said Amena, and the look on her face told Lindy that she meant it, “but I can’t leave this place just whenever I choose.”  Lindy said nothing, but Amena seemed to know what she was thinking.  “Don’t worry,” she added, “I’ll send Saffi with you. Only Khurshid himself would dare bother you with Saffi around.  The forest creatures will leave you well alone.”

They ate supper and went to bed that night without saying much more to each other, and Lindy fell asleep quickly, and her dreams were full of things that she could not remember in the morning but that she knew were full of hope.

Previous Chapter < > Next Chapter

On March 12th for this month’s Dinner and a Doc we will be screening three short films by Michael Ondaatje: The Clinton Special follows the production of The Farm Show, a grassroots experimental play developed in a rural Ontario community by Paul Thompson and Theatre Passe Muraille;  Sons of Captain Poetry investigates the life and work of Canadian poet bpNichol; and Carry on Crime and Punishment is a docu-drama that follows two Canadian poets as they kidnap a dog.

We will be meeting at First Baptist Church, Guelph, which is located at 255 Woolwich Street, eating at 5:30 and beginning the film at about 6:00. Please post a comment or send me an email to let me know if you will be coming and if you would like to bring something to contribute to the meal.

Here are some of the films we will be showing in upcoming months:
April 9th – Capturing Reality by Pepita Ferrari
May 14th – For the Bible Tells Me So by Daniel Karslake
June 11th – The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins by Pietra Brettkelly