Bardo or Not Bardo - EXCERPT
The day was splendid.
For several seconds, the situation remained unchanged, then an old monk closed a door behind him somewhere in a corridor, came out through the back of the library, crossed through a patch of beans, and hurried toward the scene of the crime.
He was a hoary religious man, in a faded indigo robe. His body was wizened in its twilight years. He jogged toward the henhouse, as quick as his breath and his skinny nonagenarian legs would let him. Confined to the lavatory due to intestinal troubles, he wasn’t able to make it to the ceremony. He had heard the detonations, hastily wiped and dressed himself, foreseeing some mishap, and now he was running.
As he often did, he was talking aloud, to both himself and hypothetical coreligionists.
“Hey!” he shouted. “There’s bandits behind the library! Armed thugs! Come quick! They’re shooting everywhere! They’ve hit someone!”
He went past the rows of beans, peas. Beyond that, the henhouse showed all the signs of irreversible disarray. The perches were knocked down. The sagging fence had given up the ghost. There were rents pointing toward the sky, half-pieces of slats, the top of the door. Everything swayed and creaked at the slightest movement. He had to get past a square meter of metal lace to see who was lying on the ground.
“Holy doggone!” the old man swore. “I know him! Kominform! They shot Kominform!”
He knelt down. Kominform’s body was moaning in the scrapheap’s grating noises. He let himself be manipulated, scrutinized. While he examined the holes, the old monk gritted his remaining teeth. He kept his prognosis to himself.
His name was Drumbog.
Around Drumbog and Kominform, the hens were clucking, without a care in the world.
“Hey!” Drumbog shouted. “Get over here! The killers butchered Kominform!”
Nobody was coming.
“Everyone’s over that way, for the Five Perfumes,” said Drumbog. “The monastery’s deserted. Nobody’s in the library right now either . . . If I hadn’t . . . If I hadn’t had to hole up in the bathroom . . . It’s always that fermented milk . . . I can’t digest it anymore, and I drink too much of it . . . How are you with fermented milk? Homemade Mongolian yogurt? Goddamn it causes some bad diarrhea!”
“That you, Drumbog?” he asked without opening his eyes.
His dislocated voice didn’t vibrate beyond his mouth. He couldn’t be understood. He had a hiccup.
“He shot me in the stomach, the swine,” he said.
“He’s spitting up hemoglobin,” said Drumbog, having neither noticed nor deciphered Kominform’s mumbling. “It’d take a miracle for him to pull through.”
“In the lungs,” Kominform continued. “I’m going to die . . .”
“Kominform, can you hear me?” said Drumbog. “Can you hear me, little brother? Are you conscious?”
“I’m hurt,” said Kominform. “They got me . . . Old colleagues of mine . . . Converts . . . They work for the mafia now, for the billionaires in power . . . Social democrats and the nouveau riche and the like . . . There’s nothing worse than converts . . .”
The end of an iron wire had snagged the right sleeve of his coat and, whenever he tensed up a little to stammer, the fence started to creak. It was like someone writhing on a bad box-spring.
“Don’t wear yourself out, little brother,” suggested Drumbog. “Open your mouth. You have to let air find a passage through the blood.”
“That you, Drumbog?” asked Kominform.
“Yes, little brother, it’s me. I was on my way to the ceremony, the Five Precious Perfumed Oils, right? And all of a sudden I heard machine guns . . .”
“Don’t worry about me,” said Kominform. “Go. Don’t miss the benediction. Go on. Leave me here.”
His chest rose weakly.
He vomited blood.
The fence creaked.
“Anyway, I don’t have long,” he continued. “I’m done for.”
He clenched his jaws and went quiet. He hadn’t been an adherent to communism to show off, he hadn’t defended its principles to one-up prisoners. This was not the kind of man to weep in the face of death.
At that moment, the shells of dry vegetables cracked on the trail, the grass hissed. A hen fled, shouting in its avian dialect, put out from just almost being kicked. Someone was approaching.
“Holy cow!” Drumbog swore. “The killers are coming back! They’ve got to liquidate any troublesome witnesses. Anyone would do the same in their place . . . It’s my turn next, you’ll see, I’m not going to cut it!”
His breath was short. A hint of sudden dread clutched his throat. The shrubs and folds in the fence hid the indignant hen from him, as well as the foot that had provoked its vehemence.
“In the past,” he continued, “if an astrologer had told me that my fate was to end up full of bulletholes while up against a henhouse, with a revolutionary communist by my side, I would’ve laughed right in his face . . . But everything’s connected . . . Cold yogurt, intestines . . . The blessing of the Five Oils . . . It was written . . .”
Whoever was walking down the path and stepping on beanstalks was now visible.
The surrounding atmosphere wasn’t dramatic at all: the exhalations of summer, vegetables yellowing in the sun, gallinaceans enjoying themselves, pecking at the dust, grasshoppers, gong echoes.
“They’re coming,” the old man mumbled. “They’re going to do me in . . . There’s two of them, a man and a woman . . .”
There were two of them, indeed.