Little Mountain

Little Mountain by Elias Khoury

Book: Little Mountain by Elias Khoury Read Free Book Online
Authors: Elias Khoury
hundred years now the West has been driving the knife into our side in the name of the Eastern Question and the rights of minorities. We should be done with the question for good.
    I sat next to them and listened. Then the discussion began to heat up. The villager-fighters voice rose. I looked at him, he was holding an orange which glowed in the dark tent. The orange took part in the debate in its own way, shifting in slow motion from left hand to right. As the argument flared and abated, the orange would step in to cut the silence in a quick sleight-of-hand as if he had become a trickster who puts an orange in his ear and has a tree come out of his mouth. He put the orange on top of the sodden blankets all squashed together. Nazeeh leaned over and reached out but the villager’s hand was quicker. He grabbed the orange, it danced between his hands, then he let it roll a little.
    —But where did the orange come from?
    He ignored the question. Then his voice took on a special inflection.
    —Weapons have to be cared for in this climate. Water seeps into them. The important things to keep on fighting. That’s what you want. I agree. Provided that we don’t stay up here on the mountaintop in this unbearable cold. The orange rolled away. Talal grabbed it. The villager-fighter leaped to his feet.
    —I want the orange. Its my own private orange.
    —There’s no private property in the revolution.
    He pounced, grasped the orange and wrenched it out of my hand, and sat in a corner of the tent all by himself with his orange. We advanced on him. He put the orange behind his back.
    —We should go to Baskinta. We’d find houses and things to eat there.
    The sky flashed with the sound of distant rifles. Nazeeh stood up. The battle has begun. We should eat this orange before the battle, split it between the three of us. Talal rose to his feet and grabbed his rifle. The villager-fighter slipped the orange into his pocket and began trying to put his shoes on. We were all set. But the orange had escaped. He disappeared and then came back, smelling of orange. Reeking of orange from head to toe.
    —What happened to the orange?
    —The orange turned into a tree. The man has become a tree.
    They were in front of us but they weren’t like humans. Of course, they were ordinary men. But no. We opened fire, they fell theatrically. I couldn’t see properly. But they were falling. It was going into slow motion. A man falling as though he were play-acting. I’m not sure it’s man. We’ve done an excellent job. No one can take this mountain. We are the guardians of the snow and the cold. But I don’t know, maybe that wasn’t clearly understood. I’m sure of it, killing is something else. Here, it’s as if I were shooting at stones. Actually, I was shooting at targets, mere targets. And the targets behaved like targets. That’s all there is to it …
    Talal took off his glasses, wiping away the mud mixed with sweat. Nazeeh came. The tree has died. The villager-fighter, with his oversized shoes, and his face burned with snow and fog, approached, slung across a mule. Asleep, with three men leading the white mule holding onto him.
    The mule stopped in front of me. Talal bent down. The smell of death is like the smell of oranges. Death is an orange tree. When I die I want to smell like an orange tree.
    We returned to the tent. Talal went to the villager-fighter’s bag. He opened it.
    —Look, another orange was waiting for the end of the battle.
    Nazeeh took the orange, divided into two, took half and squeezed it, the drops trickling into his mouth and onto his beard.
    — A toast to the martyrs. Why don’t you have some?
    — I can’t.
    — You’re a romantic. Don’t you want to smell like a tree?
    I put the orange in my mouth. It tasted really sharp. I ate it without peeling it, all of it. The tent began to smell like the vast orange grove stretching from Saida to the end of the world.

    The last option is me, I told her, our footsteps

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