The Other Side of Silence

The Other Side of Silence by André Brink

Book: The Other Side of Silence by André Brink Read Free Book Online
Authors: André Brink
her fingers, her frozen toes. They are speaking
to her in eerie squeaking voices. Come with us, they tell her. Let
us get out of here and drive out the grownups from the Little
Children of Jesus and take possession of it. But how will we get
out of this black hole? she asks. No problem, they say, we’ll gnaw
through the door.
    It happens so quickly that she can hardly believe it. A
shimmering of daylight filters into the cellar.
    Come, they shriek at her. We can’t wait, we must surprise them!
Her weakness, the fever, the shaking of her body, all miraculously
flow out of her as she gets up and, grabbing a coal shovel from the
wall next to the broken door, follows them up the broken stone
staircase. The rats must have communicated with others of their
tribe beforehand, because, when they reach the ground floor above
they are joined by thousands of other rodents that come swarming
from all sides, through doors and windows, down chimneys, pouring
from the ceilings.
    They part to all sides like a dark sea to let her pass. “You
must lead us,” they say. “You know the place. Take us straight to
    With Hanna at the head, they converge on Frau Agathe’s room. The
door is locked, Hanna discovers when she tries to force it from
outside. From inside they can hear a humming of low, anxious
voices. Frau Agathe and some other women. Pastor Ulrich. This is
perfect. Waving her blue-and-silver-and-gold standard, Hanna
motions at her cohorts to storm the place. Once again the rats
swoop to the door. Within minutes there is nothing left but a heap
of white splinters and a gaping hole. The grownups are cowering
against the far wall.
    “Please understand,” squeaks Pastor Ulrich in a falsetto voice.
“Everything we have done has been in the name of God. We really
mean well. We bear you no malice.”
    They are not permitted any further argument. The rats come
swarming forward and overrun the five or six figures in black.
There is one large general sound of gnawing, within which smaller
eddies can be distinguished – the wet slithering of mastication,
squeaking tussles and fights over fingerbones and toes. And in no
time at all only bones are left, smooth and very white.
    From there the rats spread out in all directions. Children are
set free from dormitories and study halls in which they have been
locked up. In a frenzy of jubilation they ripple through the
corridors and spill out into the streets. They are heading for the
river, and from there to the sea, Hanna knows. And as soon as the
work is done – the great stone building crashing to the ground
behind them, sending up a huge cloud of dust – she runs to join
them. The sea, the sea. And playing on the beach, blissfully
unaware of catastrophe as she builds a sandcastle at the lacy edge
of the water, a small girl with black hair and the bluest of eyes
is caught in the dazzle of the sun. Behind her are palm trees
waving like tall hands beckoning. This way, this way.
    She comes to, hazily, when her body is picked up by many hands,
and a blanket is thrown over her, and she is carried out, and
    “I’m afraid it is too late,” a voice says. “The girl is
    “She had to sit out her punishment,” says Frau Agathe. “What
will become of discipline if we give in to every little prank? At
least we’ve driven the devils out, praise God.”
    When she wakes up again she is in a strange white room. So she
must be dead, she thinks, and this is heaven. God may turn up at
any moment. Which may be problematic, as she no longer believes in
him. Perhaps she should tell him, Can we agree on this? I will not
believe in you, if you will not hold it against me.
    But the man who comes in is not God. It is Pastor Ulrich. (He
had eggs for breakfast, and pork sausages, the stains on his
waistcoat disclose.)
    She shuts her eyes, but he doesn’t go away. Through trembling
lashes she peers at him. He stands looking down at her for a long
time, before he goes to find a chair

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