(© Biswapriya Purkayastha)
fence is endless, stretching out of the darkness and into darkness. It is day,
but overhead the clouds are like lead, and the light so poor it seems to be
The fence is of chain and barbed wire strung on posts. The
strands are rather far apart Ė but not too far. Nobody can climb through this
The path past the fence is white concrete, and looks whiter
than it really is in the gloom. It parallels the path, going on and on until
the eye loses it, as it does the fence, in the darkness and the distance.
Iím walking down the path, my pistol heavy at my hip, my
sword slapping against my side at every step. I look straight ahead, where the
path merges with the darkness. I look ahead, not to my right, where the fence
is; I know what I will see if I look in that direction.
I will see the hands.
I will see their hands and arms, stretching through the
fence and reaching for me, the tips of their fingers Ė white as death, drained
of blood Ė almost brushing the sleeve of my shirt. If I listen, I will hear
them sigh; the sighing is softer than the wind, less important than the swish
of grass under marching boots. I ignore the sighs. I do not hear them. I shall
not hear them. I will not look at the hands and arms, reaching, reaching.
awake. There is a night-light. The room isnít completely dark Ė I canít stand
complete darkness anymore. There was a time when I could stand anything, but I
am old now. Iím old, and things have changed. How they have changed.
The dream still has me in its grip. Itís a dream I have had
many times over the years, and itís growing more frequent as I age. There are
variations Ė sometimes I am in a well with the hands reaching down, and
sometimes I am on a hilltop and the hands strain up to touch me, to hold me and
drag me down with them. But most frequently itís the fence.
Iíve mentioned these dreams to nobody. They are nobodyís
business but mine Ė and, besides, I am who I am. I canít have anyone suspecting
I am cracking up or going senile. And itís not as though the dream can do
anything to me. Not even the hands...
I blink and struggle to sit upright. This sort of thinking
shall not do. I am Nakamura Kenji, and nobody Ė no business opponent, no
personal enemy, and certainly no vaporous dream Ė has ever got the better of
I climb slowly out of bed and walk down the short hallway to
the little kitchen. Certainly I should get someone to live with me Ė but the
habit of years is hard to break. I have been alone since my wife died, and I
never felt the need to share my time with anyone. But I am growing old, and my
body is slowing down.
The tea I make is weak, almost flavourless, the way I have
grown to like it. The tea helps me to concentrate, helps me to beat back the
dream, to banish the shadows. When I think of it, the shadows the dream leaves
behind are long and threatening. I am Nakamura Kenji, and I am not affected by
dreams, but even then this dream lays an oppressive hand on my soul.
I return to bed, the aftertaste of the tea lingering on the
back of my tongue. I walk along the darkened corridor, with the sureness of
years of practice, although my steps are short and tottering, an old manís
steps. But once it was different. I walked as I walk in the dream, tall and
strong and confident, and the years roll away, and I am young once more...
Back in bed, I lie on my back, staring up at the dimly-lit
ceiling. This always happens after the dream, and most times I lie awake till
morning. I canít say I ponder the dream. The dream isnít something to ponder on
Ė it is.
Tonight, on a sudden impulse I am at a loss to explain, I
reach out and switch off the night-light. I do not normally act on impulses. I
have not come to be where I am by acting on impulses. But I am going to lie
awake anyway, I think, so I might as well lie awake in the dark, for a change.
I try to remember when I first had the dream. It must have
been a long, long time ago, just after the war. Not that it really matters when
it began; I know whence it came. Normally I donít think of it. It was a long
time ago, more than seventy years, after all. But, again, just for a change, I
decide, let me think of it all again, the time when I was young and strong and
my back still unbent. Let me think back to Nanjing...
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