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From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Mon, 25 Aug 2003 18:25:33 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
News about and of interest to anarchists
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Welcome to sfbay-anarchists.org
This is the home page of the Berkeley Anarchist Students of Theory And Research and Development.
We have a weekly study group of anarchist history, theory, and practice.
It is held at the Long Haul (3124 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley CA, 94705) every Tuesday at 8 pm.
Current Readings: "THE DAY BEFORE THE REVOLUTION" by Ursula Le Guin In memoriam Paul Goodman, 1911-1972
Reprinted from Ursula K. Le Guin's "The Wind's Twelve Quarters" collection of short stories
"My novel The Dispossessed is about a small worldful of people who call themselves
Odonians. The name is taken from the founder of their society, Odo, who lived several
generations before the time of the novel, and who therefore doesn't get into the
action - except implicitly, in that all the action started with her.

Odonianism is anarchism. Not the bomb-in-the-pocket stuff,
which is terrorism, whatever name it tries to dignify itself
with; not the social-Darwinist economic "libertarianism" of
the far right; but anarchism, as prefigured in early Taoist
thought, and expounded by Shelley and Kropotkin, Goldman and
Goodman. Anarchism's principal target is the authoritarian
State (capitalist or socialist); its principal
moral-practical theme is cooperation (solidarity, mutual aid).
It is the most idealistic, and to me the most interesting, of
all political theories.
To embody it in a novel, which had not been done before,
was a long and hard job for me, and absorbed me totally for
many months. When it was done I felt lost, exiled - a
displaced person. I was very-grateful, therefore, when Odo
came out of the shadows and across the gulf of Probability,
and wanted a story written, not about the world she made, but
about herself.
This story is about one of the ones who walked away from

The speaker's voice was as loud as empty beer-trucks in a
stone street, and the people at the meeting were jammed up close,
cobblestones, that great voice booming over them. Taviri was
somewhere on the other side of the hall. She had to get to him.
She wormed and pushed her way among the dark-clothed,
close-packed people. She did not hear the words, nor see the
faces: only the booming, and the bodies pressed one behind the
other. She could not see Taviri, she was too short. A broad
black-vested belly and chest loomed up, blocking her way. She
must get through to Taviri. Sweating, she jabbed fiercely with
her fist. It was like hitting stone, he did not move at all, but
the huge lungs let out right over her head a prodigious noise, a
bellow. She cowered. Then she understood that the bellow had not
been at her. Others were shouting. The speaker had said
something, something fine about taxes or shadows. Thrilled, she
joined the shouting- "Yes! Yes!" -and shoving on, came put easily
into the open expanse of the Regimental Drill Field in Parheo.
Overhead the evening sky lay deep and colorless, and all around
her nodded the tall weeds with dry, white, close-floreted heads.
She had never known what they were called. The flowers nodded
above her head, swaying in the wind that always blew across the
fields in the dusk. She ran among them, and they whipped lithe
aside and stood up again swaying, silent. Taviri stood among the
tall weeds in his good suit, the dark grey one that made him look
like a professor or a play-actor, harshly elegant. He did not
look happy, but he was laughing, and saying something to her. The
sound of his voice made her cry, and she reached out to catch
hold of his hand, but she did not stop, quite. She could not
stop. "Oh, Taviri," she said, "it's just on there!" The queer
sweet smell of the white weeds was heavy as she went on. There
were thorns, tangles underfoot, there were slopes, pits. She
feared to fall, to fall, she stopped.
Sun, bright morning-glare, straight in the eyes, relentless.
She had forgotten to pull the blind last night. She turned her
back on the sun, but the right side wasn't comfortable. No use.
Day. She sighed twice, sat up, got her legs over the edge of the
bed, and sat hunched in her nightdress looking down at her feet.
The toes, compressed by a lifetime of cheap shoes, were
almost square where they touched each other, and bulged out above
in corns; the nails were discolored and shapeless. Between the
knob-like anklebones ran fine, dry wrinkles. The brief little
plain at the base of the toes had kept its delicacy, but the skin
was the color of mud, and knotted veins crossed the instep.
Disgusting. Sad, depressing. Mean. Pitiful. She tried on all the
words, and they all fit, like hideous little hats. Hideous: yes,
that one too. To look at oneself and find it hideous, what a job!
But then, when she hadn't been hideous, had she sat around and
stared at herself like this? Not much! A proper body's not an
object, not an implement, not a belonging to be admired, it's
just you, yourself. Only when it's no longer you, but yours, a
thing owned, do you worry about it- Is it in good shape? Will it
do? Will it last?
"Who cares?" said Laia fiercely, and stood up.
It made her giddy to stand up suddenly. She had to put out
her hand to the bed-table, for she dreaded falling. At that she
thought of reaching out to Taviri, in the dream.
What had he said? She could not remember. She was not sure if
she had even touched his hand. She frowned, trying to force
memory. It had been so long since she had dreamed about Taviri;
and now not even to remember what he had said!
It was gone, it was gone. She stood there hunched in her
nightdress, frowning, one hand on the bed-table. How long was it
since she had thought of him-let alone dreamed of him-even
thought of him, as "Taviri"? How long since she had said his
Asieo said. When Asieo and I were in prison in the North.
Before I met Asieo. Asieo's theory of reciprocity. Oh yes, she
talked about him, talked about him too much no doubt, maundered,
dragged him in. But as "Asieo," the last name, the public man.
The private man was gone, utterly gone. There were so few left
who had even known him. They had all used to be in jail. One
laughed about it in those days, all the friends in all the jails.
But they weren't even there, these days. They were in the prison
cemeteries. Or in the common graves.
"Oh, oh my dear," Laia said out loud, and she sank down onto
the bed again because she could not stand up under the
remembrance of those first weeks in the Fort, in the cell, those
first weeks of the nine years in the Fort in Drio, in the cell,
those first weeks after they told her that Asieo had been killed
in the fighting in Capitol Square and had been buried with the
Fourteen Hundred in the lime-ditches behind Oring Gate. In the
cell. Her hands fell into the old position on her lap, the left
clenched and locked inside the grip of the right, the right thumb
working back and forth a little pressing and rubbing on the
knuckle of the left first finger. Hours, days, nights. She had
thought of them all, each one, each one of the Fourteen Hundred,
how they lay, how the quicklime worked on the flesh, how the
bones touched in the burning dark. Who touched him? How did the
slender bones of the hand lie now? Hours, years.
"Taviri, I have never forgotten you!" she whispered, and the
stupidity of it brought her back to morning light and the rumpled
bed. Of course she hadn't forgotten him. These things go without
saying between husband and wife. There were her ugly old feet
flat on the floor again, just as before. She had got nowhere at
all, she had gone in a circle. She stood up with a grunt of
effort and disapproval, and went to the closet for her dressing
The young people went about the halls of the House in
becoming immodesty, but she was too old for that. She didn't want
to spoil some young man's breakfast with the sight of her.
Besides, they had grown up in the principle of freedom of dress
and sex and all the rest, and she hadn't. All she had done was
invent it. It's not the same.
Like speaking of Asieo as "my husband." They winced. The word
she should use as a good Odonian, of course, was "partner." But
why the hell did she have to be a good Odonian?
She shuffled down the hall to the bathrooms. Mairo was there,
washing her hair in a lavatory. Laia looked at the long, sleek,
wet hank with admiration. She got out of the House so seldom now
that she didn't know when she had last seen a respectably shaven
scalp, but still the sight of a full head of hair gave her
pleasure, vigorous pleasure. How many times had she been jeered
at, Longhair, Longhair, had her hair pulled by policemen or young
toughs, had her hair shaved off down to the scalp by a grinning
soldier at each new prison? And then had grown it all over again,
through the fuzz, to the frizz, to the curls, to the mane. ... In
the old days. For God's love, couldn't she think of anything
today but the old days?
Dressed, her bed made, she went down to commons. It was a
good breakfast, but she had never got her appetite back since the
damned stroke. She drank two cups of herb tea, but couldn't
finish the piece of fruit she had taken. How she had craved fruit
as a child badly enough to steal it; and in the Fort-oh, for
God's love stop it! She smiled and replied to the greetings and
friendly inquiries of the other breakfasters and big Aevi who was
serving the counter this morning. It was he who had tempted her
with the peach, "Look at this, I've been saving it for you," and
how could she refuse? Anyway she had always loved fruit, and
never got enough; once when she was six or seven she had stolen a
piece off a vendor's cart in River Street. But it was hard to eat
when everyone was talking so excitedly. There was news from Thu,
real news. She was inclined to discount it at first, being wary
of enthusiasms, but after she had read the article in the paper,
and read between the lines of it, she thought, with a strange
kind of certainty, deep but cold, Why, this is it; it has come.
And in Thu, not here. Thu will break before this country does;
the Revolution will first prevail there. As if that mattered!
There will be no more nations. And yet it did matter somehow, it
made her a little cold and sad -envious, in fact. Of all the
infinite stupidities. She did not join in the talk much, and soon
got up to go back to her room, feeling sorry for herself. She
could not share their excitement. She was out of it, really out
of it. It's not easy, she said to herself in justification,
laboriously climbing the stairs, to accept being out of it when
you've been in it, in the center of it, for fifty years. Oh, for
God's love. Whining!
She got the stairs and the self-pity behind her, entering her
room. It was a good room, and it was good to be by herself. It
was a great relief. Even if it wasn't strictly fair. Some of the
kids in the attics were living five to a room no bigger than
this. There were always more people wanting to live in an Odonian
House than could be properly accommodated. She had this big room
all to herself only because she was an old woman who had had a
stroke. And maybe because she was Odo. If she hadn't been Odo,
but merely the old woman with a stroke, would she have had it?
Very likely. After all, who the hell wanted to room with a
drooling old woman? But it was hard to be sure. Favoritism,
elitism, leader-worship, they crept back and cropped out
everywhere. But she had never hoped to see them eradicated in her
lifetime, in one generation; only Time works the great changes.
Meanwhile this was a nice, large, sunny room, proper for a
drooling old woman who had started a world revolution.
Her secretary would be coming in an hour to help her despatch
the day's work. She shuffled over to the desk, a beautiful, big
piece, a present from the Nio Cabinetmakers' Syndicate because
somebody had heard her remark once that the only piece of
furniture she had ever really longed for was a desk with drawers
and enough room on top... damn, the top was practically covered
with papers with notes clipped to them, mostly in Noi's small
clear handwriting: Urgent. -Northern Provinces. -Consult w/R. T.?
Her own handwriting had never been the same since Asieo's
death. It was odd, when you thought about it. After all, within
five years after his death she had written the whole Analogy. And
there were those letters, which the tall guard with the watery
grey eyes, what was his name, never mind, had smuggled out of the
Fort for her for two years. The Prison Letters they called them
now, there were a dozen different editions of them. All that
stuff, the letters which people kept telling her were so full of
"spiritual strength"-which probably meant she had been lying
herself blue in the face when she wrote them, trying to keep her
spirits up -and the Analogy which was certainly the solidest
intellectual work she had ever done, all of that had been written
in the Fort in Drio, in the cell, after Asieo's death. One had to
do something, and in the Fort they let one have paper and pens.
... But it had all been written in the hasty, scribbling hand
which she had never felt was hers, not her own like the round,
black scrollings of the manuscript of Society Without Government,
forty-five years old. Taviri had taken not only her body's and
her heart's desire to the quicklime with him, but even her good
clear handwriting.
But he had left her the Revolution.
How brave of you to go on, to work, to write, in prison,
after such a defeat for the Movement, after your partner's death,
people had used to say. Damn fools. What else had there been to
do? Bravery, courage- what was courage? She had never figured it
out. Not fearing, some said. Fearing yet going on, others said.
But what could one do but go on? Had one any real choice, ever?
To die was merely to go on in another direction.
If you wanted to come home you had to keep going on, that was
what she meant when she wrote "True journey is return," but it
had never been more than an intuition, and she was farther than
ever now from being able to rationalize it. She bent down, too
suddenly, so that she grunted a little at the creak in her bones,
and began to root in a bottom drawer of the desk. Her hand came
on an age-softened folder and drew it out, recognizing it by
touch before sight confirmed: the manuscript of Syndical
Organization in Revolutionary Transition. He had printed the
title on the folder and written his name under it, Taviri Odo
Asieo, IX 741. There was an elegant handwriting, every letter
well-formed, bold, and fluent. But he had preferred to use a
voiceprinter. The manuscript was all in voiceprint, and high
quality too, hesitancies adjusted and idiosyncrasies of speech
normalized. You couldn't see there how he had said "o" deep in
his throat as they did on the North Coast. There was nothing of
him there but his mind. She had nothing of him at all except his
name written on the folder. She hadn't kept his letters, it was
sentimental to keep letters. Besides, she never kept anything.
She couldn't think of anything that she had ever owned for more
than a few years, except this ramshackle old body, of course, and
she was stuck with that....
Dualizing again. "She" and "it." Age and illness made one
dualist, made one escapist; the mind insisted, It's not me, it's
not me. But it was. Maybe the mystics could detach mind from
body, she had always rather wistfully envied them the chance,
without hope of emulating them. Escape had never been her game.
She had sought for freedom here, now, body and soul.
First self-pity, then self-praise, and here she still sat,
for God's love, holding Asieo's name in her hand, why? Didn't she
know his name without looking it up? What was wrong with her? She
raised the folder to her lips and kissed the handwritten name
firmly and squarely, replaced the folder in the back of the
bottom drawer, shut the drawer, and straightened up in the chair.
Her right hand tingled. She scratched it, and then shook it in
the air, spitefully. It had never quite got over the stroke.
Neither had her right leg, or right eye, or the right comer of
her mouth. They were sluggish, inept, they tingled. They made her
feel like a robot with a short circuit.
And time was getting on, Noi would be coming, what had she
been doing ever since breakfast?
She got up so hastily that she lurched, and grabbed at the
chair-back to make sure she did not fall. She went down the hall
to the bathroom and looked in the big mirror there. Her grey knot
was loose and droopy, she hadn't done it up well before
breakfast. She struggled with it a while. It was hard to keep her
arms up in the air. Amai, running in to piss, stopped and said,
"Let me do it!" and knotted it up tight and neat in no time, with
her round, strong, pretty fingers, smiling and silent. Amai was
twenty, less than a third of Laia's age. Her parents had both
been members of the Movement, one killed in the insurrection of
'60, the other still recruiting in the South Provinces. Amai had
grown up in Odonian Houses, born to the Revolution, a true
daughter of anarchy. And so quiet and free and beautiful a child,
enough to make you cry when you thought: this is what we worked
for, this is what we meant, this is it, here she is, alive, the
kindly, lovely future.
Laia Asieo Odo's right eye wept several little tears, as she
stood between the lavatories and the latrines having her hair
done up by the daughter she had not borne; but her left eye, the
strong one, did not weep, nor did it know what the right eye did.
She thanked Amai and hurried back to her room. She had
noticed, in the mirror, a stain on her collar. Peach juice,
probably. Damned old dribbler. She didn't want Noi to come in and
find her with drool on her collar.
As the clean shirt went on over her head, she thought, What's
so special about Noi?
She fastened the collar-frogs with her left hand, slowly.
Noi was thirty or so, a slight, muscular fellow with a soft
voice and alert dark eyes. That's what was special about Noi. It
was that simple. Good old sex. She had never been drawn to a fair
man or a fat one, or the tall fellows with big biceps, never, not
even when she was fourteen and fell in love with every passing
fart. Dark, spare, and fiery, that was the recipe. Taviri, of
course. This boy wasn't a patch on Taviri for brains, nor even
for looks, but there it was: she didn't want him to see her with
dribble on her collar and her hair coming undone.
Her thin, grey hair.
Noi came in, just pausing in the open door-my God, she hadn't
even shut the door while changing her shirt! She looked at him
and saw herself. The old woman.
You could brush your hair and change your shirt, or you could
wear last week's shirt and last night's braids, or you could put
on cloth of gold and dust your shaven scalp with diamond powder.
None of it would make the slightest difference. The old woman
would look a little less, or a little more, grotesque.
One keeps oneself neat out of mere decency, mere sanity,
awareness of other people.
And finally even that goes, and one dribbles unashamed.
"Good morning," the young man said in his gentle voice.
"Hello, Noi."
No, by God, it was not out of mere decency. Decency be
damned. Because the man she had loved, and to whom her age would
not have mattered-because he was dead, must she pretend she had
no sex? Must she suppress the truth, like a damned puritan
authoritarian? Even six months ago, before the stroke, she had
made men look at her and like to look at her; and now, though she
could give no pleasure, by God she could please herself.
When she was six years old, and Papa's friend Gadeo used to
come by to talk politics with Papa after dinner, she would put on
the gold-colored necklace that Mama had found on a trash heap and
brought home for her. It was so short that it always got hidden
under her collar where nobody could see it. She liked it that
way. She knew she had it on. She sat on the doorstep and listened
to them talk, and knew that she looked nice for Gadeo. He was
dark, with white teeth that flashed. Sometimes he called her
"pretty Laia." "There's my pretty Laia!" Sixty-six years ago.
"What? My head's dull. I had a terrible night." It was true.
She had slept even less than usual.
"I was asking if you'd seen the papers this morning." She
nodded. "Pleased about Soinehe?"
Soinehe was the province in Thu which had declared its
secession from the Thuvian State last night.
He was pleased about it. His white teeth flashed in his dark,
alert face. Pretty Laia. "Yes. And apprehensive."
"I know. But it's the real thing, this time. It's the
beginning of the end of the Government in Tha. They haven't even
tried to order troops into Soinehe, you know. It would merely
provoke the soldiers into rebellion sooner, and they know it."
She agreed with him. She herself had felt that certainty. But
she could not share his delight. After a lifetime of living on
hope because there is nothing but hope, one loses the taste for
victory. A real sense of triumph must be preceded by real
despair. She had unlearned despair a long time ago. There were no
more triumphs. One went on.
"Shall we do those letters today?"
"All right. Which letters?"
"To the people in the North," he said without impatience.
"In the North?"
"Parheo, Oaidun."
She had been born in Parheo, the dirty city on the dirty
river. She had not come here to the capital till she was
twenty-two and ready to bring the Revolution. Though in those
days, before she and the others had thought it through, it had
been a very green and puerile revolution. Strikes for better
wages, representation for women. Votes and wages-Power and Money,
for the love of God! Well, one does learn a little, after all, in
fifty years.
But then one must forget it all.
"Start with Oaidun," she said, sitting down in the armchair.
Noi was at the desk ready to work. He read out excerpts from the
letters she was to answer. She tried to pay attention, and
succeeded well enough that she dictated one whole letter and
started on another. "Remember that at this stage your brotherhood
is vulnerable to the threat of ... no, to the danger ... to ..."
She groped till Noi suggested, "The danger of leader-worship?"
"All right. And that nothing is so soon corrupted by
power-seeking as altruism. No. And that nothing corrupts
altruism-no. O for God's love you know what I'm trying to say,
Noi, you write it. They know it too, it's just the same old
stuff, why can't they read my books!"
"Touch," Noi said gently, smiling, citing one of the central
Odonian themes.
"All right, but I'm tired of being touched. If you'll write
the letter I'll sign it, but I can't be bothered with it this
morning." He was looking at her with a little question or
concern. She said, irritable, "There is something else I have to
When Noi had gone she sat down at the desk and moved the
papers about, pretending to be doing something, because she had
been startled, frightened, by the words she had said. She had
nothing else to do. She never had had anything else to do. This
was her work: her lifework. The speaking tours and the meetings
and the streets were out of reach for her now, but she could
still write, and that was her work. And anyhow if she had had
anything else to do, Noi would have known it; he kept her
schedule, and tactfully reminded her of things, like the visit
from the foreign students this afternoon.
Oh, damn. She liked the young, and there was always something
to learn from a foreigner, but she was tired of new faces, and
tired of being on view. She learned from them, but they didn't
learn from her; they had learnt all she had to teach long ago,
from her books, from the Movement. They just came to look, as if
she were the Great Tower in Rodarred, or the Canyon of the
Tulaevea. A phenomenon, a monument. They were awed, adoring. She
snarled at them: Think your own thoughts! -That's not anarchism,
that's mere obscurantism. -You don't think liberty and discipline
are incompatible, do you?- They accepted their tongue-lashing
meekly as children, gratefully, as if she were some kind of
All-Mother, the idol of the Big Sheltering Womb. She! She who had
mined the shipyards at Seissero, and had cursed Premier Inoilte
to his face in front of a crowd of seven thousand, telling him he
would have cut off his own balls and had them bronzed and sold as
souvenirs, if he thought there was any profit in it-she who had
screeched, and sworn, and kicked policemen, and spat at priests,
and pissed in public on the big brass plaque in Capitol Square
pssssssssss to all that! And now she was everybody's grandmama,
the dear old lady, the sweet old monument, come worship at the
womb. The fire's out, boys, it's safe to come up close.
"No, I won't," Laia said out loud. "I will not." She was not
self-conscious about talking to herself, because she always had
talked to herself. "Laia's invisible audience," Taviri had used
to say, as she went through the room muttering. "You needn't
come, I won't be here," she told the invisible audience now. She
had just decided what it was she had to do. She had to go out. To
go into the streets.
It was inconsiderate to disappoint the foreign students. It
was erratic, typically senile. It was unOdonian. Psssssss to all
that. What was the good working for freedom all your life and
ending up without any freedom at all? She would go out for a
"What is an anarchist? One who, choosing, accepts the
responsibility of choice."
On the way downstairs she decided, scowling, to stay and see
the foreign students. But then she would go out.
They were very young students, very earnest: doe-eyed,
shaggy, charming creatures from the Western Hemisphere, Benbili
and the Kingdom of Mand, the girls in white trousers, the boys in
long kilts, warlike and archaic. They spoke of their hopes. "We
in Mand are so very far from the Revolution that maybe we are
near it," said one of the girls, wistful and smiling: "The Circle
of Life!" and she showed the extremes meeting, in the circle of
her slender, dark-skinned fingers. Amai and Aevi served them
white wine and brown bread, the hospitality of the House. But the
visitors, unpresumptuous, all rose to take their leave after
barely half an hour. "No, no, no," Laia said, "stay here, talk
with Aevi and Amai. It's just that I get stiff sitting down, you
see, I have to change about. It has been so good to meet you,
will you come back to see me, my little brothers and sisters,
soon?" For her heart went out to them, and theirs to her, and she
exchanged kisses all round, laughing, delighted by the dark young
cheeks, the affectionate eyes, the scented hair, before she
shuffled off. She was really a little tired, but to go up and
take a nap would be a defeat. She had wanted to go out. She would
go out. She had not been alone outdoors since-when? Since winter!
before the stroke. No wonder she was getting morbid. It had been
a regular jail sentence. Outside, the streets, that's where she
She went quietly out the side door of the House, past the
vegetable patch, to the street. The narrow strip of sour city
dirt had been beautifully gardened and was producing a fine crop
of beans and ceëa, but Laia's eye for farming was unenlightened.
Of course it had been clear that anarchist communities, even in
the time of transition, must work towards optimal self-support,
but how that was to be managed in the way of actual dirt and
plants wasn't her business. There were farmers and agronomists
for that. Her job was the streets, the noisy, stinking streets of
stone, where she had grown up and lived all her life, except for
the fifteen years in prison.
She looked up fondly at the façade of the House. That it had
been built as a bank gave peculiar satisfaction to its present
occupants. They kept their sacks of meal in the bomb-proof
money-vault, and aged their cider in kegs in safe deposit boxes.
Over the fussy columns that faced the street carved letters still
read, "National Investors and Grain Factors Banking Association."
The Movement was not strong on names. They had no flag. Slogans
came and went as the need did. There was always the Circle of
Life to scratch on walls and pavements where Authority would have
to see it. But when it came to names they were indifferent,
accepting and ignoring whatever they got called, afraid of being
pinned down and penned in, unafraid of being absurd. So this best
known and second oldest of all the cooperative Houses had no name
except The Bank.
It faced on a wide and quiet street, but only a block away
began the Temeba, an open market, once famous as a center for
black-market psychogenics and teratogenics, now reduced to
vegetables, secondhand clothes, and miserable sideshows. Its
crapulous vitality was gone, leaving only half-paralyzed
alcoholics, addicts, cripples, hucksters, and fifth-rate whores,
pawnshops, gambling dens, fortune-tellers, body-sculptors, and
cheap hotels. Laia turned to the Temeba as water seeks its level.
She had never feared or despised the city. It was her
country. There would not be slums like this, if the Revolution
prevailed. But there would be misery. There would always be
misery, waste, cruelty. She had never pretended to be changing
the human condition, to be Mama taking tragedy away from the
children so they won't hurt themselves. Anything but. So long as
people were free to choose, if they chose to drink flybane and
live in sewers, it was their business. Just so long as it wasn't
the business of Business, the source of profit and the means of
power for other people. She had felt all that before she knew
anything; before she wrote the first pamphlet, before she left
Parheo, before she knew what "capital" meant, before she'd been
farther than River Street where she played rolltaggie kneeling on
scabby knees on the pavement with the other six-year-olds, she
had known it: that she, and the other kids, and her parents, and
their parents, and the drunks and whores and all of River Street,
were at the bottom of something-were the foundation, the reality,
the source. But will you drag civilization down into the mud?
cried the shocked decent people, later on, and she had tried for
years to explain to them that if all you had was mud, then if you
were God you made it into human beings, and if you were human you
tried to make it into houses where human beings could live. But
nobody who thought he was better than mud would understand. Now,
water seeking its level, mud to mud, Laia shuffled through the
foul, noisy street, and all the ugly weakness of her old age was
at home. The sleepy whores, their lacquered hair-arrangements
dilapidated and askew, the one-eyed woman wearily yelling her
vegetables to sell, the haf-wit beggar slapping flies, these were
her countrywomen. They looked like her, they were all sad,
disgusting, mean, pitiful, hideous. They were her sisters, her
own people.
She did not feel very well. It had been a long time since she
had walked so far, four or five blocks, by herself, in the noise
and push and striking summer heat of the streets. She had wanted
to get to Koly Park, the triangle of scruffy grass at the end of
the Temeba, and sit there for a while with the other old men and
women who always sat there, to see what it was like to sit there
and be old; but it was too far. If she didn't turn back now, she
might get a dizzy spell, and she had a dread of falling down,
falling down and having to lie there and look up at the people
come to stare at the old woman in a fit. She turned and started
home, frowning with effort and self-disgust. She could feel her
face very red, and a swimming feeling came and went in her ears.
It got a bit much, she was really afraid she might keel over. She
saw a doorstep in the shade and made for it, let herself down
cautiously, sat, sighed.
Nearby was a fruit-seller, sitting silent behind his dusty,
withered stock. People went by. Nobody bought from him. Nobody
looked at her. Odo, who was Odo? Famous revolutionary, author of
Community, The Analogy, etc. etc. She, who was she? An old woman
with grey hair and a red face sitting on a dirty doorstep in a
slum, muttering to herself.
True? Was that she? Certainly it was what anybody passing her
saw. But was it she, herself, any more than the famous
revolutionary, etc., was? No. It was not. But who was she, then?
The one who loved Taviri.
Yes. True enough. But not enough. That was gone; he had been
dead so long.
"Who am I?" Laia muttered to her invisible audience, and they
knew the answer and told it to her with one voice. She was the
little girl with scabby knees, sitting on the doorstep staring
down through the dirty golden haze of River Street in the heat of
late summer, the six-year-old, the sixteen-year-old, the fierce,
cross, dream-ridden girl, untouched, untouchable. She was
herself. Indeed she had been the tireless worker and thinker, but
a blood clot in a vein had taken that woman away from her. Indeed
she had been the lover, the swimmer in the midst of life, but
Taviri, dying, had taken that woman away with him. There was
nothing left, really, but the foundation. She had come home; she
had never left home. "True voyage is return." Dust and mud and a
doorstep in the slums. And beyond, at the far end of the street,
the field full of tall dry weeds blowing in the wind as night
"Laia! What are you doing here? Are you all right?"
One of the people from the House, of course, a nice woman, a
bit fanatical and always talking. Laia could not remember her
name though she had known her for years. She let herself be taken
home, the woman talking all the way. In the big cool common room
(once occupied by tellers counting money behind polished counters
supervised by armed guards) Laia sat down in a chair. She was
unable just as yet to face climbing the stairs, though she would
have liked to be alone. The woman kept on talking, and other
excited people came in. It appeared that a demonstration was
being planned. Events in Thu were moving so fast that the mood
here had caught fire, and something must be done. Day after
tomorrow, no, tomorrow, there was to be a march, a big one, from
Old Town to Capitol Square-the old route. "Another Ninth Month
Uprising," said a young man, fiery and laughing, glancing at
Laia. He had not even been born at the time of the Ninth Month
Uprising, it was all history to him. Now he wanted to make some
history of his own. The room had filled up. A general meeting
would be held here, tomorrow, at eight in the morning. "You must
talk, Laia."
"Tomorrow? Oh, I won't be here tomorrow," she said brusquely.
Whoever had asked her smiled, another one laughed, though Amai
glanced round at her with a puzzled look. They went on talking
and shouting. The Revolution. What on earth had made her say
that? What a thing to say on the eve of the Revolution, even if
it was true.
She waited her time, managed to get up and, for all her
clumsiness, to slip away unnoticed among the people busy with
their planning and excitement. She got to the hall, to the
stairs, and began to climb them one by one. "The general strike,"
a voice, two voices, ten voices were saying in the room below,
behind her. "The general strike," Laia muttered, resting for a
moment on the landing. Above, ahead, in her room, what awaited
her? The private stroke. That was mildly funny. She started up
the second flight of stairs, one by one, one leg at a time, like
a small child. She was dizzy, but she was no longer afraid to
fall. On ahead, on there, the dry white flowers nodded and
whispered in the open fields of evening. Seventy-two years and
she had never had time to learn what they were called.

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