Crabbe was giving evidence in a courtroom in Alice Springs and they went
along to listen. The driver was conservatively dressed, with downcast eyes, and
spoke in a low, even voice. He insisted he was not the sort of person who could
have done such a thing, and, when asked why he was so sure of that, replied
that he had been driv ing trucks for many years, and "looking after them as if
they were my own" (here there was a beat of silence, and the unspoken word in
that silence might have been "children"), and for him to half destroy a truck
was completely against his character. The members of the jury stiffened visibly
when they heard that, and it was obvious that his cause was lost. "But of
course," Bruce murmured, "he's absolutely telling the truth."
The mind of one murderer valued trucks more highly than human beings.
Five years later there might be people on their way to execute a writer for his
blasphemous words, and faith, or a particular interpretation of faith, was the
truck they loved more than human life. This was not his first blasphemy, he
reminded himself. His climb up Ayers Rock with Bruce would now also be
forbidden. The Rock, returned to Aboriginal ownership and given back its ancient
name of Uluru, was sacred territory, and climbers were no longer permitted.
It was on the flight home from that Australian journey in 1984 that he had
begun to understand how to write The Satanic Verses.
The service at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Sophia of
the Archdiocese of Thyateria and Great Britain, built and lavishly decorated
110 years earlier to resemble a grand cathedral of old Byzantium,
was all sonorous, mysterious Greek. Its rituals were ornately
Byzantine. Blah blah blah Bruce Chatwin, intoned the priests, blah
blah Chatwin blah blah. They stood up, they sat down, they knelt, they
stood and then sat again. The air was full of the stink of holy smoke.
He remembered his father taking him, as a child in Bombay, to pray on
the day of Eid-ul-Fitr. There at the Idgah, the praying field, it was all
Arabic, and a good deal of up-down forehead bumping, and standing
up with your palms held in front of you like a book, and much mumbling
of unknown words in a language he didn't speak. "Just do what
I do," his father said. They were not a religious family and hardly ever
went to such ceremonies. He never learned the prayers or their meanings.
This occasional prayer by imitation and mumbled rote was all he
knew. Consequently, the meaningless ceremony in the church on
Moscow Road felt familiar. Marianne and he were seated next to Martin Amis and his wife, Antonia Phillips. "We're worried about you,"
Martin said, embracing him. "I'm worried about me," he replied. Blah
Chatwin blah Bruce blah. The novelist Paul Theroux was sitting in the
pew behind him. "I suppose we'll be here for you next week, Salman,"
There had been a couple of photographers on the sidewalk outside
when he arrived. Writers didn't usually draw a crowd of paparazzi. As
the service progressed, however, journalists began to enter the church.
One incomprehensible religion was playing host to a news story generated
by another religion's incomprehensibly violent assault. One of
the worst aspects of what happened, he wrote later, was that the incomprehensible
became comprehensible, the unimaginable became imaginable.
The service ended and the journalists pushed their way toward
him. Gillon, Marianne and Martin tried to run interference. One persistent
gray fellow (gray suit, gray hair, gray face, gray voice) got
through the crowd, shoved a tape recorder toward him and asked the
obvious questions. "I'm sorry," he replied. "I'm here for my friend's
memorial service. It's not appropriate to do interviews." "You don't
understand," the gray fellow said, sounding puzzled. "I'm from The
Daily Telegraph. They've sent me down specially."
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