The tide of the blind continued to rise, at the same rate as hostile gossip about them. Rumor had it that a forthcoming decree would resettle most of them in some remote province of the country (the Empire wasnt short of impoverished regions of that kind!) so that foreigners, at least, would never set eyes upon them.
Far from giving any substance to such rumors, on the last Friday in December on the very day when a special order was announced granting a full pardon to people blinded by violent means the state held a Banquet of Forgiveness (a sadaka, as it was expressed in the language of the land) for the benefit of all the victims of the Blinding Order.
This Reconciliation Banquet, as it was subsequently dubbed by malicious tongues, was held in the Imperial Manège, which was the only building large enough for the number of tables required for the many thousands of guests.
The blind flocked toward the manège from all quarters of the capital in an unending clatter of clogs and sticks, and in such confusion that the police were obliged to close the entire area to traffic for several hours.
Dozens of functionaries were there to welcome them and lead them to their places, but all the same, when the blind finally entered the Great Hall and especially when they tried to get to their designated tables, things degenerated into a veritable riot. They knocked over chairs, they did not know where to put the Balkan lyres and lahutas which they had brought with them, God knows why, most of them groped clumsily at their dinner plates and spilled food on themselves, or else tipped the plates right over.
Among this crowd of the blind, someone noticed a clog-wearing, raggedy man elbowing his way toward a table, who was none other than the former grand vizier.
At a long table sat the high officials of the court, together with members of the government and of the entourage of Sheikh ul-Islam. Journalists and foreign diplomats had also been invited.
One of the officials tried to make a speech, but as most of the blind had begun to stuff themselves with food, most of his words were drowned by the scraping of cutlery and the clatter of crockery. Nonetheless, the essential sentences about the need for sacrifice in service of the common good, and especially the message from the sultan encouraging everyone to forget the past and remain loyal to the state, were relatively well understood.
With gravy dripping from their chins, and in high spirits induced by such good food especially the nut halvah many of the blind started strumming on their lahutas.
The officials, journalists, and diplomats looked on in silence as the disorderly feast unfolded before their eyes.
Every cloud has a silver lining . . . I think you must have a similar saying in your language too, the Austrian consul eventually said to his colleague from France.
Yes, of course, the Frenchman replied.
In spite of its ghastly and untranslatable name, and even in spite of the notorious horror it has caused, the Blinding Order has contributed to a new flowering of oral poetry, which, as I myself noticed, has been in sharp decline in this country in recent years.
Do you really think so? the Frenchman replied, looking at his colleague in astonishment. Then he recalled that his colleague had once told him he was engaged in research on oral poetry, which made his remark seemed less cynical than bizarre.
Just look at this crowd, if you want to see the evidence, the Austrian added.
I guess so, the French consul muttered, as he gazed into the Great Hall where the cacophony of the blind was rising to its peak. Tirana, 1984
From Agamemnons Daughter: A Novella and Stories, copyright © 1993, 2003 by Librairie Arthème Fayard. English-language copyright © 2006 by David Bellos. Published by arrangement with Arcade Publishing and the Wylie Agency, Inc.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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