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," he said.
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."
Excerpted from Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie. Copyright © 2012 by Salman Rushdie. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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