"Will I see you tomorrow, Dad?" He shook his head. "But I'll call you," he said. "I'll call you every evening at seven. If you're not going to be here," he told Clarissa, "please leave me a message on the answering machine at home and say when I should call instead." This was early 1989. The terms PC, laptop, cellphone, mobile phone, Internet, Wi-Fi, SMS, email, were either unknown or very new. He did not own a computer or a mobile phone. But he did own a house, even if he could not spend the night there, and in the house there was an answering machine, and he could call in and interrogate it, a new use of an old word, and get, no, retrieve, his messages. "Seven o'clock," he repeated. "Every night, okay?" Zafar nodded gravely. "Okay, Dad."
He drove home alone and the news on the radio was all bad. Two days earlier there had been a "Rushdie riot" outside the U.S. Cultural Center in Islamabad, Pakistan. (It was not clear why the United States was being held responsible for The Satanic Verses.) The police had fired on the crowd and there were five dead and sixty injured. The demonstrators carried signs saying RUSHDIE< YOU ARE DEAD. Now the danger had been greatly multiplied by the Iranian edict. The Ayatollah Khomeini was not just a powerful cleric. He was a head of state ordering the murder of the citizen of another state, over whom he had no jurisdiction; and he had assassins at his service and they had been used before against "enemies" of the Iranian Revolution, including enemies living outside Iran. There was another new word he had to learn. Here it was on the radio: extraterritoriality. Also known as state-sponsored terrorism. Voltaire had once said that it was a good idea for a writer to live near an international frontier so that, if he angered powerful men, he could skip across the border and be safe. Voltaire himself left France for En gland after he gave offense to an aristocrat, the Chevalier de Rohan, and remained in exile for seven years. But to live in a different country from one's persecutors was no longer to be safe. Now there was extraterritorial action. In other words, they came after you.
Night in Lonsdale Square was cold, dark and clear. There were two policemen in the square. When he got out of his car they pretended not to notice. They were on short patrol, watching the street near the flat for one hundred yards in each direction, and he could hear their footsteps even when he was indoors. He realized, in that footstephaunted silence, that he no longer understood his life, or what it might become, and he thought for the second time that day that there might not be very much more of life to understand. Pauline went home and Marianne went to bed early. It was a day to forget. It was a day to remember. He got into bed beside his wife and she turned toward him and they embraced, rigidly, like the unhappily married couple they were. Then, separately, each lying with their own thoughts, they failed to sleep.
Footsteps. Winter. A black wing fluttering on a climbing frame. I inform the proud Muslim people of the world, ristle-te, rostle-te, mo, mo, mo. To execute them wherever they may find them. Ristle-te, rostle-te, hey bombosity, knickety-knackety, retroquo -quality, willoby-wallaby, mo, mo, mo.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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