Sunday, November 18, 2007
Anti-Danube: Chapter VII
In Which Mountains Vanish as My Troubles Do Not
I settled onto the floor of the leprous cell and ran my bloated, rubbery hands over the first page of the League of the Wives of Bohdan Naxajlo file.
"Real paper," I whistled to myself. So unlike the impacted cobweb and acorn paste on which my collection of essays had been printed. The whole run of "The Waters Have Burst" was eaten by a squirrel, but I endure.
Naxajlo - what bewilderment that name evokes, and not least phonetic! Rarely uttered aloud except within the stag-heavy walls of the NAKRO senior officers' club, it refers to the the scion of a prewar corsetry empire who joined the Communists as Minister of Church Expropriation before failing to return from a solidarity visit to the militant milliners of Marrakech.
Since then Naxajlo has been an umbrella tip embedded in the pimply thigh of Socialism, elusive yet inevitable in his wrecking of Five-Year Plans, folk festivals and visits by unfocused Western playwrights alike.
Linked variously to the Latto faction of the Democratic Rhomboid, the Continuity Langerites and the Shutak List (Renewal), Naxajlo's sabotage has been impish in subtlety and often indistinguishable from Party policy itself.
The doyen of Ruthenian poets, Vaclav Futon, once told me "When you travel to foreign literary conferences and announce yourself to be a Ruthenian, you are asked two questions. The first is 'Please will you hang up my coat?' and the second - 'Do you know Bohdan Naxajlo?' To answer either in the affirmative is to invite a lifetime of crude dentistry in a forced logging camp - as Murdo Bartkiw, the gumless timber bard of Colony 49 might testify if he officially existed anymore."
Naxajlo nonetheless danced across international borders and First Secretaries' saunas like Hrindöl, the spring-heeled otter of Carpathian legend.
I pushed back my sagging brow and began to read.
The file presented evidence that Naxajlo relied on a network of agents, safe houses, midnight feasts and dewy embonpoints throughout the People's Democratic and Popular Republic, and all supplied by this aforementioned League.
It is said that sailors have a wife in every port, when it is more likely that they have been fobbed off with a barbary ape in a gingham frock as was my cousin Pilcho during his national service, but Naxajlo did seem to have eased his way between the swampy sheets of beldames in all the provincial centres and capital districts of Ruthenia. And this was achieved through a combination of hosiery from the family stockpile and what the report called "Belgian practices".
These "wives" were not susceptible to the same methods of persuasion that NAKRO applied to dissidents, Quakers and festival-goers who crossed its path, and this was for the bald dialectical reason that they were without exception the spouses, daughters, sisters, or mothers (and in one diverting case all four) of Party leaders.
I can recall only one occasion when I felt sorry for the organs of state security, and that was when the Vanguard Youth League's International Division allowed a Cuban five-year-old to win the competition to design NAKRO winter uniforms. This looked worse, whatever the weather. But how was I expected to help?
Then a sudden chill ran down my spine. I glanced at my hand, which had abruptly turned raw and hairy, like a badly-shaved spider. To my horror, it was also numb. In panic I slammed a night pot down on it, and my ears echoed to a howl of pain.
I understood through the power of rational deduction that the hand was not mine. The application of logic and experience told me that the fist now pounding the pot around my beret was its twin. Subsequent monosyllabic explanations, embellished with blasphemy and vigorous physical gestures, introduced their owner as one Agent Kafka.
It was he who told me that Bohdan Naxajlo had now exceeded himself. One of our mountains was missing.