Neosify - Buy, Stake & Earn Crypto
Neosify - Buy, Stake & Earn Crypto
Neosify - Buy, Stake & Earn Crypto
a conversation

A rare conversation

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 2 Mar 2023



          I realized that all pretense was vain with this man who freely offered to me what I had let slip to him.  I told him, in a halting voice, that I was not what I seemed, that I had come from far away and had little time.  He was curious to know where I came from and I told him, guardedly, "the mountains."

          I went on to reveal that I had been away from the cities for three years and needed to know what his fellow citizens were doing on the far side of the bay to the north.

          "Why nothing much at all," he answered.  "They are clearing and whitening some land that has long been an eyesore to our good priests in the temple, who look across the water and see that region every day.  Their eyes are very delicate, you know."

          "But what about the road there," I asked, "where does it go?"   "Only a mile," he replied.  "There were some glasshouses we brought over from that side a few years ago.  It was built for that purpose, to transport them on wagons."

"Then there's nothing further north?"

          "Nothing I've ever heard of," he said.  "No cities, if that's what you mean."

          I felt relieved for all my friends in the woods.  But at the same time I realized the extreme rashness of this trip into the city.  Hiram had probably already determined all these things and might even be nervously awaiting my return at our camp this minute.

          I resolved to go at once while the streets were still empty, bloodied and faint as I was.  But I had to ask one more question.

          "Why did you tell me your name was Ben, old man?"

          "Because you told me yours, young man, and I have not heard such a thing in six years."

          He went on to say, quite frankly, that he didn’t agree with many of the new laws but had to keep his sentiments to himself; "to avoid persecution," he said, "a thing that has happened to most of my people."

          "But now that I’m growing old," he continued, "I think more of joining them than staying here.  I’m glad to have met you Jonathan, as I see you’re not a part of this order, and we can talk like human beings."

          This pricked my curiosity.  I asked him who his people were.

          "Why the Jews," he replied rather loudly.  "My son's name is Simon and his wife is Sarah.  The only reason they've allowed us to live together or to live at all is because my knowledge is so valuable to them.  I’m in charge of keeping the glasshouses in working order, despite all the bureaucratic white tape and the failing equipment and the lack of replacement parts, and incompetent staffs, I might add.  But my friends, my close friends, many of them were persecuted and killed, for no better reason than for trying to preserve a few simple traditions."

          "They’ve taken away our past," he went on, "but we still close the door and say our prayers in the old way.  No one can take that from us.  We shall say them silently when forbidden to say them aloud."

          He went on with this interesting account a little longer, telling me that there were still some individual Jews in society, but those with any rank in government had to hide the fact.  I responded to this honesty by remarking that I had been by training an historian, and was curious of these matters, and wondered why the acts of annulment and the oaths that we were all forced to take at the height of the revolution had not cleared his people as it had me, for a clean start under the new order.

          "Oh, they promised this very thing," he said, a little angrily, "but we were still suspect and even watched and kept apart from one another as much as possible.  And all of us who were honest enough to declare our religion have this symbol stamped upon our identity cards, (he came up close and showed me a strange mark on the card that hung around his neck) which gives us a second class fare everywhere we turn."

          He sat down at the table and went on, telling me exactly what he did and why he had been exempted, to some degree, from this prejudice, and allowed to live with his only remaining son and daughter-in-law.  I couldn’t help saying that I wished we had such an expert in hydroponics in our own camp.  Then he asked me what manner of camp it was and how we grew our food.

          I began describing the current status of my tribe, careful not to reveal any clues as to its whereabouts.  But I was startled in the middle of this narration by a quiet knock and the opening of the door.  It was Simon and Sarah returning from the temple.  There were others in the street so they closed the door quickly behind them.  Their entrance made my head spin, realizing that I’d missed my chance to escape, completely forgetting about my danger in idle talk.

          I sank back to the bench with both hands over my face.  I felt nauseous and dizzy.  I was probably incapable of riding away on the bike.  Then old Ben spoke up in a reassuring voice: "Don't worry, you can spend the night here.  No one will visit us.  You need some rest.  We'll have dinner together and talk some more.  My son will repair your bicycle and after a good night's sleep you can set off in the morning, when the streets are empty again."

          Such a generous offer really did put my fears to rest.  I wondered why I hadn’t thought of that myself.  I guessed my faculties were still impaired.  Then I thought on how lucky I was to have met this family, probably the one-in-a-thousand that would have sheltered me.  Ben was now at the far end of the room talking in low tones with his children, most likely explaining to them my situation.

          He came back with them, and his daughter-in-law again examined my head and wiped it with the sponge.  There was a large, sore bump at the very top of it.  Simon went over to my bicycle and began to fix it.  He had no tools to work with except two sticks, which looked like the broken-off legs of a chair.  Everything about this house was Spartan and simple unless one chose to call it "purified".

          Ben and Sarah helped me over to the table, where Ben poured me a cup of wine, something I hadn’t tasted in years.  Sarah prepared a dinner of fish and vegetables in the far corner of the room, while Ben sat down with me and we talked on and on.  I asked him questions about the city government, its organization, its laws, its long-term plans.  He seemed very well informed, being a manager of sorts himself.  I could hardly have picked a better fountain of information.

          He told me that the present "goal of the year" was "uniformity."  Delegations from the capitol in the East were visiting all the cities this fall, inspecting them and ranking them in their piety and obedience to the Church.  Such a delegation was soon expected here and that's why everything was in such tip-top shape.  Last year the catchword had been "whiteness" and the city still dazzled in its wake.

          The wide, white margin around the city was also the result of last year's "goal".  It was a symbol of the power and prosperity of this place, a field of dreams and vision, a slow reconquest of the land, intended, no doubt, to link up some day with the equal efforts of other cities and cover the planet in one great, perfect purity.

          Unlike the turbulent cities I had known, where rigid indoctrination and hard labor were still the main order of the day, if not the hour, a little bit more sanity, along with the stability, had crept into the planning of the church fathers.  Now that obedience and order were achieved the energies of the state were directed towards two far nobler ends, sanitation and fitness.  By well regulated diets and healthy intervals of labor and rest, they had uniformly improved the health and happiness of their people.

          I was glad to hear that the plague had been all but eradicated.  The population, after years of the most traumatic loss, was again on the rise, and such was the public happiness at this turnabout, that the arrival of any new-born was announced and applauded at the public services.

          After dinner I let my hosts ask the questions.  I told them in detail of our life in the woods, its hardships and rewards.  Ben listened intently and even sighed a few times as I described our freedoms, our democratic government and voting system, and the right to discuss and dissent and speak as we pleased.

          Simon tinkered with the bicycle all the while, listening to us as he straightened out the spokes.  Then he and his wife went to bed in the back room.  Ben kept me up late into the night, with many more questions about my tribe.  He visibly relished our conversation, "such a rare thing these days," as he put it, and plied me with more wine and then tea, sighing and wishing aloud that he were a member of my tribe.

          I told him I would gladly take him with me, his family too.  But he deferred, saying he was too old and that his son and daughter-in-law might find such a life too harsh.  What he really wished was the impossible; that he was twenty years younger and a part of our group.  I quietly sympathized with the old man.

          I thought our talk was over with that pause, but then he began telling me a few secrets of his own.  Before the fall he’d been a scientist, helping design some of the first glasshouses.  But he was also a deeply religious Jew.  When the violence broke out, he narrowly escaped being slaughtered with most of his friends at their temple. He happened to be absent from it that evening, tending to his own sick child.

          In the following weeks he did his best to conceal his religion, though he was rounded up and questioned.  He was set free when the state determined his usefulness, and even given back his son, who now worked under him, after proving how necessary his services were in maintaining the food supply.

          In the privacy of this home he’d set himself the task of reciting to his children every prayer, rite and passage of the religious lore that he could remember, over and over again so that they would have it and pass it down to their children.  This is what he lived for, and I congratulated him on having such a good reason for living.

          We ended our talk near dawn, with a warm clasp of friendship, like two brothers miraculously rejoined after the shipwreck of the whole world.  He spread a blanket for me on the floor and retired for a few hours himself, as we both had a full day ahead of us.

last post ...
next post ...

How do you rate this article?



B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

Send a $0.01 microtip in crypto to the author, and earn yourself as you read!

20% to author / 80% to me.
We pay the tips from our rewards pool.