Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee J. M

Waiting for the Barbarians by Coetzee J. M

Author:Coetzee, J. M. [Coetzee, J. M.]
Language: eng
Format: epub
Tags: Fiction, Modern Classics, Novel
Publisher: Random House
Published: 1980-01-05T02:00:00+00:00


THE BARBARIANS COME out at night. Before darkness falls the last goat must be brought in, the gates barred, a watch set in every lookout to call the hours. All night, it is said, the barbarians prowl about bent on murder and rapine. Children in their dreams see the shutters part and fierce barbarian faces leer through. ‘The barbarians are here!’ the children scream, and cannot be comforted. Clothing disappears from washing-lines, food from larders, however tightly locked. The barbarians have dug a tunnel under the walls, people say; they come and go as they please, take what they like; no one is safe any longer. The farmers still till the fields, but they go out in bands, never singly. They work without heart: the barbarians are only waiting for the crops to be established, they say, before they flood the fields again.

Why doesn’t the army stop the barbarians? people complain. Life on the frontier has become too hard. They talk of returning to the Old Country, but then remember that the roads are no longer safe because of the barbarians. Tea and sugar can no longer be bought over the counter as the shopkeepers hoard their stocks. Those who eat well eat behind closed doors, fearful of awaking their neighbour’s envy.

Three weeks ago a little girl was raped. Her friends, playing in the irrigation ditches, did not miss her till she came back to them bleeding, speechless. For days she lay in her parents’ home staring at the ceiling. Nothing would induce her to tell her story. When the lamp was put out she would begin to whimper. Her friends claim a barbarian did it. They saw him running away into the reeds. They recognized him as a barbarian by his ugliness. Now all children are forbidden to play outside the gates, and the farmers carry clubs and spears when they go to the fields.

The higher feeling runs against the barbarians, the tighter I huddle in my corner, hoping I will not be remembered.

It is a long time since the second expeditionary force rode out so bravely with its flags and trumpets and shining armour and prancing steeds to sweep the barbarians from the valley and teach them a lesson they and their children and grandchildren would never forget. Since then there have been no dispatches, no communiqués. The exhilaration of the times when there used to be daily military parades on the square, displays of horsemanship, exhibitions of musketry, has long since dissipated. Instead the air is full of anxious rumours. Some say that the entire thousand-mile frontier has erupted into conflict, that the northern barbarians have joined forces with the western barbarians, that the army of the Empire is too thinly stretched, that one of these days it will be forced to give up the defence of remote outposts like this one to concentrate its resources on the protection of the heartland. Others say that we receive no news of the war only because our soldiers have


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