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Authors: Ismail Kadare

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The Pyramid (9 page)

BOOK: The Pyramid
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Appendix: re stone seven. From the Pharaoh’s Special Envoy marked “Top Secret” in red.

Discovering the true causes of the fall of the seventh stone is of the utmost importance for the State. In the account of the actual facts there are contradictions that arouse suspicion. The team undertaking the investigation is paying particular attention to the following points; causes of the slip (were real attempts made to stop it while it was still possible to do so, or did people turn a blind eye?); precise description of the trajectory; reactions of men on site; acts of heroism and/or cries of fear (“The pyramid is collapsing!”); other suspect reflections (“The higher you go, the harder you fall,” etc.).

Report of the Commission of Inquiry.

There is no lead on this seventh stone, neither from the quarry, nor through the usual channels of denunciation, including those used, mostly anonymously, by land-based and waterborne hauler. The start of the slip was almost imperceptible, to the extent that the builders leaning on it did not even feel it beginning to move. Head stonelayer Sham was the first to remark-. “But what’s going on, this stone feels as though it’s shifting!” The others thought he was joking, and teased him back: “Hey, you must have pushed it”—”No, it was you,” etc. A moment later when they realized that the stone was indeed on the move they tried to stop it with their bare hands, but to no avail. Then head stonelayer Sham, realizing that he had no grappling iron to hand, hurried to get one to slip it under the block. The others set to as well, but too late. The stone sent all the hooks flying and, as if increasingly angry, rushed headlong. It began to zigzag on the ramp at the level of step ten and began its massacre at step eleven. At step thirteen foreman Thut put himself in its path and yelled: “Long live the Pharaoh!” But he was crushed to pulp. One of his hands was torn off and went flying through the air, which only exacerbated the panic. When it reached step fourteen the stone left the ramp and went into free fall It was at that point that stonelayer Debehen began to howl: “The pyramid is collapsing!” For reasons unknown he then hurled himself at the foreman and bit his throat. Others began rushing about in all directions as during an earth-quake, but they were in such a state of terror that some of them, far from evading the stone, found themselves in its path and got crushed. By step twenty the bloodstains on the masonry block could be seen from far away; lumps of flesh and hair rained down with it as it fell. In fact it was not at step one hundred and twenty but slightly before that it split in two, and the witnesses who adamantly insist that it split at the precise point where what is called celestial numbering begins are either the victims of pure chance or the tools of some dark political design. The investigation continues.

Hearing the Summit

hot season set in, the view of the pyramid rapidly altered. The ramps were taken down one by one, laying bare the dizzyingly steep sides of the monument itself. Only one hoisting track was left in place, the one that would be used for the last four stones and for the king-piece itself, the pyramidion.

In due course the area surrounding the base was cleared. The barracks that had served as the stonelayers’ sleeping quarters were dismantled, as were the redundant storerooms, messes, and stalls. Broken stones were gathered up and carted away every day together with reed-ropes, planks, broken winches, grappling tools, and all sorts of now useless rubbish.

The dust cloud over the building site began to lighten. But the sense of relief that resulted was not caused by the color of the sky alone. A new brightness spread in stages to the surrounding area, reached the capital, and even pushed on farther, to those remote provinces that good news, unlike bad, never reaches very fast.

Meanwhile the first taverns reopened, if rather hesitantly. Here and there, houses began to sport their numbers again. (It was rumored at the start that they had been removed to stop people finding their friends’ dwellings, and so to prevent the holding of dinner parties.) It became increasingly normal to see charcoal graffiti saying, ”We’ve built the pyramid! Now let’s have some fun!

Passersby nodded their heads. About time too, they said.

The flame of joy flickered but would not crackle, as if the logs in the hearth were still too green.

A single stone that had come adrift and tumbled down from the penultimate step had been enough to bring everything to a halt. Even without the investigation that the accident caused, those would have been
gloomy times. People felt that ancient, probably already dead afternoons had returned to cast their drab and guilt-laden light over them. Others imagined they were reliving a previous season. But even then they did not doubt that once the pyramid had been completed their field of vision would grow clearer and that things would find their right places again.

All the same the order to hoist up the last four pieces had still not come. Nor was there any mention of setting the pyramidion. It was allegedly being covered in gold leaf in some secret temple.

At dusk the ramp that would be used to push it up to the vertex looked like a fragile wire along which only spirits could travel.

Around the hut where the last four pieces had been stored and which was now guarded by sentries, god knows why, people could barely hide their amusement. To be sure, these stones were more important than the others, since the pyramidion itself would stand directly on them, but all the same, they were only bits of stone, not ministers, to be guarded like that! Others thought quite the opposite, that ministers were only transitory things, whereas those blocks of stone would live on until the end of time.

The four last stones and the pyramidion were referred to as if they were living people. The quarry of origin of one of them was even kept secret. On its delivery, so the story went, it was still bloodstained from the body of a man it had crushed on the way. So what, some people said, even if it has killed a man! We all know that the journey from a quarry to the pyramid is not an afternoon stroll!

People with business in the capital came back full of news. New bars had opened, there was more and more writing on the walls. Today’s youngsters, they said, young lads born at about the time construction started, were almost fearless. They had still been kids when the first step had been laid, so they had no knowledge of the first and most terrible stage of the work, before the pyramid had become visible.

Most people thought that that earliest phase was indeed the one that had been the most soul-destroying. Thereafter, as it came out of the depths, the pyramid had become less fearsome. It was even so obvious that when the youngsters reproached their parents for having been over-fearful, the older generation replied: “ You are only saying that because you have no idea of what a pyramid is like before it can be seen.” The young folk shook their heads in disbelief. They would have found the opposite more credible.

The notion that the pyramid had become less frightening as it had become more visible was perhaps the source of a wave of nostalgia for the first phase of the building work that spread among the stalwarts of the State, and particularly among old pyramid hands. Young people enjoyed poking fun at the veterans’ hopes that the good old days would return, “So are you waiting for the pyramid to go invisible?” they would ask, with snorts of laughter.

The old hands smiled back. But not without irony.

The idea of building another pyramid at first seemed so crazy that it was attributed less to wistful veterans than to the ravings of Setka, the idiot who had bepn allowed to hang around the monument ever since the foreman had declared that there was no building site in the world that didn’t have a cretin attached to it. But later on people recalled old facts that had seemed puzzling at the time and whose significance was now becoming clear. For instance, that the Pharaoh Zoser, after completing his own pyramid, had had four giant stairways added, thereby extending the construction work by seven years. Or that Seneferu had had three pyramids built, without ever revealing which of the three contained his tomb. From this it could easily be inferred that the imminent completion of one pyramid automatically gave rise to the idea that another one was about to be started from scratch. But a firm speech by the architect-in-chief referring in particular to the rumor about the possible birth of a new pyramid made it absolutely clear that the Pharaoh would entertain no such notion.

A fortnight later, the unbuilding of a part of the pyramid (there was talk in bars of reconstructing the topmost part, or even a whole slope, as a piece of cloth might be unpicked and resewn) was denounced with equal firmness, and it became quite clear that not a single stone of the pyramid would be touched.

All that the disappointed veterans could do now was to dream of the pyramid returning to the dust and muddle of its youth, but that seemed as unlikely as their own rejuvenation At the same time, and to the great displeasure of the old-timers, the taverns where young folk gathered grew noisier; and, as if that was not enough, perfume sellers’ stalls that had long been closed were allowed to reopen one by one.

One night a torch could be seen flickering for a long while on the northeastern slope of the pyramid. It swayed, grew brighter and dimmer by turns, like a ghost, but people watching it from afar would have been a good deal more scared had they known that it was the pyramid magician accompanied by a team of inquisitors who were wandering around up on high. They carried on until dawn, looking for something deeply hidden, to judge by the movement of the torchlight, something nightmarish buried inside at some unknown time, or even, and that would be far worse, some secret or crime that was tempted to come out into the light.

Some of the gossip doing the rounds of the offices and bars got out of Egypt with amazing speed. Spies still dizzy from learning long dispatches by heart rushed off to their lands and returned a couple of weeks later bearing new instructions. By the end of their homeward journeys they had sometimes forgotten part of the report they were supposed to deliver, or else, like soured beer that has been left for too long in the gourd, the report had changed shape of its own accord inside their minds, causing a good deal of puzzlement at headquarters.

The only one among them who had no such worries was the Sumerian ambassador. Neither the day’s sweaty heat nor the cold of night, nor even soft-headed messengers, could alter one iota in the clay tablets on which his reports were consigned. If it had not been for the smoking chimney (it had created a new proverb in diplomatic circles: instead of saying, “There’s no smoke without fire,” foreign ministry officials now said, “There’s no smoke without a dispatch”), everything would have been quite perfect.

All the same, after a week of high tension, the ambassador was now in a very good mood. He had just sent in his last report to the capital, perhaps the best report he had drafted in his whole career. Though it was past midnight and despite the pain in his hands from a couple of burns (the report had been requested with such urgency that he had had to have the tablets crated while they were still hot), he was at last lying beside his wife and, overcome with desire, began to caress her.

Later, when he had left his wife and lain down beside her, as he usually did after making love, his thoughts turned back to the report he had just dispatched. It crossed his mind that it would be cooling down as it went. Just like his wife. He imagined the desert chill seeping through the crates and into the tablets. And so on, until morning, when the report would be stone cold.

Who knows why, but, instead of overwhelming him after such labors, sleep evaded the ambassador. It must have been the report that was preventing his brain from finding rest. He tried to clear it out of his head, but it occurred to him straightaway that if he tried to do the opposite,, to recall every last detail of the text, he might well end up asleep.

It was not an easy thing to do. There were one hundred and twenty-nine tablets in all—a veritable monument, as his assistants had called it. He attempted to remember the first eleven, which contained a general sketch of the situation, but between the third and the seventh he had a vision that came from god knows where of a dead sheep and the dusty mirror in the hall of his uncle’s house near Kyrkyr, not far from the capital, on the afternoon of his suicide.

The first piece of specific news was in fact set out in tablets fifteen to twenty-one, which informed the Sumerian government that all the evidence suggested that unusual events were to be expected in Egypt. He managed to repeat from’ memory virtually the entire gist of tablet eleven: the significance recently attached to an event as unremarkable as a falling stone, alleged to be the result of enemy action (in fact, observers are firmly of the view that the fall had been engineered by the Security Service itself) supports the idea that a new wave of State terror is about to be unleashed on Egypt.

The ambassador’s analysis of the causes was a veritable masterpiece. It was expounded on tablets thirty-nine to seventy-two, which also constituted the heart of the report ... Watch out, you fool! he shouted in his mind at the carter driving his heavy load through the night. Every time the ambassador dispatched a message he was tormented by the fear of the cart overturning. He would have been sorry above all if the heart of his report were destroyed ... This point is on the line of the axis ... that place was perhaps where ... the funeral chamber! ,.. O heaven, he groaned to himself, this Egyptian pyramid will make us all ill... However much you may try to rid your mind of it, you can’t help relating everything else to the pyramid ... His wife’s vagina also seemed somewhat frightening when he entered it, like a mysterious place with perhaps, at the very end, a mortuary chamber.

He turned his thoughts back to the analysis of causes. He had tried to explain as clearly as possible the notion that the completion of the pyramid was apparently responsible for a resurgence of life, which, in its turn, had led to a detente or slackening of discipline that was of serious concern to the Egyptian State, For a period ministers had given way to their bad habit of blaming Sumer for everything and had tried to ascribe this laxness to Babylonian influence. They had even repeated the old analogy between the pharaonic pyramids and the canals of Mesopotamia: though they seemed to have little in common at first sight, or only insofar as stone has some relationship to water, both served the same purpose, that of supporting the structure of a State, These reminders had led to an idea that was very damaging in Egyptian eyes, namely that the canals of Babylon at least brought some benefit to the people by irrigating the land, whereas the pyramids, being unproductive and thus entirely uncompromising, were the ultimate incarnation of unadorned power, etc, So they had tried to account for the situation in those terms and had eventually conceded that the decline came not from Sumerian influence nor from Sumerian canals, but plainly from the pyramid itself. Now that it was on the point of completion, it could not oppress Egypt as it had done up until then, Egypt was seeking to step aside, to come out from under the weight of stone—in a word, it wanted to escape from the pyramid.

BOOK: The Pyramid
8.5Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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