Also he liked to have people in the bed with him, not for lurid purposes but just for warmth or company, a habit he said Gandhi had also adopted in the later years of his life….”


by brian doyle


To get to him you had to go up through three checkpoints in the old house, each manned by two guards with guns, and then at the door of his room a guard put a gun to your head and stared into your eyes looking for a false spirit.

Even if the guard was your brother or son or father he held the gun to your temple for ten seconds while he examined your spirit. That was the rule.

If your eyes flickered that was the end of you.

At that time Malo was in bed night and day, there was some sleepiness on him, although he never seemed truly asleep, he could be spoken to, and he could speak thoughtfully in return, but never as crisply and authoritatively as before. Also he liked to have people in the bed with him, not for lurid purposes but just for warmth or company, a habit he said Gandhi had also adopted in the later years of his life.

So when I spoke to him at that time there would be people in the bed sleeping or listening, sometimes as many as four people. Also his room was filled with people sprawled on the low couches, talking in low voices. There were many telephones there but their ringing was muted and people spoke into them gently so the sound in Malo’s room was murmur.

Malo had a fleshy face but was quite handsome still, and a broken front tooth that women always found attractive.

On the day the enemy came from the south I went to his room right away to tell him. By dawn the enemy was an hour from the house and pressing forward with great speed. This was what we had long anticipated and I ran to tell Malo.

Even that day the guard at his room stopped me and stared long in my eyes. He was the nephew of a man I knew but even so: ten seconds.

Malo did not move or open his eyes when I reported the enemy in the south but the people in the bed rose and left the room.

What we feared has come, I said.

I hear you.

What are we to do?

I don’t know.

We must do something.

Must we?

We must.

I don’t know, he said.

I stood there listening to the murmuring of the muted telephones. Outside the room there were voices and in the courtyard below the window there was a commotion: shouts, trucks, running feet.

We have to fight, I said.

Someone always fights, he said.

We’re responsible for the people.

The people will do what they do.

You should say something to them.

Should I?

From the window. Like the old days.

At this he opened his eyes and smiled and there was the famous tooth.

From the window like the old days, he said.

He emerged from the bed slowly and stood in the window. In the courtyard a woman saw him and cried out. He stepped out on the little balcony and raised both hands and the commotion below stilled.

Here I am, he said to the people craning to see him. Here I am. Soon there will be a wind among us. It comes in an hour. Such winds come and go. We come and go. Some will come and some will go. After this army another. It doesn’t matter. Don’t be afraid. Here I am. I will always be here. Here is what matters. We will always be together. We will always be here. Don’t be afraid.

He stopped talking and dropped his arms and stood there smiling. For a moment no one spoke below; and then with a rush, as if there had been some subtle signal, everyone in the courtyard ran. Some people clutched their children under their arms like packages and others ran so blindly that they ran over children. Trucks slammed into gear and the dust rose in thin golden columns like the trunks of immense trees.


Originally published:
Issue Thirty-Four
December 2004


(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)

Brian Doyle is the author of six books, most recently THE WET ENGINE, about hearts and all. It’s not bad. Among his awards and such are (a) a woman married him, (b) the Coherent Mercy granted them three children, and (c) he was named to the 1983 all-star team in the Newton Massachusetts Men’s League, which was a really tough league, you drove to the hole in that league you lost fingers, one time a guy drove the lane and got hit so hard his arm came off, but he was lefty anyway and hit both free throws. Supposedly he then left his arm in a toll booth basket on the Mass Pike but that might be apocryphal. More from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke. (bio/2004)

Brian Doyle was the author of many books, including the sea novel The Plover, which has, no kidding, music printed in it, not to mention Mink River, Martin Marten, The Wet Engine, and more than we can recall.  He won the 2017 John Burroughs Medal for distinguished nature writing for Martin Marten, which was plenty cool and much deserved.  Brian passed away peacefully at his Lake Oswego home on May 27, 2017. 

More, much more, from Brian Doyle can be found in the Vault of Smoke.


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