The road from Colombo goes along the ocean. On the surface of the water, primitive pies swing, on silk sands, in paradise nakedness, black-haired adolescents are lying around. It would seem, what for to this forest people of Ceylon city, cents, rupees? Do not they all give them a forest, an ocean, a sun? However, growing up, they trade, work plantations, catch pearls, replace horses – they carry Europeans, because everyone knows that horses do not tolerate Ceylon heat.
On the left hand rickshaw, the British, the owners of the island, put on the badge with the number. The lucky seventh number went to the old rickshaw, who lived in one of the forest huts near Colombo. “Why,” asked the Sublime, “is this for the old man?” “Then,” they would reply, “he wanted to multiply his earthly sorrows, which is driven by earthly love and the thirst for life.” The old man had a wife, a son and many small children
who had to be fed. The old man himself was gray-haired, very thin, wrinkled, unattractive, like a small monkey. Sweat poured down from him with streams, his narrow chest breathed with a whistle, but, reinforcing himself with the stupidity of betel, he ran quickly.
The old man wanted happiness for his son and worked hard. But he did not know English and often ran at random, until a large, white-clad European dressed him with a stick on his back. But a lot of extra cents were snatched away by the old man, wincing wistfully and throwing out his thin hands, folded with a scoop.
Once he came home at an unseasonable time: in the very heat of noon, when in the woods everything was singing and praising the god of life-death Maru, the god of “thirst for existence.” And the old rickshaw, already not hungry for anything, except for the cessation of torment, lay down in his hut and died in the evening. So the voice of the Sublime did not reach him, he called for renunciation of earthly love, and a new sad life awaited his grave, a trail of the wrong old one. His wife, a toothy old woman, cried that night,
feeding her sorrow with the same unreasonable love and pity. Her son was standing side by side. He saw his bride in the evening, a round-faced thirteen-year-old girl from a neighboring village. He was frightened and surprised at the sudden death of his father, but he was too excited by love that he was stronger than his love for his fathers, and he forgot that all the sufferings of this world are from love…
He was a light legged youth, and Shiva would envy the beauty of his dark torso, black and blue hair, shining eyes under long eyelashes. He put his father’s brass plate on his strong hand and went to the city. At first he only chased the experienced rickshaws, memorizing the English street names; then he began to earn, preparing for his family, his love. But one day, having run home, he again heard a terrible news: his bride left for the city and disappeared. The father of the bride, a full and full old man, searched for her for three days and must have learned something, because he returned reassured. He sighed, expressing a feigned resignation to fate; he was evil, like all traders. From him it was impossible to achieve the truth, and women are all weak, and the young rickshaw understood this. After spending two days at home, not touching food, only chewing betel, he, finally, woke up and again fled to Colombo. He seemed to forget about the bride. He ran, greedily saved money – and it was impossible to understand what he was more in love with: in his running around or in the coins that he had collected for her. Safely and with a kind even happily worked it so with half a year.
And then he sat one morning, along with other rickshaws, under a banyan, when one of the bungalows showed a man in white – a European, an Englishman. A flock of rickshaws flew at him, but the man, with a menacing cane, chose the seventh number, he seemed to him stronger than the others. The European was short and strong, with gold spectacles, with a black short mustache and olive complexion, on which the sun and liver disease had already left their swarthy trace. His eyes looked strange, as if he could not see anything, his wooden voice was firm and calm. And the rickshaw rushed to York Street, maneuvering among the other rickshaws running back and forth.
It was the end of March, the most hot time. It was already hot in the morning, as at noon. But the rickshaw ran fast, and yet not a single drop of sweat was on his back. At the very end of the street, he suddenly stopped, and the Englishman was surprised to hear: “Betel.” Without answering, he hit the rickshaw with his cane on the shoulder blades, but he only jerked his shoulders and flew to the bench with an arrow. “Do not kill, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not lie and do not become intoxicated”, – commanded the Sublime. But vaguely these precepts sounded vaguely in the heart of the rickshaw… Putting the betel into his mouth, the rickshaw again ran towards the city (Fort, as the English call it). The Englishman looked around absently.
Near the old Dutch building they stopped. The Englishman went to drink tea and smoke a cigar, and the rickshaw threw a shaft and sat down by the tree to wait for him. What was this young man thinking about, who had already tasted the strongest poison – love for a woman? Mara hurts, but Mara heals wounds; Mara pulls something out of the hands of a man, but Mara and kindles a man again to seize the taken…
Then the Englishman wandered the streets for a long time; and the rickshaw walked behind the Englishman, caring for his wheelchair. At noon, the Englishman went to the steamboat office, and the rickshaw bought cheap cigarettes and smoked five in a row. Sweetly drugged, he sat opposite the office and looked at his rider and other Englishmen discussing a dinner in honor of the arrival of a steamer from Europe.
Before dinner, until the evening was still far away. And again the rickshaw ran – this time to the hotel – and again, like a dog, sat on the pavement, looking at a crowd of newly arrived from Europe, each of whom had in his soul what makes a person live and wish for a sweet deception of life. And the rickshaw, born on the land of the first people, was not this swindle twice as sweet? Was she the one that disappeared in this city, worse than women in white outfits walking past him and awakening lust? She had a swarthy skin and round, shining eyes, in which the childish timidity was already mixed with the joyful curiosity of life, with the concealed femininity, tender and passionate. Jumping up, the rickshaw ran to the nearest bar, where he pulled out a whole glass of whiskey. Having mixed this fire with betel, he provided himself with blissful excitement until the evening.
Drunk was also an Englishman, leaving the hotel. Not knowing how to kill time, he ordered to take himself first to the post office, where he put three postcards into the box; from the post office – to Gordon’s garden, where he did not even go, and then – where his eyes look: to the Black City, to the market, to the river Kelani. And the wet rickshaw, drunk and from head to foot, started to shake his head, excited also by the hope of getting a whole bunch of cents. He fled in the heat to please the Englishman, who did not know how to hold out until dinner, as if fleeing from someone… Then the Englishman ordered to return to Fort, shaved, bought cigars, went to the pharmacy… Rickshaw, wet, thin, looked at him already hostile, through the eyes of a dog feeling fits of rage… At the sixth hour he ran to the Englishman’s bungalow, past the banyan, under which he sat in the morning in a thirst for money from these merciless and mysterious white people, in the stubborn hope of happiness. For half an hour the rickshaw was resting, while the Englishman changed his clothes for dinner. His heart was beating like a poisoned one, his lips were white, his features sharpened, his eyes grew blacker and wider.
The sun went down. An elderly girl was sitting on the terrace. Seeing her from the street, an old Indian man came into the yard, a mute snake charmer. The old man was already taking out his reed pipe from behind his belt, as the rickshaw jumped up and shouted him away. Already in the darkness came an Englishman, and the rickshaw dutifully rushed to the shafts…
It was night when he ran to a large brightly lit two-story house, the large balcony of which was already white with the tablecloth of the long table and the tuxedos sitting behind it. Rickshaw number seven flew to the balcony. The guest jumped out of the carriage, and the rickshaw rushed around the house to get into the courtyard, to the other rickshaws, and, running around the house, suddenly jumped back, as if struck in the face with a stick: from the second-story window – in a Japanese red silk robe, in a triple necklace from rubies, in gold wide bracelets – his missing bride gazed at him with round shining eyes. She could not see him downstairs, in the dark, but he recognized her at once.
His heart did not burst, it was too young and strong. After standing for a minute, he crouched under the age-old fig tree and looked at the window that stood in the frame, until she left. And then he jumped up, grabbed the shafts and started running, this time knowing firmly where and why. “Wake up,” shouted in him thousands of the silent voices of his ancestors, “Shake off yourself from the seduction of Mary, the dream of this short life!” Do you sleep, poisoned with poison. All the afflictions of love-kill her! For a short time you will be at rest, until again you will not be reborn in a thousand incarnations. “
The rickshaw ran into one of the shops, eagerly ate a cup of rice and rushed on. He knew where that old Indian man lives… Rickshaw ran into the hut, and jumped out with a big box of cigars. He paid a great price for it, and what lay there, rustled and slammed into the cover with tight rings.
For some reason he took the wheelchair with him, he ran to the empty parade ground of Gol-Fas, darkened under the starry sky. For the last time he threw the thin shafts and sat down on the bench, not on the ground, but sat boldly, like a white man. For his pound, he demanded the smallest and most deadly. She was fabulously beautiful and extraordinarily spiteful, especially after she was shaved in a wooden box. Its bite is fiery and from head to foot it pierces the whole body with unspeakable pain. Feeling this fiery blow, the rickshaw turned over with a wheel to the bench. He lost consciousness, to come back to himself again and again for a while, parting with life, memory, sight, pain, joy, hatred and love…
Ten days later, at dusk before a thunderstorm, to a large Russian steamer ready to sail, a dinghy arrived, in which sat a rickshaw number seven. At first the captain flatly took him on board, but after persistent requests he relented and settled in a free cabin.
The ship was already anchored when the lightning flashed. The Englishman looked back at the leaden ocean and disappeared into the cabin. Before dinner he wrote something in a thick notebook, and the expression on his face was stupid, and at the same time surprising. Then he dressed for dinner and went out to the team, which met him exaggeratedly kindly, flaunting each other with knowledge of English. He answered them no less kindly, told about his stay in India, in Java and in Ceylon, where he fell ill with his liver and upset his nerves. The captain, a man with intelligent and hard eyes, trying to be European in everything, started talking about the colonial tasks of Europe. The Englishman listened attentively, answered in a comfortable manner, as if he were reading a well-written article. And sometimes he fell silent, listening to the rustle of waves in the dark behind the open doors.
It was wetly blowing from this darkness with free breath of something from the age of free. The blue abyss was soundless and wide around the steamer, blackness flooded the horizons – and from there, like the grievous murmur of the creator himself, still immersed in premature chaos, came a gloomy and solemn thunder of thunder. And then the Englishman seemed to be stoned for a minute.
– In fact, it’s scary! – he said in his dead, but firm voice after one particularly dazzling flaw. – And the worst thing is that we do not think, do not feel, we forgot how to feel, how terrible it is – this bottomless depth around. Probably very eerie to be a captain, but it’s no better to lie in a cabin, behind a very thin wall of which all that bubbling boils overnight… Yes, our mind is weaker than the mind of the beast. At the beast, the savage has at least an instinct, but we, the Europeans, have degenerated. We are not afraid of anything, we do not even really fear death, neither life, nor secrets, nor the abyss that surround us! I am a participant in the Boer War, I killed hundreds of people – and I do not suffer from the fact that I am a murderer. I do not even think about it ever…
The wind blew harder, the black darkness made more noise. It was felt, as from below something grows, raises, then part. The team came out. There was only one captain.
“We are afraid only,” said the Englishman, “that we have forgotten how to feel fear!” God in Europe has long been gone. We, for all its efficiency and greed, like the ice are cold to life, and to death: if we are afraid of it, then by reason. We, fleeing from our own stupidity and emptiness, we wander around the world, feignedly admiring them. But only here, on the land of the most ancient humanity, in this Eden we have lost, which we call our colonies and greedily plunder, among mud, plague and colored people, turned us into cattle, only here we feel to some extent life, death, deity. We, the people of the Iron Age, are called enslavement, we call our colonial tasks. And when this division comes to an end, when in the world there will be some new Rome, English or German, then the Apocalypse will repeat… The Buddha, who said: “Oh, you princes, – only there we understand in a weak measure, what? then this our Person… – only there we understand in a weak measure, what? then this our Person…
“Do you know,” he asked the captain, “a Buddhist legend about a crow?” The elephant fled from the mountain to the ocean; he rushed into the waves, and the raven, tormented by “desire,” rushed after him. The elephant drowned, and the raven began to greedily peck his carcass. When he woke up, he saw that he had carried him far into the sea, and the crow crowed in a terrible voice, to the one who is so sensitive to death… A terrible legend!
From the darkness the sounds of the bottle rang out. The captain, having sat out of propriety for another five minutes, left. The footman also left. The Englishman put out the light. In the darkness, the noise of the waves immediately became more audible, and at once the starry sky opened. The steamboat rolled from one wave to another, and in its gears they rushed either to the abyss up or down to the bottom, Kanopus, the Crow, the Southern Cross, along which still some flashes of light flashed.