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Tuesday, 4 February 2003

Graeme Wend-Walker 2003

The world vibrates like a crystal in the mind; there is a frequency at which terror and ecstasy are the same and any road might be taken.

- The Medusa Frequency

Happy birthday to you, Russ. I hope this day and all the days of this year find you well and keep you that way.

In trying to select a quote, I was aware that my favourite passage is often a longer one, some oceanic passage which I am swallowed by before the whale of it spits me out its spout, and I find myself looking back and wondering how I got there.

Of course your books also frequently feature sound bite sized chewy quotables which lend themselves particularly well to being picked up by strangers.

So I've gone for one short one (above) and one long one. As for locations, something other than last year's melancholic disjointedness was called for. Instead of supermarket frozen-food cabinets I left the sheets where I thought I might have liked to find them: on seats in trains, and in a second-hand/antique/book shop: in picture frames, in mirror frames, and protruding rolled from vases and teapots.

The long quote follows. However many times I read it, I always must stop to laugh with the line, "Both men looked at me with expectation."

Thanks for everything, Russ.


THERE WAS standing before me a tall and noble-looking Turk with heroic moustaches, a red fez, a scarlet and purple jacket worked with gold. I judged him to be sixty or so. He put a large hand on my shoulder and drew me a few steps away from the others. He looked at me in such a way that I knew he was going to say something that would make me his friend. He said to me in Greek, 'What if I say to you that the universe is a three-legged horse, eh? What then? What will you say to me?'

I said to him, 'It is because the universe is a three-legged horse that the journey to the red heifer is so slow.'

'Ah!' he said. 'You're a Jew then.'

'How does that follow?' I said.

'A Jew will consider anything,' he said. 'Are you or aren't you?'

'I am,' I said.

'I need you,' he said. 'Do you need me?'

'Yes,' I said.

'Done!' he said. My price was twenty-five dinars but he counted out fifty gold dinars and gave them to the pirate captain. 'This is twice as much as I have asked,' said the pirate captain in Greek to the Turk. The pirate's name, by the way, was Prodigality. He had formerly been a slave named Thrift who had in trading for his merchant master put by enough money to buy his freedom, and having done so he changed his name and went into piracy. 'Why are you doing this?' he said to the Turk.

'I am afraid not to,' said my new owner. 'I want Allah to take notice that I am taking notice of my good fortune.'

'If Allah's taking notice I don't want to look bad,' said Prodigality, and counting out twenty-five dinars he put them into my hand.

Both men looked at me with expectation.

'Can I buy myself back?' I said to my new owner.

'Just as you like,' he said. Prodigality wrote out a bill of sale to him and he wrote out a bill of sale to me. I then gave him the gold that Prodigality had given me. 'Now you're a free man,' said my former owner. 'What will you do?'

'I'll come with you freely,' I said, 'as we need each other.'

'Thus does the will of Allah manifest itself in human transactions,' said my new friend.

'Wait!' said Prodigality as we turned to go, and taking my hand he put into it the remaining twenty-five dinars of the double payment.

'What's this?' I said.

'Allah wills what Allah wills,' said Prodigality. 'Let it be altogether circular.'

'I am obedient to the will of Allah,' I said, and put the gold back into the hand from which it had originally come.

'Let it be noticed by all who have eyes to see,' said my new friend as he received the gold, 'that Allah has taken notice.'

'It's a pleasure doing business with you,' said Prodigality. 'It's spiritually refreshing. It's only a pity I can't afford this sort of thing more often.'

With many expressions of mutual esteem we parted, and as I walked away with my former owner and new friend I marvelled at how Prodigality had been able to rise above the practical considerations of commerce. Certainly with my gold and diamonds and the plunder from the other pilgrims in his coffers he could afford to be generous but even so it seemed remarkable to me that gold and silver and gems could produce in him that degree of moral sensitivity that enabled him to behave so handsomely.

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