White mars by Brian W. Aldiss & Roger Penrose. Chapter 1, 2

White mars. Chapter 1, 2


Memoir by Moreton Dennett, Secretary to Leo Anstruther, Concerning the Events of 23 June ad 2041

On this day, Leo Anstruther decided he would walk to the jetport because he believed in being unpredictable. I went with him, carrying his notecase. Two bodyguards walked behind us, following at a short distance.

We wound our way down narrow back streets. Anstruther walked with his hands clasped behind his back, seemingly deep in thought. This was a part of his island he rarely visited; it held few charms for him. It was poverty alley. The narrow houses had been sub-divided in many cases, so that their occupants had overflowed into the streets to pursue their livelihoods. Vulcanisers, toy-makers, shoemakers, kite-sellers, junk-dealers, chandlers, fishermen and sellers of foodstuffs -all obstructed the freeway with their various businesses.

I knew Anstruther had a concealed contempt for these unfortunates. These people, no matter how hard they worked, would never improve their lot. They had no vision. He often said it. Anstruther was the man of vision.

He paused abruptly in a crowded square, looking about him at the shabby tenements on all sides.

‘It’s not just the poor who help the poor, as the absurd saying has it,’ he said, addressing me although he looked elsewhere, ‘but the poor who exploit the poor. They rent out their sordid rooms at extortionate rates to other families, inflicting misery on their own families for the sake of a few extra shekels.’

I agreed. ‘It’s not a perfect world.’ It was my job to agree.

Among the dreary muddle of commerce, a bright stall stood out. An elderly man dressed in jeans and a khaki shirt stood behind a small table on which were stacked jars of preserved fruit, together with mangoes, blackcurrants, pineapples and cherries, as well as a handful of fresh vegetables.

‘All home-grown and pure, senor. Buy and try!’ cried the old man as Anstruther paused.

Observing Anstruther’s scepticism, he quoted a special low price per jar for his jams.

‘We eat only factory food,’ I told him. He ignored me and continued to address Anstruther.

‘See my garden, master, how pure and sweet it is.’ The old man gestured to the wrought-iron gate at his back. ‘Here’s where my produce comes from. From the earth itself, not from a factory.’

Anstruther glanced at the phone-watch on his wrist.

‘Garden!’ he said with contempt. Then he laughed. ‘Why not? Come on, Moreton.’ He liked to be unpredictable. He gestured to the bodyguards to stay alert by the stall. On a sudden decision, he pushed through the gate and entered the old fellow’s garden. He slammed the gate behind us. It would give the security men something to think about.

An elderly woman was sitting on an upturned tub, sorting peppers into a pot. A sweet-smelling jasmine on an overhead trellis shaded her from direct sunlight. She looked up in startlement, then gave Anstruther and me a pleasant smile.

‘Buenos dias, masters. You’ve come to look about our little paradise, of that I’m certain. Don’t be shy, now.’

As she spoke, she rose, straightened her back and approached us. Beneath the wrinkles she had a pleasant round face, and though fragile with age stood alertly upright. She wiped her hands on an old beige apron tied about her waist and gave us something like a bow.

‘Paradise, you say! It’s a narrow paradise you have here, woman.’ Anstruther was looking down its length, which was circumscribed by tile-topped walls.

‘Narrow but long, and enough for the likes of Andy and me, master. We have what we require, and do not covet more.’

Anstruther gave his short bark of laughter. ‘Why not covet more, woman? You’d live better with more.’

‘We should not live better by coveting more, merely more discontentedly, sir.’

She proceeded to show her visitors the garden. The enclosing walls became concealed behind climbers and vines.

Their way led with seeming randomness among flowering bushes and little shady arbours under blossom trees. The paths were narrow, so that they brushed by red and green peppers, a manioc patch and clumps of lavender and rosemary, which gave off pleasant scents as they were touched. Vegetables grew higgledy-piggledy with other plants. The hubbub of the streets was subdued by a murmur that came from bees blundering among flowers and the twitter of birds overhead.

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