THE CAMP OF THE SAINTS (Le Camp des Saints) By Jean Raspail CHAPTER FIVE
If any logic at all can be found in the way a popular myth gets its start, then we have to go back to Calcutta, to the Consulate General of Belgium, to look for the beginnings of the one we can call, for the moment, “the myth of the newfound paradise.” A shabby little consulate, set up in an old colonial villa on the edge of the diplomatic quarter, waking one morning to find a silent throng milling around outside its doors. At daybreak the Sikh guard had chained the front gate shut. From time to time he would point the barrel of his antique rifle between the bars, to urge back the ones who had pushed their way up front. But since he was a decent sort, and since there was really no threat to himself or the gate he was guarding, he would tell them now and again, nicely as he could: “Look, maybe in a little while you can have some rice. But then you’ll have to go. It’s no use standing around. See the announcement? It’s signed by the Consul himself.”
“What does it say?” the crowd would yell, since none of them could read. “Tell us … Read it out loud …”
As a matter of fact, it was hard to make out much of anything now on the notice posted on the gate, smudged as it was with the prints of the thousand hands that had pawed it over, never quite believing the bad news it proclaimed. But the guard knew the text by heart. He had had to recite it now for a week, day in day out, and he droned it through, word for word, from beginning to end: “Pursuant to the royal decree of such-and-such date, the government of Belgium has decided to terminate until further notice all adoption procedures presently under way. Henceforth no new requests for adoption will be accepted. Similarly, no Belgian entry visas will be granted for those children currently being processed for departure, even in those cases where a legal adoption and dates the present decree.”
A long moan ran through the crowd. Judging by its length and volume, and by the fact that it welled up out of the silence each time it seemed about to die, the Sikh guard—a master at gauging mass distress—guessed that their number had doubled, at least, since the day before.
“Come on, now. Move back!” he shouted, shaking his gun. “Let’s all quiet down! You’ll get your rice, then you’ll have to go back where you came from. And you’d better stay there from now on, too. You heard the announcement.”
Up front, a woman stepped out of the crowd and started to speak. All the rest stopped to listen, as if she were speaking for each and every one. She was holding a child in her outstretched arms, a little boy, maybe two years old, thrusting his face so close to the gate that it made him cross his big, gaping eyes.
“Look at my son,” she cried. “Isn’t he pretty? Isn’t he solid and strong for his age, with his plump little thighs, and his arms, and his nice straight legs? … See? Look at his mouth. See how white and even his teeth are? … And his face. Not a scab, not a fly. And his eyes, never any pus, wide open all the time … And his hair. You could grab it and pull it, and he wouldn’t lose a one. … Look between his legs, see how clean it all is? Even his little bottom … And his belly, nice and flat, not swollen like some babies his age … I could show you what comes out when he goes, and you wouldn’t see a worm, not even a speck of blood. No, he’s a good, healthy child. Like the papers said he had to be. Because we fed him the best, we fattened him up just for that. From the day he was born. We saw how pretty he was, and we made up our minds we would send him. So he could grow up there, and be rich, and happy … And we fed him more and more, just like the clinic told us. … Then his sisters died. The two of them. They were older than he was, but such sickly little things, and he was so hungry, and prettier every day. He could eat enough for three, God bless him! … And now you’re trying to tell me that we fattened him up for nothing, that his poor father slaved in the ricefields and worked himself to death, all for nothing, and that I’m going to have him on my hands for good, and keep him, and feed him? … No, it’s my turn to eat! And I’m hungry, you hear? Yes, it’s my turn now, because he’s big and strong. … And besides, he’s not mine now, he’s not even mine. He’s got a new family, halfway around the world, and they’re waiting to take him and give him their name. See? It says so on this medal they sent us. The one around his neck. See? I’m not lying! He’s theirs now. Take him, he’s theirs. I’m through. They promised. I did what they told me, and now … No, now I’m too tired …”
A hundred women pushed forward, each one with a child in her outstretched arms. And they cried out things like: “He’s theirs now, he’s theirs!,” or “They promised to take him Pretty babies, mostly, all looking as if they had fed themselves plump on the flesh of their mothers. Poor haggard souls, those mothers, drained dry, as if the umbilical cords were still intact. And the crowd howled, “Take them, take them! They’re theirs now! Take them!,” while hundreds of others pressed forward behind the ones up front, with armfuls of babes by the hundreds, and hundreds of bigger ones too, all ripe for adoption, pushing them up to the brink, to take the giant leap to paradise. The Belgian decree, far from stemming the human flood, had increased it tenfold. When man has nothing left, he looks askance at certainty. Experience has taught that it’s not meant for him. As likelihood fades, myth looms up in its place. The dimmer the chance, the brighter the hope. And so, there they were, thousands of wretched creatures, hoping, crowding against the consulate gates, like the piles of fruit a crafty merchant heaps on his stand, afraid it might spoil: the best ones up front, all shiny and tempting; the next best right behind, still in plain sight, and not too bad if you don’t look too close; then the ones barely visible, the damaged ones, starting to rot, all wormy inside, or turned so you can’t see the mold. … Milling about, way back in the crowd, the women with the monsters, the horrors that no one would take off their hands. And they moaned and groaned louder than all the rest, since their hope knew no bounds. Turned back, pushed aside, driven off day after day, they had come to believe that a paradise so well protected was worth besieging for the rest of their lives, if need be. Before, when the gate was open and the beautiful children had gone streaming through, occasionally one of these mothers would manage to slip her monster in line. Which was something, at least. A step toward salvation. Even though the Sikh would always hold up his rifle and bar the Consul’s door. They had come close, and that was enough to nurture their hope, enough to make it spring to life with extravagant visions of milk and honey flowing untapped into rivers thick with fish, whose waters washed fields fairly bursting with crops, far as the eye could see, growing wild for the taking, where little monster children could ,roll about to their hearts’ content. … The simpler the folk, the stronger the myth. Soon everyone heard their babble, believed their fantasies, and dreamed the same wild dreams of life in the West. The problem is that, in famine-racked Calcutta, “everyone” means quite a few. Could that be one explanation? …
Way back, behind the backmost women in the crowd, a giant of a man stood stripped to the waist, holding something over his head and waving it like a flag. Untouchable pariah, this dealer in droppings, dung roller by trade, molder of manure briquettes, turd eater in time of famine, and holding high in his stinking hands a mass of human flesh. At the bottom, two stumps; then an enormous trunk, all hunched and twisted and bent out of shape; no neck, but a kind of extra stump, a third one in place of a head, and a bald little skull, with two holes for eyes and a hole for a mouth, but a mouth that was no mouth at all—no throat, no teeth—just a flap of skin over his gullet. The monster’s eyes were alive, and they stared straight ahead, high over the crowd, frozen forward in a relentless gaze—except, that is, when his pariah father would wave him bodily back and forth. It was just that lidless gaze that flashed through the bars of the gate and caught the eye of the Consul himself, staring in spellbound horror. He had stepped outside for a look at the crowd, to see what was going on. But it wasn’t the crowd he saw. And all at once he closed his eyes and began to shout:
“No rice! No visas! No anything! You won’t get another thing, do you hear? Now get out! Get out! Every one of you! Out!” As he turned to rush off, a sharp little stone hit him square on the forehead and left a gash. The monster’s eyes lit up. The quiver that ran through his frame was his way of thanking his father. And that was all. No other act of violence. Yet suddenly the keeper of the milk and honey, stumbling back to his consulate, head in hands, struck the crowd as a rather weak defender of the sacred portals of the Western World. So weak, in fact, that if only they could wait, sooner or later he was bound to drop the keys. Could that be one explanation? …
The Sikh took aim. The hint was enough. They all squatted down on their haunches, hushed and still, like waters ebbing before the flood.