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The spring sun warmed the orchard. Soon it would drop behind the high canebrake that bordered the highway, for the time was mid-afternoon. Amar lay beneath an old fig tree, embedded in long grass that was still damp with dew from the night before. He was comparing his own life with what lie knew of the lives of his friends, and thinking that certainly his was the least enviable. He knew this was a sin: it is not allowed to man to make judgments of this sort, and he would never have given voice to the conclusion be had reached, even if it had taken the form of words in his mind.
He saw the trees and plants around him and the sky above, and he knew they were there. And since he felt a great disappointment in the direction his short life had taken, he knew the dissatisfaction was there. The world was a beautiful place, with all its animals and birds that moved, and its flowers and fruit trees that Allah had generously provided, but in his heart he felt that they all belonged really to him, that no one else bad the same right to them as be. It was always other people who made his life unhappy. As he lay there propped indolently against the tree trunk, he carefully pulled the petals from a rose he bad picked a half hour earlier when be had come into the orchard. There was not much more time for him to find out what he was going to do.
If he were going to run away he must go quickly. But already he felt that Allah was not going to reveal his destiny to him. He would learn it merely by doing what it had been written that he would do. Everything would continue as it was. When the shadows lengthened be would get up and go out onto the highway, because the twilight brought evil spirits out of the trees. Once he was on the road there would be nowhere for him to go but home. He had to go back and be beaten; there was no alternative. It was not fear of the pain that kept him from going now and getting it over with. The pain itself was nothing; it could even be enjoyable if be did not wince or cry out, because his hostile silence was in a sense a victory over his father. Afterward it always seemed to him that he was stronger, better prepared for the next time. But it left a bitter flavor in the center of his being, something that made him feel just a little farther away and lonelier than before. It was not through dread of the pain or fear of this feeling of loneliness that he stayed on sitting in the orchard; what was unbearable was the thought that be was innocent and that be was going to be humiliated by being treated as though be were guilty. What he dreaded encountering was his own powerlessness in the face of injustice.
The warm breeze that moved down across the hillsides and valleys from Djebel Zalagh found its way into the orchard between the stalks of cane, stirred the flat leaves above his bead. Its tentative caress on the back of his neck sent a fleeting shiver through him. He put a rose petal between his teeth and chewed it into wet fragments. Out here there was no one at all, and no one would arrive. The guardian of the orchard had seen him come in and had said nothing. Some of the orchards had watchmen who chased you; the boys knew them all. This was a "good" orchard, because the guard never spoke, save to shout a command to his dog, to make it stop barking at the intruders. The old man bad gone down to a lower part of the property near the river. Except for a truck that went by now and then on the highway beyond the canebrake, this corner of the orchard lay in complete silence. Because be did not want to imagine what such a place would be like once the daylight had gone, he slipped his feet into his sandals, stood up, shook out his diellaba, inspected it for a while because it had belonged to his brother and be bated wearing it, and finally flinging it over his shoulder, set out for the gap in the jungle of canes through which be bad entered.
Outside on the road the sun was warmer and the wind blew harder. He passed two small boys armed with long bamboo poles, who were bitting the branches of a mulberry tree while a larger boy scooped up the green berries and stored them in the hood of his djellaba. All three were too busy to notice his passage. He came to one of the hairpin bends in the road. Ahead of him on the other side of the valley was Djebel Zalagh. It bad always looked to him like a king in his robes, sitting on his throne. Amar bad mentioned this to several of his friends, but none of them had understood. Without even looking up at the mountain they had said: "You're dizzy," or "In your head," or "In the dark," or had merely laughed. "They think they know once and for all what the world is like, so that they don't ever have to look at it again," he had thought. And it was true: many of his friends bad decided what the world looked like, what life was like, and they would never examine either of them again to find out whether they were right or wrong. This was because they had gone or were still going to school, and knew how to write and even to understand what was written, which was much more difficult. And some of them knew the Koran by heart ...The spider's house. Copyright © by Paul Bowles. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.