If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller
After rummaging in her bags, Corinna pulls out a book and gives it to you.
“But this isn’t it,” you say, seeing on the cover an unknown title and the name of an unknown author: Around an empty grave by Calixto Bandera. “The book they confiscated was by Ikoka!”‘
That’s what I’ve given you. In Ataguitania books can circulate only with fake dust jackets.”
As the taxi moves at top speed through the dusty, smelly outskirts, you cannot resist the temptation to open the book and see whether Corinna has given you the real one. Fat chance. It is a book you are seeing for the first time, and it does not look the least bit like a Japanese novel: it begins with a man riding across a mesa among the agaves, and he sees some predatory birds, called zopilotes, flying overhead.
“If the dust jacket’s a fake,” you remark, “the text is a fake, too.”
“What were you expecting?” Corinna says. “Once the process of falsification is set in motion, it won’t stop. We’re in a country where everything that can be falsified has been falsified: paintings in museums, gold ingots, bus tickets. The counterrevolution and the revolution fight with salvos of falsification: the result is that nobody can be sure what is true and what is false, the political police simulate revolutionary actions and the revolutionaries disguise themselves as policemen.”
“And who gains by it, in the end?”
“It’s too soon to say. We have to see who can best exploit the falsifications, their own and those of the others: whether it’s the police or our organization.”
The taxi driver is pricking up his ears. You motion Corinna to restrain herself from making unwise remarks.
But she says, “Don’t be afraid. This is a fake taxi. What really alarms me, though, is that there’s another taxi following us.”
“Fake or real?”
“Fake, certainly, but I don’t know whether it belongs to the police or to us.”
You peep back along the road. “But,” you cry, “there’s a third taxi following the second…”
“That could be our people checking the movements of the police, but it could also be the police on the trail of our people….”
The second taxi passes you, stops; some armed men leap out and make you get out of your taxi. “Police! You’re under arrest!” All three of you are handcuffed and forced into the second taxi: you, Corinna, and your driver.
Corinna, calm and smiling, greets the policemen: “I’m Gertrude. This is a friend. Take us to headquarters.”
Are you gaping? Corinna-Gertrude whispers to you, in your language, “Don’t be afraid. They’re fake policemen: actually they are our men.”
You have barely driven off again when the third taxi forces the second to stop. More armed men jump out of it, their faces hidden; they disarm the policemen, remove your and Corinna’s handcuffs, handcuff the policemen, and fling all of you into their taxi.
Corinna-Gertrude seems indifferent. “Thanks, friends,” she says. “I’m Ingrid, and this man is one of us. Are you taking us to the command post?”
“Shut up, you!” says one who seems the leader. “Don’t try acting smart, you two! Now we have to blindfold you. You’re our hostages.”
You don’t know what to think any more, also because Corinna-Gertrude-Ingrid has been taken away in the other taxi. When you are again allowed to use your limbs and your eyes, you find yourself in a police inspector’s office or in a barracks. Noncoms in uniform photograph you, full-face and profile; they take your fingerprints. An officer calls, “Alfonsina!”
You see Gertrude-Ingrid-Corinna come in, also in uniform; she hands the officer a folder of documents to sign.
Meanwhile, you follow the routine from one desk to another: one policeman takes your documents into custody, another your money, a third your clothes, which are replaced with a prisoner’s overalls.
“What sort of trap is this?” you manage to ask Ingrid-Gertrude-Alfonsina, who has come over to you at a moment when your guards have their backs turned.”
Among the revolutionaries there are some counterrevolutionary infiltrators who have made us fall into a police ambush. But luckily there are also many revolutionaries who have infiltrated the police, and they have pretended to recognize me as a functionary of this command. As for you, they’ll send you to a fake prison, or rather, to a real state prison that is, however, controlled not by them but by us.”