Inland by Téa Obreht Read Online (FREE)
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Time doesn’t change,
Nor do times.
Only things inside time change,
Things you will believe, and things you won’t.
—JAMES GALVIN, “Belief”
WHEN THOSE MEN RODE DOWN to the fording place last night, I thought us done for. Even you must realize how close they came: their smell, the song of their bridles, the whites of their horses’ eyes. True to form—blind though you are, and with that shot still irretrievable in your thigh—you made to stand and meet them. Perhaps I should have let you. It might have averted what happened tonight, and the girl would be unharmed. But how could I have known? I was unready, disbelieving of our fate, and in the end could only watch them cross and ride up the wash away from us in the moonlight. And wasn’t I right to wait—for habit if nothing else? I knew you had flight in you yet. You still do; as do I, as I have all my life—since long before we fell in together, when I first came round to myself, six years old and already on the run, wave-rocked, with my father in the bunk beside me and all around the hiss of water against the hull. It was my father running back then, though from what I never knew. He was thin, I think. Young, perhaps. A blacksmith perhaps, or some other hard-laboring man who never caught more rest than he did that swaying month when night and day went undiffered, and there was nothing but the creak of rope and pulley somewhere above us in the dark. He called me sìne, and some other name I’ve struggled lifelong to recall. Of our crossing I remember mostly foam veins and the smell of salt. And the dead, of course, outlaid in their white shrouds side by side along the stern.
We found lodging near the harbor. Our room overlooked laundry lines that crosshatched from window to window until they vanished in the steam of the washhouse below. We shared a mattress and turned our backs to the madman across the room and pretended he wasn’t a bit further gone each day than the last. There was always somebody shrieking in the halls. Somebody caught between worlds. I lay on my side and held the lapel of my father’s coat and felt the lice roving through my hair.
I never met a man so deep-sleeping as my father. Dockwork will do that, I reckon. Every day would find him straining under some crate or hump of rope that made him look an ant. Afterwards, he’d take my hand and let the river of disembarking bodies carry us away from the quays, up the thoroughfare to where the steel scaffolds were rising. They were a marvel to him, curious as he was about the world’s workings. He had a long memory, a constant toothache, and an abiding hatred of Turks that tended to flare up when he took tea with likeminded men. But a funny thing would happen if ever some Serb or Magyar started in about the iron fist of Stambul: my father, so fixed in his enmity, would grow suddenly tearful. Well, efendi, he’d say. Are you better off now? Better off here? Ali-Pasha Rizvanbegović was a tyrant—but far from the worst! At least our land was beautiful. At least our homes were our own. Then would follow wistful reminiscences of his boyhood village: a tumble of stone houses split by a river so green he had no word for it in his new tongue, and had to say it in the old one, thus trapping it forever as a secret between the two of us. What I’d give to remember that word. I could not think why he would leave such a town for this reeking harbor, which turned out to be the kind of place where praying palms-up and a name like Hadziosman Djurić got him mistaken for a Turk so often he disowned both. I believe he called himself Hodgeman Drury for a while—but he was buried “Hodge Lurie” thanks to our landlady’s best guess at the crowded consonants of his name when the hearse came to take his body away.