by Ronnie Pontiac.
dedicated to William Dailey
Manuscript K-1204 supplied by a private collector requesting appraisal. After careful study I fear no conclusive judgment can be rendered. The collector claims that this manuscript was found folded within a personal letter from Paul Bowles to Alain Daniélou. I can find no record of any contact between them.
The contents of the letter offer no personal details about its author or recipient except their names. “Alain, here it is. Paul” is the complete text. The handwriting of the letter conforms to existing examples of Bowle’s script, but the manuscript appears to be in a different hand, though the inks are similar, and may be the same. A lab test would be required to ascertain that. Even if the ink is identical it does not prove that Bowles wrote down the parable, only that the same pen was used for the letter and the manuscript.
Does it seem possible that Bowles encountering local culture in Tangiers found this manuscript in a street market? Perhaps. But why send it to Daniélou, an expert on Hindu religion? Both were refugees from western civilization and explorers of indigenous cultures. Not impossible but unverifiable without some kind of evidence.
But the collector offers another scenario. He asserts that Bowles and Daniélou as bisexuals with similar intellectual pursuits inevitably crossed paths. He insists that the facts of their long term friendship are well known among the gay cultural circles of India and Tangiers. Even more improbably the collector is confident that the parable is actually intended as a satirical caricature of William Burroughs during his sojourn in Mexico with his wife Joan.
The sacred fool, the blinding sun, the dream of life, many of the themes in this parable conform closely to classical Sufi tradition, including the disappearance of imperfections in the light of divine glory. Nothing in the vocabulary or grammar indicates a recent date of composition.
Is this a translation of a classical Sufi parable by Bowles or a friend of his, or an inside joke between raconteurs, or a literary hoax? What is the value of the parable alone? If it is by Bowles the value at auction is considerable. If the parable is a satire on Burroughs from within the gay community of literati of that era the value is greatly enhanced. However there is no way to ascertain the true origin of this strange item. Its value therefore remains in the eye of the beholder.
THE OLD FOOL AND THE CRACK IN THE WALL
The old fool bent over squinting at a wall. The hot sun beat down on his bare head. Perspiration dripped from his face onto the hot stone evaporating instantly.
With an annoyed expression his neighbor approached him. The old man did crazy things every day. “Get out of the sun!” the neighbor scolded. “What are you looking at anyway?”
“Did you ever wake up,” the old man rubbed his chin, “to find a crack in the wall?”
“Get out of the sun!”
Ignoring him, the old man contiued: “The ground moves, foundations shift, there it is, a crack in the wall that wasn’t there yesterday.”
The neighbor wondered if the old man had sunstroke.
“A crack in the wall is only a small surprise,” the old man mused. “Time exposes all weaknesses. But what about the day you wake up to find that crack in the wall is gone?”
“Someone fixed it, you old fool!”
The old man shook his head emphatically. “Any patch would show. Do you see one?”
The neighbor glanced at the wall. The glare of the sun exposed no patch, no repair, no crack. “I’m sure there never was a crack.”
“There was, ask anyone around here, we all worried about the wall tumbling down. Of course, the children ignored our warnings not to play near it.”
“I remember,” the neighbor nodded. His wife had told him about the danger to their young children while he half listened. He looked closely at the bright white sunlit wall.
His wife looking for her husband found him standing beside the old man staring at the wall. “Get out of the sun!” she said a bit sharply.
“That crack in the wall, it’s gone!” Her husband turned, looking bewildered.
“When a crack disappears from the wall without anyone repairing it there can be only three explanations,” the old man declared.
The neighbor’s wife was about to say something when her husband hushed her with a glance.
“What are the three explanations?” The neighbor respectfully asked the old man.
The neighbor’s wife folded her arms.
“First, this could be a dream.”
“How can this be a dream?” the neighbor scoffed, looking back at his wife.
“Dreams never seem like dreams until they end,” the old man said, “no matter how absurd the details.”
“Well,” the neighbor admitted, “I guess we can’t be sure, can we?” He turned to his wife again.
She rolled her eyes.
“Second, this could be a miraculous blessing from a supernatural source.”
“But why this crack,” the neighbor asked, “and not another?”
“Perhaps our prayers have been answered,” the old man speculated, “or maybe one of the children playing by the wall may have a miraculous destiny.”
“Which child?” the neighbor demanded, “mine?”
“Only time will tell,” the old man shrugged.
“Third?” the neighbor was eager to hear the next revelation.
“We’re dead,” the old man whispered. “We’re only remembering the life we had.”
The neighbor and the old man stared at the wall.
“Where was it exactly?” the neighbor asked.
“Right here,” the old man pointed, “it was right here yesterday.”
Squinting at the bright wall the neighbor could not see a crack. “Look for yourself,” he finally turned to his wife.
The surface in the bright sunlight looked smooth and uniform. Then she stepped in the way of the sun. In the half-light the crack stood out vividly, exactly where the old man had pointed.
“Crazy old man!” the neighbor shook his fist.
The old man only laughed, he was relieved to still be alive.