4th April


When I was still some distance from the village, I came upon two young boys playing beside the road. They took one look at me and fled, screaming, never before having seen anyone like me. By the time I arrived at the houses, word of me had spread, and I was surrounded by an army of children. The infants regarded me with a mixture of terror and astonishment, clinging tightly to their bigger brothers and sisters. The older children exhibited more curiosity than fear, and one bold girl, approaching me, licked her fingertips and rubbed them on my lower arm to see if I was painted. Greatly amused to find that I was not, she encouraged the others to check for themselves. A detailed investigation of my skin, hands, hair, ears, nose and lips ensued. I submitted to this with good grace, for it was a remote village, and it was clear that though tales or even pictures of men and women such as myself might have reached there, none of my examiners had ever seen the genuine article in flesh and blood.

The innocence of those few minutes was to me a delight I shall never forget. There was neither malice nor suspicion nor revulsion in their attitude towards me: I was simply different and therefore, for a while at least, exotic. But then the adults began to appear, polite and not hostile, yet infinitely more reserved. They shooed the children away, as if they were a nuisance to me, or I a danger to them. I saw doubt and mistrust in those adult eyes. I might have come bearing dirt or disease, or with a strange faith, or with moral standards that they did not share. The men might suspect me of coveting their women, the women might expect me to fight their men. I was different, and so I represented change, and most people are afraid of change.

And there was something else. I was only one. One might be tolerated. A few might be acceptable. But what if there were more like me – smiling, peaceful, apparently wanting nothing, but on their way in their thousands, their tens and hundreds of thousands?

Reader: Matthew Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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