Let’s talk about books today…😀 because the 6th of September is READ A BOOK DAY, and the 7th of September is a national BUY A BOOK DAY.
I just finished reading the book of Agatha Christie, ‘Come, Tell Me How You Live,’ about her trips to Iraq and Syria with her second husband, archaeologist, Max Mallowan. Enduring discomfort from rats, bats, lice, weather, zero WC, baths, and without knowledge of the language, Agatha took a full part in every one of Max’s excavations. The book reads like nonfiction-comedy, mystery, and sometimes tragedy (suffering between constipation, hunt and real deaths). Below you can see my hardback (got it in the secondhand shop, very very cheap) – 1983 edition, The Bodley Head.
I want to share with you two excerpts only, in case if you’ll never read them. 🤓☕️
Among our workmen is one who is able to read and write! His name is Yusuf Hassan, and he is quite one of the laziest men on the dig. I never once arrived on the mound to find Yusuf actually working. He has always just finished digging, or is about to begin, or has paused to light a cigarette.
One day he amuses himself and his friends by writing on an empty cigarette packet: SALEH BIRRO has been drowned in the Jaghjagha. Everybody is much amused by this piece of erudition and wit! The empty packet gets caught up with an empty bread bag, and in due course, the sack gets returned to its place of origin – the village of Hanzir. Here somebody notices the inscription. It is taken to a learned man; he reads it. Forthwith the news is sent on to the village of Geymayir, Saleh-Birro’s home town. Result: on the following Wednesday a great cavalcade of mourners – men, weeping women, wailing children arrive at our Tell.
“Saleh Birro, our loved one, has been drowned in the Jaghjagha! We come for his body!” they cry.
The first thing they see is Saleh Birro himself, happily digging and spitting in his appointed pit of earth. Stupefaction, explanations, and forthwith Saleh Birro, mad with rage, attempts to brain Yusuf Hassan with his pick. A friend on each side joins in… and nothing can stop them.
And the real moral of this story – as my husband Max points out afterward – what very dangerous things reading and writing are!
How many of us, Max asks suddenly, would really succour another human being in conditions where there were no witnesses, no force of public opinion, no knowledge or censure of a failure to extend aid?
“Everyone, of course,” says the Colonel firmly.
“No, but would they?” persists Max. “A man is lying dying. Death, remember, is not very important here. You are in a hurry. You have business to do. You do not want to delay or bother. The man is nothing whatever to you. And nobody will ever know if you just hurry on, saying that, after all, it isn’t your business, and somebody else will come along presently,” etc.
We all sit back and think, and we are all, I think, a little shattered… Are we so sure, after all, of our essential HUMANITY?
After a long pause Bumps says slowly: “I think I would… Yes, I think I would. I might go on, and then, perhaps, feel ashamed and come back.”
The Colonel agrees, “Just so; one wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
Max says he thinks he would, too, but he isn’t nearly so sure about himself as he would like to be, and I concur with him.
We all sit silently for a while, and then I realise that, as usual, Mac has made no contribution.
“What would you do, Mac?”
“Me?” His tone is slightly surprised. “Oh, I would go on. I wouldn’t stop.”
“You wouldn’t? Definitely?”
We all look interestedly at Mac, who shakes his gentle head.
“People die so much out here. One feels that a little sooner or later doesn’t matter. I really wouldn’t expect anyone to stop for me.”
No, that’s true, Mac wouldn’t.
His voice goes on, “It is much better, I think, to go straight on with what one is doing, without being continually deflected by outside people and happenings.”
Suddenly an idea strikes me.
“But, suppose, Mac,” I say, “that it was a horse?”
“Oh, a horse!” says Mac, becoming suddenly quite human and alive and not remote at all. “That would be quite different! Of course, I’d do everything I possibly could for a horse.”
Next post – The Story of Harmless Bullet. Chapter 22