The Leader (1/3)

– Brothers and friends, I have listened to all your speeches, so I ask you now to listen to me. All our deliberations and conversations aren’t worth anything as long as we remain in this barren region. In this sandy soil and on these rocks nothing has been able to grow, even when there were rainy years, let alone in this drought the likes of which none of us has never seen before.

How long will we get together like this and talk in vain? The cattle are dying without food, and pretty soon we and our children will starve too. We must find another solution that’s better and more sensible. I think it would be best to leave this arid land and set out into the world to find better and more fertile soil because we simply can’t live like this any longer.

Thus an inhabitant of some infertile province spoke once in a tired voice at some meeting. Where and when that was does not concern you or me, I think. It is important to believe me that it happened somewhere in some land long ago, and that is enough. To be honest, at one time I thought I had somehow invented this whole story, but little by little I freed myself from this nasty delusion. Now I firmly believe that I am going to relate what really happened and must have happened somewhere and sometime and that I could never by any means have made it up.

The listeners, with pale, haggard faces and blank, gloomy, almost uncomprehending gazes, with their hands under their belts, seemed to come alive at these wise words. Each was already imagining that he was in some kind of magic, paradisaical land where the reward of backbreaking work would be a rich harvest.

– He’s right! He’s right! – whispered the exhausted voices on all sides.

– Is this place nea…r…by? – a drawn-out murmur was heard from a corner.

– Brothers! – another began with a somewhat stronger voice. – We must follow this advice immediately because we can’t go like this any longer. We have toiled and strained ourselves, but all has been in vain. We have sown seed that could have been used for food, but the floods came and washed the seed and soil away from the slopes so that only bare rock was left. Should we stay here forever and labor from morning to night only to remain hungry and thirsty, naked and barefooted? We’ve got to set out and look for better and more fertile soil where hard work will yield plentiful crops.

– Let’s go! Let’s go immediately because this place is not fit to be lived in anymore!

Whispering arose, and each began walking away, not thinking where he was going.

– Wait, brothers! Where are you going? – the first speaker started again. – Sure we must go, but not like this. We’ve got to know where we are going. Otherwise we might end up in a worse situation instead of saving ourselves. I suggest that we choose a leader whom we’ll all have to obey and who’ll show us the best and most direct way.

– Let’s choose! Let’s choose somebody right away, – was heard all around.

Only now did the arguing arise, a real chaos. Everybody was talking and no one was either listening or able to hear. They began splitting up in groups, each person mumbling to himself, and then even the groups broke up. In twos, they began talking each other by the arm, talking, trying to prove something, pulling each other by the sleeve, and motioning silence by their hands. Then they all assembled again, still talking.

– Brothers! – suddenly resounded a stronger voice which drowned out all the other hoarse, dull voinces. – We can’t reach any kind of agreement like this. Everybody is talking and nobody is listening. Let’s pick a leader! Whom among us can we choose? Who among us has traveled enough to know the roads? We all know each other well, and yet I for one wouldn’t put myself and my children under the leadership of a single person here. Rather, tell me who knows that traveler over there who’s been sitting in the shade on the edge of the road since this morning?

Silence fell. All turned toward the stranger and sized him up from head to toe.

The traveler, middle-aged, with a somber face which was scarcely visible on account of his beard and long hair, sat and remained silent as before, absorbed in thought, and tapped his big cane on the ground from time to time.

– Yesterday I saw that same man with a young boy. They were holding each other by the hand and going down the street. And last night the boy left the village but the stranger stayed here.

– Brothers, let’s forget these silly trifles so we won’t lose any time. Whoever he is, he’s come from far away since none of us knows him and he most certainly knows the shortest and best way to lead us. It’s my judgment he’s a very wise man because he’s sitting there silently and thinking. Anyone else would have already pried into our affairs ten times or more by now or would have begun a conversation with one of us, but he’s been sitting there the whole time quite alone and saying nothing.

– Of course, the man’s sitting quietly because he’s thinking about something. It can’t be otherwise except that he’s very smart, – concurred the others and began to examine the stranger again. Each had discovered a brilliant trait in him, a proof of his extraordinary intelligence.

Not much more time was spent talking, so finally all agreed that it would be best to ask this traveler – whom, it seemed to them, God had sent to lead them out into the world to look for a better territory and more fertile soil. He should be their leader, and they would listen to him and obey him without question.

They chose ten men from among themselves who were to go to the stranger to explain their decision to him. This delegation was to show him the miserable state of affairs and ask him to be their leader.

So the ten went over and bowed humbly. One of them began talking about the unproductive soil of the area, about the dry years and the misery in which they all found themselves. He finished in the following manner:

– These conditions force us to leave our homes and our land and to move out into the world to find a better homeland. Just at this moment when we finally reached agreement, it appears that God has shown mercy on us, that he sent you to us – you, a wise and worthy stranger – and that you’ll lead us and free us from our misery. In the name of all the inhabitants here, we ask you to be our leader. Whereveryou might go, we’ll follow. You know the roads and you were certainly born in a happier and better homeland. We’ll listen to you and obey each of your commands. Will you, wise stranger, agree to save so many souls from ruin? Will you be our leader?

All during this imploring speech, the wise stranger never lifted his head. The whole time he remained in the same position in which they had found him. His head was lowered, he was frowning, and he said nothing. He only tapped his cane on the ground from time to time and – thought. When the speech was over, he muttered curtly and slowly without changing his position:

– I will!

– Can we go with you then and look for a better place?

– You can! – he continued without lifting his head.

Enthusiasm and expressions of appreciation arose now, but the stranger did not say a word to any of it.

The ten informed the gathering of their success, adding that only now did they see what great wisdom this man possessed.

– He didn’t even move from the spot or lift his head at least to see who was talking to him. He only sat quietly and meditated. To all our talk and appreciation he uttered only four words.

– A real sage! Rare intelligence! – they happily shouted from all sides claiming that God himself had sent him as an angel from heaven to save them. All were firmly convinced of success under such a leader whom nothing in the world could disconcert. And so it was decided to set out the next day at daybreak.

(Next)

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