4 April, in the year of our Lord 2022
Up betimes, to be abroad upon some choares, it being a fine sunshine but again gone cold; and along the Lane come upon Mr. G. Small, unlocking his ladys wear shop, today all a-garb in a gowne of Shagg the colour of a sun flower, which flewed down to his feet, and over this a great cape the blue of a cloudless sky, which covered not only his shoulders but his head, and set upon his covered head a wonky coronet.
‘I feel so for the wretched people of the Cossack lands,’ explains he. ‘What must it be like for them? So I have assembled this — ‘ (he holds out his gown between finger and thumb) ‘ — to appear in solidarity. I am St. Olga of Kyev.’ Whereupon looks he up at me and bites his lower lip in doubt. ‘Do you think it too much?’
‘It is not too much,’ say I, kindlily.
‘Then too little?’
‘It is perfect.’
‘I have been toying the idea of selling up and travelling there, perhaps as a mercenary.’
‘I am not sure being a mercenary would play to your strengths.’
‘My grandmother could handle a rifle. I do not see why I cannot.’
I realise I know nothing of his back ground.
‘Do you have a connection with the land in question? Some family that hales from there, perhaps? Or a tie that pulls you east?’
‘East, but not from there. My mother’s mother came from a small Greek island off the Ottoman coast. I am one quarter Lesbian.’ He pauses and then reverts to track. ‘On each occasion I read of the war in the Cossack lands my spirits sink a little lower. The news is on the front page every day.’
‘It is inescapable,’ say I, for he is sadly right in what he says.
‘To be honest,’ blurts out he. ‘I did not think such a thing to happen in Evrope in my lifetime. Do you think that a pompose thing to say? Did you think it would happen in yours? You are much older than I!’
‘Thank you. But no, it is not a pompose thing to say,’ say I, for I do not disagree with him, and anyway he is of such an unconfident disposition that I ought not undermine or correct him.
‘It is strange, is it not,’ says he reflecktively, seeing how the lane had begun to accumulate people, ‘to see how life goes on: a hackney bound for the river, smart merchants to their work, Mrs. Waytrose opening her grocer shop. All of us about our normal busyness when cities abroad are being raised to the ground — ’
‘Razed to the ground.’
‘ — that is what I said! But why do we not do more? We have an army, and a Navy! Europe has armies!’
‘The Emperor has us in a double bind. We would be unwise to do the thing we feel in our bowells we should do — which in my bowells, at least, is to give the agresser a hiding — for to yield to our instincks would simply make the matter worse. Far worse, I fear. Doing less has so far saved us that. But be reassured that Europe and the Plymouth Colony, even Prussia, are sending rifles, and canon, and gunpowder to the Cossacks, though the Emperor fulminates against it.’
‘And Swedeland, and the Finns? I cannot fathom their position. Is it that they are in Natow but not part of the Union, or part of the Union but not in Natow? It confuses me so.’
‘It is the latter, I think. They wish to join with Natow but the fear is that the Sultan oppose it. He is another wiley man whom few trust.’
‘My grandmother shot his troops with a musket,’ says Gerard Small, nostalgickally. But now his voice becomes very sad and quiet. ‘I saw some moving pictures on the magick screen today. A Cossack woman, perhaps the age of my mother, who had a son, perhaps my age. She held a portrait of him in her hands, a picture of him as a carefree child.’ I know where he is going with the story, for I saw it myselfe. ‘She dragged his body, all on her own, from where he had fallen, Mr. Peepers. All by herself. And buried him herself, in her own garden, by the wreckage of her own house, with snow falling from the sky. Can you imagine her sorrow, for I cannot?’ He looks me in the eye. ‘Why are such things done in the world?’
But I find I cannot even say that I do not have the answer, so look away.
‘I am sorry,’ says he. ‘I did not mean to upset you.’
‘The sun was in my eyes,’ say I, smiling weakly and blinking. ‘But look — ’ (and I point to little flashes of colour, which are here and there — a glint of blue and yellow in a window across the road; of a flag the same, in the distance upon a poal; of blue and yellow feathers in the cap of a boy at the Coffee-house where Mrs. Hyphen-Holmes will later brunch) ‘ — you are not alone in your consideration. Right across the land people display such tokens. And with all due respect to your family history of markswomanship, you should not take your involvement so far. Leave it to those who have been soldiers to be mercenaries, if they wish. But the world does not need another martyr, nor another mother to bury her son. Though if you were able and so minded,’ say I, straitening his coronet and adjusting his blue cape and his splendid yellow dress, ‘you might send a little money, or help find refuge for the dispossessed.’
‘I shall willingly give, and do what I am able,’ sniffs he. And then, as I stand back to make sure he is smart, he continues: ‘I know many do not know what to make of me, and some will think me silly for my choice of costume, but I beg you not refrain from telling me it is not unimportant.’
‘In no circumstences could I refrain from telling you it is not unimportant,’ say I, seriously. ‘It is a symbol of bearing witness. And in times of impotence it may be as much as we can do. It hath an import all its own.’
And then we watched for a little while as the sun rose higher and our world went on its way.
‘Dr. Francis was here yesterday, being measured for a frock,’ says he, emerging from his melancholy revery and realising he hath a job to do. ‘She plans a trip overseas, to Legoland.’
‘With her family. I heared the same.’
Now he is frowning and clearly once more trying to fathom something out.
‘So is Legoland in the Union and Natow, but not the euro Zone? Or is it in the Union and the euro Zone, but not Natow?’
‘I think it is neither in the Union, the euro Zone, Natow, Shengen nor Efter,’ say I, slightly insecurely, but then remember with more confidence something from school. ‘I am pretty sure, however, that it is in the Hanseatick league.’