Authors: V.S. Naipaul
ALSO BY V. S. NAIPAUL
A Turn in the South
Finding the Center
Among the Believers
The Return of Eva Peron with The Killings in Trinidad
India: A Wounded Civilization
The Overcrowded Barracoon
The Loss of El Dorado
An Area of Darkness
The Middle Passage
The Enigma of Arrival
A Bend in the River
In a Free State
A Flag on the Island
The Mimic Men
Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion
A House for Mr. Biswas
The Suffrage of Elvira
The Mystic Masseur
Published in an omnibus edition entitled
Copyright © 1975 by V. S. Naipaul
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published in Great Britain by Andre Deutsch Ltd., London, and in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., in 1975.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Naipaul, V.S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932—
Guerillas / V.S. Naipaul.—1st Vintage international ed.
p. cm.—(Vintage international)
“When everybody wants to fight
there’s nothing to fight for.
Everybody wants to fight his own little war,
everybody is a guerrilla.”
AFTER LUNCH Jane and Roche left their house on the Ridge to drive to Thrushcross Grange. They drove down to the hot city at the foot of the hills, and then across the city to the sea road, through thoroughfares daubed with slogans:
Basic Black, Don’t Vote, Birth Control Is
a Plot Against the Negro Race
The sea smelled of swamp; it barely rippled, had glitter rather than color; and the heat seemed trapped below the pink haze of bauxite dust from the bauxite loading station. After the market, where refrigerated trailers were unloading; after the rubbish dump burning in the remnant of mangrove swamp, with black carrion corbeaux squatting hunched on fence posts or hopping about on the ground; after the built-up hillsides; after the new housing estates, rows of unpainted boxes of concrete and corrugated iron already returning to the shantytowns that had been knocked down for this development; after the naked children playing in the red dust of the straight new avenues, the clothes hanging like rags from back yard lines; after this, the land cleared a little. And it was possible to see over what the city had spread: on one side, the swamp, drying out to a great plain; on the other side, a chain of hills, rising directly from the plain.
The openness didn’t last for long. Villages had become suburbs. Sometimes the side wall of a concrete house was painted over with an advertisement. In the fields that had survived there were billboards.
And soon there was a factory area. It was here that the signs for Thrushcross Grange began: the name, the distance in miles, a clenched fist emblematically rendered, the slogan For the Land and the Revolution, and in a strip at the bottom the name of the firm that had put the sign up. The signs were all new. The local bottlers of Coca-Cola had put one up; so had Amal (the American bauxite company), a number of airlines, and many stores in the city.
Jane said, “Jimmy’s frightened a lot of people.”
Roche, slightly clownish with the cheap dark glasses he wore when driving, said, “Jimmy would like to hear you say that.”
“Thrushcross,” Jane said.
“Trush-cross. That’s how you pronounce it. It’s from
. Like ‘furthering.’ ”
“I thought it sounded very English.”
“I don’t think it means anything. I don’t think Jimmy sees himself as Heathcliff or anything like that. He took a writing course, and it was one of the books he had to read. I think he just likes the name.”
The hills smoked, as they did now every day from early morning: thin lines of white smoke that became the color of dust and blended with the haze. Above the settlements lower down, which showed ocher, drought had browned the hills; and through this brown the bush fires had cut irregular dark red patches. The asphalt road was wet-black, distorted in the distance by heat waves. The grass verges had been blackened by fire, and in some places still burned. Sometimes, above the noise of the car, Jane and Roche could hear the crackle of flames which, in the bright light, they couldn’t see.
Traffic was heavy in this area of factories. But the land still showed its recent pastoral history. Here and there, among the big sheds and the modern buildings in unrendered concrete, the tall wire fences and the landscaped grounds, were still fields, remnants of the big estates, together with remnants of the estate villages: vegetable plots, old wooden houses on stilts, huts, bare front yards with zinnia clumps, ixora bushes, and hibiscus hedges. Grass now grew in the fields beside the highway; billboards offered building
plots or factory sites. Sometimes there was a single rusting car in a sunken field, as though, having run off the road, it had simply been abandoned; sometimes there were heaps of junked vehicles.
Jane said, “I used to think that England was in a state of decay.”
Roche said, “Decayed from what?”
They left the factories behind. Traffic thinned; and when they turned off the highway they were at last in what seemed like country. But the bush had a cut-down appearance and looked derelict in the drought. Paved areas of concrete and asphalt could be seen; and sometimes there were rows of red brick pillars, hung with dried-out vines, that suggested antique excavations: the pillars might have supported the floor of a Roman bath. It was what remained of an industrial park, one of the failed projects of the earliest days of independence. Tax holidays had been offered to foreign investors; many had come for the holidays and had then moved on elsewhere.
Roche said, “I hope there’s something to see. But I doubt it.”
“You told him I was coming?”
“He was very much on the defensive when I told him. But I thought he was pleased. He made the usual excuses. The drought. But that’s Jimmy. Always hard done by.” Roche paused. “He’s not the only one.”
Jane said nothing.
Roche said, “He said that some of the boys had left. Run back to the city, I imagine. And I don’t think they like to feel that people are coming to spy on them.”
“You mean all they want is the publicity.”
Roche smiled. “It will do them no harm at all to be taken by surprise. It’s the only way, to corner them into doing what they say they want to do.”
The roads of the former industrial park were narrow and overgrown at the edges, and parts of the rough, graveled surface were eaten away. The land, part of the great plain, was flat; but now the areas of low bush were fewer, and they lay between sections of secondary forest. There were still many roads; but one turning was like another, and it would have been easy for a stranger to get lost. Since they had left the highway there had been no signs for
Thrushcross Grange. But then, abruptly in the wasteland, there was a new sign in yellow and red and black, with the emblematic clenched fist at the top.
FOR THE LAND AND THE REVOLUTION
Entry without prior permission strictly forbidden at all times
By Order of the High Command
JAMES AHMED (Haji)
In a strip at the bottom, in letters cut out white on red, was the name of the local firm, Sablich’s, that had put the sign up.
Roche said, “We had to tone down Jimmy’s copy.” Roche worked for Sablich’s.
Jane said, “Haji?”
“As I understand it, a haji is a Muslim who’s made the pilgrimage to Mecca. Jimmy uses it to mean ‘mister’ or ‘esquire.’ When he remembers, that is.”
Not long after the board was a side road. They turned into that. A little way down there was a sentry box painted in diagonal stripes of black and red. It was empty; and the metal rail, also striped black and red, weighted at one end and intended as a barrier, was vertical. They drove on. The road was as narrow as the road they had turned off from, irregularly edged, the asphalt surface eaten into by crab grass and weeds from the wild verge. They drove through secondary bush and forest; there was as yet no sign of cultivation.
Jane said, “They have a lot of land.”
“That’s it,” Roche said. “Jimmy’s absurd in nearly every way. But he somehow gets things done. Sablich’s were thinking of buying it all up. Investment, I suppose. Then Jimmy stepped in, and they disgorged this bit. A twenty-five-year lease. A gift. Just like that.”
Roche laughed, and Jane saw his molars: widely spaced, black at the roots, the gum high: like a glimpse of the skull.