Thief of time, p.13
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       Thief of Time, p.13

         Part #26 of Discworld series by Terry Pratchett
 
Page 13

 

  mild sympathy for the losers, whereas the Stationery Cupboard was a war of attrition. It contained pots of powder paint and reams of paper and boxes of crayons and more idiosyncratic items like a spare pair of pants for Billy, who did his best. It also contained The Scissors, which under classroom rules were treated as some kind of Doomsday Machine, and, of course, the boxes of stars. The only people allowed in the cupboard were Susan and, usually, Vincent. Despite everything Susan had tried, short of actual deception, he was always the official best at everything and won the coveted honour every day, which was to go into the Stationery Cupboard and fetch the pencils and hand them out. For the rest of the class, and especially Jason, the Stationery Cupboard was some mystic magic realm to be entered whenever possible . Honestly, thought Susan, once you learn the arts of defending the Stationery Cupboard, outwitting Jason and keeping the class pet alive until the end of term, youve mastered at least half of teaching. She signed the register, watered the sad plants on the windowsill, went and fetched some fresh privet from the hedge for the stick insects that were the successor to Henry the Hamster (chosen on the basis that it was quite hard to tell when they were dead), tidied a few errant crayons away and looked around the classroom at all those little chairs. It sometimes worried her that nearly everyone she knew well was three feet high. She was never certain that she trusted her grandfather at times like this. It was all to do with the Rules. He couldnt interfere, but he knew her weaknesses and he could wind her up and send her out into the world. . . Someone like me. Yes, hed known how to engage her interest. Someone like me. Suddenly theres some dangerous clock somewhere in the world, and suddenly Im told that theres someone like me. Someone like me. Except not like me. At least I knew my parents. And shed listened to Deaths account of the tall dark woman wandering from room to room in the endless castle of glass, weeping for the child shed given birth to and could see every day but could never touch. . . Where do I even begin? Tick Lobsang learned a lot. He learned that every room has at least four corners. He learned that the sweepers started work when the sky was light enough to see the dust, and continued until sunset. As a master, Lu-Tze was kind enough. He would always point out those bits that Lobsang had not done properly. After the initial anger, and the taunting of his former classmates, Lobsang found that the work had a certain charm. Days drifted past under his broom. . .

  . . . until, almost with an audible click in his brain, he decided that enough was enough. He finished his section of passageway, and found Lu-Tze dreamily pushing his brush along a terrace. Sweeper?

  Yes, lad?

  What is it you are trying to tell me?

  Im sorry?

  I didnt expect to become a . . . a sweeper! Youre Lu-Tze! I expected to be apprentice to . . . well, to the hero!

  You did? Lu-Tze scratched his beard. Oh, dear. Damn. Yes, I can see the problem. You shouldve said. Why didnt you say? I dont really do that sort of thing any more.

  You dont?

  All that playing with history, running about, unsettling people . . . No, not really. I was never quite certain we should be doing it, to be honest. No, sweeping is good enough for me. Theres something. . . real about a nice clean floor.

  This is a test, isnt it? said Lobsang coldly. Oh, yes.

  I mean, I understand how it works. The master makes the pupil do all the menial jobs, and then it turns out that really the pupil is learning things of great value. . . and I dont think Im learning anything, really, except that people are pretty messy and inconsiderate.

  Not a bad lesson, all the same, said Lu-Tze. Is it not written, “Hard work never did anybody any harm”?

  Where is this written, Lu-Tze? said Lobsang, thoroughly exasperated. The sweeper brightened up. Ah, he said. Perhaps the pupil is ready to learn. Is it that you dont wish to know the Way of the Sweeper, you wish to learn instead the Way of Mrs Cosmopilite?

  Who?

  We have swept well. Lets go to the gardens. For is it not written, “It does you good to get out in the fresh air”?

  Is it? said Lobsang, still bewildered. Lu-Tze pulled a small tattered notebook out of his pocket. In here, it is, he said. I should know.

  Tick Lu-Tze patiently adjusted a tiny mirror to redirect sunlight more favourably on one of the bonsai mountains. He hummed tunelessly under his breath. Lobsang, sitting cross-legged on the stones, carefully turned the yellowing pages of the ancient notebook on which was written, in faded ink, The Way of Mrs Cosmopilite. Well? said Lu-Tze. The Way has an answer for everything, does it?

  Yes.

  Then. . . Lobsang nodded at the little volcano, which was gently smoking, how does that work? Its on a saucer! Lu-Tze stared straight ahead, his lips moving. Page seventy-six, I think, he said. Lobsang turned to the page. “Because,” he read. Good answer, said Lu-Tze, gently caressing a minute crag with a camel-hair brush. Just “Because”, Sweeper? No reason?

  Reason? What reason can a mountain have? And, as you accumulate years, you will learn that most answers boil down, eventually, to “Because”. Lobsang said nothing. The Book of the Way was giving him problems. What he wanted to say was this: Lu-Tze, this reads like a book of the sayings of an old lady. Its the sort of thing old ladies say. What kind of koan is It wont get better if you pick at it, or Eat it up, itll make your hair curly, or Everything comes to he who waits? This is stuff you get in Hogswatch crackers! Really? said Lu-Tze, still apparently engrossed in a mountain. I didnt say anything.

  Oh. I thought you did. Do you miss Ankh-Morpork?

  Yes. I didnt have to sweep floors there.

  Were you a good thief?

  I was a fantastic thief. A breeze blew the scent of cherry blossom. Just once, thought Lu-Tze, it would be nice to pick cherries.

  I have been to Ankh-Morpork, he said, straightening up and moving on to the next mountain. You have seen the visitors we get here?

  Yes, said Lobsang. Everyone laughs at them.

  Really? Lu-Tze raised his eyebrows. When they have trekked thousands of miles seeking the truth?

  But did not Wen say that if the truth is anywhere, it is everywhere? said Lobsang. Well done. I see youve learned something, at least. But one day it seemed to me that everyone else had decided that wisdom can only be found a long way off. So I went to Ankh- Morpork. They were all coming here, so it seemed only fair.

  Seeking enlightenment?

  No. The wise man does not seek enlightenment, he waits for it. So while I was waiting it occurred to me that seeking perplexity might be more fun, said Lu-Tze. After all, enlightenment begins where perplexity ends. And I found perplexity. And a kind of enlightenment, too. I had not been there five minutes, for example, when some men in an alley tried to enlighten me of what little I possessed, giving me a valuable lesson in the ridiculousness of material things.

  But why Ankh-Morpork? said Lobsang. Look in the back of the book, said Lu-Tze. There was a yellow, crackling scrap of paper tucked in there. The boy unfolded it. Oh, this is just a bit of the Almanack, he said. Its very popular there.

  Yes. A seeker after wisdom left it here.

  Er . . . its just got the Phases of the Moon on this page.

  Other side, said the sweeper. Lobsang turned the paper over. Its just an advert from the Ankh-Morpork Guild of Merchants, he said. “Ankh-Morpork Has Everything!” He stared at the smiling Lu-Tze. And. . . you thought that-

  Ah, I am old and simple and understand, said the sweeper. Whereas you are young and complicated. Didnt Wen see portents in the swirl of gruel in his bowl, and in the flight of birds? This was actually written. I mean, flights of birds are quite complex, but these were words. And, after a lifetime of searching, I saw at last the opening of the Way. My Way.

  And you went all the way to Ankh-Morpork . . . said Lobsang weakly. And I fetched up, calm of mind but empty of pocket, in Quirm Street, said the sweeper, smiling serenely at the recollection, and espied a sign in a window saying “Rooms For Rent”.

  Thus I m
et Mrs Cosmopilite, who opened the door when I knocked and then when I hesitated, not being sure of the language, she said, “I havent got all day, you know. ” Almost to a word, one of the sayings of Wen! Instantly I knew that I had found what I was seeking! During the days I washed dishes in an eating house for twenty pence a day and all the scraps I could take away, and in the evenings I helped Mrs Cosmopilite clean the house and listened carefully to her conversation. She was a natural sweeper with a good rhythmical motion and had bottomless wisdom. Within the first two days she uttered to me the actual words said by Wen upon understanding the true nature of Time! It was when I asked for a reduced rate because of course I did not sleep in a bed, and she said “I was not born yesterday, Mr Tze!” Astonishing! And she could never have seen the Sacred Texts! Lobsangs face was a carefully drawn picture. “I was not born yesterday”? he said. Ah, yes, of course, as a novice you would not have got that far, said Lu-Tze. It was when he fell asleep in a cave and in a dream saw Time appear to him and show him that the universe is recreated from second to second, endlessly, with the past just a memory. And he stepped out from the cave into the truly new world and said, “I was not born - yesterday”!

  Oh, yes, said Lobsang. But-

  Ah, Mrs Cosmopilite, said Lu-Tze, his eyes misting over. What a woman for keeping things clean! If she were a sweeper here, no one would be allowed to walk on the floor! Her house! So amazing! A palace! New sheets every other week! And cook? Just to taste her Beans Baked Upon the Toast a man would give up a cycle of the universe!

  Um, said Lobsang. I stayed for three months, sweeping her house as is fitting for the pupil, and then I returned here, my Way clear before me.

  And, er, these stories about you. . .

  Oh, all true. Most of them. A bit of exaggeration, but mostly true.

  The one about the citadel in Muntab and the Pash and the fish bone?

  Oh, yes.

  But how did you get in where hall a dozen trained and armed men couldnt even-?

  Im a little man and I carry a broom, said Lu-Tze simply. Everyone has some mess that needs clearing up. What harm is a man with a broom?

  What? And that was it?

  Well, the rest was a matter of cookery, really. The Pash was not a good man, but he was a glutton for his fish pie.

  No martial arts? said Lobsang.

  Oh, always a last resort. History needs shepherds, not butchers.

  Do you know okidoki?

  Just a lot of bunny-hops.

  Shiitake?

  If I wanted to thrust my hand into hot sand I would go to the seaside.

  Upsidazi?

  A waste of good bricks.

  No kando?

  You made that one up.

  Tung-pi?

  Bad-tempered flower-arranging.

  Déjà-fu? That got a reaction. Lu Tzes eyebrows raised. Déjà-fu? You heard that rumour? Ha! None of the monks here knows déjà-fu, he said. Id soon know about it if they did. Look, boy, violence is the resort of the violent. In most tight corners a broomstick suffices.

  Only most, eh? said Lobsang, not trying to hide the sarcasm. Oh, I see. You wish to face me in the dojo? For its a very old truth: when the pupil can beat the master, there is nothing the master cannot tell him, because the apprenticeship is ended. You want to learn?

 
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