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The Short Form

“The Old Man Slave and the Mastiff”

Patrick Chamouiseau


It was, for the old man slave, a moment of confusion: seeing those men who looked so much like him leave the ship, all only half revived from the longest of deaths. The oil that coated their sickly skin blended with their sweat and traces of anguish. Their screams, companion to extreme suffering, had left permanent deposits of garlic-smelling foam in the corners of their mouths. They still carried the odors of the country of Before, its ultimate rhythms, its languages that were already almost lost. The old man slave sensed that they were still in thrall to the gods he remembered vaguely without words. And the ship also moved him. He no longer knew whether he had been born on the Plantation or whether he had known this crossing in the hold, but each tilt of a slave ship in the calm waters of the harbor triggered a primordial reeling inside him. Multiple creaks, muddy shadows, and liquid rays of light inhabited the depths of his spirit, which was drunk on the viscous seaweed and the ship's dances.

We read it in The Art of the Story.

Originally published in Grand Street 63.