“They Were Beating on Stretched Skins and Blowing into Strange Horns”

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I could hear them from way off, before they even entered the town. At first, it was like the rain pattering on zinc roofs. With this was mixed a muffled, rhythmic sound of thunder, beat to a bewitching tempo: bam bam bam... They would arrive at the ramparts when night had fallen. The sounds became more distinct, with the discordant horns and the haunting rhythm of the percussion, deliberate and profound. They would come up my street in the pitch dark, stop for a while on the square in front of our house, then move away. The noise gradually faded, leaving me with a vague feeling of well-being and security, which lulled me to sleep.
This had been happening for weeks. I would restlessly await the arrival of this strange cacophony. It was a pulsating urge, from the ends of the earth or the heavens, from the depths of time and space and which found an echo within me. At first, I listened to them from my bed, not daring to get up and look through the shutters.
One evening, I plucked up the courage. I got up silently and dared to look at them through the half-closed shutters. There were lots of them, hundreds, of all ages and all naked. They were beating on stretched skins, blowing into strange horns and from their mouths came modulated breaths, an inhuman respiration with a triple-beat rhythm like the beating of a giant heart. Bam bam bam...
Fascinated, I opened the shutters. Attracted by the light, their faces turned towards me and the beating became more intense and faster as if it was meant for me. Then they slowly moved away through the low shadows of the outskirts of the town.
I watched them like that for several evenings. I could sense a feeling growing within me, a need to beat the rhythm with them, like them.
Finally, one night, I opened the window and pulled myself onto the windowsill. The wild and timeless pulsating, beaten out by hundreds of ancestral drums, was coming up the street. My head was filled with the blowing of the horns. They stopped in front of our house as usual. That’s when I realised that this strange, cosmic music was intended for me and me alone. I was unable to resist, I pulled the tubes out of the respirator, shed my pyjamas and jumped into the street to join them. They gave me a stretched skin which I instinctively knew how to beat and I set off with them. Bam bam bam. Into the distance, where they had come from...

Translated by Wendy Cross

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