There was once a time when the world was new!
When living creatures appeared on the earth, Death was born as well.
In the beginning nobody knew she existed, and Death knew nothing about the world, nor how or how many creatures lived on it. She would pass the time scratching her ears with her yellow nails, sitting on a boulder on the top of a cliff. Apart from this, Death never knew what to do.
But one day, very early in the morning, she shrugged off her idleness and came to a decision: “I must know and understand…investigate!” she said to herself loudly.
She took some tree bark and some reeds, from which she made herself a bag. She picked up some lumps of coal because she could write with them, some wide leaves, and then set off to discover the world.
She walked and walked and tripped over a gnarled branch, cursed, got up again and entered a thick forest where she met a tortoise and took fright! Then she stopped to observe it and thought: “Gosh how ugly she is!”
She approached the tortoise and asked her: “Being, who are you? What are you called, and where are you going so slowly with that stolen shell on you?”
“Who I am I don’t know, and I’m called tortoise, and …and what do you care where I’m going?”
Death was angry, jotted down the species: “Tortoise” and drew her.
Death went on walking, and in a forest she saw a parrot, stopped to observe him and thought: “Gosh what beautiful colours he has! But what a horrible crooked beak!”
She approached the parrot and asked: “Being, who are you? What are you called, and where are you flying with all those
beautiful colours and that strange twisted beak?”
“Who I am I don’t know, and I’m called parrot and…and what do you care where I’m going?”
Death was angry, jotted down the species: “parrot” and drew him.
Death sat down on a knotty stump, rested and then set out again. In a savannah she met a giraffe, stopped to observe her and thought: “Oh my God, what a long neck…and what a lot of lovely colours!…what a waste of creativity if she has to die anyway.”
She approached the giraffe and asked: ” Being, who are you, what are you called and where are you running to, coiling that long neck?”
“Who I am I don’t know, and I’m called giraffe and…what do you care where I’m going?”
Death was angry, jotted down the species: “giraffe” and drew her.
This went on…and in the course of her long journey Death classified all the various species with painstaking meticulousness, recording them all one by one.
But she never met Man!
One day Death was sitting on a sharp boulder by the river- bank, with her feet on a large basket full of coal and wide leaves. She was drawing a crocodile, which was wallowing in the mud and green reeds. She was observing him and painstakingly counting his scales, when she was overcome by a sudden desire to take the crocodile with her into the “Darkness of Nothingness.”
Nature was happily passing by.
“Hey, Death! How’s it going, Well? The crocodile? You’re sketching the crocodile? But…why ever?”
“Oh, lo-ook who’s here! Nature! But do you know, do you know that I am one of your creatures, as well?”
Oh yes, yes, of course I know; it was me who created you! And…and do you know why I gave you life?”
Death scratched her ears with her yellow nails and stared angrily at Nature. Nature said: “Come on…don’t look at me like
that. You know don’t you? Of course you know!
“I…I…but…if things are always like this in the world…I can’t wait for ever you know!”
“Forever? You must wait…don’t you know that the world is new? It’s new!”
“But I…I…” Death started to cry covering her face with her horrible black hands, and then continued to complain: “I’m tired of all this idleness, I don’t feel gratified at all. What am I here for, eehhh? What am I doing in this damn, peaceful world?
The situation here is very strange and I don’t really like it. In this entire world all I have carried away has been a worm that was eaten by a hen, a fly squashed by a horse’s hoof and a dead rat with froth around its mouth.”
Death went all yellow with anger and continued: “I belong to you as well, for God’s sake Nature! Am I not one of your creatures? How can I live here, how can I live, if no one ever dies? Damn, damn this peaceful world!”
Nature shuddered and interrupted her: “Shut up! Shut up you ungrateful creature! Do you know why I gave you life? Do you?”
“Well…maybe…maybe I know or I don’t…how should I know! All I know is that no one ever dies here!”
“I have given life on many other planets, but I have never given birth to a creature as evil as you, Death!… Maybe the earth has gone to your head? You will only be able to take away a creature when the years that I and only I have granted it, have passed! To make space…to make space for others still…new creatures whom must learn how to look into this New World of mine. This is all my doing! Do you understand?”
“Hey! One hen ate a worm, a fly was squashed by the horse’s hooves and a rat died with froth…”
My huge task has only just begun. I’m trying so hard to make this world perfect that I have given myself a breakdown
…My heart has become sick, but really sick. Come, come. Look, look. My task has only just begun. But where are you looking? Here…here in my bag.”
Nature pulled out a very long sheet of paper, and continued: “Look! Here is my plan. See? This is Man! This is what the New World will be like! Man; will Man be able to…will Man know…He’ll know what to do!”*3 Death gazed at Nature and scratched her ears with her yellow nails, and with a distraught expression she said: “Maaaan? And…what’ll he do?”
“Yes, Man!” And Nature was overwhelmed with happiness.
“My latest and most perfect creation! He will carry out my sublime task with so much love, and will teach living creatures not to eat each other, (and if the hen ate a worm and a horse squashed a fly with its hooves by mistake, and a rat died with froth…it means that my task is still almost at its starting point!) and he will make sure that they look for milk and fruit and berries and honey, without harming any of my creatures. Perfect, perfect. I’m going to delegate my task to my latest and favourite son! “He knows what to do!”
“I’ll colour some black and some white, some blond and red, others black and white together, sometimes with more white, other times with more black; I’ll give them light blue and green, black and blue eyes of all shapes and sizes. I’ll make sure that they talk, and that they all talk in different ways; I’ll colour their speech with endless different dialects. That’s what I must do. In this way they will be more…more… how do you say…I’m so excited that I can’t find the… I’m speechless. Anyway…”
Death heard so many very strange things all once that she almost went mad. She scratched her ears so hard again with her yellow nails, that she flayed them! She watched Nature wide- eyed and felt like fainting, but as soon as she had recovered a bit she begun to slowly study the leaves she had already drawn on, and understood why so many animals were similar! Nature had wanted them this way to give more colour to the earth! She then chose the widest and finest leaves, and the blackest pieces of coal, and put them aside to portray the latest creature which 3.Note:In the original this is a Neapolitan phrase “‘O sape isso c’hadda fà!”
was due to come out any moment now: Man! Saddened, she wept slightly, and thought that as soon as Nature had gone she would
bawl her eyes out, to give vent to her feelings. But for some reason, Nature kept on lingering…finally Death plucked up courage, said good-bye with a bow, and was about to leave…when Death started talking.
“Come now, why are you complaining? You’ll be in charge of substituting…with new beings that I will invent. Come now, cheer up! Come, come with me- I’ll show you my laboratory.”
It was at that moment that Death realised! She had been conceived flawed! But why her? Yes, she fiendishly wanted the living creatures to die before they had run their natural cycle. She covered her face fleetingly with her horrible black hands with yellow nails. She was seized by terror. It was all clear: she realised that she was already in love with this flaw of hers and…didn’t want Man to come into the world to put things right.
Nature and Death quickly crossed a big wood. At dusk they reached the foot of a very tall mountain. Nature took Death by the hand and led her to a big Bramble bush, which had an opening between the leaves, thorns, fruit and the black and red berries. They went through this opening, and soon found themselves in the belly of the mountain, in a vast area which was the workshop.
“Look! This is where I built the beings. Right there, and there. You were born there, look, there in that big jug. My cre-a-ture DEATH.” Nature then kissed her, took her face in her hands, and caressed it.
Death knitted her brows; she had become very curious indeed. Then she said: “And the giraffe? Where was the giraffe born?”
“The giraffe was born there, in that tall, narrow tub…God, it was so hard to get her out! I pulled her neck with all my force; I pulled so hard and it stretched so very much that I was worried. But I made such a muddle of the colours that she came out really beautiful. Have you met the giraffe?”
She’s beautiful isn’t she…by the way, those are the vessels for the colours. Poor old me! I really must get on with things. Not only must I give life to Man, but give the earth many, many
more animal species than those that you have already seen.
There still aren’t enough…there are only…let me add them up.”
Nature pulled out an enormous book, wet her fingers with saliva and started subtracting and multiplying.
“Too few! I need a lot more. One hundred mixtures…two hundred to make Man…every mixture is one thousand plus one thousand plus one thousand times one thousand…yes, it might suffice. Can you see those? They are the mixtures I haven’t prepared yet. Raw substances. I have refined them, but what hard work it was. What a job it was to clean some of those substances…my hands are having a nervous breakdown…to tell the truth, it didn’t take me long to make the animals. But to make Man and to make his substances pure…I disposed of atrocity, barbarity, brutality, cruelty, godlessness…as well as envy, savagery, severity, tyranny, lust for power, harshness, inhumanity, greed, unbridled passion and idiocy and schizophrenia and schizothemia…and many, many others. If I had to list them all, I’d be here all day; I wouldn’t be able to make Man, and then all the other animals in a month.”
“All on your ooowwn? All… all this on your own? And those are the substances…”
“Yes, there they are in those jugs. They’re accursed substances. Acc-ur-sed. I’m burying them all tomorrow, to avoid the beings slaughtering each other amongst themselves.
Death glared at Nature with her horrible black eyes, scratched herself all over with her yellow nails and became blacker still, and then started to quiver all over.
“There, in those phials? All in there? In thooose phiiaaaals?”
“Yes, but keep away- they’re dangerous. As soon as I have time I’ll bury them all in a deep hole.
Death noticed a little red phial on a shelf, and pointed at it with her crooked finger: “What’s that one there?”
“Unlimited age. That’s the phial for infinite age. Tomorrow it will end up in the deep hole, along with the others.”
Hearing this, Nature suddenly became suspicious. “That’s
enough! I don’t like this; you look everywhere with those horrible black eyes of yours, and then want to know everything. I created you and that’s why I tried to console you, but now I’ve had enough.” She then grabbed her by the arm, and showed her to the exit. And Death left.
She was all worked up, and walked for a long time until she was tired and sat down on a crooked stump. For a while she thought it had all been a bad dream. Finally she ripped her bag open and took out the leaves and coal, and drew strange columns to fill with statistics…then she burst out: “Damned rotten bad luck!! I’ll get a fly squashed by a cow’s tail and a stupid sparrow that’s fallen from its nest and a chick that choked on an egg! Damn this peaceful world!” And then she thought…” Man will know what to do…” But what will he really be able to do?”
She thought back to “…accursed substances…greed…
envy…unbridled passion…schizothemia…they’ll all come in handy, if…yeess!” And she understood, in her own way she understood. She bounced up and cried out: ” I am Death, I am! And I’m tired of waiting.”
She fell asleep and dreamt about what she would have liked to happen. She pictured Man, and it was one hell of a dream: Cracked-open heads and slashed-open stomachs, giraffes with their necks ripped apart and chopped up elephants, women raped to death and horses with their sides torn open…three hours later she woke up.
She grabbed her bag, took out some wide leaves and built some vessels that she filled with water, and then quickly toddled off. Where did she go? To Nature’s place, hoping to find her asleep.
In less than no time at all she was in the belly of the mountain, in the vast area which was the workshop. She cocked her ear and heard Nature mixing and singing along.
Death waited. And Nature fell asleep.
Death crept in, walking like a sly dog. She grabbed at the substances with her horrible black hands, quickly pouring them into the mixers disregarding the quantities. She drank vast
quantities of the cruelty liquid and all of the infinite age one. Then she gave out a cry of hysterical laughter, and filled up the empty phials with water she had brought from the woods, so as to hide her scheme from Nature.
Nature was sleeping, bent over on a stool. She snored, smiling.
Death gazed at her with her horrible black eyes, picked up a wide leaf and a piece of coal, and jotted down the species: “Nature”, drew her and muttered: “She knows, now she knows exactly what to do!”
Two days had gone by, and Nature had given life to yet more animals and a multicoloured Man. Nature gazed at him and was moved to tears, caressed and kissed him, and stated: “I’ll entrust you with the World! Look after it, this Old World, don’t ruin it! It’s lovely, all nice and round!”*4.
She dried away her tears, and with shrewd grace she took the phials and buried them in a deep hole, and flew away to God knows where in the sky.
And then…who knows what happened next…who knows…Baaah…whatever came out of that great mix up…maybe Death is tyrannising and Nature is disconsolate? Who knows.
Will Death, with its yellow nails, manage to take Nature with her into the “Darkness of Nothingness”? Baah, who knows.
Maybe…yes, yes! Here he comes now! He is bound to know! All we have to do is ask Man. He’ll know exactly what to do: he is controlled by Death!
4.Note:In the original this is a Neapolitan phrase:”Guardatillo, ‘O munno: nunn ‘o sciupà! È bello, tunno tunno!”