AT THE BORDER*
On the border between the settlement and the desert,
there is some sort of creature, a monster, walking about, keeping watch
and guarding the border, and always absorbed in watching and guarding.
What is she awaiting from the desert?
"Someone has to come and appear from there,"
She refuses to say... But if someone urges
her, toward the end of the day, when she's weary of watching and walking,
and exhausted from strenuous expectation, and she sits on a rock and turns
her worried and mournful face to the desert; if someone then sees her and
goes to her rock and sits at her feet, and inquires who she is waiting
for- she turns her face to the inquirer's face and stares at him, and then
turns her eyes back to the desert, turns away, and speaks from within herself:
"Who am I waiting for? The camel with the two
humps from the desert."
And what is the camel bringing?
"No rider, no rein-holder, no goods and no load;
just two candles on his humps ...."
What does that mean?
And the creature tells her story:
Deep in . the desert now, beneath a gigantic
mountain of sand, there lived a giant, the last of his kind. The giant
had sworn he would find the way back to the tribe of his fathers, he would
dig out their graves and their temples, he would bring them back and restore
them to power. But he wandered through half the world, in vain, until he
found himself in the desert, until he made his way to that mountain . .
. . He was told that the gods are living on that mountain, and he was informed
that on certain evenings when the mountain is darkened and shrouded in
night, in the midst of a storm, a nocturnal tempest in the desert, you
can see them on the high peak, leaning on their staffs and wrapped in their
And so he settled beneath the mountain, staring
and staring up at the peak, and he still has never caught sight of them.
And fervently he yearns for them and eagerly he waits for them, and every
evening he kneels at the mountain, at its foot, with his head turned up
high, and stares his eyes out, and not the least stirring goes past his
hearing or bypasses his ear. But in all this time, he has never seen them
and never heard them.
It was only once, it was an evening, after long
staring and the long strain of kneeling, that he heard a voice from the
peak of the mountain and the highest height, and the voice said:
"Giant, you will never bring your gods back to
rule, and never restore your father's tribe, until you find yourself a
mate, and the two of you have a new generation ...."
The giant heard these words, and he wondered:
Where could he ever find a mate if he were the
last of his giant race, and to whom could he turn if his kind had died
out, and no one was like him in the villages, and they looked on him as
an ancient thing from the furthest bygones, a vestige of the most distant
times.... And whenever he strode through a settlement, his head would hide
the sun from the people, and whenever he trod through a settlement, his
feet would leave havoc and ruin: and he stomped on forests and trees, and
trudged on towns and fields, and turned men into mites, and the people
would hide in holes in the ground and cracks in the rocks.
And he wondered:
Where could he turn, and whom could he ask?
And the voice of the mountain, it only spoke
once, and he never heard the voice again. He was full of sorrow. And he
looked all around, on all sides of the desert: perhaps somebody might come
to him, after all, and perhaps somebody might emerge in the distance, after
all. But the desert was desert and nothing else. So he sat there, lonesome,
in his place, and kept his eyes in the remoteness, and he found, nothing
outside himself, and outside the skylines and the heavens, in all that
vastness he didn't even sight a bird.
Again he waited for a while, until one day, sitting
there, uneasy and stubborn and gloomy, he suddenly heard, aloft and overhead,
something like wings, a rustle. He lifted his head and saw: A bird, enormous,
high overhead, swooping and wheeling, around and around, gliding, and holding
himself as in a prescribed circle, and then, descending from his height,
and pausing low, and stopping its flight. And the bird called out:
"Giant, don't worry. Giant, don't grieve. Your
mate is ready for you now, your mate is waiting for you, but your mate
is very far from you. And to her, and the place. where she is, this letter
will lead you ...."
And the giant saw, from the bird, down to his
feet, a letter fall, sealed and shut, and drop to the earth. He bent down
and picked it up, and broached the seal and began to read, anti this is
what the giant read:
To the last of the giants: Wherever
he may be and wherever he may find himself, whether at sea, or on land,
in a settlement, or in the desert: Peace, and blessings, and affection.
We come to inform him that at the edge o f the waste, there where the desert
Having finished reading, the giant again looked up
at the bird and his place, and the bird was gliding around his place, and
so the giant asked him a question:
the sea, on the shore and on the rocks, we
have a relic, a ruin from the pasta Our fathers ruled there for eons, until
they died out, wiped one another out in battle. All that remains o f our
giant tribe is one daughter: and there she lives in the ancient tower,
with three. windows, one facing the sea, one facing the land, and the third
facing high to the heavens aloft. And she has her say, and she has her
way: over the water, and the fish in the water- in seas; over the earth
and the creatures o f earth- the dry land; and over the winds
and the gales and all manner o f birds- n
the air, aloft, and all of them listen to her, and they heed all her orders,
and she herself obeys her gods and observes their commandments.
Now the gods have said to her: Why should
she sit there, and just sit and sit, for she is the last, and the imperial
tower is growing older, and no one will fix it, and wood-warms have gnawed
into its walls, and all its parts are full of holes . . . . And she still
is young, but her youth is vanishing in vain, and her body is strong, and
her womb could give birth to a race of giants.
So they counseled her: They knew for sure
that a giant is left- at sea or on. land, but somewhere for certain, and
he is in the same situation, and he too is all alone and longing for a
second half, and looking, and not finding a mate- why not seek him out
and bring him back to the tower?
She heeded the gods, and addressed all the
birds, the speediest and the canniest, she asked them and she questioned
"Who will try to find the giant?"
One bird, the most skillful, called out and
took the mission. The emperor's daughter gave him a letter, to fly through
the world and. seek the giant, in oceans, in lands, and not miss any place-
and now to you, who are reading this letter, to you, at whose feet the
letter has fallen, it comes from your only mate, from the giant daughter,
and the giant daughter says: Come to me . .
Love and affection wait for you, for you and
your coming, for you, the only one, and the long awaited.
"How can I reach the giant daughter?"
"And in what direction shall I turn my feet?"
"There where the bird shall fly away."
And the bird soared up from flying low and made
several wheels around his head, and then, having wheeled, he flew off to
one side, toward a point on the horizon- and flew away. And the giant stood
up from where he was sitting, turned, and then, before his first step,
he turned for a last time to the mountain, to its height and its peak,
and he looked and said:
"Mountain, I promise and I swear: As I have rested
beneath you and at your feet, thus will I have my gods rest above, on your
highest heights, and I give you my word and I swear an oath, that the first-born
son, the first child to emerge from my loins, shall be given to you as
an anchorite, as the first priest and devoted servant on the mountain .
. . ."
Having spoken, the giant put down his foot- the
giant did a day's walking- and the second foot- a second day's walking-
then the first foot again- and in the middle of the desert, the giant stumbled
upon a tent ... of poles and sticks and sheets and rags.... And the whole
construction looked like a frail booth hugging the earth, and in the middle
of the desert and in great loneliness it aroused pity.... The tent was
very small, and the giant wouldn't even have noticed, but then a manikin
appeared at the door and at the hole, crouching as though emerging from
earth, and shrouded he was and wrapped in a dark cloak, from head to foot
and back again, and no face and no eye came into sight, and the giant was
amazed: Who can this be and what is he doing here in the desert? He bent
over, and called down, and cried out:
"The leper," a voice from the ground, dull and
faint, from under the wrapping of cloak, replied.
And what was he doing here in the desert?
There was no place for him in the settlement.
.And how had he gotten his leprosy?
From the giant daughter, at the edge of the desert.
What was he saying?
Let the giant bend over, let the giant bend down
to him, he had no strength, he couldn't shout.
And the giant bent over to him, lowered half
his body and his head, and the leper told him:
At the edge o f the desert, on the
shore o f the sea, there is a palace, and a giant daughter lives there,
the last one, left over from the giant race. She lives there lonesome,
without a mate. Her youth is passing in grief and solitude, she spends
her time alone with the walls, wanders about, and her life is bleak, from
day to night, and she doesn't know what to do with herself.... But she
still has hereditary power, and say and sway over all the birds, and they
listen to her as they did to her parents, and serve her and carry out her
commands. And she called them together and sent out the best and the nimblest,
to go and fly and bring back her promised mate, her giant, from the ends
of the earth.
And the leper finished his story, and the leper fell
silent, remaining in the shroud of his cloak, and in his stillness and
concealment, and with his head drooping, and with his body and his muteness,
he waited for the giant who stood overhead.
So the bird flew and flea, and sought and
sought, but found no one, and just as he was about to turn back, he ran
into me on a road. At the time, I was young, and a giant too, and I was
looking for my mate, and I was seeking- my other half. The bird liked me,
and he suggested and praised his mistress, and told me a great deal about
her, and about her life and loneliness in the palace- so I agreed and followed
the bird, and I came to her, to her youth and her home, and she welcomed
me lovingly, and I settled there and I stayed with her, and I got to know
her, and prepared to become her husband and master.... And then at last
I became her husband. It happened one night, when the moon was ruling the
sky and the sea, and the moon was shining into our rooms, and I was together
with her, and no other creature but us in the palace. I saw her then: in
the moonlight, and on the bed, and I was terror-stricken, and she stared
in silence, and her eyes were cold and her face was thoughtful, and she
looked as if she were somewhere else, and didn't notice me at all....
And then I turned to her and I asked: What
was she thinking, and what was she musing? But she didn't reply. So I asked
again: What was going on in her and why did she look like that and whom
was she thinking about? She answered: "About another and a better one,
and not about you, who are lying here."
"What do you mean?" I asked her.
"Just that!" she answered reluctantly, and
"You're small and leprous."
And so it was! As she spoke, and I looked
at myself, I saw how small and trivial and useless I was at her side, unnecessary
and alien, as though somebody had left me behind there.
And she was beautiful and extraordinarily
calm, and she lay there quietly, and I lay at her side, covered with leprosy....
And I leaped up and left the bed and left
her lying. And I looked at her and at her indifference and at her aloofness,
and her repulsion and her it's-all-the-same-to-me at my leaving. I stared
at her for a while, stared arid understood: A sorceress! A sorceress had
bested we. I left the room, and I left the palace, and came out into the
open, arid walked down to the sea, and stood before the sea and the moon's
domination. I looked at the sea: By the shore, where the water wasn't deep,
a camel was standing with all fours in the water, up to his knees, and
his head turned away, silently gazing, his mouth not chewing, absorbed
in himself and in his thought.
I walked over to the camel. In my misery,
I found him as a friend, and in my sorrow - a kin in water. I asked him
"What do you think, camel?"
"I think it's not the first time, I think
you're not her first."
"What can I do?"
"Go into the desert."
"Keep others like you from .coming here, from
taking this road."
And I listened to the camel, and I got on
his back, and he took me from the sea and the shore, and off to the sand,
and to the desert. And I settled here in a tent, and I warn all the wayfarers
and travelers going there, I warn all of them.
"And what would you tell me to do now?"
"And the bird who's calling?"
"He's her messenger."
Silence and several minutes. And the giant straightened
up from his bending, and turned his head toward the horizon, to where the
bird had taken its course. He looked for him and his eyes peered out, but
the bird was nowhere and didn't appear. And then time passed. And the bird
came flying from far away, flying and circling around the giant.
"What did you want, giant?"
"To know the truth."
"About the giant daughter and your mission."
"It's the truth."
"And what about what the leper said?"
"What can a leper say?"
And a camel appeared next to the giant, in the
desert and in the middle, and the camel's neck was craned, and his head
and face were turned toward the edge of the sky. And the camel was pensive
and seemed to be ready for something, waiting for the giant, for his questions,
to reply and respond.
"And you, camel, what do you have to say about
"I don't know him:"
"And who brought him here?"
"Not I, nor my like, nor my kind."
"Leper!" screamed the giant, lifting his foot
to the leper's head and body, and holding him ready: "Leper!" His voice
screamed louder, and all at once, with all his strength, he brought down
his foot.... And the leper was wiped into nothingness, and the giant brought
down his tent and booth, and his rags and his poles as his tombstone and-
let him lie there, and never tell lies again, and the giant set out again
on his journey.
And when the giant had walked in the desert a
day or two, encountering no one, and the desert didn't end, with no issue
in sight; he sat down one evening on the road, lay down on the sand, and
called out and invited the bird, his escort, guide, and harbinger, for
the evening: "Bird, appear!"
The bird emerged from a remote edge of the sky
and from flying back, in the darkness and with weary wings, and keeping
low, in the final glow of the desert, he flew over to the giant, flew up
"What do you want, giant?"
"To ask how far it still is to the giant tower."
"It's not so far, you can start preparing."
"For the night and for bed. Lie down."
And when the giant lay down, stretching his legs
and limbs the length of the desert, closing his eyes and slowly yielding
to sleep and the thoughts of sleep, and slowly dozing off, he began to
The mountain abandoned by the gods was coming
to life again. On the height and on the peak, a temple appeared, new and
reconstructed, and refurbished, and opened as for a festivity.... And now
the night was coming on, and outside there was darkness and gloom, but
inside the temple was bright and radiant, and through the windows the festivity
was shining upon the mountain and through the night.... And for the moment,
the temple was empty. But then a man appeared on the threshold, a servant,
and he opened the portal, and opened the temple, for those who were to
come and enter- let them in. And now they were coming from the mountain,
from all its sides and from the bottom, over stairways and footpaths, and
all with candles in their hands, shielding the lights from the wind and
The people went up and came to the temple, and
gathered at the entrance, and quietly stepped indoors. And the 'climbers
increased, and women and children, and the old were led by the young, and
they all went into the temple's brightness, and they all gathered with
their candles. And then, in the temple, at pulpit-height, by the eastern
wall, facing the entrance, an old priest appeared, dressed in white. He
quietly stood before the crowd, stood there and spoke to the crowd:
"In the name of the temple and in the name of
the gods of the temple, I herewith proclaim that this temple is open and
new again! We owe it to one of us, a last and remaining one of our race,
this was his wish, he yearned for this renewal, and thanks to his wishing,
thanks to his yearning, we now have gathered together, we have assembled
here. I say unto you: Honor the temple."
And the worshipers listened to the priest, and
with their candles in their hands they fell to their knees, and the priest
raised his hands over them, and the priest softly prayed over them, and
they knelt there in silence, and took the prayer and its stillness upon
themselves and upon their heads ...
"And now," said the priest, "stand up and listen."
And the crowd got up from its kneeling, the worshipers
got to their feet, and all of them gazed at the priest and waited for his
words. And the priest went on to say:
"In the name of the temple, and in the name of
the gods of the temple, we shall give our benefactor a gift now, we shall
give him a present for his wedding night, two unlit candles, for him and
for his spouse, for him and for the giant daughter, his chosen bride."
And now the priest took from the pulpit table,
which was covered with burning candles, two unlit candles, two candles
that weren't burning: large and long, waxen and freshly wicked, and he
took them in his hands, and held them out to the crowd, and then he went
on to say:
"Let him come and let him take them, our benefactor,
our temple- rebuilder, for his wedding, and for his night, his first, and
when he and his beloved, he and his spouse, shall unite, then the two candles
and wicks shall blend, each one kindling the other, and becoming one fire,
and they shall be sent down to men, and men shall see the candles and they
shall know: An ancient race has been restored, and ancient gods have come
back to life, and the giants and their dynasty have been restored to power
And the giant listened to all these words, for
he was in the crowd, and then he walked over to the old priest and the
pulpit and stretched out his hands to him and took the candles and walked
And as the giant walked back with the lights,
he saw: The brightness in the temple grew dark and went out. The festivities
died out, and a grief drew across the walls and a shadowy shroud descended
on the people, and they all remained in the darkness, and the candles in
their hands faded and died, and the candles at the pulpit-flickered and
shrank. And the temple grew still. On the pulpit they saw: The priest was
gone and in his place stood a man, shrunken, and shrouded in some kind
of cloak, and his face was concealed, and so was his body, and his head
was covered, and his voice emerged from beneath his cover, faintly emerged,
as he spoke these words:
"And the giant shouldn't think and he shouldn't
assume that what he sees now is really seen, and what happens now before
his eyes is truly and really taking place.... It's all a dream, a figment,
it's all a fancy of his, a wish fulfillment, and right is he who is speaking
now, and right was the leper, and he says he stamped him out but not his
truth, he wouldn't listen, but truth is truth!"
And then everything, the entire temple, and all
that filled the temple, vanished from before the eyes of the giant, and
the crowd was gone, and the mountain was as deserted as once, and silent
in the night and on the mountain peak, silent stood the leper's tent
.. And the giant trembled, and the giant awoke.
"Bird!" he shouted. "Where are you?"
And when the giant opened his eyes with his shout
and cast his eyes around far and wide, all that he saw was a graying, dawning,
a silent desert dawning, and no one was near his bed, and no creature appeared
in the distance, and all the world was drowsing still, and everything was
deathly silent. The giant called out to the bird again, called out, and
the bird called back to him, and came flying to him from drowsiness and
grayishness, and sleepily flew up to him, and. asked him what he needed.
"I've had a dream."
"And the two candles?"
"Here they are!"
And the bird pointed to his side, and the camel was already standing
there, ever since dawn, for such a long time, and on his two humps there
were two candles, two long, large candles, waxen and never kindled, and
standing opposite one another, straight and tall and sparkling at one another,
and the camel, silently holding them, camellike, . the candles on his humps,
and staring at the giant and waiting for the giant's standing up from the
ground, and for his standing straight, and the camel waited for him to
And the giant stood up, and shook off the night and his lying, and
the bird flew off into the distance, and the camel stirred from where he
was, and the giant walked off from where he was, and started off into the
day and into the further part of his journey.
And for the third time, and the last, the leper came in the giant's
way. And this is what happened:
When the giant had been walking a while, and had strode across most
of the breadth of the desert, and was coming close to the end of the sand
and the start of the ocean, and to the tower by the sea, he suddenly saw
in the bright broad day a mirage in the desert. The sun reflected and brought
to the giant, before his eyes, in the desert: an enormous city, filled
with walls and houses, and filled with streets, and people scurrying to
and fro, and people avoiding one another in haste, and people deeply absorbed.
Suddenly, a square in the city opened, a large square, a giant square,
enough for an enormous crowd. But the square was empty and abandoned, and
filled with a void, and no one appeared. However, people started coming,
from all sides and from all streets, and from all corners, and from all
alleys. One by one, and hugging the ends, and then more and more, and into
the middle, and slowly, slowly, filling the square, and growing into a
huge assembly. Now the square was thronged and black with people, and a
black throng filled it out. Next, a high place appeared at the center -
of wooden boards, or a pile of sand, it was hard to say which. And there
in that place that stuck out of the crowd, a man emerged and stood out
above the assembly. For a while, the man waited for the crowd, for a moment
or two, looked around as he waited, and then, to attract their attention
he held up his hand, stretched it out and called to the people:
"Great and mighty assembly, a holiday has been proclaimed for us today.
A great event has called us together. Know that a giant has. appeared in
the desert, till now he lived in loneliness, he was the last and alone
and a leftover, and now at last he has found his mate, and today he will
go to mate with his mate; and he means to create offspring like himself
and his ancient forebears, and giants will emerge from his loins and giants
will come to the settlements now, and a new power shall rule over our heads.
And the giant's dominion shall be lofty, and it shall reach to the very
sky, and the lofty sun will reach from the heavens to crown his head. And
you shall be shielded and protected by the giant crown. And no enemy shall
attack you and no hostile armies shall cross your borders.... Now listen
to every word I say, listen and be joyous at what I say!"
And the people listened to everything, and they listened in silence,
and when the man was finished speaking, the people wouldn't stir from the
square and no one spoke and no one roused a cry of joy. The people stood
hushed, waiting, and waiting, and all at once - a voice cried out from
the throng, a single voice that carried across the square, carried its
"We don't need him! We don't want him! We aren't waiting for him to
eclipse the sun...."
"We don't need him! We don't want him!" came from all sides and all
ends and from the great center and from all mouths - "We don't need him,
he's foreign to us, the giant, he will tread over our heads, he will wreck
our houses, he will eclipse the sun and send darkness to us - We don't
All of them bent down and all of them picked up clods of earth and
dust and stones and turned to the man who was standing on the height, and
"Where is he?" they all shouted and hollered as one.
"There!" said the man, pointing to the giant who stood in the desert.
"There he is! Do what you will! There he is! He's in your hands!"
And the people began to fling stones and cast dirt, and an uproar arose
in the throng, and people stampeded one another, and pushed and jostled
one another, and thronged and crowded and attacked one another, and came
closer and closer to the giant - and all at once:
The vision vanished, the crowd was gone, the square was empty. Abandoned
and deserted, and not a soul in sight, and only one man, on the high place,
the crier, face to face with the giant, silently they eyed one another,
the two of them alone on the square. He was alone now, the crier, and he
looked sad, and forlorn, and after his silence, he spoke to the giant:
"Giant, where are you going, where are your steps directed?"
"Toward the place where the bird is calling!" replied the giant.
"To arouse the strength of the old giants and to bestow power on the
"Who wants it?"
"I want it, and I shall do it!"
"And what about the people?"
"They belong to the leper!"
And now the man who stood before the giant began to cover and hide
his face, and buried his head in his cloak.... And now it was the leper
before the giant, his old friend, shrunken and covered, and the giant strode
over to him, and the giant, in disgust and fury, trod over to him.... And
the leper was gone, and the vision in the desert disappeared from the giant
and the giant's eye, the city was gone, and the streets of the city, and
every last trace of the city was gone, and then - the evening came to the
desert, and when the giant, striding and treading to the leper, looked
around, and opened his eyes, he saw the desert and the way out. And he
sniffed the ocean, and soon he caught sight of the shore of the ocean,
and a tower was standing on the shore, an old and ancient tower, with windows
facing the sea and the desert.... It was evening already, and a flag was
fluttering on the steeple, and calling out, and inviting him into the tower,
and the giant walked over, and turned his steps toward the tower....
And he saw: The bird flew over to one of the windows, and rapped on
the glass with weary wings. The window opened. A head came out, huge and
rare, the head of the daughter of the tower, waiting for someone from the
desert. The head appeared and was radiant, and turned to the newcomer,
welcoming. The giant saw the head, and the sea was calm, and at the shore,
along the sand, stood the camel who had come from the desert, stood with
the candles on its humps, the large and silent candles, the waxen and neverignited
The giant entered the tower.
And when he encountered the daughter of the tower, no one could see,
and when they met, no one was present, because she had a room in a room,
and she never went into that room, and that room was always locked, and
only waited for this to happen. And a lamp and a table were standing there,
and the lamp was never lit, but now it was burning for today, for this
They entered the room, and an hour went by - and they were silent,
and after an hour - they still remained. And the night arrived and the
stars emerged id the heavens, and the night covered the world, and the
tower and the lamp of the tower were radiant with festivity. And it was
late at night, and the sea was talking in its sleep, and the camel was
standing on the shore and listening to the talking sea, and the camel wet
his feet in the water, waiting for the tower and for the lamp in the tower....
And at last, the lamp was snuffed....
And all was still, and the tower stood there, old and ancient, and
the darkness was as if reborn, and it had never been so dark. And the sea
was sighing, and breathing with all its might. And the camel was standing
still, waiting for the night to end. And finally the night did end.
The morning star emerged in the heavens and peered down upon the sea
and the desert, and blessed them both with its gaze and its favors....
And then in the tower, a window opened, a window facing the sea, and a
voice could be heard on the shore and the water:
"The night is past, and the night was blessed, and now is the time
for the candles on the camel's humps...."
And then the candles on the humps leaned toward one another, came toward
one another, and the morning star was watching, and the morning star was
shining from the sky, and both wicks lit up, and both wicks joined in one
fire and - the camel emerged from the water and walked away from the ocean
shore, and he turned to the dawn, the quiet daybreak, turned his face toward
the desert and walked into the desert, intending to walk beyond the desert
and bring the light and the tiding to mortals.....
"And that's who I was waiting for, the camel, and that's who I keep
looking for, at the border, and it's been so long since he entered the
desert, and it's been so long since he's been coming."
And that was the creature's tale.