If my memories haven’t deceived me, this was the first story I read after arriving in America. In the university where I was studying, there was a Japanese garden and I’d go there and read by the pond.
‘The King is Always Above the People’ – a pompous statement that was reinterpreted in the story with a fatalistic twist. The dictator was hanged in the square and all the passers-by looked up at his dead body.
The protagonist was a young man who escaped from the small town he grew up in and arrived in the capital on his own. And he told, in a constrained and poised voice, about the frustration and the bewilderment brought about by his immigration. There was no surprise that I found solace in the story and began to narrate my early days in America in a voice similar to the young man’s – my real life synchronised with the fictional narrative.
Later, our lives departed from one another, the initial disorientation faded, taken over by something more arbitrary, brutal and enigmatic.
The young man went back to his hometown, working in a bank, with a wife and a child while I continued to drift, from one continent to another. Only occasionally, I think about him and his eventual departure at the end of the story, when, after attending an acquaintance’s funeral, he “escaped through a back door, into the warm evening.”
We were told that he never made it back home and his wife never looked for him.
First published in Granta, April 2007, and available to read here. Collected in The King is Always Above the People, Riverhead Books, 2018