I Can Hear a Hissing

Translated entries from the journal of Hill
Where is the justice for being conversationally wronged by a neighbor?

The central spirit of this area (of this growing nation) is injustice. It has become hard to ignore a presence that often lurks outside my home. I can hear a hissing. This ghost sounds nothing at all like the unified stomp of a small military detachment that approaches my house presently. Why are they here? At the moment I am sitting on a rock. I am so old I seemingly only ever sit. Some of my neighbors have never even seen me walk; my oldest friends won’t shut up about how much I used to enjoy running. When I was a boy I often ran alongside the perimeter of my town— I thought I was some kind of animal. Children try to beat my record. What they don’t know is that my record is virtually unbeatable. This is because my sprinting has been fabulously over exaggerated by time and infamy. I have a son, but he hasn’t been a child for a long time. He is now one of my many neighbors. People here are kind, they take turns helping me around our small town via a rickety wagon. I’ve reminisced enough— soldiers are here. Next time I write, I should remember to properly identify this ghost, who it is and what it wants.

Talking to a soldier is strange. I think their nomadic life has softened the refinement of their words. I listened as these men spoke to each other in an emotionless tone; and even though they are all from different parts of this region I understood everything they said with perfect clarity. How is that possible? Hello, we are a small detachment of the central nation’s army— can we use your lovely homestead as a place of rest? Does clarity coincide with simplicity? The way I see it, is that if these men are traveling they must have to simplify their language to accommodate the nuance of local minds. I wonder if this has more to do with feelings instead of words. I mean, we all speak the same language so if a military man used a word I did not know I could ask what they meant and at once be told its meaning. To understand how someone else feels is something I have taken great pains to master. This must be part of why I am caught off guard by this specter. I have never before felt such a greedy sting. I did not once think it’d be of any use to try and understand the will of an animal. It is unignorable now, I can hear a hissing in their words.

The detachment’s brief stay aroused a strange ambition within a few neighbors. A couple drunken warriors told us about a booming market in an adjacent city. This newfound market belongs to a developing city that one day hopes to become a nation. One neighbor in particular has since insisted that we must look into the possibility of establishing some type of active trade route. His name is Marcus. Marcus isn’t old like me, he is young like my son. If we brokered some type of agreement between our small town and our new neighbor… I would certainly be the one to do it. The toughest decisions are left to me— except this was not tough for me at all. Why do we need to open ourselves up to the influence of a foreign market when we are doing just fine? Aside from my ghost, I cannot think of a single thing I would change about my town. Is this comfort a disposition shared by all old people? I can remember asking the same question in response to my own fathers’ stubbornness. Self-doubt hastens me to strengthen the articulation of my suspicion. Why do I not want to open up communications with a new neighbor? I do not want to experience the same emotional hardening as a soldier. The nuance of my feeling would surely be the first to go if we had to intermingle with a city that more than octuples our population. In a way living in a city must be like traveling the world every day. I do not want that and I should convince others to agree with me. Am I losing my grip on life just like my father did?

Today I heard Marcus hiss. He has also started using new words that I have never heard before. It’s as though he is an unwilling mouthpiece. I sense that he is being interrupted by a greedy spirit. How strange. Has my ghost found a home in him? His voice hisses with the sound of many. I asked his Mother if she had sensed something similar within Marcus. She too has noticed this hissing. Marcus’ mother can now even hear a hissing in her own voice.

What happened to Marcus has been apparent this whole time. Marcus has undoubtedly visited the newfound markets in secret. Just like the nomadic soldier whose internal voice had to simplify in order to reconcile difference, Marcus must have unknowingly become a host to many, who now can be felt as an airy specter. He talked to people not from here, and brought their souls back with him.

People will inevitably find their way toward the city— the enticement of something new is often too much for a young mind. Tomorrow I will leave with my son for the city where I will attempt to negotiate a trade agreement with whoever necessary. There should be protections for those who want it.

Right now, I am being pulled along in a wagon. It will take us about a half day or so to get to our new neighbor. What should I say to these market men, these governing bodies. The voices in my head reached near instant unanimity on what I should say. First, I will issue an apology; our mingling needs to be identified as what it truly is— a conversational crime. This crime needs justice the same as any other crime. When a city dreams of nationhood, it needs to reexamine the protections offered to its citizens. This has to be what I must convince them of. I will begin preparing my speech at once.

Translator note.

These entries are significant because they mark the introduction of Hill and his son to the great city that would soon become a nation. Hill’s speech was received well, and attracted attention from young men who wished to learn from him. What was so intriguing about Hill’s speech, was the central mistranslation of ________, which Hill meant as “to speak in a tone that is not your own”— “to sense the voice of someone new,” which lost most of its nuance and became more simply “fear of a far away neighbor.” The contemporary translation of ________ is further lost in its simplest translation: to hiss.