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Preface to the Book of Hujusmodi

by  James Graham

Posted: Thursday, January 29, 2004
Word Count: 779

Preface to The Book of Hujusmodi

Some time ago I was standing alone in a country place, when I saw beside every tree a ghost tree moving slowly sideways-up. The gate I leaned upon, the hogsback field, the rutted track into the field, and every head of buttercup, like images in a double pane, passed by me or through me, and away. I looked to see if my own ghost would part from me, and sure enough there it was, an image of myself as if in a receding mirror. But I was left behind. I remained here with this body and did not go away with the other one. I suppose I must have both gone away and stayed.

It was sad for me to see the departure because I am one who, when this other Earth slipped anchor and sailed away to begin a new history, wished like the lame boy of Hamelin that I too had been taken. It is as if I am not a native of this world. I have fancied, almost to the point of belief, that I am one of the Hujusmodians, a descendant of migrants. I do believe it. All beliefs are vulnerable; the best we can expect is that our belief should survive doubt.

Our homeworld and its history survive for us only in shards of legends. We have seen the growth of this people who call themselves homo sapiens sapiens, repeating the word of wisdom as if to make it doubly true. We also have given ourselves Earth-names: homo (for we are human too) dissimilis - the different people - and Hujusmodian, the people of Hujusmodi, 'such a kind' of world. Our ancient language survives only in words and sayings, and does not run together as a whole language any more; and so, as Earth-people have done, we borrowed these names from that older language of Earth, a dialect of ghosts in which many aspects of life and death are so well expressed.

Over our many generations we have seen the knowing, knowing people change and grow. We have seen what wonderful and terrible things they have done with such materials as hard metal or the softest invisible waves. We have seen, too, the old street market and the journeys of journeyman traders grow into a market that is everywhere, like an atmosphere, especially in the weeks of the Great Market in midwinter, when so much waste is sold and bought. We have seen the most terrible waste of all, the withering of so many, the tearing apart of so many others, all sapiens, sapiens no less than those who destroy them.

In our generation, now so remote from the homeworld, we find our adopted world growing darker. We have seen the old empires, that burned living people over fires and threw babies to hungry dogs, finally pass away. But now again, now over the whole world as never before, there is the terrible waste, the people are not fed, they are given no remedy for their sickness, they cannot go where they please. For me this seems so unnatural that sometimes as I walk in the woods I expect to see basilisks, and return to the familiar town almost sure that the signs will be written in a strange alphabet and passers-by will speak a strange singing language.

After the departure at first we sadly wished ourselves away. We have asked ourselves again and again who we are. Either we are different because we are from elsewhere, or we have our myth of elsewhere only to explain why we are different. And if it is only a myth, and we are not from elsewhere, why are we so different? We asked ourselves about the departure itself, whether it was merely an illusion, though it was seen by more than one of us.

Our answers are unclear but out of these doubts we have become more knowing, much more knowing. In that country place there was a small cottage, the only habitation to be seen from that field-gate. I saw it fly away too, and surely the people there; but it also stayed. Did their Earth-selves stay and their other selves go? Or did they go with their other selves? We know only that our selves are here, and if there are other selves we have no knowledge of them.

Until the departure, we were like a flock of small birds that had flown into a strange room. Now, this room is becoming our universe. Whimsically, as if the name would crystallise the being, we are toying with homo sapiens dissimilis. We are bound to this world for ever.