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Authors: Monique Roffey

House of Ashes

HOUSE OF ASHES

By the same author:

Fiction

sun dog

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle

Archipelago

Non-fiction

With the Kisses of His Mouth

First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2014
A CBS COMPANY

Copyright © Monique Roffey 2014

This book is copyright under the Berne Convention.
No reproduction without permission.
® and © 1997 Simon & Schuster Inc. All rights reserved.

The right of Monique Roffey to be identified as author of this work has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act,
1988.

Simon & Schuster UK Ltd
1st Floor
222 Gray’s Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB

www.simonandschuster.co.uk

Simon & Schuster Australia, Sydney
Simon & Schuster India, New Delhi

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

HB ISBN: 978-1-47112-666-6
TPB ISBN: 978-1-47112-667-3
EBOOK ISBN: 978-1-47112-669-7

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual people living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Efforts have been made to contact every copyright holder for material contained in this book. If any owner has been inadvertently overlooked, the publisher would be glad to
hear from them and make good in future editions any errors or omissions brought to their attention.

Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed and bound in Great Britain by CPI UK Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY

AUTHOR’S NOTE

The City of Silk and the island of Sans Amen are fictitious. The island is located in the northernmost part of the Caribbean archipelago and was once a British colony. However,
the attempted coup d’état which backfires so quickly and the ensuing events in this novel bear some relation to an attempted coup which took place in Trinidad and Tobago in 1990. Or
the events may have much in common with coups d’état in other parts of the world, for example Latin America, Europe or Africa. While on the decline, the coup remains a common form of
power change in the world.

For Ira Mathur and Raoul Pantin

The chant of the madman is the only salvation.

David Rudder

They are here with us now,

Those who saddle a new unbroken colt

Every morning and ride the seven levels of sky,

Who lay down at night

With the sun and the moon for pillows.

Rumi

CONTENTS

I. Jericho

WEDNESDAY, 3 P.M.,
A COMMUNE, THE CITY OF SILK,
THE ISLAND OF SANS AMEN

THURSDAY MORNING, 2 A.M.,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

THURSDAY MORNING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

II. Bathsheba

THURSDAY EVENING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

FRIDAY MORNING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

SATURDAY MORNING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

III. Mercy

SATURDAY AFTERNOON,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

SATURDAY EVENING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

SUNDAY MORNING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

IV. Fortress by the Sea

SUNDAY AFTERNOON,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

SUNDAY EVENING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

MONDAY MORNING,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

V. The Hilltop

MONDAY AFTERNOON,
THE HOUSE OF POWER,
THE CITY OF SILK

VI. L’Anse Verte
23 YEARS LATER

11 APRIL, 2013

12 APRIL, 2013

LATER THAT AFTERNOON

5 P.M., THE LIBRARY,
LIBERTY VILLAGE,
CENTRAL SANS AMEN

2 MAY, 2013

I. Jericho
WEDNESDAY, 3 P.M.,
A COMMUNE, THE CITY OF SILK,
THE ISLAND OF SANS AMEN

It was hot in the prayer room. Late July, and the air so thick with moisture every brother and sister gathered there glowed inside a halo of light. Some of the young boys
occupied the front rows and Ashes was pleased to see most of them appeared clean. They looked reverent and alert, though he knew the truth was that most of them attended not just for prayers, but
also for the football match afterwards. Ashes looked further forward and his gaze rested on the Leader’s shoulders; as usual, he was dressed in robes of grey. The Leader was a huge man, six
foot eight, with a broad and powerful back and a muscular neck. His skin was smooth, like a child’s, the colour of caramel. His head was bent forward and he appeared to be fully absorbed,
already prayerful. Ashes knew the Leader was asking for guidance for what was to come that afternoon, a plan which held elements of divine will and earthly chaos. His stomach constricted just at
the thought of what lay ahead, and the lower parts of him, his loins, his thighs, felt weakened when he remembered what the Leader had said only the week before.

‘Make sure you come in early next Wednesday, yuh hear? Nex week. It going and happen.’

With a hushed thrill, the ancient prayer ritual was upon him. Ashes bowed from the waist and uttered the holy vows of remembrance which lived in his chest and enriched his soul. These words were
part of him, etched like a code, and they made him able to see straight and make contact with the supreme intelligence which lived in his heart. Something came down into him. Like a breath. Or a
touch to the top of his head. It spread downwards, arriving like the quiet thrum of a hummingbird’s wingbeat, like the whispers of a dense rainforest at night. The beautiful. The sensation
was big and could often overpower him and it was difficult to contain for long. Now it descended, filling him with a lightness, a feeling of bliss – and he was grateful. He could never
harness it. The beautiful touched on him as and when it pleased, always fleeting and temporary, like a kiss.

Two hundred souls stood in the hot, cramped room on the outskirts of the City of Silk, gathered in worship to the almighty. Around him others were whispering incantations; they held their hands
out, palms up in worship. Others swayed and gazed upwards. This was his community; these were his spiritual friends on earth. Here they all met with prayerful intent and these prayers opened his
heart and purified his being,
Praise be to God
.

The scent of the other brothers rose in his nostrils, their shirt sleeves pressed against his, their skin on his skin; some had oiled their hair, others had bathed with soap, others hadn’t
bathed at all, their clothes heat-stained and days old. Altogether their bodies gave off a smell like red clay earth after the rains fell hard from the skies above Sans Amen. The experience of
being here, together, was always like this, intimate and intoxicating. Each of them was solitary and each was connected and surrendered to God. Ashes felt most alive here, called inwards, as though
prayer cast a spell on him and the spell was to do with this invisible force. There was a longing inside him, since childhood, since his brother River had died, to be with the beautiful. The
beautiful was always there, yet it could also be easily missed. Prayer reunited him with the beautiful. He felt aware and compassionate with everything around him, even the atoms in the air.

Ashes gave thanks and submitted his soul and said,
Praise be to God
, and felt kindred with the brothers and sisters around him, with the soul of every person who’d ever walked
before him on earth. Again he bowed and uttered his prayers, an offering of devotion and surrender. He spoke to his God in the eternal verses and offered up his soul, and the dialogue between him
and his God was awakened yet again through the power of ritual. The conversation was the same and the feeling was always wonderful and reassuring, and yet every time he worshipped it was like the
first time.

When the prayers were over, some quiet moments of reflection followed. Then the Leader turned to them and spoke and his face glowed. The Leader often preached after prayers; he always had lots
to say and everything he said felt important. He gazed at his followers and he smiled in his dazzling way.

‘Brothers and sisters,’ he addressed them. ‘Amongst many things, our spirituality has been stolen from us.’

‘Yesss,’ a few voices responded.

‘In times of slavery, it was taken away.’

‘Yesss.’

‘And so it isn’t, for us, a matter of
con
version to this ancient path.’

He looked around. His voice was soft and clear. He spoke like a man of great learning and wisdom, like a prophet.

‘But rather,
re
version. We’ve had to set our path straight again.’

‘Yesss.’

‘This is a noble truth.’

‘Praise be to God.’

‘We had been lost, separated from our great teachings for many years. But now I have led you back, my brothers and sisters, and many of you have congregated together here, black people and
brown-skinned people, Africans, Indians, a rainbow of colours have joined together here in this compound. This is unique, my brethren.’

Ashes nodded in agreement. The Leader was a remarkable man who’d brought together people from all walks of life. People of all persuasions, men and women who may never have come together,
had all heard of his teachings and found their way to him of their own free will.

The Leader’s face was gentle and his voice was measured, but his eyes were different today, hard as the hills.

‘Now,’ he said. And what came next was unexpected.

‘Will the sisters kindly leave the room?’ His voice was polite and yet his intention was set firm. His gaze was fixed on some distant spot far beyond the walls. He nodded for his
order to be carried out and the occupants of the room began to move.

‘I ask the women to vacate the compound entirely. I have some matters to discuss with the men.’ He spoke with his usual courteousness, the voice of a man who could charm the sun down
from the highest level of sky.

Ashes watched as the sisters, who were in the back rows, their hair covered, most of them in long pleated skirts, began to depart one by one, silently, through the back entrance. Ashes’
wife Jade wasn’t among them. She was at home, cooking for that evening; she’d glanced up from her iron pot as he’d departed for the commune and blown him a kiss through the air
and said goodbye.

The Leader had always applied the rule of
need to know
. The women of the community didn’t need to know of this big plan yet. And so Ashes hadn’t told his wife Jade of the
evening’s auspicious events, not yet; he trusted the Leader’s motives. All was well in their household when he left his wife cooking by the stove, deep in the dreams she held for
herself. His wife liked to dream a lot, of her future, of their happiness; she often conjured her ancestors, those alive and dead, and she liked to trace the patterns of their lives and connect
them up. He was a lucky man. He had married a strong and gracious woman. Here, in Sans Amen, women were considered powerful; they were as strong-minded as men; they had as much courage, as much
fire in the belly. Don’t mess with the women of Sans Amen, everyone knew that. ‘I’ll be back for dinner,’ he had said to his wife that afternoon, a small and necessary
lie.

The Leader cleared his throat.

‘Today,’ he said, ‘we will be making history. For ourselves, and our fellow countrymen of Sans Amen. We will be acting in accordance with the divine will of God. We will be
doing what is right and necessary. We will be
removing
those in power.’

Ashes felt himself gently propelled backwards. Murmurs rose from the men, a mixture of agreement and barely concealed horror.

‘The time has come, my brothers, to
rise up
and change our fate and the fate of this small country. We will be fighting for the oppressed and for a New Society, a fairer, more
civil world. We will be liberating the poor man in the street, poor men like us. Common sufferers. And they will rise up and join our struggle. And this is the will of God.’

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