MOTHER YAKEL ON POLITICS
Nedleb led the way out from the smithy and along the street. We stepped over puddles of effluent which trickled from the mouths of drainpipes. A smell of rotten eggs lingered in the yellowy air. Broken windows were covered with boards or waxed paper. The place was like a war zone.
It wasn’t far to the boarding-house. There was a grimy greasy door at the top of a flight of four steps. Someone had scrawled ROOMS TO LET with a finger in the grime. Nedleb mounted the steps and gave a sharp rat-tat-tat.
Scuffling sounds came from within. ‘Wait a minute, wait a minute!’ called a querulous scratchy voice. Then the door creaked open.
‘Yes, yes, I’m Mother Yakel, what can I do for you?’
She was probably in her fifties, a scraggy woman with wild flyaway hair. She had one enormous mole on the point of her chin and another under her nose. Her mouth moved perpetually even when she wasn’t talking. She was wearing slippers and an unbuttoned cardigan which came down almost to her knees.
Her eyes passed over the crusaders and focused upon her son.
‘Ah, Nedleb! Where have you been? Days and days and days! Here you are!’
Nedleb went to speak but she gabbled on over the top of him.
‘Have you been getting involved with the Necessitarians? Is that what it is? Are you still involved in their political shenanigans?’
‘I was only ever an Optional Necessitarian, Mother.’ Nedleb shook his head. ‘And I dropped out a week ago.’
‘What are you now then?’
Nedleb stroked his beard and looked very earnest. ‘I’m questioning my underlying assumptions. I’m going through a period of political self-critique. At the moment, I’m tending to Prodigalism or Socio-Dissidence.’
‘Prodigalism? They’re all lunatics! They’re always getting killed! And the Socio-Dissidents are just as bad! Don’t end up like your father and brothers! Think of your mother, Nedleb! Think of her grieving heart!’
‘Anyway.’ Nedleb coughed and changed the subject. ‘I’ve brought these English travellers to see you. They’re looking for lodgings.’
Mother Yakel scrutinised us more closely.
‘What party are they?’ she demanded.
‘I don’t know.’ Nedleb shrugged. ‘Maybe the English have different politics.’
I stepped forward. ‘They’re Fundamental Darwinists,’ I said. ‘All except me.’
Nedleb’s eyes lit up immediately. ‘What’s Fundamental Darwinism? Tell me about it. Is it like Fundamental Vacillationism?’
‘No, don’t tell him!’ Mother Yakel’s voice rose to a screech. ‘Don’t mislead him! Don’t make him any crazier!’
She rushed down the steps and almost stood on my toes.
‘See this?’ She held out a strand of hair, a white strand among the grey. ‘That’s what happened when his father got blown up! His father, my husband—kerpoof! My hair went white overnight!’
‘He should never have converted to Terminalism,’ muttered Nedleb.
Mother Yakel ignored him. She turned to appeal to Lord Sain.
‘And what about these? These marks of suffering!’ She pointed to the crows’ feet at the corners of her eyes. ‘Do you know what made them? His two brothers both assassinated! That’s the cause! Etched with grief! Furrowed with woe!’
She was speaking at fifty words a second. She swung around to the Reverend Squench.
‘And what about this line by the side of my nose? You see it there? Do you know what that was? That was his sister Kirilla!’
‘Mother, Mother, Kirilla’s still alive.’
Mother Yakel didn’t miss a beat. ‘Alive, but for how much longer? Since she’s joined the Extreme Unsociables? How long can she last with them? Crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy!’
‘Mother, these people want to know if—
‘And look at my teeth!’ She displayed a mouthful of crooked teeth. ‘How can I clean my teeth when I’m in a state of sorrow? How can I care about my gums? Let them all fall out! Let them shrivel and rot! What does it matter? When my only son wants to become a Prodigalist!’
‘Or a Socio-Dissident!’
‘Wretched, wretched, wretched! No-one ever listens to me!’
‘Mother, do you have rooms for these people to stay three nights?’
Mother Yakel dabbed at her eyes and turned to me with a stifled sob.
‘Three schillings and six pfennigs a night,’ she said. ‘Breakfast included. Two schillings extra for lunch and dinner.’
I translated for Lord Sain, who waved a negligent hand.
‘Of course we’ll have lunch and dinner. Tell her to take us to our rooms.’