The "Chinaman" is the oldest accomplice.
He doesn't speak Chinese, because, when he was seven he was kidnapped by
a Burmese father and son and made to work in the fields. As a result, he
has no memory of events more than a year old. When he was eight, he couldn't
remember having been a child. He thought he was a grown-up who hadn't grown.
Grown-ups grow to a certain point, and when they
think they have grown enough, they begin to age. Because of their arrogance,
they pay the price of death. The Chinaman knew very few old people.
In the fields near Rangoon, in the Sumatran and
Malaysian savannahs or in the Sarawak jungles, one can die of anything,
even of boredom. Sometimes one can die of homesickness. But never of old
The old people of Nantua (who taught him to fish,
a skill the Chinaman forgot a year later), always had a reason for dying.
Some because of their heart, some because of a stroke, some from kidney
failure. They gasped for air, three or four times, with frothing mouth.
That was it. But no one died of old age.
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