The Emperor’s mother
Something, some spirit took him over. He was a beloved child, cherished like all my children. When he was young, he wanted a wagon. He wanted to fly, he said. His father made the wagon with his own hands, but it would not roll on unpaved roads. My son lay on it on his stomach but he could not fly, of course. He dissected a monkey to look for its soul. He thought his sister’s pet, smart and playful, would certainly have a soul. And, not finding it, he barbecued its liver and forced his young friends to eat it. Then he thought the soul was too small in a small monkey and he hunted a chimpanzee, but he grew tired of butchering it in the heat and the flies. He told his friends he found the soul and placed it in a carved box, which he consulted from time to time. He packed it in his suitcase and moved to the capitol. I hanged myself from the plum tree where he butchered the monkey.
The Emperor’s general
I was his lieutenant from the beginning, his boyhood friend. He protected me from the taunts of the others. My left eye was blind. I made certain that his orders were carried out. He had roads built, fortifications for securing the Empire. Everybody tried to kill him, so of course he became wary. He offered me the province on the Empire’s border and his sister for a wife. I stood in front of him and took a bullet for him. I saved his life.
The Emperor’s corporals
We were orphans from the slums and the farms, and he promised us an empire. He was good to us; he let us pillage and keep what we earned. We loved the man: we said we would die for him. We did die for him.
The Emperor’s father
I died in a raid against the enemy–evil tribesmen who encroached on our land and worshiped a false god. Long live our motherland!
The Emperor’s sister
He wanted me to marry his general, a one-eyed, bandy-legged, balding sheep-fucker. I told him I cared more for my pet monkey than for his general. When he threatened me, I spat in his face. He impaled my lover and banished me. I caught typhus and all my beauty wasted away.
The Emperor’s third wife
He had one stillborn son from his first marriage and one sickly child from his second. He smelled of sweat, and I was raised in a palace. I made sure he bathed before he entered my bedroom. I made sure I had three sons to carry on my name. The Emperor was besotted with me–I was thirty years younger, thirty times smarter, thirty times healthier than he with his wounds and tumors and sores. I died bearing my fourth child, a daughter. She was as beautiful as a plum tree in bloom.
The Emperor’s doctor
The Emperor died in bed, at the age of seventy-eight. I did not poison him, as it is rumored abroad. I kept him alive as long as my bosses wanted that. He was a jolly old man, and he left me thousands of gold coins, which I willed to my children.
Will the Emperor speak? Will he explain his motives and achievements, his feelings and actions? He turns away and walks to the river, carrying a rifle and pulling a child’s wagon.
Like the story? Check out our print issue.
Read more about Cezarija here.
Read more about Tom here.