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The Life to Come

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Love had been born somewhere in the forest, of what quality only the future could decide. Trivial or immortal, it had been born to two human bodies as a midnight cry. Impossible to tell whence the cry had come, so dark was the forest. Or into what worlds it would echo, so vast was the forest. Love had been born for good or evil, for a long life or a short.

That is the beginning of Forster's “The Life to Come”, which is devided into four chapters: Night, Evening, Day and Morning.

The story starts off by describing the departure of a young missionary, Paul Pinmay, from the wildness, where he had tried to convey the word of Christ to the natives. All attempts to proselytise the tribe before had failed, and so it is no wonder that the other missionaries are not disappointed that the young Paul seems to have failed again. They encourage him to have another try after he had some days of rest. However, after he has lain down, he remembers the preceding events in the jungle. He remembers how the Chief of the tribe, Vithobai, had entered his hut to learn about “this god whose name is Love”. The preacher had talked about the love of Christ and the Christians' love for each other. Vithobai had liked these ideas; Paul had decided to win him there and then, had drawn him to his bosom, and after Vithobai had lain there “too gladly and too long”, the Chief had extinguished the lamp, and “God only saw them after that”.

When the message arrives that Vithobai and the entire of his people have embraced Christianity, Pinmay is appointed by the Bishop to become the minister of the new district for a term of ten years. When Paul takes up his new post, Barnabas, the baptised Vithobai, invites him to sleep with him again. Pinmay refrains from doing so, and orders Vithobai to mention the night in the hut never again. After Vithobai questions the sense of the new religion, Pinmay prevaricates his preceding statement and asks the other to wait until he is called to him.

Five years later, both are on the eve of their respective marriages. Barnabas gives Pinmay a longed-for dogcart as present, and he asks Paul to go on a drive with him. They pass by the changed surroundings of the village, talk about the advantages of civilization and, finally, turn into the remains of the wood. Here Vithobai asks Paul to “Come to Christ” again.

“Let us both be entirely reasonable, sir. God continues to order me to love you. It is my life, whatever else I seem to do. My body and the breath in it are still yours, though you wither them up with this waiting. Come into the last forest, before it is cut down, and I will be kind, and all may end well. But it is now five years since you first said Not yet.”

“It is, and now I say Never.”

“This time you say Never?”

“I do.”

Therefore, Vithobai has to wait five further years to be intimate with Paul again. This time, Barnabas is about to die of tuberculosis. Pinmay comes to him and wants them both to repent together. Vithobai talks about the two-facedness of mission and of Paul's behaviour. When Paul has kissed Vithobai and has laid his head onto Vithobai's breast, he states that they “have erred in this life but it will not be so in the life to come”. After Vithobai is assured that there really was a life after death, he stabs Paul through the heart: “I served you for ten years [...] and your yoke was hard, but mine will be harder and you shall serve me now for ever and ever.” (h.z.)

 
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