We were camping in the oasis. My companions were asleep. An
Arab, tall and dressed in white, went past me. He had been tending
to his camels and was going to his sleeping place.
I threw myself on my back into the grass. I wanted to sleep. I
couldn’t. The howling of a jackal in the distance—I sat up straight
again. And what had been so far away was suddenly close by. A
swarming pack of jackals around me, their eyes flashing dull gold
and going out, slender bodies moving in a quick, coordinated manner,
as if responding to a whip.
One of them came from behind, pushed himself under my arm, right
against me, as if it needed my warmth, then stepped in front of me
and spoke, almost eye to eye with me.
“I’m the oldest jackal for miles around. I’m happy I’m still able to
welcome you here. I had already almost given up hope, for we’ve been
waiting for you an infinitely long time. My mother waited, and her
mother, and all her mothers, right back to the mother of all
jackals. Believe me!”
“That surprises me,” I said, forgetting to light the pile of wood
which lay ready to keep the jackals away with its smoke, “I’m very
surprised to hear that. I’ve come from the high north merely by
chance and am in the middle of a short trip. What do you jackals
As if encouraged by this conversation, which was perhaps too
friendly, they drew their circle more closely around me, all panting
“We know,” the oldest began, “that you come from the north. Our hope
rests on that very point. In the north there is a way of
understanding things which one cannot find here among the Arabs. You
know, from their cool arrogance one cannot strike a spark of common
sense. They kill animals to eat them, and they disregard rotting
“Don’t speak so loud,” I said. “There are Arabs sleeping close by.”
“You really are a stranger,” said the jackal. “Otherwise you would
know that throughout the history of the world a jackal has never yet
feared an Arab. Should we fear them? Is it not misfortune enough
that we have been cast out among such people?”
“Maybe—that could be,” I said. “I’m not up to judging things which
are so far removed from me. It seems to be a very old conflict—it’s
probably in the blood and so perhaps will only end with blood.”
“You are very clever” said the old jackal, and they all panted even
more quickly, their lungs breathing rapidly, although they were
standing still. A bitter smell streamed out of their open jaws—at
times I could tolerate it only by clenching my teeth. “You are very
clever. What you said corresponds to our ancient doctrine. So we
take their blood, and the quarrel is over.”
“Oh,” I said, more sharply than I intended, “they’ll defend
They’ll shoot you down in droves with their guns.”
“You do not understand us,” he said, “a characteristic of human
beings which has not disappeared, not even in the high north. We are
not going to kill them. The Nile would not have enough water to wash
us clean. The very sight of their living bodies makes us run away
immediately into cleaner air, into the desert, which, for that very
reason, is our home.”
All the jackals surrounding us—and in the meantime many more had
come up from a distance—lowered their heads between the front legs
and cleaned them with their paws. It was as if they wanted to
conceal an aversion which was so terrible, that I would have much
preferred to take a big jump and escape beyond their circle.
“So what do you intend to do,” I asked. I wanted to stand up, but I
couldn’t. Two young animals were holding me firmly from behind with
their jaws biting my jacket and shirt. I had to remain sitting.
“They are holding your train,” said the old jackal seriously, by way
of explanation, “a mark of respect.” “They should let me go,” I
cried out, turning back and forth between the old one and the young
ones. “Of course, they will,” said the old one, “if that’s what you
want. But it will take a little while, for, as is our habit, they
have dug their teeth in deep and must first let their jaws open
gradually. Meanwhile, listen to our request.” “Your conduct has not
made me particularly receptive to it,” I said. “Don’t make us pay
for our clumsiness,” he said, and now for the first time he brought
the plaintive tone of his natural voice to his assistance. “We are
poor animals—all we have is our teeth. For everything we want to
do—good and bad—the only thing available to us is our teeth.” “So
what do you want?” I asked, only slightly reassured.
“Sir,” he cried out, and all the jackals howled. To me it sounded
very remotely like a melody. “Sir, you should end the quarrel which
divides the world in two. Our ancestors described a man like you as
the one who will do it. We must be free of the Arabs—with air we can
breathe, a view of the horizon around us clear of Arabs, no cries of
pain from a sheep which an Arab has knifed, and every animal should
die peacefully and be left undisturbed for us to drain it empty and
clean it right down to the bones. Cleanliness—that’s what we want—
nothing but cleanliness.” Now they were all crying and sobbing. “How
can you bear it in this world, you noble heart and sweet entrails?
Dirt is their white; dirt is their black; their beards are horrible;
looking at the corner of their eyes makes one spit; and if they lift
their arms, hell opens up in their arm pits. And that’s why, sir,
that’s why, my dear sir, with the help of your all-capable hands you
must use these scissors to slit right through their throats”.
He jerked his head, and in response a jackal came up carrying on its
canine tooth a small pair of sewing scissors covered with old rust.
“So finally the scissors—it’s time to stop!” cried the Arab leader
of our caravan, who had crept up on us from downwind. Now he swung
his gigantic whip.
The jackals all fled quickly, but still remained at some distance
huddled closely together, many animals so close and stiff that it
looked as if they were in a narrow pen with jack o’ lanterns flying
“So, you too, sir, have seen and heard this spectacle,” said the
Arab, laughing as cheerfully as the reticence of his race permitted.
“So you know what the animals want,” I asked. “Of course, sir,” he
said. “That’s common knowledge—as long as there are Arabs, these
scissors will wander with us through the deserts until the end of
days. Every European is offered them for the great work; every
European is exactly the one they think qualified to do it. These
animals have an absurd hope. They’re idiots, real idiots. That’s why
we’re fond of them. They are our dogs, finer than the ones you have.
Now, watch this. In the night a camel died. I have had it brought
Four bearers came and threw the heavy carcass right in front of us.
No sooner was it lying there than the jackals raised their voices.
Every one of them crept forward, its body scraping the ground, as if
drawn by an irresistible rope. They had forgotten the Arabs,
forgotten their hatred. The presence of a powerfully stinking dead
body wiped out everything and enchanted them. One of them was
already hanging at the camel’s throat and with its first bite had
found the artery. Like a small angry pump which—with a determination
matched only by its hopelessness—seeks to put out an overpowering
fire, every muscle of its body pulled and twitched in its place.
Then right away all them were lying there on the corpse working in
the same way, piled up like a mountain.
Then the leader cracked his sharp whip powerfully all around above
them. They raised their heads, half fainting in their intoxicated
state, looked at the Arab standing in front of them, started to feel
the whip now hitting their muzzles, jumped away, and ran back a
distance. But the camel’s blood was already lying there in pools,
stinking to heaven, and the body was torn wide open in several
places. They could not resist. They were there again. The leader
once more raised his whip. I grabbed his arm. “Sir, you are right,”
he said. “We’ll leave them to their calling. Besides, it’s time to
break camp. You’ve seen them. Wonderful creatures, aren’t they? And
how they hate us!”