Translated by J. Maxwell Brownjohn
     OCR: Юлия Крючкова



     PUFFIN BOOKS
     Published by the Penguin Group
     27 Wrights Lane, London w8 5TZ, England
     Viking Penguin Inc., 40  West 2.3rd Street,  New York,  New York 10010.
USA Penguin Books Australia Ltd, Ringwood, Victoria, Australia
     Penguin  Books Canada Ltd, 2,801 John Street, Markham,  Ontario, Canada
L3R IB4  Penguin  Books  (NZ)  Ltd,  182-190 Wairau  Road, Auckland 10,  New
Zealand
     Penguin  Books  Ltd,  Registered  Offices:  Harmondsworth,   Middlesex,
England

     First published in German as Momo,  copyright © K. Thienernanns Verlag.
Stuttgart, 1973
     Original  English language  translation published as The Grey Gentlemen
copyright © Burke Books Publishing Ltd., 1974

     New English language translation copyright © Doubleday &  Company Inc.,
New York, and Penguin Books Ltd. 1984

     First published in Great Britain  in  a  paperback as  Momo by  Penguin
Books 1984 Published in Puffin Books 1985
     Reprinted 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988
     Alt rights reserved

     Made and printed  in Great Britain by Richard Clay Ltd. Bungay, Suffolk
Filmed in
     Monophoto Sabon


     Except in the  United  States  of America, this book is sold subject to
the  condition  that it shall not, by way  of trade  or otherwise,  be lent,
re-sold, hired  out, or otherwise  circulated without  the publisher's prior
consent  in  any form  of  binding or  cover  other than that  in which it u
published and  without a  similar condition including this  condition  being
imposed on the subsequent purchaser








     Twinkle, twinkle, little star,  How I wonder what you are! Up above the
world so high, Like a diamond in the sky!
     Jane Taylor (1783-1827) .

     Contents
     PART ONE:
     MOMO AND HER FRIENDS

     1 The Amphitheatre 11
     2 Listening 17
     3 Makebelieve 24
     4 Two Special Friends 34
     5 Tall Stories 41

     PART TWO: THE MEN IN GREY
     6 The Timesaving Bank. 55
     7 The Visitor 69
     8 The Demonstration 91
     9 The Trial 102
     10 More Haste Less Speed 110
     11 The Conference 111
     12 Nowhere House 130




























     PART THREE: THE HOUR-LILIES


     13 A Year and a Day 153
     14 Three Lunches, No Answers 172
     15 Found and Lost 179
     16 Loneliness 188
     17 The Square 196
     18 The Pursuit 204
     19 Under Siege 210
     20 Pursuing the Pursuers 219
     21 An End and a Beginning 227
     AUTHOR S POSTSCRIPT 237



     Momo and Her Friends





     The Amphitheatre
     Long, long  ago, when  people spoke languages quite different from  our
own,  many fine, big cities already existed in the sunny lands of the world.
There were  towering palaces inhabited  by kings and  emperors;  there  were
broad streets,  narrow alleyways  and  winding lanes; there  were  sumptuous
temples filled  with idols  of gold  and  marble;  there  were  busy markets
selling wares from  all  over the  world;  and there were handsome, spacious
squares where people gathered to discuss the latest  news and make  speeches
or  listen  to  them. Last  but not least, there were  theatres -- or,  more
properly, amphitheatres.
     An  amphitheatre resembled a  modern circus,  except that it was  built
entirely of stone. Seats for spectators  were  arranged in  tiers, one above
the other,  like  steps  lining the crater of  a man-made volcano. Many such
buildings were circular, others semicircular, others oval.
     Some amphitheatres were as big as football stadiums, others could  hold
no more  than a few hundred people. Some  were resplendent with columns  and
statues,  others plain and  unadorned. Having no  roofs, amphitheatres  were
open to the sky. This was why,  in  the more luxurious ones, spectators were
shielded  from   the   heat  of   the  sun  or  from  sudden  downpours   by
gold-embroidered   awnings   suspended   above  their   seats.   In   simple
amphitheatres,  mats woven  of rushes  or  straw served the same purpose. In
short, people made  their amphitheatres as simple or luxurious as they could
afford -just as long as they  had one, for our  ancestors were  enthusiastic
playgoers.
     11


     Whenever  they saw exciting or amusing  incidents acted  out  on stage,
they  felt  as if  these  makebelieve  happenings  were more real,  in  some
mysterious  way, than their own humdrum lives, and they loved to feast their
eyes and ears on this kind of reality.
     Thousands of years have passed since then. The great cities of long ago
lie in ruins,  together with their temples  and palaces. Wind and rain, heat
and  cold have worn away and eaten into the  stonework.  Ruins are all  that
remain  of  the  amphitheatres, too. Crickets now  inhabit  their  crumbling
walls, singing a monotonous song that sounds like the earth breathing in its
sleep.
     A  few  of  these  ancient  cities have  survived  to  the present day,
however. Life there has  changed, of course. People  ride around in cars and
buses,  have telephones and electric lights. But here  and  there  among the
modem buildings one can still find a column or two, an archway, a stretch of
wall, or even an amphitheatre dating from olden times.
     It was in a city of this kind that the story of Momo took place.
     On  the southern outskirts  of the city, where the fields began and the
houses  became  shabbier  and  more  tumbledown,  the  ruins  of   a   small
amphitheatre lay hidden in a clump  of pine trees. It had never been a grand
place,  even in the old days, just a place of  entertainment  for poor folk.
When  Momo  arrived  on the scene, the  ruined amphitheatre had  been almost
forgotten.  Its existence was known to a few professors  of archaeology, but
they took  no further interest in it because there  was  nothing more to  be
unearthed there. It wasn't an attraction  to be compared with  others in the
city, either,  so the few  stray tourists or  sightseers who visited it from
time to time merely clambered around on the grass-grown tiers of seats, made
a lot of noise, took a couple of
     12


     snapshots, and  went  away again. Then  silence returned  to the  stone
arena  and  the crickets  started on the next  verse of  their interminable,
unchanging song.
     The strange, round building was really known only to the folk who lived
in  the  immediate  neighbourhood.  They  grazed  their  goats  there, their
children  played  ball  on  what  had  once  been  the  central  stage,  and
sweethearts would sometimes meet there in the evenings.
     One  day  however, word went around  that someone  had  moved into  the
ruins. It was  a  child - a girl, most  likely, though  this was hard to say
because she wore such funny clothes. The newcomer's name was Momo.
     Aside from being rather odd, Momo's personal appearance might well have
shocked anyone who set store by looking clean and tidy. She was so small and
thin that, with the best will in the world, no  one could have told her age.
Her unruly  mop of jet-black hair looked as if it had never seen a comb or a
pair of scissors. She had very big, beautiful eyes as black as her hair, and
feet of almost the  same colour, for she nearly always went around barefoot.
Although she sometimes wore shoes  in the wintertime, the only shoes she had
weren't a pair, and besides, they were far too big for her. This was because
Momo owned  nothing apart  from what she had  found lying around or had been
given. Her ankle-length dress was a mass  of patches  of  different colours,
and over it she wore  a man's jacket, also far  too  big for  her, with  the
sleeves  turned  up at the wrist. Momo had decided against cutting  them off
because  she wisely  reflected that she was still growing, and goodness only
knew if she  would ever find another jacket as useful as this  one, with all
its many pockets.
     Beneath  the grassy stage of the ruined  amphitheatre, half choked with
rubble,  were some underground chambers which could  be reached by way  of a
hole in  the  outer  wall, and this was where Momo  had  set  up  house. One
afternoon, a group of men and women from the neighbourhood turned up and
     13


     tried to question her. Momo eyed them apprehensively, fearing that they
had  come  to  chase her  away, but she soon saw that they meant well. Being
poor like herself, they knew how hard life could be.
     'So,' said one of the men, 'you like it here, do you?'
     Momo nodded.
     'And you want to stay here?'
     'Yes, very much.'
     'Won't you be missed, though?'
     'No.'
     'I mean, shouldn't you go home?'
     'This is my home,' Momo said promptly.
     'But where do you come from?'
     Momo gestured vaguely at some undefined spot in the far distance.
     'Who are your parents, then?' the man persisted.
     Momo looked blankly from him to the others and gave a little shrug. The
men and women exchanged glances and sighed.
     'There's no  need to be scared,' the man went on, 'we haven't  come  to
evict you. We'd like to help you, that's all.'
     Momo nodded and said nothing, not entirely reassured.
     'You're called Momo, aren't you?'
     'Yes.'
     'That's  a pretty name, but I've never  heard it before. Who gave it to
you?'
     'I did,' said Momo.
     'You chose your own name?'
     'Yes.'
     'When were you born?'
     Momo  pondered this.  'As far as  I can remember,'  she said at length,
'I've always been around.'
     'But don't you have any aunts or uncles or grandparents? Don't you have
any relations at all who'd give you a home?'
     14


     Momo just looked at the man in silence for a while. Then she  murmured,
'This is my home, here.'
     'That's all very well,' said the man, 'but you're only a kid.  How  old
are you really?'
     Momo hesitated. 'A hundred,' she said.
     They all laughed because they thought she was joking.
     'No, seriously, how old are you?'
     'A hundred and two,' Momo replied, still more hesitantly.
     It was some time before the others realized that she'd picked up a  few
numbers but  had no precise  idea  of their meaning because no one had  ever
taught her to count.
     'Listen,'  said  the man, after conferring with the  others, 'would you
mind if we  told the police you're here? Then you'd be  put in  a children's
home where they'd feed you  and give you a proper bed and teach  you reading
and writing and lots of other things. How does that appeal to you?'
     Momo gazed  at him  in  horror. 'No,'  she  said in  a low voice, 'I've
already been in  one of those places. There were  other children there, too,
and bars over the windows.  We were beaten every day for no good reason - it
was awful. One night I climbed the  wall and ran away. I wouldn't want to go
back there.'
     'I can understand that,' said an old man, nodding, and the others could
understand and nodded too.
     'Very  well,'  said  one  of the women, 'but you're  still  so  little.
Someone has to take care of you.'
     Momo looked relieved. 'I can take care of myself.'
     'Can you really?' said the woman.
     Momo didn't answer at once. Then she said softly, 'I don't need much.'
     Again the others exchanged glances and sighed.
     'Know  something, Momo?' said the  man  who had  spoken first. 'We were
wondering if you'd like to move  in with one of us. It's true we  don't have
much room  ourselves. and most  of us already  have  a horde of children  to
feed,
     15


     but we reckon one more won't make any difference. What do you say?'
     'Thank you,'  Momo said,  smiling  for the first time. 'Thank you  very
much, but couldn't you just let me go on living here?'
     After much deliberation, the others finally agreed. It occurred to them
that she would be just as well off here as with one of them, so they decided
to look after Momo together.  It would  be easier, in any  case, for  all of
them to do so than for one of them alone.
     They made  an  immediate  start  by  spring-cleaning Memo's dilapidated
dungeon and refurbishing it as best they could. One of them, a bricklayer by
trade, built her a miniature cooking stove and produced a rusty stovepipe to
go with it. The old man, who was a carpenter, nailed together a little table
and two chairs out of some packing cases. As for the womenfolk, they brought
along a decrepit iron bedstead adorned  with curlicues, a mattress with only
a few  rents in it,  and a couple of blankets.  The  stone cell  beneath the
stage of the  ruined amphitheatre became a snug little room. The bricklayer,
who  fancied himself as an artist, added  the finishing touch by painting  a
pretty flower picture on the wall. He even painted a pretend frame around it
and a pretend nail as well.
     Last of all,  the people's children  came along with whatever food they
could  spare. One brought  a morsel  of  cheese, another  a  hunk  of bread,
another  some  fruit, and  so on. And  because so many  children  came,  the
occasion turned into a regular  housewarming party.  Memo's installation  in
the old  amphitheatre  was  celebrated as zestfully as only the poor of this
world know how.
     And that was the  beginning of  her  friendship  with the people of the
neighbourhood.



     Listening

     Momo  was comfortably off from now on, at least in her own  estimation.
She  always  had  something  to  eat,  sometimes  more  and  sometimes less,
depending on  circumstances and on what people  could spare. She had  a roof
over her head, she  had a bed to sleep in, and she could make herself a fire
when it was  cold. Most important of all,  she had  acquired a  host of good
friends.
     You may think that Momo  had simply  been fortunate to come across such
friendly  people. This  was precisely what Momo herself thought, but it soon
dawned on her neighbours that they had been no less fortunate. She became so
important  to them that they wondered how they had ever  managed without her
in the past. And the longer she stayed with them, the more indispensable she
became - so indispensable, in  fact, that their one fear  was that she might
some day move on.
     The result was that Momo received  a stream of visitors. She was almost
always  to be  seen with someone sitting beside  her, talking earnestly, and
those  who  needed her but  couldn't  come  themselves  would send  for  her
instead. As for those who needed her but hadn't yet realized it,  the others
used to tell them, 'Why not go and see Momo?'
     In time, these words became a  stock phrase with the local inhabitants.
Just as they said, 'All the best!' or 'So long!' or 'Heaven only knows!', so
they took to saying, on all sorts of occasions, 'Why not go and see Momo?'
     Was Momo so incredibly bright that she always gave good
     17


     advice,  or  found  the  right  words  to  console people  in  need  of
consolation, or delivered fair and far-sighted opinions on their problems?
     No, she was no more capable of that than anyone else of her age.
     So could she do things that put  people in a good  mood? Could she sing
like a bird or play an instrument? Given that she lived in a kind of circus,
could she dance or do acrobatics?
     No, it wasn't any of these either.
     Was she a witch, then? Did she know some magic spell that  would  drive
away  troubles  and cares? Could she read  a  person's palm or  foretell the
future in some other way?
     No, what Momo was better at than anyone else was listening.
     Anyone can listen, you may say - what's  so special about  that? -  but
you'd be wrong. Very few  people know how to listen properly, and Momo's way
of listening was quite unique.
     She listened in a  way that  made  slow-witted  people have  flashes of
inspiration. It wasn't  that she actually said anything | or asked questions
that put such ideas into their heads. She simply sat there and listened with
the utmost attention and sympathy, fixing them with her big,  dark eyes, and
they  suddenly  became  aware  of  ideas  whose  existence  they  had  never
suspected.
     Momo could listen in such a way that worried and indecisive people knew
their own minds  from one moment  to the  next, or shy people felt  suddenly
confident and at ease, or  downhearted people felt happy and hopeful. And if
someone felt  that his life had been an utter  failure, and that he  himself
was  only one  among  millions of wholly  unimportant  people who  could  be
replaced as easily as broken windowpanes, he would go and pour out his heart
to Momo. And, even as he spoke, he would come to realize
     18


     by some mysterious means that he was absolutely wrong:
     that  there was only one person  like  himself in  the whole world, and
that, consequently, he mattered to the world in his own particular way.
     Such was Momo's talent for listening.
     One  day,  Momo received a  visit from  two  close  neighbours who  had
quarrelled violently and weren't on speaking terms. Their  friends had urged
them  to 'go  and see Momo' because it didn't do for  neighbours  to live at
daggers drawn. After objecting at first, the two men had reluctantly agreed.
     One of them  was  the bricklayer who had built Momo's stove and painted
the pretty flower picture on her wall. Salvatore by name, he was a strapping
fellow  with a black moustache that  curled up at the ends. The other, Nino,
was skinny and always looked tired. Nino ran a small inn on the outskirts of
town,  largely  patronized  by  a  handful of old  men who spent the  entire
evening  reminiscing over  one  glass of wine.  Nino  and  his  plump  wife,
Liliana, were also friends of Momo's  and  had often brought her good things
to eat.
     So there the two men sat, one on each side of the stone arena, silently
scowling at nothing in particular.
     When Momo saw  how angry with each other they were, she couldn't decide
which  one of them to approach first. Rather than offend either of them, she
sat down  midway between them on the edge of the arena and looked at each in
turn, waiting to see what would happen. Lots of  things take time, and  time
was Momo's only form of wealth.
     After the two of  them had  sat  there in silence  for minutes  on end,
Salvatore abruptly stood up. 'I'm  off,' he  announced. 'I've shown my  good
will by coming here, but the man's as  stubborn as a mule, Momo, you can see
that for yourself.' And he turned on his heel.
     19


     'Goodbye and good  riddance!'  Nino called after him. 'You needn't have
bothered to  come  in the first place. I wouldn't  make it up with a vicious
brute like you.'
     Salvatore swung  around,  puce with rage.  'Who's a vicious brute?'  he
demanded menacingly, retracing his steps. 'Say that again -- if you dare!'
     'As  often as you  like!' yelled Nino. 'I suppose  you think you're too
big and tough for anyone  to speak the truth to your face. Well, / will - to
you and anyone else that cares to listen. That's right, come here and murder
me the way you tried to the other day!'
     'I wish I  had!' roared Salvatore, clenching his fists. 'There you are,
Momo, you see the dirty lies he tells? All I did was take  him by the scruff
of the neck and dunk  him in the pool of slops behind that lousy inn of his.
You couldn't  even drown  a rat in that.' Readdressing  himself to  Nino, he
shouted, 'Yes, you're still alive and kicking, worse luck!'
     Insults flew thick and fast  after that, and for a  while Momo was at a
loss to know what it was all about and  why the pair of them were so furious
with each other. It transpired, by degrees, that Salvatore's only reason for
assaulting Nino was that Nino had  slapped his face in the  presence of some
customers, though Nino counterclaimed that Salvatore had previously tried to
smash all his crockery.
     'That's another dirty lie!' Salvatore said angrily. 'I only threw a jug
at the wall, and that was cracked already.'
     'Maybe,' Nino retorted, 'but it was my jug. You had no right to do such
a thing.'
     Salvatore protested that he had every right, seeing that  Nino had cast
aspersions  on his professional skill. He turned to Momo. 'Know what he said
about  me?  He said I  couldn't  build  a wall  straight because I was drunk
twenty-four  hours a  day. My great-grandfather  was the same, he said,  and
he'd helped to build the Leaning Tower of Pisa.' 'But Salvatore,' said Nino,
'I was only joking.'
     20


     'Some joke,' growled Salvatore. 'Very funny, I don't think!'
     It  then emerged that  Nino had only  been  paying Salvatore  back  for
another  joke. He'd woken up one  morning to  find  some words daubed on the
tavern door  in  bright red paint. They read: THISINNISOUT. Nino  had  found
that just as unamusing.
     The  two of them  spent some  time wrangling  over whose had  been  the
better joke. Then, after  working themselves  up  into a  lather again, they
broke off.
     Momo  was staring at them wide-eyed, but neither man  quite knew how to
interpret  her gaze. Was  she  secretly  laughing at  them, or was she  sad?
Although her expression gave no clue, they suddenly seemed to see themselves
mirrored in her eyes and began to feel sheepish.
     'Okay,'  said Salvatore, 'maybe I shouldn't have painted those words on
your door, Nino, but I wouldn't have  done it if you hadn't refused to serve
me  so much as a single glass of wine. That was against the law, as you know
full well. I've always paid up, and you'd no call to treat me that way.'
     'Oh,  hadn't  I  just!'  Nino  retorted.  'What  about  the St  Anthony
business? Ah, that's floored you, hasn't it! You cheated me  right, left and
centre, and I wasn't going to take it lying down.'
     'I cheated you?' Salvatore protested, smiting his brow. 'You've  got it
the wrong way around. It was you that  tried to cheat  me,  but  you  didn't
succeed.'
     The fact was, Nino had hung a  picture of St Anthony on the wall of the
bar-room -- a clipping from an illustrated magazine which he had cut out and
framed. Salvatore offered to buy this picture one day, ostensibly because he
found it  so beautiful.  By  dint  of skilful  haggling, Nino  had persuaded
Salvatore to part with a  radio in exchange, laughing up his sleeve to think
that Salvatore was getting the worst of the bargain.
     21


     After the deal had been struck, it turned out that nestling between the
picture and its cardboard backing  was a  banknote of  which Nino  had known
nothing. Discovering that he had  been outwitted, Nino angrily  demanded the
money back because it hadn't been included in the bargain. Salvatore refused
to hand it  over, whereupon Nino refused to serve him any more, and that was
how it had all begun.
     Once they had traced their vendetta back to its original cause, the men
fell silent for a while.
     Then Nino said, 'Be honest, Salvatore, did you or didn't you know about
that money before we made the deal?'
     'Of course I knew, or I wouldn't have gone through with it.'
     'In other words, you diddled me.'
     'What? You mean you really didn't know about the money?'
     'No, I swear I didn't.'
     'There  you are,  then!  It was you  that tried  to  diddle  me, or you
wouldn't  have  taken  my  radio  in  exchange  for  a  worthless  scrap  of
newsprint.'
     'How did  you know about the money?'  'I saw another customer  tuck  it
into the back as a thank-you to St Anthony, a couple of nights before.' Nino
chewed his lip. 'Was it  a  lot of money?' 'Only what  my radio was  worth,'
said Salvatore. 'I see,' Nino said thoughtfully. 'So that's what all this is
about -- a clipping from a magazine.'
     Salvatore scratched his head. 'I guess so,' he growled. 'You're welcome
to have it back, Nino.'
     'Certainly not,' Nino replied  with dignity. 'A deal's a deal. We shook
hands on it, after all.'
     Quite suddenly, they both burst out laughing. Clambering down the stone
steps, they met in the middle of the grassy  arena, exchanged bear-hugs  and
slapped  each  other on the back.  Then  they  hugged Momo  and  thanked her
profusely.
     22


     When they  left a  few minutes later, Momo stood waving  till they were
out of sight. She was glad her two friends had made up.
     Another time, a  little boy brought her his canary because it  wouldn't
sing. Momo found that a far harder proposition. She had to sit and listen to
the bird for a whole week before it started to trill and warble again.
     Momo listened to  everyone and  everything, to  dogs and cats, crickets
and tortoises -- even to the rain and the wind in the  pine trees  - and all
of them spoke to her after their own fashion.
     Many were the evenings when, after her friends had gone home, she would
sit by  herself  in the middle of the old stone amphitheatre, with the sky's
starry vault overhead, and simply listen to the great silence around her.
     Whenever  she  did this, she felt she was  sitting at the centre  of  a
giant ear, listening  to the world of the stars, and she seemed to hear soft
but majestic music that touched her heart  in the  strangest way.  On nights
like these, she always had the most beautiful dreams.
     Those who still  think  that listening isn't an art  should see if they
can do it half as well.



     Makebelieve

     Although Momo  listened to grown-ups and children with  equal  sympathy
and attention, the children had  a special reason for enjoying  their visits
to the amphitheatre as much as they did. Now that she was living there, they
found they  could play better  games than ever before. They were never bored
for  an  instant,  but not  because  she  contributed  a  lot  of  ingenious
suggestions. Momo was there and joined in, that was all, but for some reason
her mere presence put bright ideas into their heads. They invented new games
every day, and each was an improvement on the last.
     One hot  and sultry  afternoon, a dozen  or  so  children  were sitting
around on  the stone  steps  waiting for Momo,  who had  gone  for a  stroll
nearby, as she sometimes did.  From the look  of the sky,  which was  filled
with fat black clouds, there would soon be a thunderstorm.
     'I'm going  home,' said  one girl,  who had  a little sister with  her.
'Thunder and lightning scares me.'
     'What about when you're at home?'  asked a boy in  glasses. 'Doesn't it
scare  you  there?' 'Of  course  it  does,' she said. 'Then you may  as well
stay,'  said the boy.  The girl shrugged  her shoulders and nodded.  After a
while she said, 'But maybe Momo won't turn up.'
     'So what?' another voice broke in. It belonged to  a rather ragged  and
neglected-looking boy. 'Even if she doesn't, we can still play a game.'
     24


     All right, but what?'
     '1 don't know. Something or other.'
     'Something or other's no good. Anyone got an idea?'
     'I know,' said a fat  boy with a high-pitched voice. 'Let's pretend the
amphitheatre's  a  ship, and  we sail off  across  uncharted seas  and  have
adventures. I'll be the  captain,  you can  be first mate,  and you can be a
professor  - a  scientist, because it's a scientific expedition. The rest of
you can be sailors.'
     'What about us girls?' came a plaintive chorus. 'What'll we be?'
     'Girl sailors. It's a ship of the future.'
     The fat boy's idea sounded promising. They  tried it  out, but everyone
started squabbling and the  game  never got under way. Before long they were
all sitting around on the steps again, waiting.
     Then Momo turned up, and everything changed.
     The  Argo's  bow  rose and  fell, rose and  fell,  as she  swiftly  but
steadily steamed through the swell  towards the South Coral  Sea. No ship in
living memory had ever dared to  sail these perilous  waters, which abounded
with shoals,  reefs and mysterious sea monsters. Most deadly of all  was the
so-called Travelling Tornado, a waterspout that forever roamed this sea like
some cunning beast of prey. The  waterspout's route was quite unpredictable,
and  any  ship caught  up in  its  mighty  embrace  was  promptly reduced to
matchwood.
     Being  a  research  vessel,  of course,  the  Argo  had  been specially
designed to tackle the Travelling Tornado. Her hull was entirely constructed
of adamantium, a steel  as tough and flexible as a sword blade, and had been
cast in one piece by a special process that dispensed with rivets and welded
seams.
     For all that, few captains and crews would have had the courage to face
such incredible  hazards. Captain  Gordon of  the Argo had that  courage. He
gazed down proudly from the
     25


     bridge at the men and women of  his  crew,  all of whom were experts in
their particular  field.  Beside him stood his  first mate, Jim Ironside, an
old salt who had already survived a hundred and twenty-seven hurricanes.
     Stationed on the sun-deck  further aft were Professor  Eisen-stein, the
expedition's senior  scientist, and  his assistants Moira and Sarah, who had
as much information stored in their prodigious memories as a whole reference
library.  All three were hunched  over their  precision instruments, quietly
conferring in complicated scientific jargon.
     Seated cross-legged a  little apart from them was Momosan, a  beautiful
native  girl. Now  and  again the professor would  consult  her  about  some
special  characteristic of the  South Coral Sea, and she would reply  in her
melodious Hula dialect, which he alone could understand.
     The  purpose  of  the  expedition  was  to  discover  what  caused  the
Travelling  Tornado and, if  possible, make the sea safe for  other ships by
putting an end to it. So far, however, there had been no sign of the tornado
and all was quiet.
     Quite suddenly, the captain's thoughts were interrupted by a shout from
the lockout in the crow's-nest. 'Captain!' he called down, cupping his hands
around his mouth. 'Unless I'm crazy,  there's  a glass island dead  ahead of
us!'
     The  captain  and  Jim  Ironside  promptly  levelled their  telescopes.
Professor  Eisenstein and  his  two assistants  hurried  up,  bursting  with
curiosity, but  the  beautiful  native  girl  calmly  remained  seated.  The
peculiar customs of her tribe forbade her to seem inquisitive.
     When  they  reached  the  glass island,  as they  very  soon  did,  the
professor  scrambled down  a rope  ladder and gingerly  stepped  ashore. The
surface  was not only  transparent but so slippery that he found  it hard to
keep his footing.
     The island  was circular and  about  fifty feet across, with a  sort of
dome  in the centre. On reaching the  summit, the professor could distinctly
make out a light flashing deep in
     26


     the heart of  the island. He passed this information to tne others, who
were eagerly lining the ship's rail.
     'From what you say,' said Moira, 'it must be a Blanc-mangius viscosus.'
     'Perhaps,' Sarah chimed in, 'though  it could equally  be a Jellybeania
multicolorata.'[1]
     Professor Eisenstein  straightened up and adjusted his glasses. 'In  my
opinion,' he said,  'we're  dealing with a variety of the common  Chocolatus
indigestibilis, but we can't be sure till we've examined it from below.'
     The  words were scarcely out of his mouth when three girl  sailors, all
of  whom were  world-famous scuba  divers  and had  already  pulled on their
wetsuits, plunged over the side and vanished into the blue depths.
     Nothing  could be  seen  for a  while but air bubbles. Then  one of the
girls, Sandra,  shot to the surface. 'It's  a giant  jellyfish!' she gasped.
'The other two are caught up in its tentacles and can't break loose. We must
save them before it's too late!' So saying, she disappeared again.
     Without  hesitation,  a  hundred  frogmen  led  by   Commander  Franco,
nicknamed 'the Dolphin'  because of his skill and experience, dived into the
sea.  A  tremendous battle raged  beneath the  surface,  which  soon  became
covered with foam, but the gigantic  creature's strength was such  that  not
even a hundred brave men could release the girls from its terrible embrace.
     The professor turned to his assistants with a puzzled frown. 'Something
in  these  waters  seems conducive  to the  growth of  abnormally large  sea
creatures,' he observed. 'What an interesting phenomenon!'
     Meanwhile, Captain Gordon and his first mate had come to a decision.
     'Back!'  shouted Jim Ironside. 'All  hands back on board! We'll have to
slice the monster in half - it's the girls' only hope.'
     27




     'Dolphin' Franco  and  his frogmen climbed  back on board. After  going
astern for  a short distance, the Argo headed  straight for the jellyfish at
maximum speed. The steel ship's bow was as sharp as a razor. Without a sound
- almost without a jolt - it sliced the huge creature in half. Although this
manoeuvre was fraught with danger for the girls entangled in its  tentacles,
Jim Ironside had gauged his course  to within  a hair's breadth and  steered
right  between them. Instantly, the tentacles  on each half of the jellyfish
went  limp  and  lifeless,  and  the  trapped  girls  managed  to  extricate
themselves.
     They were welcomed back on board with joy. Professor Eisenstein hurried
over to them. 'It was all my fault,' he said.  'I should never have sent you
down there. Forgive me for risking your lives like that.'
     'There's nothing to forgive. Professor,' one of the girls replied  with
a carefree laugh. 'It's what we came for, after all.'
     'Danger's our trade,' the other girl put in.
     But there was no time to say more. Because of the rescue operation, the
captain and his crew had completely forgotten to keep watch on the sea. Only
now, in the  nick of time, did they become aware that the Travelling Tornado
had appeared on the horizon and was racing towards them.
     An immense roller tossed the Argo into  the  air, hurled her on to  her
side, and sent her plummeting into a watery abyss. Any crew less  courageous
and  experienced  than  the  Argo's  would  have  been washed  overboard  or
paralysed with fear by this  very first onslaught, but Captain Gordon  stood
foursquare  on his bridge as though  nothing  had  happened, and his sailors
were  just  as  unperturbed.  Momosan,  the  beautiful  native  girl,  being
unaccustomed to  such storm-tossed seas, was  the only person to take refuge
in a lifeboat.
     The whole sky turned pitch-black within seconds. Shrieking and roaring,
the tornado flung itself at the Argo,
     28


     alternately  catapulting  her  sky-high   and  sucking  her  down  into
cavernous troughs. Its fury seemed to grow with every passing  minute as  it
strove in vain to crush the ship's steel hull.
     The captain calmly gave orders to the first mate, who passed them on to
the crew  in  a  stentorian  voice.  Everyone  remained at his  or her post.
Professor  Eisenstein  and  his  assistants,  far   from   abandoning  their
scientific instruments,  used them to  estimate where  the eye  of the storm
must be, for that was the course to steer. Captain Gordon secretly marvelled
at the  composure of these scientists, who were not,  after  all, as closely
acquainted with the sea as himself and his
     crew.
     A  shaft  of lightning  zigzagged  down  and struck  the  ship's  hull,
electrifying  it from stem to stern. Sparks flew  whenever  the crew touched
anything,  but  none  of  them worried. Everyone  on  board had spent months
training hard for just such an emergency. The only trouble  was, the thinner
parts of the ship - cables and stanchions, for instance - began to glow like
the filament in an electric light bulb, and this made the crew's work harder
despite the rubber gloves they were wearing.
     Fortunately, the  glow was soon extinguished by a downpour heavier than
anyone on board, with  the exception  of Jim Ironside, had ever experienced.
There was no room for any air between  the raindrops - they  were  too close
together - so they all had to put on masks and breathing apparatus.
     Flashes of lightning and peals of thunder followed one another in quick
succession, the  wind howled, and mast-high breakers deluged everything with
foam.  With all engines running full ahead, the Argo inched her way  forward
against the elemental might  of  the storm. Down below in  the boiler rooms,
engineers and stokers made superhuman efforts. They had lashed themselves in
place with stout ropes so that the ship's violent pitching and tossing would
not hurl them into the open furnaces.
     29




     But when, at long last, the Argo and her crew reached the innermost eye
of the storm, what a sight confronted them!
     Gyrating on the  surface of the sea, which  had  been ironed  flat as a
pancake by the sheer force of the storm, was a huge figure. Seemingly poised
on  one leg,  it  grew wider  the  higher one  looked,  like  a  mountainous
humming-top rotating too fast for the eye to make it out in any detail.
     'A Teetotum  elasticumi' the professor exclaimed gleefully, holding  on
to his glasses to prevent them from being washed off his nose by the rain.
     'Maybe you'd care to translate that,' growled Jim Ironside. 'We're only
simple seafaring folk, and -'
     'Don't  bother the professor now,' Sarah  broke  in, 'or you'll ruin  a
unique  opportunity.  This  spinning-top creature  probably dates  from  the
earliest phase of life on  earth - it must be over a billion  years old. The
one variety known today is so  small you can only see it under a microscope.
It's  sometimes found  in tomato ketchup, or, even  more rarely, in  chewing
gum. A specimen as big as this may well be the only one in existence.'
     'But we're  here to eliminate it,' said the captain,  shouting to  make
himself heard above the  sound of the  storm. 'All right, Professor, tell us
how to stop that infernal thing.'
     'Your guess is as good as mine,'  the professor replied. 'We scientists
have never had a chance to study it.'
     'Very  well,' said  the captain. 'We'll try a few shots  at it  and see
what happens.'
     'What  a  shame,' the professor  said sadly.  'Fancy  shooting the sole
surviving specimen of a Teetotum elasticum\'
     But  the  antifriction  gun  had already  been  trained  on  the  giant
spinning-top.
     'Fire!' ordered the captain.
     The twin  barrels emitted a tongue of  flame a  mile long. There was no
bang,  of course, because an  antifriction gun,  as everyone knows, bombards
its target with proteins.
     30


     The flaming missiles streaked towards the  Teetotum but were caught and
deflected. They circled the huge figure a few times, travelling ever faster,
ever higher, until they disappeared into the black clouds overhead.
     'It's  no  use,'  Captain Gordon shouted.  'We'll simply  have  to  get
closer.'
     'We can't,  sir,' Jim Ironside shouted back.  'The engines  are already
running full ahead, and that's only just enough to  keep us from being blown
astern.'
     'Any  suggestions.  Professor?'   the   captain  asked,  but  Professor
Eisenstein merely shrugged. His assistants were  equally devoid of ideas. It
looked as if the expedition would have to be abandoned as a failure.
     Just then,  someone tugged  at the professor's sleeve.  It was Momosan,
the beautiful native girl.
     ЧЛаШтЬа,' she said, gesturing gracefully. 'Malumba oisitu sono. Erweini
samba insaitu lolobindra. Kramuna heu beni beni sadogau.'
     The professor  raised his eyebrows. 'Babaluf he said inquiringly. 'Didi
maha feinosi intu ge doinen malumba?'
     The beautiful  native girl nodded  eagerly. 'Dodo  um aufa  shulamat va
vada,' she replied.
     'О" о",' said the professor, thoughtfully stroking his chin. 'What does
she say?' asked the first mate.  'She  says,' explained the professor, 'that
her tribe has a very ancient song that would send the  Travelling Tornado to
sleep -- or would, if anyone were brave enough to sing it to the creature.'
     'Don't make me laugh!' growled  Jim Ironside. 'Whoever heard of singing
a tornado to sleep?'
     'What  do you  think.  Professor?'  asked Sarah. 'Is it  scientifically
feasible?'
     'One should always try to keep an open mind,' said the professor. 'Many
of these native traditions contain a  grain of truth. The Teetotum elasticum
may be sensitive to certain
     31


     sonic  vibrations.  We  simply  know  too  little  about  its  mode  of
existence.'
     'It can't do any  harm,' the captain said  firmly, 'so let's give  it a
try. Tell her to carry on.'
     The professor turned  to Momosan  and said, 'Malumba didi  oisafal huna
huna, vavaduf
     She nodded and began  to sing a most peculiar song. It consisted  of  a
handful of notes repeated over and over again:
     'Eni meni allubeni, vanna tai susura teni."
     As she  sang,  she clapped  her hands and pranced around in time to the
refrain.
     The tune and the words were  so easy  to remember that  the rest joined
in,  one  after  another, until the entire crew was  singing,  clapping  and
cavorting  around  in  time  to  the  music.  Nothing  could have  been more
astonishing  than to  see  the  professor himself and that  old sea dog, Jim
Ironside, singing and clapping like children in a playground.
     And then, lo and behold, the thing they never thought would happen came
to pass: the Travelling Tornado  rotated more and more slowly until  it came
to a stop and began to sink beneath the waves.  With a thunderous roar,  the
sea closed over  it. The  storm died away, the  rain ceased,  the sky became
blue  and  cloudless,  the  waves subsided. The Argo  lay  motionless on the
glittering surface as if nothing but peace and tranquillity had ever reigned
there.
     'Members of the crew,' said Captain Gordon, with an appreciative glance
at each  in turn,  'we pulled it off!' The captain never wasted  words, they
all knew, so they were doubly delighted when he added, 'I'm proud of you.'
     'I  think it  must really have  been  raining,' said  the  girl who had
brought her little sister along. 'I'm soaked, that's for sure.'
     32


     She was right. The real storm had broken and  moved on, and no  one was
more surprised than she to find that  she  had completely  forgotten  to  be
scared of the thunder and lightning while sailing aboard the Argo.
     The children  spent some time discussing  their adventurous  voyage and
swapping personal experiences. Then  they said goodbye and went home to  dry
off.
     The only person slightly dissatisfied with the  outcome of the game was
the boy who wore glasses. Before leaving, he said to Momo, 'I still think it
was a  shame  to  sink the  Teetotum  elasticum, just like  that.  The  last
surviving specimen of its  kind, imagine!  I do  wish I could  have  taken a
closer look at it.'
     But on one point they were all agreed:  the games they played with Momo
were more fun than any others.



     Two Special Friends

     Even when people have a great many friends, there are always one or two
they love best of all, and Momo was no exception.
     She had  two very special  friends  who came to see her  every day  and
shared what little they had  with her. One was young and the other old,  and
Momo could not have said which of them she loved more.
     The  old one's name  was Beppo Roadsweeper. Although he must have had a
proper  surname,  everyone including Beppo  himself used  the nickname  that
described his job, which was sweeping roads.
     Beppo lived near the amphitheatre in a home-made shack built of bricks,
corrugated iron  and tar paper.  He was not much  taller than Momo, being an
exceptionally small man and bent-backed into the bargain. He always kept his
head cocked  to one side -- it was big, with  a single tuft of white hair on
top -- and wore a diminutive pair of steel-rimmed spectacles on his nose.
     Beppo was widely believed  to be not quite right in the  head. This was
because,  when  asked  a question, he  would give  an amiable smile and  say
nothing. If, after  pondering the question,  he felt it needed no answer, he
still said nothing. If it did, he would ponder what answer to give. He could
take as  long as a couple  of hours to reply, or  even a whole day.  By this
time the person who had asked the question would have forgotten what it was,
so Beppo's answer seemed peculiar in the extreme.
     34


     Only Momo was capable of waiting patiently enough to grasp his meaning.
She knew that Beppo took as long as he  did because he was determined  never
to say anything untrue. In his opinion, all the world's misfortunes  stemmed
from the countless untruths, both deliberate and unintentional, which people
told because of haste or carelessness.
     Every morning, long before daybreak, Beppo rode his squeaky old bicycle
to a big depot in town. There, he and his fellow roadsweepers  waited in the
yard to be issued  brooms  and  pushcarts and told which streets  to  sweep.
Beppo enjoyed these hours before dawn, when  the city was  still asleep, and
he did his work willingly and well. It was a useful job, and he knew it.
     He  swept his allotted  streets slowly  but  steadily,  drawing  a deep
breath before every step and every stroke of the broom Step, breathe, sweep,
breathe, step, breathe, sweep ... Every  so often  he  would  pause a while,
staring thoughtfully into the distance. And then he would begin again: step,
breathe, sweep . . .
     While progressing in  this  way, with a dirty street ahead of him and a
clean one behind, he  often had  grand  ideas. They were ideas that couldn't
easily  be   put  into  words,  though  -ideas   as  hard  to  define  as  a
half-remembered  scent or  a colour  seen in a dream. When sitting with Momo
after work,  he  would  tell  her his grand  ideas,  and  her special way of
listening would loosen his tongue and bring the right words to his lips.
     'You see, Momo,' he told her one day, 'it's  like this. Sometimes, when
you've a  very  long street ahead of you, you think how terribly  long it is
and feel sure you'll never get it swept.'
     He gazed silently into space before continuing. 'And then you  start to
hurry,'  he went on. 'You work faster and faster, and every time you look up
there seems  to be  just as much left  to sweep as before,  and you try even
harder, and you
     35


     panic, and in the end you're out of  breath and have to stop -and still
the street stretches away in front of you. That's not the way to do it.'
     He pondered a while. Then  he said, 'You must never think of the  whole
street at once,  understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the
next  breath,  the next stroke  of the broom,  and  the next, and the  next.
Nothing else.'
     Again he  paused  for  thought before adding, 'That way you  enjoy your
work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that's
how it ought to be.'
     There was another long silence. At last he went on, 'And all  at  once,
before you know it, you find  you've swept the whole street  clean,  bit  by
bit. What's more, you aren't  out  of breath.' He nodded to himself. 'That's
important, too,' he concluded.
     Another time,  when  he came and sat  down beside Momo,  she could tell
from his silence that he was thinking hard and had something very special to
tell her. Suddenly he looked  her in the eye and said, 'I recognized us.' It
was a  long time  before  he  spoke again. Then he said softly,  'It happens
sometimes - at midday,  when everything's asleep in the heat of the sun. The
world goes transparent, like river water, if you know what I mean.  You  can
see the bottom.'
     He nodded and relapsed  into silence. Then he said,  even  more softly,
'There are other times, other ages, down there on the bottom.'
     He pondered again for a long time, searching for the  right words. They
seemed to elude him, because he suddenly said, in a perfectly normal tone of
voice, 'I was sweeping  alongside the old city  wall  today. There  are five
different-coloured stones in it. They're arranged like this, see?'
     He drew a big Т in the dust with his  forefinger and looked at it  with
his head on one  side.  All at  once he whispered, 'I recognized them  - the
stones, I mean.'
     After yet another long silence, he went on haltingly,
     36


     'They're stones  from olden  times,  when  me wan was first built. Many
hands  helped to build  the  wall, but those stones  were  put there by  two
particular people. They were meant as a sign, you see? I recognized it.'
     Beppo rubbed his eyes. The next time he spoke, it was with something of
an effort.  'They looked quite different then, those two. Quite  different.'
His concluding words sounded almost defiant. 'I recognized them, though,' he
said. 'They were you and me - I recognized us!'
     People  could  hardly  be  blamed  for  smiling when they  heard  Beppo
Roadsweeper  say  such  things.  Many  of  them  used  to  tap  their  heads
meaningfully behind his back, but Momo loved him and treasured every word he
uttered.
     Momo's other special friend  was not only  young but the exact opposite
of  Beppo  in  every respect. A  handsome  youth  with dreamy  eyes  and  an
incredible gift of the gab, he was  always playing practical  jokes  and had
such a  carefree, infectious laugh that people couldn't help joining in. His
first name was Girolamo, but everyone called him Guido.
     Like Beppo,  Guido took his surname from his job, though he didn't have
a  proper  job at all.  One of  his  many unofficial activities  was showing
tourists  around the city, so he was universally known  as Guido Guide.  His
sole qualification  for  the job was a peaked cap, which he promptly clapped
on his  head whenever any  tourists strayed  into  the  neighbourhood. Then,
wearing  his  most earnest  expression, he would march up  and offer to show
them  the sights.  If  they were rash enough  to accept, Guido  let  fly. He
bombarded his unfortunate listeners with such a multitude of made-up  names,
dates and historical events that their heads started spinning.  Some of them
saw through him and walked off in a huff, but the majority took his tales at
face value and dropped a few  coins into his cap when he handed it around at
the end of a sightseeing tour.
     37


     Although Guide's neighbours  used to chuckle at  his flights  of fancy,
they sometimes looked stern and remarked that it wasn't really right to take
good money for dreaming up a pack of lies.
     'I'm  only  doing  what  poets  do,' Guido  would  argue.  'Anyway,  my
customers get their money's worth, don't they? Т give them exactly what they
want. Maybe  you won't  find  my stories  in  any guidebook, but  what's the
difference? Who knows if the stuff in the guidebooks isn't made up too, only
no one remembers any more. Besides, what do you mean by true and untrue? Who
can be  sure  what happened here a thousand or  two thousand years  ago? Can
уоu?' The others admitted they couldn't.
     'There you are, then!' Guido  cried triumphantly.  'How can you call my
stories untrue?  Things may have happened just  the way I say they  did,  in
which case I've been telling the gospel truth.'
     It was hard to counter an argument like that,  especially when you were
up against a fast talker like Guido.
     Unfortunately for him,  however,  not many tourists wanted  to see  the
amphitheatre, so  he  often  had to  turn  his hand to other jobs. When  the
occasion  arose he would act as park-keeper, dog  walker,  deliverer of love
letters, mourner at funerals,  witness at weddings,  souvenir  seller, cat's
meat man, and many other things besides.
     But  Guido dreamed  of becoming rich and famous some-day. He planned to
live in a  fabulously beautiful mansion set in spacious grounds,  to eat off
gold  plates  and  sleep  between  silken  sheets.  He  pictured  himself as
resplendent in his  future fame as a kind of sun,  and the rays of that  sun
already warmed him in his poverty - from afar, as it were.
     'I'll do it, too," he would exclaim when other  people scoffed  at  his
dreams. 'You mark my words!'
     Quite how he was going to do it, not even he could have
     38


     told them, for Guido held a low opinion of perseverance and hard work.
     'What's so clever about working hard?' he said to Momo. 'Anyone can get
rich quick  that  way, but  who wants to look  like  the  people who've sold
themselves body and soul for money's sake? Well, they can count me out. Even
if there are times when I don't have the price of a cup of coffee, I'm still
me. Guide's still Guido!'
     Although  it seemed improbable  that two people as  dissimilar as Guido
Guide and  Beppo Roadsweeper, with their different attitudes to life and the
world  in general,  should have become friends, they did. Strangely  enough,
Beppo was the only person who never chided .Guido  for his irresponsibility;
and, just as strangely, fast-talking  Guido  was the  only person  who never
poked  fun at  eccentric old Beppo. This, too, may have  had something to do
with the way Momo listened to them both.
     None of the  three  suspected that a shadow was soon  to fall, not only
across  their  friendship  but   across   the   entire  neighbourhood  -  an
ever-growing shadow that was  already enfolding  the city  in its cold, dark
embrace.  It  advanced  day by  day  like  an  invading  army, silently  and
surreptitiously,  meeting no resistance because no  one was  really aware of
it.
     But who exactly were the invaders? Even old  Beppo, who  saw  much that
escaped other people, failed to notice the men in grey who busily roamed the
city in ever-increasing numbers. It  wasn't that they  were  invisible;  you
simply  saw them without noticing them. They had an uncanny  knack of making
themselves so inconspicuous  that you either  overlooked them or forgot ever
having seen them. The  very fact that they had no need to conceal themselves
enabled  them to  go  about  their  business in utter secrecy. Since  nobody
noticed them, nobody stopped to wonder where they had  come from or, indeed,
were  still coming  from, for their numbers  continued to  grow  with  every
passing day.
     39


     The men  in grey  drove through the streets  in smart grey  limousines,
haunted every  building, frequented every restaurant. From time to time they
would jot something down in their little grey notebooks.
     They  were dressed  from head  to foot  in  grey suits the colour  of a
spider's web. Even their  faces were grey. They wore grey  bowler  hats  and
smoked  small  grey  cigars,  and  none  of  them  went  anywhere without  a
steel-grey briefcase in his hand.
     Guido  Guide was as  unaware as everyone else that several of these men
in grey had reconnoitred the amphitheatre, busily writing in their notebooks
as they did so.
     Momo alone had caught sight of their  shadowy figures peering  over the
edge  of  the ruined building.  They  signalled to each  other and put their
heads together as  if  conferring. Although  she  could  hear nothing,  Momo
suddenly  shivered as  she had  never shivered  before.  She  drew her baggy
jacket more tightly around her, but it did no good  because the chill in the
air was no ordinary chill. Then the men in grey disappeared.
     Momo heard no soft  but majestic music that night, as she so often did,
but the next day life went on as usual. She thought no more  about her weird
visitors, and it wasn't long before she, too, forgot them.


     FIVE
     Tall Stones
     As  time went  by,  Momo  became  absolutely indispensable to Guido. He
developed as deep an affection for the ragged little girl  as any footloose,
fancy-free young man could have felt for any fellow creature.
     Making up stories was  his ruling passion, as we have already said, and
it was in this very respect that he underwent a  change of  which he himself
was  fully  aware. In the old  days,  not all of his stories had  turned out
well. Either he ran short of ideas and  was forced to repeat himself,  or he
borrowed from some movie he'd seen or  some newspaper article he'd read. His
stories had plodded along,  so to speak, but Momo's friendship had  suddenly
lent them wings.
     Most of all, it was when Momo sat listening to him that his imagination
blossomed  like  a  meadow  in springtime. Children and grown-ups flocked to
hear him. He could now tell stories in episodes spanning days or even weeks,
and he never ran out of ideas. He listened to himself as enthralled  as  his
audience, never knowing where his imagination would lead him.
     The next time  some tourists visited the amphitheatre -Momo was sitting
on one of the steps nearby - he began as follows:
     'Ladies and gentlemen, as I'm  sure you all know, the Empress Harmonica
waged  countless wars  in defence  of  her  realm, which was  under constant
attack by the Goats and Hens.
     41


     'Having subdued these barbarian tribes  for the umpteenth time, she was
so  infuriated  by  their  endless  troublemaking  that  she  threatened  to
exterminate  them,  once and for all,  unless  their king.  Raucous II, made
amends by sending her his goldfish.
     'At that period, ladies and  gentlemen, goldfish were  still unknown in
these parts,  but Empress  Harmonica  had heard  from a traveller  that King
Raucous owned a small fish which, when  fully grown,  would  turn into solid
gold. The empress was determined to get her hands on this rare specimen.
     'King Raucous laughed up his sleeve at this. He  hid the real  goldfish
under his bed and  sent  the empress  a young  whale in  a  bejewelled  soup
tureen.
     'The  empress,  who had  imagined  goldfish to be  smaller, was  rather
surprised at the creature's size. Never  mind, she  told herself, the bigger
the better - the bigger now, the more gold later on. There wasn't  a hint of
gold  about the  fish  - not  even a glimmer - which worried her until  King
Raucous's  envoy explained that  it wouldn't  turn  into gold  until  it had
stopped  growing. Consequently,  its growth should  not be obstructed in any
way. Empress Harmonica pronounced herself satisfied with this explanation.
     'The young  fish grew bigger  every  day, consuming vast  quantities of
food, but Empress Harmonica was a wealthy  woman. It was  given as much food
as it could put away,  so it grew big and fat.  Before long, the soup tureen
became too small for it.
     '" The bigger the better," said the empress, and had it  transferred to
her bathtub.  Very  soon it wouldn't fit  into her bathtub either, so it was
installed in the imperial swimming pool. Transferring it to the pool  was no
mean  feat,  because it now weighed as much as an ox. When one of the slaves
carrying  it lost  his  footing the empress  promptly  had the  wretched man
thrown to the lions, for the fish was now the apple of her eye.
     42


     'Harmonica spent many  hours each day sitting beside the swimming pool,
watching the  creature  grow. All she could think of  was the gold  it would
make, because, as I'm sure you know, she led a very luxurious life and could
never have enough gold to meet her needs.
     '"The  bigger the better," she kept repeating  to herself.  These words
were proclaimed a national motto and inscribed in letters of bronze on every
public building.
     'When even  the  imperial  swimming  pool became  too  cramped,  as  it
eventually did, Harmonica built the edifice whose  ruins you see before you,
ladies and gentlemen. It was a huge, round aquarium filled to the  brim with
water, and here the whale could at last stretch out in comfort.
     'From now on the empress sat watching the great fish  day  and night  -
watching and waiting  for the moment when it would  turn  into gold. She  no
longer  trusted a soul, not even her  slaves or relations, and  dreaded that
the fish might be stolen from her. So here she sat,  wasting away with  fear
and worry, never closing  her eyes, forever watching the fish as it blithely
splashed around without the least intention of turning into gold.
     'Harmonica neglected her affairs of state more and more, which was just
what  the  Goats and Hens had  been  waiting for. Led by King  Raucous, they
launched one final invasion and conquered the country in no time. They never
encountered a single enemy soldier, and the common folk didn't care  one way
or the other who ruled them.
     'When Empress Harmonica  finally heard  what had happened,  she uttered
the well-known words,  "Alas,  if  only I'd ..." The rest of the sentence is
lost in the mists of time, unfortunately. All we  know for  sure is that she
threw  herself into  this very aquarium and  perished alongside the creature
that had blighted her hopes. King Raucous celebrated his victory by ordering
the whale to  be slaughtered,  and the entire population feasted  on grilled
whale steaks for a week.
     43


     ''Which only goes to show,  ladies and gentlemen, how unwise  it is  to
believe all you're told.'
     That concluded  Guide's lecture. Most of  his listeners were profoundly
impressed  and  surveyed the ruined  amphitheatre with awe. Only one of them
was sceptical enough to strike a note of doubt. 'When  is all this  supposed
to have happened?' he asked.
     '1  need  hardly  remind you,' said Guido, who was never at a loss  for
words,  'that  Empress  Harmonica  was  a  contemporary  of  the  celebrated
philosopher Nauseous the Elder.'
     Understandably  reluctant  to  admit  his total  ignorance of when  the
celebrated philosopher Nauseous  the Elder lived, the sceptic  merely nodded
and said, 'Ah yes, of course.'
     All the other tourists  were thoroughly satisfied. Their visit had been
well  worthwhile, they declared, and  no  guide had ever presented them with
such a graphic and interesting account of ancient times. When Guido modestly
held out his peaked cap, they showed  themselves  correspondingly  generous.
Even the sceptic dropped a few coins into it.
     Guido, incidentally,  had never told the same story twice since  Momo's
arrival on the scene; he would have found that far too boring. When Momo was
in the  audience a floodgate seemed  to open inside him, releasing a torrent
of new ideas that bubbled forth without his ever having to think twice.
     On  the contrary, he  often had to restrain himself from going too far,
as he did the day his  services were enlisted by two elderly American ladies
whose blood he curdled with the following tale:
     'It  is,  of  course,   common  knowledge,  even  in  your  own   fair,
freedom-loving  land,  dear  ladies,   that  the  cruel  tyrant  Marxen-tius
Communis,  nicknamed "the  Red",  resolved to mould the world to fit his own
ideas.  Try  as he might, however,  he found that  people refused to  change
their ways  and remained much the same  as they always had been. Towards the
end of his life, Marxentius Communis went mad. The ancient world had no
     44


     psychiatrists capable of curing such mental  disorders, as I'm sure you
know, so the  tyrant continued to rave unchecked. He eventually took it into
his head  to  leave  the existing  world to  its  own  devices  and create a
brand-new world of his own.
     'He therefore decreed the construction of a globe exactly the same size
as the old one, complete with  perfect replicas of  everything in it - every
building and  tree, every mountain, river and sea. The  entire population of
the earth was compelled, on pain of death, to assist in this vast project.
     'First they built the base on which the huge  new  globe  would rest --
and the remains of that base, dear ladies, are what you now see before you.
     'Then they started to construct the globe itself, a gigantic  sphere as
big as the earth. Once this sphere had been completed, it was furnished with
perfect copies of everything on earth.
     'The  sphere used up vast quantities  of building materials, of course,
and  these could  be  taken only from  the  earth itself. So the  earth  got
smaller and smaller while the sphere got bigger and bigger.
     'By the time the new world was finished, every last little scrap of the
old  world had been carted  away. What  was  more, the whole of mankind  had
naturally been obliged to  move to the new world because the old one was all
used  up.  When  it  dawned  on Marxentius  Communis that, despite  all  his
efforts,  everything was just as it had been, he buried his head in his toga
and tottered off. Where to, no one knows.
     'So you see, ladies, this craterlike depression in the ruins before you
used  to be the dividing line  between  the old world and the  new. In other
words, you must picture everything upside down.'
     The American dowagers turned pale,  and one of them said in a quavering
voice, 'But what became of Marxentius Com-munis's world?'
     'Why, you're  standing on it  right now,'  Guido told her.  'Our world,
ladies, is his!'
     45
     The two old things let out  a squawk of terror and took to their heels.
This time, Guido held out his cap in vain.
     Guide's  favourite pastime,  though, was telling stories to Momo on her
own, with no  one  else around.  They were fairy tales, mostly, because Momo
liked those best,  and  they were  about Momo  and  Guido  themselves. Being
intended just for the two of them, they  sounded quite different from any of
the other stories Guido told.
     One fine, warm evening the pair of  them were sitting  quietly, side by
side, on the  topmost  tier of  stone steps.  The first stars  were  already
twinkling  in the sky, and a big, silvery moon was climbing above  the  dark
silhouettes of the pine trees.
     'Will you tell me a story?' Momo asked softly. 'All right,' said Guido.
'What  about?' 'Best of  all I'd  like it to be about us,' Momo said.  Guido
thought a while.  Then he said, 'What shall we call it?' 'How about The Tale
of the  Magic  Mirror?'  Guido nodded thoughtfully.  'Sounds  promising,' he
said. 'Let's  see how it turns  out.'  And  he  put his arm around Momo  and
began:
     'Once  upon  a time  there  was a beautiful princess  named  Momo,  who
dressed in silk  and  satin and lived high  above the world  on  a snow-clad
mountain-top,  in a  palace  built of stained glass. She had  everything her
heart could desire. Nothing but  the  choicest food and wine ever passed her
lips.  She  reclined  on  silken  cushions and sat on ivory chairs.  She had
everything, as I say, but she was all alone.
     'All   the   people   and   things  around  her   -   her  footmen  and
ladies-in-waiting,  her dogs and  cats  and birds, even  her flowers  - were
merely reflections.
     'The fact was. Princess Momo had a magic mirror, big and round and made
of the finest silver. Every day and every night she used to send it out into
the  world,  and the big round  mirror  soared over land  and  sea, town and
countryside.
     46


     People who saw it weren't a bit surprised. All they ever said was, "Ah,
there's the moon."
     'Well, every time the magic  mirror came back to  the princess it would
empty out the reflections  it had  collected  on its  travels, beautiful and
ugly,  interesting and dull, as the case might  be.  The princess picked out
the ones she  liked best.  The others she  simply  threw  into a stream, and
quicker than the speed  of thought  these discarded reflections sped back to
their owners along the waterways of the  earth. That's why you'll  find your
own reflection looking at you whenever you bend  over a stream or  a pool of
water.
     'I  forgot to mention that Princess  Momo  was  immortal.  Why? Because
she'd  never seen her own reflection in the magic mirror, and anyone who saw
his own reflection  in it became mortal at once. Being  well aware  of this,
Princess  Momo took care not  to  do so. She'd  always been quite content to
live and play with her many other reflections.
     'One  day,  however,  the magic mirror brought  her  a  reflection that
appealed to  her  more than  any other.  It  was the  reflection of  a young
prince. As soon as she saw it, she longed to meet him face to face. How  was
she  to set about it, though? She didn't know where he lived or who he was -
she didn't even know his name.
     'For want of  a better idea, she  decided to look into the magic mirror
after all, thinking that it  might carry her own reflection  to  the prince.
There  was  a chance that he might be looking  up at the sky when the mirror
floated  past and  would see her  in it. Perhaps he would follow  the mirror
back to the palace and find her there.
     'So she gazed  into  the mirror, long and hard, and sent it off  around
the world  with  her  reflection.  By so doing,  of  course,  she  lost  her
immortality.
     'Before saying what  happened to  her next, I  must  tell you something
about the prince.
     47


     'His  name  was  Girolamo,  and  he ruled a  great kingdom of  his  own
creation. This kingdom was situated neither in the present nor the past, but
always  one day ahead in  the future, which  was why  it was called Futuria.
Everyone who dwelt there loved and admired the prince.
     '  "Your Royal Highness," the prince's advisers told him one day, "it's
time you got married."
     'The prince had no objection,  so Futuria's loveliest young ladies were
brought  to the palace for him to choose from. They all made themselves look
as  beautiful  as possible, because each of them naturally wanted his choice
to fall on her.
     'Among them, however, was  a wicked fairy who had managed to sneak into
the palace. The  blood that ran in her veins was green and cold, not red and
warm, but nobody noticed this because she had painted her face so skilfully.
     'When the  Prince of Futuria entered  the great, golden throne room she
quickly muttered such  a potent spell that poor Girolamo had eyes for no one
but her. He  found her  so incomparably beautiful that  he asked her on  the
spot if she would be his wife.
     '"With pleasure," hissed the wicked fairy, "but only on one condition."
     '"Name it," the prince said promptly, without a second thought.
     '"Very well," said the wicked fairy, and she smiled so sweetly that the
poor prince's head swam. "For one whole year,  you must never look up at the
moon  in  the  sky.  If  you  do, you will  instantly  lose  all your  royal
possessions.  You  will  forget  who  you  really   are  and  find  yourself
transported  to the  land of Presentia, where you will  lead the life  of  a
poor, unknown wretch. Do you accept my terms?"
     '  "If  that's  all  you  ask,"  cried Prince Girolamo, "what  could be
easier!"
     'Meanwhile, Princess Momo had been waiting in  vain  for  the prince to
appear, so she resolved to venture out into the
     48


     world and look for him. She let all her reflections go and, leaving her
stained-glass palace behind, set off  down the snow-clad mountainside in her
dainty little slippers. She roamed the world until she came to Presentia, by
which time  her slippers were worn out and  she had to go  barefoot, but the
magic mirror bearing her reflection continued to soar overhead.
     'One night, while Prince Girolamo was sitting on the roof of his golden
palace,  playing checkers with the fairy whose blood was cold  and green, he
felt a little drop of moisture on his hand.
     ' "Ah," said the green-blooded fairy, "it's starting to rain."
     '"It can't be," said the prince. "There isn't a cloud in the sky."
     'And  he  looked  up,  straight  into  the big  silver  mirror  soaring
overhead,  and saw from Princess Momo's reflection  that she was weeping and
that one  of her tears  had  fallen on to his hand.  And at that  instant he
realized that the fairy had  tricked him - that she wasn't beautiful  at all
and  had cold, green  blood in  her veins. His  true love, he realized,  was
Princess Momo.
     '"You've  broken  your  promise,"  snapped  the   green-blooded  fairy,
scowling so hideously that she looked  like a snake, "and now you  must  pay
the price!"
     'And  then, while Prince Girolamo sat  there as  though paralysed,  she
reached  inside him with her long, green fingers  and  tied  a knot  in  his
heart. Instantly forgetting that he was the Prince of Futuria,  he slunk out
of his palace like a thief  in the night  and wandered far and wide till  he
came  to Presentia, where he took the name Guido and lived a life of poverty
and obscurity. All he'd brought with him was Princess Momo's reflection from
the magic mirror, which was blank from then on.
     'By now Princess Momo had abandoned the ragged remains of her silk  and
satin gown. She wore a patchwork
     49


     dress and a man's  cast-off jacket, far too big for her, and was living
in an ancient ruin.
     'When the two  of them met there one fine day.  Princess Momo failed to
recognize  poor, good-for-nothing  Guido  as  the Prince of  Futuria.  Guido
didn't  recognize her either, because she no longer looked like  a princess,
but they became companions in misfortune and a source of consolation to each
other.
     'One evening when the magic mirror,  now blank, was floating across the
sky, Guido took  out Memo's reflection  and  showed it  to her. Crumpled and
faded though it was, the princess immediately recognized it as her own - the
one  she'd sent soaring around  the  world.  And  then,  as she peered  more
closely at the poor wretch beside her, she saw he was the long-sought prince
for whose sake she had renounced her immortality.
     'She told him the  whole story, but Guido  sadly shook his  head. "Your
words, mean nothing to  me," he said. "There's a knot  in my heart,  and  it
stops me remembering."
     'So Princess Momo laid her  hand  on his breast and untied the knot  in
his  heart with case, and Prince Girolamo suddenly remembered who he was and
where he came from. And he took Princess  Momo by the  hand and led her far,
tar away, to the distant land of Futuria.'
     They both  sat  silent for a  while when Guido  had finished. Then Momo
asked, 'Did they ever get married?'
     'I think so,' said Guido, '- later on.'
     'And are they dead now?'
     'No,' Guido said  firmly, 'I happen to know  that for a fact. The magic
mirror only made you mortal if you looked into it on your own. If two people
looked into it together, it  made them immortal again, and that's what those
two did.'
     The big, silver moon floated high above the dark pine
     50


     trees, bathing the  ruin's ancient  stonework in its mysterious  light.
Momo and Guido sat there side by side, gazing up at  it for a long time  and
feeling quite certain that, if only for the space  of that enchanted moment,
the pair of them were immortal.



     The Men in Grey




     The Timesaving Bank.
     Life  holds one great but quite  commonplace mystery. Though  shared by
each of us and known to all, it seldom rates a second thought. That mystery,
which -most of us take for granted and never think twice about, is time.
     Calendars and  clocks exist to measure  time, but that signifies little
because we all know that an  hour  can seem an eternity or  pass in a flash,
according to how we spend it.
     Time is life itself, and life resides in the human heart.
     The men in  grey knew this better than anyone. Nobody knew the value of
an hour or a minute, or even of a  single second, as well as they. They were
experts  on  time  just  as  leeches  are experts on blood,  and they  acted
accordingly.
     They had designs on people's time -  long-term  and  well-laid plans of
their own. What mattered most to them was that no one should become aware of
their activities. They had surreptitiously installed themselves in the city.
Now,  step  by  step  and  day  by  day,  they  were  secretly invading  its
inhabitants' lives and taking them over.
     They knew the identity of  every person likely to  further  their plans
long  before  that person had  any inkling of it. They waited for  the ideal
moment to entrap him, and they saw to it that the ideal moment came.
     One  such person  was Mr Figaro, the barber. Though not by  any means a
high-class hairdresser,  he was well respected in the neighbourhood. Neither
rich nor  poor,  he  owned a small  barbershop  in the  centre of  town  and
employed an apprentice.
     55


     One day,  Mr  Figaro was  standing at the door of his shop waiting  for
customers. It  was the apprentice's day off, so he was alone. Raindrops were
spattering  the pavement  and  the sky was bleak and  dreary -  as bleak and
dreary as Mr Figaro's mood.
     'Life's passing me by,' he told himself, 'and  what am I getting out of
it? Wielding  a  pair  of scissors,  chatting to customers,  lathering their
faces -  is that  the most I can  expect? When I'm dead, it'll be  as if I'd
never existed.'
     In fact, Mr Figaro had no objection at all to chatting. He liked to air
his  opinions  and  hear  what his  customers thought  of them.  He  had  no
objection to  wielding a pair  of  scissors or  lathering  faces, either. He
genuinely enjoyed his work and knew he did it well. Few barbers could  shave
the underside of a  man's chin as smoothly against  the lie of  the stubble,
but there were times when none of this seemed to matter.
     'I'm an  utter failure,' thought Mr Figaro. 'I  mean, what do I  amount
to? A small-time barber, that's all. If only I could lead the  right kind of
life, I'd be a different person altogether.'
     Exactly what form the right kind of life should  take, Mr Figaro wasn't
sure. He vaguely  pictured it as a distinguished and affluent existence such
as he was always reading about in glossy magazines.
     'The trouble  is,' he thought  sourly,  'my  work leaves me no time for
that sort of thing, and you need time for the right kind of life. You've got
to be free, but I'm a lifelong prisoner of scissors, lather and chitchat.'
     At that  moment a smart  grey  limousine  pulled  up right  outside  Mr
Figaro's barbershop. A grey-suited man  got out and walked in. He  deposited
his grey briefcase on the ledge in front of the mirror, hung his grey bowler
on the  hat-rack, sat  down in the barber's chair, produced a grey  notebook
from his breast pocket and started leafing through it, puffing  meanwhile at
a small grey cigar.
     56


     Mr Figaro shut the street  door because he suddenly found it  strangely
chilly in his little shop.
     'What's it  to be,'  he asked, 'shave or haircut?' Even as he spoke, he
cursed himself for being so tactless: the stranger was as bald as an egg.
     The  man in grey  didn't  smile. 'Neither,'  he replied in a peculiarly
flat and  expressionless  voice  - a grey voice, so to speak. 'I'm from  the
Timesaving Bank. Permit me to introduce myself: Agent No. XYQ/384/b. We hear
you wish to open an account with us.'
     'That's news to me,' said Mr  Figaro. 'To be honest, I didn't even know
such a bank existed.'
     'Well, you  know now,' the  agent said crisply. He consulted his little
grey notebook. 'Your name is Figaro, isn't it?'
     'Correct,' said Mr Figaro. 'That's me.'
     'Then I've come to the right  address,' said the man  in grey, shutting
his notebook with a snap. 'You're on our list of applicants.'
     'How come?' asked Mr Figaro, who was still at a loss.
     'It's like this, my dear sir,' said the  man  in  grey. 'You're wasting
your life cutting hair, lathering  faces  and  swapping idle chitchat.  When
you're dead, it'll be as if you'd never existed. If you only had the time to
lead the right kind of life,  you'd be quite a different person. Time is all
you need, right?'
     'That's just what I was  thinking a moment ago,' mumbled Mr Figaro, and
he shivered  because  it was getting colder and colder  in spite of the door
being shut.
     'You  see!'  said the man  in  grey,  puffing contentedly at  his small
cigar. 'You need more  time, but how are you going to find it? By saving it,
of course. You, Mr  Figaro, are wasting time in a totally irresponsible way.
Let me prove it  to you  by  simple arithmetic. There are sixty seconds in a
minute and sixty minutes in an hour - are you with me so far?'
     'Of course,' said Mr Figaro.
     57


     Agent No. XY Q/384/b produced a  piece of  grey chalk and scrawled some
figures on the mirror.
     'Sixty  times sixty  is  three thousand six hundred, which makes  three
thousand six  hundred seconds  in an hour. There are twenty-four hours  in a
day,  so multiply  three thousand  six  hundred by twenty-four to  find  the
number of seconds in a day and you arrive at a figure of eighty-six thousand
four hundred. There are  three hundred and sixty-five days in a year, as you
know, which  makes thirty-one million  five hundred and  thirty-six thousand
seconds in a year, or  three hundred  and fifteen million three hundred  and
sixty thousand seconds in ten years. How  long do you reckon you'll live, Mr
Figaro?'
     'Well,' stammered Mr Figaro, thoroughly disconcerted by now, 'I hope to
live to seventy or eighty, God willing.'
     'Very  well,' pursued the man in grey. 'Let's call it seventy, to be on
the safe side. Multiply three hundred and fifteen  million three hundred and
sixty thousand by seven and you get a grand total of two billion two hundred
and seven million five hundred and twenty thousand seconds.' He chalked this
figure  up  on the  mirror  in outsize  numerals  --  2,207,520,000  --  and
underlined it several times.  'That, Mr Figaro, is the extent of the capital
at your disposal.'
     Mr  Figaro  gulped and wiped his brow, feeling quite dizzy.  He'd never
realized how rich he was.
     'Yes,'  said the agent, nodding  and  puffing at his small  grey cigar,
'it's an impressive  figure, isn't it?  But let's continue. How  old are you
now, Mr Figaro?'
     'Forty-two,' the  barber  mumbled. He suddenly felt guilty, as  if he'd
committed a fraud of some kind.
     'And how long do you sleep at night, on average?' 'Around eight hours,'
Mr Figaro admitted. The agent did some lightning calculations. The squeak of
his chalk as it raced across the mirror set Mr Figaro's teeth on edge.
     58


     'Forty-two  years  at  eight  hours  a  night  makes  four hundred  and
forty-one million five hundred and four thousand seconds . . . We'll have to
write that off, I'm afraid.  How much of  the day do you devote to work,  Mr
Figaro?'
     'Another eight hours or so,' Mr Figaro said, apologetically.
     'Then we'll have to write off the same amount again,' the agent pursued
relentlessly. 'You  also spend a  certain proportion of  the day eating. How
many hours would you say, counting all meals?'
     'I don't exactly know,* Mr Figaro said nervously. 'Two hours, maybe.'
     'That sounds on the low side to me,' said the agent, 'but assuming it's
correct we get a figure  of one hundred  and  ten million three  hundred and
seventy-six thousand seconds in forty-two years. To continue: you live alone
with your elderly mother, as  we know. You spend a good  hour with  the  old
woman every day, that's  to say, you sit and talk to her although  she's  so
deaf  she can  scarcely  hear a  word. That counts  as  more time  wasted  -
fifty-five million  one  hundred  and eighty-eight  thousand seconds,  to be
precise.  You also keep a budgerigar, a needless  extravagance whose demands
on your  time amount to  fifteen minutes  a day, or  thirteen  million seven
hundred and ninety-seven thousand seconds in forty-two years.'
     'B-but -' Mr Figaro broke  in, imploringly.  'Don't interrupt!' snapped
the  agent, his chalk racing  faster  and  faster  across the  mirror. 'Your
mother's arthritic as well as deaf, so you have to do most of the housework.
You go shopping, clean  shoes and perform other  chores of a similar nature.
How much time does that consume daily?' 'An hour, maybe, but -'
     'So you've  already squandered  another fifty-five million  one hundred
and  eighty-eight thousand seconds, Mr Figaro.  We also know you  go to  the
cinema once a week, sing with a social club once a week, go drinking twice a
week, and spend
     59


     the rest of your evenings reading or gossiping with friends. In  short,
you  devote some three hours  a day  to useless pastimes  that have lost you
another  one  hundred  and sixty-five million  five  hundred and  sixty-four
thousand seconds.'  The  agent  broke off.  'What's  the  matter, Mr Figaro,
aren't you feeling well?'
     'No,'  said  the  barber,'- yes,  I mean.  Please  excuse me . ..' 'I'm
almost through,'  said  the agent. 'First, though, we must touch on a rather
personal aspect of your life - your little secret, if you know what I mean.'
     Mr Figaro was so cold that his teeth had started to chatter.
     'So you know about that,  too?' he  muttered  feebly. 'I  didn't  think
anyone knew except me and Miss Daria -'
     'There's no room for secrets  in the  world  of today,'  his inquisitor
broke  in. 'Look at the matter  rationally and realistically Mr Figaro,  and
answer me one thing: Do you plan to marry Miss Daria?'
     'No-no,' said Mr Figaro, 'I  couldn't do  that...' 'Quite so,' said the
man in grey. 'Being paralysed from the waist down, she'll  have to spend the
rest  of her life in a wheelchair,  yet you  visit her every day for half an
hour and take her flowers. Why?'
     'She's always so pleased to see me,' Mr Figaro replied, close to tears.
     'But  looked  at  objectively, from your own point  of view,'  said the
agent, 'it's time wasted - twenty-seven million five hundred and ninety-four
thousand seconds of it, to date. Furthermore, if we allow for your  habit of
sitting  at the window for a  quarter of an hour every  night, musing on the
day's  events, we have  to  write  off  yet  another thirteen  million seven
hundred  and  ninety-seven thousand  seconds. Very well, let's see  how much
time that makes in all.'
     He drew a line under the  long column of figures and added them up with
the rapidity of a computer.
     60


     The sum on the mirror now looked like this:
     Sleep
     441,504,000
     seconds

     Work
     441,504,000
     do.

     Meals
     110,376,000
     do.

     Mother
     55,188,000
     do.

     Budgerigar
     13,797,000
     do.

     Shopping, etc.
     55,188,000
     do.

     Friends, social club, etc.
     165,564,000
     do.

     Miss Daria
     27,594,000
     do.

     Daydreaming
     13,797,000
     do.


     Grand Total 1,324,512,000 seconds

     'And that figure,'  said  the man  in grey, rapping the mirror with his
chalk so sharply  that it sounded like a burst of machine-gun fire, '-  that
figure represents the time you've wasted up to now. What do you say to that,
Mr Figaro?'
     Mr Figaro  said nothing. He slumped  into a chair in the corner  of the
shop and mopped his brow with a handkerchief, sweating hard despite  the icy
atmosphere.
     The man in grey nodded gravely. 'Yes, you're quite right, my dear  sir,
you've used  up more  than half of your original  capital. Now let's see how
much that leaves of your forty-two  years.  One  year is thirty-one  million
five  hundred  and  thirty-six  thousand seconds,  and that,  multiplied  by
forty-two,  comes to one billion three  hundred and twenty-four million five
hundred and twelve thousand seconds.'
     Beneath the previous total he wrote:



     Total time available Time lost to date
     1,324,512,000 seconds 1,324,512,000 do.






     Balance 0,000,000,000 seconds

     Then he pocketed his chalk and waited for the sight of all the zeros to
take effect, which they did.
     'So that's all my life amounts to,' thought Mr Figaro,
     61


     absolutely shattered.  He  was so impressed by the elaborate sum, which
had come out  perfectly, that he  was  ready to  accept  whatever advice the
stranger had to offer. It was one of the tricks the men in grey used to dupe
prospective customers.
     Agent No. XYQ/384/b broke the silence. 'Can you really  afford to go on
like this?'  he said blandly. 'Wouldn't you  prefer  to  start saving  right
away,  Mr Figaro?'  Mr  Figaro  nodded  mutely, blue-lipped with  cold. 'For
example,' came the agent's grey  voice in his ear, 'if you'd started  saving
even one hour  a day twenty years  ago, you'd now have  a credit balance  of
twenty-six million  two hundred and eighty thousand seconds. Two hours a day
would have saved you twice that amount, of course, or fifty-two million five
hundred and  sixty thousand.  And I ask  you, Mr Figaro, what are two measly
little hours in comparison with a sum of that magnitude?'
     'Nothing!' cried Mr Figaro. 'A mere flea bite!'  'I'm  glad you agree,'
the agent said smoothly. 'And if we calculate  how much you could have saved
that way after another twenty years, we arrive at the handsome figure of one
hundred and five million one hundred  and  twenty thousand seconds.  And the
whole of that capital, Mr Figaro, would have been freely available to you at
the age of sixty-two!'  'F-fantastic!' stammered Mr  Figaro,  wide-eyed with
awe. 'But that's not all,' the agent pursued. 'The best is yet to come.  The
Timesaving  Bank not  only takes care  of  the  time  you save, it  pays you
interest on it as well. In other  words, you  end up with  more than you put
in.'
     'How much more?' Mr Figaro asked  breathlessly. 'That's up to you,' the
agent told him. 'It depends how much time you save and how long you leave it
on deposit with us.'
     'Leave it on deposit?' said Mr  Figaro. 'How  do you mean?' 'It's quite
simple.  If you don't withdraw the time  you save  for five years, we credit
you with the same amount again.
     62


     Your savings double every five years, do you follow? They're worth four
times as much after ten years, eight times as much after fifteen, and so on.
Say you'd  started saving a mere two hours  a  day twenty years ago: by your
sixty-second birthday,  or after  forty years  in all,  you'd  have  had two
hundred  and fifty-six times as much in the bank as you  originally put  in.
That would mean a credit balance  of twenty-six billion nine hundred and ten
million seven hundred and twenty thousand seconds.'
     And  the agent produced his chalk again  and  wrote the figure  on  the
mirror: 26,910,720,000.
     'You can  see  for yourself, Mr Figaro,' he went on, smiling thinly for
the  first time. 'You'd  have  accumulated  over ten times your entire  life
span, just  by saving a couple of hours a day for forty years. If that's not
a paying proposition, I don't know what is.'
     'You're right,' Mr Figaro said wearily, 'it certainly is. What a fool I
was not to start saving time years ago! It didn't dawn on me till now, and I
have to admit I'm appalled.'
     'No need to  be,' the man in  grey said soothingly,'- none at all. It's
never too late to save time. You can start today, if you want to.'
     'Of course I want to!' exclaimed Mr Figaro. 'What do I have to do?'
     The  agent raised his eyebrows.  'Surely  you know how to save time, my
dear  sir?  Work faster, for instance, and  stick to essentials. Spend  only
fifteen minutes on each customer,  instead of the usual half-hour, and avoid
time-wasting conversations. Reduce the hour  you spend with  your mother  by
half. Better still, put her in a  nice, cheap old folks' home, where someone
else can look after  her - that'll  save you  a whole hour a day. Get rid of
that useless budgerigar. See  Miss Daria once every  two weeks,  if  at all.
Give up your fifteen-minute review  of the  day's  events.  Above all, don't
squander so much of your precious time on singing, reading
     63


     and hobnobbing with  your  so-called  friends.  Incidentally, I'd  also
advise you to hang a really accurate clock on the wall  so you can time your
apprentice to the nearest minute.'
     'Fine,' said Mr Figaro. 'I can manage all that, but what about the time
I save? Do  I  have  to  pay it  in,  and if so where,  or  should I keep it
somewhere safe till you collect it? How does the system operate?'
     The man  in  grey  gave another thin-lipped smile. 'Don't worry,  we'll
take care of that. Rest assured, we won't mislay a single second of the time
you save. You'll find you haven't any left over.'
     'All right,' Mr Figaro said dazedly, 'I'll take your word for it.'
     'You  can do so  with complete confidence, my dear sir.' The agent rose
to his feet. 'And  now, permit me to welcome you  to  the ranks of the great
timesaving movement.  You're a truly  modern  and  progressive member of the
community, Mr Figaro. 1 congratulate  you.' So  saying, he picked up his hat
and briefcase.
     'One  moment,'  said  Mr Figaro.  'Shouldn't  there  be  some  form  of
contract? Oughtn't I to sign something? Don't I get a policy of some kind?'
     Agent No.  XY Q/384/b, who  had already  reached  the  door, turned and
regarded  Mr Pigaro with faint annoyance. 'What on earth for?' he  demanded.
'Timesaving can't be compared with any  other kind of saving - it  calls for
absolute trust on both sides. Your word is good enough for us, especially as
you  can't go back on it. We'll take care of your savings,  though  how much
you  save is  entirely up  to you - we  never bring  pressure to bear on our
customers. Good day, Mr Figaro.'
     On that note, the agent climbed into his smart grey car and purred off.
     Mr Figaro gazed after him, kneading his brow. Although he was gradually
becoming warmer again, he felt sick and
     64


     wretched. The air still reeked of smoke from the agent's cigar, a dense
blue haze that was slow to disperse.
     Not till the smoke had finally gone did Mr Figaro begin to feel better.
But  as it faded, so did  the figures chalked up  on  the mirror, and by the
time they had  vanished  altogether  Mr Figaro's recollection of his visitor
had  vanished  too.  He forgot the man in grey but  not his  new resolution,
which he believed  to be his alone. The determination to save time now so as
to be able to begin a new life sometime in the future had embedded itself in
his soul like a poisoned arrow.
     When the  first customer of the day  turned up,  Mr  Figaro gave  him a
surly reception. By doing no more than  was absolutely necessary and keeping
his  mouth  shut,  he got  through  in twenty minutes instead  of  the usual
thirty.
     From now on he subjected every customer to the same treatment. Although
he ceased to enjoy his work,  that was of  secondary importance. He  engaged
two assistants in addition to his apprentice and watched them like a hawk to
see they didn't waste a moment. Every move they made was geared to a precise
timetable, in accordance with the notice that now  adorned  the wall of  the
barbershop: TIME SAVED IS TIME DOUBLED!
     Mr Figaro wrote Miss  Daria a brief, businesslike note  regretting that
pressure  of work would  prevent  him  from  seeing  her in the  future. His
budgerigar  he  sold  to a  pet  shop. As for his mother,  he put her in  an
inexpensive old folks' home and visited her once a month. In the belief that
the grey stranger's recommendations were his own  decisions, he carried them
out to the letter.
     Meanwhile, he was becoming increasingly restless and irritable. The odd
thing was that, no matter how much time he saved, he never had any to spare;
in some mysterious way, it simply vanished. Imperceptibly at first, but then
quite unmistakably, his days grew shorter and shorter. Almost before he knew
it, another week had gone by, and
     65






     another month, and another year, and another and another.
     Having no recollection of  the  grey stranger's visit, Mr Figaro should
seriously have asked  himself where all  his time was going, but that  was a
question  never considered by him or any other timesaver. Something  in  the
nature  of a blind obsession had taken hold of Lim,  and when he realized to
his  horror  that  his  days  were  flying  by  faster  and  faster,  as  he
occasionally did, it only reinforced his grim determination to save time.
     Many other inhabitants of the city were similarly afflicted. Every day,
more and more people took  to saving time, and the more they did so the more
they were copied by others -even by  those who had no real desire to join in
but felt obliged to.
     Radio, television  and  newspapers  daily advertised and  extolled  the
merits  of new, timesaving gadgets that would  one  day leave people free to
live the  'right' kind of  life. Walls  and  billboards were  plastered with
posters depicting scenes of happiness and prosperity.  Splashed  across them
in fluorescent lettering were slogans such as:
     TIMESAVERS ARE  GOING PLACES  FAST! THE FUTURE  BELONGS TO  TIMESAVERS!
MAKE MORE OF YOUR LIFE - SAVE TIME!
     The real picture, however,  was very  different. Admittedly, timesavers
were  better dressed  than the people who lived near the  old  amphitheatre.
They  earned more money  and  had  more  to  spend,  but they looked  tired,
disgruntled and  sour, and  there was  an  unfriendly light  in their  eyes.
They'd  never heard the phrase 'Why not go and  see Momo?' nor did they have
anyone  to  listen  to them in  a way  that  would  make them  reasonable or
conciliatory, let alone happy. Even had they known of such a person, they
     66


     would have  been highly  unlikely to pay him or her a visit  unless the
whole  affair could be  dealt with in five minutes flat, or they would  have
considered it a waste of time. In  their view, even leisure time had  to  be
used  to  the full, so  as  to  extract  the maximum  of  entertainment  and
relaxation with the minimum of delay.
     Whatever the  occasion, whether  solemn or joyous, time-savers could no
longer celebrate it properly. Daydreaming they regarded almost as a criminal
offence. What they could endure least of all, however, was silence, for when
silence fell they became terrified by the realization of what  was happening
to their lives. And  so, whenever silence threatened to descend, they made a
noise. It  wasn't a happy sound, of course, like the hubbub in a  children's
playground, but an angry, ill-tempered din that grew louder every day.
     It  had  ceased to matter that people  should enjoy their work and take
pride in it; on the contrary, enjoyment merely  slowed them  down. All  that
mattered  was  to  get  through  as much  work  as possible in the  shortest
possible time, so notices to that effect were prominently displayed in every
factory and office building. They read:
     TIME IS PRECIOUS - DON'T WASTE IT! or:
     TIME IS MONEY - SAVE IT!
     Similar   notices  hung   above   business  executives'  desks  and  in
boardrooms,  in doctors' consulting rooms, shops, restaurants and department
stores - even in schools and kindergartens. No one was left out.
     Last but  not least, the appearance of the city itself changed more and
more. Old buildings were pulled down and replaced with modern ones devoid of
all  the  things that were now thought superfluous. No architect troubled to
design houses that suited the people who were to live in them, because that
     67


     would have meant building a whole range of different houses. It was far
cheaper and, above all, more timesaving to make them identical.
     Huge modem  housing  developments  sprang  up  on the  city's  northern
outskirts - endless rows of multi-storeyed tenements as indistinguishable as
peas in  a pod.  And  because the buildings all looked alike, so, of course,
did  the streets. They grew steadily longer, stretching away to the  horizon
in  dead  straight  lines and  turning the  countryside  into a  disciplined
desert. The lives of the people who inhabited this desert followed a similar
pattern: they ran dead straight for as  far as the eye could see. Everything
in them was carefully planned and  programmed, down to the last move and the
last moment of time.
     People never seemed to  notice that, by saving time,  they  were losing
something else.  No one cared  to admit that  life was becoming ever poorer,
bleaker and more monotonous.
     The  ones who felt this  most keenly  were the children, because no one
had time for them any more.
     But time is  life  itself, and life resides in the human heart. And the
more people saved, the less they had.



     The Visitor
     'I don't  know,' Momo said one day. 'Seems to  me our old friends  come
here  less and less often than they used to. I haven't seen some of them for
ages.'
     She was  sitting  between Guido  Guide  and  Beppo Road-sweeper on  the
grass-grown steps of the ruined amphitheatre, watching the sun go down.
     'Yes,' Guido said pensively,  'it's the same  with  me. Fewer and fewer
people  listen to my stories.  It  isn't  like it  used  to  be. Something's
wrong.'
     'But what?' said Momo.
     Guido shrugged, spat on the slate he'd been writing on and thoughtfully
rubbed the letters  out. Beppo had found  the slate  in  a garbage  can some
weeks before and presented  it to Momo. It wasn't a new one, of  course, and
it had  a big crack down the  middle, but it was quite usable all  the same.
Guido had been teaching Momo her alphabet ever since.  Momo  had a very good
memory, so she could  already read quite well, though her writing was coming
on more slowly.
     Beppo, who had been pondering Momo's question, nodded and said, 'You're
right, it's  closing in -- it's the same all over the city. I've  noticed it
for quite a time.'
     'Noticed what?' asked Momo.
     Beppo thought a while. Then he said,  'Nothing good.' There was another
pause before he added, 'It's getting cold.'
     'Never mind,'  said  Guido, putting his  arm  consolingly around Momo's
shoulders, 'more and more children come here, anyway.'
     69


     'Exactly,'  said Beppo, 'that's  just  it.'  'What  do  you mean?' Momo
asked. Beppo thought for a long  time  before replying. 'They don't come for
the  sake of  our  company,'  he  said. 'It's a refuge they're after, that's
all.'
     They  looked  down  at  the  stretch  of  grass in  the  middle  of the
amphitheatre, where  a newly  invented  game was in progress.  The  children
included several  of Momo's  old friends:  Paolo, the boy who wore  glasses;
Maria and her little sister, Rosa;
     Massimo, the fat boy with the  squeaky  voice; and Franco,  the lad who
always looked rather ragged and unkempt. In addition to them, however, there
were a number of children who had only been coming for the past few days and
one small boy who had first appeared that morning. It looked as if Guido was
right; their numbers were increasing every day.
     Momo  would have been delighted, except  that most of the newcomers had
no idea how to  play. All they did  was sit around looking bored and  sullen
and watching Momo and  her friends. Sometimes they deliberately broke up the
other children's games and spoiled everything.  Squabbles and scuffles  were
frequent, though  these never  lasted long  because  Momo's presence had its
usual effect on the newcomers, too, so they soon started having bright ideas
themselves and joining in with a will. The trouble was, new children  turned
up  nearly every  day, some  of them from distant parts of the city, and one
spoilsport was enough to ruin a game for everyone else.
     But  there was another thing Momo  couldn't  quite understand - a thing
that  hadn't happened until very recently. More  and more often these  days,
children turned  up with all kinds of  toys  you couldn't really  play with:
remote-controlled tanks that trundled to and  fro but did  little  else,  or
space rockets that  whizzed  around  on strings  but  got  nowhere, or model
robots  that waddled  along with eyes flashing and heads swivelling but that
was all.
     70


     They were highly expensive toys such as Momo's friends had never owned,
still less Momo herself. Most noticeable of all, they were so complete, down
to the  tiniest detail, that they left nothing at  all  to  the imagination.
Their owners  would spend hours watching them, mesmerized but bored, as they
trundled, whizzed or waddled along. Finally, when that palled, they would go
back to the familiar old games  in which a couple of cardboard boxes, a torn
tablecloth, a  molehill or  a handful of  pebbles  were quite sufficient  to
conjure up a whole world of makebelieve.
     For some reason, this evening's game  didn't seem to be going too well.
The children dropped  out, one by one, until  they all  sat clustered around
Guido, Beppo and Momo. They were hoping for a story from Guido, but that was
impossible  because the latest arrival had brought along a transistor radio.
He was sitting a few feet away with  the  volume at full blast, listening to
commercials.
     'Turn it down, can't you?' growled Franco, the shabby-looking lad.
     The newcomer pointed to the radio and shook his head. 'Can't hear you,'
he said with an impudent grin.
     'Turn it down!' shouted Franco, rising to his feet.
     The newcomer paled  a little but looked defiant. 'Nobody  tells me what
to do,' he said. 'I can have my radio on as loud as I like.'
     'He's right,' said old Beppo. 'We  can't forbid him to make such a din,
the most we can do is ask him not to.'
     Franco  sat  down  again.  'Then  he  ought  to  go somewhere else,' he
grumbled. 'He's already ruined the whole afternoon.'
     'I expect  he  has  his  reasons,' Beppo  said,  studying the  newcomer
intently but not unkindly  through his little steel-rimmed spectacles. 'He's
sure to have.'
     The newcomer said  nothing, but moments later he turned  his radio down
and looked away.
     71


     Momo went  over and sat down  quietly beside him. He  switched  off the
radio altogether, and for a while all was still.
     'Tell us a  story, Guido,' begged one of the recent arrivals. 'Oh  yes,
do!' the  others chimed in. 'A funny one - no, an exciting one - no, a fairy
tale - no, an adventure story!'
     But Guido, for the  first  time  ever, wasn't  in  the mood for telling
stories. At length he said,  'I'd far  rather  you told  me something  about
yourselves and your homes - how you spend your time and why you come here.'
     The  children  relapsed  into  silence. All  of  a  sudden, they looked
dejected and uncommunicative.
     "We've got a nice new car,'  one of  them said at  last. 'On Saturdays,
when  my mother and  father have time, they wash it.  If I've been good, I'm
allowed to help. I want a car like that when I'm older.'
     'My  parents  let me  go  to the cinema every day, if I  like,'  said a
little  girl.  'They don't have time  to  look  after me, you  see, and it's
cheaper than a  babysitter. That's  why I sneak  off here and save the money
they give me for the cinema. When I've saved up  enough, I'm going to buy an
aeroplane ticket and go and see the Seven Dwarfs.'
     'Don't be silly,' said another child. 'They don't exist.' 'They do so,'
retorted  the little girl. 'I've  even  seen  pictures  of  them in a travel
brochure.'
     'I've got eleven books on tape,' said a little boy, 'so I can listen to
them whenever  I like. Once upon a time my dad used to tell  me stories when
he came home from work. That was nice, but he's hardly ever home these days,
and even when he is he's too tired and  doesn't  feel  like it.' 'What about
your mother?' asked Maria. 'She's out all day too.'
     'It's the same with us,' said Maria. 'I'm lucky, though, having Rosa to
keep me company.' She hugged the little girl on her lap and went on, 'When I
get home from school I heat up our supper. Then I do my homework, and  then'
- she
     72


     shrugged her shoulders -- 'then we just hang around till it gets  dark.
We come here, usually.'
     From the way the children nodded, it was clear that they all fared much
the same.
     'Personally, I'm  glad my parents  don't have time for me these  days,'
said Franco, who  didn't look  glad in the  least.  'They only quarrel  when
they're home, and then they take it out on me.'
     Abruptly,  the boy with the transistor looked up  and said, 'At least I
get a lot more pocket money than I used to.'
     'Sure you do,' sneered Paolo. 'The grown-ups dish out money to  get rid
of us. They don't like us any more - they don't even like themselves. If you
ask me, they don't like anything any more.'
     'That's not true!' the newcomer exclaimed angrily. 'My  parents like me
a lot. It isn't their fault, not having any time to spare, it's just the way
things are.  They gave me this transistor  to keep me company, and it cost a
lot. That proves they're fond of me, doesn't it?'
     No  one  spoke,  and  suddenly  the boy who'd  been  a  spoilsport  all
afternoon began to cry. He tried to smother his sobs and wiped his eyes with
his grubby fists, but  the tears flowed fast, leaving pallid snail tracks in
the patches of grime on his cheeks.
     The  other  children gazed  at  him  sympathetically or  stared at  the
ground. They understood him now. Deep down, all of them felt as he did: they
felt abandoned.
     'Yes,' old Beppo repeated after a while, 'it's getting cold.'
     'I may not be able to come here much  longer,' said Paolo, the boy with
glasses.
     Momo looked surprised. 'Why not?'
     'My parents  think  you're a bunch of  lazy  good-for-nothings,'  Paolo
explained. 'They say you fritter your time away. They say there are too many
of your son around. You've got so much time on your hands, other people have
to
     73


     make  do with  less and less - that's what they  say -  and  if I  keep
coming here I'll end up just like you.'
     Again there were  nods of agreement  from  the other children, who  had
been told much the same thing.
     Guido looked at each of them  in turn. 'Is that what you  think of  us,
too?' he asked. 'If so, why do you keep on coming?'
     It was Franco who broke  the short silence  that followed. 'I  couldn't
care less. My old man says I'll end up in prison, anyway. I'm on your side.'
     'I see,' Guido said sadly. 'So you do  think  we're stealing time  from
other people.'
     The  children  dropped their eyes and looked  embarrassed.  At  length,
gazing intently into Beppo's face, Paolo said,  'Our parents wouldn't lie to
us, would they?' In a low voice, he added, 'Aren't you time-thieves, then?'
     At  that the old  roadsweeper rose to his full but  diminutive  height,
solemnly raised his right hand, and declared, 'I have never, never stolen so
much as a second of another person's time, so help me God.'
     'Nor have I,' said Momo.
     'Nor I,' Guido said earnestly.
     The children preserved an  awed silence. If the three friends had given
their solemn word, that was good enough.
     'And while  we're on the  subject,' Guido went  on,  'let  me  tell you
something else. Once upon a time, people  used to like coming  to  see  Momo
because she listened to them and helped them to know their own minds, if you
follow my meaning. Nowadays they seldom stop to wonder what they think. They
used to enjoy listening to me, too, because my stories helped them to forget
their troubles,  but they  seldom bother with  that either. They don't  have
time for such things, they say, but haven't you noticed something odd?  It's
strange the things they don't have time for any more.'
     Guido surveyed the listening children with narrowed eyes
     74


     and nodded before continuing. 'The other  day,' he said, "I bumped into
an  old friend in  town, a barber by  the  name of Figaro. We hadn't met for
quite a while, and I hardly recognized him, he was so changed - so irritable
and grumpy and depressed.  He used to  be a  cheerful  type, always singing,
always  airing  his  ideas on every  subject  under the  sun. Now,  all of a
sudden,  he hasn't got time  for anything like that. The man's just a shadow
of his former self - he isn't good  old  Figaro any more, if you know what I
mean. But now comes  the really  strange part:  if he were the only one, I'd
think he'd  gone a  bit  cracked, but he isn't. There are people like Figaro
wherever you look - more and more of them every day. Even some of our oldest
friends  are  going  the  same  way. I'm beginning  to  wonder  if  it isn't
catching.'
     Old  Beppo  nodded.  'You're right,'  he  said, 'it must be.' 'In  that
case,' said Momo, looking dismayed, 'our friends need help.'
     They spent a long time  that evening debating what to do. Of the men in
grey  and  their ceaseless  activities, none  of  them yet  had the faintest
suspicion.
     Momo, who couldn't wait  to ask her old friends what was wrong and  why
they'd stopped coming to see her, spent the next few days looking them up.
     The first person she called  on was Salvatore, the bricklayer. She knew
the house well - Salvatore lived in a little garret under the roof -- but he
wasn't at home. According to the other  tenants, he now worked on one of the
big new housing  developments on the far side of town and was earning a  lot
of money. He  seldom came home at all these days, they said, and when he did
it was usually in the small hours. He'd taken to the bottle and  was hard to
get along with.
     Momo  decided to wait  for him  just the  same, so she sat  down on the
stairs outside his door. When it grew dark, she fell asleep.
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     It must have been long past midnight when she was woken by the sound of
unsteady footsteps  and raucous singing. Salvatore came blundering upstairs,
caught sight of Momo, and stopped short, looking dumbfounded.
     'Momo!' he said hoarsely, clearly embarrassed to be seen in his present
condition. 'So you're still around, eh? What on earth are you doing here?'
     'Waiting to  see  you,'  Momo replied shyly. 'You're a fine one, I must
say!' Salvatore smiled and shook his head. 'Fancy turning up to see your old
pal Salvatore in the middle of the night! I'd have paid you a visit  myself,
ages ago, but I just don't have the time any more, not for  - well, personal
things.'  He gestured vaguely  and  flopped down on the stairs  beside  her.
'You've no idea the kind of life  I lead these days. Things  aren't the  way
they  used  to  be  -  times  are changing.  Over  where  I'm  working  now,
everything's  done  in double-quick time. We all  work like fury. One  whole
floor a day, that's what we  have to sling  together, day after day. Yes, it
isn't like it used to be. Everything's organized -- every  last move we make
. ..'
     Momo listened closely as he rambled on, and the longer she listened the
less enthusiastic he sounded.  Suddenly he lapsed into silence  and massaged
his face with his work-roughened hands.
     'I've been talking  rubbish,' he  said sadly. 'I'm  drunk again,  Momo,
that's the trouble. I often get drunk these days, there's no denying it, but
that's the only  way I can  stomach  the  thought  of  what we're doing over
there.  To an  honest bricklayer like  me,  it goes against  the grain.  Too
little cement and too much sand,  if you know what that  means. Four or five
years is  all  those buildings will last, then they'll collapse if anyone so
much as blows his nose. Shoddy  workmanship  from  top to bottom, but that's
not  the worst  of it.  Those  tenements we're  putting up aren't places for
people to live in,
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     they're - they're hen coops. It's  enough to  make you sick. Still, why
should  I care as long as  I get my wages at the end of the week? Yes, times
are  changing all right.  It used to give me a kick when we  built something
worthwhile, but now  ... Someday, when I've  made enough money, I'm going to
quit this job and do something different.'
     He propped his chin on his hands and stared mournfully into space. Momo
still said nothing, just went on  listening.  When Salvatore spoke again, he
sounded a little brighter.
     'Maybe I  should start  coming to see  you  again and  telling  you  my
troubles -- yes, I really should. What about tomorrow or the day after? I'll
have to see if I can fit it in, but I'll come, never fear. Is it a date?'
     Momo nodded happily. Then, because they were both very tired, they said
good night and she left.
     But Salvatore  never turned up, neither the next  day nor the day after
that. He never turned up at all.
     The next people Momo called on were Nino the innkeeper and his fat wife
Liliana. Their little old  tavern, which had damp-stained  walls and  a vine
growing around the door, was on the outskirts of town.
     Momo  went around to the back, as she used to in  the old days. Through
the  kitchen  door,  which  was  open,  she  could  hear  Nino  and  Liliana
quarrelling  violently.  Liliana, her  plump  face  shiny  with  sweat,  was
clattering  pots  and  pans  around  on the  stove  while Nino  shouted  and
gesticulated  at  her. Their baby was lying  in  a  baskerwork  crib in  the
corner, screaming.
     Momo sat down quietly beside  the baby, took it on her  lap, and rocked
it  gently to and  fro until it stopped  crying.  The  grown-ups interrupted
their war of words and glanced in her direction.
     'Oh, it's you,' said  Nino, with a ghost of a  smile. 'Nice  to see you
again, Momo.'
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     'Hungry?' Liliana inquired rather brusquely.
     Momo shook her head.
     'So what do  you want?' Nino demanded. He sounded grumpy. 'We're rather
pressed for time just now.'
     'I only wanted to ask  why it's been so long since you came to see me,'
Momo said softly.
     Nino frowned. 'Search me,' he said irritably.  'I've got enough worries
as it is.'
     'Yes,' snapped Liliana, 'he certainly has.  Getting rid of our  regular
customers, that's all he worries about these days.  Remember the old men who
always used to sit at the corner table in the bar, Momo? Well,  he sent them
packing -- he chucked them out!'
     'No, I didn't,' Nino protested. 'I asked them, quite politely,  to take
their custom elsewhere. As landlord of this inn, I was  perfectly within  my
rights.'
     'Your rights, your rights!' Liliana said angrily. 'You simply can't act
that way - it's mean and cruel. You  know  they'll never find another inn as
easygoing as ours. It wasn't as if they were disturbing anyone.'
     'There  wasn't  anyone  to  disturb, that's  why!' retorted  Nino.  'No
decent,  well-heeled  customers  would  patronize  this  place  while  those
stubble-chinned  old  codgers  were  lolling  about in the  corner. Besides,
there's little enough profit  in one  measly glass  of cheap red wine, which
was all they could afford in an evening.  We'll never  get anywhere at  this
rate.'
     Liliana shrugged. 'We've done all right so far.'
     'So far, maybe,' Nino said fiercely, 'but you know yourself we can't go
on like  this. They've just raised our rent  --  I've got to pay  thirty per
cent more than before and everything's getting more expensive all  the time.
How am I  going  to find the money if I  turn  this  place  into a home  for
doddering old down-and-outs? Why  should  I go easy on other people?  No one
goes easy on me.'
     78


     Liliana  banged a  saucepan  down  on the stove  so hard that  the  lid
rattled.  'Let me remind you of  something,' she said, putting  her hands on
her mountainous hips. 'One of those doddering old down-and-outs, as you call
them.  is  my  Uncle  Enrico, and  I won't have  you insulting my relations.
Enrico's a decent, respectable  man, even  if he  doesn't have much money to
splash around, like those well-heeled customers you've set your heart on.'
     'But Enrico's free  to come  here  any rime,'  Nino said  with a lordly
gesture. 'I told him he could stay if he wanted, but he wouldn't.'
     'Without his cronies? Of course he wouldn't! What did you expect him to
do, sit in a corner by himself?'
     'That  settles it, then,' Nino shouted. 'In any case, I've no intention
of ending my  days  as a small-time  innkeeper  just for your Uncle Enrico's
benefit. I want to get somewhere in life.  Is that such a crime?  I  aim  to
make a success of this place, and not just for my own sake. I'm  thinking of
you and the baby as well, Liliana, don't you understand?'
     'No, I don't,' Liliana  said  sharply. 'If being heartless is the  only
way you can get somewhere in life, count me out. I warn you: sooner or later
I'll pack  up and leave you, so suit yourself!'  On that note, she took  the
baby  from Momo - it had  started crying  again -  and flounced  out  of the
kitchen.
     Nino said nothing for a long time. He  lit a  cigarette and twiddled it
between his fingers while Momo sat watching him.
     'As a matter of fact,' he said eventually, 'they were nice  old boys --
I was fond of them myself.  I feel bad about them, Momo, but what else could
I do?  Times  have changed, you see.' His voice trailed  off,  and  it was a
while before he went on.  'Maybe Liliana  was right all along.  Now that the
old men don't  come  here  any more,  the  atmosphere  seems strange  -cold,
somehow. I  don't even like the place myself. I honestly  don't know what to
do for the best. Everyone acts the same
     79


     way these days,  so why should I be the odd man out?' He hesitated. 'Or
do you think I should?'
     Momo gave an almost imperceptible nod.
     Nino caught her eye and nodded too. Then they both smiled.
     'I'm glad you came,' Nino said. 'I'd quite forgotten the way we  always
used to say, "Why not go and see Momo?" Well, I will come and see you again,
and I'll bring Liliana with me. The day after tomorrow is our day off. We'll
turn up then, all right?'
     'All right,' said Momo, and went on  her way,  but not  before Nino had
presented her with a big bag of apples and oranges.
     Sure  enough, Nino and Liliana turned up two days later,  complete with
their baby and a basketful of goodies.
     'Just imagine, Momo,' said Liliana,  beaming,  'Nino went  to see Uncle
Enrico and the other old men. He apologized  to  them,  one after the other,
and asked them to come back.'
     Nino smiled, too,  and scratched his ear in some embarrassment.  'Yes,'
he said, 'and back they all came. I can say goodbye to my plans for the inn,
but at least I like the place again.'
     He chuckled, and Liliana said, 'We'll get by, Nino.'
     It  turned  out  to be a  lovely  afternoon,  and  before leaving  they
promised to come again soon.
     So Momo went the rounds  of all her old friends, one by one. She called
on the carpenter who  had made her  little table and  chairs out  of packing
cases, and  on the  women who had  brought her  the bedstead. In  short, she
called  on all the people whom she had listened to  in the old days and who,
thanks to her, had grown wiser, happier or more self-assured. Although  some
of them failed to keep their promise  to come and see her, or were unable to
for lack of time, so many old faces did turn up that  things were almost  as
they used to be.
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     Not that Momo knew it,  she was upsetting the plans of the men in grey,
and that they couldn't tolerate.
     Soon afterwards, one exceptionally hot and sultry afternoon,  Momo came
across a doll on the steps of the old amphitheatre.
     It wasn't uncommon for children to forget all about expensive toys they
couldn't really play with and leave  them behind by mistake, but Momo had no
recollection  of seeing such a doll  - and she would  certainly have noticed
it, because it was a very unusual one.
     Nearly as tall as Momo herself,  the doll was so lifelike that it might
almost have been mistaken for a miniature human being, though not a child or
a baby. Its red  minidress  and high-heeled sandals made it look more like a
shop-window dummy or a stylish young woman about town.
     Momo stared  at it, fascinated. After a while she  put out her hand and
touched  it.  Instantly,  the  doll blinked a  couple  of times,  opened its
rosebud  mouth, and  said,  in  a metallic voice that sounded  as if it were
issuing from a telephone, 'Hello, I'm Lola, the Living Doll.'
     Momo jumped back in  alarm. Then,  automatically, she replied,  'Hello,
I'm Momo.'
     The doll's lips moved again. 'I belong to you,' it said. 'All the other
kids envy you because I'm yours.'
     'You aren't mine,' Momo  said.  'Someone  must  have  left  you here by
mistake.'
     She picked the doll up. Again the lips  moved.  'I'd like some nice new
things,' said the metallic voice.
     'Would you?' Momo thought  for a moment. 'I  doubt if I've got anything
you'd care for, but you're welcome to look.'
     Still holding  the doll, Momo  clambered through  the hole  in the wall
that led to her underground room. All her most treasured possessions were in
a box beneath the bed. She pulled it out and lifted the lid.
     81


     'Here,' she  said, 'this is all I've got. If you'd like anything,  )ust
tell me.' And she showed the doll a colourful bird's feather,  a pebble with
pretty streaks in  it, a brass  button and a fragment of coloured glass. The
doll said nothing, so she nudged it.
     'Hello,' it said. 'I'm Lola, the Living Doll.'
     'I know,' said Momo,  'but you told me you wanted  something. How about
this lovely pink seashell? Would you like it?'
     'I  belong to  you,'  the doll  replied. 'All  the  other kids envy you
because I'm yours.'
     'You told  me that, too,' said Momo. 'All right,  if you don't want any
of my things, perhaps we could play a game together. Shall we?'
     'I'd like some nice new things,' the doll repeated.
     'I don't have anything else,' Momo  said. She took the doll and climbed
back outside again. Then she put Lola, the  Living Doll,  on the ground  and
sat down facing her.
     'Let's pretend you've come to pay me a visit,' Momo suggested.
     'Hello,' said the doll. 'I'm Lola, the Living Doll.'
     'How nice of you to call,' Momo replied politely. 'Have you come far?'
     'I belong to you,' the doll said. 'All the other  kids envy you because
I'm yours.'
     'Look,' said  Momo,  'we'll never get anywhere  if you go  on repeating
yourself like this.'
     'I'd  like some  nice  new  things,'  said  the  doll,  fluttering  its
eyelashes.
     Momo tried several games in turn, but nothing came of them. If only the
doll had remained  silent,  she could have supplied the answers herself  and
held an interesting conversation with  it. As it was,  the very fact that it
could talk made conversation impossible.
     Before long, Momo was overcome by a sensation so
     82


     entirely  new to her that she  took quite a  while  to recognize it  as
plain boredom.  Although her  inclination  was to abandon Lola,  the  Living
Doll, and play some  other  game, she couldn't for some reason  tear herself
away. So there she sat, gazing  at the doll, and the  doll, with  its glassy
blue eyes fixed on hers,  gazed  back. It was as if they had hypnotized each
other.
     When,  at  long last, Momo did  manage to  drag her eyes away from  the
doll, she gave a little start of surprise. Parked close by, not that she had
heard it drive up, stood a smart grey car. In it sat a man wearing a suit as
grey  as a spider's web and a stiff, round bowler hat of the same colour. He
was smoking a small grey cigar, and his face, too, was as grey as ashes.
     He must have been  watching Momo  for  some time because  he nodded and
smiled at her; and although  the day was  so hot that the air was dancing in
the sunlight, Momo suddenly began to shiver.
     The man  opened the  car  door and  came  over, carrying  a  steel-grey
briefcase.
     'What a  lovely doll  you have there,' he said in a peculiarly flat and
expressionless voice. 'It must be the envy of all your playmates.'
     Momo just shrugged and said nothing.
     'I'll bet it cost a fortune,' the man in grey went on.
     'I  wouldn't know,' Momo mumbled,  feeling rather embarrassed. 'I found
it lying around.'
     'Well, I never!' said  the man in grey. 'You are a lucky  girl, and  no
mistake!'
     Momo remained silent and hugged her baggy jacket tightly to her. It was
growing colder and colder.
     'All the same,'  said the man in grey with a  thin-lipped  smile,  'you
don't seem too pleased.'
     Momo shook  her head. She  suddenly  felt as if happiness had fled  the
world for ever - or rather, as  if happiness had  never existed and  all her
ideas of it had been merely figments
     83


     ot her own imagination.  At the same  time,  she  had a presentiment of
danger.
     'I've  been watching you for quite a while,'  pursued  the man in grey.
'From  what I've seen, you don't have the first idea how to play with such a
marvellous doll. Shall I show you?'
     Momo stared  at  him in surprise  and nodded.  'I'd like some nice  new
things,' the doll squawked suddenly.
     'You  see?' said  the man in grey. 'She's actually telling you herself.
You can't play with a marvellous doll  like this the way you'd play with any
old  doll,  that's  obvious. Anyway,  it isn't  what she's meant for. If you
don't want to get bored with her, you have to give her things. Look here!'
     He went back  to the  car and opened the boot. 'In the first place,' he
said, 'she  needs plenty of  clothes  - like this gorgeous evening gown, for
instance.'
     He pulled out a gown and tossed it to Momo.  'And here's a genuine mink
coat, and a  tennis dress, and a skiing outfit, and a swimsuit, and a riding
habit, and some pyjamas, and a  nightie, and another dress, and another, and
another, and another . . .'
     One by  one,  he tossed them over till they formed a huge heap  on  the
ground between Momo and the doll.
     'There,' he said with another  thin-lipped smile, 'that should keep you
happy for a while, shouldn't it? Or are you going to get bored again after a
couple of days? Very  well, you'll  just have  to have some more nice things
for your doll.' And  he reached inside the boot  again. 'Here, for instance,
is  a real little snakeskin  purse with  a  real little  lipstick and powder
compact inside. Here's a miniature camera, and a tennis racket, and a doll's
TV set that really works.  Here's  a bracelet, a  necklace, some earrings, a
doll's gold-plated automatic, some  silk stockings, a  feather  boa, a straw
hat, an Easter bonnet, some miniature golf clubs,
     84


     a  little  chequebook, perfume, bath salts, body lotion .. .' He  broke
off and  glanced  keenly at Momo, who  was sitting amid this clutter of toys
with a stunned expression on her face.
     'You see,' he said, 'it's  quite simple. As long  as you go  on getting
more  and more things, you'll never grow bored. I know what you're  going to
say:  Sooner  or later, Lola  will  have  everything, and then I'll be bored
again. Well, there's no fear of that. Here we have the perfect boyfriend for
Lola.'
     This time, when he reached  into  the boot, he produced a boy doll.  It
was the same size as Lola and just  as lifelike.  'Look,'  he said, 'this is
Butch.  He has any number  of nice things, too, and  when you get bored with
him we can supply a girlfriend for Lola with  masses of  outfits that  won't
fit anyone but her. Butch  has a friend, too, and his friend has  friends of
his  own, and so on  ad infinitum. So  you  see,  you need  never get  bored
because the game  can go on for ever. There's  always something left to wish
for.'
     As he spoke, the man in grey took doll  after doll from the boot, whose
contents seemed inexhaustible.  Momo  continued to  sit there, watching  him
rather apprehensively, while he arrayed them on the ground beside her.
     'Well,' he said at length,  expelling a dense cloud  of smoke from  his
cigar, 'now do you see how to play with dolls like these?'
     'Yes,' said Momo, who was positively shaking with cold.
     Satisfied, the man in  grey nodded and took  another pull at his cigar.
'You'd  like  to keep  all  these nice things, wouldn't you? Of  course  you
would. Very well, I'll make you a  present of them. You can have  them - not
all at  once, of  course, but one at a time -- and  lots of other things  as
well. You don't  have  to do anything in return, just play with them the way
I've shown you. What do you say?'
     He fixed  Momo  with  an  expectant smile.  Then, when  she still  said
nothing, just  returned his gaze without  smiling  back, he went on quickly,
'You won't need your friends any more,
     85


     don't you see?  You'll  have quite enough to amuse you  when  all these
lovely things are yours and you keep on getting more,  won't you? You'd like
that,  wouldn't  you?  Surely you want this marvellous doll? I'll bet you've
already set your heart on it!'
     Momo  dimly sensed that she had  a fight on her hands -indeed, that she
was  already in the  thick of the fray  --  but she  didn't know why she was
fighting  or  with whom. The longer she  listened to this stranger, the more
she felt as she had felt with the  doll: she could hear a voice speaking and
hear  the words it uttered, but  she  couldn't tell  who was actually saying
them. She shook her head.
     'What!' exclaimed the man  in grey, raising  his eyebrows.  'You  modem
children are never satisfied, honestly! Lola's perfect in  every detail.  If
there's anything wrong with her, perhaps you'd care to tell me.'
     Momo  stared  at  the ground  and  thought  hard. Then  she  said, very
quietly, 'I don't think anyone could love it -- her, I mean.'
     The man in grey didn't answer for some time.  He stared into space with
eyes as glassy as  the  doll's.  At last he pulled himself together. 'That's
not the point,' he said coldly.
     Momo met his eye. What scared her most about him was the icy chill that
seemed  to emanate from  his body, yet  in some  strange way -- she couldn't
have said why - she felt sorry for him as well as scared.
     'But I do love my friends,' she said.
     The man in grey grimaced as if he'd bitten into a lemon, but he quickly
recovered his  composure and gave her a  razor-sharp smile.  'Momo,' he said
smoothly, 'I think we should have a  serious talk, you  and I. It's time you
learned what matters in life.' He produced  a little grey notebook  from his
pocket and leafed  through it until  he found what he was looking for. 'Your
name is Momo, isn't it?'
     Momo nodded. The man in grey shut his notebook with a
     86


     snap  and pocketed  it again.  Then, with a faint grunt of exertion, he
sat  himself down on the ground at Momo's side. He said no more for a while,
just puffed thoughtfully at his small grey cigar.
     'All  right, Momo,' he said  at last, 'listen carefully.' Momo had been
trying to do this all the time, but the man in grey was far harder to listen
to  than anyone she'd  ever  heard. She  could  understand what other people
meant and what they were like by getting right inside them, so to speak, but
with him this was quite impossible. Whenever she tried to  read his thoughts
she seemed  to  plunge headlong into a dark chasm,  as if there were nothing
there at all. It had never happened to her before.
     'All that  matters in life,'  the man in grey went on, 'is to climb the
ladder  of  success,  amount to something, own things. When a  person climbs
higher than  the rest, amounts to  more,  owns more things,  everything else
comes automatically:
     friendship, love,  respect,  et  cetera.  You  tell  me you  love  your
friends. Let's examine that statement quite objectively.'
     He blew a few smoke rings.  Momo tucked  her bare feet under her  skirt
and burrowed still deeper into her oversize jacket.
     'The first question to consider,' pursued the man in grey, 'is how much
your friends  really  gain  from  the fact of your  existence.  Are  you any
practical use to them? No. Do you help them to  get on  in  the world,  make
more money,  make something of their lives?  No again. Do you assist them in
their efforts  to save  time? On the contrary,  you distract them - you're a
millstone around their necks and an obstacle to  their progress. You may not
realize it, Momo, but you harm  your  friends by simply  being here. Without
meaning to be, you're really their enemy. Is that what you call love?'
     Momo didn't know what to  say. She'd never  looked at things that  way.
She even wondered,  for one brief moment, whether the man in grey might  not
be right after all.
     87


     'And  that,' he went  on,  'is why we want to protect your friends from
you. If you really  love them,  you'll help  us.  We have their interests at
heart, so we want them to succeed in life. We can't just look on  idly while
you distract  them from everything  that matters. We want to  make  sure you
leave them alone - that's why we're giving you all these lovely things.'
     Momo's lips had begun to tremble. 'Who's "we"?' she asked.
     'The Timesaving Bank,' said the  man in grey. 'I'm Agent No. BLW/553/c.
I wish you no harm, personally speaking,  but the Timesaving Bank  isn't  an
organization to be trifled with.'
     Just then, Momo recalled what Beppo and Guido had said about timesaving
being infectious,  and she  had an  awful suspicion that this  stranger  had
something to do with the spread of the  epidemic. She wished from the bottom
of her heart that  her  friends were with  her now. She  had  never  felt so
alone,  but  she  was  determined not to  let fear get  the better  of  her.
Summoning up all  her courage, she  plunged headlong  into the dark chasm in
which the stranger concealed his true self.
     He had been watching her out of the corner of his eye, so the change in
her expression did not escape him. He lit a fresh cigar from the butt of the
old one.
     'Don't  bother,' he said with a sarcastic smile.  'You're no match  for
us.'
     But Momo stood firm. 'Isn't there anyone who loves youY she whispered.
     The man  in  grey squirmed a little. 'I must  say,'  he replied in  his
greyest voice,  'I've never met anyone like you before, truly I haven't, and
I've met a lot  of people in my  time. If there  were  many  more  like  you
around,  we'd  have nothing left to live  on. We'd have to  close  down  the
Timesaving Bank and dissolve into thin air.'


     He broke off, staring at Momo as if she were something he could neither
understand nor cope  with.  His face  turned a shade  greyer.  When  next he
spoke, it was as if he were doing so against his will - as if the words were
pouring forth  despite him. At the same time, his  face became more and more
convulsed with horror at what was happening to him. At long last, Momo heard
his real voice, which seemed to come from infinitely far away.
     'We have to remain  unrecognized,' he blurted out. 'No one must know of
our existence or activities. We make sure no one ever remembers us,  because
we can only carry  on our  business  if we pass unnoticed. It's  a wearisome
business, too, bleeding people of their time by the hour, minute and second.
All the time they save,  they lose to  us. We drain it  off, we hoard it, we
thirst for it. Human  beings have no conception  of the value of their time,
but  we do.  We  suck  them dry, and we need more  and more time  every day,
because there are more and more of us. More and more and more ...'
     The last few words were  uttered in a sort of death rattle. The  man in
grey  clapped his hands  over his  mouth  and stared at  Momo with his  eyes
bulging. Little by little, he seemed to emerge from a kind of trance.
     'W-what  happened?' he stammered. 'You've  been spying on me! I'm  ill,
and it's  all  your fault!' His  tone  became almost imploring.  'I've  been
talking nonsense, Momo. Forget it -forget me like everyone else.  You  must,
you mustV
     He grabbed hold of Momo and shook her. Her lips moved, but she couldn't
get a word out.
     The man  in grey jumped to his feet. He peered in all directions like a
cornered beast, then snatched up his briefcase and sprinted  to the car. The
next moment, something  very strange happened. Like an explosion in reverse,
all the dolls and their scattered  belongings flew back into the boot, which
slammed shut. The car roared off at such speed that grit and pebbles spurted
from its wheels.
     89


     Momo sat there for  a long  time,  trying to make sense of what she had
heard. As the dreadful chill seeped slowly from  her limbs, so  her thoughts
became steadily clearer. Now that she had heard the real voice of the man in
grey, she could remember everything.
     From  the sun-baked  grass  in  front  of  her rose a slender thread of
smoke.  The trampled butt of a  small grey cigar  was  smouldering  away  to
ashes.



     The Demonstration
     Late that afternoon, Guido and Beppo turned up. They found Momo sitting
in the shade of a wall, still rather pale and upset, so they sat down beside
her and anxiously inquired what the matter was. Momo began to tell them what
had  happened,  haltingly  at first, but  she ended by  repeating her entire
conversation with the man in grey, word for word.
     Old  Beppo watched her  gravely and intently throughout, the furrows in
his wrinkled brow growing deeper by  the minute. He  said nothing, even when
she had finished.
     Guido, by contrast, listened to her with mounting excitement.  His eyes
began to shine as they so often did when  he himself was telling a story and
got carried away. He gripped Momo by the shoulder.
     'Well,' he said, 'this is our big  moment. You've  discovered something
no one else knew.  Now we can rescue everyone from their clutches - not just
our friends  but the  whole city!  It's  up to the three of us - you, me and
Beppo!'
     He jumped up and stood there with his arms  outflung. In his mind's eye
he could see a vast crowd of people hailing him as their saviour.
     'Yes,' said Momo, looking rather baffled, 'but how?'
     'What do you mean, "how"?' Guido demanded irritably.
     'I  mean,'  said Momo,  'how do  we beat  the  men in grey at their own
game?'
     Guido shrugged. 'I can't say exactly, of course, not right this minute.
We'll have to work something out first, but one
     91


     thing's for sure: now  we know they exist and what  they're up  to,  we
must tackle them - or are you scared?'
     Momo nodded uneasily. 'I don't think they're ordinary men. The one that
was  here  looked different, somehow, and the air around  him was dreadfully
cold.  If there are a lot of them, they're bound to  be dangerous. Yes,  I'm
scared all right.'
     'Don't be silly,'  Guido said briskly. 'The whole thing's quite simple.
They can only do their  dirty work as long as nobody recognizes them -  your
visitor said so himself. Well, then! All we have  to do is make sure they're
recognizable.  Once  people recognize  them they'll remember them, and  once
they remember them  they'll  know them again at a glance.  The  men  in grey
won't be able to harm us then - we'll be safe as houses.'
     'You really think so?' Momo said, rather doubtfully.
     Guide's eyes  were alight with confidence. 'Of course,' he assured her.
'Why else would  your visitor  have taken to  his  heels like that?  They're
terrified of us, 1 tell you.'
     'What if we can't find them?' Momo asked. 'They may go and hide.'
     'They may well,' Guido conceded. 'If they do, we'll simply have to lure
them out into the open.'
     'But how?' asked Momo. 'They're pretty clever, it seems to me.'
     'That's  easy,'  Guido said  with  a  chuckle. 'We'll take advantage of
their  own  greed.  If  you  can  catch  mice  with  cheese,  you can  catch
time-thieves with time -  and that we've got plenty of. For  instance, Beppo
and I could lie in wait while you sat here twiddling your thumbs.  When they
took the bait, we'd jump out and overpower them.'
     'But they know me already,' Momo objected.  'I don't think they'd  fall
for it.'
     'All right,' said Guido, who was brimming over with bright ideas, 'then
we'll try something else. Your man in grey
     92


     mentioned something about a Timesaving Bank. That means it's a building
somewhere in  town.  All we have to do is  find it,  and  find it  we  will,
because it's bound  to be a very special-looking place. I can see it  now  -
grey, sinister and windowless, like a gigantic concrete  safe. Once  we find
it, we'll  walk straight in. We'll  all  be  armed with pistols, one in each
hand. "You!"  I'll say "Hand  over  the  time  you've  stolen,  and make  it
snappy!" And they'll -'
     'But we don't have any pistols,' Momo broke in, anxiously.
     Guido  grandly dismissed  this objection.  'Then  we'll do it  unarmed.
That'll impress them even more. They'll panic at the very sight of us.'
     'It  might be  better if there were a  few  more of us,' Momo  said. 'I
mean, we'd probably find  the  Timesaving Bank quicker  if other people went
looking for it too.'
     'Good idea,' said  Guido. 'We  must mobilize all our friends - and  all
the kids who spend so much time  here nowadays.  I vote we get started right
away, the three of us. Tell as many people as you can find, and tell them to
pass the word.  We'll  all  meet up here at three tomorrow afternoon,  for a
grand council of war.'
     So they all set off  at once, Momo in one direction, Beppo and Guido in
another.
     The two men had gone some distance when Beppo, who still hadn't spoken,
came to a sudden stop. 'Know something, Guido?' he said. 'I'm worried.'
     Guido turned to look at him. 'About what?' Beppo regarded his friend in
silence for a moment. Then he said, 'I believe Momo.'
     'So do I,' said Guido, puzzled. 'What  of it?' 'I mean,' Beppo went on,
'I believe that what she told us is true.'
     Guido couldn't understand what the old man was getting at. 'Of course,'
he said. 'So what?'
     93


     'Well,' said Beppo, 'if  it's true what she  told us, we shouldn't rush
into anything.  We don't  want to tangle  with  a  bunch of crooks just like
that, do we? If  we provoke them, it may land Momo in trouble. I  don't mind
so much about us, but we may endanger the  children if we bring them into it
too. We must think very carefully before we act.'
     Guido threw back his head and laughed. 'You and your eternal worrying!'
he scoffed. 'The more of us there are, the better. That's obvious.'
     'From the  sound of  it,'  Beppo said  gravely, 'you don'l believe that
Memo's story was true at all.'
     'Depends  what  you  mean  by  "true",'   Guido  retorted.  'You've  no
imagination, that's your trouble. The whole  world's one big story and we're
all  part of it. Sure I believe what Momo told us, Beppo - every word of it,
just like you.'
     Beppo could find no suitable response to this, but Guide's optimism did
nothing to allay his fears.
     Then they  parted company, Guido  with a light heart, Beppo filled with
foreboding, and went off to spread the news of tomorrow's meeting.
     That  night  Guido  dreamed  he was being feted  as one of  the  city's
saviours. He saw himself in a dress suit, Beppo in a smart tailcoat and Momo
in a snow-white silk  gown. The mayor draped  gold chains around their necks
and  crowned  them with laurel  wreaths. Stirring  music rang  out,  and the
citizens honoured their  deliverers with a  torchlight procession longer and
more impressive than any that had ever been seen before.
     Meanwhile, old Beppo was tossing and turning, unable to sleep. The more
he thought about what lay ahead, the more clearly  he perceived its dangers.
He  wouldn't let Guido and Momo  brave  them alone. He  would stand  by them
whatever happened -  that went without saying - but he must at least attempt
to dissuade them.
     94


     By  three  the next  afternoon,  the amphitheatre  resounded to excited
cries and the hum of many voices. Although it saddened Momo that none of her
grown-up  friends had appeared - except, of course, for  Beppo  and Guido  -
some fifty or sixty  children  had come  from  near  and  far. They were all
shapes and sizes,  rich  and poor, well-behaved and rowdy. Some, like Maria,
were  holding younger members of the family by the  hand or in their arms  -
tiny little children who  sucked  their thumbs  and  gazed wide-eyed at this
unusual gathering.
     Franco, Paolo  and Massimo were there  too,  naturally, but most of the
other children were  relative newcomers to the amphitheatre, and they  had a
special  interest in the subject under  discussion. Among them was the owner
of the transistor radio,  who had turned up without it. Seating himself next
to  Momo, he told her straight away that his name  was Claudio, and  that he
was glad to have been invited.
     When it  became clear that the  last of the children had arrived, Guido
rose to his  feet and, with a sweeping gesture, called for silence. The buzz
of  conversation   died  away,  and  an  expectant  hush  descended  on  the
amphitheatre.
     'My friends,' Guido began, 'you all have a  rough idea why we're here -
you  were told when  you received your  invitations  to this secret meeting.
More  and  more people are finding  themselves with less  and  less time  to
spare, even though they're  saving it for all  they're worth. The  truth is,
they've lost the very time they meant to  save. Why? We  now know, thanks to
Momo. People are  being robbed of their time - and I mean robbed - by a gang
of  time-thieves! That's why we need your help: so  as  to put a stop to the
activities  of this cold-blooded, criminal  fraternity.  Our city is  in the
grip of a nightmare. With  your cooperation, we  can banish it at  a stroke.
Isn't  that  a  cause  worth fighting  for?'  He paused while  the  children
applauded.  'We'll discuss what to do in due course,' he went on  'Meantime,
Momo is going to describe her encounter
     95


     with a member of the gang and how he gave himself away.'
     'One  moment,'  said Beppo, getting  up. 'Listen, children! I  say Momo
shouldn't tell you her story. It's  a bad idea. If she does, she'll endanger
herself and all of you.'
     'No,'  cried  several voices, 'let  her speak! We want Momo!' More  and
more  voices joined in  until all  the children were  chanting 'Momo,  Momo,
Momo!' in unison.
     Old  Beppo  sat  down  again.  He  took  off  his  little  steel-rimmed
spectacles and wearily rubbed his eyes.
     Momo stood  up, looking  perplexed.  She  didn't  know whose  wishes to
comply  with,  Beppo's  or the  children's. At length,  while  her  audience
listened attentively, she recounted what had happened.
     A long silence  fell when she  finished. The  children had grown rather
uneasy during her recital. They hadn't imagined  that time-thieves  could be
so sinister. One tiny tot burst into tears but was quickly comforted.
     The silence was broken by Guido. 'Well,' he said, 'how many of you have
the guts to join our campaign against the men in grey?'
     'Why didn't Beppo want Momo to tell us what happened?' Franco inquired.
     Guido  gave him  a reassuring smile.  'He thinks the time-thieves  feel
threatened  by those who know their secret, so they try  to hunt them  down.
Myself,  I think it's the other way around. I'm convinced that knowing their
secret makes a person invulnerable: once you know it they can't lay a finger
on you. That's logical, wouldn't you say? Come on, Beppo, admit it!'
     But Beppo only shook his head, and the children remained silent.
     'One thing's  certain,  anyway,' Guido  pursued. 'From  now on  we must
stick together come  hell or high water. We've  got to  be  careful,  but we
mustn't get scared.  All  right, I'll ask you again.  Who's prepared to join
us?'
     96


     'I am!' said Claudio, getting to his feet. He looked a trifle pale.
     Others  followed  suit,  hesitantly  at  first,  then  more  and   more
resolutely, until everyone present had volunteered.
     'Well, Beppo,' said  Guido, pointing  to  the forest  of raised  hands,
'what do you say now?'
     Beppo nodded sadly. 'I'm with you too, of course.' 'Good.' Guido turned
back to the children. 'So now let's decide what to do. Any suggestions?'
     They all thought hard. Paolo,  the boy with glasses, finally said, 'But
how do they do it? I mean, can they really steal time?'
     'Yes,' Claudio chimed  in. 'What "s time, anyway?' No one  could supply
an answer.
     Maria,  with  little Rosa  in her arms, got up from her seat on the far
side of the arena.  'Maybe it's like electricity,' she hazarded. 'After all,
there are machines that can  record people's thought waves -  I've  seen one
myself, on TV. They've got gadgets that can do anything these days.'
     'How  about this for an idea!' squeaked Massimo,  the fat boy with  the
high-pitched voice.  'When you photograph something, it's down on film. When
you record something,  it's down on tape. Maybe they've got a  machine  that
can record  time.  If  we knew where  it was, we could  simply put  it  into
reverse and the missing time would be there again!'
     'Anyway,' said Paolo, adjusting his glasses, 'the first thing to  do is
find a scientist to help us. We won't get anywhere without one.'
     'You and  your  scientists!'  sneered  Franco.  'Who  says they can  be
trusted?  Suppose we  found one  who was an expert  on time. How could we be
sure he wasn't  in league with the time-thieves? Then we'd really be  up the
creek!' Everyone  seemed impressed  by this objection.  The  next  person to
speak up  was a little girl of demure  and ladylike  appearance. 'If you ask
me,' she said, 'our best plan
     97


     would be to go to the police and tell them the whole story.'
     'Now  I've heard everything!'  Franco scoffed. 'What could the cops do?
These aren't  just ordinary thieves. Either the  cops have known about  them
all along, in which case they must be powerless,  or they  haven't noticed a
thing, in which case they'd never believe us.' A baffled silence ensued.
     'Well,' Paolo said eventually, 'we've got to do  something -as soon  as
possible, too, before the time-thieves get wind of what we're up to.'
     Guido rose to his feet again.
     'My  friends,'  he  said,  'I've already given  this  matter a  lot  of
thought. After  dreaming  up hundreds of  schemes  and rejecting them all in
turn, I finally hit on  one that's guaranteed to do  the  trick - as long as
you all cooperate. I merely wanted to see if one of you could come up with a
better idea. Well, now I'll tell you what we're going to do.'
     He paused and looked slowly  around the amphitheatre. He  was ringed by
fifty or sixty  expectant  faces, the biggest audience he'd had  in  a  long
time.
     'As you're now aware,'  he  went on, 'the men in grey depend for  their
power on being able  to work unrecognized and in secret. It follows that the
simplest and most effective way of rendering  them  harmless is to broadcast
the truth about them. And how are we to do that?  I'll tell you. We're going
to hold a  mass demonstration! We're going  to paint posters and banners and
march  through the  streets  with  them.  We're  going to  attract  as  much
attention as possible. We're going to invite the whole city to join us here,
at the old amphitheatre, to hear the full facts.'
     A  stir ran through the listening children. 'Everyone will go wild with
excitement,' Guido  continued. 'Thousands and thousands of  people will come
flocking in.  Then, when a vast crowd  has assembled, we'll reveal the whole
terrible truth. And then, my friends, the world will
     98


     change overnight. No  one will be able to steal people's time any more.
They'll all  have as much  as they need,  because there'll be  enough to  go
around again. That's  what we can achieve if we all work together - if we're
all in favour. Are we?'
     This drew a chorus of exultant yells.
     'Carried  unanimously,'  said Guido.  'In that  case, we'll invite  the
whole city here next Sunday afternoon. Till then, though, we mustn't breathe
a word of our plan. And now, let's get to work.'
     For  the  next  few  days,  the amphitheatre hummed  with  furtive  but
feverish  activity.  Sheers  of  paper,  pots   of  paint,  brushes,  paste,
cardboard, poles, planks and a host of other essentials  appeared like magic
- where from, the children preferred not to  say. Some  of them made banners
and posters and placards, while others -  the ones that were good at writing
-  thought  up catchy slogans and painted them in  their  neatest lettering.
Below are a few examples:
     SAVE TIME? WHO FOR?



     NO TIME LEFT? WHERES IT GONE? IF YOU
     REALLY WANT TO KNOW PLEESE COME TO THE
     OLD AMFITHEATRE NEXT SUNDAY AT 6

     SUNDAY AT SIX
     IMPORTANT! YOUR TIME IS AT STEAK
     WHERE ITS GONE IS A BIG SECRET
     BUT WE'LL LET YOU IN ON IT!

     COME AMPFITH SUNDAY NEXT

     DONT YOU HAVE A FUNNY PEELING SOMEBODY YOUR TIME IS STEELING?


     99


     At last, when all was ready, the children assembled in the amphitheatre
and set off in  single file with Guido,  Beppo  and Momo at their head. They
marched  through  the  streets brandishing  posters and  banners, clattering
saucepan  lids, blowing penny whistles chanting  slogans and singing  a song
composed specially for the occasion by Guido. The words went as follows:
     Listen, folk, ere it's too late, or you'll live to rue your fate.  Time
is flying every day, stolen by the men in grey.
     Listen, folk, and heed our warning, or  you'll wake up one fine morning
robbed of time and quite bereft, not a single minute left.
     Don't  save time, then, save  your city, for those time-thieves have no
pity. Fight back hard, and do it soon. Be there Sunday afternoon!
     Actually, there were more verses than  that - twenty-eight, to be exact
- but we needn't quote them all here.
     Although the  police stepped in a few times and broke up the procession
when it obstructed  the  traffic,  the children were undeterred. They simply
formed up elsewhere and set off again. Nothing happened apart from this, and
they didn't sight a single man in grey for all their vigilance.
     They were, however,  joined by other children who saw the demonstration
and hadn't known of the affair till now. More
     100


     and  more youngsters tagged  along  until the streets were  filled with
hundreds  or  even thousands of them, all  urging their elders to attend the
meeting that was to change the world.



     The Trial

     The great moment had come and gone.
     It  was  over, and not a single grown-up  had appeared.  The children's
demonstration had passed almost unnoticed  by the very  people  it was aimed
at. All their efforts had been in vain.
     The big red sun was already sinking into a  sea of purple cloud, so low
in the  sky  that  its  rays  lit only  the  topmost tier  of steps  in  the
amphitheatre,  where so  many hundreds of  children  had been waiting for so
long. No cheerful hum of voices broke the sad and disconsolate silence.
     The shadows were  lengthening  fast. It  would  soon  be dark,  and the
children began to shiver in the chill evening air. Somewhere in the distance
a church clock struck eight.  Doubt gave way to  certainty: the whole scheme
had been a complete fiasco.
     One or two children got up and drifted off.  Others followed suit. None
of them said a word - their disappointment was too great.
     Eventually, Paolo came over to Momo and  said, 'It's no use waiting any
longer - no one'll turn up now. Good night.' And he walked off too.
     Franco was the next to leave. 'It's hopeless,' he said. 'We can't count
on the grown-ups, we know that now. I never did trust them anyway. As far as
I'm concerned, they can stew in their own juice from now on.'
     More and more children left. It was dark  by the time the last of  them
gave up and went home, leaving Momo alone with Guido and Beppo.
     102


     The  old roadsweeper stood up. 'Are you going,  too?' Momo asked. 'I've
got to,' Beppo told her with a sigh. 'I'm on night duty.' 'Night duty?'
     'Yes, unloading garbage at the municipal dump. I'm due there in half an
hour.'
     'But it's Sunday. Besides, you've never had to do that before.'
     'No, but we've been told to report there. They say it's only temporary.
There's  too much garbage to  handle, apparently. Shortage of staff,  and so
on.'
     'What a shame,' said Momo. 'I'd have liked you to stay a while.'
     'Yes, I don't want to go myself, but there it is  -- I've got  to.' And
Beppo mounted his squeaky old bicycle and pedalled off into the darkness.
     Guido  was whistling a soft and melancholy  tune. He could whistle very
sweetly, and Momo was listening with pleasure when he suddenly broke off.
     'Heavens,' he exclaimed, 'I must go, too.  Today's when  I start my new
job - night watchman, didn't I tell you? I'd forgotten the time.'
     Momo just  stared  at him and said nothing. 'So our  plan  didn't  work
out,'  he  went on. 'Never  mind, Momo. It didn't work out the way I  hoped,
either, but it was fun all the same - tremendous fun.'
     When Momo  still said  nothing,  he  stroked her hair  sooth-ingly  and
added, 'Don't take it  so hard, Momo.  Everything'll look quite different in
the morning. We'll just have to come up with a new idea -- a new game, eh?'
     'It wasn't  a game,' Momo  said  in  a muffled  voice. Guido  stood up.
'Look, I know  how you feel, but  we'll talk about it tomorrow, okay? I have
to go now  -  I'm late enough as  it is. Anyway, it's time you went to bed.'
And he walked off whistling his melancholy tune.
     103


     So  Momo  remained sitting  forlornly in  the great stone bowl  of  the
amphitheatre.  Clouds  had veiled the  sky  and  blotted  out the  stars.  A
peculiar breeze had sprung up,  light but persistent and singularly cold. If
breezes can be said to have a colour, this one was grey.
     Far away beyond the outskirts of the city  loomed the massive municipal
garbage dump. It was a veritable mountain  of ash, cinders, broken glass and
china,  tin cans, plastic  containers, old mattresses, cardboard  canons and
countless other objects discarded  by the city's inhabitants, all waiting to
be fed, bit by bit, into huge incinerators.
     Beppo and his workmates toiled  for  hours, shovelling garbage out of a
long line of trucks. The trucks crept forward,  headlights  blazing, but the
more they emptied the longer the line became.
     'Faster!' the foreman kept shouting. 'Hurry it  up, or we'll  never  be
through!'
     They didn't finish the job  till midnight, by  which time Beppo's shirt
was clinging  to his back. Being older than the rest and not the most robust
of men,  he flopped down wearily on an upturned plastic bucket and struggled
to get his breath back.
     'Hey,  Beppo,'  one  of  his workmates  called,  'we're  off  home now.
Coming?'
     'In a minute,' wheezed Beppo. He clasped one hand to his aching chest.
     'Feeling all right, old man?' called someone else.
     'I'm fine,'  Beppo called back. 'Just  taking a little breather, that's
all. Don't wait for me.'
     'Okay,' said the others, 'good night.' And off they went.
     It was  quiet when  they'd gone, except for  an occasional  rustle  and
squeak from rats scrabbling in the  garbage. Beppo pillowed  his head on his
folded arms and dozed off.
     He didn't know how long he'd been asleep when he was
     104


     roused by a  gust of cold air. One look was enough to jolt him awake in
an instant.
     All over  the huge mound of garbage stood grey figures attired in smart
grey suits and  grey bowler hats, steel-grey briefcases  in their  hands and
small grey cigars  in their  mouths. They were gazing fixedly, silently,  at
the  summit of the mound. There, ensconced on a  sort of magistrates' bench,
sat three men identical to the others in every respect.
     Beppo was frightened for a moment. He had no  business to be there - he
sensed that  instinctively - and the prospect of  discovery scared him. Very
soon, however, he realized that the army of grey figures had eyes for no one
but the three-man tribunal. Either they had failed to notice him at  all, or
they  had mistaken him for some discarded object.  Whatever the explanation,
he resolved to keep as still as a mouse.
     Then the silence  was broken  by  a voice from  the judges' bench. 'The
Supreme Court is now in session,' announced  the central figure. 'Call Agent
No. BLW/553/c.'
     The cry was repeated  further down the  slope  and repeated  again some
distance away, like an echo. Threading his  way slowly through the crowd and
up the mound of garbage came a man in grey, distinguishable from his fellows
only by the pallor of his face, which was almost white.
     At last he reached the tribunal.
     'You are Agent No. BLW/553/c?' asked the man in the centre.
     'I am.'
     'How long have you been employed by the Timesaving Bank?'
     'Ever since I came into existence. Your Honour.'
     'That goes without saying  -  kindly spare us such irrelevancies.  When
did you come into existence?'
     'Eleven years, three months, six  days, eight hours, thirty-two minutes
and - at this precise moment - eighteen seconds ago.'
     105


     Oddly enough, although this exchange was being conducted a long way off
and in low, monotonous voices, Beppo didn't miss a word of it.
     'Are you aware,' the  man  in  the centre went on, 'that  a substantial
number  of  children  paraded through the  streets  today  with placards and
banners, and  that they  even entertained the outrageous notion  of inviting
the whole city to attend a briefing on our activities?'
     'It hadn't escaped me,' replied the agent.
     'How do you account for the fact that  these children knew about us and
our activities?' the senior inquisitor pursued remorselessly.
     'It's a mystery to me. Your Honour,' said the  agent. 'If I may venture
a personal  observation, however, I would urge the Supreme Court not to take
this  incident  more seriously than it deserves. It  was a piece of childish
nonsense, that's all.  I  would also urge the court  to bear in mind that we
easily managed to scotch the scheduled  meeting by leaving people no time to
attend it. Even had we failed to do so, however, I'm confident that everyone
would have dismissed the children's information as a cock-and-bull story. In
my  opinion, we would  have done better to let the meeting go ahead, because
that would -'
     'Defendant!' the judge  broke in  sharply. 'Do  you  realize where  you
are?'
     The agent wilted.  'Yes,' he whispered.  'This is no human court,'  the
judge  continued.  'You  are being tried  by  your  own kind. Lying to us is
futile, you know that perfectly well, so why bother to try?'
     'It's - it's an occupational habit,' the  agent  stammered.  'It is for
this  court  to decide  how seriously  to  take the  children's  intentions.
However, I need hardly remind you that children present a  greater threat to
our work than anyone or anything else.'
     106


     i know, the agent conceded meekly. 'Children,' declared the judge, 'are
our natural enemies. But for them, mankind would have been completely in our
power  long ago. Adults  are far easier  to turn into timesavers. That's why
one of our most sacred  commandments states, "Leave the children till last."
Are you familiar with that commandment, Defendant?'
     'Yes indeed, Your Honour,' said the  agent,  puffing hard at his cigar.
It was  a peculiar fact that,  despite  the  solemnity  of the occasion, all
present - judges, defendant and spectators -- were smoking incessantly.
     'And yet,' the judge retorted, 'we have incontrovertible proof that one
of us - I repeat, one of  us -- not  only got into conversation with a child
but betrayed us. Do you happen to know who that certain person was?'
     Agent No. BLW/553/c wilted still more. 'It was me. Your Honour.'
     'And why did you break our most sacred commandment?' 'Because the child
in question  has been seriously impeding  our work by turning people against
us. I had the interests of the Timesaving Bank at heart. My intentions  were
of the best.'
     'Your intentions don't  concern us,' the judge said icily. 'Results are
all that count here, and the  result of your unauthorized action has been to
gain us no time and acquaint a child with some of our most vital secrets. Do
you admit that?'
     The agent hung his head. 'I do,' he whispered. 'So you plead guilty?'
     'Yes, Your Honour,  but  I  would  draw the  court's  attention  to  an
extenuating circumstance: I was genuinely bewitched -- lured into  betraying
us by the way the child listened to me. I can't explain how it happened, but
I swear that's the way it was.'
     107


     'Your  excuses  are  irrelevant  and  immaterial. This  court takes  no
account of extenuating circumstances.  The  law is quite categorical on this
point and allows of no exceptions. However,  we shall certainly devote  some
attention to this unusual child. What is its name?'
     'Momo, Your Honour.'
     'Male or female?'
     'She's a girl.'
     'Place of residence?'
     'The ruined amphitheatre.'
     'Very  well,' said the judge, who had recorded all these details in his
notebook. 'You may  rest assured. Defendant, that this child will never harm
us  again  - we  shall  neutralize  her by every  available means. Let  that
thought  console you, now  that sentence is about to  be passed  and carried
out.'
     The agent began to tremble. 'What is the sentence?' he whispered.
     The  three  judges  put  their  heads  together  and  conferred  in  an
undertone. Then they nodded, and their spokesman turned to face the prisoner
again.
     Agent  No. BLW/553/c having pleaded guilty to a charge of high treason,
this court unanimously sentences him to pay  the penalty  prescribed by law.
He is to be deprived of all time forthwith.'
     'Mercy, mercy!' shrieked  the  agent, but his  steel-grey briefcase and
small cigar  had already been  snatched  away  by two  grey figures standing
beside him.
     And then a very strange thing happened. No sooner had the condemned man
lost his cigar than he  started to  become more  and  more transparent.  His
screams grew  fainter, too, as he stood  there  with  his head in his hands,
dissolving into thin air. The last  that  could  be seen of him was a little
flurry of ash eddying in the breeze, but that soon vanished too.
     Silently the men in  grey dispersed,  judges and spectators  alike Once
the darkness had swallowed them up, the sole
     108


     reminder  ot  their presence was a chill, grey wind that swirled around
the dismal and deserted garbage dump.
     Beppo continued to  sit spellbound on  his upturned bucket,  staring at
the spot where the condemned man had been standing. He felt as  if his limbs
had turned  to  ice and  were only just beginning to  thaw.  The men in grey
existed; he had seen them for himself.
     At about the same  time - the distant church clock  had already  struck
twelve - Momo was  still sitting on the  steps  of the amphitheatre. She was
waiting. For what, she didn't know, but some instinct had dissuaded her from
going to bed.
     All of  a  sudden,  something  lightly  brushed against her  bare foot.
Peering hard, for  it was very  dark, she saw a  big  tortoise looking up at
her. Its mouth seemed  to  curve in a mysterious smile, and there was such a
friendly light  in its  shrewd, black  eyes  that Momo felt it was about  to
speak.
     She bent down and  tickled it under  the chin. 'Who  might you be?' she
said  softly. 'Nice of you to  come and keep  me company,  Tortoise, even if
nobody else will. What can I do for you?'
     Momo wasn't sure whether she'd failed to notice them before, or whether
they'd only just appeared,  but she  suddenly  spotted  some letters on  the
tortoise's back. They were faintly luminous and seemed to follow the natural
patterns on its shell.
     'FOLLOW ME,' she slowly deciphered.
     Astonished, she sat up with a jerk. 'Do you mean me?' she asked.
     But the tortoise had already set off. After a few steps  it  paused and
looked back. 'It really does mean  me!' Momo said to herself. She got up and
went over  to  the  creature.  'Keep going,' she  told it softly, 'I'm right
behind you.'
     And step by step she followed the tortoise  as  it slowly, very slowly,
led her out of the amphitheatre and headed for the city.



     More Haste Less Speed
     Old Beppo was pedalling through the  darkness on his squeaky bicycle  -
pedalling with all his might. The grey judge's words still rang in his ears:
'We shall certainly devote some attention to this unusual child  ... You may
rest  assured  that  this  child  will never  harm  us again  ...  We  shall
neutralize her by every available means ...'
     Momo was in dire peril, of that there could be no  doubt. He must go to
her at once, warn her and protect  her from the  men in grey. He didn't know
how, but he'd find a way. Beppo pedalled even faster, his tuft of white hair
fluttering in the breeze. He still had a long way to go.
     The ruined amphitheatre was ablaze with the headlights of a whole fleet
of  smart grey cars, which hemmed it in on every side. Dozens of men in grey
were  scurrying up and down  the  grass-grown steps.  At last, after peering
into every  nook and cranny,  they came upon the  hole in the wall. Some  of
them scrambled through it into Memo's room. They looked under the bed - they
even looked inside the little  brick stove. Then they reappeared, patted the
dust from their smart grey suits and shrugged.
     'The bird appears to have flown,' said one.
     'It's exasperating,' said another. 'Children should be safely tucked up
in bed at this hour, not gallivanting around in the dark.'
     'I  don't  like the  look of this,' said a third.  'It's  almost  as if
someone had tipped her off just in time.'
     110


     'Impossible,' said the first. 'He couldn't have known  of our intention
before we knew it ourselves - or could he?'
     The three of them eyed each other in dismay.
     'If someone  really did  tip her off,'  the third pointed  out, 'she'll
have made herself scarce. We'll only be wasting time if we go on looking for
her here.'
     'What do you suggest, then?'
     'I say  we  should  notify headquarters  at once,  so they can launch a
full-scale manhunt.'
     'The first thing they'll  ask us - and  quite rightly  so - is  whether
we've made a thorough search of the immediate neighbourhood.'
     'Very well,' said the first speaker, 'let's  search the area first, but
if the girl's well clear of it already, we'll be making a big mistake.'
     'Nonsense,'  snapped his colleague.  'Even if she is,  headquarters can
still  launch a full-scale  manhunt  using,  every available agent. The girl
won't  escape  - she  doesn't  stand  a chance. Right, gentlemen,  let's get
going. You all know what's at stake.'
     Many of the local inhabitants  lay awake that night,  wondering why  so
many cars kept racing  past their windows.  Even the narrowest side  streets
and roughest farm tracks  resounded  until daybreak  with a  roar of traffic
more usually heard on major roads. No one could sleep a wink.
     All this time, Momo was trudging slowly through the city in the wake of
her new-found  friend, the tortoise. The city  never slept nowadays, however
late  the  hour. Interminable streams of people surged  through the streets,
jostling and  elbowing each other aside. The roads were choked with cars and
big, noisy, overcrowded buses. Neon signs blazed  down from every  building,
intermittently bathing passers-by in their multicoloured glare.
     Momo, who had never seen any of this before, followed
     111


     the tortoise in  a kind of wide-eyed, waking dream. They made their way
across broad squares and down brightly  lit  streets. Cars flashed past them
and pedestrians milled around them, but no one looked twice at the child and
the tortoise.
     They never had to  get out of anyone's way, either. Nobody  bumped into
them, nor did any driver have to brake to avoid them. The tortoise seemed to
know precisely  when there would be no  car or pedestrian in their path,  so
they never had to vary their pace,  never had to hurry or  to stop and wait.
Momo began to wonder how any two creatures could walk so  slowly  but travel
so fast.
     When  Beppo  finally  reached the amphitheatre, the feeble glow of  his
bicycle lamp showed him, even before he dismounted,  that the  ground around
it was  a mass of tyre tracks. He left his bicycle in the  grass and  ran to
the hole in the wall.
     'Momo!' He whispered the name at first, then spoke it aloud. 'Momo!' he
repeated.
     No answer.
     Beppo swallowed  hard, his throat felt so  dry. He  climbed through the
hole  into the pitch-black room,  stumbled over something, and wrenched  his
ankle. Striking a match with tremulous fingers, he peered in all directions.
     The crude  little  table  and chairs were overturned, the blankets  and
mattress stripped off the bed. Of Momo herself, there was no sign at all.
     Beppo bit his lip to stifle the hoarse sob that racked his chest at the
sight of this desolation. 'My God,' he muttered, 'I'm too late. She's gone -
they've spirited the poor girl away. What  shall I do  now? What can I  do?'
Just then the  match  began to burn his fingers, so he dropped  it and stood
there in the dark.
     Making his way outside as  fast as  his twisted ankle  would  allow, he
hobbled over to his bicycle, struggled back into the
     112


     saddle and pedalled off again. 'Guido must help,' he kept repeating, '-
he must! Pray heaven I can find him!'
     He knew that Guido planned to earn some extra money by  spending Sunday
nights in  the storeroom of a  car breaker's junkyard. Serviceable parts had
been disappearing of late, and it was Guide's job to see that this pilfering
ceased.
     When Beppo ran him to ground in a shed beside the junkyard and hammered
on the door with his fist, Guido at first mistook him for a would-be stealer
of spare  parts and  kept mum.  Then, recognizing  the old  man's  voice, he
unlocked the door.
     'What's the matter?' he grumbled.
     'It's Momo,' Beppo told him breathlessly. She's in danger.'
     'What are you talking about?' asked  Guido, flopping down  on his  camp
bed. 'Momo? Why, what's happened to her?'
     'I don't know, exactly,' Beppo panted, 'but it doesn't look good.'
     And he told Guido all he'd seen, from the trial on the garbage dump, to
the tyre  tracks  around  the amphitheatre, to Memo's ransacked and deserted
room. He took  quite  a while to get it all out, of course, because not even
the  concern and anxiety he felt  for  Momo could make him speak  any faster
than he usually did.
     'I knew it all along,' he concluded. 'I knew it would end  in disaster.
Well, now they've  taken their revenge - they've kidnapped her. We've got to
help her, Guido, but how. How?'
     The blood  had  slowly  drained  from  Guide's  cheeks while  Beppo was
speaking. He felt as if the ground had given way beneath him. Till now, he'd
regarded the whole  affair as  a splendid game and  taken it neither more or
less seriously than he took any game or story. Now, for the first time ever,
a story had  escaped his control. It had taken on a life of its own, and all
the imagination in the world would be insufficient to halt it. He felt numb.
     'You know, Beppo,' he said after a while, 'Momo may
     113


     simply have gone for a walk. She does that occasionally - like the time
she went roaming around the countryside for three  whole days and nights. We
may be worrying for no good reason.'
     'What  about the tyre tracks?' Beppo demanded angrily. 'What about  the
state of her room?'
     Guido refused to  be drawn.  'Suppose they really did come  looking for
her,' he said. 'Who's to say they found her? Perhaps she'd gone  by the time
they  got there. Why else would they have  searched the  place and turned it
upside down?'
     'But what if they did find her?' Beppo shouted. 'What then?' He gripped
his young  friend by the lapels and shook him. 'Don't be a fool, Guido.  The
men in grey are real, I tell you. We've got to do something, and fast!'
     'Steady   on,'  Guido  said  soothingly,  startled  by  the  old  man's
vehemence. 'Of course we'll  do something, but not  before we've thought  it
over carefully. After all, we don't even know where to look for her.'
     Beppo released him. 'I'm going to the police,' he announced.
     'You can't do that!' Guido protested with  a look of horror. 'Have some
sense, Beppo. Suppose they found her. Don't you know what they'd do with her
- don't you know where waifs and strays  end up? They'd stick her in a  home
with bars over the windows. You wouldn't want that, would you?'
     'No,'  Beppo muttered  helplessly,  'of course not. But  what if  she's
really in trouble?'
     'What  if she isn't?' Guido argued. 'What if she's only gone for a  bit
of a ramble and you  set  the police on  her? I wouldn't like to be  in your
shoes then. She might never want to see you again.'
     Beppo subsided on to a chair and buried his face in his hands. 'I  just
don't know what to do,' he groaned, 'I just don't know.'
     'Well,' said Guido, 'I vote we wait till tomorrow or the day
     114


     after before we do  anything  at  all.  If she  still isn't back, okay,
we'll  go to the police. My guess is, everything will have sorted itself out
long before then, and  the three of us  will  be laughing at the whole silly
business.'
     'You think so?' muttered  Beppo,  suddenly overcome  with fatigue.  The
day's excitements had been a bit too much for a man of his age.
     'Of course,' Guido assured him. He  eased Beppo's boots off and wrapped
his  sprained  ankle in a  damp cloth, then helped him  on to the camp  bed.
'Don't worry,' he said softly, 'everything's going to be fine.'
     But Beppo was already asleep. Sighing, Guido stretched out on the floor
with his  jacket  under  his head in place  of  a pillow. Sleep eluded  him,
though. He couldn't stop thinking about the men in grey, all night long, and
for the first time in his happy-go-lucky life he felt frightened.
     The  Timesaving Bank had launched a full-scale manhunt. Every agent  in
the  city  was  instructed  by  headquarters  to  drop everything  else  and
concentrate on finding the girl known as Momo.
     Every street teemed with grey figures. They lay in wait on rooftops and
lurked  in sewers,  staked out the  airport  and railway  stations, kept  an
unobtrusive watch on buses  and trams  -- in short, they  were everywhere at
once.
     But they still didn't find the girl known as Momo.
     'I say, Tortoise,' said Momo, as the pair of them made their way across
a darkened courtyard. 'Aren't you going to tell me where you're taking me?'
     Some letters took shape  on  the tortoise's  shell.  'DON'T В ESCAPED,'
they read.
     'I'm not,' said Momo, when she'd  deciphered them,  though she said  it
more to  boost her courage  than anything else. Truth to  tell, she did feel
rather apprehensive. The tortoise's
     115


     route was  becoming  steadily more tortuous and erratic. It had already
taken  them  across parks, over bridges and through  subways, into buildings
and along corridors - even, once or twice, through cellars.
     Had Momo known  that  she was being  hunted  by  a whole army of men in
grey, she would probably have felt uneasier  still, but she  didn't,  so she
followed the tortoise patiently, step  by step, as it continued  to  meander
along.
     It was lucky  she did. Just as the creature had previously threaded its
way through traffic, so  it now seemed to know exactly where and  when their
pursuers would appear. There were times when  the men in grey reached a spot
only moments  after they themselves had  passed  it,  but hunters and hunted
never actually bumped into each other.
     'It's  a good  thing I've learned  to  read  so  well,'  Momo  remarked
casually, 'isn't it?'
     Instantly, the tortoise's shell flashed a warning: 'SSSH!'
     Momo couldn't understand the reason for this injunction, but she obeyed
it. Then she saw three dim, grey shapes flit past a few feet away.
     They had now  reached a  part of  the city where  each  building looked
drabber  and shabbier than the  last. Towering tenements with  peeling walls
flanked  streets  pitted  with  potholes full  of stagnant water.  The whole
neighbourhood was dark and deserted.
     At long last, word  reached the  headquarters of the  Time-saving  Bank
that Momo had been sighted.
     'Excellent,' said the duty officer. 'Have you taken her into custody?'
     'No, she  disappeared before we could  nab her  - she  seemed to vanish
from the face of the earth. We've lost track of her again.'
     'How did it happen?'
     'If only we knew! There's something fishy going on.'
     116


     'Where was she when you sighted her?'
     'That's the odd thing. She was in a part of the city completely unknown
to us.'
     'There's no such place,' said the duty officer.
     'There  must  be. It seems  to  be - how shall I put it? - right on the
very edge of time, and the girl was heading that way.'
     'What?' yelped the duty officer. 'After her  again! You've got to catch
her before she gets there - at all costs, is that clear?'
     'Understood, sir,' came the ashen-voiced answer.
     Momo might almost  have imagined that day was breaking, except that the
strange glow appeared so suddenly -- just as they turned  a  corner,  to  be
exact. It wasn't dark any more, nor was  it light, nor did the glow resemble
the half-light of dawn or dusk. It was a radiance that outlined every object
with  unnatural crispness and clarity, yet it seemed  to come from nowhere -
or  rather, from  everywhere at  once.  The  long,  black  shadows  cast  by
everything,  even the tiniest pebble,  ran in all directions as  if the tree
over there were lit  from the  left, the building over there from the right,
the monument over there from dead ahead.
     The monument, if that was what  it  was, looked weird enough in itself.
It consisted of a big  square block of black stone  surmounted by a gigantic
white egg, nothing more.
     The houses, too, were  unlike  any  Momo had ever seen,  with  dazzling
white walls and  windows cloaked in shadows  so  dark and dense that it  was
impossible to tell whether anyone lived inside. Somehow, though, Momo sensed
that  these houses hadn't  been built  for  people to  live in, but for some
mysterious and quite different purpose.
     The streets were completely empty,  not only  of people but of dogs and
cats  and birds  and cars. Not a  movement  or breath  of wind disturbed the
utter stillness. The whole district might have been encased in glass.
     117


     although the tortoise  was plodding along  more slowly than  ever, Momo
again found herself marvelling at their rate of progress.
     Beyond the borders of  this strange part  of  town, where  it was still
night-time, three smart grey limousines came racing down the potholed street
with headlights blazing. Each was manned by several agents, and one of them,
who was in the leading car, caught sight of Momo just as she turned into the
street with the white houses and the unearthly glow coming from it.
     When they reached the corner, however, something quite incomprehensible
happened: the convoy came to a sudden  stop.  The  drivers  stepped on their
accelerators.  Engines  roared  and  wheels  spun,  but the  cars themselves
refused  to  budge. They might have been  on a  conveyor belt  travelling at
exactly the  same speed  but  in  the opposite direction, and the  more they
accelerated the  faster  it went. By  the time the men  in  grey grasped the
truth, Momo was almost out of  sight.  Cursing, they jumped out and tried to
overtake her on  foot. They sprinted hard, grimacing with rage and exertion,
but much the same thing happened. When  they  were finally compelled to give
up, they had covered a mere ten yards. Meanwhile, Momo had disappeared among
the snow-white houses and was nowhere to be seen.
     'That's that,' said one  of the men in grey. 'It's  no use, we'll never
catch her now.'
     'Why  were  we rooted  to  the spot?' demanded another.  'I  just don't
understand it.'
     'Neither do  I,' said the first. 'The only question is, will they  take
that into our favour when we come back empty-handed?'
     'You mean they may put us on trial?'
     'Well, they certainly won't give us a pat on the back.'
     All the agents looked downcast. Perching on the wings and
     118


     bumpers of their grey limousines, they brooded on the price of failure.
There was no point in hurrying, not now.
     Far,  far  away  by  this time,  somewhere  in the  maze  of  deserted,
snow-white  streets  and  squares,  Momo  continued to follow  the tortoise.
Despite  their  leisurely  progress,  or  because  of  it, the  streets  and
buildings seemed  to flash past in a  white  blur.  The tortoise  turned yet
another   corner  and  Momo,  following  close  behind,  stopped"  short  in
amazement. The street ahead of them was unlike all the rest.
     It  was  really more  of  an alleyway  than a street.  The close-packed
buildings  on  either  side  were  a  mass  of  little turrets,  gables  and
balconies. They resembled dainty glass palaces which, after lying on the sea
bed since time  out of  mind, had suddenly risen  to the surface.  Draped in
seaweed and encrusted  with barnacles and  coral, they shimmered gently with
all the iridescent, rainbow hues of mother-of-pearl.
     The narrow street ended in a house  detached  from all the  others  and
standing  at  right  angles  to  them. Its big  bronze front door was richly
decorated with ornamental figures.
     Momo glanced up at the street sign immediately above her. It was a slab
of white marble and on it, in gold lettering, were the words 'NEVER LANE'.
     Although she  had taken  only a second  or two to  look at the sign and
read it, the tortoise was already far ahead and had almost reached the house
at the end of the lane.
     'Wait for  me. Tortoise!' she  called, but for some strange reason  she
couldn't hear her own voice.
     The tortoise seemed to have heard, though, because it paused and looked
around. Momo tried  to follow, but no sooner had she set off down Never Lane
than  a  curious  sensation gripped  her. She  felt  as if she were  toiling
upstream against a mighty torrent or battling with an inaudible tempest that
threatened to blow her backwards. Bent
     119


     almost  double, she braced  her  body  against  the  mysterious  force,
hauling herself along hand over hand or crawling on all fours.
     She could  just  make out  the little figure  of  the  tortoise waiting
patiently at the end of the lane. 'I'm getting nowhere!' she called at last.
'Help me, can't you?'
     Slowly the tortoise retraced its steps. When it came to a halt in front
of her, its shell bore the following advice:
     'WALK BACKWARDS.'
     Momo tried it.  She turned around and walked backwards, and all at once
she  was  progressing up the lane with the utmost  ease.  At the  same time,
something most peculiar happened  to her. While  walking  backwards, she was
also thinking, breathing and feeling backwards - living backwards, in fact.
     At length  she bumped into something solid. Turning, she found  she was
standing outside the last  house of all,  the one that stood at right angles
to the rest. She gave a little start because, seen at this range, the ornate
bronze door looked enormous.
     'I wonder if I'll ever get  it  open,' she  thought, but at that moment
the massive door swung open by itself.
     She paused again, distracted  by  the sight  of  another sign above the
door. This  one, which was supported by  the  figure of a  unicorn carved in
ivory, read: 'NOWHERE HOUSE'.
     Because she was  still rather  slow at reading, the  door had begun  to
close again by the time she'd finished. She slipped hurriedly inside, and it
shut behind her with a sound like muffled thunder.
     Momo  found  herself  in  a  long,  lofty  passage flanked  at  regular
intervals  by  marble statues whose  apparent function was  to  support  the
ceiling.  There was  no sign here of the mysterious current  that  prevailed
outside in  the lane. Momo followed the tortoise  as it waddled ahead of her
down the
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     long corridor. At the far end it stopped outside a little door
     just big enough for Momo to duck through.
     WE'RE  THERE,' the tortoise's shell announced. There was a little sign
on the door. Kneeling down so that
     it was on a level with her nose, Momo read the inscription.
     'PROFESSOR SECUNDUS MINUTUS HORA', it
     said.
     She drew  a  deep breath  and  boldly lifted  the latch. As soon as the
little door opened, her ears were assailed by a melodious chorus of tinkling
and chiming and ticking and humming and whirring. She followed  the tortoise
inside, and the larch clicked into place behind them.



     The Conference
     Innumerable figures  were scurrying  around  the  headquarters  of  the
Timesaving Bank, a grey-lit  labyrinth of passages and corridors, passing on
the latest news in agitated whispers:
     every member  of  the directional board had been  summoned to attend an
extraordinary general meeting.
     Some surmised that this portended a dire emergency, others that new and
untapped sources of time had been discovered.
     The directors were already closeted in the  boardroom. They sat side by
side at  a  conference table so long  that it seemed to go on for ever, each
with his steel-grey  briefcase and small  grey cigar. They had removed their
bowler hats for the occasion, and every last one  of them had a bald head as
grey as the  rest  of him. Their mood, if  such bloodless creatures could be
said to have feelings at all, was universally dejected.
     The chairman rose from his place at the head of the long table. The hum
of  conversation died away, and two interminable  rows  of grey faces turned
towards him.
     'Gentlemen,'  he  began,  'the situation is  grave.  I  feel  bound  to
acquaint  you at  once with  the  unpalatable but  inescapable facts  of the
matter.
     'Every  available agent was assigned to hunt down  the girl named Momo.
This  operation  lasted  a total of six  hours,  thirteen  minutes and eight
seconds. While engaged on it, all the  said agents were inevitably compelled
to  neglect the true purpose of their existence,  namely, time-gathering. To
this loss of revenue must be added the time expended during the
     122


     manhunt by  our agents themselves. Accurate  computations disclose that
the sum of these two debit entries amounts  to three  billion, seven hundred
and thirty-eight million,  two hundred and fifty-nine thousand, one  hundred
and fourteen seconds.
     'That,  gentlemen, is more than a  whole human lifetime.  I need hardly
tell you what such a deficit means to us.'
     Here  he  pointed dramatically  to a huge steel  door,  bristling  with
combination locks and safety  devices, set in the wall at the far end of the
boardroom.
     'Our reserves of time are not inexhaustible, gentlemen,' he pursued  in
a louder voice. 'If the  manhunt had  paid off, well and good. As it is,  we
wasted time to no purpose. The girl eluded us.
     'There  must  be  no repetition  of  this  disastrous  affair. I  shall
strongly oppose any more such time-consuming  operations  from now on.  Time
must  be  saved, not squandered.  I would  therefore  urge you to frame your
future plans  accordingly.  That is all  I have to say, gentlemen. Thank you
for your attention.'
     He sat  down, blowing out a dense cloud of smoke. Agitated whispers ran
the length of the boardroom.
     Then, at the other end of the table, a second speaker rose to his feet.
Every head turned in his direction.
     'Gentlemen,' he said, 'we all have the interests of the Timesaving Bank
at heart. However,  I find it quite unnecessary for  us  to view this affair
with  alarm, still  less to regard it  as  a  catastrophe.  Nothing could be
further from the truth. We all know that our reserves of time are so immense
that our position would not be endangered, even by a loss many times greater
than the one we have just sustained. What is a human lifetime, after all? By
our standards, a mere pinprick.
     'I fully  agree with our chairman that  there must be no repetition  of
this incident. On the other hand, nothing like it
     123


     has  ever happened betore,  and the  chances of its happening again are
very remote.
     'The chairman was right to reproach us for allowing the girl to escape.
On  the other hand, our sole purpose was to render her harmless, and that we
have successfully done.  The creature has disappeared - she  has fled beyond
the  borders of time. We  are rid of her, in other words. Personally, I feel
we have every reason to congratulate ourselves.'
     The second speaker sat down with a complacent  smile. The smattering of
applause that greeted his remarks was cut  short when a third speaker  rose,
this time from a seat halfway along the great table.
     'I  shall be brief,' he said sourly. 'In my opinion, the last speaker's
soothing  words were thoroughly  irresponsible.  This  Могло is  no ordinary
child. We  all  know she  possesses powers  capable  of presenting a serious
threat to us  and  our  activities. The fact that no such incident  has ever
occurred before is no guarantee that it won't occur again. We must remain on
our guard. We must not rest content until the child is in our power, because
only then can  we be sure she  will never harm  us again. Having  managed to
leave the realm of time, she may re-enter it at any moment  -- and she will,
you mark my words!'
     He sat  down. The  other directors  winced and  bowed  their  heads  in
silence.
     'Gentlemen,' said a fourth  speaker,  who was sitting  across the table
from the third, 'pardon me  for being blunt, but we're dodging the issue. We
must face the fact that an alien power has  been  meddling in our  business.
After  carefully examining  every  aspect of the situation, I  find that the
odds against any creature  crossing the borders of time, alive  and unaided,
are  precisely  forty-two  million  to  one  In  other words,  it's  a  near
impossibility.'
     Another  buzz  of  agitation  ran  around  the  boardroom.  'Everything
suggests,' the fourth speaker continued, when
     124


     the murmurs had  subsided, 'that someone helped the  girl to  elude us.
You  all know  who I mean. The person in  question titles  himself Professor
Нога.'
     At the sound of this name, most of the men  in grey flinched as if they
had been struck. Others jumped to their feet, shouting and gesticulating.
     The fourth speaker raised his arms for silence. 'Gentlemen, gentlemen,'
he cried,  'a  little self-control, if  you please! I'm well aware  that any
mention of that name is - well, not quite proper. I  utter  it with  extreme
reluctance,  I assure you,  but we mustn't  blind ourselves to the facts. If
the girl received assistance from - from the Aforesaid, he must have had his
reasons, and those reasons cannot be other than detrimental to us. In short,
gentlemen, we must allow for the possibility that the Aforesaid may not only
send  the girl back but  arm her against us in some way. She  will then be a
mortal danger  to us. We must  therefore be prepared not merely to sacrifice
another human lifetime or lifetimes.  No, gentlemen, in  the last resort  we
must stake everything we possess - I  repeat, everything! -  because, if the
worst happens, thrift could spell our destruction. I think you know what I'm
getting at.'
     The directors' agitation mounted, and they all started talking at once.
A fifth speaker jumped on to his chair and waved his arms wildly.
     'Quiet!' he bellowed. 'It's all very well for  the last speaker to hint
at a  host of dire possibilities, but he  obviously doesn't know how to deal
with them himself. He says  we  must be prepared for any sacrifice: well and
good.  We  must  stop  at nothing:  well and  good.  We  mustn't  stint  our
resources: well and good. But  these are just empty words. Let  him  tell us
what practical steps to take. None  of us knows how the Aforesaid  will  arm
the girl against us.  We  shall be confronted by  a  wholly unknown  danger:
that's  the problem we have to solve!' The boardroom was in uproar now. Some
of the directors.
     125


     shouted  incoherently, others drummed  on  the table with their  fists,
others buried their  heads in  their hands. All were overcome  with panic. A
sixth speaker strove hard to make himself heard above the din.
     'Gentlemen, please!' he kept repeating in  a soothing voice until peace
was finally restored. 'I implore you  to take a calm and commonsense view of
this matter. Even assuming that the girl comes  back from the Aforesaid, and
even  assuming that he arms  her  against  us in  some way,  there  will  be
absolutely  no  need  for  us to do  battle  with her  ourselves.  We aren't
particularly well equipped for such a  confrontation, as the lamentable fate
of  our  late employee. Agent No. BLW/553/c, has  so amply demonstrated. But
that won't  be  necessary. We have  human accomplices in plenty,  gentlemen.
Provided  we make  discreet and skilful use  of  them,  we shall  be able to
dispose  of the girl  Momo and the threat she represents without ever having
to  intervene in  person. Such a method  of procedure would, I feel sure, be
not only economical but safe and highly effective.'
     A sigh of relief went up from the assembled throng. The directors found
this a  sensible suggestion and would probably have adopted  it on the  spot
had not the floor been claimed by someone seated near the head of the table.
     'Gentlemen,' he began, 'we keep  debating how  best to  get rid  of the
girl Momo.  Our  motive --  let's be honest --  is fear, but fear is  a  bad
counsellor.  I  feel   we're  missing   a  golden  opportunity  -  a  unique
opportunity. There's a saying: If you  can't beat 'em, join 'em.  Well,  why
shouldn't we persuade the girl to join MS? Why not get her on our side?'
     'Hear, hear!' cried a number of voices. 'Go on!'
     'It seems clear,'  the seventh  speaker continued, 'that this child has
found  her way to the Aforesaid. In other words, she got there via the route
that has eluded us  for so long. If  she can find it again, as  she probably
can, with ease, she can lead
     126


     us there. We  shall then be  able to deal with the Aforesaid in our own
way - very speedily, too, I feel sure.
     'Once  that is done,  we  need no longer toil at gathering  time by the
hour,  minute  and second  - no, gentlemen, because  we shall  have captured
mankind's whole store of time at  a stroke, and possessing the whole of time
means wielding absolute power. Just think, gentlemen: we shall have attained
our goal, and all because of the girl you propose to eliminate!'
     A deathly hush had descended on the boardroom. 'That's  all very well,'
protested  someone,  'but you  know  it's  impossible to  lie  to  the girl.
Remember what happened to Agent No. BLW/553/c. We'd all end up like him.'
     'Who  said anything about lying to her?'  retorted the seventh speaker.
'We'd tell her all about our plan, naturally.'
     'Then she'd never go  along with it,' the sceptic persisted. 'The whole
idea's preposterous.'
     'Don't be too sure, my friend,' a ninth speaker broke in. 'We'd have to
make  her a tempting proposition. For instance, we could promise her as much
time as she wants.'
     'And break our promise later, of course,' said the sceptic.
     The ninth speaker gave an icy smile. 'Of  course  not,' he said. 'If we
didn't mean what we said, she'd sense it at once.'
     'No, no!' cried the chairman, banging  the table. 'I  couldn't agree to
that. If  we really gave her all the time  she wanted  it  would cost  us  a
fortune.'
     'Hardly that,' the  ninth speaker said blandly.  'How much time can one
child consume, after all? True, it would be  a minor drain on our resources,
but  think what  we'd be getting in return: the time of everyone else in the
world! Momo would consume  very little, and the little she did consume would
simply have to be charged to overheads. Consider the advantages, gentlemen!'
     127


     The ninth speaker resumed his seat while everyone weighed the  pros and
cons.
     'All the same,' the sixth speaker said eventually, 'it wouldn't work.'
     'Why not?'
     'For the simple reason, I'm afraid, that the girl already possesses all
the time  she  wants.  There'd be no  point  in trying  to  bribe  her  with
something she has plenty of.'
     'Then we'd have to deprive her of it first,' the ninth speaker replied.
     'We're talking  in circles,' the  chairman  said wearily.  'The child's
beyond our reach, that's the whole trouble.'
     A sigh of disappointment ran the length of the boardroom table.
     'May I venture a suggestion?' asked a tenth speaker.
     'The floor is yours,' said the chairman.
     The tenth speaker gave  the chairman  a little bow  before  proceeding.
'This girl,' he said,  'is fond  of her friends. She loves devoting her time
to others. What would become of  her if  there were no  one left to share it
with her? If she won't assist us of her own free  will, we  must concentrate
on her friends instead.'
     He  produced a  folder from his briefcase  and  flipped it  open.  'The
principal persons  concerned are named as Beppo Roadsweeper and Guido Guide.
I  also  have  here a list of the children  who  pay  her regular  visits. I
suggest we  simply lure these people  away,  so she can't get  in touch with
them.  What will Momo's abundance  of time  amount to when  she's all on her
own? A burden  -- a positive  curse!  Sooner or later she won't be  able  to
stand it any more, and when that time comes, gentlemen, we shall present her
with our terms. I'll  wager a  thousand years to a  microsecond that  she'll
show us the way, just to get her friends back.'
     Downcast till now, the men in grey raised their heads.
     128


     Every  face  broke into  a thin-lipped smile of triumph, every pair  of
hands applauded. The sound  reverberated along the interminable passages and
corridors like an avalanche of stones rattling down a mountainside.



     Nowhere House
     Momo was  standing in  the biggest  room she'd ever seen. It was bigger
than  the biggest cathedral or concert  hall  in  the world. Massive columns
supported  a roof that could be sensed rather than  seen  in  the  gloom far
above. There were  no windows anywhere. The golden light that  wove  its way
across this immense hall came from  countless candles whose flames burned so
steadily that they looked like daubs of brilliant  paint requiring no wax at
all to keep them alight.
     The thousandfold whirring and ticking and humming and chiming that Momo
had heard on entering came from innumerable clocks of every shape  and size.
They reposed on long tables, in glass cabinets, on golden  wall brackets, on
endless rows of shelves.
     There were dainty, bejewelled pocket watches, cheap tin  alarm  clocks,
hourglasses, musical clocks with pirouetting dolls on top, sundials,  clocks
encased in wood and marble, glass clocks and clocks driven by jets of water.
On  the walls hung all manner of cuckoo clocks and other clocks with weights
and  pendulums, some swinging  slowly and majestically  and  others  wagging
busily to and fro. All  around the  room  at first-floor level ran a gallery
reached  by  a spiral staircase. Higher still was another gallery, and above
it another, and above that yet another.
     Clocks  were  standing  or  hanging wherever  Momo  looked -  not  only
conventional  clocks  but spherical  timepieces  showing  what time  it  was
anywhere  in the world, and sidereal clocks, large and small, complete  with
sun, moon and stars.
     130


     Arrayed  in the  middle of the  hall  were countless bigger clocks -  a
forest of clocks, as it were - ranging from grandfather  clocks to full-size
church clocks.
     Not a moment passed but  one  of these innumerable timepieces struck or
chimed somewhere or  other, for  each  of them showed a  different time. Far
from offending the  ear, they  combined to produce a sound as  pleasant  and
harmonious as the rustle of leaves in a wood in springtime.
     Momo roamed  from  place  to  place,  gazing  wide-eyed  at  all  these
curiosities. She had  paused beside a lavishly ornamented clock on which two
tiny dancers, a man and a woman, were standing  with hands entwined, and was
just about to prod them to see if they would move, when she heard a friendly
voice behind her. 'Ah, so you're back,  Cassiopeia,' it said. 'Did you bring
Momo with you?'
     Turning, Momo looked along an avenue between the grandfather clocks and
saw a  frail old man with silvery hair stooping  over the  tortoise.  He was
wearing a gold-embroidered frock coat,  blue-silk knee breeches, white  hose
and shoes with big gold buckles.  Lace frothed from the cuffs  and collar of
his coat,  and his silver hair was braided into a pigtail  at the back. Momo
had never seen such a  costume before, though  anyone less ignorant would at
once have recognized it as the height of fashion two centuries earlier.
     'Well,' said the old gentleman, still  bending over  the  tortoise, 'is
she here? Where is she, then?'
     He donned  a  small pair  of eyeglasses like  old  Beppo's, except that
these were gold-rimmed, and peered about him.
     'Here I am!' called Momo.
     The old  gentleman came towards her with a  beaming smile,  both  hands
extended, and  the nearer he drew  the  younger he seemed to  become. By the
time he had reached Momo's side, seized her hands and shaken them cordially,
he looked little older than herself.
     'Welcome,' he said delightedly, '- welcome to Nowhere
     131


     House. Permit me to introduce myself, Momo. My name  is Hora, Professor
Secundus Minutus Hora.'
     'Were you really expecting me?' Momo asked in surprise.
     'But of course. Why else would I have sent Cassiopeia to fetch you?' He
produced  a  diamond-studded  fob  watch  from his pocket and nipped the lid
open. 'In fact, you're uncommonly  punctual,' he  said with a smile, holding
out the watch for her inspection.
     There were no hands or  numerals on the watch face, Momo saw, just  two
very fine superimposed spirals rotating slowly in opposite directions. Every
now and then, minute dots of light appeared where the spirals intersected.
     'This watch,'  said  Professor Hora, 'is  known as a  crisimo-graph. It
accurately  records crises in the history of mankind, and one of  these rare
occurrences has just begun.'
     'What's a crisis?' asked Momo.
     'It's like this,' the professor explained. 'At certain junctures in the
course of existence, unique moments occur when everyone and everything, even
the most distant stars, combine to bring about something that could not have
happened before  and  will never happen again. Few people  know how  to take
advantage  of these critical  moments, unfortunately,  and they  often  pass
unnoticed. When someone does recognize them, however, great things happen in
the world.'
     'Perhaps one needs a watch like yours to recognize them by,' said Momo.
     Professor Hora smiled and shook  his head. 'No, my child, the  watch by
itself  would be no use to anyone. You have to know how to read it as well.'
He snapped the  watch shut and  replaced it in  his  pocket.  Then, noticing
Momo's ill-concealed surprise at his personal appearance,  he looked down at
himself and frowned. 'Ah,' he  said, ''you may be punctual, but I seem to be
rather behind the times -  in fashion, I mean. How unobservant of me. I must
put that right at once.'
     And he clicked his fingers. In a flash, his costume changed
     132


     to a black frock coat, stovepipe trousers and a stand-up collar.
     'Is that  any  better?'  he  inquired  doubtfully,  but Momo's look  of
astonishment was answer enough  in  itself. 'No, of course not,' he went  on
quickly. 'What am I thinking of!'
     Another click of  the fingers, and he instantly  appeared in an  outfit
the like of  which Momo had  never seen. Nor had anyone else, since it dated
from a hundred years in the future.
     'Still no good?' he asked. 'Never mind,  I'll get it right in the end.'
And  he clicked  his  fingers a  third  time. At long last, he  stood  there
attired in an ordinary suit of the kind men wear today.
     'That's more  like it, eh?' he said, eyes  twinkling. 'I  hope I didn't
alarm you, Momo - it was just a little  joke of mine. But now, my girl, come
with me. You've a long journey behind you, and I'm sure you'd enjoy a hearty
breakfast.'
     He took her by the  hand and led her off into the clock forest with the
tortoise following at  their heels. After twisting and  turning like a maze,
the  path  eventually  came out  in a small room whose  walls  consisted  of
gigantic grandfather  clocks. In one corner  stood  a bow-legged table,  and
beside  it  a  dainty little  sofa  and  some  matching  armchairs.  Here as
elsewhere, everything was bathed in the golden glow of  a  myriad motionless
candle flames.
     Set  out on  the  table  were a  pot-bellied  jug  and two small  cups,
together with plates, spoons and knives - all of solid, gleaming gold. There
were also two little dishes,  one containing golden-yellow butter, the other
honey like liquid  gold, and  a basket piled high with  crusty, golden-brown
rolls.  Professor  Hora  filled  both  cups  with  hot  chocolate  from  the
pot-bellied  jug  and  made a  gesture  of invitation.  'There, little Momo,
please  tuck in.' Momo  needed no second bidding. Chocolate you could  drink
she'd never heard of before. As for rolls spread with butter and honey, they
were a rare delicacy, and these rolls
     133


     tasted  more delicious than any  she'd  eaten in her  life.  Completely
wrapped up  in her wonderful  breakfast, she feasted on  it with her  cheeks
bulging and  her mind  devoid  of every other thought. Although  she  hadn't
slept a wink all night long, the food banished  her  weariness and made  her
feel fresh and lively. The more  she ate,  the better it tasted. She felt as
if she could have gone on eating like this for days on end.
     Professor Hora, who watched her benevolently, was tactful enough not to
cut short  her  enjoyment too soon by engaging in conversation.  He realized
that his  guest had years of  hunger  to make up for. Perhaps  this was why,
while  watching her, he gradually looked older and  older until he became  a
white-haired old gentleman again. When he noticed that Momo wasn't too handy
with  a knife, he spread the  rolls for her and put  them  on her  plate. He
himself ate little - just enough to keep her company.
     At  last, even  Momo  could eat  no more. She drank up  her  chocolate,
studying her host over the rim of the golden  cup and wondering  who or what
he could possibly be. He was no ordinary person, that  much was obvious, but
all she really knew about him so far was  his name. She put her cup down and
cleared her throat.
     'Why did you send the tortoise to fetch me?'
     'To protect you  from the men in grey,' Professor Hora replied gravely.
'They're  searching for  you everywhere, and you're only safe from them here
with me.'
     Momo looked startled. 'You mean they want to hurt me?'
     'Yes, my child,' the professor sighed, 'in a manner of speaking.'
     But why?'
     'Because they're afraid of you -- because no  one could have  done them
greater harm.'
     'I haven't done anything to them,' Momo protested.
     'Oh,  yes you  have.  You  not  only  persuaded  one of them  to betray
himself, you told your friends about him. What's more,
     134


     you and  your  friends tried to  broadcast the  truth about the men  in
grey. Isn't that enough to make you their mortal enemy?'
     'But we walked right through the city,  the tortoise and I,' Momo said.
'If they were searching for me everywhere, they could easily have caught us.
We weren't going fast.'
     The tortoise had stationed herself at the professor's feet. He took her
on his lap and tickled her under the chin. 'Well, Cassiopeia,' he said  with
a smile, 'what's your opinion? Could they have caught you?'
     The word  'NEVER!' appeared like lightning on Cas-siopeia's shell,  and
the letters flickered so merrily that Momo almost thought she detected a dry
little chuckle.
     'The  thing is,' said  the  professor,  'Cassiopeia  can  see  into the
future.  Not  far  --  just  half  an  hour,  or thereabouts  -  but still.'
'CORRECTION!' flashed the shell. 'Pardon me,' said  the professor, 'I should
have said half an hour precisely.  She knows for certain what will happen in
the next thirty minutes, like whether or not  she's  going to bump into  the
men in grey, for instance.'
     'My goodness,' exclaimed Momo, 'how useful! So  if she knew  in advance
she'd meet the men in grey at such and such a spot, would she simply  take a
different route?'
     'No,' Professor Hora replied, 'I'm afraid it's not as easy as that. She
can't  undo anything she knows in advance because she knows what is actually
going  to  happen. If she  knew  she was going to meet the men in grey at  a
certain spot, she'd meet them there. She'd be powerless to prevent it.'
     Memo's  face fell.  'I  don't understand,'  she said.  'In  that  case,
there's no advantage in knowing anything in advance after all.'
     'There is sometimes,' said the professor.  'In your  case, for example,
she  knew  you  were going  to take a certain route and not meet any men  in
grey. That was an advantage,  wasn't it?' Momo  didn't  reply. Her  thoughts
were as tangled as a skein of wool.
     135


     'But to  return to you and your friends,' the professor went on. Ч must
congratulate you. Your posters and placards were most impressive.'
     'You mean you read them?' Momo asked delightedly.
     'Every last word,' the professor assured her.
     'Nobody else did, from the look of it,' said Momo.
     The  professor nodded sympathetically. 'I'm afraid not. The men in grey
saw to that.'
     'Do you know them well?' Momo asked.
     He nodded again and sighed. 'As well as they know me,' he said.
     Momo didn't know  what to make of this  reply. 'Do you often  go to see
them?'
     'No, never. I never set foot outside this house.'
     'What about the men in grey - do they ever come here?'
     The  professor smiled.  'Never  fear,  Momo, they can't  get  in.  They
couldn't even if they knew the way to Never Lane, which they don't.'
     Momo thought a while. Though reassured by Professor Hora's remarks, she
was eager  to  learn more about him. 'How do you come to know all this,' she
asked, '- I mean, about our posters and the men in grey?'
     'I keep a constant  watch on them and everything  connected with them,'
the  professor  told her,  'so I've  naturally been watching  you  and  your
friends as well.'
     'I thought you said you never left the house.'
     'I've no need to,' said the professor, rapidly growing younger again as
he  spoke,  'thanks  to my omnivision  glasses.'  He  took  off  his  little
gold-rimmed spectacles and held them out. 'Would you care to try them?'
     Momo  put them  on.  'I  can't  make out anything  at all,'  she  said,
screwing up her eyes and blinking. All she could see was a whirl of colours,
lights and shadows. It made her feel positively dizzy.
     136


     'Yes,'  she heard  the  professor  say,  'it's always the same to begin
with.  Seeing through  omnivision glasses isn't as  easy as all that. You'll
soon get used to them, though.'
     He stood  behind Momo's  chair  and gently adjusted the position of the
frame. At once, everything sprang into focus.
     The first thing Momo saw was the men in grey and their three limousines
on  the edge  of the district where the strange white buildings  began. They
were in the process of pushing their cars backwards.
     Then,  looking further afield, she saw more  grey figures  in the  city
streets.  They were talking and gesticulating excitedly as though passing on
information of some kind.
     'It's you they're talking about,' Professor Hora explained. 'They can't
understand how you managed to escape.'
     'Why  are they  all  so grey  in the face?'  Momo asked, still watching
them.
     'Because they feed on dead  matter,' the professor told her. 'They live
in people's time, as you know, but  time dies -literally dies -- once it has
been wrested away from its rightful owners. All human beings have their  own
share of time, but  it survives  only for as long as  it  really  belongs to
them.'  'So the  men in  grey aren't  human?' 'No. Their human appearance is
only  a  disguise.'  'What  are  they,  then?'  'Strictly speaking,  they're
nothing.' 'So where do they come from?'
     'They  exist only because people give  them the opportunity to  do  so.
Naturally, they  seize that opportunity.  Now that people are  giving them a
chance to rule their lives, they're naturally taking advantage of that too.'
     'What would happen if they couldn't steal any more time?'
     'They'd  disappear into  thin  air,  which  is where they  come  from.'
Professor Hora took his glasses back and pocketed  them. 'Unfortunately,' he
continued after a pause, 'they
     137


     already have plenty of human accomplices. That's the worst part.'
     'Well, nobody's going to steal any of my time,' Momo said stoutly.
     'I should hope not,' said the professor.  From one moment  to the next,
he  looked like an old man again. 'Come  along, Momo, I  want to show you my
collection.'
     Taking  her by the hand,  he led her back into the great hall, where he
showed her  all  sorts of timepieces and made them  chime for her, explained
the  workings of his sidereal clocks,  and gradually, under the influence of
his little visitor's  obvious  delight  in  all these marvels, grew  younger
again.
     Tell me,' he said as they walked on, 'do you like riddles?'
     'Oh yes, very much,' Momo said eagerly. 'Do you know any?'
     'Yes,' said Professor Hora, smiling at her, 'I know a real teaser. Very
few people can solve it.'
     'All the better,' Momo said. 'I'll make a special note  of it, so I can
try it out on my friends.'
     The professor's smile broadened. 'I  can't wait to see if you can solve
it. Listen carefully:
     All dwelling in one house are strange brothers three,
     as unlike as any three brothers could be,
     yet try as you may to tell brother from brother,
     you'll find that the trio resemble each other.
     The first isn't there, though he'll come beyond doubt.
     The second's departed, so he's not about.
     The third and the smallest is right on the spot,
     and manage without him the others could not.
     Yet the third is a factor with which to be reckoned
     because the first brother turns into the second.
     Yot" cannot stand back. and observe number three,
     for one of the others is all you will see.
     So tell me, my child, are the three of them one?
     138


     Or are there  but two? Or could  there be none? Just name them, and you
will at once realize that each  rules  a kingdom of infinite size. They rule
it together and are  it as well.  In  that, they're alike, so where  do they
dwell?'
     Professor  Hora gave Momo  an encouraging nod.  Thanks to her excellent
memory,  she was able to repeat the  whole  rhyme word for word. She did so,
slowly and carefully, then sighed.
     'Phew!' she said.  'That's a  really hard  one.  I've no idea what  the
answer could be. I don't even know where to start.'
     'Just try,' said the professor.
     Momo recited the riddle again under her breath.  Finally, she shook her
head. 'It's no use,' she said.
     The tortoise,  which  had  now rejoined  them  and  was  seated  at the
professor's feet, had been watching Momo intently.
     'Well, Cassiopeia,' said  the professor,  'you know  everything half an
hour in advance. Will Momo solve the riddle or won't she?'
     Cassiopeia's shell lit up. 'SHE WILL!' it spelled out.
     'You see?' the professor said, turning to Momo. 'You are going to solve
it. Cassiopeia has never been wrong yet.'
     Momo knit her  brow and  racked her  brains  once more. Who were  these
three  brothers that  all  lived in the same  house?  They obviously weren't
brothers in the usual sense.  In riddles,  'brothers' always meant grains of
sand or  teeth or the like - similar things, at all  events. But these three
things somehow turned into each other. What sort of things could do that?
     Looking  around  in  search  of inspiration, Momo  caught sight of  the
candles with their motionless flames. Fire turned wax into light - yes, they
were three 'brothers', but that couldn't be the answer because they were all
there at the
     139


     same time, and two  of them weren't supposed to be. What about blossom,
fruit and seed - could the answer  be something  of that kind? The more Momo
debated this possibility,  the more  promising it seemed. The  seed was  the
smallest of  the  three, it was  there  when the other two  weren't, and the
other two couldn't exist without it. But no, that wouldn't do either. A seed
was perfectly visible,  and  the  riddle  said  that anyone looking  at  the
smallest of the three brothers always saw one of the other two.
     Momo's thoughts flitted hither and  thither. She simply couldn't find a
clue that led anywhere. Still, Cassiopeia had predicted that she would solve
the riddle,  so she slowly recited it to herself for a third  time. When she
came  to  the line: 'The  first isn't there, though he'll come  beyond doubt
...' she saw Cassiopeia give her a  wink. The words 'WHAT  I KNOW  lit up on
her shell, but only for a split second.
     Professor  Нога smiled. 'No helping, Cassiopeia,'  he said,  though  he
hadn't been looking in her direction. 'Momo can work it out all by herself.'
     Momo, who had seen the  words, began to ponder  their meaning. What was
it that Cassiopeia knew? She  knew the riddle would  be solved, but that was
no help.
     So what  else did Cassiopeia know? She  always knew what  was  going to
happen. She knew .. .
     'The future!' cried Momo.  '"The first isn't there,  though he'll  come
beyond doubt" -- that's the future!'
     Professor Нога nodded.
     '  "The second's departed,"' Momo went on,' "so he's not  about" - that
must be the past!'
     The professor beamed at her and nodded again.
     'Now comes the hard part,' Momo  said thoughtfully. 'What can the third
brother be? He's the smallest of the three, but the  other two can't  manage
without him, and he's the only one at home.'
     140


     After another  pause for  thought,  she gave a sudden exclamation.  'Of
course! It's now -- this very moment! The past consists  of moments gone  by
and  the future of moments  to come, so neither of  them could exist without
the  present. That's it!' Her cheeks were glowing  with excitement now. 'But
what does  the next bit mean? "Yet  the  third is  a factor with which to be
reckoned, because the  first brother turns into the second ..." I suppose it
means that the present exists only because the future turns into the past.'
     She looked  at Professor Hora with dawning  amazement. 'Yes, it's true!
I'd never  looked at it  like  that before. If it  is  true, though, there's
really no such thing as the present, only past and future. Take this moment,
for instance: by the  time  I  talk about it, it's already in the past. "You
cannot stand back and observe number three, for one of the others is all you
will  see ..." I understand what that means now. I understand the rest, too,
because you could be forgiven  for thinking there was only one brother - the
present, I  mean - or only the past  or the future. Or none of them at  all,
because each of them exists only when the others do. Golly,  it's  enough to
make your head spin!'
     'But the riddle isn't finished yet,'  said the  professor. 'What's this
kingdom the brothers all rule together -- the one they themselves агеУ
     Momo  looked  baffled.  What could it  be? What did past,  present  and
future amount to, all lumped together? She gazed around the great hall, with
its thousands upon thousands of clocks. Suddenly her face lit up.
     'Time!'  she cried,  clapping her  hands  and skipping for joy. 'That's
what it is: time!'
     'And the house the brothers live in - what would that be?'
     'The world, I suppose,' Momo replied.
     'Bravo!' said the professor, clapping in his turn. 'I congratulate you,
my girl. You're really good at solving riddles. I'm delighted.'
     141


     'Me too,'  said  Momo, secretly  wondering  why he should  be quite  so
pleased that she'd solved his riddle.
     He  showed her many other rare  and interesting things as they  resumed
their tour of the clock-filled hall, but the riddle  continued to occupy her
thoughts.
     'Tell me,' she said eventually, 'what exactly is time?'
     'You've just found that out for yourself,' the professor replied.
     'No,'  she  said,  'I  mean time  itself.  It  exists,  so  it must  be
something. What is it really?'
     The  professor  smiled. 'It would  be nice  if you worked  our your own
answer to that question too.'
     Momo  pondered for a long time. 'It exists,' she mused. 'That much I do
know, but you can't touch or hold it. Could it be something like  a perfume?
Then again, it's always passing by, so it must  come from somewhere. Perhaps
it's  like the wind - no, wait! Perhaps  it's a kind of music you just don't
hear because it's  always there.'  She paused, then  added, 'Though  I  have
heard it sometimes, I think - very faintly.'
     The professor nodded.  'I know,  that's  why I was able  to summon  you
here.'
     'But there must be more to it than that,' said Momo, still pursuing her
train of thought. 'The  music comes from far off, but I seem to hear it deep
inside me.  Perhaps time works that  way too.' She broke off, bewildered. 'I
mean,' she  said, 'like the wind making  waves in the sea.' She shrugged and
shook her head. 'I expect I'm talking nonsense.'
     'Not  at  all,' said the professor.  'I think you put  it very prettily
indeed. That's why I'm going to let you into a  secret. If you want to know,
all the time in the world comes from here - from Nowhere House, Never Lane.'
     Momo gazed at him in awe.  'I see,' she said softly. 'You mean you make
it yourself?'
     142


     The  professor  smiled again. 'No, my child, I'm  merely its custodian.
All human beings have their allotted span of time. My task is to see that it
reaches them.'
     'In that case,' said Momo, 'why not simply arrange things so they don't
have any more of it stolen by the time-thieves?'
     'I can't,' the  professor told her. 'What people  do with their time is
their  own business. They must  guard it  themselves.  I can only distribute
it.'
     Momo  looked around the great hall.  'Is  that why  you keep  all these
clocks - one for every person in the world?'
     'No,  Momo,  these  clocks  are just a  hobby  of  mine.  They're  very
imperfect copies of  something  that  everyone  carries inside him. Just  as
people  have eyes to  see light with and ears to  hear sounds  with, so they
have hearts for the  appreciation of time.  And  all the  time they  fail to
appreciate is as wasted on them as  the colours of the rainbow are wasted on
a blind person or  the nightingale's  song on a deaf one.  Some  hearts  are
unappreciative of time, I fear, though they beat like all the rest.'
     'What will happen when my heart stops beating?' Momo asked.
     'When that moment  comes,' said the professor, 'time will stop for  you
as well. Or rather, you  will retrace your  steps through time,  through all
the days and nights, months and years of your life, until you go out through
the great, round, silver gate you entered by.'
     'What will I find on the other side?'
     'The home of the music you've sometimes faintly heard  in the distance,
but by then you'll be part of it. You yourself will be a note in  its mighty
harmonies.' Professor  Нога looked at Momo searchingly. 'But I don't suppose
that makes much sense to you, does it?'
     'Yes,'  said Momo, 'I think  so.' Then,  recalling her strange progress
along Never Lane and the way she'd lived
     143


     through everything in reverse, she asked, 'Are you Death -
     The professor  smiled.  'If people  knew the nature of death,' he  said
after a  moment's silence,  'they'd cease  to  be afraid of  it. And if they
ceased to be afraid of it, no one could rob them of their time any more.'
     'Why  not tell them,  then?'  Momo suggested. 'I already  do,' said the
professor. 'I tell them the  meaning of death  with every hour  I send them,
but  they  refuse to  listen.  They'd sooner heed  those  who frighten them.
That's another riddle in itself.'
     'I'm not frightened,' said Momo.
     Professor Нога nodded slowly. He gave her another searching scare. Then
he  said,  'Would  you  like  to  see  where  time  comes from?' 'Yes,'  she
whispered.
     'I'll take you there,' said the professor, 'but only if you promise not
to talk or ask questions. Is that understood?'
     Momo nodded.
     Professor  Hora  stooped  and  picked  her  up. All at once, he  seemed
immensely tall  and inexpressibly old, but not as  a man grows old - more in
the manner of  an ancient tree or primeval crag. Clasping Momo with one arm,
he  covered  her eyes  with  his  other  hand, so  gently that it felt as if
snowflakes were landing on her cheeks like icy thistledown.
     Momo sensed that he was striding down a long, dark tunnel, but she felt
quite safe and utterly unafraid. At first she thought she could hear her own
heartbeats, but then  she became  more  and  more convinced  that they  were
really the echoes of the professor's footsteps.
     After what seemed a very long way, he put Momo down. His face was close
to hers  when he removed  his hand from her  eyes.  He gave her a meaningful
look and put a finger to his lips. Then he straightened up and stepped back.
Everything was bathed in a sort of golden twilight.
     144


     When her eyes became  accustomed to it, Momo saw that  she was standing
beneath a mighty dome as big as the vault of heaven itself, or  so it seemed
to her, and that the whole of this dome was made of the purest gold.
     High overhead, in the very centre of  the dome, was a  circular opening
through which a shaft of light fell straight on  to an equally circular lake
whose dark, smooth waters resembled a jet-black mirror.
     Just above  the  surface, glittering in  the  shaft of light  with  the
brilliance of a star, something was slowly and majestically moving back  and
forth. Momo saw  that  it was a  gigantic pendulum,  but one with no visible
means of  support. Apparently weightless, it soared  and  swooped  above the
mirror-smooth water with birdlike ease.
     As the  glittering pendulum  slowly  neared the  edge  of  the lake, an
enormous waterlily bud emerged from its dark depths. The closer the pendulum
came, the wider it opened, until at last it lay full-blown on the surface.
     Momo had never seen so exquisite a flower. It  was composed of  all the
colours  in the spectrum - brilliant colours such as  Momo had never dreamed
of.  While the  pendulum hovered  above  it, she became  so  absorbed in the
spectacle that she forgot  everything else. The scent alone seemed something
she had always craved without knowing what it was.
     But then, very slowly, the  pendulum swung  back, and as it did so Momo
saw  to her  dismay that the  glorious flower was beginning to  wilt.  Petal
after  petal dropped off and sank into the blackness  below. To Momo, it was
as if something unutterably dear to her were vanishing beyond recall.
     By the time the pendulum reached the centre of the lake, the flower had
completely disintegrated. At that moment,  however, a new bud arose near the
opposite shore, and  as  the pendulum  drew  nearer Momo  saw that  an  even
lovelier
     145


     blossom was beginning to unfold.  She walked around the lake to inspect
it more closely.
     This new flower was altogether different from its predecessor. Momo had
never seen such  colours  before, but  these colours  seemed richer and more
exquisite  by  far. The  petals,  too,  gave  off a different  and  far more
delicious scent, and the longer  Momo studied  them the more  marvellous  in
every detail she found them.
     But  again the  glittering pendulum swung back,  and as  it did so  the
glorious blossom  withered and sank,  petal  by  petal,  into  the dark  and
unfathomable depths of the lake.
     Slowly,  very slowly, the  pendulum proceeded on  its way, but  not  to
exactly  the same place as before.  This time it checked its swing  a little
way  further  along  the  shore, and  there,  one  pace  from  where  it had
previously paused, another bud arose and unfolded.
     To Momo  this seemed the loveliest lily of all, the flower of flowers -
a  positive miracle.  She could have wept aloud when  this  perfect blossom,
too,  began  to  fade and  subside into  the depths, but she remembered  her
promise to Professor Hora and uttered no sound.
     Meanwhile, the  pendulum had returned  to  the  opposite shore, another
pace further along, and a fresh bud broke the glassy surface.
     As  time went  by,  it dawned on Momo  that each  new  blossom differed
entirely from those that had gone before, and that it always seemed the most
beautiful of all. She wandered around the lake watching flower after  flower
unfold and die.
     Although she felt she would never tire of this spectacle, she gradually
became aware of another marvel  -  one that had  escaped her till  now:  she
could not only  see the shaft of light that streamed down from the centre of
the dome; she could hear it as well.
     146


     At first it reminded her of wind whistling  in  distant tree-tops,  but
the sound  swelled until it resembled the roar of a waterfall or the thunder
of waves breaking on a rocky shore.
     More and more clearly, Momo perceived that this  mighty sound consisted
of innumerable notes  whose  constant changes of pitch were forever  weaving
different harmonies.  It  was music, yet it was also  something else. All at
once, she recognized it as the faraway music she had sometimes faintly heard
while listening to the silence of a starry night.
     But now, as the sound became ever clearer and more glorious, she sensed
that it was the resonant shaft of light that summoned each bud from the dark
depths of the lake  and fashioned it into a flower  of unique and inimitable
beauty.
     The longer she listened, the more clearly she could make out individual
voices - not human voices, but notes such as might have been  given forth by
gold  and silver and  every  other  precious metal in existence.  And  then,
beyond them, as it were, voices of quite another kind made themselves heard,
infinitely remote yet indescribably powerful. As  they gained strength, Momo
began to distinguish  words uttered in a language she had never heard before
but could  nonetheless understand.  The sun and  moon and planets  and stars
were telling  her their own, true names, and their names signified what they
did  and how they  all combined to make  each hour-lily  flower and  fade in
turn.
     Suddenly Momo realized  that all these words were directed at her. From
where she stood to the most  distant star m  space, the entire universe  was
focused upon her like a single face of unimaginable size, looking at her and
talking to her. What overcame her then was something more than fear.
     A moment later she caught sight of Professor Нога silently beckoning to
her. She ran  to him  and  buried her  face in his ^hest.  Taking her in his
arms, he put one hand over her eyes
     147


     as before, light as thistledown, and carried her back along the endless
tunnel. Again all seemed dark, but again she felt snug and secure.
     Once they were back  in the  little, clock-lined room, he laid her down
on the sofa.
     'Professor  Нога,' Momo  whispered, 'I never knew that  everyone's time
was so'  - she strove to find the  right word,  but in vain -  "so big,' she
said eventually.
     'What you've just seen and heard wasn't everyone's time,' the professor
replied, 'it was  only your own. There's a place like the one you visited in
every  living soul, but only those who let me take them there  can reach it,
nor can it be seen with ordinary eyes.'
     'So where was I?'
     'In  the depths of your own heart,' said the professor, gently stroking
her tousled hair.
     'Professor Нога,' she whispered  again, 'may I bring my friends  to see
you too?'
     'No,' he said, 'not yet. That isn't possible.'
     'How long can I stay with you, then?'
     'Until you feel it's time to rejoin your friends, my child.'
     'But may I tell them what the stars were saying?'
     'You may, but you won't be able to.'
     'Why not?'
     'Because, before you can, the words must take root inside you.'
     'But I want to  tell  them - all of them. I want  to sing them what the
voices sang. Then everything would come right again, I think.'
     'If that's what you really want, Momo, you must learn to wait.'
     'I don't mind waiting.'
     '1 mean, wait like  a seed that must slumber in the earth before it can
sprout. That's how long the words will  take to grow  up inside you. Is that
what you want?'
     148


     'Yes,' she whispered.
     'Then sleep,'  said Professor Нога, gently passing his  hand across her
eyes. 'Sleep!'
     And Momo heaved a deep, contented sigh and fell asleep.



     The Hour-Lilies



     A Year and a Day
     Momo awoke and opened her eyes.
     It was a while before she  gathered where she was. To her bewilderment,
she found  herself back  on the grass-grown steps  of  the amphitheatre.  If
she'd been with Professor Hora in Nowhere House only moments before, how had
she made her way back here so quickly?
     It was cold and dark, with the  first  light of dawn just showing above
the  eastern  skyline. Momo  shivered  and  burrowed  deeper  into her baggy
jacket.
     She  had  a vivid recollection of all  that had  happened:  of trudging
through the city  behind the tortoise, of the district with the strange glow
and the dazzling white houses, of Never Lane and  the great hall filled with
clocks,  of  hot  chocolate and  rolls and honey,  of her conversation  with
Professor Hora. She could even recall the riddle,  word for word. Above all,
though, she recalled what she had witnessed beneath the golden dome. She had
only  to  shut her eyes  to  see the  hour-lilies in all  their undreamed-of
splendour. As for the voices of the sun,  moon and stars, they still rang in
her ears so clearly that she could hum the melodies they sang.
     And  while she did so, words  took shape within  her -words  that truly
described the  scent  of  the flowers  and the  colours  she  had never seen
before. It was  the voices  in her memory  that  spoke them, yet the  memory
itself brought something wonderful in its  train. Momo found that she  could
recall not only what she  had seen and heard  but much,  much  more besides.
Hour-lilies by the thousand blossomed in her
     153


     mind's eye,  welling up as  if from some magical, inexhaustible spring,
and new  words rang out as each new flower appeared. Momo had only to listen
closely and  she could  repeat the  words  - even  sing them. They  told  of
strange and  wonderful things,  but their meaning eluded her as soon  as she
uttered them.
     So that was  what Professor  Hora had meant when he said that the words
must first take root within her!
     Or  had  everything  been  a dream after  all? Had  none  of it  really
happened? Momo  was still  pondering this question when  she caught sight of
something crawling across the arena below her.  It was the tortoise, engaged
in a leisurely quest for edible plants.
     Momo ran quickly down the steps and knelt on the ground  beside it. The
tortoise looked up for a moment, regarded her briefly with its dark, age-old
eyes, and calmly went on eating.
     'Good morning, Tortoise,' said Momo.
     The creature's shell remained blank.
     'Was it you that took me to Professor Нога last night?'
     Still no answer.
     Momo heaved a sigh of disappointment. 'What a  pity,' she muttered. 'So
you're only an ordinary tortoise after all,  and no"- -  oh, I've  forgotten
what  she  was called. It was a pretty name, but long and  foreign-sounding.
I'd never heard it before.'
     Some  faintly  luminous  letters  showed  up  on the  tortoise's shell.
'CASSIOPEIA,' they read.
     Momo joyfully spelled  them  out. 'Yes,' she cried, clapping her hands,
'that was it! So it "s you. You are Professor Hora's tortoise, aren't you?'
     'WHO ELSE?'
     'Why didn't you say so right away, then?'
     'HAVING BREAKFAST.'
     'Oh,  I'm so  sorry,' said Momo. 'I didn't mean to disturb you. All I'd
like to know is, why am I back here?'
     154


     BY CHOICE.'
     Momo scratched  her  head. 'That's  funny, I don't  remember wanting to
leave. How about you, Cassiopeia? Why did  you come, too, instead of staying
with the professor?' 'BY CHOICE,' Cassiopeia repeated. 'Thanks,' said  Momo.
'That  was  nice  of  you.'  'NOT  AT  ALL.'  That  seemed  to  conclude the
conversation as far as Cassiopeia was concerned, because  she plodded off to
resume her interrupted breakfast.
     Momo  sat down on  the  steps,  impatient to  see Beppo, Guido  and the
children again. The music continued  to ring out inside  her, and though she
was  all alone with  no one  around to hear, she joined  in  the  words  and
melodies more and  more loudly and lustily.  And  as she sang, straight into
the rising sun, it seemed to her  that the  birds and  crickets  and trees -
even the amphitheatre's time-worn stones - were listening to her.
     Little  did she  know that they  would be her only listeners for a long
time to  come.  Little did she  know that she was  waiting  in vain  for her
friends  to  appear --  that  she  had been  gone  a  whole  year, and  that
everything had changed in the meantime.
     The men in grey disposed of Guido with  relative ease. It had all begun
about   a  year  ago,  only   days  after   Momo's  sudden  and   mysterious
disappearance,  when  a leading  newspaper  printed an  article  about  him.
Headlined 'The  Last of  the  Old-Time Storytellers', it mentioned  when and
where he could be found and described him as an attraction not to be missed.
     From then on,  the amphitheatre  was  besieged by  growing  numbers  of
people anxious  to  see and hear him.  This, of  course,  was all right with
Guido. He continued to say the first thing that came into his head and ended
by handing around his cap, which always came back brimming with
     155


     coins and banknotes. Before long he was employed by a travel  agent who
paid him  an  additional  fee  for  permission to  present  him as a tourist
attraction  in his  own  right. Busloads  of  sightseers  rolled  up in such
numbers that Guido was soon obliged to keep  to  a strict timetable, so that
all who had paid to hear him got a chance to do so.
     He began to miss Momo more and more, because his stories had lost their
inspiration, but he steadfastly  refused to tell the same  story twice, even
when offered twice his usual fee.
     After  a  few  months, Guido  no  longer  needed  to  turn  up  at  the
amphitheatre  and  hand  around   his  battered   peaked  cap.  Having  been
'discovered', first by a radio station and then by  television, he was  soon
earning  a mint of money by  telling  his stories, three times weekly, to an
audience of millions.
     By now he had given up  his lodgings near the amphitheatre and moved to
quite another part of town, where all the rich and famous lived. He rented a
big modern villa set in well-kept grounds, dropped the  nickname Guido,  and
called himself Girolamo instead.
     Guido was  far too pressed for  time, of course, to go on inventing new
stories as he used to. He began to ration  his material with care, sometimes
concocting as many as five stories out of one idea. When even that failed to
meet the ever-increasing demand for his services, he did something he should
never have done: he broadcast a story destined for Memo's ears alone.
     It was  lapped up as greedily,  and  forgotten as  speedily, as all the
rest, and the public clamoured for more. Guido was so  bemused by the  sheer
pace  of  everything  that, without stopping to  think, he reeled off all of
Momo's  treasured  stories in quick succession.  When  the  last of them was
told, he felt drained and empty and incapable of making up any more.
     Terrified that success might desert him, he started to tell his stories
all over again, making only minor changes and
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     using  different  names  for  his characters.  Extraordinarily  enough,
nobody seemed to notice - at all events, it didn't affect his popularity.
     Guido clung to this thought like a drowning  man  clutching at a straw.
He was  rich and famous now, he  told himself,  and wasn't  that  what  he'd
always dreamed of?
     Sometimes, though, while  lying  awake at night between silk sheets, he
yearned for  his old way of life - for the happy times he'd spent with  Momo
and Beppo and the children, when he was still a genuine storyteller.
     But  there was  no way  back, for Momo had never  reappeared. Guido had
made strenuous efforts to find her at first, but he  no longer had the time.
He now employed three super-efficient secretaries to negotiate contracts for
him, take down his stories in shorthand,  handle his publicity and keep  his
engagement  diary. Somehow, his  schedule  never left him time to resume the
search for Momo.
     One day, when little of the old Guido remained, he pulled what was left
of himself together and resolved to turn over  a new leaf. He was a somebody
now, he told himself. He  carried a lot of weight with millions of listeners
and viewers. Who was better placed than  he to tell them the truth? He would
tell them  about the  men in grey, emphasize  that the story was a true one,
and ask all his fans to help him look for Momo.
     He  formed this  intention late one night, when  he had been pining for
his old  friends. By daybreak he was at  his massive desk,  preparing to put
his ideas down on paper. Even  before he  had written  a word, however,  the
telephone  rang. He  picked  up the receiver,  listened, and went rigid with
terror At the sound of the peculiarly flat, expressionless voice in his ear,
he felt as if the very marrow in his bones had turned to ire
     'Drop the idea,' the voice said. 'We advise you to, for your own sake.'
     157


     'Who's speaking?' Guido demanded.
     'You know very well,' the voice replied. 'We've  no  need  to introduce
ourselves.  You haven't had  the  pleasure  of making our acquaintance,  but
we've owned you body and soul for a long time now. Don't pretend you  didn't
know.'
     'What do you want?'
     'This latest  scheme of  yours doesn't appeal to us. Be a good  boy and
drop it, will you?'
     Guido took his courage in  both hands. 'No,' he said, 'I won't. I'm not
poor  little  Guido Guide any longer, I'm a celebrity. Try taking me  on and
see how far you get!'
     The voice gave such a grey, mirthless laugh that Guide's teeth began to
chatter.
     'You're a nobody,' it said, '-  a rubber doll. We've blown  you up, but
give us  any trouble and we'll let  the air out. Do you seriously think  you
owe what you are today to yourself and your own unremarkable talents?'
     'Yes,' Guido said hoarsely, 'that's just what I do think.'
     'Poor old Guido,' said the voice, 'you're still as much of a dreamer as
you ever were. You  used to be Prince Girolamo disguised as  a nobody called
Guido. And what are you now? Just a  nobody called Guido disguised as Prince
Girolamo. You should  be grateful to us.  After all, we're the ones who made
your dreams come true.'
     'That's a lie!' Guido shouted.
     'Heavens!' said the voice, with another mirthless laugh. 'You're hardly
the person to bandy words with us on  the subject of truth and falsehood. Oh
no, my poor Guido, you'll regret it if  you try quoting the truth at people.
Thanks  to  us,  you've  become famous for  your  tall stories.  You  aren't
qualified to tell the truth, so forget it.'
     'What have you done with Momo?' Guido asked in a whisper.
     'Don't worry your poor little scatterbrained head about that. You can't
help her any more, least of all by telling
     158


     stories  about  us. If  you do,  you'll only  destroy your  success  as
quickly as  it came. It's up to  you,  of  course. If you're  really  set on
playing the  hero  and  ruining yourself, we won't  stop you,  but you can't
expect  us  to  reward  your  ingratitude  by  continuing  to  protect  your
interests. Don't you like being rich and famous?'
     'Yes,' Guido replied  in a muffled voice. 'Exactly, so leave  us out of
it. Go on telling people what they want to hear.'
     'Now that I know the truth,' Guido said with an effort, 'how can I?'
     'I'll give you some sound advice: Don't take yourself so seriously. The
matter's out of your hands. Look at it from  that angle and  you'll find you
can carry on very nicely, as before.'
     'Yes,' Guido muttered, staring into space, 'from that angle .. .'
     The earpiece gave a click and went dead. Guido hung up too.  He slumped
forward  on to  the  desktop and  buried  his face in his  arms, racked with
silent sobs.
     From then on  Guido lost every last scrap of self-respect. He abandoned
his plan and carried  on as before, though he felt an utter fraud. And so he
was. Once upon a time his imagination had  soared along and  he had blithely
followed  its lead, but now he was telling lies. He was making a buffoon  of
himself -- a public  laughing-stock - and he knew it. He hated his work, and
the more he hated it  the sillier and  more sentimental his stories  became.
This  didn't impair his  reputation, though.  On the  contrary,  the  public
acclaimed him for pioneering a new style of  humour and many comedians tried
to imitate it. Guido was all the rage, not that he derived any pleasure from
the  fact.  He now  knew who was responsible  for his success. He had gained
nothing and lost everything. And still he continued to race by car or  plane
from one
     159


     engagement ro the  next,  accompanied everywnere oy me  secretaries  to
whom he  never  stopped  dictating old  stories in  new  guises.  'Amazingly
inventive' was the newspapers' pet description of him.
     Guido the dreamer had, in fact, become Girolamo the hoaxer.
     Beppo Roadsweeper  presented the  men in grey with  a far harder nut to
crack.
     Ever since  the  night of Memo's disappearance, and  whenever his  work
permitted,  he had gone to  the amphitheatre and sat there waiting. At last,
when  his mounting concern  and anxiety became too much to bear, he resolved
to override Guide's  objections, reasonable though they were, and go to  the
police.
     'What if they do put her back in one of those homes with bars  over the
windows?'  he reflected. 'Better that than being held prisoner by the men in
grey - if she's still  alive, of course. She  escaped from a children's home
once, so she could do it again. Besides, maybe I could fix it so they didn't
put her in a home at all. The first thing to do is find her.'
     So he made  his way to  the nearest  police station, which  was on  the
outskirts  of  the city. Once  there,  he  hung  around outside for a while,
twisting his hat in his hands. Then he plucked up courage and walked in.
     'Yes?'  said the desk  sergeant, who was  busy  filling out a long  and
complicated form.
     Beppo  took some time to get it out. 'The thing is,' he  said  at last,
'something dreadful must have happened.'
     'Really?' said the desk sergeant, still writing. 'What's it all about?'
     'It's about our Momo,' said Beppo.
     A child?'
     'Yes, a girl.'
     'Is she yours?'
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     'No,' Beppo said, uncertainly, '-1 mean, yes, but I'm not her father.'
     'No, I  mean,  yes!' snapped the desk  sergeant. 'Who's  child  is she,
then?  Who are  her  parents?' 'Nobody  knows,'  said Beppo.  'Where is  she
registered, then?'
     'Registered?' said Beppo. 'Well, with us, I suppose. We all know her.'
     'So she isn't registered,' the  desk sergeant said with a sigh. 'That's
against the law, in case you didn't know. Who does she live with, then?'
     'She lives by herself,' Beppo replied, 'that's to say, she used to live
in the old amphitheatre, but she doesn't any more. She's gone.'
     'Just  a  minute,'  said  the  desk  sergeant.  'If  I  understand  you
correctly, the  ruins  have until  recently been occupied by  a young female
vagrant named - what did you say her name was?'
     'Momo,' said Beppo.
     The policeman pulled a pad towards him and started writing.  'Momo,' he
repeated. 'Well, go on: Momo what? I'll need her full name.'
     'Momo nothing,'  said Beppo. 'Just Momo.' The desk sergeant stroked his
chin and looked  aggrieved. 'See  here,  old timer, you'll have to do better
than this. I'm trying to be helpful, but I can't file a  report without your
cooperation. Better begin by telling me your own name.' 'Beppo,' said Beppo.
'Beppo what?' 'Beppo Roadsweeper.' 'Your name, I said, not your occupation.'
'It's  both,' Beppo explained patiently. The desk sergeant put his pen  down
and buried  his  face  in his  hands.  'God give me  strength!'  he muttered
despairingly. 'Why did I have to be on duty now, of all times?'
     161


     Then he straightened up, squared his shoulders, and gave the old man an
encouraging smile. 'All right,' he said gently, as though humouring a child,
'I can take your personal  particulars later. Just tell  me the whole  story
from start to finish.'
     Beppo looked dubious. 'All of it?'
     'Anything that's relevant,' said the desk  sergeant. 'I'm up to my eyes
in work - I've  got this whole stack of  forms to complete by lunchtime, and
I'm just about at the end of my tether - but never mind that. Take your time
and tell me what's on your mind.'
     He sat back and closed his  eyes with the air of a martyr at the stake.
And  Beppo, in his queer,  roundabout way,  recounted  the  whole story from
Memo's arrival  on the  scene and her exceptional  gifts to the trial on the
garbage dump, which he himself had witnessed.
     'And that very same night,' he concluded, 'Momo disappeared.'
     The desk sergeant subjected him to a long, resentful glare. 'I see,' he
said  at last. 'So you're telling  me  that an unlikely-sounding girl, whose
existence remains to be proved, may have been kidnapped and carried off, you
can't  say where to, by ghosts of  some kind. Is that what you  expect us to
investigate?'
     'Yes, please,' Beppo said eagerly.
     The desk sergeant leaned forward. 'Breathe on me!' he barked.
     Although Beppo failed to see the point of this request, he shrugged his
shoulders and obediently blew in the policeman's face.
     The  desk sergeant sniffed and shook his head. 'You don't appear  to be
drunk.'
     'No,' mumbled Beppo,  puce in the face with embarrassment. 'I've  never
been drunk in my life.'
     'Then why tell me such a cock-and-bull story? Did you really think  I'd
be daft enough to believe it?'
     162


     'Yes," beppo replied innocently.
     At  that  the  policeman's patience  finally snapped. He jumped  up and
slammed his fist down hard on his stack of long and complicated forms. 'That
does it!' he bellowed, beside himself with rage. 'Get out of here at once or
I'll lock you up for insulting behaviour!'
     Beppo looked dismayed. 'I'm sorry,'  he mumbled, 'I didn't mean it that
way. All I meant was -'
     'Out!' roared the desk sergeant.
     Beppo turned and went.
     During  the next  few days he  called at various  other police stations
with  much  the same  result.  He was  kicked out, politely  sent  home,  or
humoured as the best means of getting rid of him.
     One day, however,  he  was interviewed by  a police inspector with less
sense  of  humour  than  his  colleagues.  After listening to  Beppo's story
without a flicker of expression, he turned to a subordinate and said coldly,
'The  old man's off his rocker. We'll  have  to find out if he's a threat to
society. Take him down to the cells.'
     Beppo had to spend half the day in a cell before being whisked off in a
car by two policemen. They  drove  him all the way across the  city to a big
white  building with bars over the windows. It wasn't  a prison or detention
centre, as he at first thought, but a hospital for nervous disorders.
     Here Beppo underwent a thorough examination. The hospital staff treated
him kindly. They didn't laugh at him or bawl him out --  in fact they seemed
very interested in his story, because they made him tell it again and again.
Although they never  questioned it,  Beppo got the  feeling that they didn't
really believe it. Whatever they made  of him,  which  was far from clear to
Beppo himself, they didn't discharge him.
     Whenever he asked how soon he could go, he was told, 'Soon, but  you're
still needed for the time being. We haven't
     163


     completed our investigations, but we're  making progress.'  And  Beppo,
who  thought they were  referring to investigations into Memo's whereabouts,
continued to wait patiently.
     They had allotted him a  bed  in a  big ward where many othci  patients
slept. One night  he woke up and saw,  by the feeble glow  of the  emergency
lighting,  that  someone was standing  beside  his bed. AU he could  tell at
first was that the shadowy figure was smoking a cigar or cigarette - the tip
glowed red in the gloom - but then he  recognized the  bowler and briefcase.
Realizing that his visitor was one  of the men in grey,  he  felt chilled to
the marrow and opened his mouth to call for help.
     'Quiet!' hissed an  ashen  voice. 'I've  been authorized to  make you a
proposition. Listen to it carefully,  and don't answer till  I tell you. You
now  have some  idea of  the power we already  wield. Whether or not you get
another taste of it is entirely up to you. Although you can't harm us in the
least by retailing your story to  all and sundry, it doesn't suit our scheme
of things. You're  quite correct in  assuming  that your friend  Momo is our
prisoner, but you may as well abandon all hope of finding  her. That  you'll
never do,  and  your efforts  to rescue  her aren't  making  the poor girl's
position any easier.  Every  time you try,  she has to suffer for it, so  be
more careful what you do and say from now on.'
     The  man in  grey  blew several  smoke rings,  gleefully observing  the
effect  of his speech on Beppo. It was clear that the old man believed every
word of it.
     'My  time  is  valuable,'  the  man in  grey went  on,  'so here's  our
proposition in a nutshell: you can have the girl back, but only on condition
that you never utter  another word about us or our activities. As ransom, so
to speak,  we shall  additionally  require you to deposit a hundred thousand
hours of your time with us. How we bank it is our affair and doesn't concern
you. All you have to do is  save it. How you save it is  your affair. If you
agree, we'll arrange for you to be
     164


     released in the next few days. If not, you'll stay here for as long  as
Momo  remains with us, in other words, for ever more. It's a generous offer,
so think it over. You won't get a second chance. Well?'
     Beppo swallowed hard a couple of times. Then he croaked, 1 agree.'
     'Very  sensible  of you,'  the man  in grey  said smugly. 'So remember:
absolute discretion and a  hundred thousand hours of your time. As  soon  as
you've saved  them  for us, you can have Momo back. And  now,  my dear  sir,
goodbye.'
     On that note the  man in grey departed, leaving  a trail of cigar smoke
behind  him.   It   seemed  to  glow  faintly  in   the  darkness   like   a
will-o'-the-wisp.
     Beppo stopped telling  his story from that night on, and when asked why
he'd  told it  in  the  first  place would merely look  sad  and  shrug  his
shoulders. The hospital authorities discharged him a few days later.
     But he didn't go home. Instead, he  went straight to the depot where he
and  his workmates  collected their brooms  and handcarts.  Shouldering  his
broom, he marched out into the city streets and started sweeping.
     He did not, however, sweep as he used to in the old days, with a breath
before each step and stroke of the broom, but hurriedly and without pride in
his work,  solely intent on  saving time. He felt  sickened  by  what he was
doing and tormented by the  knowledge that he  was betraying the deeply held
beliefs of a lifetime.  Had no  one's future  been  at stake but his own, he
would have starved to death rather than  abandon  his principles, but  there
was Momo's ransom to ;o!lect,  and this  was  the only way he knew of saving
time.
     He  swept  day and night without ever  returning to his shack 'ear  the
amphitheatre.  When exhaustion overcame  him,  he ivould sit  down on a park
bench, or even on the kerb, and snatch a few minutes' sleep, only to wake up
with a guilty start and carry on sweeping. He devoted just as little time to
     165


     his  meals, which took the  form of hurried snacks wolfed down  on  the
move.
     Beppo  swept  for weeks and months on  end. Winter followed autumn, and
still he toiled on. Spring and summer came  around, but he scarcely  noticed
the changing seasons. Preoccupied with saving Memo's hundred thousand hours'
ransom, he swept and swept and swept.
     The townsfolk were too short of time themselves to pay any attention to
the little old man,  and the handful  that did  so tapped their foreheads as
soon as he had gone panting past, wielding his broom as if his life depended
on  it. Being  taken for  a fool was nothing  new to Beppo, so  he  scarcely
noticed  that either. On  the few occasions when someone  asked him what the
hurry  was, he  would pause  for a moment, eye  the  questioner with mingled
alarm and sorrow, and put his finger to his lips.
     Hardest of all for the men in grey to tailor to their plans were Momo's
friends  among the children of the  city. Even after her disappearance, they
went on meeting at  the amphitheatre as often as they could.  They continued
to invent new games in  which  a few old crates and boxes became castles and
palaces or galleons that  carried them on fabulous voyages around the world.
They also continued to tell each other stories. In short, they behaved as if
Momo were still with them,  and by doing  so, remarkably enough, they almost
made it seem that she really was.
     Besides,  they  never for a moment  doubted that she would return. They
didn't  discuss  the  subject,  but  children  united  by such  an  unspoken
certainty had no need to.  Momo was one ot them and formed the  ever-present
focus  of  all their activities,  whether or not  she was actually  there in
person.
     The men in grey were powerless  to  meet this challenge head-on. Unable
to  detach  the  children from  Momo  by  bringing them under  their  direct
control, they had to find
     166


     some roundabout  means  of achieving  the same  end, and  for this they
enlisted the children's elders. Not all grown-ups made suitable accomplices,
of course, but there were plenty that did.  What was more, the  men  in grey
were cunning enough to turn the children's own weapons against them.
     Quite  suddenly,  one  or two parents recalled how  their offspring had
paraded through the streets with placards and posters.
     'Something must be done,' they said. 'More and more kids are being left
on their own and neglected. You can't blame us - parents just don't have the
time these days - so it's up to the authorities.'
     Others  joined  in  the chorus. *We  can't  have all  these  youngsters
loafing around,' declared some. 'They obstruct  the  traffic. Road accidents
caused by children are on the increase,  and road  accidents cost money that
could be put to better use.'
     'Unsupervised children run wild,' declared others. 'They become morally
depraved and take to crime.  The authorities must take steps to  round  them
up. They must build centres where the  youngsters can be moulded into useful
and efficient members of society.'
     'Children,' declared still others, 'are the raw material of the future.
A world  dependent on  computers  and nuclear  energy  will need  an army of
experts  and  technicians  to  run it.  Far  from preparing our children for
tomorrow's world, we still allow too many of them to squander years of their
precious  time on childish tomfoolery. It's a blot on our civilization and a
crime against future generations.'
     The timesavers were  all  in favour of such  a policy,  naturally,  and
there were so many of them in the city by this time that they soon convinced
the authorities of the need to take prompt action.
     Before long, big buildings  known as  'child depots' sprang up in every
neighbourhood. Children whose parents were too
     167


     busy  to  look after  them  had  to  be deposited  there  and  could be
collected  when  convenient. They  were strictly  forbidden  to play  in the
streets or parks or anywhere else. Any child caught doing so was immediately
carted off to the nearest depot, and its parents were heavily fined.
     None of  Momo's friends escaped the  new regulation. They were split up
according  to the districts they  came from  and consigned to  various child
depots. Once there, they were naturally forbidden to play games of their own
devising. All games were  selected for  them by supervisors and had  to have
some useful, educational purpose. The children learned these  new games  but
unlearned something else in the process: they forgot how to be happy, how to
take pleasure in little things, and, last but not least, how to dream.
     Weeks passed, and  the  children began  to  look  like  time-savers  in
miniature. Sullen, bored and resentful,  they  did  as they were told.  Even
when  left to  their  own  devices,  they  no longer  knew  what to  do with
themselves. All they  could still do was make a  noise, but it was an angry,
ill-tempered noise, not the happy hullabaloo of former times.
     The men in grey  made  no direct approach to them -  there was no need.
The  net  they  had  woven over the  city was  so  close-meshed as  to  seem
impenetrable. Not even the  brightest and most ingenious children managed to
slip through its toils. The amphitheatre remained silent and deserted.
     The men in grey  had  done their  work well.  All  was in readiness for
Momo's return.
     So Momo sat on the  stone steps and waited in vain  for  her friends to
turn up. She sat and waited all day, but no one came - not a soul.
     The sun was sinking in the west. The  shadows grew longer, the air more
chill.
     At  last Momo rose stiffly  to her  feet. She was hungry because no one
had thought to bring her something to eat.
     168


     This  had  never  happened  before.  Even  Guido  and  Beppo  must have
forgotten  about  her,  she  reflected,  but she  consoled  herself with the
thought that it was just  an  oversight --  a silly mistake that would  sort
itself out the next day.  She went and knelt beside the tortoise, which had
already tucked  itself in for the night.  Timidly, she tapped the shell with
her knuckles. The tortoise put its head out and looked at her.
     'Excuse me,'  Momo said, 'I  apologize for waking you, but can you tell
me why none of my friends came? I waited all day long.'
     'ALL GONE,' the shell spelled out.
     Momo read the words but couldn't follow their  meaning. 'Oh well,'  she
said cheerfully, 'I'll find out tomorrow. My friends are bound to come then,
aren't they?'
     'NEVER AGAIN,' replied the tortoise.
     Momo  stared  at  the faint letters with growing  dismay. 'What  do you
mean?' she asked eventually. 'Has something happened to them?'
     'ALL GONE,' she read again.
     She shook her head.  'No,' she said softly,  'they can't have. You must
be wrong, Cassiopeia. Why, I saw them only yesterday at our grand council of
war - the one that came to nothing.'
     'NOT YESTERDAY,' Cassiopeia replied.
     Momo remembered now. Professor Нога had told her that she would have to
wait like a seed slumbering in the earth until  it was  ready to sprout. She
had agreed without stopping to wonder how long that meant, but now the truth
was beginning to dawn on her.
     'How long have I been away?' she asked in a whisper.
     'A YEAR AND A DAY.'
     Momo  took  some time  to  digest  this.  'But Beppo  and  Guido,'  she
stammered,'- surely they're still waiting for me?'
     NO ONE LEFT,'she read.
     169


     'But I don't  understand.' Momo's lips were  trembling. 'They can't all
be gone, not my friends, not the times we spent together . . .'
     Very slowly, a single word lit up on Cassiopeia's shell:
     PAST.'
     For  the first time in her life, Momo grasped the terrible  finality of
the word. Her heart had never felt so heavy.
     'But,' she  murmured helplessly, '- but I'm still here  ...' She longed
to cry  but couldn't. A moment  later she  felt the tortoise nudge her  bare
foot.
     SO AM I,' she read.
     'Yes,' she  said, smiling  bravely, 'you're here too, Cas-siopeia,  and
I'm glad of your company. Come on, let's go to bed.'
     Picking  up the tortoise, she carried it through the hole  in  the wall
and down into her room. She saw by the light of the setting sun that all was
just as she had left it  - Beppo had tidied the place up  after its invasion
by the men in grey
     - but everything was thick with dust and shrouded in cobwebs.
     Then  she  caught sight  of an  envelope propped  against a can on  the
little  table. The envelope, too, was  covered  with cobwebs. 'To  Momo,' it
said.
     Momo's heart  began  to race.  No one  had  ever written  her a  letter
before. She picked up the envelope and examined  it  from every angle,  then
tore it open and unfolded the slip of paper inside.
     'Dear Momo,' she read, 'I've moved. If  you come  back, please  get  in
touch with me at once. I  miss you and worry about you a lot. I hope nothing
has happened  to  you. If you're hungry, go to Nine's  place.  I'll foot the
bill, so be sure to eat  as much as you want.  Nino  will tell you the rest.
Keep on loving me - 1 still love you. Yours ever, Guido.'
     Momo  took a long  time to decipher  this letter, even though Guido had
obviously been at pains to write as neatly and
     170


     legibly  as  possible. The daylight had  gone by the time  she finished
reading, but she felt comforted.
     She took  the tortdise  and put it  on the bed  beside  her. 'You  see,
Cassiopeia,' she  said as she wrapped herself in the dusty blanket, 'I'm not
alone after all.'
     But  the  tortoise  seemed  to  be asleep  already, and  Momo, who  had
pictured Guide's  face  with  the utmost  clarity while  reading his letter,
never suspected that the envelope had been lying there for almost a year.
     She pillowed her cheek on it, feeling cold no longer.



     Three Lunches, No Answers
     Towards noon on the following day, Momo tucked  the  tortoise under her
arm and set off for Nine's inn.
     'You'll see,  Cassiopeia,' she said.  'The mystery will soon be solved.
Nino  will  tell us  where  Guido and  Beppo are Then  we'll  go and get the
children, and we'll  all  be together again. Perhaps Nino and  his wife will
come  along too. You'li like my  friends, I'm  sure.  We  could even  give a
little  party  this evening. I'll tell  everyone about the  flowers  and the
music and Professor Hora and  everything. Oh, I just can't  wait to see them
all  again!  First,  though,  I'm looking  forward  to  a  good  lunch.  I'm
absolutely famished.'
     And so she chattered on  merrily, feeling in her jacket pocket  now and
then  to reassure herself that Guide's letter was still there.  The tortoise
fixed her with its wise old eyes and made no comment.
     Momo began to hum as she went, and then to sing. The words and melodies
were those of the voices that still seemed to ring in her ears as clearly as
they had the day before. She would never forget them, she knew that now.
     Then, abruptly, she  broke off.  They had  reached Nine's  inn, but her
first  thought was  that she must have gone astray. Where  once had  stood a
little  old tavern  with  damp-stained walls and a  vine growing  around the
door,  the street was flanked  by a long, concrete  box with big plate glass
windows. The street itself  had been asphalted and was humming with traffic.
A big  petrol station had  sprung up opposite, and alongside it  an enormous
office
     172


     building. There were lots of cars parked outside the new establishment,
and the neon sign above the entrance said:
     NINO'S FASTFOOD.
     Momo  went inside. She found it  hard to  get her  bearings  at 'first.
Cemented into the floor beside the windows were a number of tables with such
spindly  single  legs and tiny tops that  they looked like toadstools.  They
were just  the right height for grown-ups to eat at standing  up - which was
fortunate, since there were no chairs.
     Running  along the other  side of the room was a  son of  fence made of
shiny, chromium-plated  tubing. Just  beyond it  stood a  long  row of glass
cases  containing ham and  cheese sandwiches,  sausages,  plates  of  salad,
pudding, cakes and countless other things  to eat,  many  of which Momo  had
never seen before.
     She  could  only  take in the scene  by  degrees  because  the room was
jam-packed with people, and she always seemed to be getting in their way. No
matter where she stood, they elbowed her aside or jostled her along. Most of
them were balancing trays laden with food and drink, and all  were intent on
grabbing a place at one of the little tables. Behind every man or woman that
stood there, eating in frantic haste,  several others waited impatiently for
him or her to finish. From time to time, acrimonious  remarks were exchanged
by those eating and those still  waiting to eat. All of them looked glum and
discontented.
     More people  were  shuffling slowly  along behind the  barrier,  taking
plates or bottles and cardboard cups from the glass cases as they passed.
     Momo was  astonished. So  they could  help themselves to whatever  they
liked! There was no one around to stop them or ask them to pay for what they
took.  Perhaps  everything was  free,  Momo reflected.  That would certainly
account for the crush.
     At last she spotted Nino. Almost obscured by customers,
     173


     he was  seated in front  of a cash register at the very end of the long
row of glass cases, pressing buttons, taking money and giving change without
a stop. So  he was the person  who took the money! The rail fenced people in
so they couldn't get to the tables without passing him.
     'Nino!'  she  called, trying to squeeze through  the crowd.  She called
again and waved Guide's letter, but Nino  didn't hear. The  electronic  cash
register was bleeping too loudly.
     Plucking up  her courage, Momo climbed over the rail and wormed her way
along  the line  to  where  Nino  sat.  He glanced  up, because  one or  two
customers had started  to protest. At the sight of Momo, his glum expression
disappeared in a flash.
     'So you're back!' he  exclaimed, beaming just as  he used to in the old
days. 'This is a nice surprise!'
     'Get a move on,' called an angry voice. 'Tell that kid to stand in line
like  the rest of  us.  Cheeky young whippersnap-per, barging her way to the
front like that!'
     Nino  made appeasing  gestures. 'I  won't be  a  moment,'  he said. 'Be
patient, can't you?'
     'Anyone could jump  the line  at this  rate,' another voice chimed  in.
'Hurry up, we don't have as much time to spare as she does.'
     'Look, Momo,' Nino whispered hurriedly, 'take whatever you like - Guido
will pay for it all  - but  you'll have to line  up like the rest. You heard
what they said.'
     Before  Momo  could reply, she was  pushed past  the  cash  desk by the
people behind  her.  There was nothing for it  but to do as  the others did.
Joining the end of the line,  she took a tray from a shelf and a knife, fork
and spoon from a box. Because she needed both hands for the tray, she dumped
Cassiopeia on top.
     Rather  flustered by now,  Momo took  things at random from  the  glass
cases as  she was  slowly propelled along,  step by step,  and arranged them
around the tortoise. She ended up with  an  oddly assorted  meal: a piece of
fried fish, a jam puff,
     174


     a sausage, a meat pie and a plastic mug of lemonade. Surrounded by food
on all sides, Cassiopeia retired into her shell without comment.
     . When Momo at last reached  the cash desk, she hurriedly asked Nino if
he knew where Guido was.
     Nino nodded. 'Our Guide's  a celebrity these days. We're all very proud
of him - he's  one of us, after all. He's  on  TV  and radio every week, and
they're  always writing  about him in the papers.  I even  had two reporters
here myself last week, asking about the old days. I told them how Guido used
to -'
     'Move along in front!' called an irate voice.
     'But why doesn't he come around any more?' Momo asked.
     'Ah, well,' Nino muttered,  fidgeting because his customers were making
him nervous,  'he doesn't  have the time, you see.  He's  got more important
things on his mind. Besides, there's  nothing doing at the amphitheatre, not
now.'
     'What's  the  matter with you?' called  another  indignant voice.  'You
think we like hanging around here, or something?'
     Momo dug her heels in. 'Where's Guido living now?' she asked.
     'Somewhere on Green Hill,' Nino  replied. 'He's got a fine house there,
so they say, with a great big garden -  but please, Momo, do me a favour and
come back later!'
     Momo didn't really  want to move on  - she had a lot more questions for
him - but someone shoved her in the back again.  She took her tray to one of
the toadstool tables and actually managed to get  a place, though  the table
was so high that her  nose was on a level with it. When she slid the tray on
top, the neighbouring grown-ups eyed Cassiopeia with disgust.
     'Ugh! See the kind of thing we have to put  up with  nowadays?' someone
said  to  the person beside  him, and the  other man growled, 'What  do  you
expect? These ktds!'
     175


     They lett it at that and ignored  Momo trom then on. Eating was quite a
problem because she could  scarcely see what was on her tray, but being very
hungry she devoured every last morsel. Then, in her anxiety to discover what
had become of Beppo,  she rejoined the line. Although she wasn't  hungry any
more, she was so afraid people might get angry with her if she simply  stood
there that  she  filled her tray with another assortment of  things from the
glass cases.
     'Where's Beppo?' she asked,  when she finally made it back to the  cash
desk.
     'He waited for you for ages,' Nino said hurriedly, fearful of upsetting
his customers again.  'He  thought something terrible had happened to you  -
kept  on talking about men in grey, or something of the kind. Well, you know
old Beppo -he always was a bit eccentric.'
     'You,  there!' called a voice from  the back  of the line. 'When are we
going to get some service?'
     'Right away, sir!' Nino called back.
     'What happened then?' asked Momo.
     'Then  he  started  pestering the  police,'  Nino  went  on,  nervously
massaging his  brow. 'He asked them to look  for you -made a proper nuisance
of himself,  apparently. Next thing  we  knew, they'd put him  in a  sort of
mental hospital. That's all 1 can tell you.'
     'Hell and damnation!' someone else bellowed. 'Is this a fastfood  joint
or a dentist's waiting room? What are you doing, holding a family reunion?'
     'Yes, kind of,' Nino said, apologetically.
     'Is he still there?' asked Momo.
     Nino shook his head. 'I  don't think so. I'm  told they  pronounced him
harmless and let him go.'
     'So where is he now?'
     'I've no idea, Momo, honestly I  haven't. Now please be a good girl and
move on.'
     Again Momo was jostled past the cash desk by the people
     176


     behind her, and  again  she waited for a place at one of  the toadstool
tables. She  polished off her second trayful of  food with a good deal  less
gusto than the first, but food  was food, and she wouldn't have  dreamed  of
leaving any.  She still had to find out what had become of the children who
used to keep her company. There was nothing for it but to stand in line once
more, shuffle  past the glass cases and load her  tray with food rather than
invite  hostile  remarks. It seemed an eternity  before she reached the cash
desk again.
     'What about the children?' she demanded. 'What's become of them?'
     'Oh,  that's all changed,' said  Nino, breaking out  in a sweat at  her
reappearance. 'I can't explain right now - you can see how rushed I am.'
     'But why don't they come any more?' she insisted.
     'Nowadays, kids with n9 one to look after them are put in child depots.
They aren't allowed to be  left to themselves any more because  -  well, the
long and the short of it is, they're taken care of.'
     'Hurry it up,  you  slow coaches!' came an indignant chorus. 'We'd like
to eat sometime!'
     Momo was looking incredulous.  'Child depots,' she  repeated. 'Is  that
what my friends really wanted?'
     'They weren't consulted,' said Nino, fiddling with the keys of his cash
register. 'It's not  up to kids to decide these things for themselves. Child
depots keep them off the streets - that's the main thing, isn't it?'
     Momo  said nothing,  just looked at him,  and  Nino squirmed  under her
searching gaze.
     'Damn it all!' shouted yet another angry voice in the background. 'This
is the limit! If you must hold a prayer meeting, hold it somewhere else!'
     'What  am I  going to do now,' Momo asked in a small voice, 'without my
friends?'
     Nino shrugged and kneaded his hands together. 'Be
     177


     reasonable,  Momo,' he said,  drawing  a deep breath.  'Come back  some
other time. I really can't discuss your problems  now. You're welcome to eat
here  any time you like, you know that, but if 1 were you  I'd report to one
of  these child depots. They'd look after you and  keep you occupied -they'd
even give you a proper education. Besides, you'll end  up in  one anyway, if
you go on wandering around on your own like this.'
     Momo said nothing,  just gazed  at him as before. When the  crowd swept
her  along  she  mechanically  went  to  one  of  the  tables  and  just  as
mechanically forced  herself to eat a third  lunch, though  it  was all  she
could do to get it down. It tasted so much like cardboard and wood shavings,
she felt sick.
     Then, tucking Cassiopeia under her arm, she walked silently to the door
without a backward glance.
     'Hey, Momo!' called Nino, who had spotted her at the last moment. 'Wait
a bit! You never told me where you've been all this time!'
     But the  next  customer was  already  drumming his fingers on  the cash
register.  Nino rang up  the total, took the  man's money  and gave him some
change. The smile had long since left his face.
     'I've had  masses to eat,' Momo told  Cassiopeia when they were back at
the amphitheatre. 'Far too much, to tell the truth, but somehow I still feel
empty  inside.' After a while she added, 'Anyway, I couldn't  have told Nino
about the flowers and the music -- there wasn't time, and I don't think he'd
have understood.' There was another pause before she  went on,  'Never mind,
tomorrow we'll go and  look for Guido. You're sure to like him,  Cassiopeia,
believe me.'
     But all  that lit up  on Cassiopeia's shell  was a  great big  question
mark.



     Found and Lost
     Momo  got  up early the next morning and  set off in  search of Guide's
house. Cassiopeia came too, of'course.
     Momo knew where Green Hill was. A residential suburb several miles from
the amphitheatre,  it lay on  the other side  of the  city, near the housing
development's identical rows of identical flats.
     Green Hill was a long walk.  Although  Momo  was used  to going without
shoes, her bare feet were aching by the time she got there, so she  sat down
on the kerb to rest a while.
     It really  was a very smart  neighbourhood. The streets were  broad and
clean and deserted. In  gardens enclosed by high  walls  and  iron railings,
fine old  trees reared their branches to the sky. Most of the houses  set in
these gardens  were  long, low,  flat-roofed  villas built  of concrete  and
glass. The  smooth expanses of lawn in  front of  them were lush and green -
they positively cried out for children to turn somersaults on them - but not
a soul could be seen strolling  or  playing anywhere. Presumably the  owners
didn't have time.
     Momo turned to Cassiopeia. 'If only  I knew how to find out where Guido
lives,' she sighed.
     'YOU WILL,' the tortoise signalled.
     'You really think so?' Momo said hopefully.
     'Hey,  you grubby little brat,' someone said behind her, 'what  are you
doing here?'
     Momo turned to see  a man in a  spotless white jacket. She  didn't know
that such jackets were worn by the servants of the
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     rich.  'Good morning,' she said, getting up off the kerb, 'I'm  looking
for Guide's house. Nino told me he lives here now.'
     'Whose house?'
     'Guide's. He's a friend of mine, you see.'
     The man in the white jacket glared at her suspiciously. He had left the
garden gate ajar, and Momo  could see inside. Some dogs were frisking around
on  a big stretch of lawn and a fountain  was playing in front of the house.
Overhead, in a blossom-covered tree, perched a pair of peacocks.
     'Oh,' Momo exclaimed, 'what pretty birds!' She started to go inside for
a closer look, but  the man in the white jacket grabbed her by the scruff of
the neck.
     'No, you don't!' he  said. 'Some nerve you've got, I must say.' Then he
let go of her and wiped his fingers on his  handkerchief, looking as if he'd
just touched something unpleasant.
     Momo pointed through the  gate.  'Does  all  that belong  to  you?' she
inquired.
     'No,' snapped the  man  in  the white jacket,  sounding more unfriendly
than ever. 'And now, clear off. You've no business here.'
     'Oh, yes I have,' Momo said firmly. 'I've got to find Guido Guide. He's
expecting me. Don't you know him?'
     'There aren't any guides  around here,' the man retorted, and turned on
his  heel. He had  gone back into the garden and was about to slam  the gate
when a thought seemed to strike him.
     'You don't mean Girolamo, the TV star?'
     'That's right,' Momo said eagerly. 'Guido Guide - that's his real name.
Can you tell me which his house is?'
     'Is he really expecting you?' the man demanded.
     'Yes, truly he  is,' said Momo. 'He's  a friend  of mine - he pays  for
everything I eat at Nino's.'
     The man in the white  jacket raised his  eyebrows  and  shook his head.
'These showbiz people,' he said acidly. 'They
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     certainly get some crazy notions sometimes.  All  right, if you  really
think he'll  welcome a visit from you, his house is right at the end  of the
street.'
     So  saying,  he slammed  the  gate  behind him.    The word  'SHOWOFF'
appeared on Cassiopeia's shell, but only for a moment.
     The last house in the street was surrounded by a high wall and the gate
was made of sheet metal like  all  the rest,  so it  was  impossible  to see
inside. There wasn't a nameplate or a doorbell anywhere in sight.
     'Can  this really  be Guide's new  house[5]' said Momo.  'It
doesn't look at all the kind of place he'd choose.'
     'IT IS,' Cassiopeia signalled.
     'But why is it all shut up?' Momo asked. 'I'll never get in.'
     'WAIT,' was Cassiopeia's advice.
     Momo sighed. 'I may have to wait a long time. Even if Guide's home, how
will he know I'm here?'
     The tortoise's shell lit up again. 'HE'LL COME,' it said.
     So Momo sat down, right outside the gate, and waited patiently. Nothing
happened  for such  a long time  that she began to wonder if  Cassiopeia had
made a mistake for once.
     'Are you absolutely positive?' she asked after a while.
     Cassiopeia's  reply  was  quite  unexpected.  Her  shell  said  simply,
'GOODBYE.'
     Momo gave a start. 'What do you mean, Cassiopeia?  You  aren't  leaving
me, are you? Where are you going?'
     TO LOOK FOR YOU,' was Cassiopeia's still more cryptic response.
     At that moment the gate swung open without warning and out shot a long,
low,  elegant  car. Momo, who jumped back only just  in time, fell head over
heels.  The  car sped on  for several  yards, then screeched to  a  halt. An
instant later, Guido jumped out.
     'Momo!' he cried, flinging his arms wide. 'If it  isn't my own, beloved
little Momo!'
     181


     Momo scrambled to her feet and ran to him, and Guido snatched her up in
his  arms and covered her cheeks with kisses and danced  around  in the road
with her.
     'Did you hurt yourself?' he  asked breathlessly, but instead of waiting
for a reply he  went on  talking nineteen to the dozen. 'Sorry I gave  you a
fright, but  I'm in  a tearing  hurry. Late again, as usual. Where have  you
been all this  time? You must tell me the whole  story. I'd given you up for
lost, you know. Did you get my letter? Yes? So it was still there, eh? Fine,
so you went  and had a meal at Nine's, did you? Did  you enjoy it? Oh, Momo,
we've  such a lot to tell each other -so much has  happened in the  last few
months. How are you, anyway? What's the matter,  lost your tongue?  And what
about old Beppo -  what's he up to these days? I haven't seen him in a month
of Sundays. And the children - what  about them? Oh,  Momo, I can't tell you
how  often  I think of the  times we spent together, when I used to tell you
stories. Good times, they were, but everything's  different now -- you can't
imagine how different.'
     Momo had made several  attempts to answer his  questions, but since his
torrent of words never dried up she simply watched and  waited. Guido looked
different from the old days.  He was  well-groomed and he smelled  nice, but
there was something curiously unfamiliar about him.
     Meanwhile,  some people had emerged  from the limousine and walked over
to  them:  a  man  in  a  chauffeur's uniform and three hard-faced,  heavily
made-up young women.
     'Is   the  child   hurt?'   asked  one,  sounding  less  anxious   than
disapproving.
     'No, no, not a bit,' Guido assured  her. 'We  gave her a fright, that's
all.'
     'Serves  her right  for loitering  outside the gate,'  said  the second
young woman.
     Guido laughed. 'But this is Momo - my old friend Momo!'
     The third young woman raised her eyebrows. 'So she really
     182


     exists,  does  she?  I  always  thought  she  was  a  figment  of  your
imagination. We must issue a press release at once. "Giro-lamo Reunited with
his  Fairy Princess"  - something  along those lines.  I'll get on  to it at
once. What a story! The public will lap it up.'
     'No,' said Guido, 'I'd rather not.'
     'What do  you say, Momo?' asked the first young woman, fixing Momo with
an  artificial  smile. 'Surely you'd like to see your  picture in the paper,
wouldn't you?' . 'Leave her alone!' snapped Guido.
     The second young woman glanced at her wristwatch. 'We're  going to miss
our flight if we don't get a move on, and you know what that would mean.'
     'God Almighty,' Guido protested, 'can't 1 even have a quiet chat with a
long-lost friend?' He  turned  to Momo with  a rueful  grin. 'You  see? They
never give me a moment's peace, these slave-drivers of mine - never.'
     'Suit yourself, but we're  only doing  our job,' the second young woman
said tartly. 'That's what you pay us for, lord and master, to  arrange  your
schedule and see that you stick to it.'
     Guido gave in. 'Okay, okay, we'd better get going. Tell you what, Momo,
why not come to the airport with us? We can talk on the way,  and afterwards
my chauffeur will drive you home, all right?'
     Without even waiting for an answer, he seized Momo's hand and towed her
to the car.  The three secretaries  got in behind while Guido sat  up  front
with Momo wedged in beside him.
     'Right, he  said,  'I'm listening, but first things first. How come you
disappeared like that?'
     Momo was  on the  point of telling  him  about  Professor  Нога and the
hour-lilies when  one of the secretaries leaned forward. 'Sorry to butt in,'
she said, 'but  I've just had the most  fabulous  idea. We've simply got  to
introduce Momo to the
     183


     top brass at Fantasy Films. She'd be perfect for the title role in your
next film  - the  one about the girl who  becomes a  vagrant.  Think what  a
sensation it would make: "Momo, starring Momo"!'
     'Didn't you hear what I said?' snapped Guido. 'I don't want her dragged
into anything of the kind, is that clear?'
     The young woman bridled. 'I just don't  get it,' she said. 'Most people
would jump at such a heaven-sent opportunity.'
     'Well, I'm not most people!' Guido shouted in a  sudden fury. He turned
to Momo. 'Forgive  me, you may not understand this, but  I  don't want these
vultures sinking their talons into you as well as me.'
     At that, all three secretaries sniffed and looked offended.
     Guido groaned aloud  and clutched his  head. Producing  a small  silver
pillbox from his pocket, he took out a capsule and gulped it down.
     Nobody spoke for a minute or two.
     At  length  Guido turned  to the trio  behind  him. 'I  apologize,'  he
mumbled wearily,  'I wasn't referring to  you. My nerves are on edge, that's
all.'
     'We know,' said the first young woman, 'we're getting used to it.'
     'And now,' Guido went on, smiling down at Momo rather wryly, 'let's not
talk about anything except the two of us.'
     'One  more question before it's too late,' the second young woman broke
in.  'We'll  be there any minute. Couldn't  you at least  let me  do a quick
interview with the kid?'
     'That's enough!' roared Guido, beside himself with rage. 'I want a word
with Momo  in private -- it means a lot to me. How many more times do I have
to tell you?',
     The second  young woman was just as irate. 'You're  always  complaining
because the publicity I get you doesn't pack a big enough punch.'
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     "You re right,' Guido groaned, 'but not now. Not now\'
     'It's too bad,' the second young woman pursued. 'A human-interest story
like this would be  a  real tear-jerker,  but have it your way. Maybe we can
run it later on, when -'
     'No!' Guido cut in. 'Neither now nor later - not ever! Now  kindly shut
up while Momo and I have a talk.'
     'Well, pardon me\' the second young  woman retorted angrily. 'It's your
publicity we're discussing, not mine. Think carefully: can you really afford
to pass up such an opportunity at this stage in your career?'
     'No, I can't,' Guido cried  in desperation,  'but Momo stays out of it!
And now, for pity's sake, leave us in peace for five minutes.'
     The secretaries relapsed into silence. Limply, Guido drew a hand across
his eyes.
     'You see how far gone I am?' He patted Memo's arm and gave a wry little
laugh. 'I couldn't go back now, even if I wanted to - I'm beyond redemption.
"Guide's still  Guido!" -remember? Well, Guido isn't Guido any more. Believe
me, Momo, there's nothing more dangerous in life than dreams that come true,
at least  when they come true like mine.  I've nothing left  to dream about,
and not even you could teach me to dream again. I'm fed up to the teeth with
everything and everyone.'
     He stared morosely out of the window.
     'The most I could do now would be to stop telling stories and keep mum,
if  not  for  the rest of my life, at least until  people had  forgotten all
about  me and I was poor and unknown again. But poverty without  dreams? No,
Momo, that  would be sheer hell.  I'd sooner stay where I am. That's another
kind of hell,  but at  least  it's a  comfortable one.'  Guido broke off. 'I
don't know why I'm rambling on like this. You can't have understood a word.'
     Momo just looked at him. What she understood, first
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     and foremost, was that Guido was  ill - gravely ill. She suspected that
the men in grey were at  the bottom of it,  but she had no idea how to  cure
him if he didn't want to be cured.
     'I've done nothing but talk about myself,' he said. 'It's high time you
told me about your own doings.'
     Just then  the car  drew up outside  the airport terminal. They all got
out and hurried into the foyer, where a pair  of uniformed stewardesses were
already waiting for Guido. Some newspaper reporters took pictures of him and
asked  questions, but  the stewardesses started fussing  because  there were
only a few minutes left before take-off time.
     Guido bent down and  gazed into  Memo's eyes, and suddenly his own eyes
filled with tears.
     'Listen,'  he said,  lowering  his  voice so the  others couldn't hear.
'Stay  with  me,  Momo.  I'll take  you along on  this  trip - I'll take you
wherever I go. You can live in that fine new house of mine and dress in silk
and satin like a real princess. Just be there and listen to me, that's all I
ask. If you did, perhaps I'd manage to think up some proper stories like the
ones I used to tell,  know what 1 mean? Just say yes,  Momo, and  everything
will be all right again. Help me, I beg you!'
     Momo's  heart  bled for Guido. She longed so  much to help him, but she
sensed  that  he was wrong.  He  would have to become  Guido  again, and  it
wouldn't  help  him at all if she stopped being Momo. Her eyes, too,  filled
with tears, and she shook her head.
     Guido understood. He just had  time to nod sadly before he was  hustled
off by the three secretaries he employed to do just that. He  gave  one last
wave in the distance, and Momo waved back. Then he was hidden from view.
     Momo could have told him so  many things, but she hadn't managed to say
a word throughout their brief reunion. She
     186


     felt as if, by finding him again, she had really and  truly lost him at
last.
     Slowly, she turned and  made her way across  the crowded foyer. Just as
she  reached  the exit, she  was smitten  by  a sudden thought: she had lost
Cassiopeia as well!



     Loneliness
     'Where to?' asked the chauffeur when Momo got in beside him.
     She  looked perplexed.  Where did she  want to  go? She had to look for
Cassiopeia, but where? Where had she lost her? The tortoise hadn't been with
them  on the drive to the airport,  that  much  she  knew for  sure,  so the
likeliest  place would  be outside Guide's house. Then  she  remembered  the
words  on  Cassiopeia's shell:  'GOODBYE' and 'TO LOOK FOR YOU'. Of  course!
Cassiopeia had  known beforehand that  they would lose each  other, so she'd
gone looking for her. But where should she, Momo, go looking for Cassiopeia?
     'Make up your mind,' said the chauffeur, beating an impatient tattoo on
the steering wheel. 'I've got better things to do with my time than take you
joy-riding.'
     'Back to Guide's house, please,' Momo replied.
     The chauffeur looked faintly  surprised. 'I thought  the  boss said  to
drive you home. You mean you're coming to live at his place?'
     'No,' said Momo,  'but  I lost  something in the road outside, and I've
got to find it.'
     That suited the chauffeur, who had to go back there anyway.  As soon as
they  reached  Guide's  gate,  Momo  got  out and  started  peering  in  all
directions.
     'Cassiopeia!' she called softly, again and again. 'Cassiopeia!'
     The chauffeur stuck his head out  of  the window. 'What are you looking
for?'
     188


     'Professor Hora's  tortoise,'  Momo  told him. 'Her name is Cassiopeia,
and she always knows what's going to happen half an hour in advance. She can
make words light up on her  shell,  too - that's how she tells you what  the
future holds in store. I've simply  got to  find  her. Would you help  me to
look for her, please?'
     'I've no  time for jokes,' snarled  the  chauffeur, and  drove on.  The
remote-controlled gate opened and closed behind him.
     Undaunted, Momo continued the search on'her own. She  combed the entire
street, but Cassiopeia was nowhere to be seen.
     'Perhaps she's on her way back  to the amphitheatre,'  thought Momo, so
she slowly retraced her steps, calling the tortoise by name all the way. She
peered into every nook and cranny, every ditch and gutter, but in vain.
     Although Momo didn't get back to the amphitheatre till late that night,
she searched  it as thoroughly as the darkness would allow. She had nursed a
vague hope that Cassiopeia  might,  by some miraculous means,  have  reached
home before her, but she knew  in her heart of  hearts that  the  tortoise's
slow rate of progress rendered this impossible.
     At long last she crept into bed, really alone for the first time ever.
     Once she had given Cassiopeia up for lost, Momo decided to  concentrate
on  trying  to find Beppo. She  spent the next few weeks  roaming  aimlessly
through the  city in  search of  him. No one could give her any clue to  his
whereabouts, so her one remaining hope was that they might simply  bump into
each other. The vastness of the city  made this a forlorn hope.  They had as
little chance  of  meeting as a shipwrecked sailor has that his message in a
bottle will be netted by a fishing boat  ten thousand miles from  the desert
island where he tossed it into the sea.
     189


     For all that, Momo kept telling  herself, she and Beppo might  be quite
close to each other. Who could tell how often she had passed some spot where
he had  been  only  an hour,  a minute, or  even  a  moment  or  two before?
Conversely,  how often had Beppo crossed a square or rounded a street corner
only minutes or moments after  her? Encouraged  by this thought,  Momo often
waited in  the same spot  for hours. She had  to  move on  sooner  or later,
however, so even that was no insurance against their missing each other by a
hair's breadth.
     How  useful  Cassiopeia  would  have  been!  The  tortoise  could  have
signalled 'WAIT!' or 'KEEP GOING!' As it was, Momo never knew what to do for
the best. She  was afraid of missing Beppo if she waited, and just as afraid
of missing him if she didn't.
     She also kept her eyes  open for the children who used to come and play
with her in the old  days, but she never saw a single one. She never saw any
children at all, though this  was hardly surprising in view of Nine's remark
about their being 'taken care of.
     Momo  herself  was  never picked up by  a policeman or other adult  and
taken off to a  child  depot,  for  the wry good reason  that she was  under
constant surveillance by  the men in grey. Not that she knew it, confinement
to a child depot wouldn't have suited their plans for her.
     Although she ate at Nino's  restaurant every day,  she never managed to
say  any more  to him than she had  on the first occasion. He  was always in
just as much of a rush and never had the time.
     Weeks became months, and still Momo pursued her solitary existence. One
evening, while perched on the balustrade of a bridge, she sighted the small,
bent figure  of a man on another bridge in the distance, wielding a broom as
if his life  depended on it.  Momo shouted and waved, thinking it was Beppo,
but the man didn't stop work for an instant. She ran
     190


     as  fast as she  could, but  by the  time she reached  the other bridge
there was no one in sight.
     'I  don't suppose it was  him,' she told  herself  consolingly. "No, it
can't have been. I know the way Beppo works.' ' Some days she stayed home at
the amphitheatre on the off-chance  that Beppo  might look  in to see if she
was back.  If she  was out when he came, he would naturally  assume that she
was  still  away.  It  tormented her to think  that this might .ilready have
happened a week or  even a day ago, so she  waited - in vain. Eventually she
painted" the words 'I'M BACK' on the wall  of her room in big, bold letters,
but hers were the only eyes that ever saw them.
     The  one thing that  never forsook Momo  in all this time was her vivid
recollection of Professor Hora, the hour-lilies, and the music. She had only
to shut her eyes and listen to her heart, and  she could see the blossoms in
all their radiant splendour and hear the voices singing. And even though the
words  and melodies were  forever changing, she found  she could  repeat the
words and  sing  the  melodies as easily as she had on  the  very  first day
Sometimes  she  spent whole days sitting  alone on  the steps,  talking  and
singing to herself with no one there to hear but the trees and the birds and
the time-worn stones.
     There are many  kinds of solitude, but Momu's was a solitude few people
ever  know and even fewer experience with such intensity. She felt as if she
were imprisoned in a vault heaped with priceless treasures - an ever-growing
hoard  that threatened to crush the life out of her. There was  no way  out,
either. The vault was impenetrable and she was far too deeply buried beneath
a mountain of time to attract anyone's attention.
     There were even moments  when she wished she  had never heard the music
or seen the flowers. And yet, had she been offered a choice, nothing  in the
world would have induced her to part with her memories of them, not even the
prospect
     191


     of death. Yes,  death, for she  now discovered that there are treasures
capable of destroying those who have no one to share them with.
     Every  few days,  Momo  made the long walk  to Guide's house and waited
outside the gate for hours in the hope of seeing him again.  By  now she was
ready  to agree to  anything -  ready to stay with  him  and  listen to him,
whether or not things  became  as  they  once were - but the  gate  remained
firmly shut.
     Only a few months passed in this way, yet Momo  had never lived through
such an  eternity. No clock or calendar can truly measure  time, just  as no
words  can truly describe the  loneliness that afflicted her. Suffice  it to
say that if she had succeeded in finding her way back to Professor Нога -and
she tried to  again and  again -  she would have  begged him to  cut off her
supply of time or let her remain with him at Nowhere House forever more.
     But  she  couldn't   find  the   way  without  Cassiopeia's  help,  and
Cassiopeia, whether long since back with Professor Hora or lost  and roaming
the big, wide world, had never reappeared.
     Instead, something quite different happened.
     While wandering through the  city one day,  Momo ran into Paolo, Franco
and Maria, the girl who always  used to  carry her little sister Rosa around
with  her.  All  three children  had changed so  much, she hardly recognized
them.  They were dressed in  a  kind of grey  uniform and their faces wore a
strangely stiff and lifeless  expression. They barely smiled, even when Momo
hailed them with delight.
     'I've been  looking for you  for so long,' she said breathlessly. 'Will
you come back to the amphitheatre and play with me?'
     The three children looked at each other, then shook their heads.
     'But you'll come tomorrow, won't you, or the next day?'
     Again the trio shook their heads.
     192


     "Oh, do come!' Momo pleaded. 'You always used to in the old days.'
     'In the old days, yes,' said Paolo, 'but everything's different now. We
aren't allowed to fritter our time away."
     'We never did,' Momo protested.
     'It was nice,' Maria said, 'but that's not the point.'
     And the three of them hurried on with Momo trotting beside them.
     'Where are you off to?' she asked.
     'To our play class,' Franco told her. That's where they teach us how to
play.'
     Momo looked puzzled. 'Play what?'
     'Today we're playing  data retrieval,'  Franco explained. 'It's  a very
useful game, but you have to concentrate like mad.'
     'How does it go?'
     'We  all pretend  to be punch cards, and each card carries various bits
of information about us -- age, height, weight  and so on. Not our real age,
height and weight, of course, because that would make it too easy. Sometimes
we're just  long strings of letters  and  numerals, like  MUX/763/y. Anyway,
then we're shuffled and fed into a card index, and one of us has to pick out
a particular card. He has to ask  questions in such a way that all the other
cards  are eliminated  and only the  right  one is  left. The  winner is the
person who does it quickest.'
     'Is it fun?' Momo asked, looking rather doubtful.
     'That's not the point,' Maria repeated uneasily. 'Anyway, you shouldn't
talk like that.'
     'So what is the point?' Momo insisted.
     'The point is,' Paolo told her, 'it's useful for the future.'
     By this time they had reached a big,  grey  building. The sign over the
gate said 'CHILD DEPOT'.
     'I had so much to tell you,' Momo said.
     'Maybe we'll see each other again sometime,' Maria said sadly.
     193


     As they stood there, more children appeared. They  streamed  in through
the gateway, all looking just the same as Momo's former playmates.
     'It was much nicer playing with you,' Franco said suddenly. 'We used to
enjoy thinking up  games for ourselves, but our  supervisors say they didn't
teach us anything useful.'
     'Couldn't you just run away?' Momo hazarded.
     The  trio  shook their heads  and glanced around for fear someone might
have overheard.
     'I tried it a couple of times at the beginning,' Franco whispered, 'but
it's hopeless. They always catch you again.'
     'You shouldn't  talk  like that,' said Maria. 'After all,  we're  taken
care of now.'
     They  all  fell silent  and stared gloomily into  space.  At last  Momo
summoned up her courage and  said, 'Couldn't you take me in with you? I'm so
lonely these days.'
     Just  then, something extraordinary happened. Before the children could
reply they were whisked into the courtyard of the building like iron filings
attracted by a giant magnet, and the gates clanged shut behind them.
     After a minute,  when she had recovered from her shock, Momo cautiously
approached the gates intending  to knock  or  ring and beg to be  allowed to
join in, no matter what game the children were playing. She had barely taken
a couple of steps, however,  when  she stopped dead, rooted to the spot with
terror. A man in grey had suddenly materialized between her and the gates.
     'Pointless,' he said  with  a thin-lipped  smile, the  inevitable cigar
jutting  from the  corner of  his mouth. 'Don't even try it.  Letting you in
would be against our interests.'
     'Why?'  Momo asked.  She felt as  if her limbs were slowly filling with
icy water.
     'Because we have other plans for you,' said  the man in grey, blowing a
smoke  ring  that coiled  itself  around  her  neck and  took a long time to
disperse.
     194


     People were passing by,  all  in  too much of  a hurry to  give  them a
second glance. Momo pointed to the man  in grey and  tried to call for help,
but no sound escaped her lips.
     'Save it,' said  the  man in grey with a  bleak,  mirthless laugh. 'You
ought to  know us better than that -- you know  how powerful we are. No  one
can help you, now we've got all your friends. You're at  our mercy too,  but
we've decided to go easy on you.'
     'Why?' Momo managed to get out.
     'Because  we'd  like you to do us a little favour. Be sensible, and you
can do yourself and your friends a lot of good. What do you say?'
     'All right,' whispered Momo.
     The  man in  grey gave another thin-lipped smile.  'Then we'll meet  at
midnight to talk it over.'
     She  nodded mutely, but the man in grey had  already vanished. All that
marked the spot where he had stood was a wisp of cigar smoke.
     He hadn't told her where they were to meet.



     The Square
     Momo was too scared  to go  back to the amphitheatre. She felt sure the
man in grey would turn up there for their midnight meeting,  and the thought
of being all alone with him in the deserted ruins filled her with terror.
     No, she never wished to see him again, neither there nor anywhere else.
Whatever  his proposition might  be, it  boded  no 'good' for  her  and  her
friends  - that was as plain as a pikestaff.  But where could she  hide from
him?
     A  crowded place seemed the  best  bet.  Although  no one had taken any
notice before,  if the man in  grey really tried to harm her and  she called
for help, people would surely hear and come to her  aid. Besides,  she  told
herself, she'd be hardei to find in a crowd than on her own.
     So Momo spent the rest of the afternoon walking the busiest streets and
squares surrounded by jostling pedestrians. All through the evening and well
into the night she continued to trudge in a big circle that brought her back
to  her  starting  point.  Around  and  around  she  went, swept along by  a
fast-flowing tide  of humanity, until she  had completed no fewer than three
of these circuits.
     After  keeping this up for so many hours, her weary feet began to ache.
It grew later and later, but still she walked, half asleep, on and on and on
...
     'Just a  little rest,' she told herself at last, '-just a  teeny little
rest, and then I'll be more on my guard ...'
     Parked beside the  kerb was a little three-wheeled delivery truck laden
with an assortment of sacks and cartons. Momo
     196


     climbed  aboard, found herself a nice,  soft sack  and leaned  her back
against it. She drew up her weary feet  and tucked them under her skirt. My,
did  that feel good!  She heaved a sigh  of relief,  snuggled up against the
sack and was asleep 'before she knew it.
     But she was haunted by  the weirdest dreams. In one of them she saw old
Beppo, with his  broom held crossways like a balancing pole, teetering along
a tightrope suspended above a dark chasm. 'Where's the other end?' she heard
him call,  over  and  over  again.  'I can't  see  the other  end!' And  the
tightrope did indeed seem infinitely long - so long that it  stretched  away
into the darkness in  both directions. Momo yearned to help the old man, but
she  couldn't even attract  his attention; he  was too  high up and  too far
away.
     Then she saw  Guido, pulling  a  paper  streamer  out of  his mouth. He
pulled and pulled, but the streamer was endless and unbreakable  -- in  fact
he was  already  standing on a big mound of paper. It seemed to Momo that he
was gazing at  her imploringly, as if he would suffocate unless she  came to
his rescue.  She tried to run to him, but her  feet  became entangled in the
coils  of  paper,  and the  more  she struggled to  free  herself  the  more
entangled she became.
     And then she saw the children. They were all as flat  as playing cards,
and each card had a pattern of little  holes punched in  it. Every  time the
cards  were shuffled  they had to sort themselves out  and be punched with a
new pattern of  holes. The card  children were crying bitterly, but all Momo
could hear was a sort  of  clattering  sound as they were shuffled yet again
and fluttered down on top of each other. 'Stop!' she shouted, but her feeble
voice was  drowned by  the clatter,  which grew  louder  and louder until it
finally woke her up.
     It was dark, and for  a moment she couldn't  think where she was.  Then
she remembered climbing aboard the delivery  truck and realized that it  was
on the move. That was what had woken her - the sound of the engine.
     197


     Momo wiped her cheeks,  which were still wet  with tears,  and wondered
where she  could be. The truck had evidently been on the move for some time,
because it was in a different part of the city. At this late hour not a soul
could  be  seen  in the  streets, not a light  showed  anywhere  in the tall
buildings that flanked them.
     The truck was going quite slowly and Momo, without  stopping  to think,
jumped out. She began walking  in  the opposite direction, eager to get back
to the crowded streets that seemed to offer protection from the man in grey.
Then, remembering her nightmares, she came to a halt.
     The  sound of the  engine gradually faded  until  silence enveloped the
darkened street.
     She would  stop running away, Momo decided. She had done so in the hope
of saving herself. All  this time she had been preoccupied with herself, her
own loneliness and fear, when it was really her friends who were in trouble.
If anyone could save  them, she  could. Remote  as the chances of persuading
the men in grey to release them might be, she must at least try.
     Once she reached  this conclusion,  she felt a mysterious  change  come
over  her.  Her feelings of  fear and  helplessness had reached such a pitch
that they  were suddenly  transformed into their opposites. Having  overcome
them, she  felt courageous and self-confident enough to  tackle any power on
earth; more precisely, she had ceased to worry about herself.
     Now she wanted to meet the man in grey - wanted to at all costs.
     'I must go to the amphitheatre at once,' she told  herself. 'Perhaps it
still isn't too late, perhaps he'll be waiting for me.'
     That, however, was easier said than done. She didn't know where she was
and hadn't the least idea which direction to take,  but she started  walking
anyway.
     On and on she walked through the dark, silent streets.
     198


     Being barefoot, she couldn't even  hear her own  footsteps. Every  time
she turned a  corner she  hoped to see something that would tell her she was
on  the  right track, some landmark she recognized,  but she never did.  She
couldn't ask the way, either, because the only living creature she saw was a
grimy, emaciated dog that was foraging for scraps in a rubbish heap and fled
in panic at her approach.
     At  last she  came to a  huge, deserted square. It  wasn't  a  handsome
square  with  trees  or a fountain  in the middle, but an empty, featureless
expanse fringed  with buildings whose dark shapes stood outlined against the
night sky.
     Momo  set off across  the square. When she  reached the middle, a clock
began to chime not far away. It chimed a good many  times, so perhaps it was
already  midnight.  If  the  man  in  grey  was   waiting  for  her  at  the
amphitheatre, Momo reflected, she had no chance at all  of getting  there in
time. He  would go away  without seeing her, and  any chance  of saving  her
friends would be gone, perhaps for ever.
     She chewed her knuckles, wondering what  to  do. She  had absolutely no
idea.
     'Here I am!'  she called  into the darkness, as loud as she I'ould. She
had no real hope that the man in grey would hear her, but she was wrong.
     Scarcely had the last  chime died  away when lights appeared in all the
streets that led to  the big,  empty square, faint  at  first  but  steadily
growing brighter -- drawing nearer. And then  Momo realized  that  they were
the  headlights of  innumerable cars, all converging on  the spot  where she
stood. Dazzled by the glare no matter which way she turned, she shielded her
eyes with her hand. So they were coming after all!
     But Momo  hadn't expected them to come  in such strength. For a moment,
all her  new-found courage deserted her. Hemmed in and unable to escape, she
shrank as far as she could into her baggy old jacket.
     199


     Then, remembering the  hour-lilies and the mighty chorus of voices, she
instantly felt comforted. The strength flowed back into her limbs.
     Meanwhile,  with  their engines purring softly,  the cars had continued
their slow  advance.  At  last they stopped, bumper to  bumper, in a  circle
whose central point was Momo herself.
     The men in grey got out.  Momo couldn't see how many of them there were
because they remained outside the  ring  of  headlights, but she sensed that
many eyes were on her -unfriendly eyes - and a shiver ran down her spine.
     No one spoke for a while, neither Momo nor any of the men in grey. Then
a flat, expressionless voice broke the silence.
     'I see,' it said. 'So this is Momo, the girl who thought she could defy
us. Just look at her now, the miserable creature!'
     These  words  were  followed by  a  dry, rattling  sound  that  vaguely
resembled a chorus of mocking laughter.
     'Careful!' hissed another grey voice. 'You know  how dangerous  she can
be. It's no use trying to deceive her.'
     Momo pricked up her ears at this.
     'Very  well,'  said  the  first  voice  from  the  darkness beyond  the
headlights, 'let's try the truth for a change.'
     Another long silence fell. Momo sensed that the men in grey were afraid
to tell the truth - so afraid that it imposed a tremendous  strain on  them.
She heard what sounded like a gasp of exertion from a thousand throats.
     At long  last, one of the disembodied  voices  began to  speak. It came
from  a different direction, but it was just as flat  and expressionless  as
the others.
     'All right, let's be blunt. You're  all on your own, little girl.  Your
friends are  out of  reach,  so you've no  one to share  your time  with. We
planned it that way. You see how powerful we are. There's no point in trying
to  resist us. What  do they amount to,  all these lonely hours  of yours? A
curse and a burden, nothing more. You're completely cut off from the rest of
mankind.'
     200


     Momo listened and said nothing.
     'Sooner or later,' the voice droned on, 'you won't be able to endure it
any longer. Tomorrow, next week,  next year -it's  all  the same  to us.  We
shall simply bide our  time because we know that  in due  course you'll come
crawling to us and say: I'll do  anything, anything  at all,  as long as you
relieve me of my burden. But perhaps  you've already reached that stage? You
only have to say.' Momo shook her head.
     "So you won't let us help you?' the  voice pursued coldly. Momo felt an
icy breeze envelop her from all sides at once, but she gritted her teeth and
shook her head again.
     'She knows what time is,' whispered another voice.
     'That proves  she really was  with  a  Certain Person,' the first voice
replied, also in a whisper. Aloud, it asked, 'Do you know Professor Нога?'
     Momo nodded.
     'You actually paid him a visit?'
     She nodded again.
     'So you know about the hour-lilies?'
     She nodded a third time. Oh yes, how well she knew!
     There was another longish silence. When the voice began to speak again,
it came from another direction.
     'You love your friends, don't you?'
     Another nod.
     'And you'd like to set them free?'
     Yet another nod.
     'You could, if only you would.'
     Momo  was shivering with cold in  every limb. She drew the  jacket more
tightly around her.
     'It  wouldn't take much  to save them. You help  us and we'll help you.
That's only fair, isn't it?'
     The  voice was coming  from yet another direction. Momo stared intently
at its source.
     'The thing is, we'd like to make Professor Hora's
     201


     acquaintance  but we don't  Know where he lives. All we want is for you
to show us the way. That's right, Momo, listen carefully,  so you know we're
being  honest with you and mean what we say. In return, we'll give you  back
your friends and let you all lead the carefree, happy-go-lucky life you used
to enjoy so much. If that isn't a worthwhile offer, what is?'
     Momo opened her mouth for the  first time.  It  was quite an effort  to
speak at all, her lips felt so numb.
     'What do you want with Professor Hora?' she asked.
     'I told you, we want to make his acquaintance,' the voice said sharply,
and the air grew even colder. 'That's all you need to know.'
     Momo said nothing, just waited.
     'I don't understand you,' said  the  voice. 'Think of yourself and your
friends.  Why  worry about  Professor  Hora? He's  old enough to look  after
himself.  Besides,  if he's sensible and  cooperates nicely, we won't harm a
hair of his head. If not, we have ways of making him.'
     Momo's lips were blue with cold. 'Making him do what?' she asked.
     The  voice  sounded  suddenly  shrill  and  strained. 'We're  tired  of
collecting people's time by the  hour, minute and second. We want  all of it
right away, and Hora's got to hand it over!'
     Horrified, Momo stared into the darkness beyond the ring of headlights.
'What  about  the people it belongs to?' she asked.  'What  will  happen  to
them?'
     'People?' The  voice  rose to a  scream and  broke. 'People  have  been
obsolete for years. They've made  the world a  place where  there's  no room
left for their own kind. We shall rule the world!'
     By now the cold was so  intense that Momo could barely  move her  lips,
let alone speak.
     'Never fear, though, little Momo,' the voice went on, abruptly becoming
gentle and  almost coaxing, 'that naturally won't  apply  to  you  and  your
friends. You'll be the last and
     202


     only people  on earth to  play games  and tell stories. As long as  you
stop meddling in our business, we'll leave you in peace. Is it a deal?'
     '  The voice fell silent. A moment later, it  took up the thread from a
different quarter.  'You  know we've  told  you  the  truth.  We'll keep our
promise, you can rely on that. And now, take us to Professor Hora.'
     Momo tried to speak, almost fainting with cold.  Finally, after several
attempts, she said, 'Even if I could, I wouldn't.'
     'What  do you mean, if  you could?' the* voice  said  menac-ingly.  'Of
course you can. You paid him a visit, so you must know the way.'
     'I'd never find it again,' Momo whispered. 'I've tried. Only Cassiopeia
knows it.'
     'Who's Cassiopeia?'
     The professor's tortoise.'
     'Where is it now?'
     Momo, barely conscious, murmured, "She . . . she came back with me, but
... I lost her.'
     As  if from a  long  way off,  a chorus of agitated voices  came to her
ears.
     'Issue  a general alert!' she heard.  'We've got to find that tortoise.
Check every  tortoise  you come across. That animal's got to be found at all
costs!'
     The voices  died away.  Silence fell. Momo slowly regained her  senses.
She  was  standing  by  herself in the  middle of  the  square. Nothing  was
stirring but  a chill gust  of  wind that  seemed to  issue from some great,
empty void: a wind as grey as ashes.



     The Pursuit
     Momo didn't know how  much  time had  passed. The  church  clock chimed
occasionally, but she scarcely heard it.  Her frozen limbs took ages to thaw
out. She felt numb and incapable of making decisions.
     How could she go home to the amphitheatre and climb into bed, now  that
there was no hope left  for herself and her friends? How could she, when she
knew that  things would never  come  right  again?  She  was  worried  about
Cassiopeia, too.  What  if the men in grey found her? She began to  reproach
herself bitterly for having mentioned  the tortoise at all, but  she'd  been
too dazed to think straight.
     'Anyway,' she reflected,  trying to console  herself,  'Cassiopeia  may
have found her way  back to Professor Нога long ago.  Yes, I hope she  isn't
still looking for me. It would be better for both of us.'
     At that moment something nudged her  bare  foot. Momo gave  a start and
looked down.
     There  was Cassiopeia,  as large as  life, and she could dimly see some
words on the animal's shell: 'HERE I AM AGAIN,' they said.
     Without a second  thought, Momo  grabbed  the tortoise  and  stuffed it
under her jacket. Then she  straightened  up and peered  in  all directions,
fearful that some men in grey might still be lurking in the shadows, but all
was quiet.
     Cassiopeia  kicked  and  struggled fiercely in  an  effort  to  escape.
Holding her tight, Momo peeped inside the jacket and whispered, 'Please keep
still!'
     204


     'WHY  ALL  THE FUSS?' demanded Cassiopeia. 'You mustn't be seen!'  Momo
hissed. The  next words to appear on the tortoise's shell were, 'AREN'T  YOU
GLAD?'
     'Of  course,' Momo said with a catch  in  her voice. 'Of course  I  am.
You've no  idea!'  And she kissed  Cassiopeia on the nose, several  times in
quick succession.
     Cassiopeia responded with two rather pink words. 'STEADY ON,'they read.
     Momo smiled. 'Have you been looking for me all this time?' 'OF COURSE.'
     'But how did you happen to find me here and now?' 'I KNEW I WOULD,' was
the laconic  reply.  Had Cassiopeia spent all those weeks  looking  for  her
although she knew she wouldn't find  her? If  so,  she  needn't  really have
bothered  to  look  at  all.  This  was yet another  of  Cassiopeia's little
mysteries. They  made Memo's head spin if she thought  about them  too hard,
and besides, this was scarcely the moment to puzzle over such problems.
     Momo gave the tortoise  a whispered account of what  had happened since
last they met. 'What should we do now?' she concluded.
     Cassiopeia had  been listening  attentively. 'GO TO HORA,'  she spelled
out.
     'Now?' Momo exclaimed, aghast. 'But they're looking for you everywhere.
This is the only place they don't happen to be. Wouldn't it be wiser to stay
here?'
     But all the tortoise's shell said was, 'WE'RE GOING ANYWAY.'
     'We'll run right into  them,' Momo protested.  'WON'T MEET A SOUL,' was
Cassiopeia's response. If Cassiopeia was sure, that settled it. Momo put her
down. Then, remembering  their  first long, arduous  trek, she suddenly felt
too exhausted to repeat it all over again.
     205


     'You go  on alone, Cassiopeia,' she said wearily. 'I'm too tired. Go on
alone, and give the professor my love.'
     Cassiopeia's shell lit up again. 'IT'S NOT FAR,' Momo was astonished to
read.  It  dawned  on  her,  as  she  looked  around,  that  this shabby and
desolate-looking neighbourhood  might  be  the one that  led to the district
with the white houses and the strange shadows. If so, she might after all be
able to make it as far as Never Lane and Nowhere House.
     'All  right,' she said, 'I'll come too, but wouldn't it be quicker if I
carried you?'
     'AFRAID NOT,' Cassiopeia replied.
     'Why should you insist on  crawling there by yourself?'  Momo said, but
all she got was the enigmatic reply: 'THE WAY'S INSIDE ME.'
     On that note the tortoise set off  with  Momo following slowly, step by
step.
     They  had only just  disappeared  down a side street  when the  shadows
around the square came to  life and the air  was filled with a brittle sound
like the snapping of dry twigs: the men in grey were chuckling triumphantly.
Some of their number, who had stayed behind to keep a surreptitious watch on
Momo, had witnessed her reunion with Cassiopeia. The wait  had been  a  long
one, but not even they had dreamed that it would yield such results.
     'There they go!' whispered one grey voice. 'Shall we nab them?'
     'Of course not,' hissed another. 'Let them carry on.'
     'Why?'  demanded  the  first  voice.  'Our  orders were to  capture the
tortoise at all costs.'
     'Yes, but why do we want it?'
     'So it can lead us to Нога.'
     'Precisely, that's just what it's doing now. We won't even have to  use
force. It's showing us the way of its own free will - unintentionally.'
     206


     Another dry chuckle went up from the shadows around the square.
     'Pass the word at once. Call off the search  and instruct all Agents to
join us here. Tell them to exercise the utmost care, though. None of us must
be seen by our two  unsuspecting guides or get  in their way. They're to  be
given free passage wherever they go. And now, gentlemen, let's follow at our
leisure.'
     It  was hardly  surprising, under  these  circumstances, that Momo  and
Cassiopeia failed to encounter a single one of their pursuers. Whichever way
they went, the men in  grey melted away in good  time and joined the rear of
the evergrowing procession that  was silently, cautiously, following in  the
fugitives' wake.
     Momo  was wearier than she  had ever been in her life. There were times
when she thought she would simply sink to the ground and  fall asleep at any
moment,  but she  forced herself to put one foot before the other, and for a
while things went better. If only  Cassiopeia wouldn't crawl along at such a
snail's pace, she  thought, but it couldn't be  helped. She  trudged  along,
looking neither right nor left, only at her feet and the tortoise.
     After an eternity, or so it seemed  to  Momo, the surface of the street
grew suddenly paler. She wrenched her leaden eyelids open and looked around.
     Yes, they had finally reached the district where  the light was neither
that  of  dawn  nor  dusk,  and  where  all  the shadows  ran  in  different
directions. There were the forbidding white houses  with the cavernous black
windows, and  there  was the  peculiar,  egglike monument on its black stone
plinth.
     At  the thought that it wouldn't be long  before she saw Professor Hora
again. Memo's courage  revived. 'Please,' she said  to Cassiopeia, 'couldn't
we go a bit faster?'
     'MORE HASTE LESS SPEED,' came the reply, and
     207


     the tortoise crawled on even more slowly than before. Yet Momo noticed,
as she had the first time,  that they made better progress  that way. It was
as if the street beneath them glided past more quickly the slower they went.
     That,  of  course, was  the secret of the district with the  snow-white
houses: the slower you went the better progress you made,  and the more  you
hurried the slower your  rate of advance. The  men in grey hadn't known that
when they pursued Momo in their cars, which was how she'd escaped them.
     But that was the last time. Things were  quite different  now that they
had no intention of overtaking  the girl and the tortoise. Now, because they
were  trailing them at  exactly  the  same speed,  they had  discovered  the
secret. Gradually, the streets behind Momo and Cassiopeia became filled with
an army of  men in  grey.  And  as  the  pursuers  grew  accustomed  to  the
peculiarities of the district, they went even slower than their quarry, with
the result that they steadily overhauled them. It was like a race in reverse
- a go-slow race.
     On  and  on the strange procession went, further  and further into  the
dazzling white glow, weaving back and forth through the  dream streets until
it came to the corner of Never Lane.
     Cassiopeia  turned into  the lane  and crawled  towards Nowhere  House.
Momo,  remembering that she'd failed to make  any  headway until  she turned
around and walked backwards, did the same again.
     And that was when her heart stood still.
     The  time-thieves, like a  grey wall on the move, stretched away for as
far as the eye could see, rank upon rank of them filling the entire width of
the street.
     Momo cried  out in  terror, but  she couldn't  hear  her own voice. She
walked backwards down Never Lane, staring wide-eyed at the advancing host of
men in grey.
     But then another strange thing happened. As  soon as  the leaders tried
to enter the lane, they vanished before her very
     208


     eyes. Their outstretched hands were the first to disappear, then  their
legs and bodies,  and last of all their faces, which wore a look of surprise
and horror.
     But Momo wasn't the  only one to have witnessed this phenomenon. It had
also  been seen by the  men  in  grey who were following behind. They shrank
back, bracing themselves  to resist the pressure of those still advancing in
the rear, and something of a scuffle ensued. Momo saw her pursuers scowl and
shake their fists, but they dared not pursue her any further.
     At last she reached Nowhere House. The big  bronze door swung open. She
darted inside,  raced  down the corridor lined with statues, opened the tiny
door at the  other end, ducked through it, ran across the  great hall to the
little room enclosed by grandfather clocks, threw herself down on the dainty
little sofa, and, not wanting to see or hear  anything more, buried her head
under a cushion.



     Under Siege
     A genrie voice was speaKing.
     Momo emerged by degrees from  the depths of  a dreamless sleep, feeling
wonderfully rested and refreshed. 'Momo isn't to blame,' she heard the voice
say, 'but you, Cassiopeia - you should have known better.'
     Momo opened her eyes. Professor Hora was sitting at the little table in
front of the  sofa,  looking ruefully down at the tortoise. 'Didn't it occur
to you,' he went on, 'that the men in grey might follow you?'
     There wasn't room on Cassiopeia's shell for all she had to say, so  she
had to reply in three instalments: 'I CAN ONLY  SEE-HALF AN HOUR AHEAD - TOO
LATE BY THEN.'
     Professor Hora sighed and shook  his head. 'Oh, Cassiopeia, Cassiopeia,
even I find you puzzling sometimes.'
     Momo sat up.
     'Ah, our guest  is  awake,'  Professor Hora said kindly. 'I hope you're
feeling better?'
     'Much better, thank  you,'  said  Momo.  'Please excuse me  for falling
asleep on your sofa.'
     The  professor  smiled.  'It's  quite  all  right, you've  no  need  to
apologize. Cassiopeia has already brought me up to date on anything I failed
to see through my omnivision glasses.'
     'What are the men in grey doing?' Momo asked anxiously.
     Professor Hora produced a big blue handkerchief from his pocket. 'We're
under siege. They have us completely sur-
     210


     rounded -  that's to say, they're as close to Nowhere House as they can
get.'
     'But they  can't get in,  can they?' Momo said.  The professor blew his
nose.  'No, they can't. You saw for yourself,  they vanish into  thin air if
they so much as set foot in Never Lane.'
     Momo  looked mystified.  'Yes, but  I don't know  why.'  'It's temporal
suction that does  it,'  the professor told her.  'Everything has to be done
backwards in Never  Lane,  as you know, because time  runs in reverse around
this  house.  Normally, time flows into  you. The more time you  have inside
you,  the  older you get, but in Never Lane time flows  out of you. You grew
younger while  you were coming up the lane. Not much younger -  only as much
younger as  the time you took to get from one  end  to the other.' 'I didn't
notice anything,' Momo said, still mystified. 'That's because you're a human
being,' the professor said with a smile. 'There's a lot more to human beings
than the rime they carry around inside them, but it's different with the men
in grey. Stolen  time is all they consist of, and that disappears in a flash
when they're exposed to temporal  suction. It escapes like air from a  burst
balloon, the only difference being that a balloon's skin survives.  In their
case, there's nothing left at all.'
     Momo  knit her brow and  thought hard. 'Wouldn't  it  be possible,' she
asked at length, 'to make time run backwards all over the world?  Only for a
little while, I mean. It wouldn't matter if  people grew a tiny bit younger,
but the time-thieves would be reduced to nothing.'
     The  professor  smiled  again. 'A  splendid idea, I grant you, but  I'm
afraid it wouldn't work.  The two currents  are in  balance, you see. If you
cancelled one, the other would vanish too. Then there'd be no time left .  .
.'
     He broke  off and  pushed his omnivision glasses up so that they rested
on his forehead.
     211


     'On the other hand ...' he murmured. Momo watched him expectantly as he
paced  up and down  the room a few times,  lost in thought,  and  Cassiopeia
followed him with her wise old eyes. At length he sat down again.
     'You've  given me an idea,'  he  said, 'but  I  couldn't  put  it  into
practice unaided.' He looked down at the tortoise. 'Cassiopeia, my dear, I'd
like your  opinion on  something. What's the  best thing  to  do when you're
under siege?'
     'HAVE BREAKFAST,' came the reply.
     'Quite so,' said the professor. 'That's another splendid idea.'
     The table  was laid in a flash. Whether or not it had been laid all the
time and Momo simply hadn't noticed, everything was in place: the two little
cups, the pot of steaming chocolate, the honey, butter and crusty rolls.
     Momo, whose  mouth had often watered at the recollection  of her  first
delicious,  golden-hued  breakfast  at  Nowhere House,  tucked  in at  once.
Everything tasted even  better than before, if  possible,  and this time the
professor tucked in heartily too.
     'Professor,'  Momo  said after a while,  with her cheeks still bulging,
'they  want you to give them all  the time  that exists. You won't,  though,
will you?'
     'No, child,' he replied, 'that I'll never do. Time will come  to an end
some day, but not until people don't  need  it any longer.  The men in  grey
won't get any time from me - not even a split second.'
     'But they say they can make you hand it over,' Momo said.
     'Before  we  go into that,' the professor told her,  very gravely, 'I'd
like you to look at them for yourself.'
     All she saw to begin with  was  the kaleidoscope of colours  and shapes
that had made her  so dizzy the first time,  but  it wasn't  long before her
eyes got used to the omnivision  lenses. And then  the  besieging  army swam
into focusi
     212


     The  men  in grey were  drawn  up in  a  long,  long line, shoulder  to
shoulder,  not only  across the mouth  of  Never  Lane  but  all around  the
district with the snow-white houses. They formed an unbroken cordon, and the
mid-point of that cordon was Nowhere House.
     But  then Momo  noticed something else -  something strange. Her  first
thought was  that  the lenses of the omnivision glasses needed polishing, or
that she hadn't quite grown  used to them yet,  because  the outlkies of the
men  in grey looked misty. She soon  realized that this blurring had nothing
to do with the lenses or her eyes: the mist was real, and it was rising from
the streets all  around,  dense and impenetrable in some  places, only  just
forming in others.
     The men in grey were standing absolutely still, all wearing bowlers and
carrying briefcases, and all smoking little grey cigars. But the  smoke from
the cigars didn't disperse in  the normal way.  Here, where the  air  seemed
made  of  glass and was never disturbed by a breath  of wind, the threads of
smoke clung like cobwebs, creeping along the streets and up the walls of the
snow-white  houses,  festooning  each  ledge  and  cornice  and  windowsill,
condensing  into a noisome,  bluish-green fog bank that billowed ever higher
until it encircled Nowhere House like a wall.
     Momo took off the glasses and looked at Professor Hora inquiringly.
     'Have you seen enough?' he asked. 'Then let me have the  glasses back.'
He  put them  on  again.  'You asked if  the men in  grey could  make  me do
something  against  my  will,'  he  went  on.  'Well, they  can't get at  me
personally, as you know, but  they  could subject the  world  to an evil far
worse than any they've inflicted on it so far. That's how they hope to force
my hand.'
     Momo was  appalled. 'What  could be worse than stealing people's time?'
she asked. 'I allot people their share of time,' the professor explained.
     213


     'The men  in grey can't  stop  that.  They  can't intercept the time  I
distribute, but they can poison it.'
     'They can poison it?' Могло repeated, more appalled still.
     The professor nodded. 'Yes, with the smoke from their cigars. Have  you
ever  seen one without his little grey cigar? Of course not, because without
it he couldn't exist.'
     'What kind of cigars are they?' Momo asked.
     'You remember where the hour-lilies were growing?' Professor Hora said.
'I told you then that everyone has a place like that, because everyone has a
heart. If people allow the men  in grey to gain a foothold  there,  more and
more  of  their hour-lilies  get  stolen. But  hour-lilies  plucked  from  a
person's heart can't die, because they've never really  withered. They can't
live,  either, because they've been parted  from their  rightful owner. They
strive with  every  fibre of their being to return to the person they belong
to.'
     Momo was listening with bated breath.
     'If  you think  I know  everything, Momo, you're wrong. Some evils  are
wrapped in mystery. I've  no idea where  the men in  grey  keep their stolen
hour-lilies.  I  only know that they preserve  the blossoms by freezing them
till they're as hard as glass goblets. Somewhere deep underground there must
be a gigantic cold store.'
     Memo's cheeks began to burn with indignation.
     'And that's  where the men in grey draw their  supplies from. They pull
off the hour-lilies' petals, let them wither till they're dried up and grey,
and roll  their little cigars out of them. The petals still contain remnants
of  life, even then,  but living time is harmful to the men in grey, so they
light  the cigars and smoke  them.  Only when time has been  converted  into
smoke is it well and  truly dead. That's what keeps the men in grey "alive":
dead human time.'
     Momo had risen to her feet. 'Oh,' she exclaimed, 'to think of all those
poor flowers, all that dead time . ..'
     'Yes, the wall they're erecting around this house is built of
     214


     ucad  time. There's still enough open sky  above  for me to send people
their  time in good condition, but once that pall of  smoke closes over  our
heads, every hour  I send them will  be contaminated with the  time-thieves'
poison. When they absorb it, it'll make them ill.'
     Momo stared at the professor  uncomprehendingly. 'What kind of  illness
is it?' she asked in a low voice.
     'A fatal illness, though you scarcely notice  it at first. One day, you
don't feel  like doing  anything. -Nothing  interests you, everything  bores
you. Far from wearing  off, your boredom persists and gets worse, day by day
and  week by week. You feel more and more bad-tempered, more and more  empty
inside, more and  more dissatisfied with  yourself and the world in general.
Then even that  feeling wears off, and you don't feel anything any more. You
become completely indifferent to  what goes on around  you. Joy and  sorrow,
anger and excitement are things of the past. You forget how to laugh and cry
- you're  cold inside  and incapable of loving anything or anyone. Once  you
reach that  stage, the  disease  is  incurable. There's  no  going back. You
bustle around with a blank, grey face,  just like the men in grey themselves
-indeed,  you've joined  their  ranks.  The disease has a name.  It's called
deadly tedium.'
     Momo shivered. 'You mean,' she said, 'unless you hand over all the time
there is, they'll turn people into creatures like themselves?'
     'Yes,' the professor replied.  'That's how  they hope  to bully me into
it.' He rose and turned away. 'I've waited till now for people to get rid of
those  pests.  They could have done so -after all, it was they  who  brought
them into existence in the lirst place - but I can't wait any longer. I must
do something,  ind I can't do  it on my own.'  He looked  Momo in the  eye.
'Will you help me?' 'Yes,' she whispered. 'If  you do,  you'll be running an
incalculable risk. It will be
     215


     up to you wnerncr me wona oegins to live again or stands stili for ever
and a day. Are you really prepared to take that risk?'
     'Yes', Momo repeated, and this time her voice was firm.
     'In that case,' said the professor, 'listen carefully to what I'm going
to tell you, because you'll be all on your own. I won't be able to help you,
nor will anyone else.'
     Momo nodded, gazing at him intently.
     'I must  begin by telling you that I never sleep,' he said. 'If I dozed
off, time would stand still and the  world  would come  to  a stop. If there
were no more time, the men in grey would have none left to steal. They could
continue  to exist for a while by  using up  their  vast  reserves, but once
those had gone they would dissolve into thin air.'
     'Then the answer's simple, surely?' said Momo.
     'Not as simple as it  sounds, I'm afraid, or I wouldn't need your help.
The trouble is, if there were no more time I couldn't wake up again, and the
world would continue to stand still for all eternity. It  does, however, lie
within  my power  to  give  you - and you alone - an hour-lily. Only one, of
course, because only one ever blooms at a time. So, if time stopped all over
the world, you would still have one hour's grace.'
     'Then I could wake you,' said Momo.
     The professor shook his head. 'That would achieve nothing,  because the
men  in  grey have  far too much time  in reserve.  They would consume  very
little of it in an hour, so they'd still be there when the hour was  up. No,
Momo, the problem is a  great deal harder  than that. As soon as the men  in
grey notice  that  time has stopped -  and it won't take them long,  because
their supply of cigars will be interrupted -they'll lift the siege and  head
for their secret store. You must follow them and prevent  them from reaching
it. When their cigars  are finished, they'll be finished too. But then comes
what  may well turn out to be  the hardest part of all. Once the last of the
time-thieves has vanished,  you  must release every  stolen minute,  because
only when people get their time back
     216


     win  i  wane up and the world  come to life again. And all  this you'll
have to do within the space of a single hour.'
     Momo hadn't reckoned  with such a host of difficulties and dangers. She
stared at him helplessly.
     'Will  you try  all the  same?' the  professor  asked. 'It's  our  only
chance.'
     Momo  couldn't  bring  herself  to  speak,  she found  the prospect  so
daunting.  At that moment, Cassiopeia's shell  lit up. 'I'LL  COME  TOO,' it
signalled.
     Unlikely as  it seemed that the  tortoise could  be  of help, the words
conjured up a tiny ray of hope.  Momo felt  heartened  at the thought of not
being  entirely alone. Although  there were  no  rational grounds for such a
feeling,  it did at  least enable her  to  make up her mind. 'I'll try,' she
said resolutely.
     Professor Нога gave her a  long look and started to smile. 'Many things
will prove easier  than you think. You've heard the music of the stars.  You
mustn't feel frightened.' He turned to the tortoise. 'So you want to go too,
do you?'
     'OF COURSE,' Cassiopeia spelled out. Then, 'SOMEONE  HAS  TO LOOK AFTER
HER.'  The  professor  and Momo  smiled  at each  other.  'Will she  get  an
hour-lily too?'  Momo asked. 'She doesn't need one,' the  professor replied,
gently  tickling the tortoise's  neck. 'Cassiopeia is a creature from beyond
the frontiers of time. She carries her own little supply of time inside her.
She could go on crawling across the face  of  the  earth even  if everything
else stood still for ever.'
     'Good,' said Momo, suddenly eager to get on with the job. 'What happens
next?'
     'Now,' said  the professor,  'we  say goodbye.' Momo felt a lump in her
throat.  'Won't we ever see  each other again?' she asked softly. 'Of course
we will,' he told her, 'and until that day comes,
     217


     every  hour  of  your life will bring  you  my love.  We'll  always  be
friends, won't we?'
     Momo nodded.
     'I'm  going now,' the professor went  on, 'but you mustn't follow me or
ask where I'm  going.  My sleep is  no  ordinary  sleep,  and I'd sooner you
weren't  there. One  last thing:  as soon as  I'm gone, you  must  open both
doors,  the little one with my name on it and the big bronze one that  leads
into Never Lane. Once time has stopped,  everything will stand still  and no
power on earth  will be able to budge those doors.  Have  you understood and
memorized all I've told you?'
     'Yes,' said Momo, 'but how shall I know when time has stopped?'
     'You'll know, never fear.'
     They both stood up. Professor Hora gently stroked Momo's tousled mop of
hair. 'Goodbye, Momo,' he said, 'and thank you for listening so carefully.'
     'I'm  going to tell everyone  about  you,' she replied, 'when it's  all
over.'
     From one moment to the next. Professor Hora  looked  as old as  he  had
when he carried her into the  golden dome - as old as  an  ancient  tree  or
primeval crag.
     Turning away,  he  walked swiftly  out of the little  room  whose walls
consisted  of  grandfather clocks. Momo heard  his footsteps fade until they
were indistinguishable from  the ticking of the countless clocks around her.
Their  incessant whirring and ticking  and chiming seemed to have  swallowed
him up.
     Momo  took Cassiopeia  in  her  arms  and held  her  tight.  Her  great
adventure had begun. There could be no turning back.



     Pursuing the Pursuers
     Momo's first  step  was  to open the little door  with Professor Hora's
name on it. Then she sped along the corridor  lined with statues  and opened
the big bronze  front door. She had to exert all her strength because it was
so heavy.
     That done,  she ran back to the  great hall and waited, with Cassiopeia
in her arms, to see what would happen.
     She didn't have to wait  long. There  was a  sudden jolt, but it didn't
actually  shake the  ground.  It  was  a  timequake,  so to  speak,  not  an
earthquake. No  words could describe the sensation, which was accompanied by
a  sound such  as no human ear had ever heard before: a sigh that seemed  to
issue from the depths of the ages. And then it was over.
     Simultaneously,  the innumerable clocks stopped  ticking,  whirring and
chiming. Pendulums came to  a sudden halt  and stayed put at odd angles. The
silence that fell was more profound than any that had  ever reigned  before.
Time itself was standing still.
     As for Momo, she became aware that  she was  clasping  the  stem  of an
hour-lily of exceptional size and beauty. She hadn't felt anyone put it into
her hand. It simply appeared, as if it had always been there.
     Gingerly, Momo took  a step. Sure enough, she could move  as easily  as
ever. The remains of breakfast were still on  the table. She sat down on one
of the little armchairs, but the seat was as hard as marble and didn't yield
an inch. There was a mouthful of chocolate left in her cup, but the cup
     219


     wouldn't move either. She  tried dipping  her fingers in the dregs, but
they were as hard  as butterscotch.  So  was the honey,  and even the crumbs
were  stuck fast to  the plates. Now that time had stopped, everything  else
was immovable too.
     Cassiopeia  had started to fidget. Looking down, Momo saw some words on
her shell. 'YOU'RE WASTING TIME!' she read.
     Heavens alive, so she  was! Momo pulled  herself together. She  hurried
through the forest of clocks to the little door, squeezed through it and ran
along the passage  to the  front door. She  peered  out, then darted back in
panic.  Her  heart began  to thump  furiously.  Far from  running away,  the
time-thieves were streaming towards  her up Never Lane. They could  do that,
of  course, now time  had ceased to flow  in reverse there,  but she  hadn't
allowed for the possibility.
     She raced  back to the great  hall and, still clutching Cassiopeia, hid
behind  a massive  grandfather clock. 'That's  a  good start,'  she muttered
ruefully.
     Then she heard the men in grey  come  marching along the corridor. They
squeezed through the little door, one after another, until a whole crowd  of
them had assembled inside.
     'So  this is our new  headquarters,' said one, surveying the vast room.
'Very impressive.'
     'That girl  let us in,' said  another grey voice. 'I distinctly saw her
open the door, the sensible  child. I wonder how  she  managed to get around
the old man.'
     'If you ask  me,' said a third voice, 'the old man's knuckled under. If
time has stopped flowing in Never Lane, it can only mean he switched  it off
himself.  In other  words,  he  knows he's  beaten.  Where  is he,  the  old
mischief-maker? Let's finish him off!'
     The  men  in grey  were looking around when one  of them  had a  sudden
thought. His  voice  sounded  even  greyer,  if  possible,  than  the  rest.
'Something's wrong, gentlemen,' he
     220


     said. 'The clocks - look at the clocks! Every one of them has  stopped,
even this hourglass here.'
     .  'I  suppose  he  must  have  stopped   them,'  another  voice   said
uncertainly.
     'You can't stop an hourglass,' the first man in grey retorted. 'See for
yourselves, gentlemen - the  sand's suspended  in mid-air  and the hourglass
itself won't budge! What does it mean?'
     He  was still speaking when footsteps came  pounding along the corridor
and  yet another man in grey squeezed through the little door, gesticulating
wildly. 'We've  just had word from  our agents in the  city,'  he announced.
'Their  cars have stopped,  and  so has  everything  else - the world's at a
standstill.  There isn't  a  microsecond  of time to  be  had anywhere.  Our
supplies have been cut off. Time has ceased to exist.  Hora has switched  it
off!'
     There  was  a  deathly  hush.  Then  someone  said, 'What do you  mean,
switched it off? What'll become of us  when we've finished the  cigars we're
smoking?'
     'What'll  become of us?' shouted someone else. 'You know that perfectly
well. This is disastrous, gentlemen!'
     They all began to shout at once. 'Hora's planning to destroy us!' - 'We
must lift the siege at once!'  - 'We  must  try to  reach the time store!' -
'Without our  cars?  We'll never make it in time!' - 'My cigar won't last me
more than twenty-seven minutes!'  - 'Mine will last me forty-eight!' - 'Give
it to me, then!' - 'Are you crazy? It's every man for himself!'
     There was a concerted rush for the little  door. From her hiding place,
Momo saw panic-stricken grey figures trying to squeeze through it, jostling,
scuffling  and swapping punches in a desperate  attempt  to  save their grey
lives. The rush  became a violent melee  as they knocked each  other's  hats
off, wrestled with each other, snatched the cigars from each other's mouths.
And whenever  they lost  their cigars, they  seemed  to lose  every ounce of
strength as well. They stood
     221


     there   with  their  arms  outstretched  and  a  plaintive,   terrified
expression  on  their  faces,  growing more  and more transparent until they
finally vanished. Nothing remained of them, not even their hats.
     In the end, only three  men  in grey were left. They ducked through the
little door, one after the other, and scuttled off down the passage.
     Momo, with Cassiopeia under one arm and her free hand tightly clutching
the  hour-lily, ran  after them.  All now depended  on her  keeping  them in
sight.
     She saw, when she  emerged from the front door,  that  they had already
reached the  mouth of  Never  Lane.  More smoke-wreathed men  in  grey  were
standing there, talking and gesticulating excitedly. As soon  as they caught
sight of the three fugitives  from  Nowhere House, they started running too.
Others joined  in the stampede, and soon  the  whole  army had taken  to its
heels.  'More haste  less speed' no longer applied, of course, now that time
was at a standstill. An endless column of grey figures streamed  towards the
city through the strange, dreamlike district  with its snow-white houses and
oddly assorted shadows, past the  monument resembling an egg, until it  came
to the grey, shabby tenements  inhabited by people who  lived on the edge of
time. Here too, though, everything was still and silent.
     What followed was a  chase in reverse - a chase in which countless grey
figures were  pursued through the city, at  a discreet  distance behind  the
last of the stragglers, by a girl  with a flower  in her hand and a tortoise
under her arm.
     But how strange the city looked  now!  Long lines  of  cars choked  the
streets with the fumes from their exhausts solidified, and behind each wheel
sat a motionless  driver, one hand frozen on horn or gear  lever.  Momo even
caught  sight of  one driver  who had been immobilized while  glaring at his
neigh-
     222


     hour and meamngtully tapping his forehead. Cyclists were poised at road
junctions with their arms extended, signalling right or left, and the people
thronging the pavements resembled waxwork figures.
     Traffic policemen stood at crossroads, whistles in their mouths, caught
in the act of waving the  traffic on. A  flock of pigeons hovered motionless
above  a  square, and  high overhead,  as though painted on  the sky, was an
equally motionless  aeroplane. The water  in the fountains  might  have been
ice,  leaves falling from trees were suspended  in mid-air,  and  one little
dog, which was cocking its leg against a lamp-post, looked as if it had been
stuffed that way.
     Lifeless as  a photograph, the city rang to  the  hurrying footsteps of
the men in grey. Momo  followed  them cautiously, fearful of  being spotted,
but she needn't have  worried. Their headlong flight was  proving so arduous
and exhausting that they had ceased to notice anything any more.
     Unaccustomed to running so  far and so fast, they panted and gasped for
breath, grimly clenching their  teeth  on the  little grey cigars that  kept
them in  existence. More than  one of them  let his cigar fall while running
and vanished into thin air before he could retrieve it.
     But their  companions in misfortune represented an even greater threat.
Such was the desperation of those whose own cigars were almost finished that
many  of them snatched  the butts from  their neighbours' mouths,  so  their
numbers slowly but steadily dwindled.
     Those who still had a small store of  cigars in  their briefcases  were
careful  to conceal them from the others, because the have-nots kept hurling
themselves at the haves and  trying to wrest their precious possessions from
them.  Scores of struggling figures engaged in ferocious tussles, scrabbling
and clawing with such wild  abandon that most of  the coveted cigars spilled
on to the road and were trampled underfoot.
     223


     The  men in  grey  had  become so frightened  of  extinction that  they
completely lost their heads.
     There  was  something  else that caused them  increasing difficulty the
further into town they got. The streets  were so crowded at many points that
it  was  all  they  could  do  to  thread  their  way through  the forest of
motionless  pedestrians. Momo, being small  and thin, had an easier time  of
it, but even she had to watch her  step. You could  hurt yourself badly on a
feather suspended in mid-air if you ran into it by mistake.
     On and on they went, and Momo still had no idea how much further it was
to the time store. She  peered  anxiously  at her hour-lily, but it had only
just come into full flower. There was no need to worry yet.
     Then something happened that temporarily drove every other thought from
her mind. Glancing down a side street, she caught sight of Beppo!
     'Beppo!' she called, beside herself with joy, as  she  ran towards him.
'I've been looking  for you everywhere. Where have  you  been all this time?
Why did you never come to see me? Oh, Beppo, dearest Beppo!'
     Still ck'tching  Cassiopeia, she flung her free arm around  his neck --
and promptly bounced off,  because he might have  been made of cast iron. It
was  such  a painful collision that tears  sprang to  her  eyes. She stepped
back, sobbing, and gazed at him.
     The  little old man looked more bent-backed than  ever. His kindly face
was thin  and  gaunt and very  pale,  and  his chin was  frosted with  white
stubble because  he  so  seldom found the time  to shave nowadays. Incessant
sweeping had worn away his  broom until the bristles were little longer than
his  beard. There  he stood, as  motionless as everyone and everything else,
staring down at the dirty street through his steel-rimmed spectacles.
     Momo had found him at last, but only now, when she couldn't get him  to
notice her and it might be the very last
     224


     time she saw  him. If things went wrong, old  Beppo  would continue  to
stand there forever more.
     Cassiopeia started fidgeting again. 'KEEP GOING!' she spelled out.
     Momo dashed back to the main street and stopped dead. There were no men
in grey to be seen! She ran on  a little way, but it was no use,  she'd lost
track  of  them.  She  halted  again,  wondering  what  to  do,  and  looked
inquiringly at Cassiopeia.
     'KEEP GOING,' the tortoise signaled again, then:
     YOU'LL FIND THEM.'
     If Cassiopeia knew in advance that she would find the time-thieves, she
would  find them whichever way she  went. Any direction was  bound to be the
right one,  so  she simply  ran on, turning left or  right as the fancy took
her.
     She  had now reached  the  housing development  on  the city's northern
outskirts,  where the  buildings were  as alike  as peas  in  a pod  and the
streets ran dead  straight from  horizon to  horizon. On and on she ran, but
the sheer sameness of the buildings and streets soon made her feel as if she
were running on the spot and getting nowhere.  The housing development was a
veritable  maze,  but  a  maze  that  deceived  one  by its  regularity  and
uniformity.
     Momo  had almost lost  hope  when  she  caught sight  of a  man in grey
disappearing around a corner. He was limping ..long with his suit in tatters
and  his bowler  hat  and  briefcase  gone,  mouth grimly  pursed around the
smouldering butt of a little grey cigar.
     She followed him along a street flanked by endless rows of houses until
they came to a gap. The big rectangular site where the missing house  should
have stood was boarded up, and set  in the fence  was a gate. The gate was a
little ajar, and the last grey straggler squeezed quickly through it.
     There was a notice above the gate. Momo paused to read it.
     225


     DANGER!
     KEEP OUT!
     NO UNAUTHORIZED
     PERSONS ADMITTED



     An End and a Beginning



     Momo  took  several  seconds  to  decipher  the  longer  words  on  the
noticeboard, and  by the  time she slipped through the gate  the last of the
men in grey had disappeared.
     In front of her yawned a gigantic pit, eighty or ninety feet deep, with
bulldozers and excavators around it. Several trucks had stopped mid way down
the  ramp that led to  the bottom of the pit and  construction workers  were
standing motionless all over the place, frozen in a variety of positions.
     Where  to now? There was no  sign of the man in the grey and no clue as
to where he might have gone. Cassiopeia  seemed equally at a loss. Her shell
did not light up.
     Momo made her way down  the ramp to the  bottom  of  the pit and looked
around.  Suddenly she saw a familiar face. It was  Salvatore, the bricklayer
who had painted the pretty flower picture on the wall of her room. He was as
motionless  as  all the rest, but something about his  pose made Momo  think
twice. He was cupping his mouth as though calling to someone and pointing to
the rim of a huge  pipe jutting  from the  ground beside him, almost  as  if
drawing Memo's attention to it.
     Momo  wasted no time.  Taking this as a good omen,  she hurried over to
the  pipe  and climbed inside. She lost  her footing almost at once, because
the pipe sloped downwards at a steep  angle, twisting and turning so sharply
that  she slithered back  and forth like a child  on  a  helter-skelter. She
could see  and hear  almost  nothing  as she  hurtled  ever deeper into  the
ground, sometimes sliding on her bottom, sometimes
     227


     rolling head over heels, but never  letting go of the tortoise and  the
hour-lily.
     The deeper she  went, the colder it became. She began to wonder how she
would  ever get out  again, but before she could  give the problem  any real
thought the pipe abruptly ended in an underground passage. It wasn't as dark
here. The tunnel was bathed in a grey twilight that seemed to ooze from  its
very walls. Momo scrambled up  and ran on. Her bare  feet made no sound, but
she could hear  footsteps ahead of  her. Guessing that  they belonged to the
men in grey,  she  allowed  herself to be guided  by them. To  judge by  the
innumerable passages  leading off  her  own  in all directions, she was in a
maze of tunnels that ran the full extent of the housing development.
     Then  she heard a  babble  of  voices. Having traced  the hubbub to its
source, she cautiously peeped around the corner.
     She found  herself  looking  at  a room as vast as the conference table
that ran down the middle of it, and at this table, in two long rows, sat the
surviving  men  in  grey. Momo almost  felt sorry for  them, they  looked so
woebegone. Their suits were torn, their bald grey heads cut and bruised, and
their faces convulsed with fear, but their cigars were still smouldering.
     Embedded in the wall at the far end of the  room, Momo saw a huge steel
door. The door was ajar, and  an icy draught was streaming from whatever lay
beyond. Although Momo knew  it would  do little good, she  burrowed down and
tucked her bare feet under her skirt.
     A  man in grey was presiding  at the head of the conference table, just
in front of the  strong-room  door. 'We must economize,' Momo heard him say.
'Our reserves must be carefully husbanded. After all, we don't know how long
they'll have to last us.'
     'There's only a handful of  us  left,' cried  someone. 'They'll last us
for years.'
     228


     'The sooner we start economizing,'  the chairman went on imperturbably,
'the longer we'll hold out. I don't have to tell you, gentlemen, what I mean
by economizing. It will be quite sufficient if only some of us survive  this
disaster. Let's face facts. As  things stand now, there are far too many  of
us.  Common sense dictates that our ranks be drastically thinned. May  I ask
you to call out numbers in turn?'
     When  the  men in grey had called out numbers, all round the table, the
chairman produced a coin from  his pocket. 'I  shall  now toss up,' he said.
'Heads mean the even numbers survive, tails the odd numbers.' He flipped the
coin and caught it.
     'Heads,' he announced. 'Even numbers may remain seated, odd numbers are
requested to dissolve forthwith.'
     The losers emitted a dull groan, but none of them  demurred. As soon as
the winners had relieved them of their cigars, they vanished into thin air.
     The chairman's voice broke the hush. 'And now, gentlemen, kindly do the
same again.'
     The  same gruesome procedure was followed a second  time,  then a third
and a fourth, until only half a dozen men in grey  remained. They sat at the
head of the conference table,  three a side, and glared at each other in icy
silence.
     Momo, who  had watched these  developments with  horrified fascination,
noticed that the temperature rose appreciably  every time another  batch  of
losers disappeared. Compared to what  it had been before, the cold was quite
tolerable.
     'Six,' remarked one of the survivors, 'is an unlucky number.'
     'That's enough,'  said  another.  'There's no  point  in  reducing  our
numbers  still further. If six  of  us can't  survive this disaster, neither
will three.'
     'Not  necessarily,' said someone  else, 'but  we can always  review the
situation if the need arises - later, I mean.'
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     No one spoke for a while. Then another survivor said, 'Lucky for us the
door to the time store was open when disaster struck. If it had been shut at
the crucial moment, no power on earth  could open it now. We'd be absolutely
sunk.'
     'You're not  entirely right, I'm afraid,' replied another. 'Because the
door is open, cold is escaping from the refrigeration plant. The hour-lilies
will slowly thaw out, and you all know what'll happen then. We won't be able
to prevent them from returning to their original owners.'
     'You  mean,'  said  yet  another,  'that  our  own  coldness  won't  be
sufficient to keep them deep-frozen?'
     'There are only  six of us,  unfortunately,'  said  the second speaker.
'You can calculate our freezing capability for yourself. Personally, I  feel
it was rather rash to  cut  down our numbers so drastically. It  hasn't paid
off.'
     'We  had  to opt  for one  course of action or the other,'  snapped the
first speaker, 'and we did, so that's that.'
     Another silence fell.
     'In other words,'  said someone, 'we may have to sit  here for years on
end,  twiddling our thumbs and gawping  at  each other. I find that a dismal
prospect, I must confess.'
     Momo racked  her brains. There was  certainly no  point in  her sitting
there  and  waiting  any  longer.  When  the men  in  grey  were  gone,  the
hour-lilies would thaw  out by themselves, but the men in grey still existed
and would continue  to  exist unless  she  did something about it.  But what
could  she  do, given  that  the door  to the  cold store  was open  and the
time-thieves could help themselves to fresh supplies of cigars whenever they
wanted?
     At that moment, Cassiopeia nudged her in the ribs. Momo looked down and
saw a message on her shell. 'SHUT THF. DOOR,' she read.
     'I can't,' she whispered back. 'I'd never move it.'
     'USE THE FLOWER,' Cassiopeia replied.
     230


     'You mean  I  could  move  it  if  I touched it  with  the  hour-lily?'
whispered Momo.
     'YES, AND YOU WILL,' the tortoise spelled out.
     If Cassiopeia knew this  in advance, it had to  be true. Momo carefully
put the tortoise down. Then she took the hour-lily, which was wilting by now
and had lost most of its petals, and stowed it inside her jacket.
     Going down  on  all fours, she  sneaked  unseen  beneath the conference
table and crawled  to the far end. By the time she was  on a  level with the
time-thieves' six pairs of legs, her heart was pounding fit to burst.
     Very, very gingerly, she took out the hour-lily and,  gripping the stem
between  her  teeth, crawled on.  Still  unobserved by  the men in grey, she
reached the open door, touched it with the hour-lily and simultaneously gave
it a  push.  The well-oiled  hinges  didn't  make a  sound.  The  door swung
silently  to,  then shut with  a mighty clang that  went  echoing around the
conference chamber and  reverberated  from  the  walls  of  the  innumerable
underground passages.
     Momo jumped to her feet.  The men in grey, who hadn't the remotest idea
that  anyone  but themselves was  exempt from the universal  standstill, sat
rooted to their chairs in horror, staring at her.
     Without a second thought, she dashed past them and sprinted back to the
exit. The men in grey recovered from their shock and raced after her.
     'It's that frightful  little girl!' she heard  one of them shout. 'It's
Momo!'
     'Impossible!' yelled  another. 'The  creature's  moving!' 'She's got an
hour-lily!'  bellowed  a  third. Is that  how  she moved the  door?' asked a
fourth.  The fifth  smote his brow. 'Then we could have moved  it ourselves.
We've got plenty of hour-lilies.'
     'We did have, you mean!' screamed the sixth. 'Only one
     231


     thing  can save  us  now that the door's shut.  If we don't get hold of
that flower of hers, we're done for!'
     Meanwhile,  Momo had already disappeared into the  maze of tunnels. The
men in grey knew their way around better, of course, but she just managed to
elude them by zigzagging to and fro.
     Cassiopeia played her own special pan in this chase. Although she could
only crawl, she always knew  in advance where Momo's pursuers would go next,
so she got there  in good time and stationed  herself in their path. The men
in grey tripped over  her and  went  sprawling, and  the ones behind tripped
over them and went  sprawling too, with the result that  she more than  once
saved Momo from almost certain capture. Although  she herself was often sent
hurtling  against  walls  by  flying  feet,  nothing could  deter  her  from
continuing to do what she knew in advance she would do.
     As the chase proceeded, several  of the pursuing men in grey  became so
maddened by their craving for the hour-lily that they  dropped  their cigars
and vanished  into thin air, one after the  other. In the end, only two were
left.
     Momo doubled back and took  refuge in the  conference chamber.  The two
surviving  time-thieves chased her around the table but failed to catch her,
so they split up  and ran in opposite directions. Momo was trapped  at last.
She  cowered  in  a  corner  and  gazed at her pursuers  in terror with  the
hour-lily clasped to her chest. All  but three of its shimmering  petals had
withered and fallen.
     The foremost man in grey was just  about to snatch the flower  when the
other one yanked him away.
     'No,' he shrieked, 'that flower's mine! Mine, I tell you!'
     They grappled with each  other, and in the  ensuing scrimmage the first
man knocked the second man's cigar out of his mouth. With a weird groan, the
second man spun around, went transparent and vanished.
     The last of the men in grey advanced on Momo with a
     232


     minuscule cigar butt smouldering in the corner of his mouth.
     'Give it here!' he gasped, but  as he did so  the butt fell out  of his
mouth and rolled away under the table.  He flung  himself to the ground  and
groped  for it, but it eluded  his outstretched fingers.  Turning his  ashen
face  towards  Momo,  he  struggled into  a sitting position and  raised one
trembling hand.
     'Please,'  he  whispered  faintly,  'please, dear  child, give  me  the
flower.'
     Momo,  still  cowering in her  corner,  couldn't get  a word  out.  She
clasped the flower still tighter and shook her head.
     The last of  the men  in grey nodded slowly. 'I'm glad,'  he  murmured.
'I'm glad ... it's all ... over ...' Then he vanished, too.
     Momo was staring dazedly at the place where he had been when Cassiopeia
crawled into view. 'YOU'LL OPEN THE DOOR,' her shell announced.
     Momo went over  to the door, touched  it with her  hour-lily, which had
only one last petal left, and opened it wide.
     The  time  store  was  cold  no  longer,  now  that  the  last  of  the
time-thieves had gone.  Momo  marvelled at the  contents of the  huge vault.
Innumerable hour-lilies were arrayed  on  its  endless  shelves like crystal
goblets, no two  alike and each more beautiful  than the  other. Hundreds of
thousands, indeed, millions of  hours  were  stored here, all of them stolen
from people's lives.
     The  temperature  steadily  rose  until  the vault  was  as  hot  as  a
greenhouse. Just as  the last petal  of Momo's  hour-lily  fluttered  to the
ground, all the  other  flowers left  their  shelves in clouds  and  swirled
around  her head.  It was like a warm spring storm, bur  a storm made  up of
time released from captivity.
     As if  in a  dream, Momo looked around and saw Cassiopeia on the ground
beside her.  The glowing  letters  on her shell read:  'FLY HOME,  MOMO, FLY
HOME!' That was the last Momo ever saw of Cassiopeia, because
     233


     the tempest of flowers rose to an indescribable pitch. And as it gained
strength,  so Momo  was lifted off her  feet  and borne  away like  a flower
herself, along  the dark passages,  out into the open air and high above the
city. Soaring  over the roofs in  a cloud of flowers  that grew bigger every
moment,  she  was wafted up  and down and  around  and  around  like someone
performing a triumphal dance to glorious music.
     Then  the cloud of flowers drifted slowly, lazily down and  landed like
snowflakes  on  the  frozen face of  the  earth. And, like snowflakes,  they
gently dissolved and became invisible as they returned to their true home in
the hearts of mankind.
     In that same moment, time began again and everything awoke to new life.
The cars drove  on, the traffic  police  blew their  whistles,  the  pigeons
continued circling, and the little  dog made a puddle against the lamp-post.
Nobody noticed that  time  had stood  still for an hour, because nothing had
moved in the interval. It was all over in the twinkling of an eye.
     Nothing  had moved - no,  but something had changed. All of  a  sudden,
people  found  they  had  plenty of time  to  spare.  They  were  delighted,
naturally,  but  they never  realized that  it was  their own time that  had
miraculously been restored to them.
     When Momo came to her senses again, she found herself back in  the side
street  where she had last seen Beppo. Sure enough, there he was, leaning on
his broom with his back to her, gazing ruminatively into the distance  as he
used to in the old days. He wasn't in a hurry any more, and for some unknown
reason he felt brighter and more hopeful.
     'I wonder,' he thought. 'Maybe I've already saved the  hundred thousand
hours I need to ransom Momo.'
     At that moment, someone tugged at  his jacket and he turned to see Momo
smiling up at him as large as life.
     There are no words to describe the joy of that reunion.
     234


     Beppo and Momo laughed and  cried by turns, and they both kept  talking
at once -  talking all  kinds  of nonsense, too, as  people  do when they're
dazed with delight.  They hugged each other again and again,  and passers-by
paused to share in their happiness, their  tears and laughter,  because they
all had plenty of time to spare.
     At long last,  Beppo shouldered his broom - he took the rest of the day
off, of course - and the two of them strolled arm in arm through the city to
the old amphitheatre, still talking nineteen to the dozen.
     It was a  long time since the city had witnessed  such scenes. Children
played in the middle of the street, getting in the way of cars whose drivers
not  only watched and  waited, smiling  broadly,  but sometimes  got out and
joined in their games. People stood around chatting with the friendliness of
those who  take a  genuine  interest  in  their  neighbours'  welfare. Other
people,  on their way to work, had time to stop and admire the  flowers in a
window-box  or feed the birds. Doctors,  too,  had time to devote themselves
properly to their patients, and  workers  of all kinds did  their jobs  with
pride and loving care, now that they were no longer expected to turn out  as
much work as possible in the shortest possible time. They could take as much
time as they needed and  wanted, because  from  now on there was enough time
for everyone.
     Many people never discovered whom  they had to thank for all this, just
as they never knew what had actually happened during the hour that passed in
a flash. Few of them would have believed the story anyway.
     The  only ones that knew and  believed it were  Memo's  friends. By the
time Momo and Beppo reached the amphitheatre, they were  all there  waiting:
Guido, Paolo, Massimo, Franco, Maria and her little sister Rosa, Claudio and
a host of other children, Nino the innkeeper and his plump wife  Liliana and
their  baby, Salvatore the bricklayer, and all of Memo's regular visitors in
days gone by.
     235


     The  celebration that followed, which was as  merry and joyous as  only
Momo's friends could have made it, went on till the stars came out. And when
all  the cheers and hugs and handshakes  and  excited chatter  had subsided,
everyone sat down on the grass-grown steps.
     A great hush fell as Momo stepped out into the middle of the arena. She
thought of the music of the stars and the hour-lilies, and then, in a sweet,
pure voice, she began to sing.
     Meanwhile, in Nowhere House, the  return  of time  had roused Professor
Нога from his first sleep ever. Still very pale, he looked as if he had just
recovered from  a serious  illness, but his  eyes sparkled and there  was  a
smile on his lips  as he watched Momo and her friends through his omnivision
glasses.
     Then he  felt something touch  his  foot.  Taking  off his glasses,  he
looked down and saw Cassiopeia sitting there.
     'Cassiopeia,' he said, tickling her affectionately under the chin, 'the
two of you did a  fine job. I couldn't watch you, for once, so you must tell
me all about it.'
     'LATER,' the tortoise signalled. Then she sneezed.
     The professor looked concerned. 'You haven't caught cold, have you?'
     'YOU BET I HAVE!' replied Cassiopeia.
     'You must have gone  too close to the men in grey,' said the professor.
'I expect you're very  tired, too. We can talk later. Better go off and have
a good sleep first.'
     'THANKS,' came the answer.
     Cassiopeia limped off  and picked  herself a nice,  dark, quiet corner.
She tucked her head and legs in, and very slowly, in letters visible only to
those who have read this story, her shell spelled out two words:
     THE END


     AUTHOR'S POSTSCRIPT

     Many of my  readers may  have questions they'd like to  ask. If so, I'm
afraid I can't help  them. The fact is, I wrote this story down from memory,
just as it was  told  me.  I never met Momo or any  of her friends, nor do I
know what became of them  or how they are today. As for  the city where they
lived, I can only guess which one it was. The most I can tell you is this.
     One night in a train,  while I was on a long journey (as I still am), I
found myself sitting opposite a remarkable fellow passenger -- remarkable in
that I found it quite impossible to tell his age. At first I put him down as
an  old  man, but  I soon  saw  that I must have been  mistaken,  because he
suddenly seemed very young - though that impression, too,  soon proved to be
false.
     At any  rate, it was he who told me the story  during our  long night's
journey together.
     Neither of  us  spoke for some moments after he had finished.  Then  my
mysterious  acquaintance made a remark which I feel  bound to put on record.
'I've described all these events,' he  said, 'as if they'd already happened.
I might just as well have described them as if they still lay in the future.
To me, there's very little difference.'
     He must have  left the train at  the  next  station, because  I noticed
after a while that I was alone.
     I've never bumped into him again, unfortunately. If by any chance I do,
though, I shall have plenty of questions to ask him myself.


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