A follow-up to the acclaimed 2008 collection Evidence, Ian Colford's Witness offers readers a deeper look into the struggles of Kostandin Bitri, a refugee whose traumatic adolescence and solitary lifestyle have taught him to embrace the role of observer.
About the author
Ian Colford is a fiction writer living in Halifax, Nova Scotia. His stories, reviews, and commentary have appeared in Canadian literary publications from coast to coast and in journals published online. From 1995 to 1998 he was editor of the literary journal Pottersfield Portfolio, and from 1994 to 2000 served on the executive board of the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. In 1998 he selected and edited a collection of stories by Maritime writers called Water Studies. Written over eight years, The Crimes of Hector Tomás was completed in 2010 with the help of two Canada Council grants and residencies at the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers and Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York. Evidence, his first collection of short fiction, was published in 2008 by Porcupine’s Quill.
Excerpt: Witness (by (author) Ian Colford)
From "The Orphanage"
He took us outside in the rain. The cobblestones were slick, and it got harder to walk as the rainfall intensified. Rainwater was pooling in the street. We splashed through it with every step. Some of the children slipped and fell, but scrambled quickly to their feet. Nobody wanted to further anger the Proctor, who was angry already and leading the forced march as punishment. Some of the children looked scared. Others were laughing. I didn't know what was going on. I'd arrived a few days earlier and was bewildered by the events that had brought me here. Then there was a hand on my back and I went sprawling, face down on the pavement in a couple of inches of water. Hoots of laughter rang out. I was wet through, completely soaked, cold all the way to my bones. Miraculously other than a scraped palm I hadn't hurt myself. The Proctor, at the front of the group, hadn't seen my tumble. He was yelling and gesturing, but I couldn't hear what he said. While I lay on the ground all I could see were feet moving and water cascading over the cobblestones. I tried to get up but someone stepped on my fingers and someone else kicked me in the ribs. I don't think it was intentional. I raised my head. It was late in the afternoon and late in the year. The clouds were dark and rolled across the sky like they were in a hurry to get somewhere. Water splashed into my face and went up my nose. I burbled and coughed, and a panicky feeling came over me like I was drowning.
Then there was a hand under my arm. I was yanked to my feet, given a push and stumbled on.
I don't think it occurred to me to cry. In only a few days life had turned into a thing so strange that I hardly recognized it as mine. All the changes had left me stunned, baffled. I looked around for my rescuer, but everyone was moving away from me and I was suddenly afraid of being left behind. So I never learned for sure who it was who lifted me up, but I have my suspicions.
We stopped marching in front of a blackened stone building with columns and high windows that I later learned was the public library. Nothing in my village was grand and imposing like this. The Proctor went up the steps to the top and yelled at us. The heavy rain made it difficult to hear but it seemed that someone had stolen bread and jam from the kitchen. Since no one would admit to the theft we were all being punished. He said some things about trust and national honour and living in dangerous times, but I was cold and shaking so hard it felt like my teeth were rattling in my head. I missed most of his speech. We stood in front of the library with the rain falling in torrents while he yelled and pointed. When he was finished he came down the steps to the street and waded through the crowd of children. He passed so close to me I could see his face, the round rain-streaked spectacles that made his eyes look huge like saucers, the deep creases at the corners of his mouth, his fastidiously shaped moustache. He seemed sad rather than angry, like he was in pain. When he reached the far side of the crowd he raised his arm like a maestro signalling his musicians, and the march resumed. We fell into step behind him. Up one street and down another. The rain fell harder, as if to defeat us. The water circled around our feet. I saw a dead crow afloat, its mouth gaping open in a stifled caw, its feathers slick and glistening. A few times I noticed people at the edge of the street holding umbrellas or standing beneath the shelter of shop awnings, watching. There was an old woman in a shapeless woolen coat, a scarf covering her head, her mouth all puckered up. She looked like someone from my village, and for one second my heart leapt. But she turned away and spat on the ground, and I saw that she was a stranger. At that moment I understood that the city and everyone in it was unknown to me. A while later when I raised my head and saw the library again, I realized we were walking in circles. My fingers throbbed. I concentrated on the pain to keep myself from thinking about how wet and cold I was. Then it occurred to me that the Proctor must be just as wet and cold as the rest of us. We trudged on, for how long I don't remember. I was so cold I couldn't feel anything. The children who had been laughing earlier weren't laughing anymore.
[Continued in Witness...]