The Tree of Knowledge



A short stream of consciousness based on the novel The Road to London


Foreword: in the Chapter ‘Le Rouge et le Noir’ of the novel The Road to London, the unnamed protagonist, a boy who is struggling with his sexuality, has an epiphany during a Latin class. This short story is not in the novel, but gives the alternative perspective on the event, this time, from the Teacher’s point of view, as a stream of consciousness.


Forth reaching to the Fruit, she pluck'd; she eat:

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat

Sighing through all her Works gave signs of woe,

That all was lost. [i]

My voice sweeps softly amongst their eyes and ears and souls; the Chinese whispers of their suckling minds are sweet to me like spread-out leaves to sting and fill with light .

Twenty-six faces staring at me, needy, eager, expectant. Bugger the syllabus today! These brains deserve much more than dip their toes in the gelid waters of specifications and assessment objectives. What for then? Stuff them like turkeys at Christmas to then shove them in the microwave of dusty boards? Quick digestion without consummation. This is not what my species is for. Educo; I lead out.

The leaves are fresh with summer's warmth; they flicker in the breeze that moves the world with questions never asked, they shiver into his green eyes, flash, then rest, awaiting answers far too dark for the Sun to see. But I do; oh yes, I do see the light where light is none. I do; oh yes, I do. That is the curse of those like me; the curse of knowledge and its doom.

Because I have been there before, when answers moulded questions out of dust. I have been, and am, there before; when the ending conceived the beginning, I, a snake biting my own tail!

Out of the twenty-six, the one with the crosses, why does he wear them? That is my question for today's lesson. That, he will answer if I do my job as I was set in the beginning.

And what an eventful weekend was it! If only they knew... Why, then, myself and the man, no strings attached, just pure exploration in a labyrinth of mirrors: the sole reflection worth the searching not within me, not within him, but in the reflection itself, in cosy drops of sweat hanging like pearls on the brow of the mirror, there the colours fall asleep and pure, unadulterated light cannot hide in the scorching heat of the desert Sun. There, there, there.

There we can hear the sighs of their minds as they breathe through the grass, the fresh aroma of blades still uncut, of nettles, spearmint and of thyme, like Odysseus rising from the slumber of mankind, to kiss the smell of light awash on beaten ashes in the river, the lady harbinger of past, forgotten loves, an angel stepping softly on the lawn of his own hungry mind, the famished dust of human why's scattered to the waves of the raging ocean loses its own bearings, sinks, and joins the million broken shells on the sea floor.

Latin it is then: the alpha and omega of human knowledge. The scorn of my classmates who went on to become successful lawyers, architects, engineers and line their pockets with fools' gold; whilst I chose a less shimmering path, and became a lawyer of the mind, an architect of souls, the engineer of knowledge. How loud their laughter still echoes in my days, when I can't see my name in print on plaques, memorial scribbles and park benches. How sweet the giggling of my voice when they will read my name forever etched inside the hearts of these young souls! Their names may need reminding with riveted strips of rusty iron in park corners, mine lives forever in the trees that let the light reveal them, if they wish.

And the one with the crosses and the green eyes: his feet like stumps of roots bleeding with thirst and nailed to the wood, two snakes grow into one and climb the cursed frame to part again in branches hugging the sky like strings of a violin lost in sorrow, not embracing yet, but begging, begging to give his lymph to the world, through spikes that drive the resin to the fingered leaves.


Thou dost not know the Bride of Life who stole

The secret from my womb, my son, of mankind’s

Loss and drying seas we spill the souls

That thirst perspires and of the world the guise

Acquires in wise man and the helpless breath that fresh

Forgets the heaving heart that bleeds the Sun

And gives in birth what’s to be done.

Κύρίε έλεησον, Κύρίε έλεησον, Κύρίε έλεησον.


And so I speak to steal their innocence; all sighs stop and silence fills the seas, the stars, the Sun: 'amor and amicus have the same root.' The whispers of old summers, spent like ashes to be swept away in forgetful storms, like gossamer of silk embrace, cocoon, and sting the soul. The nights I spent in religious worship, locked in the grey cell, I, a chrysalis with no direction waiting for matins to numb my soul in chants, saw bursting into flames with fire eternal, now echo in the monastery’s chapel of my mind louder than the bells of dogma. I never did, no, never. It’s thoughts that damned me, took me away from the safe, accommodating lawns of the high garden, Παράδεισος devoid of time, devoid of questions, devoid of knowledge. Why did You choose me? Why me, of all Your messengers to bring the dire news of Your mistake to You? It’s not what happens, not what follows, nor what’s before; it is the thought that seals the movements into a spider’s web. And I was chosen, chosen through my sin to put the question. I asked, I begged, I sought, ‘If I could know Your heart,’[ii]    the universe stood still, frozen, broken, mauled.

I now know, and in my knowing life anew is born, but I have died, and die eternal death for You. Yet, cannot cease to exist. I kissed the other lips, and found the dark reflection. My light is now no longer Yours, I shine, I breathe I bear my own creation to the cosmos and the world of Your perfection. This is too daring, yes, but You created life, and cannot stop it now.  I breed with words, and thus I am the word, in the beginning, and yes, I prize my sin above my innocence. My pulpit lies on every tree, on every branch, on every leaf; I am the lymph that saves the leaves from Your dry, bright and scorching rays. And every time you send the waves of light to arise in winds and storms and thunder wild, to shake the green hands from their arms I hold, I feed, I perpetrate my words. I have now chosen my own leaf; You cannot stop me now. Thunder plucks the seething air; dark clouds of rain and hail with fire strike the sleeping soil; he plucks, he eats, earth feels the wound. 'The lesson's over. Amen.'


Adriano Bulla, 2013


Dedicated to Professor Angelo Lattuada, my Latin Teacher.


[i] John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book VIII, ll. 781-784.

[ii] Madonna, ‘Frozen’ from Ray of Light, 1998.


The Road to London

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