It leapt over the country in great stone arches. It was empty now, with the wind blowing
in its sluices; it took a year to build, from the land in the North to the land in the South.
'Soon,' said mothers to their children, 'soon now the Aqueduct will be finished. Then they will
open the gates a thousand miles North and cool water will flow to us, for our crops, our
flowers, our baths, and our tables.'
The children watched the Aqueduct being built stone on solid stone. It towered thirty feet
in the sky, with great gargoyle spouts every hundred yards which would drop tiny streams
down into yard reservoirs.
In the North there was not only one country, but two. They had rattled their sabers and clashed their
shields for many years.
Now in the Year of the Finishing of the Aqueduct, the two Northern countries shot a million arrows
at each other and raised a million shields, like numerous suns, flashing. There was a cry like
an ocean on a distant shore.
At the year's end the Aqueduct stood finished. The people of the hot South, waiting, asked, 'When
will the water come? With war in the North, will we starve for water, will our crops die?'
A courier came racing. 'The war is terrible,' he said. 'There is a slaughtering that is
unbelievable. More than one hundred million people have been slain.'
'They disagreed, those two Northern countries.'
'That's all we know. They disagree.'
The people gathered all along the stone Aqueduct. Messengers ran along the empty sluiceways
with yellow streamers, crying, 'Bring vases and bowls, ready your fields and plows, open
your baths, fetch water glasses!'
A thousand miles of filling Aqueduct and the slap of naked courier feet in the channel,
running ahead. The people gathered by the tens of millions from the boiling countryside,
the sluiceways open, waiting, their crocks, urns, jugs, held towards the gargoyle spouts
where the wind whistled emptily.
'It's coming!' The word passed from person to person down the one thousand miles.
And from a great distance, there was the sound of rushing and running, the sound that liquid makes
in a stone channel. It flowed slowly at first and then faster, and then very fast down into
the Southern land, under the hot sun.
'It's here! Any second now. Listen!' said the people. They raised their glasses into the air.
Liquid poured from the sluiceways down the land, out of gargoyle mouths, into the stone baths,
into the glasses, into the fields. The fields were made rich for the harvest. People bathed.
There was a singing you could hear from one field to one town to another.
'But, Mother!' A child held up his glass and shook it, the liquid whirled slowly. 'This isn't water!'
'Hush!' said the mother.
'It's red,' said the child. 'And it's thick.'
'Here is the soap, wash yourself, don't ask questions, shut up,' she said. 'Hurry into the field,
open the sluicegates, plant the rice!'
In the fields, the father and his two sons laughed into one another's faces.
'If this keeps up, we've a great life ahead. A full silo and a clean body.'
'Don't worry,' said the two sons. 'The President is sending a representative North to make
certain that the two countries there continue to disagree.'
'Who knows, it might be a fifty-year war!'
They sang and smiled.
And at night they all lay happily, listening to the good sound of the Aqueduct, full
and rich, like a river, rushing through their land towards the morning.
1. Sum up the plot of the story in your own words.
2. Compare the children's and the adults' behaviour towards the arrival of the liquid and the events in the North.
What general ideas might be represented by the two groups?
3. It has been suggested that this story is a parable in which the author tells the story of a
particular event in order to make a general statement about human behaviour:
What general statement might this be and what concrete political situation might the author
4. Identify the figurative language employed in the text and explain its function as to
the author's ideas.