Families with daughters subject to the lottery were no less festally disposed than others. And in the girls who might fall a victim no trace of fear or depression ever showed either. They were so many, the chance of being picked by lot looked negligible and hardly counted against the pleasures in store.
Actually, it was a lottery with one single blank.
And even if you became the chosen one, at any rate, you still had a week in which the whole community's attentions would focus on only you and it would end in a show of your own sacrifice with its excess of suspense. Suspense already had mingled with lust to such degree that, somehow, terror gave way to temptation.
A motion, to surcharge stands and seats to the benefit of bereaved families, a kind of blood money, therefore, was turned down haughtily by all families combined.
After registrations had been completed, computations proved that this weekly sacrifice would hardly burden the population. The birthrate needed to be raised only slightly to compensate for the loss.
But let’s not mar this story by extensive descriptions of what to this nation, then, meant its greatest amusement, the highlights of life.
How was the dragon doing?
It manifested itself as a perfect mime, went the whole way, exploited every opportunity it was offered by the varying behaviour of its victims. It demonstrated its mastery by the way it knew, even in this macabre game, this awkward poise on the edge between caress and laceration, how to draw on humour, how, sometimes by the subtlest of gestures, to make the spectators roar with laughter.
Besides, time and again, it showed a perfect feeling for when the audience started to grow impatient and found it should now indeed come to business.
And what with the girls?
For a whole week they deported themselves as prima donnas. They could take their pick from the most precious of clothes, the finest of delicacies and wherever they came they were held in high esteem.
One of them got an idea of a game of ‘dragon’ by way of rehearsal. A good friend of hers was ‘dragon’. It didn’t take long for this game to come into vogue. Soon, men took up the dragon part as well. In those cases, endings became genuinely erotic. People of all ages could hardly wait to play along.
Usually, the week induced into them such a daze of wellbeing that they entered the arena still in its thrall.
And the relatives?
Those felt entitled to partake in the prima-donna status of their daughter or sister and reluctant to spoil her finest hour they, too, rendered themselves up to the daze, more or less.
Even so, an outburst of grief now and then, on the grandstand mostly, in plain sight of everyone.
And the fiancés?
They were proud all week and on the grandstand they fell, willy-nilly, into so ardent a state of excitement that most of the time they were unable to contain it.
English translation by Ronald Langereis © 2012 - 2013
from the Dutch, "Sint Joris" by Belcampo, 1983