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Balaam 287

Balaam

“What is a ‘man’ ?” Rabbi Chaim Acosta demanded, turning his back on the window

and its view of pink sand and infinite pink boredom. “You and I, Mule, in our

respective ways, work for the salvation of man—as you put it, for the brotherhood

of men under the fatherhood of God. Very well, let us define our terms: Whom, or

more precisely what, are we interested in saving?”

Father Aloysius Malloy shifted uncomfortably and reluctantly closed the American

Football Yearbook which had been smuggled in on the last rocket, against all weight

regulations, by one of his communicants. I honestly like Chaim, he thought, not

merely (or is that the right word?) with brotherly love, nor even out of the deep

gratitude I owe him, but with special individual liking; and I respect him. He’s a

brilliant man—too brilliant to take a dull post like this in his stride. But he will get

off into discussions which are much too much like what one of my Jesuit professors

called “disputations.”

“What did you say, Chaim?” he asked.

The rabbi’s black Sephardic eyes sparkled. “You know very well what I said, Mule;

and you’re stalling for time. Please indulge me. Our religious duties here are not so

arduous as we might wish; and since you won’t play chess …”

“… and you,” said Father Malloy unexpectedly, “refuse to take any interest in

diagraming football plays …”

“Touché. Or am I? Is it my fault that as an Israeli I fail to share the peculiar

American delusion that football means something other than rugby and soccer?

Whereas chess—” He looked at the priest reproachfully. “Mule,” he said, “you have

led me into a digression.”

“It was a try. Like the time the whole Southern California line thought I had the

ball for once and Leliwa walked over for the winning TD.”

“What,” Acosta repeated, “is man? Is it by definition a member of the genus H.

sapiens inhabiting the planet Sol III and its colonies?”

“The next time we tried the play,” said Malloy resignedly, “Leliwa was smeared

for a ten-yard loss.”

The two men met on the sands of Mars. It was an unexpected meeting, a meeting

in itself uneventful, and yet one of the turning points in the history of men and

their universe.

287

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