The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes
Chapters One to Four
Janitor and the Little Girl
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra
lost his father when he was five and his mother when he was twenty.
He had almost no education and there was something wrong with
his neck. His neck muscles contracted on their own, so his head
always twisted at a strange angle. Most people who saw Fritz thought
he looked useless and harmless, if they thought about him at all.
Fritz lived in Rapid
City, South Dakota, but he lived like a bug on the ground. To other
people he didnt exist at all, and if he died nobody would know
about his death except for maybe his neighbor, the cat across the street,
and the mail carrier who always spied on him through the screen door
whenever he came to deliver the mail. His mail, by the way, consisted
of only utility bills, pictures of missing children, and coupons. Every
once in a while he would get a white card with a picture of a missing
kid. He would collect these cards all the time and put them in a large
wooden bin in the kitchen, because he thought one day, he would see
one of the missing kids in the street or in a grocery store, and call
the authorities right away. Fritz never bothered anybodyhe always
tried to live in a dark cloud of his own, where he was safe and things
were quiet and slow and smelled good. Fritz also bit his nails all the
time. He bit his nails like you would drink water. He would bite and
bite until blood beads showed at some corner between the flesh and the
nail. He would wait for his nail to grow just a little and he would
attack his nail again. When he was a kid, his mom put tar on his nail
so that he wouldnt bite them; and long and behold he bit through
the tar. He once broke his left arm when he was about twelve and a half,
and the doctor put a cast around his arm and Fritz couldnt reach
his nails to bite and his nails grew bigger and taller and blacker from
dirt, and he tried to bite them and he couldnt reach out and waited
a month for the cast to be taken out. And when the doctor took off the
cast, Fritz felt like it was Christmas day. It was better than Christmas,
in facts. He plunged on his nails and bit and chewed and the pieces
that came off were big and fat and juicy and he was so delighted. He
kept on chewing and pulling and comparing his both hands and he stopped
only when both hands started to look the same.
Fritz could barely see outside the cloud of darkness he was in, and
he could only see when something sharp poked in to make fun of him.
Neighbors and strangers were the same to Fritz, and the world of society
and education and politics, was a mystery to him. There were wars raging
in the world at the time and he never paid attention to them. He would
only pay attention if the war came up to his house, or if a nuclear
bomb exploded in South Dakota and the atomic wind blew over his house.
Due to the problem with his neck, Fritz never expected to find any job,
certainly not at a school. But for some strange reason, Fritz was hired
as the janitor of Pinedale Elementary School and he was surprised and
happy about this stable, government position.
Fritzs real name was John Wright, but at school the students called
him Fritz. Nobody in Pinedale knew why Fritz was called Fritz and nobody
cared. To teachers and parents, he was just a white invisible man, and
to the children he was a stooge. One day a students mother called
him Fritz, thinking his real name was Fritz, and John Wright screamed,
"My name is not Fritz!"
The sudden violence of Fritzs outburst made the woman almost jump.
After that, she never called him Fritz or got even closer to him.
John Wright was probably called Fritz because of the problem with his
neck. The problem had a nameit was called "torticollis".
Clinical psychologists might explain what torticollis is, but they could
never explain why John Wright had torticollis, or why the torticollis
caused people to call him Fritz.
The muscles of his neck were very tight on one side and loose on the
other, and that made his head cock permanently to one side. Children
found him strange, the way his head was always bent toward one shoulder.
Fritz was as tall as any average adult man, but mentally he wasnt
mature enough to be included in the adult society.
In spite of the torticollis, Fritz kept Pinedale School clean and shining.
A Windex bottle always hung from one pants pocket of his blue uniform.
He knew how to maneuver his cleaning tools and his tools were precious
to him. Unfortunately, Fritz was skinny, so skinny that he always had
to hitch his pants up, and the Windex bottle made it harder to keep
his pants in place.
Fritz was an honest, hard worker and was always mopping the floors inside
the school and sweeping the sidewalks outside. You can consider him
to be a janitor of international stature. All the directionalism of
thought and emotion that man was capable of went into cleaning. Cleaning
to him was like philosophy to Plato and writing to Hemingway, and physics
to Einstein. Sometimes he would sweep the leaves and the wind would
come and blow them back and he would sweep the leaves away again, and
he would keep on sweeping until the wind stopped or shifted its direction.
The way Fritz swept the floor made it easy to anybody to see that something
was wrong with him. He would push down hard on the broom, as if the
floor had a skin and he was trying to peel it off. Sometimes he would
forget where he was sweeping and would sweep the same spot for a long
time. He lived in his own world, in his cloud of darkness, and nobody
was living inside it except him.
With cleanser and a cloth rag, he would clean and clean so that he forget
that he was cleaning until something distracted hima passing car,
a boy calling to a friend, or a crying Canadian goose flying high overhead.
During the school year, any adult who saw Pinedale School wished that
he or she had gone there as a child. The school stood in bright sunlight
half way up the slope of a long hill. Because of its position, all day
the school was bathed in a strong light, so the school shone with a
welcoming aura of warmth, safety, and order.
But in summer the school had a different look. The sun beat even harder
on the brick walls and the window panes. The reflected summer light
from the windows made the school look empty and strange, as if it had
been abandoned and for years no child had attended the school and none
would be returning in the fall.
In the fall and winter and spring, if you climbed the hill in the late
afternoon and looked through the windows, you could see the clean small
chairs and tables set in rows; and on the walls, you could see the pictures
of black bears, smiling tigers, and happy monkeys. Through the hall
windows you could see the small lockers and small coat hangers and shelves
and a coat or a glove or a hat a child had forgotten to take home. You
could look through the glass of the main door and see the lost-and-found
bins full of clothes, lunch boxes, even a backpack, and begin to wonder
what things had been passing through the mind of the child who had forgotten
to take the pack home for the night. You couldnt look into the
bathrooms because the windows were too high, but the small stalls, sinks,
and low mirrors were always spotless and ready for the next day of school.
Fritz lived only a few blocks from the school and he was happy that
he could walk to work. He had a rusted Ford LTD and drove it only when
he wanted to buy groceries or a six-pack of Pepsi or Dr. Pepper at the
nearby Safeway store. He almost never took the car out onto the highway,
because he didnt think it could go fast enough to keep up with
traffic and he was afraid it might break down and leave him stranded.
There was no one for him to call if his car broke down. Fritz only drove
the Ford on the streets near his home and when the car stalled he left
it parked on the street and walked home.
In the mornings before school, Fritz would sometimes pay a visit to
his mothers grave at the Mountain View Graveyard. It was a segregated
cemetery, divided not by race but by religion. The Catholics lay in
one half of the graveyard and the Protestants in the other. A black
steel fence separated the two sections, as if to prevent an angry Protestant
or Catholic ghost from crossing over and starting a war of ghosts.
On the far side of the graveyard, there was a third section, for Civil
War soldiers. There were lots of them and their tombstones were faded
by a 150 years of rain and snow, sun and wind. The dead soldiers were
from South Dakota, or their families had moved to South Dakota during
the war, while their fathers and sons and brothers were fighting in
Virginia or Georgia or some other Southern state. The men and boys had
died in the South and their bodies had been transported to South Dakota
for proper burial. At the time, the deaths of the soldiers had been
a serious monetary blow to South Dakota, because gold hadnt been
discovered yet, South Dakota wasnt a state but still a sparsely
populated territory. The dead combatants might have contributed to the
economy, to building up the new country, if they hadnt gone to
fight their southern brethren.
The Mountain View Graveyard had important stories to tell, but Fritz
never reflected on how the division between Catholics and Protestants
had lasted even into death, or that the patriotic sacrifice of the Union
soldiers had delayed the economic progress of the Dakota Territory.
Fritz probably wasnt certain of the difference between the Christian
sects, and he had learned and remembered very little about the American
Civil War or South Dakotas role in it.
At the cemetery Fritz would crouch down over his mothers grave
"Oh, Ma," he would say in agony. "Forgive me, Ma, for
not giving you all my love. Forgive me, Ma, for not giving you all my
strength, and the time you needed. Oh, Ma. You know that I loved you
more than I loved God. You know that I love you now more than a mother
loves her child."
Every time he would go to the graveyard and talk to his mother, he would
get the feeling that somebody was watching him, or listening to him.
Sometimes he would turn quickly around, but there was always nothing
but the grass, the pine trees, and the faded tombstones. Once he was
sitting on the toilet seat and he felt somebody was watching him and
when he looked down on the floor beside him he saw a very big spider
and he killed it right away even though it was hard to kill it with
his pants down. From that day on when Fritz felt somebody was watching
him he believed that somebody was really watching him.
Fritz would sit on the ground beside her grave, crying to his mother,
until the time would come for him to stop crying. Then he would get
up and walk slowly back to the gate and leave the graveyard. With red
eyes he would slowly climb the hill to Pinedale School.
Each morning he would open the school gate, and if it was winter he
would turn on the lights in the hallway. Then he would go into the boys
restroom and urinate carefully into one of the small urinals.
Fritz followed a regular, daily routine that took him from the maintenance
room to the farthest corners of the school. He would mop the floors
and scrub the toilet seats, then clean the mirrors and the windows with
Windex and the rubber blade. Sometimes he would stop wiping the mirror
and look at his own reflection in the mirror. He would talk to his image
in the mirror and the face would talk back to him as if it were a separate
person. Fritz would forget that he was talking to himself and start
to talk to his reflection as if it were someone from some dark world
of imagination. Then Fritz would get scared of his image and would go
outside to continue with his work.
Fritz would empty the waste baskets and wash the windows and change
the light bulbs and do everything else that needed to be done to keep
the school clean and uptight. Fritz was a slow worker, but he was careful
and steady and every job he was asked to do, he finished completely.
A hard or complex job might take Fritz days to complete, but he never
stopped until the job was done and done well. Fritz had never ignored
or disobeyed an order, no matter what job he was asked to do. His supervisor
knew exactly how much work Fritz could do in one day. Each day Fritz
did the same amount of work, even on those days when he stopped at the
cemetery and came to work with red eyes.
Fritz lived alone inside himself, but he still loved the people outside
his dark cloud. He knew that that they could make fun of him, that they
called him Fritz when his name was John Wright, but didnt know
that people could truly hate him or cause him trouble. He didnt
know that some people in the world hated even Jesus or Moses or Mohamed
or Buddha or Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King or even Mother Theresa.
Fritz didnt know that much about the world, about history or other
people or the bad things they had done and continued to do.
He didnt lie, he didnt steal, he worked hard and always
listened to his boss at Pinedale. Maybe Fritz wasnt smart enough
to trick another person, to make fun, or do someone physical harm. Sometimes,
for a few moments, Fritz might talk to his image in the restroom mirror,
and begin to hear his image talk back, but the rest of the time he was
always serious about his job and his existence and the loss of his mother.
One early morning Fritz came walking in the hallway of Pinedale when
he saw a little girl sitting on the carpeted floor in one of the classrooms.
He froze in his place as he would always do when strange things poked
his bubble of loneliness. He knew something was wrong. He knew the girl
was not supposed to be in class that early time of day. In facts, he
wasnt expecting any kid to be in school that early in the morning.
Kids came to school around 8:30 AM and it was about six oclock
now. Of course, some parents would sometimes drop their kids early in
the morning so they can go off to work in faraway places, but this is
way too early to bring any kid to school. The little girl was about
ten years old and had jet black hair and very white skin. Her pale white
skin contrasted her jet black hair. Fritz could only look at her from
far. But if you somehow got closer to her and saw her round face, you
would see that she had big brown eyes, thin lips, and a very pale face.
She looked like a girl who hadnt seen the sunlight since the day
she was born. She was sitting on the old, brown carpet of the classroom
and was playing with a ragged doll. Her hands were small and white and
her finger nails were almost non-existent. She was wearing a pair of
shiny red shoes, white socks, and a white flapper dress. Around the
collar, it was decorated in very light shades of pearl and iridescent
"Hi," Fritz said softly, afraid to disturb the little girl.
The little girl looked at Fritz like if he didnt exist. She looked
through him instead of at him. He was again the invisible white man.
She went right back to play with her ragged doll, talking to her as
though she was another little girl who was alive. Fritz walked slowly
forward and stood in front of the little girl. Fritz came to the conclusion
that he had probably never seen this girl before.
"What is your name?" Fritz asked, his head cocked to one side.
"Your name is John Wright," the little girl answered, "but
kids call you Fritz."
Fritz eyes popped open. He was awake this morning but this woke
him up even more. He was too shocked to say one word. After a moment
or two he said, "How do you know my real name?"
"Why do I have to answer you?" the little girl said with pride
on her face. "My answers are too expensive for you." She looked
clean and keen and she had very thin lips.
"Can you just at least tell me your name?"
"Not now," the little girl said, and looked down at the doll.
"Why?" Fritz said.
"I wont tell you why," the little girl said, still looking
at the doll. "Why are you a janitor? Arent you smart enough
to be something else, like a theoretical nuclear physicist?"
Fritz needed a moment to think. "I dont know. Stupid, I guess,"
"You are not stupid, you are sick and depressed," the little
girl said firmly. "Stupid people dont say such a thing."
"Can you at least tell me your dolls name?"
"Smiley," the little girl said. She had no problem giving
out the name of the doll.
The doll surely had a smiley face and brown hair and it was made of
"Smiley, huh," Fritz said. Thats all he could say at
"Why do you work as a janitor, Mr. Wright?" the little girl
asked again even though she probably knew why.
Fritz said, "because, because..." but then he realized that
the little girl called him Mr. Wright. Nobody before in his life had
called him Mr. Wright. This was perhaps the first time in his entire
life he had been called Mr. Wright. He was shocked, deeply shocked.
Fritz heard some strange noise in the hallway. He walked back to the
door of the classroom and stuck out his head to look. The strange noise
intensified a little. Fritz walked down the hallway to make out the
strange sound. But when he returned back to the classroom, the little
girl was gone. The classroom was empty and cold.
He looked at the windows and one was open. Fritz looked around in the
classroom. He looked under the desk. He looked out and down through
that open window. The sky was now light blue and a gust of wind came
hard out of a funnel in the hills. He looked behind the door, looked
under the desks, and looked behind some cardboard boxes in the back
of the room. He felt like he lost something precious, something of importance,
felt like he lost a dear friend. It was a strange feeling of loss and
discontent. He now walked into the hallway searching for the little
girl, his eyes full of sorrow.
"Where is she?" he asked himself. "Where did my little
The little girl was gone. Gone like six oclock at seven. She could
not be found. Fritz became very sad when he finally convinced himself
that the little girl was completely gone. One could not imagine how
he became sad for losing a person he had just met. He went to the maintenance
room and lazily pulled out a yellow bucket with wheels and a mop with
a long plastic handle and, thinking about the little girl, pushed them
over as he walked down the hallway. Three wheels turned straight and
one wheel wobbled. He turned around a corner and disappeared and all
you could hear in the hallway now was the turn of the bucket wheels.
Keith Heiss was the meanest, craziest kid at Pinedale Elementary School.
He was mean and looked mean. One could tell he was mean by just shooting
a glance at him. He had blond hair and somehow that blond hair made
him look even meaner. There was a mean aroma around him even when he
smiled and he rarely smiled. He was probably mistreated at home by his
dad or his mom, or maybe his big brother, and that made him displace
all that anger on South Dakota society, including the poor Pinedale
School kids who couldnt defend themselves. Kids around him would
act like him just to fit in. Kids that didnt act like him were
disliked by him. Kids that didnt obey him got smacked by him.
He was twelve but he had the body of a kid who is sixteen going on seventeen.
He had regular biceps but to kids at Pinedale, they were as big as gorilla
biceps. He never brought his lunch to school because he would just cadge
it from the small kids. One kid would give him a sandwich, a second
would give him milk, a third would give him a granola bar, and there
goes his lunch. Sometimes he would ask a kid for a piece of lunch and
if the kid said no, he would bonk the kid and take the entire lunch.
Kids couldnt report him to the grownups because they knew of the
consequences it would bring. He would always find an excuse for the
reason why the fight had started and there was no witness with enough
courage to claim that he had started it.
Keith Heiss always made fun of Fritz. If he saw him walking in the hallway
or biting his nails he would follow him and mimic him, his head tilted
to one side, exactly like Fritz would do when he walked. Fritz was a
stooge to him. Keith wasnt the only one who made fun of Fritz.
An entire galaxy of kids made fun of him. Any kid who had a bad day
at school or had been mistreated by a parent at home displaced all that
anger on Fritz.
One day Keith put a large garden snake in Fritz toolbox and when
Fritz crouched down to open up the box, the snake slithered out and
made Fritz jump out with a big scream. Kids who saw this, laughed hard
and some of the teachers did too, even though they were not supposed
to. This is one example of abuse Fritz had been enduring. There were
many varieties of abuses Fritz would get on a typical day, but this
is just one of them. Once, Keith Heiss forced a kid to urinate in the
yellow bucket, which Fritz used to rinse and scrunch his mop in. When
Fritz came to work on the following day, he smelled the stench of urine
and knew what had happened and cried to himself in deep sorrow. Only
God and probably a few people on Earth knew why Fritz had to undergo
all this abuse. To the best of anyones knowledge, Fritz had never
done anything wrong to anyone. Not even to mosquitoes. When a mosquito
would land on his leg or arm to suck blood he would let it suck as much
blood as it wanted. When he was young with no Torticulous showing, or
any defect or whatsoever, his mom hoped that one day he might be a man
of some renown, but he turned out to be a poor custodian, living in
a small Midwestern town, trying to make a living under the onslaught
of school kids.
At six oclock in the morning Fritz opened the school gate and
let himself in. The air was fresh and cold. The school yard was deserted
and calm. He walked into the building and proceeded down the hallway
when he heard the soft singing of the little girl:
We are the butchers of the universe
We came here to see,
to see the waters rolling down by the sea.
We came here to Peoria
and we rolled down via Memphis.
Heading down to Pretoria,
and back again to Mesopotamia.
Weve built up many monuments
and weve carved up some tombs.
We reached for fetuses
and pulled down from their wombs.
We have raped our women
and we have killed our men,
Weve enslaved our children
With the animals and then,
We stretched out our graveyards
To a far place at sea
Away at the horizon
where nobody could see.
Weve walked down the battle fields
And weve killed many men,
We dug up some ditches
And bury them with their guns.
Weve blown up the mountains
And weve flattened up our lands
Where Mother Mary used to walk
bare feet with the holy band.
We have destroyed our cities
And we have infested our crops.
Weve crushed down the corn fields
The sound was soft, gently filling the hallway. As Fritz approached
the room the sound increased in volume.
Weve polluted our waters
And weve cut down the trees.
Weve pushed away the bison,
with the salmon and the geese.
Weve jotted down new constitutions
And we have broken the old rules.
We thought we were gods
But we are just fools.
He waited for the song to finish. He now walked into the room and saw
the little girl in the red shoes, talking to her doll.
"Hello," Fritz interrupted the little girl from talking to
"Hello, Mr. Wright," the little girl said still looking down
at her doll.
"Youre early for school," Fritz said.
"Do you like Smiley?" the little girl said.
"Of course, I do."
"Why, of course?" The little girl asked.
"I, I dont know," Fritz stuttered.
"Dont say things you dont mean, Mr. Wright. Dont
talk just to talk. Do you like my Smiley?"
Fritz couldnt speak now. He didnt know what to say. There
was an awkward pause.
"Can I hold Smiley and look at it, first?" Fritz moved forward
and stuck out his right arm hesitantly, like if he was begging for money
and not wanting to beg.
"Look at her," the little girl said. "Not look at it."
"Sorry," said Fritz.
"Here she is, " the little girl said and handed Fritz Smiley.
Fritz held the doll gently and studied it like a school kid, turning
it over and over again, his head tilted to one side. He bit his nail
once and he looked into her eyes and the doll looked back into his.
The doll looked like she was smiling, but Fritz recognized that it was
more of a grimace than a smile. Fritz moved Smiley away from his face.
"Do you like Smiley, now?" the little girl asked.
"Yes, I do," Fritz said.
"You lied," the little girl said. "Youre afraid
Fritz didnt respond. He didnt know what to say. He was afraid
of the little girl and the doll.
"Are you afraid of Smiley?" The little girl asked.
"Yes, I am," Fritz said and gave the doll back to the little
"Good," the little girl said. "At least you said the
truth. Dont be afraid of Smiley. She is a good doll. She is my
best friend. She wont do you harm if I dont want her to."
"I dont have a best friend," Fritz said. "I dont
have anybody. I am a lonesome man. I am nothing. I am a janitor. I am
nobody. I am..."
"You are somebody," the little girl interrupted. "You
are a man. Not any man is a man."
She started singing again:
Not any man is a man
Oh! Not any man is a man.
Some men die in the battle field
And some men die far at sea.
Some men die in the revolution
And some men die for the constitution.
Some men die for religion
And some men die for the legion
"I am a man," Fritz sai suddenly.
"Scream it!" ordered the little girl.
"I AM A MAN!!!" screamed Fritz.
"Go to the hallway and scream it!"
Fritz walked out to the hallway and screamed, "I AM A MAN! I AM
He then jumped and kept on jumping and screaming the words. He walked
back to the classroom and the little girl was gone.
"Where are you?" Fritz cried.
He looked for the little girl like a man who lost his daughter.
"Where are you?" he cried again.
He ran to the hallway, looking around until he heard her voice singing:
Let me cry for the fallen leaf,
On the rock it tumbles down.
Let me cry for the forgotten king,
Queen was gone and so was the crown.
She was sitting by the girls room holding her doll. Fritz stopped
and he didnt say anything; he froze in his place looking at her
"Come, follow me," the little girl said, and she stood up
with her doll in her right hand and walked hurriedly away from him.
She was now walking fast in the hallway, almost running, on the shiny
floor, holding her doll tightly in her right hand. Fritz was following
her with his big steps, his head tilted to one side, his arms swinging
together, like if they were attached by a solid bar. The morning sun
was shining through the glass walls of the hallway, and one could tell
it was early in the morning, for there was nobody in the school and
all one could hear were the muffled twitting of birds outside. The little
girl kept on walking fast and Fritz was following her, like a baby duck
would follow his mom, from one hallway to another, with his arms swinging
together, until she reached the maintenance room.
"Open the door," she ordered and she stood by the door holding
her doll tightly.
Fritz pulled his big set of keys from his right pocket, shook his keys
to descramble them, and picked a copper key that says, #13 P.E.S Do
Not Duplicate. And he opened the door.
"Now look under your desk and up, and dont open the middle
drawer," the little girl said as she was standing outside the maintenance
room, holding her doll.
Fritz crouched down and looked up under the desk and saw a seven-inch
long lighter with a red handle, taped to one bottom edge of the drawer.
If one opened the drawer, the switch of the lighter would automatically
toggle with the slide, and a flame would light up a wick of a large
firecracker, and the firecracker would explode.
"What?" Fritz said to himself and turned to look at the little
girl. The little girl was gone again; gone with her doll; gone like
she had never been there before, like if she was just a figment of his
imagination. Fritz walked out, whining like a puppy, looking left and
right for the little girl. All he could see was the shiny floor and
the orange lockers, and the weak sun of the morning shining through
the glass of the hallway. The little girl was nowhere to be found. She
disappeared. He couldnt even call up her name since she had never
given it to him. Fritz ran down the hallways checking each classroom.
He even went to the girls bathrooms and knocked on the door-there
was no answer. He got in and checked the stalls one by one. He got out
of the bathrooms. He listened carefully in case she was singing again.
Fritz went back to the maintenance room worrying, almost crying. He
carefully disassembled the trap and put the lighter on his old, dirty
desk. He put the firecracker in a brown paper bag and placed the bag
on a shelf. He would have to tell his boss all about this once his boss
After Fritz sat down at his desk, a stream of thought came upon him.
Keith Heiss was the first person to come to his mind. Nobody could have
done this but Keith Heiss, Fritz thought. Keith Heiss was capable of
doing worse that this. Kids, like Keith, were born only to inflict pain
on the weak and the helpless. Kids, like Keith, are known to end up
being shot by a cop, stabbed by a mob, or destroyed by a bomb in a war.
Kids, like Keith, prefer to burn out than to fade away. Kids, like Keith,
arent born to live life, but to destroy it. Kids, like Keith,
are the kids who have a lot of energy and need to discharge it on somebody
soft, somebody who would suck it all up, feel the pain, and do nothing
about it; just suck it all up. Kids, like Keith, wouldnt live
to be twenty, one would guess. If they somehow happened to live for
a long time, they would only leave a trail of destruction behind. If
Keith happened to live and was somehow allowed to become the president
of the United State, he would blow the whole world to kingdom come.
All the ten thousands nuclear bombs the US has will get exploded at
once. Keith had to be stopped, Fritz said.
© Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra December 2006
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