Flash Fiction: the blue nuggets

flashfiction

 

 

– Ok. Here’s what we have. A ladder, a pair of shears, bandage, alcohol and a megaphone.
– What are we supposed to do with all that?
– They told me we need to sterilize the sky.
– Say what?!
– You know, remove its testes.
– You gotta be kiddin’ me. How the hell are we going to emasculate the sky?
– Well, we gotta get up there and figure it out.
– Are you serious? Get up where?
– There, between the sack and the butthole.
– Come on now, are you delirious?
– I’m just trying to figure out what the megaphone is for.
– Listen to me, there must be a mistake. It’s ludicrous, how are they asking us to…
– Ah! I get it, it’s to warn the people below when the nutsack is about to fall.
– Are you really buying into this? It must be a joke!
– Yeah, there’s not enough bandage in case we get massive hemorrhage.
– Here comes the manager. Let me have a word with him.
– Gentlemen, something preventing you from working?
– Listen, my buddy here says we have to castrate the sky. I believe there is some kind of mistake.
– Yes, there’s not enough bandage there in case you get massive…
– No wait, sir! That’s not my point. Could you be so kind as to indicate where does the sky keep its private parts?
– Mr. Kobket, I don’t have time to lecture you on the anatomy of the heavens. I am certain it was a requirement in your studies to read Copernicus’ work on the heavenly spheres.
– Unfortunately I have not, but it’s plain common sense that the sky lacks sexual organs. Am I missing out on something?

At this point the conversation enters anomalous levels of absurdity. We will not make preposterous demands on the credibility of the reader. Any educated person will recognize that Mr. Kobket was the only sane, one could as well say, grounded person of the pack. No one has ever observed, much less imagined, the sky swinging two gigantic azure balls over the horizon as it makes its way from daylight to twilight. No one has ever seen a rugged celestial bulge shrinking in timidity when exposed to the chilly currents of a winter gale. No one has ever seen two brilliant disks twitching as the sky ejaculates lightning and moans in thunder. No one has ever smelled the musk and sweat of glands rubbing day and night against the thighs of clouds. No airplane has ever become entangled in a web of ethereal filaments proceeding from the pubescence of the firmament. Not one, not in a thousand years, not in a thousand years.

Contemporary Fiction

A man in San José

  (photo by Ryan Moss)

 

 

It may appear imprudent that a story that takes place in a Spanish-speaking city should be told in English. First, and partly, because the English-speaking readers will have a hard time grasping the culture in which the story takes place. Secondly, and conversely, those that can relate to the story are few since the story is narrated in a foreign language. But I will remind the indulgent reader that my situation is a hopeless conundrum. English-speakers constantly visit San José but do not have enough time in the city to experience its routine and tradition. Anglophone foreigners might have come to live permanently in Costa Rica but it is highly likely they have stayed outside the capital due to its ordinariness and its dangerous crime. Likewise those that were unwittingly born in this country have avoided the city because of its pollution, recklessness and delinquency. Finally, those that have actually managed to live in the heart of San José year after year are unlikely candidates to enter this blog and squander a few minutes to the reflections of an (Anglo-phony!) Costa Rican.  I have therefore taken the liberty to entertain only a few at the risk that much of what will be said will be lost in the abysmal gap between dissimilar cultures. Also, it may not be superfluous to add that the message will apply to Anglophone first-world citizens and the English-speaking high-class citizens of Costa Rica, which so eagerly emulate the ideals of foreign societies. 

It is common to step down from the bus and abruptly wake up from your daydreaming as you enter the rowdy streets of San José. Those inevitable reveries that take place while you sit silently on an old American school bus come to an end when the smoke, heat and noise startle you back into reality. The images of the outer world that were streaming like invisible currents in the fabric of your mind become concrete and your attention is no longer floating in careless thoughts. Your vision is attracted to the large enchiladas on your right, the kiosk man selling newspapers and mangos at the corner, the pretty girl with a low-cut skirt, the taxi honking at that young woman, the bus almost crashing into the sidewalk, a big dog followed by three smaller dogs. Your head turns to and fro unless you are already too numb to notice the riot of any ordinary day. Your pace accelerates as you cross the street when the pedestrian light is red or slow down as you inspect the imitation sunglasses in every third store. People cross by you as they speak on the phone, scold their children or speak to themselves in a sometimes delusional manner. The stores’ windows have merchandise in every conceivable quality with prices tags in bold colorful numbers: ¢5,000 for a tank top, ¢800 for lipstick, ¢13500 for wide legged jeans, ¢250 for a pair of earrings, ¢18000 for a new toaster oven. Small cantina bars have brown and white beads-on-a-string hanging from the entrance, palm trees are easily spotted at street corners and if you venture a bit outside the crowded pedestrian streets you may even find trees ripe with mangos, bananas or jocotes. You get on an inner city bus that costs ¢100. When you pay make sure you don’t stand in between the electronic bars that count how many passengers get on and off (a rather recent feature), and then, quietly take your seat and distract yourself with the view of the sidewalks. It was on this Sabana-Cementerio bus that I saw for a quadrillion time the old bespectacled man that takes notes on his clipboard.

He has been working for the bus company for 37 years, out of those he has been in the same position, every weekday, for 35 years; keeping track of how many buses pass by his position, how many passengers were on the bus at each particular time, and making sure the money the bus driver has matches with registered passenger count of the day. It seems the electronic bars are not foolproof, and a good pair of scrupulous eyes is still warranted.  I have seen him so many times I was bound to ask him one day about his job, but as it is common in our country to tattle once we engage in a conversation, I ended up knowing much more than I initially wanted to inquire.   

It may seem strange that a man of sound judgment would choose to work in the same unchallenging job for 35 years. Not unless, we could argue, it was very high paying. But the truth is that a salary of under $325 a month is not very much. Our modern avaricious conscience would rebel against this inhumanity; but our initial repulsion might subdue with what I will now tell. 

It has been the fortune of many of us to never have dealt with the misfortune of poverty. Even if some of us have endured the hardship of unemployment, most of us, I venture to say, have always had enough food on our tables. In this country many have to strive for a decent meal every day and sometimes circumstances are not in favor of poor families that battle just to survive. Our protagonist grew in a similar condition. His mother had to support his whole family because his father had become blind from an accident at a construction site after some deadly chemicals had fallen on his face. Her mother worked in middleclass homes as a maid and on weekends sold knitted sweaters at a street corner in San José. Having four brothers and a sister, they had a very harsh time growing up. One brother ran away when he was twelve, the remaining three had to drop school to help their mother earn a living. Our friend never reached beyond third grade. It was clear from his expression that his early years were tremendously hard, yet I could perceive a certain satisfaction in his eyes. I assume he is now proud that they survived those tumultuous years.   

As a young adult he carried out many different kinds of jobs. He didn’t go too much into detail but he had enough to live on and support his family until the unavoidable crossed his path. He had gone out one night to a salsa/merengue club. Never having a radio or TV at home he grew up unfamiliar with the dexterous moves of Latin dance although he enjoyed greatly listening to the music. (He jiggled his rusty hips, I laughed). He would envy every corrongo male that would sweep women by their dance abilities. That night he was drinking a cold Tropical, a new beer that had just been released in the market by Cuban entrepreneurs, although he hardly had the habit of drinking beer. Eased by the alcohol, he ventured to take out a girl to dance. If it wasn’t for those beers, I would have never asked Yelena out for a dance– he commented. Not very romantic, I know. There’s a common misperception that we Latinos are all desperate romantics. They got married next year and started raising a family. His wife’s father had been working as an administrative director in a bus company and the rest seems logical. 

I didn’t dare to ask him why he settled for that simple position. True, it’s a higher position than being a bus driver but also very monotonous. However, when I was just about to bid him goodbye, in an unusual expansion of lucidity, he reflects on his humble circumstances and pronounces thoughts that have answered my tacit doubts: 

 “No puedo culpar mi familia, mi cultura, mi sociedad, mi país, ni la civilización mundial actual. Mi vida fue la consecuencia de una sencilla decisión: vivir sin la ambición de conocer otros continentes o poseer una abundancia de posesiones. Yo viví así y declaro sin arrepentimiento mi total conformidad con la rutina y singular angostura de mi vida. Me conformo con ser el señor que trabajó 35 años en la misma parada de bus, repitiendo la misma labor día tras día, arruga tras arruga, sin la ambición de buscar algo más que tener la comida en mi hogar mientras veía mis hijos crecer.” 

This can be roughly translated thus: 

I cannot blame my family, my culture, my society, my country, or this modern civilization. My life was the consequence of a simple decision: living without the ambition of knowing other continents or having great material wealth. I lived this way and I affirm without regret my complete conformity with my routine and singularly narrow lifestyle. I’m comfortable being that man that worked for 35 years at the same bus stop, repeating the same activity day after day, wrinkle after wrinkle, without having the ambition to look beyond the meal of each day while I saw my children grow up. 

The end.

In pursuit of something…

The day began like all others. With a loud quack coming from my mouth– the refusal to leave the ecstasy of profound sleep. The clock ticked with its usual indefatigable persistence as I stole the last dreams from the reservoir of Morpheus’ cave.

Time_poetry

My laziness was sensational. I remained in bed worrying about how little I had to worry about. I had no plans, no obligations. Blinking my eyes was my sole responsibility. Had inertia won the battle today my relaxed body would have remained in bed all day – my mind contemplating empty thoughts.

Emptinesss-1

But my body broke wind so violently and repulsively, I could have fainted from its deadly smell!

I stood up resolutely and began roaming about. What could I say, what could I do? Everything has already been said, everything has been done. What is left in a world that had exhausted all its possibilities?

 There was one and only one unobjectionable conclusion. Trash. I was utterly convinced that I could find something new in the rubbish people left behind.

 I thought, ‘Everything has been documented but trash’

 And so I began,

Rotting_Pear

What a pity! Dozens of humans walking up and down the street and this poor half-eaten pear laid in agony while a battalion of bacteria was slowly devouring its entrails. I watched it as if it were a bird that had been shot and there is nothing to do but wait for its inevitable death. The tender white sweet flesh tempted no one to have another bite, its seductiveness had been mutilated by the carelessness of… who?

 11.00am/a Tuesday/1933 – Niels Bohr approached slowly the door of his old beloved. He had struggled to make each step, as he knew it was the last time he would see his long-time lover. Had he become a devil? Sacrificing the love of a woman for the pleasure of knowledge? It didn’t really matter. He was a scientist– isn’t science immeasurably more important than love?

 Such thoughts were crossing his mind as he passed by Grundtvigs Kirke. He gazed up at the monstrous church,

Church_Grundtvig_Copenhagen

And these were his thoughts:

‘They should have made the arrows point downward. The electron emits light when it goes to a lower atomic orbit, not to a higher one. If they are looking for the light of God they should find it here on earth – not in the ethereal space of their imagination…’

 Mr. Bohr had always a propensity to mix his scientific genius with philosophical and theological issues. For thirty five seconds he was distracted from his frightful destination. Once he reached it he told Helle he would never see her again.

 Why am I telling you about this? Because Helle almost commited suicide that night. She called on Jens, a boyfriend of hers before Niels, and he came over and they made love all night. Helle became pregnant and bore a child, Morten. By 1963, when Morten was nearly thirty he opened a fancy vegetable shop in the neighborhood. In 2007, at the age of seventy-three, he was still behind the counter selling fruits and vegetables. He was a kind old man and would give out free fruits to the kids that came to the shop. A young immigrant boy from Iraq had purchased three kilos of onions today and Morten gave the boy a complimentary pear as a treat. The boy took the gift without excitement, had three or four bites of the pear and then threw it to the ground thirty seven minutes before I walked up this street in search of neglected things.

By one o’clock in the warm afternoon of May 21, 2007, I entered upon the gardens of the museum of art. What did I find there. Two things:

Straw

A plastic straw with a red stripe. I know how it got here, but I won’t bore you with such details. I will only say it involves a bicycle, a hooker from Ethiopia and the pearls of Margrethe II (current queen of Denmark). But more importantly I began to notice something as I made my second insignificant encounter of the day. The small neglected garbage of the streets had something peculiar. It was charming—how sad and beautiful a straw under the open skies could be. It was sad and beautiful because it was unnoticed. It remained undisturbed in the nothingness of the ground. The world around it had some value, some purpose, but this straw now useless under the blades of grass had nowhere to go, nothing to do…

A 250ml empty carton of light milk.
Milk
 
Again there is an indefinable amount of events that caused this milk carton to be here, out of which we could name six or seven to satisfy the curiosity of the reader. But instead of writing a fiction of the past, I could narrate a fiction of the future. What will happen to this milk carton? If I return tomorrow to this exact same location will I find it intact? Chances are that the wind, the garbage collectors or the impetuosity of a child will make it disappear. Its rectangular shape will be lost, it’s bright blue colors faded, its expiration date indecipherable. In a few days it will be in some obscure corner of this earth, completely forgotten by you and me…

I could not bear the weight of my thoughts any longer. I was at the verge of weeping senselessly for wastes. What sort of foolishness had taken hold of me?I walked up to the tracks. Ways, paths, journeys and returns.

Immediately my vanity came parading into the scene and twisted the meaning of my words. Foolishness? Senseless tears? Of course not, it is sensibility, aesthetic appreciation for the small realities of life. Out of pride or vanity my mind conjured up justifications and arguments to validate my behavior. Yes, indubitably, doesn’t it happen to all of us? But I was tired of flattering myself. Was it of any consequence to think all these things, to become aware of all this emptiness?

Tracks_copenhagen

                                                 Everything’s said, Everything’s done

They go and they come.

Do they know what for?

Out the window they stare

Out of boredom they glare

What is this mirage,

They call life –ignored.

Certainly much comes from nothing. If it hadn’t been for a visceral explosion this morning I would have remained in bed. I got up decidedly to invent the purpose of a new day. To reveal something new that might have been irrevocably lost in the dark domains of oblivion.

At last I made it to the beach. In company of flying birds I stared at the calm waters as the fading light of the sun wrestled in the small crests and troughs of the seawater.

I often think that I think too much. My kindred float passively in the mellow currents of the water whereas I spend my days in search of something more profound than the shallow depths of the shore. My relatives reproached me for coming too near to humans, ‘that beastly parasitic race’ they call them. But I’ve found much that is agreeable in the human world, and although I don’t belong to it I hope I can visit it without impertinence. I see much more of their world down here at one foot from the ground. I hope my words will be received as something more than mere quackery. A duck has much more to say than just QUACK.

I will retire now. Those that will like to visit me can do so every afternoon at six o’clock at the small beach in Hellerup. I am a Mallard duck, with a metallic green head and neck separated from my purplish-brown breast by a white ring. Do not fear to wake me from my deep trances when I stare out into the open sea. I do often for I am in pursuit of something, something I cannot yet come to define.

Theend

He came to know…

 

Brave, defiant Contristo walked under the sharp but harmless leaves of the gloomy jungle. The ceiling of the forest was completely covered with thick branches of trees and the dense population of their leaves. The tenebrous darkness made the journey the more frightening, the unknown waiting for him at every corner. A beam or two of light would pierce the great darkness with its blaze as the wind opened a tiny slit in the heights. These arrows of translucent light reminded Contristo of the world he left seven years ago. At the age of twelve he was forced to enter this labyrinth, to follow an aimless course, to hunt after an unrevealed destiny. But the world he had left so many years ago was still bright in his memory, those endless hours of play and spontaneous happiness. The intense winds of adolescence had thrust him into this dark adventure. The old world had come apart, his new life was nothing other than wandering through the inextricable dangers of the forest. It was a difficult journey as strange gruesome animals threatened his survival, challenged his sanity.  

Contristo’s world is not an ordinary world. A human could never recognize this world, not even in his dreams. The creatures that constitute this world are beyond the imagination of the wildest fantasies of fiction. The corruption of their forms would be the most painful sight, a holocaust for our eyes. Their voices would enter our ears like molten rock down the auditory canal, their shrieks worst than a thousand cries of despair coming from Dante’s Inferno. The sting of their fangs more deadly than any earthly creature. Poor and lost Contristo had to face numberless dangers on his way, when forced to leave the joy of childhood to meet the dangers of advancing youth.

Towards the end of the seventh year Contristo started to notice a change in his environment. Patches of sky would appear more often and the nightmarish insects were fewer and fewer. Until finally, exactly on the last full moon of his seventh traveling year, he came upon a valley. The jungle was left behind and he could observe at the distance a huge ominous castle, majestically sitting at the center of the valley. Certainly, he thought, this is my unforeseen destination.

Contristo approached the monumental structure and at the foot of the tall gates there stood two gigantic trolls, weapon in hand, guarding the entrance from any intruder. As Contristo came closer to these beastly creatures, he became sick and repelled by the dripping pus of their bodies, the green drool from their mouths and their stink of decaying meat.  “HALT, you shall not pass!” thundered the voice of both guards. Stupefied and trembling, Contristo spoke:

For seven years the winds of youth have blown
In maze and confusion I have not known
What distant goal was set for my life
Woe, my journey’s been nothing but strife.
In your castle some great good I must gain
Open your gates so all won’t be in vain!

The giant monsters gazed thoughtfully at this wretched creature. Then, in obedience to their duty, replied:

The gates of Veritas are out of reach
For those that cannot breach
The ancient riddle we now recite

‘This thing all things devours;
From the farthest suns to the nearest flowers;
The powerful king too must one day know
Defeat and loss against this invincible foe’

Answer correctly or retreat in fright.

Swiftly Contristo retorted:

Experience, mother of knowledge
To you I now pledge
If my answer be in the right
I will forever trust in your light
Guards, the riddle is sublime
My answer is: TIME.

The gates opened for Contristo, who was too well acquainted with the expanse of time. In the echoing solitude, his steps marked the ticking of the seconds as he gazed the high towers inside. At the heart of the castle a lofty dome shone with precious gold and crimson gems. Contristo gathered that under that huge vault his secret fate must lie.

He stepped into the glorious building and surveyed the ornamental complexity of the walls, patterns of exquisite beauty. Then, at last, his long journey reached its summit when he saw under the colossal dome a sight he will never forget. From the ceiling hanged an object he had never seen before, faintly glowing with a sort of musical flow. He approached it, but he was not alone. From the other end of the room he could now see another creature too was approaching the sacred object. He slowed his pace but continued to come nearer until he was face to face with his silent companion. Contristo then spoke to him but the other would only mimic his own speech. Then he moved to one side and the stranger did exactly like him. In an initiative to be kind he extended his arm to salute his companion. His partner was too quick and the tip of their hands would always collide, never allowing him to take the other’s hand. Contristo was paralyzed by a sort of fear and just gazed at the stranger. He looked into his eyes and he could see nothing but an abysmal sadness, a look of despair, a cry for help. He saw a fragile and feeble creature, lost and confused, joyless, utterly joyless…

It was then that he realized he was looking at a reflection of himself. And his thoughts began to weave the path of his future, treading the first steps in the unending journey of self-discovery.

‘Tis this sadness I saw reflected
And merciless was my despair
This brittle body so dejected
Home of the burden I will bear

In these eyes of crystal sorrow
Lies the grand secret of tomorrow
To understand the elusive mystery
The whole of my wretched history

Let today mark the beginning
The essential for all the living
To glimpse and savor the question
How to find one’s true expression

Finding myself always in travel
Among the marvels of existence
As the smoke of time will unravel
What is at an approaching distance.

Winter’s Lost

As if a long dreary dream had vanished like a dark cloud blown away by warm winds, the dim and vague dome of winter skies was lifted and fresh vivid rays from the sun basked the city with a joyful promise: a blossoming Spring was on its way. That long dream of darkness and chill was receding slowly into the past and along with it the sad and gloomy emotions that had conquered the lives of the creatures imprisoned by the cold and abysmal dark. Springing from an unknown source, like tiny white flowers peeking out in an ocean of green grass, words rose afloat in the consciousness of Mr. Vår, provoking him to hum the melody of his poetry as he strolled along the crisp blue sea. The awareness that sprung from the warm radiance of the sun was confirming one of Mr. Vår’s most optimistic assumptions; life was dear and enjoyable. Sea gulls suspended in the air, dogs playing in the sand, newcomer infants free to discover their new planet, Spring allowed earthly creatures to roam freely without the sting of winter’s cold. Hour and minute needles made their rotation round the clock’s axis and Mr. Vår aimlessly enjoyed his leisure. A cup of Chai tea, a fluffy white cloud, and the quivering of leafless tree branches were the pleasant impressions that struck deep in Mr. Vår’s perceptions of the day. As if the frightful command of daily duties was a forgotten myth of ancient history, the first part of the day was spent in trivial activities that far from emptying his spirit enriched it with new vigor. The complexity of life was reduced to the sipping of hot tea, taking deep breaths, rubbing a smooth pebble within his palm. The brief conversations with amicable strangers flowed like short pieces of Debussy’s piano preludes.

As the day progressed Mr. Vår fell into a lazy reverie. Rejuvenated by the richness of the sun’s light his steps seem lighter, closely resembling the hops of a small Goldcrest bird. He found his way through the city’s plaza, brimming with cheerful people and lost in the tides of idle pedestrians he gave rein to his memory. Transported through time in the lucidity of unclouded remembrance – Mr. Vår alone in the attic, smoking from his pipe, drinking his chilly whiskey, reviewing papers of bygone years, wind carrying unbearable temperatures, hail disturbing the sound of silence, alone in the attic, Mr. Vår.

Winter, slayer of light and color, had blurred the gay images of a warm autumn life. Trapped in the small confines of a wooden attic, restless as he poured all his weakened strength into completing his memoirs. In his most dejected moments he suspected the effort was in vain. A life, one in piles of numberless generations, one life recorded – for what? But Mr. Vår trusted the evidence of his years, the heights of his passion for life, the fathomless cliffs of his suffering, his message of hope to his people, his nation, his world. How urgent was the need to preserve his experience as an anonymous man, torn by the cruelty of solitude yet endured by his relentless attention to the question: what is life? His doubts were brushed away, guilt of pride withered away. It mattered not who had lived it, but that it was lived. Fully, totally.

Mr. Vår picked his memories of wintertime like fallen apples on a country field. The torture of writing his reflections on life, of reliving the pain and despair, the fear of death and the misery of lost loves, was observed from a distance- like standing on top of the pharos of Alexandria and making out the ships that came from other civilizations, bringing with them rare riches.

Fire crackling, the cold in his veins and a rough blanket covering his fragile old body. The years had swept away legions of dear faces, happy moments, and astounding dreams. What was left was a near carcass enveloped by the cold dark air of a winter’s night. But still a faint light glared in the menace of dark extinction, his memory, though severely battered by time, retained the core of his experiences and as the last ticking second of the clock of his life came closer, his passion was poured out through the tip of his pen. The candle on his desk flickered to and fro resisting its death when a strong breeze came gushing down from the chimney. The light of his memory similarly faced extinction, battling with the ailments of old age and fatal disease.

Mr. Vår found a resting place under the oblique shadow of a big Beech tree. The sun had traveled more than half across the dome of the sky. The memories of this winter’s past resumed. They were lonely nights. Uneventful. Searching for elegant words as you would search the beach for shiny pebbles. Retracing the steps of his life, reviewing old notes and unlocking repressed emotions. Then finding the words to express all of that. All of that which is inexpressible. Why? Mr. Vår had no definite answer. As futile as it was to record the fluidity of his experience with the rigidity of words he had no other choice. Language can at least communicate, however imperfectly, the inward life of any person. What no eyes can see, no hand can touch, the true experience of life as felt by everyone inside the dome of the skull, the moment of life – what no word can describe but merely point to it.

Before the sun set in the glaring sea, before the final light of the day revealed to human eyes the variety of color in this world, before the starry night came sliding over Mr. Vår, he walked back to the shore, in search of a last moment of tranquility. The great body of water in motion. A chaotic yet comforting spectacle. The sun drawing near to meet the distant arc of the earth, to sink behind the gigantic mass of this rotating orb.

Mr. Vår struggled through those last freezing nights to rise from bed and continue his project. Life was leaving his body, draining with each sentence, with each memory. But as Spring approached an unknown force reappeared in the marrow of his bones, a new vitality was felt as the final apothegms were being inked. He remembered those last days when he was closer and closer to finishing his work, he felt a second opportunity to live, to savor the fullness of life before he must submit to his ultimate departure.

The sun gliding down like a droplet of water down a window pane. A satisfied day. A satisfied life. He had finished his work after all, he was free just to live the new springtime. The memory of previous Springs came to mind but the moment refused comparison. It was the beginning of a new cycle, a new journey. When the last brim of the fiery star could be seen, Mr. Vår closed his eyes, abandoned all memory of himself, utter no thought to himself and in a profound silence experienced something he could never describe.

The Happy Traveler

THE HAPPY TRAVELER

(A short story)

I was a very fortunate young individual. My upbringing is a cluster of joyful memories as far as my historical sight can recall. The turbulent and violent times of adolescence were for me but an ongoing spring in which I found here and there only beautiful flowers and never one vile weed. My propensity to melancholy and distress is so insignificant that I cannot remember anything in my life that has made me stumble to the ground in fluent tears. The sky of my life has always been clear and bright and never one dark cloud has disturbed the happiness that fills me. I have always felt like the wind, so light and free that no Wall of China could put a halt to it. Having such a fortunate condition I made the best of it. I decided to travel around the world to discover the glorious joy that envelops our planet.

My travels were extensive and meticulous. I persistently endeavored to cross the smallest village as well as the most monumental metropolis. I saw the great variety of habits that consume the hours of men and women, the wonderful imaginations for constructing their homes and monuments, the delightful multiplicity of languages, and the different shades of faces that belong to each race. Not long after my departure I was convinced of the richness of life in this planet and this strengthened my belief that the world is a beautiful place.

What I loved most of all was to talk to the people. Of all the long list of topics that was the matter of my discussions the one I enjoyed the most was Religion. I found all religions equally beautiful; they had such a wealth of poetic visions and profound meanings. The most startling thing was that the religion would change even after a day’s walking distance. It was evident that mankind has been everywhere and at all times an artistic creature wont to express the deepest mysteries of the universe in an arabesque of images. I learned about gods that are kings, gods with more than one head, gods as big as the whole cosmos and others as small as pebbles! All this fascinated me profoundly since in my childhood and early years I never was acquainted with any imaginative representation of the world. In my land people did not attribute any sort of personality to the workings behind the universe. Everything was explained by the blind, brute, irrational forces of nature that had no attributes like those of the other gods. I never heard of the sun being carried by a chariot or of a reptilian deity that sends down the rain. All the facts of my natural world were a lackluster picture without any charm or mystery.

I remember once I had a heated conversation with a believer of a god that was monarch of the whole universe. This god created the world out of nothing and brought to life all that we see around us. The old man told me this god was involved still today in the affairs of men and women. The god had given us codes of conduct and we were to obey these laws otherwise we could end up in a dreary place. However, the god promised wonderful treasures to those that obeyed him and loved him. I asked him how did this story originated and the old man told me of a book inked by men who were inspired by the wisdom of their god. The book contained the word of his god and it spoke of a human-god that once visited this earth and delivered the whole world from the perpetual state of sin. I could not swerve my eyes for a moment as I heard with inexpressible wonder the intricate and aged history of this poetic vision of the world. After some attempt to convince me that this should be my belief also, I simply answered that I would carefully remember all that he said and when my travels are over, recall with joy his story and tell it to my friends. My new friend was a bit frustrated with me because he wanted me to accept this as a universal truth. At this moment, I could not very clearly understand what he meant by truth. All I knew was that this religion was as rich and profound as those I have heard of a universe without beginning or end in a perennial cycle of destruction and creation, or as the religion that claims that it is not a religion at all!

Since my return I have shared all of my experiences with my dear and close ones. I speak for nights on end about the jewels buried in the multifarious laughs of each country, the majestic landscapes gilded by the touch of the sun, and of the delicious creativity that goes into the food of all of the world’s strange and amiable people. My friends insist that I should record these adventures in a book so future comers will profit from my experience, but I feel this is not a wise choice. Instead of asking these newcomers to be readers stuck to a chair I would exhort them to open their sails and navigate through all of the furrowed land this tiny but lovable planet has to offer. Dear people of the future, do not read about the world – rise from your seats and explore the lush curves of our rotating orb!!!

 

The irrelevant story of Mr. Poland

 

 

After a short visit to Stockholm I brought back with me a surprising notebook. I found it in an old antique store that would sell old rotten books among the normal antiques you find in such stores. I examined this brown tarnished chest which contained books on numerous subjects but since I completely lack an understanding of the Swedish language little was of use for me. I found a couple of English books but none that actually caught my attention. Not until I found on the bottom this hard cover notebook which at first I thought it was an ordinary book. It turned out to be a diary. From long ago, the exact dates are not made evident in the writings I’ve been perusing so far. The diary belongs to a woman named Valerie Woolstand. I purchased this item for a mere 18 Krona ($2.50US). The diary itself was not very interesting but I found something in it that was quite striking. In the middle pages of this notebook I found a series of papers that seemed to be part of a confession. But this confession was not written by Valerie. It was written by some eerie individual named Mr. Poland. I was completely entranced when I read his words. He seemed to be endowed with a very insightful nature. His confession had been lying undisclosed in this chest since time immemorial and it is likely that it had only been read until now by Valerie. How this diary reached this chest in Stockholm still baffles my imagination. I have taken the liberty to transcribe of what’s left of his confession and post it here so that it reaches a wider audience, a larger ear in the words of Mr. Poland. And without further ado, I most candidly present what I have personally titled, The irrelevant story of Mr. Poland.

Dear unknown reader,

My name is Alan Edward Poland. I’m an ordinary bank clerk in an average bank called T.A.Bank. I have been employed for the last seven years, to be precise since February 9th, 19** (Mr. Poland seems to have voluntarily crossed out the last two digits). I come into work every morning at 8:45 wearing my humdrum long-sleeved white shirt and an opaque red tie. I leave the bank at 5:07 in the afternoon, as I walk out I buy a small bag of almonds which I thoroughly enjoy on my short walk home. I live alone, I am always alone. The monotony that rules my weekdays is not worth mentioning. The only way that I can sustain the strain of these dull repetitions is by practicing an internal hobby I haven’t confessed to anyone until now.

I have decided to write down a sort of confession. I’ve been trapped for so long in my mind that I desperately was requiring a route of escape. I must confess to someone, anyone the weird habits that take place in my mind. In these papers I intend to provide a fossilized record of the mental wanderings that tear apart the delicate fabric of a static reality. I have realised that on the external level I am an absolutely normal individual. Yet, when it comes to the games I play inside my head I am a monster, an undefinable ***** as the Russians say. But first I want to tell you a little about myself, of what I do, of what I am. For some day, I hope, my story won’t be buried in the depths of time’s oblivion and in this hope I long for a larger ear to carefully listen to these delusions that befog my soul. I want to be more than this trite echo inside the walls of my isolation. I want to be known before the impervious shadow of death takes hold of me. And I am afraid this confession have to begin now before it is too late.

I am a banker. I came to this business as a result of extreme need. A friend of my deceased father worked here as a manager and offered me the humble position of a clerk. I had no difficulty in learning all that was pertinent to this business and have worked since the first day with a kind of conformity, performing what is necessary in the most efficient manner without exceeding my colleagues. I didn’t want to rise in this business. I just needed the monetary income for personal survival. I earn enough to live in a small flat downtown and manage the minimal luxuries of a low-middle class subsistence. I have been in charge of making certain that people’s money go into their accounts and withdrawals are delivered to rightful owners. The work is so easy I can do it without the aid of thought which gave this faculty enough leisure to travel other lands.

During the weekends I spend my time quietly at home. I spend most mornings and afternoons reading Russian novels which have with fascinating power defeated all intrusion of boredom on my Saturdays and Sundays. On Sunday nights I share a couple of hours with Mr. Rometley next door, an old and friendly man. We play chess together and don’t communicate more than a handful of words when we are engaged in this activity. I have never been able to defeat him in this game but the illusion that I will win next time makes me return to his flat flawlessly every Sunday evening. We got into this habit about four years ago. As I was walking out one afternoon to the bookstore I held open the downstairs main door for him as he came in carrying a number of items from the store. He shyly asked me for help and I thoughtlessly consented in helping him with some paper bags that were filled with vegetables and bottles of milk. As we entered his flat I surveyed his living room’s walls and found nothing but Oriental paintings that to this day I have not inquired of their meaning or origin. I settled the bags on the table and the kind old man offered a glass of brandy as a reward for my ‘laborious efforts’. I naturally accepted this gentle gesture and sat with Mr. Rometley at first in absolute silence but then we engaged in a conventional conversation. I lend my ear to this aging man and he went endlessly on subjects which now have left no trace in my memory. When my drink was finished I was offered another one but turned down the offer. I am of a delicate stomach and was already feeling unrestrained by the brandy. As I walked towards the door I collided with a small table knocking down a pawn and a knight from his chess board. I immediately apologized for such a careless accident and with intention to return the pieces to their corresponding position. However I noticed the pieces on the board were not in their original starting position, they were in the middle of a game. Mr. Rometley let go an audible sigh and told me not to mind the incident. As it turns out he had been playing that game by himself for over two months. The only way I could repay him was by offering him a real breathing opponent. He cheerfully consented and my short visits have not stopped since that long gone Sunday.

I comfortably sit on my chair as I assist our customers with their several transactions. I provoke on my lips a courteous smile as they approach the counter. There are many clients I deal with throughout the week. But there are a few that regularly come and I recognise and remember them. There is the case of Mr. A*****, who comes every Monday at noon with ?150 to be deposited ‘straight into my account Mr. Poland.’ He wears a full business suit and the only noticeable difference on him each Monday is his necktie colour. He is of a very confident character and speaks with a tone of superb authority. All his moves are carefully calculated and leaves nothing to chance. He does not always come up to my window. He consciously selects a different clerk each week so I only get to attend him once a month. But I immediately notice when he comes into the bank each Monday at the same time. He has wide eyebrows, a handsome pointed nose and silky black hair. He must be married but still does not have children. He is too involved in his financial business and his wife most suffer from anguishing solitude in their house. He provides every material good to her but he has not the ability to show her some tenderness. Her affection is lost, evaporating daily as she tortures herself with the thought that she married the wrong man. Mr. A***** has no clue that his wife has eyes for other men. They utterly enjoy the great pleasures of higher culture, the theater, fine dinners while attending to the marvels of the opera. His wife is needy and enjoys courting with her husband’s business associates. She wants a child soon to fill up the hollowness of her amorous life. It will come to a point when Mr. A***** will be on his way to becoming a father or maltreating his wife for her irreversible lust. This is, I imagine, Mr. A’s life.

I remember not too long ago I set myself to visit the outsides of this city. There is a nice park called Lingering Heights for it has a nice hill that allows the viewer to have a breathtaking view of the sunset. This initiative was born out of a few lines I read out of a novel by Kraskowsky. I remember the lines perfectly, “There in the tremendous heights of her wretched soul, Natasha powerlessly saw the sun setting in the distance, gliding down on the canvas of the sky both the star and her dreams faded slowly like so many other times; but this time she knew, better than anyone, if she ever was again to see the sun rise from its daily grave she will then have become a woman.” These words had so much meaning to me, they pointed to the power of change and the dispiriting law that we must let go in order to grow. I sat there reading; through the clouds the round disk of fire that consumed Natasha started slowly receding. But it did not consume me, it sunk rather quickly and the enveloping darkness soon took over. I returned home in a dejected state. I couldn’t see more in that motion. It was merely a sunset, beautiful as it was, only a sunset.

……………………………………………………………

There is naturally the case of Mr. R*******. He is of a highly nervous disposition. He dresses casually whenever he makes a stop at the bank. In his case it is more fortuity than choice which brings him to my window for more than half of his visits. He is always withdrawing different amounts of money. His bank account balance is considerable which makes me think he has inherited a great fortune from a close relative. He comes up to my window and hardly notices who he is dealing with. He presents the withdrawal form and his identification. He is continuously pressing and covering his pustular blisters that enigmatically cover his face at such a late age of his life. His evident embarrassment for these natural malformations of the skin makes them the more conspicuous, he is unaware that the best way to hide a thing is to not hide it at all. There is always a mild stink of alcohol in his breath. He must drink on a daily basis in one of those wooden pubs uptown. He is careless about his money and therefore leads a life of debauchery. He must have been an orphan from a very early age. His education was an uncle’s responsibility and he was given nothing but the best available in our day. His crooked lip suggests to me he battled with Greek and Latin in his early days of childhood. He seems very intelligent but does not see a valuable application to put it into use. He finds comfort in his familiar festive environment. There he can display his wit without any reserve and his companions of lower education venerate him and treat him with respect. I fancy he must have a very light conscience and this will be his life-style to the last of his days. He has already left several women pregnant but rejects all sense of duty because he has no family values. After abandoning school his life lost all trace of demand and he indulged himself in activities which require no serious purpose. He lives in a sloppy but luxurious flat and has little concerns about its appearance. The only thing that really disturbs his mind is the thought of a painful death. He worries incessantly of having a heart seizure one of these days. He prays every night to a god he does not firmly believe in to yield him a tranquil death.

I own a dark brown velvety couch. It belonged to my parents when they were both alive. I sit here patiently during the weekends. It serves as a good place to sit and read for long hours at a time. And when the reading is interrupted by some thinking it serves equally as a good place to do that. My fantastic imaginations take place every day but they usually take place only when I’m at work. When I return home I prepare dinner and read the newspaper and my mind is as blank as my bathtub. But there has been one person that keeps coming to my mind recently. One client’s life I cannot fancy thoroughly. I have created more than a hundred versions of her history but I cannot be satisfied with any one of them…

……………………………………………………………

A new client came in today. He was of an ardent temperament. He rushed in with over ?1,500 and literary commanded me to deposit them as fast as humanly it is possible. I started wondering about this life but suddenly Ms. W******** came into the bank. She seemed distressed but waited patiently in queue until she came up to my window. She came with her usual ?25 to be deposited in her account. She always brought that amount with her but she sometimes comes twice a day, once I recall she came four times in a single day. Her visits were very spontaneous. I could not delineate any particular order or coherence to her visits. This puzzled me to a great extent. I imagined she was a nurse at first. Then I thought she was a drug dealer. But why always the same amount? She is in her mid-thirties. She’s sufficiently attractive to draw attention from my male colleagues every time she comes in, even one of my female associates seems to be infatuated with her. Personally I find her not to be in the least my type of woman but I admire her physical beauty. She is immoderately polite and has the rare gift of looking straight into people’s eyes when she speaks. Her tone of voice is sweet and her long undulated hair reminds me of Botticelli’s Venus. She handed her twenty five pounds and I assured her they will invariably end up in her account in a matter of minutes. She seemed pleased and as she was leaving I felt an unstoppable urge to ask her… what? I returned home today troubled by Ms. W’s unfathomable identity. I feel drained in my attempt to satisfy my imagination with a reasonable account of her life. What is it that confounds me each week even more? I get to see her sometimes three times a week, sometimes as much as ten times a week. Every time she comes in I examine her from head to toes in hope of finding some minuscule clue to deduce her business in life.

……………………………………………………………

I am a sensible man and can recognise this is growing to be a compulsive obsession. I have seemed to lost all tranquility and stability of mind. My recent weekends have lost their stable routine, I can no longer read my books. I’ve even missed a couple of chess games with Mr. Rometley which makes him knock on my door as he is worried something has happened to me. The muscle under my right eyebrow is having involuntary spasms which are very disturbing. I only hope, my dear reader, that when this is read (if it will be read at all) it’d be known that I lead a normal and acceptable existence.

……………………………………………………………

Dear reader, I am at the bottom of my pit. I was relieved from my duties two days ago because I mistreated a customer. I feel insecure, no longer can I trust my actions. I have become a threat to my fellow countrymen. My mind is flooded with thoughts of violence and revolt. I cannot give any justification for my behaviour two days ago. I saw Ms. W******** coming into the bank and was convinced that day I could figure out her background. An old gentleman cut into the queue which provoked Ms. W to switch to another window. I was immeasurably irritated and insulted the poor old gentlemen to such an audible extent that my employer jumped out of his leather seat. For the last forty hours I have been unable to sleep and feel incapable of going out to the streets. I may hurt someone. I might have become crazy but that doesn’t mean I’ve lost forethought. I’ve recognised how much danger I am to my fellow human being. And, yes, yes, yes, the unswerving wave of death will conquer me and will leave me sink to the bottom of its abyss.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

I have read this letter so many times with unfettered fascination. I was unsure if I should take every word to be literal or if it was perhaps just a fictitious creation by Valerie. But in the process of transcribing the letter I was reading more through Valerie’s diary and found on the last written page the clarifying solution to the mysterious character of this dramatic confession and its uncanny connection with Valerie herself.

Valerie’s diary starts in the following manner:

” Dear diary,

This is an attempt to note down the random events of my life. I am 33 years old and have recently ended up in the most extraordinary of occupations. I initially started as a makeup artist for actors in theatrical performances but after failing to acquire a decent salary in this business I was presented with a stunning opportunity. My long lost cousin Charles works in a morgue. He sent me a letter two weeks ago inquiring whether I’d be interested in taking care of the corpses’ face makeup before they were taken for the funeral and burial processions. I was undoubtedly shocked to think I could do such an atrocious thing. But my career was leading nowhere so I ended accepting the job. Especially since it had such a high pay, I would get paid ?20 immediately after I finished with each corpse. At first the work was challenging, it was hard to handle the idle stare of these morbid bodies. But with time I became better at maintaining my poise and became quite able of bestowing a life-like appearance to these faces. My work has been tremendously appreciated to such a point that I received a 25 percent increase of salary that is helping me save up for the trip I have always fantasised of. ”

On the last written page the following words make this entire situation clear and yet heartbreaking. I quote:

“Dear diary,

It has been a long time since I write anything about the people I work with. It has become routine for the last two years and I am no longer surprised by what I see. But today something quite out of the ordinary happened. I was delivered the young body of a banker. He committed suicide by hanging himself,  I was told. They needed to bury him in incredible haste since his body was beginning to rot. I began my work as fast as possible. It then dawned on me that I had known this person. I had seen him nearly seven days ago, on Monday I believe, at my bank and he had gotten into trouble because he offended a client. I remember this young quiet man. He was kind and of a calm disposition. There was something always about his eyes. He seemed to be so far away and yet he always assisted me without any problems. While experiencing these recollections I began to blush his cheeks. I had almost completed all of his face but something didn’t seem right. I knew how this person looked like while being alive and I could see where I had gone wrong. It was the eyes. I decided to paint the upper rim of his eyelids with a touch of light blue to bring some life into those pale lost eyes. I’ve always believed blue to be the colour of faded dreams and lonely hearts. The body was taken moments afterwards but I suddenly noticed something fell on the floor as he was taken away. I came closer to examine it and it was a series of papers tightly folded together. I opened them and they revealed a letter addressed to nobody. I felt an arresting curiosity and took these papers home. I still have them with me and will read them tomorrow after I get some rest. I’m too anxious for the day of my dreamed trip is drawing near.”

The diary ends abruptly here and reasons lack here to arrive at any satisfactory conclusion. However, it is clear how astonishing these events are and how fate has a humoristic method of linking the lives of people. And poor young Mr. Poland left life without ever solving the mystery of his enchanting Ms. Woolstand.