Diurna: an Anthology of Short Stories and Poems

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Reminiscence of a City at Night (5)

I heard the voice of people reciting the Holy Book. It was near dawn and the sun would come out in a couple of hours. The world of the shadow would soon come to an end, replaced by the illuminated earth of man. During the day, under the sun, man walks and labors. In a time so long ago, before the advent of the electrical light that made man’s affair prolonged into the depth of night, the shadow was feared and honored: no significant labor was possible or permitted; man rests and hides.

My bruises was hurting me and I was so thirsty: I have drank my bottle. I walked through the station, heading east; I followed the sound of the recitation that was echoing through the loudspeakers. The last hours of the night is the stillest. I encountered some homeless people roaming the pedestrian walk in front of a store complex. Their eyes were empty; they don’t even walked straight. There were so many of them; some were sleeping inside a self-made tent out of cardboxes and dirty rags. They were so silent: I didn’t hear the sound of their breath.

After around two kilometers walk, I arrived at the main street that lies paralel to the track of the train. It was empty, although at daylight it is always the busiest street in this city. It would be filled with a mixture of private cars, buses, public taxi, rickshaws, and a horde of motorcycles. Especially those motorcycles: they burst in unpredictable trajectories throughout the chaotic mass. But not at that hour: it was quite empty.

On what is believed to be the center of the city—the oldest point that started the civilization on this area—stands the Great Mosque with its high minarets that sounds the recitation of the Holy Book to all of wind’s directions: the wind carries the sound, which supposedly will be heard in the distance, touching the heart of the believers, and calling them to offer some prayer in the last part of the night. So was the upright habit of the Prophet; so should the faithful follow his example.

The door to the Great Mosque was closed but never locked. On its terraces people slept: those that didn’t have a refugee for the night. Whether some of them were regulars I didn’t know for sure. I entered the Great Mosque from one of the back door.

Inside of the mosque—to my surprise—was empty. When one enters the Great Mosque, one finds oneself in a coridor. From that corridor, one can see through reliefed wall to the center of the mosque: a big square covered with green carpet with motifs embroided. In between, stand pillars that support the building. There is a second and a third floor, but the center of the area is left open, so people on the second or the third floor still can see to the first floor: to see the preacher.

As I walked inside the main prayer area, I saw an old man sitting at one corner. He was reciting the Holy Book on his hand, although he was not the one whose voice was spread through the loudspeakers. He seemed to realize my appearance and stopped his recitation. He smiled at me, walked while repairing the position of his sarong, and greeted me, “Peace be upon you, young one. What brings you here in the deepest of the night?”

I didn’t answer him directly, because I was just looking for a place where I could have a drink, wash myself clean, and get some rest. I didn’t expect to be asked by someone and I was afraid that my motivation for coming to the Great Mosque would be considered not of religious nature, causing me to be casted away. Before I uttered a word, the old man said, “Ah, you seem hurt, young one. I guess one of those motorcycle gangs made some mischief again, eh? You should be more careful these days: they are running the street at night. I wonder why the police seem to overlook their existence.” I kept silent for a moment.

“Come, young one! I’ll take you to the well of this old mosque where you can clean your wound,” said the old man. I followed without hesitation. We walked to the other side of the mosque and steped down a ladder leading to the lower ground: it took us to the cleansing room, where people wash their face, hands, and feet before commencing the prayer. It was separated between the male and the female area; we went to the male one. It was vast and covered with ceramic tiles: I felt the cold of its tiles as I walked through it barefeet. No shoes are allowed in the mosque: I left mine at the shoe rack on the terrace where I came in.

The cleansing room has another exit; we went out and found ourselves in a corridor. There were shutted doors along it, which I pressumed to be some sort of warehouse or supply rooms. There was another stair leading down; carefully we stepped down the ladder since it was darker at that side. It was the kitchen: I found myself among kitchen utensils and stoves. How unpractical, I thought, but there was another door visible across the room. Maybe they use that one to deliver the food, and that door offers a better path to come down here.

The old man still walked in front of me. “Come, young one!” I hurried, answering his call. It was somehow colder down there. We entered a door and he turned on the light. The floor was not covered by tiles anymore: it was cemented, but not dusty. At the end of the room there was a well: it was quite large and had a wooden bucket on top of its wall. The old man put the bucket into the well, lowering it, and pulled it out again slowly. It was filled with water. He took a small wooden chair, the one that people use to get into squat position used when people washing dishes or cloths, and point his hand to it: I should sit there.

“You can clean your wounds here and later you can serve yourself a hot drink. I am the watcher of this mosque, so you don’t have to be worried,” he seemed to read my thought. “Thank you for all of this. I had a misfortune just before that made me came into this state,” I said.

He smiled and took another chair; I started to wash my face and hands. I opened my jacket, rubbed some water into the place where dirt was apparent. I could still hear the echo of the recitation.

“This is the oldest well in the city,” he suddenly talked again. “The well is the starting point of all the settlement in the region. When a nomad families migrated from one village to look for a better place to settle, the deciding factor was the availability of water.

“The elder who was in charge in the sacred art of divination should be aware of those signs: the availability of water, the apropriate distance from the Great Mountain, the availability of a vast flat land, and the sweetness of the soil.

“When the first nomad arrived they built their first settlement here. The next step was to establish order: so the temple was errected near the water source, the community house to the next, and the Great Plain should lie in the center. From that point on one could build their dwellings.”

The old man’s eyes seemed to gaze upon a distant past; I continued cleaning myself. He continued:

“But it was a long time ago; far before this mosque even got built. We survived too many wars in between: too many different lords and rulers. When the company from the west continent occupied this land, the mosque was already built on top of the old temple. But then the city center was moved farther north, near the central station. This praying ground was left, but it was never abandoned.

“You hear that recitation, young one? That tradition predates the first coming of the Holy Book in this land. There were monks before, who did their chanting through the night. And even before the monks: the sages and the wisest of man recited their wisdom to their pupils. We saw people coming from east and west, and we saw how they stay on this land—and how they later left it. The recitation stays; the language changes; but what is being recited remains the same: a fragment of truth, a piece of glass that allows us to see a reflection of the truest life.

“But the virtues of those words lie not on itself or its intelectual interpretation. The virtues lie beyond all of that and renounce all language to explain it. One has to become one with the words. Only then one truly hears.”

I finished washing my jacket and turned around: the old man was not on his chair. He was probably went on to the top floor and started reciting the Holy Book again. I took some drink water from the kitchen, walked back to the upper floor, and found only a dark and empty praying room. The corridor light was left on dimmly, helping me to walk to my entrance where I left my shoes. I didn’t see the old man. As I walked out of the Great Mosque’s door I heard a whisper: “May peace be upon you.”

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