Waiting At the Gates of Heaven

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Chapter 11

When Lalage woke up, the clock was showing thirteen minutes to twelve p.m. She was woken from her sleep by the strangest dream she had ever had. Right after getting back to her cottage, after meeting Mr. Uriah Reed, Lalage had gone straight to bed, and hardly had she been sleeping for an hour, when her sleep was disturbed. Nevertheless, the dream she had had seemed to grow in dimension and meaning, threatening to crush the fragile peace which Lalage had sought for so long.

“Come on, Lalee”, she tried to reassure herself, “it was only a dream.”

She knew she was lying herself. Her dream Perseus looked exactly like Uriah Reed. Could it be possible that unconsciously, she was beginning to have feelings for him? But that was nonsense. She barely knew him, and still, there she was, in a Palestinian cottage, fantasizing about a British librarian, she had recently met and who was nothing like the mythological hero of the Greek pantheon. Moreover, Uriah had appeared in her dream in the guise of a slave, unlike the original myth.

Too much thinking…I am getting a headache.

Lalage yawned and stretched.

Yes, it is better to focus upon the present and not upon mere trifles.

Thus, willing herself to have a good mood and enjoy her day, she put imagination aside and chose the tangible canvas of reality. And indeed she started to feel better. She got off the bed, slipped her feet into some cozy slippers, and went to the bathroom. After a quick shower, the world seemed a better place. And it truly was. Outside it was a bright day. Although it was the end of November, the weather was mild and serene. And Lalage was confident that she would meet Uriah Reed during the day.

Uriah Reed…Lalage smiled, and everything came back, like a memory triggered by the laws of incidental associations. If only he knew she had dreamt him last night, and what a dream that was. He was Perseus, the mythological hero, well, in her case it was Perseus, the slave, but nevertheless, one couldn’t deny that last night’s imagery had been peculiar and intriguing.

Perhaps, I will tell him about my dream. He’ll sure make fun of it, but anyway, I am curious to hear his opinions about it.

And that were her thoughts as she headed for the kitchen. But when she entered the kitchen, Lalage realized that someone else had arrived there before her, and now was sitting at the table with a cup of hot cocoa in front of him. He not even bothered to look at her.

“Good morning, Lucien!” Lalage politely greeted

him.

The young man merely grunted and kept on sipping his cocoa. His hair was unkempt and his face unwashed, but he didn’t seem to mind at all.

I wonder if he’s even conscious of having a body which he should keep clean.

“Where is Mr. Rai?” Lalage asked him.

“Gone to fetch some cattle.”

“I see… Do you have any idea what time he will be back?”

“He won’t be back till night fall.”

Lalage frowned. She had counted on Mr. Rai to drive her to the village. He had promised to take her to see the Gate of Jaffa.

“He told me to take you there, you know, if you still wanna go.”

Only the idea of accepting Lucien’s offer was enough to make her stomach clench. But she couldn’t tell him that. However, he seemed to guess what thoughts were now crossing her mind. He pouted and almost threw her a heated glance, as if he utterly hated her.

“I’ll let you know, okay?”

Lalage tried to sound cheerful, but failed to conceal her true feelings. Fortunately, Lucien sank back into his usual grumpy mood, and Lalage didn’t reopen the subject. She surreptitiously glanced at him, and the more she contemplated his features, the more he resembled the dark shadow of her dream, more reason for Lalage to decide not to apply to Lucien for showing her around.

She went to the fridge, opened it, and took out some food. She would have for breakfast salmon paté on Graham bread, dark chocolate, almonds, and a glass of milk.

“Would you like some?” she asked Lucien.

“I’ve already had breakfast.”

Lucien paused for a minute, scrutinizing Lalage from under his bushy eyebrows. She felt awkward. Ever since she got here, she had felt awkward around him.

“I saw you with him last night.”

Lalage almost chocked with a piece of bread. She violently coughed.

“I beg you pardon?”

“You heard me well.”

“Are you spying on me?” She sounded furious.

“I am just worried what my neighbours would say about the decent family of Rai, lodging a woman who flings her charms before strangers.”

Lalage hardly mastered all her strength not to jump at him and smart his stupid face.

“What is your problem, Lucien?” “You”, he simply said.

“For your information, Mr. Uriah Reed is an honourable man with whom I have been acquainted in London.” She was half lying. She had indeed seen him in London. Well, what matters if he happened to be looking out the window as she was passing by, they did see each other. “And”, she loudly yelled to him; “what I am doing in my own private time, with my personal life, is strictly and categorically, my own damn problem.”

“Not as long as you’re staying in my father’s house.”

“I’ll move then.” She said, rising from the table.

He barred his way.

“I am sorry, Miss Lalage. I didn’t mean to offend you. I just gave you a friendly advice.”

Even his excuse lacked truth or any genuine feeling. It had forcefully come out, although Lucien was not actually sorry for saying those words.

Lalage didn’t respond. She left the kitchen, went in her room and dressed for going out. She had to find Uriah Reed and ask him whether he knows if there is an extra room at Mika’s hotel. She would pack her things later, perhaps, tomorrow, after Mr. Rai’s return from the village.

When she descended, at the bottom of the stairs, Lucien had been waiting for her.

“Where are you going?”

“Far away from the respectable house of Rai”, she ironically replied, and without waiting for Lucien’s further comments, she left the house, slapping the door behind her.

Soon Thalmuses Hotel appeared before Lalage, looking like an ancient temple that surrounded by an orange grove, was awaiting the arrival of prophets and prophetesses to burn the incense of faith and sing the hymns of redemption. At the entrance, Mika’s mother was dozing off on her bench. Nevertheless, when Lalage approached, like an old Cerberus, the woman opened her eyes and sniffed the air. Adjusting her spectacles, the old woman scrutinized the youth who like a ghost, had appeared before her.

“Good morning, granny”, Lalage said smilingly, but the woman didn’t smile.

Gravely, she nodded, and closed her eyes again. Lalage remained where she was, fascinated by the matriarchal face of the old woman, and only when Mika Bernstein’s voice woke her up from her revelry, did she realize that she had come here to search for Uriah Reed.

“Good morning, young lady”, Mika greeted her. “Please, don’t mind my mother. She’s old and a little deaf. What can I do for you?”

For a moment, Lalage wanted to ask him personally if there was still a room available at Thalmuses, but instead she asked him about Uriah.

“Oh, my British guests have just woken up and are having breakfast. Please, come in, I will take you to them.”

“No, I’ll wait here till they finish. But, please, I will appreciate if you’ll let Uriah know that I am waiting outside to talk to him.”

Mika agreed, and Lalage went near the old lady, sitting on the same bench. Mrs. Bernstein didn’t open her eyes. But even though her eyelids had hid the light of the eyes from Lalage’s view, the latter felt the vigilance of the old woman’s soul.

Inside the dining room, Uriah and Gabriel were the only ones having breakfast at that time. The other tourists hadn’t woken up yet.

“What are you planning to do next?” Gabriel asked Uriah.

“I have to search what is cloaked from the senses.” “Elohim?”

“Yes, I have to search Jehovah Elohim.”

“Uriah,” Gabriel’s face had grown serious. “Do you really think you can find God? What if He doesn’t want to be found?”

“No, God always appears to the one who needs His guidance. And this is my quest. Besides, even Jesus said that ‘if you bring forth what is within you, what is within you will save you. But if you do not bring forth what is within you, what is within you will destroy you’,” said Uriah, quoting from the Gospel of Thomas.

“And what do you think that is exactly within you, Uriah?”

“The desire of saving mankind…”

On hearing his friend’s words, Gabriel couldn’t refrain from smiling.

“Desire…Curious, but it has just came into my mind some lines from Hinduism. It could be the Veda system of wisdom. I don’t quite remember, but nevertheless, Hindu religion believes that ‘desire caused all the Gods to fall from their places…and it is desire that leads all creatures to hell.’”

“I am not going to hell,” Uriah said after listening attentively to Gabriel.

“Then where are you going, my friend? Quo Vadis, Uriah?”

Never had Uriah felt more tired, at a loss of finding the right words to make Gabriel understand the tremendous fascination of deciphering the mysteries of creation.

“I do not know what path I will finally choose”, Uriah finally confessed, “but I do know that the chosen path will lead me to God, i.e. to my union with God. Even the word ‘religion’, Gabriel, comes from the Latin word ‘religare’ which means union. I know I have to unite with God in order to deliver mankind from falling prey to evil.”

“Well, I don’t know about that, Uriah, but…” Right then, Mika entered announcing Uriah that a

charming lady awaits for him outside. Gabriel who knew nothing about Uriah’s mysterious encounter threw his friend a confused glance.

“I will explain it later”, Uriah excused himself, “but now I have to go.”

He rose from the table and left, leaving behind a very flabbergasted Gabriel Archer. When Uriah stepped into the yard, Lalage rose from the bench and walked to him. She looked wonderful; Uriah found himself thinking as he admired her silhouette gliding along the blades of grass.

“Good morning, Mr. Reed”, Lalage said as soon as they were standing face to face.”Forgive me for such an early social call, but I need to speak with you urgently.”

“Good morning, Miss Lalage. I am very glad you’ve come to me. Would you like to come in and discuss the matter inside or do you prefer walking around?”

“Let’s take a walk, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all”, he reassured her. “Has something happened?”

“I had an unpleasant row with Mr. Rai’s son, the guy I talked to you about last night, and I am afraid I can no longer remain there for the rest of my staying in Palestine.”

“I am so sorry to hear that. What caused this row?” Lalage took a deep breath and then, let the truth

out.

“You.”

Uriah looked at her in awe.

“Me? How is this possible?”

“Last night, Lucien saw us together, and this morning, he confessed his worries concerning the reputation of his family if they allowed a woman who indulges in secret conversations with men, to remain under their roof.”

“Oh, my goodness”, moaned Uriah. “I didn’t mean for this to happen. I’ll go immediately and explain the situation to Lucien.”

Lalage beamed at him.

“You don’t have to. I have already explained the situation to him. He should mind his own business. Mr. Reed, I didn’t come to you, like a damsel in distress. I came to you to ask whether Thalmuses is a good place to stay at, and if there is a room available.”

“Yes, I believe there is. But, I still think I should talk to Lucien.”

“No, you shouldn’t. I don’t care what he thinks. I will return to the Rai’s and after talking and explaining the situation to Mr. Rai, I will leave their house, but no sooner. I owe Mr. Rai an explanation. He is my father’s pen friend and I don’t want to ruin their friendship only because Mr. Rai’s son is a disagreeable, nosy person. And after, paying Mr. Rai my rent, I’ll come to Thalmuses. Unfortunately, I will have to wait till morning since Mr. Rai won’t return home sooner.”

They had approached a sandstone hill.

“Let’s stop for a second”, suggested Lalage, and sat on the grass, sheltered by the leafy branches of a fig. Uriah also seated next to Lalage. She carefully looked at him.

“What?” Uriah asked, feeling a tinge of red in his cheeks.

“Nothing”, smiled Lalage. “I only remembered the dream I had last night.”

Suddenly, Uriah stopped breathing, waiting restlessly for her words.

“I dreamt you.”

There was a long moment of silence, and then Uriah spoke.

“So have I.”

Lalage laughed.

“Why are you laughing? I did dream about you.” “What was the dream about?” asked Lalage, still

giggling.

“You tell me first what yours was about.”

“Fine”, Lalage agreed, still smiling. “I dreamt that I was the princess of Jaffa and you were my slave.”

All the blood curdled in Uriah’s veins, and a mortifying paleness spread across his face.

“Are you okay, Uriah?” Lalage asked him with a worried look upon her face.

He didn’t reply, but gazed at her as if she were an artifact, containing tremendous secrets and dangerous knowledge. And when he found his words again, he voiced his soul, letting out a long confession. Standing in the shadow of the fig tree, Lalage listened to the stories of Uriah’s nights, and when he finished, she was the one who now looked petrified and numb.

“I don’t understand”, she murmured, clinging to him, like he was a sort of key to the chamber of reason and logic.

“I don’t understand either.”

She looked at him in disbelief.

“Why are you here in Jaffa?”

“I can’t tell you.”

“You don’t trust me, do you?”

“I do trust you.”

“But…?”

“But I cannot ask you to share the burden of my quest.”

“What if I want to?”

“I will not allow it.”

Lalage wanted to say something, to rebuke him, but right then, as if the heavens above had woken from the heavy slumber of life, a thunder split the silence of the clearing, and drops of rain started falling from the dark running clouds.

“We are too far from Thalmuses”, Lalage shouted at him.”We need to take shelter from the rain.”

“Yes, we can’t remain under this fig. It might be struck by lightning. But where should we go?”

“I know a place one mile away from here. We’ll have to run fast to get there in time before the storm gets loose.”

And they ran and ran, through the veils of the falling rain, until they reached a small one storey reed hut, situated near a marshy area and on a coast, 5 miles of the village.

“Who lives here?” asked Uriah intrigued by the desolation of the place.

“Father Mathias. He is a good man.”

Saying this, Lalage approached the door of the hut and knocked. For a moment, there was no answer, and Uriah thought that nobody was at home, but then a voice answered the knock, inviting them to open the door and usher themselves in. And they did follow the instruction; thus entering a small and simple hut that only had a bed, a stove, and a table with one chair.

“Bo-ker6, my children”, he greeted them, and Lalage answered, while Uriah simply stared at the blind man who mildly smiled at his two visitors.

Father Mathias was a curious man of over 50 years of age, dress in a gray plated cloak that reached his ankles. His white hair was long and falling in a foamy waterfall of locks, and his olive skin stretched endlessly over the bones that didn’t seem covered in flesh but in a leathery garment, resembling a scroll where the history of a man’s life appeared depicted in symbols and representations of a mysterious nature.

“Come in”, he urged them. “I am so sorry I do not have enough chairs to make you feel comfortable but I seldom have visitors. There is hardly a soul that remembers me.”

“It’s okay, father”, Lalage tried to comfort him. “We’ll just sit on the floor.”

Both Lalage and Uriah adopted the Arabic position of bending their knees and sitting on the ground, while Father Mathias sat on his only chair.

6 Morning (hebrew)

“My father, Professor Petrov sends you his best wishes. He fondly recalls the short time he spent in your company when you were preaching in Rome.”

“Yes, that was a long time ago. I remember your father. He was a good man.”

Right then, a thunder split the skies, making the earth quiver in the secular silence of its motionless. The white hollows of Father Mathias’s eyes pierced the walls of the hut as if trying to reach the scenery of the distant rainy landscape.

“Weather can be tricky in November. It rains a lot during this month in Palestine.”

“Indeed.”

“What is your name, my child? And who is the man who accompanies you?”

Uriah was startled. Although, he hadn’t uttered a word since they came in, Father Mathias knew he was a man and not a lady friend.

“My name is Lalage Petrov, and this is my friend, Mr. Uriah Reed.”

“Nice to meet you”, said Father Mathias and smiled again.

“Nice to meet you”, they both replied. “What are you doing here in Palestine?” “I am writing a book”, Lalage confessed. “What kind of book?”

“It’s about myths and ancient civilization.”

Then something strange happened. If Lalage had been reluctant to discuss with Uriah the topic of her book, she told Father Mathias all the details.

“The action takes place in Mesopotamia, the land of rivers. I have chosen this area because it is considered to have been the cradle of civilization. And in this place, a Sumerian warrior is born. His name is Sinh, and he is also known as the lion of the desert. One day, he meets a beautiful princess, who had come to bathe in the waters of the river Pison. They fall madly in love, but he is killed by a Babylonian ruler who wanted the girl for himself.”

“It sounds sad.”

“All love stories are sad.”

“Not all. Only the best ones”, said Father Mathias with another candid smile.

“What about you?” His gaze was now turned to Uriah. “What brings you here?”

“I cannot tell.”

“If you cannot tell, how can you find what you are looking for?”

“How do you know I am looking for something?” asked Uriah puzzled.

“Aren’t we all looking for something? The life of man is an endless quest for meaning and answers.”

“I am looking for a sacred place.”

“Every place is sacred if you allow God to settle within your heart. Thus, God shall be with you wherever you go.”

“No, the place I am searching is called the Valley of the Kings.”

Father Mathias’ hands trembled for a minute; then stretching out his arm, he fumbled in the darkness for Uriah. The latter got nearer to the blind man, and let his shoulders rest under the callous hands of Father Mathias.

“My son, you are searching in the wrong place.” “No”, cried Uriah and Lalage looked at both of

them in awe, not understanding what was happening. “No, I am the last descendant of The Wooden Cross Order. I have read the manuscript, I have decoded the symbols. It all leads here.”

Father Mathias shook his head.

“It all leads to man. Man has created symbols and codes in order to substitute the intangibility of God. You see, my son, we are imperfect beings and we crave for a fulfillment of all the five senses. We need to see, hear, smell, feel, and acknowledge the divinity. And that is why, religion has created icons and statues, and codes, and even orders, so that God may be represented in the world of mankind.”

“Do you mean to say that the Garden of Eden has never existed? Or that the Bible has misinterpreted things?”

“My son, of course the Garden of Eden has existed, and is still exists. But it’s not a place; it’s a feeling of utter harmony and peace that originates within all of us. The same applies to Hell. That is to say we are our own light and chiaroscuro. And the Bible is just a story told by each nation, under different forms, but bearing the same message; and that is that God is the All Mighty Creator, the Loving Father who may punish and redeem, but who nevertheless drives all the mortals on the right path of their journey towards divinity.”

“But according to the manuscript of the Wooden Cross Order, God has placed a part of His soul into a vessel that is prone to self destroy in time.”

Lalage shuddered, unable to fully assess the tremendous fascination of that peculiar moment.

“Don’t you see, my son”, Father Mathias went on, “the vessel is the world and it always self destroys in order to regenerate and grow stronger. We need to experience death, so that we may reborn as a better nation of men.” Uriah looked at Father Mathias with disbelief. He was experiencing the same sensation of the cave dweller

described by Plato who had just been told that outside the cave, lies a world he is not acquainted with. And then he thought about the peculiar dreams, both he and Lalage had had, and searching for her gaze, he read in her dark pupils the unfathomable horror of the truth that fought its way up to the surface. And he began telling Father Mathias about their common dreams, describing the sensations, the feelings, and their shared fate, as well as their strange meeting both in London and in Palestine. And Father Mathias listened, and absorbed the outpour of information, as outside, the earth let itself imbued by the shower of the autumn rain.

When Uriah finished his confession, Father Mathias gave his usual kind smile.

“Dreams, my children, are the matrix of recurrent patterns and mysterious interstices, and sometimes, they provide access to the universal consciousness of all humanity. And if you two met, that is not strange either. Nothing ever disappears from the surface of the earth. Everything comes back under a shape or another.”

“Are you talking about reincarnation?”

“Yes. And if you two dream about Andromeda and Perseus, that doesn’t mean you were indeed Andromeda and Perseus. This myth exists in many cultures, under different forms. For instance, in the story of Saint George who met a beautiful woman, in the land of Africa, and the woman had been tied beside a lake inhabited by a dragon. But Saint George was not the only one who fought dragons. In the Northern sagas, one can find the legendary Beowulf. And in the Japanese mythology we find the representation of Perseus in the god of thunder, Susanoo, who saves the princess Kushinada Hime from the serpent Yamato no Orochi.”

“But then why did we have these dreams?”

“Because in one of your past lives you lived something similar with the story depicted by the myth, but since the soul’s memory cannot look back as if it would examine a picture, the mind begins to make associations and to represent past memories through symbols found in your present culture and civilization.”

Uriah and Lalage felt submerged into the waters of a great deluge. It was the primordial deluge of the awakening.

“If you want I can make you go back and remember,” Father Mathias said.

“What do you mean? When you say go back, are you referring to hypnosis?”

Father Mathias nodded.

“I don’t know about this”, Lalage faltered, and made an attempt to rise from the ground, but Uriah stopped her.

“I want to do it”, he said.

“What?” Lalage cried in shocked. “Are you mental?”

“Hey, you are the one who brought me here in the first place.”

“Yah, to shelter ourselves from the rain…And I guess the sky has cleared itself. We should leave, Uriah.”

“I am not leaving. I want this.” Lalage knew the battle had been lost. “I hope you know what you are doing.” “Don’t you worry, bat.” He’ll be fine.”

“Lie down”, Father Mathias told Uriah, and he lay

down.

Father Mathias began talking. He had a deep, hissing voice, soft and mysterious at the same time. He asked Uriah to imagine that he was in an empty meadow.

There was a path ahead of him, and Uriah was supposed to follow that road and see where it led to. With every step he took, Uriah Reed felt the fresh, cool air of the mountains. High above, the piercing cries of the eagles floated like an airy veil of sounds. And Uriah kept walking and walking, and with each step, he fell deeper and deeper into his subconscious.

Soon, he reached a huge gate which had strange letters and drawings on it. After he opened the gate, and went through it, he felt cold. Underneath his feet, spread a dazzling silvery carpet of snow. He was home. He had reached home. Uriah Reed had never felt safer, and more overwhelmed by everything he saw. He was like an exiled man who after a long absence, was now returning to his beloved country.

He saw his parents’ house, his five brothers. He talked with them, laughed with them. Then he was at school, forever playing pranks, and hiding in a corner, far away from the classes and the teacher, with James Fennimore Copper’s The Last of the Mohicans in his lap. It was then, after reading that marvelous book, when he first thought of going to America, to that fascinating geography of the Native Americans. But then he grew up, he fell in love, he suffered. He even thought of taking his life. And in the darkest period of his life when he had abandoned all hopes, he met her, his Aleksandra, the guiding light and inspiration of his life. Her parents were planning to marry her with a rich General. They kept bragging about her beauty and about the General’s fortune. But the young and inexperienced Aleksandra did not love the General. She had fallen in love with the poor student who aspired to become a man of letters. How he had fought for her, fiercely, like a lion, and he succeeded to save her from a mismatched alliance.

Later he became a writer, and married the woman of his dreams. How happy did they live in their dainty house. He loved her with a god like passion, and with an equal fury he mourned over her dead body, when she fell ill and died. It was then, during her illness that she began to hallucinate. She claimed that she was running through a forest, all dressed in white, and that her name was Andromeda. And he called her, Andromeda, each time he leaned over her sweaty forehead, pressing his lips upon the pale skin. And she described to him the happiness she experienced when he was near. But the moment of her death was agonizing. She knew she was about to die, and she told him that she wouldn’t let death have her. She described her journey towards the sea where she meant to plunge in the waves. And when she reached the waves, she cried in despair. The waves were so cold against her feverish skin.

He took her hand and said that he would never leave her alone. And they dived in together, she in death, and he in despair. The same night, he passed a bullet through his heart.

The moment, the gun had fired, Uriah woke up to reality. He felt disoriented, confused. He got up from where he was standing. A heavy dizziness numbed his limbs, and how cold was him…He shivered, and Lalage rose frightened to steady him, as he stuttered on his feet. He was experiencing the acute sense of fatigue that one had after travelling for miles and miles. And the cold was unbearable, like a sharp blade, as if he had been to the North Pole and back.

There was also a sharp pain in his nape as if he had hit something hard. Perhaps, the pain had been caused by his uncomfortable sleeping position. He felt scared and his heart was drumming loudly in his chest.

“What has happened to you, Uriah?” Lalage desperately cried.

He turned his face to her, and his eyes almost filled with tears. It felt so nice to see her again, to touch her hands, and breathe the odour of her skin.

“It was a strange experience, wasn’t it?” Father Mathias chuckled.

“Let’s get out of here, Uriah”, Lalage implored. “It was a bad idea coming here.”

“I am fine, Lalage”, he assured her when he managed at last to calm himself. He had almost called her Aleksandra, but he knew she wouldn’t understand.

“Thank you, Father Mathias”.

“You’re welcome, my son, and remember that there’s more to this life than meets the eye.”

“Let’s go, Uriah”, Lalage urged.

“Yes, go my children. The rain has stopped.” Before they left the hut, Lalage turned to Father

Mathias as the latter called her to give one last warning. “Stay away from Lucien Rai. Be hats la kha7 and

bless it be, my children.”

Once they were out, Lalage panted huffily.

“He knew I am staying with the Rai. How did he know that? And why did he warn us about him?”

Uriah had no answer.

“And you…you gave me such a fright. What happened during your hypnosis?”

“Nothing”, he lied.

“I don’t believe you.”

“It is true. I just fell into a deep slumber, and I don’t remember anything I saw while I was sleeping.”

7 Good luck (hebrew)

She still seemed incredulous, but accepted his variant of truth. He hadn’t told her that he had indeed travelled far, far away into the distant past of another time and space. His past life where he had felt the power of love and the power of bereavement… And now he knows that his soul won’t find peace until he finds that Valley of the Kings. Although, Father Mathias told him it is not a physical place, Uriah felt it had to emerge out of something. It has to have a concrete existence, and there he will bury his manuscript and his past, after which he will try to start a new life.

Lalage had returned to the Rai’s cottage. Mr. Rai, Lucien’s father had still not arrived home from the village.

“Something must have happened”, Lucien informed her. “It has often happened to see my father return home after two or three days.”

Lalage helplessly sighed, and deciding to put up with the situation, she went to bed. She felt tired and she really needed a good night’s rest. Tomorrow, she will definitely see things in a clear perspective.

The following day, Lalage again found Lucien alone in the kitchen. His father still hadn’t returned.

“No news from Mr. Rai yet?” she asked, faintly hoping for a positive answer.

“No.”

And suddenly, she felt sadder, and her thoughts drifted away at the previous day’s recollections. It had been a strange stream of events. And what a character was that Father Mathias…He would make an excellent Mesopotamian prophet or priest, or maybe a scribe. She would think about it, but without doubt, Father Mathias was to enter in the pantheon of her fictitious characters.

“You won last time, but not anymore.”

Lucien’s malicious voice woke her up from her revelry. Lalage was getting more and more confused. She looked at Lucien and his eyes showed no pity. They had almost disappeared behind the darkness of the piercing pupils. Those were no human eyes. They couldn’t be human eyes.

“I am afraid I do not understand you, Lucien. What have I won, if you are kind enough to explain to me?”

He grinned. It was the same grin that the shadow in her dream had. The more she thought about it, the more Mr. Rai’s son looked like the stranger that had come in the dream to witness her death. And Father Mathias had warned her about him.

“I do not understand you, Lucien.”

At that moment, there was a knock on the door, and Lucien smacked mockingly his lips.

“Hurry up and open, your paramour has arrived.” “I don’t have any paramour, and by the way, you should mind your own business.” Lalage rebuked him,

and went to open the door.

It was indeed Uriah Reed.

“Good morning, Mr. Reed.”

“Good morning, Miss Petrov.”

And without knowing exactly why, Lalage

blushed.

“I am so sorry for disturbing you at such an early morning”, Uriah began to apologize himself, “but I need to speak with Mr. Rai’s son, if he is at home.”

“You want to talk with Lucien?” “Yes, he wants to talk with me.”


Lucien had appeared behind Lalage, smiling slyly at Uriah Reed who felt a chill down his spine.

“Miss Petrov, I will explain everything as soon as I finish with Mr. Lucien.”

“No, you don’t have to, Mr. Reed. Please, do come in. I will make a cocoa for you and serve it in the living room.”

“As a matter of fact, Miss Lalage, I was hoping Mr. Lucien will accompany me on a walk down the fields. His familiarity with the Palestinian landscape will serve me well.”

“Don’t the British know how to say please?” Uriah gave Lucien an impatient look, but decided

that it would be best not to upset the only hope he had for getting a clue on what he was looking for.

“Please, Mr. Lucien, I will be more than grateful if you could grant me this service.”

“That’s more like it now.”

Putting a cardigan on, Lucien left the house and followed Uriah, leaving behind a bewildered Lalage.

“I’ll come back soon, Miss Lalage, and when I do I will appreciate if you allow me a few words.”

“Take your time, Mr. Reed.”

Lalage watched the two men disappearing outside the door that closed behind them. They walked at first in silence, each studying the other. Uriah had decided that Lucien was not a trustworthy person, and Lucien’s mind was as impenetrable as a solid wall of iron.

“I understood from Lalage”, Uriah broke the ice, “that you know something about a valley.”

“I know many valleys.”

“But you only referred to one valley in particular.”

“I may have…I may have not…Why should that interest you?”

Taking a deep breath, Uriah fumbled for the right

words.

“I need to find a valley or a place, a garden more precisely.”

Lucien stopped and looked gravely at Uriah.

“Why have you come to me?”

“You told Lalage that she needs to descend into one particular valley.”

“Listen, Mr. Reed, I only gave her a friendly suggestion. After all she is a tourist and she should enjoy all the beauties that Palestine has to offer.”

The tension had accumulated in the air, waiting to break loose all the havoc of a battle that kept repeating in time and space.

“Mr. Lucien, I would be very grateful if you helped me find a very old and sacred location, perhaps known as The Valley of the Kings.”

The dark pupils of Lucien Rai had become even darker, and Uriah Reed had the impression that underneath that human mask, something terrible hides, terrible and unutterable.

“There is no such thing as the Valley of the Kings.” I have heard that before…Please, tell me something

new.

“You are lying, Lucien.”

“There is no such thing as the Valley of the Kings because in the past it was known as the Aleph, that is …”

“The beginning”, completed Uriah Reed.

“Yes, the beginning.”

“But why it was known as the Valley of the Kings?”

Lucien smiled.

“Many centuries ago, the slaves of Jaffa, after their death, were thrown into a valley and left to rot or serve as carrion for the eagles and hawks that hovered over the region. But the poor wretched souls began to invent stories that would ease their burdens. Ironically, isn’t it? Regardless of this ludicrous situation, the slaves crowned themselves kings. They would tell their children and grandchildren about a magnificent valley where they would go after death and become kings. Soon, there was no slave in Jaffa who wouldn’t talk, sing, or crave after the Valley of the Kings.”

Uriah Reed couldn’t believe what he had just heard. Lucien was lying. He must be lying.

“I see you don’t believe me, but why is that so hard to believe that sometimes the beautiful chimera a man chases all his life turns out to be just smoke and ashes?”

“Then, it has to be another valley. I need to find a pristine space, untouched by civilization or man.”

Lucien laughed heartily.

“You are really funny, British. There is no place that hasn’t been humanly polluted.”

He knew he had to attack the topic directly and without hesitation.

“What do you knew about Eden, Lucien?” Lucien seemed to hesitate, as if he was calculating

his next movement. Nevertheless, it was only a false impression. Uriah thought he saw a faint trace of longing falling in the light of the dawn on Lucien’s face. When he answered, his voice betrayed no emotion, no feeling. It was empty, as if coming from a void.

“A lot more than you might think.”

“Have you heard about the Garden of Eden? Do you think it might be located here, in Palestine?”

“Why do you want to find it?”

“To save mankind, Lucien…to save you.”

For a moment, Lucien analysed Uriah Reed, and then, smiled. It was a different smile. There was no trace of mockery or pride. The smile had cast light upon the unfathomable depth of a struggling soul.

“Why do you want to save mankind, Uriah? Is it worth it?”

“Always.”

“You are either mistaken, my friend, or you simply forget how vicious and cruel human nature can be.”

“But it is also capable of great deeds and acts of courage and love.”

“Still, evil prevails over everything you’ve mentioned.”

“No, evil has only the illusion of triumph. It can’t win, not as long as there is faith, hope, and love.”

Lucien’s fists trembled. His crimson lips had gone purple, and the hollows of his eyes gazed menacingly to Uriah.

“What can faith do when a son mourns over his dead father’s body, and God won’t bring him back? What can hope do when a man longs to return in his country and end his exile, although he has been forbidden to come back home as long as he lives? What can love do when the object of your utmost adoration pushes you into the pit of loneliness and disillusionment?”

He had talked so fiercely, so heatedly, that in that moment, Uriah really pitied him.

“You must have suffered a lot.”

“What do you know about suffering? You know nothing.”

“I can save you.”

“I don’t need salvation. Save yourself, Uriah Reed. You say you need to find the Garden of Eden, there it is in the orchard next to the hotel you are staying in.”

“What? It can’t be…”

“Right under your very nose, isn’t it?” “But how can you tell for certain?”

“That orange grove is the Aleph, or the Valley of the Kings.”

“And that is the Garden of Eden?”

“No, that is the starting point of your quest.” “I don’t understand.”

“Do you wish to understand?”

Why do all Palestinians speak in riddles?

Uriah felt more and more frightened and exasperated.

“Who are you?”

“I guess you already know.”

Lucien approached Uriah who startled took one step back. It was useless to fight against the irresistible desire of looking into those dark eyes which seemed to hold all the secrets of the universe. Pinned to the ground, Uriah found out that he can no longer move his limbs. He had nowhere to escape. When Lucien’s cold lips touched his brow, Uriah’s body shook with impotent fury and sadness.

“The devil always kisses the brow of those marked by fate, Uriah.”

When Uriah opened his eyes, the sun had risen high above the earth, leaving a copper hue across the frame of the horizon. Uriah was alone, and alone he headed to his hotel, bearing the burden of a cursed kiss.

Father Mathias was right. The real Eden is inside a man’s mind. The entire human body is a road map to God. The tree of knowledge resides in the soil of logic and reason, and the tree of life originates in the soul. But evil knows nothing about this. It only knows the hell that roars and scourges all hopes. I know now. For each human being, Eden starts in the point where the Tree of Life meets with the Tree of Knowledge. For me it is the orange grove located in Palestine, where I met Lalage Petrov, my Andromeda from another life, my Aleksandra. And now I know how to find the vessel of God on earth. That is why Lucien showed me the truth. He cannot touch the vessel himself and he needs me to do it. But I have the upper advantage. Lucien has never known the nature of God’s vessel. He has never touched it or received it within. The vessel is within us, it is the love we have for the other and for the entire universe. I made a mistake in the past. I should have never destroyed my corporeal frame. I should have kept faith, hope, and love alive. Love is the salvation of mankind; love and the power to endure, to believe in the God of your forefathers, and to hope beyond hope. I must talk to Lalage at once and take her away from here. No, it would be even better if we didn’t meet at all. At least, not until I cleaned my soul from the shadow of my past mistakes… Nevertheless, she has to get out of this country and save herself.

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