“Have you ever watched a bird flying?”
Lalage turned her eyes away from the fireplace. She could now fully see the man’s face. So far she had avoided looking at him, but now she wanted to hear his answer. But the man didn’t know what to say. He couldn’t find the proper means to express what was going on inside his mind. It wasn’t the first time he couldn’t utter a word when she was around. She had that intimidating air which could freeze someone on the spot. He kept his unyielding position near the fireplace, but his eyes betrayed uncertainty. Suddenly, he seemed not to belong there. He was out of place and out of time, and Lalage knew that.
“You’ve never had time, haven’t you?” Her tone was bittersweet. “The sky is always too clouded for the one busy to tread the world by foot. Although the earth revolves around the sun, it is doomed to keep itself motionless while the shadow of all creatures passes over it. You may master the earth, but one day it is going to be the other way around. But then only the dreamless slumber waits for thee. If only you had raised your eyes, you would have seen the wings of the birds, spread with the wind. This, my friend, is a portrait you don’t get to see in any museum, because it is not merely life that it depicts, but utter freedom. If you had seen that, you would have understood that once the flight begins, the bird will know no rest, she won’t look back until the perfect tree is spotted. And it this on this tree that she will build her new nest.”
The fire kept burning, roaring like a red lion inside the declivity of the wall. The warm light had spread itself through the room, as mysteriously and silent as an ancient ritualistic fire. Lalage and the silent man seemed to have been wrapped in the gauze of the shadowy dusk. They were facing each other like two pagan deities who fight over a patriarchal world where man and woman meet at the border between myth and reality.
“Why are you here?”
It was a normal question. However, he didn’t feel at ease. A moment ago his reason for being there seemed logic, but not anymore. He couldn’t tell precisely the cause for his inner turmoil. It was either the fact she didn’t seem to be happy to see him or because he once again failed to make himself understood. He tried to control himself and went for the briefcase he had laid on a chair. When opened, the briefcase pierced the silence with a rusty cry. He took out a manuscript tied with a purple ribbon.
“I want you to edit my memories. I have here all the necessary data, every memory which haunted and stayed with me. Your job is only to bestow upon them a literary frame so that the manuscript may one day be read.”
“Some people spend their whole lives trying to forget, running away from their past.”
“I am not running away anymore”, he said fixing her with his haunting eyes.
“Why do you want to remember?” “I want you to remember.”
Lalage shook her head.
“You’ve come to the wrong person.” “Lalage…”
He called her by the name, and his whisper died in the turmoil of her thoughts.
“You are in your mid forties”, she reminded him. “Usually, memories are written when one feels the future has nothing more in store for him.”
“Indeed. Nevertheless, when I try to think ahead, to pierce the veil of the unknown, my mind is blocked. I don’t see anything. I desperately try to catch the faintest glimpse into the next moment, but all I can see is exile, separation, and grief. Only when I write, my clouded judgment becomes clearer. I began to put down my thoughts many years ago. This idea of writing to yourself, and in a way of being in deep conversation with your own spirit brought me comfort. But nothing could have prepared me for the experience of loving you.”
“Please, stop it.”
“Why would I stop? It is true. I have loved you ever since I laid my eyes on you, and through all this maze of darkness, you’ve been my light and my inspiration.”
Lalage lowered her head and avoided his eyes.
“Still, you left me behind.”
“I had no other choice.”
“There is always a choice.”
“I didn’t see it back then.”
“You didn’t want to see it.”
“I am sorry”, he sadly whispered, and he really meant it.
“It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“I began writing this manuscript”, he continued, “after I realized that my memories shouldn’t be lost.
Perhaps, in a way I wanted something to be forever mine. I wanted permanence, and nothing is more permanent than the past. The manuscript also contains the memory of my wonderful years as librarian and researcher, the most intense period of my life. It is all so alive in my mind that I am afraid I might forget. Who knows if tomorrow I will even be here, waiting to see the last flight of a bird?”
“Don’t tell me that you are afraid of dying? You’ve always thought yourself unbreakable.”
“I am not afraid. I just want to be ready. There comes a time in one’s life when the thought of dying prevails over any idea of immortality. This thought has often crossed the mind of the outcast creature you see in front of you. I have already experienced social death.”
“You have to fight back. I have never thought that you will ever back up.”
“It’s pointless now. “ He was silenced for a moment. “Look, I have to publish my memories. I need to be remembered.”
“People don’t want to remember librarians who did nothing for them. They want real people who never give up and fight with honour.”
The man’s face suddenly turned red. He nervously started pacing the room, threatening with his fists unseen enemies.
“What do I care about people? I don’t care about the idiotic mass which craves for real people in an amphitheater of puppets and marionettes.”
“You used to care about people.”
“Not anymore. I want you, to be remembered by you only.”
“Why should I remember you?”
“You should remember me for trying to save humanity, for searching the holy truth of being in this world, and for loving you with all the fiber of my soul.”
“You failed to save humanity.”
“I fought the best I could, but when I lost the very thing that made my battle worth fighting, I ceased to be real. I ducked and chose a numb life. Nobody knows where I live or what I do. Still, I want to be remembered. I need to be remembered. Not by people, but by the only person that is my people.”
His hand held forth the manuscript, but she didn’t take it or move from the place she was sitting. He waited until he realized that nothing would happen; then he threw down the manuscript. It fell and hit the floor. Dust rose from the wooden board, and the fire roared louder. They looked in each other’s eyes and they both knew there would never be a next time for them. He put on his hat and turned to the door. Lalage could hear his steps as he walked out of her house and out of her life.
Long minutes passed until she was able to move from the fireplace. She ducked and let her eyes hover over the manuscript. The covers seemed to roll the film of an old and forgotten memory that now had come to life. And in that remembrance, she had told him about her dream of living in the heart of the mountains, in a wooden house next to a water stream. That would have been her haven, where she could spend her life writing far away from the civilized world. And she had found this dream place where she wrote her literature at a wooden table, while the birds were singing and the springs were sprightly dancing. She had also found her peace, far away from society, far away from him.
Lalage took the manuscript from the floor. She opened it. On the first page he had written a dedication. “To L…
We were both two people who dreamt of a better society. This is the danger with all dreams. You get to believe they might come true. Then you wake up, and reality shows its ugly face. Our mistake is that we’ve seen the failure in each other and we’ve condemned our souls to walk separate paths. But here I am at the beginning of a new journey, and I wouldn’t want any companion but you. “
Lalage closed the manuscript. She was furious with him. How dared he enter in her life again? How dared he search for her, and reappear when she succeeded to forget? She went again to the fireplace, ready to thrust the manuscript into the flames. It would wipe out all memories, the past itself. But as she was getting ready to do it, a bird flew by her window. And its wings touched the glass pane with a faint musical echo of pure flight. Lalage stopped and listened. The bird was now sitting on a high branch, watching with her beamy eyes the movements of the woman inside the hut. Lalage stood up, still holding the manuscript in her hands. She approached the window, and for a moment the bird and the woman looked each other in the eye, meeting in a dialogue that knew no words, but feelings. It was a blue bird, the one you fail to see it in the sky, as she unites her plumage with the colour of the high horizon. Lalage opened the window, and the bird spread her wings and flied away, carrying her songs where the woman couldn’t reach her.
Lalage understood what she had to do. She wouldn’t let the man alone on his final path. She would make him see the flight of the blue bird. She would…She just knew she would…
“It is said that every story begins in a certain time and space. We come in this world to suffer pain and be healed by hope and happiness, even if it is nothing but illusory. This is the trap life puts in our way until we wake up surrounded by our wasted energy and unfulfilled dreams, hunted by these skeletons of a man’s life in our own den. What more can we do? On each side of the dice there is a harlequin of hazard. He laughs at our misfortunes, of our weaknesses. And we humbly lower our heads and learn the law of the club, i.e. an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. We vainly try to claim our place in the world, our right to be here. This is the sinful hubris of wanting permanence, a right exclusively reserved for the Gods. And mourning becomes our life. The carnival keeps going. We make our chests drums for the fist of courage to beat in, and we boast in front of our fellow creatures. What great deeds have we accomplished… Then, of course, we are waiting for a standing ovation. We long to be appreciated, to receive titles. The only standing ovation we get is fate applauding our disappointment. Beaten, we still try a last salvation. We take a seat in the dusk of our life and try to reconcile ourselves with the past. We shake hands with our former selves and make peace, even if it is nothing but the dream of a dream in the dream of a dreamer’s dreamy dream.
My life story begins with the coming of the fall. Perhaps there is a reason why people gather their crops at fall. Karma, destiny, or name it as you wish, always takes care that one reaps what one has sown. In my case, the harvest was rich. I came from a wealthy family, but when I decided to join the society of knowledge lovers, my prestige and money accounts got bigger from day to day. Soon, I was the chief librarian of the prestigious Ex Libris library, and the bills for all the books I kept buying were incredibly adding one after another. Of course, I didn’t know back then that books in the wrong hands can crush a human soul, or better said a book’s or a manuscript’s interpretation can have seriously consequences. It was later when I found myself at a crossroads. The Devil and God himself were waiting to see what path I would choose. Be careful when it comes to you. There is no way back after you’ve made your choice. A single wrong step and boom…You expand into the universe. The explosion burns everything to ashes. And then you die to be reborn.
I have done deeds I am ashamed to confess in public. Not because I am afraid. Neither am I ashamed, nor stubborn. No. It’s just there are skeletons you better not disturb as they quietly hang hidden in your closet. So, I raise my glass for all the bold, for all people who sleep dreamlessly at night. I have forgotten the taste of sleep on my pillow. Lately, not even my solitude has been a good company. But let’s give Caesar what belongs to Caesar, i.e. let’s give oblivion the pleasure of anamnesis.
There is no use to torment ourselves thinking how we could have altered things that had already happened. What is done is good done. Even if I could bid time return, and I had the opportunity of going back with all the knowledge I possess today, I would still choose the same path. Going other way around, making a different choice would make me a happier man, but never the happiest man who lived the shortest and most blessing happiness a man could feel in his life. Taking another path would mean not having met the only person in this world who filled my soul with the sacred blessing of joy. I shall talk about this particular person later in my confession. For now, let’s go back in the present of that past fall.
Monday, September, 2, 1896.
The “Ergo Deus Est” Society is hosting a charitable event. I feel like laughing at the very thought of this charade. I know the members of this society by heart. They always want something in return. Their actions are never pro bono. But I have to be there. I had promised my father. He was going to introduce me to Mr. Gordon, the governor he played chess with. His acquaintance would provide me a free ticket to the world of politics, a domain I was not interested at all. But I couldn’t tell my father. It would crush the poor man’s heart.
The carriage is waiting for me outside. Metal coloured and silent, it is waiting to grind the gravel under its wheels. I love this carriage. I leave the house and climb inside. The coachman greets me like usually. The black steeds hit nervously with their hoofs the damp earth. The whip rises menacingly into the air, like a dragon of twisted rope, and with a heavy blow, it falls onto the back of the steeds. The horses neigh and start trotting ahead.
I move aside the curtains and allow my eyes to wander through the mysteries of the night. The beauty of my country, of my village is exhilarating. Taking a deep breath of air, I close my eyes. Right now, I don’t think about anything. I just want to feel the speed.
I remember passing over rustic cottages whose chimneys were puffing wavy trails of smoke. Now and then, solitary lamp posts appeared along the way. Tall, black, like hermits of bygone days, these solitary figures bristled over the alleys. And their blinding light, along with the faces of late passers-by, the night air, all that made me think for the first time where I was heading to.
I am not into politics. My soul craves for something else. So often I have pictured myself sitting on a mahogany desk with a plume tipped in ink, writing the landscapes of my imaginary world. Of course, I also tried to paint the colours of my mind, but it is not enough. I paint and then rage comes over me, and I throw the brush away, and my first intention is to tear the painting with my teeth and nails, because it is not enough. I need words…the poison of words…I need to paint the words of my imaginary world, until the real world becomes mute and dumb, and far away in time and space.
Who am I? Who are all these people living in tiny thatched huts that resemble some leaden boxes of matches? And especially, on this particular night we all wear masks. We move through our histories, like China dolls, perishable and fragile, gamboling in the wires of a Puppet-Maker. We get so accustomed to have someone who despotically chooses our steps for us that we even end up loving the chains that bind us. I am not free. Look at me. I am following my father’s demand of taking part to an event which I loathe and despise for its falsity. Everything is going to be so boring, even the small talk with my father’s friend, the governor. But I will be surrounded by the so called high-society, whose only height is the summit of its vices. Nevertheless, strange as it may seem, I am part of this society, and I am no good than this bunch of spoiled people. A bad lot, this is what we all are.
The building where the event is organized belonged to my family until my father decided that it was better to donate it for a good cause. At the main entrance, the usher bowed with deference before me. His bushy beard could almost touch the ground. I analysed him mischievously. If I gave him a push, he would certainly fall flat in his nose. Of course, I refrained from doing that. Yes, it would have been a funny sight, but that would only have enraged my father. The old man has never wanted a boy, but a man, a future Leonid Fennimore Junior.
I step inside. The main hall is crowded with people. The air is filled with revelry and sickening perfumes. And all the faces smile to each other. They are comrades and business partners. At first glance one would estimate they are the best of friends when in fact they are really plotting against one another. I know all this from my father. He had given me a full description of my future life as a politician, and he missed no detail.
I hated that appellative. My name is Leonid, not Leonidas. I even agree with being called “Lee” or “Leon”, but not Leonidas. Whenever a person called me “Leonidas”, I instinctively thought about king Leonidas of Sparta, and I was no warrior. In fact, I hate the war. I abhor the perspective of mangled bodies and wolfish fiends that would strip a human soul of all the inherent natural good.
I could no longer ignore the call. It was the voice of my father, inviting me to join his table. He was in the company of Mr. Gordon. Reluctantly, I head for their direction, and when I get there I make a courtly bow. I take my seat at their table, after politely greeting my father and the governor. A red tinge had coloured the plump cheeks of Mr. Gordon. I bet he tasted all the liquors around here. Still, that isn’t enough. Nothing is enough for a man accustomed to have everything at his disposal. I follow his example and take a glass from the table. We all have a drink together. The whisky burns my entrails, and cheers my spirit.
“There will be a meeting, young man, at the House of Commons. We need to stand united. These are hard times and tension is in the air.”
His voice is croaked and it annoys my ear. He uses a superior tone, and I assume he is thinking how grateful I must be feeling for his company and attention. Bullshit. I don’t give a damn about his puny being. Luckily, he can’t see inside my mind, or else the governor would have me hanging by the end of a rope in the gallows. Then he begins talking about my future, how lucky I am to work with him and join the right wing. I hear words as ‘career’, ‘bright future’, ‘power’, ‘money’…Blah, Blah, Blah….My stomach quenches. I fill another glass, and
the whisky sets my entrails on a blasting fire. I am a God damn Phoenix. I smile, watching Mr. Gordon’s fat mouth grinding huge teeth under a black moustache. I nod and approve everything he says. Then I look at my father and my eyes speak to him.
Have I ever disappointed you?
I can tell by how awkward he’s scanning my figure that I am a huge disappointment. I mean, he is a lawyer, and a successful one, while his own son dreams more than he should act. However, he is at least satisfied that I haven’t opened my mouth to talk rubbish, that is according to his vision, me giving a glimpse of what I truly desire to accomplish in life, i.e. writing literature and doing abstract and surreal painting.
Yes, I have been a good boy tonight, a most obedient and loving son who hasn’t shamed his father.
Then, why am I so wretched about it?
I feel like throwing up. Instead I help myself with some caviar. Let the common mass eat bread, while the elite satisfy their hunger with caviar. The champagne trembles in the crystal cups which had been spread all over the place. I only see circles of wavering waves mirroring our forgotten origins, when people used to quench their thirst with fresh water. I miss what I have never had. Let the music play and oblivion dance! It is the music of a never-ending Satyricon, reminding people of a mysterious banquet thrown by the modern version of Gaius Pompeius Trimalchio Maecenatianus. I almost expect to see twittering birds pecking on the inside of a roasted pig, or to see displayed before me the exquisite dish with the signs of the zodiac. But unlike Gaius Petronius Arbiter, the creator of Trimalchio, I am the observer of a bunch of people who longed for the golden light of jewelry and precious metals, and not for satire and catharsis. O tempora, o mores! Wallets open and money come out. It is all for a good cause. Isn’t it always for a good cause? I watch my wallet open itself, as my glass fills and refills, and my entrails burn and burn and burn…I am a God damn Phoenix of ashes.
The President of ‘Ergo Deus Est’ Society approaches my father. He wants my father, since he owned the building, to give a speech. I should have guessed that my father would pass that honour to me, since I am his only son and heir. The President throws me a cunning smile. His thick hairy eyebrows make him look like an old stork. I followed this weird bird to a platform where a scene had been improvised. I look at all those people gathered there. They all seem monkeys, caged in frocks and unbecoming garments. Trying not to laugh at them, I cough and find my voice.
“Honorable guests, I salute you and wish to thank you for having chosen to follow the call of humanism. We are all a big family. And in each family, there is a Patriarch, a supreme Father who keeps all members together. In our family, The Patriarch is God. He binds us through our love for the other, a universal feeling that incorporates values and honour. We, the last Quixotic knights, we fight with the wind mills of corruption, setting a democratic state against a pseudo-Marxist nation. We mustn’t forget that we form a Union where equality, culture, and liberty function as an ontological paradigm. Yes, we are defined by our deeds. We are the sum of our own actions. Thus, let us always do justice! Let us always be compassionate! Let us always be close to each other. In every one of us there is the image of God. Let us then be micro Gods on earth, and true sons of our Heavenly Father!”
I have never heard so many people applauding. Certainly, no one had paid attention to all the nonsense of my small talk, but they certainly liked the last part. Or perhaps they were just applauding because they saw others doing the same. The instinct of the common flock always prevailed. You throw a handful of grass in front of a flock of sheep, and every sheep follows the one that heads for the grass, even if it leads them to an open precipice. The same happens to human nature as well.
After the speech, I return to my table. My father is satisfied and proud. He had forgotten he was the one who wrote my speech, just in case he was asked to speak in front of the people and couldn’t extricate himself from such a situation by using me as pawn. He planned it all from the beginning. The High Puppet-Maker took care to move me in the light of Mr. Gordon’s appreciation. And he succeeded. His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Gordon pats me on the back. Even though my inner self recoils in disgust, I manage to subdue the roar of rage and revolt. I stand there, like a trained puppy, and all I can do is smile. I am surrounded by a wall of laughter and booze. The same old symphony… The same utopian mask of a cold society… The same clamor. But then, nothing lasts for long, and always something preordained changes the course of a man’s life.
“Interesting speech!” I hear a girlish voice coming from behind.
I rapidly turn around, and locate the speaker. It was the voice of a young woman who was sitting at a near-by table. She couldn’t be more than sixteen years old. I watched her cunning smile, and a frozen crust cracked inside my chest. For the first time, I felt the warmth of the other’s recognition, i.e. the alive other living in a society of the dead fools.
That girl was the only one present there that had seen through me. She was young and beautiful, and I was on the summit of my boyhood, contemplating the rise of a man’s world. Despite me being with at least ten years older, I was still young and sensitive to a woman’s beauty, and her eyes had already put me at the pillory. I was accused of committing the deadly sin of lying. I could read both contempt and amusement in those black eyes of hers. She had read the text behind my speech. And I had read my death sentence behind unuttered words. Yet, I knew she was right. There was I, a wolf cub trying to bark and run with the wolves. And she had seen that. I turned my eyes from her and looked the other way around, but wherever I looked, I only saw the contempt of her black eyes. Even when Mr. Gordon talked, her voice came from the depths of immemorial time, whispering into my year the same enchanting and haunting phrase:
Lalage closed again the manuscript. Outside, the wind howled and blasted the sprays of the tall fir-trees. She went again to the window. The sun was setting, a ball of quenched fire rolling down the mountain slopes as if it had been pushed by an invisible hand. Her heart was also rolling down, heavier and heavier. She remembered now.
When he first walked her home from a party meeting, the sun was also setting, but it didn’t roll down the mountain. The sun descended over the gates of the village, like a key locking the precincts away from unwanted intruders. The ominous ball of fire, lingered for a while over the summit of plaster and over fields of concrete.
Leonid walked beside her. She struggled to keep up the pace. He had asked her about her life, her passions. It was the first time, their discussion was getting personal.
“I love literature, reading and writing,’ she answered. Everything about Art fascinates me. I like to read as if I am part of the story, and to write as if there were not a story, but genuine life. “
“Have you written something so far?”
“I am saving myself for the perfect time.” “And when will that be?”
“That will be when I have a place of my own, in the heart of the mountains. Of course, I can write here as well, but I could never conceive my work of art in the bustling turmoil of our local community. I need the blessing of nature.”
He looked at her with surprise. She knew Leonid wasn’t expecting her to be so poetical. She had always been tough, at least tougher than him.
“How about you? Do you write?”
“As a matter of fact, I do, Aleksandra. I am writing something, but I cannot read it to you.”
“It’s much too personal. I’ve put too much soul in
“You should have saved some soul for our wedding as well. You are seriously making me want to reconsider my choice.”
Leonid laughed and embraced her.
“Do you think I would ever give you up? Not even death can take you away from me.”
His arms fiercely grabbed her and wrapped her waist. He wove her in the air, causing her to giggle, but he immediately gauged her mouth with violent kisses that left her breathless.
“If you want to know, I’ll tell you”, he said after they had seated on the grass among the wild flowers of the country.
“Yes, I want to know.”
“I am working on a novel about a librarian. He has recently been hired and imagine his surprise when one day, he receives the strange manuscript and diary of a former librarian. Uriah Reed, i.e. the former librarian who had left everything behind, even the love of his life, and everything for an illusion, for the quest of God’s essence on earth.”
“It sounds interesting. I can hardly wait to read.” “But what is more interesting is that the action takes place in the 21st century, and our character, Uriah Reed experiences along the way all sorts of bizarre things, from metempsychosis to physical death.”
“And what happens to the woman he loves?” “She gets to see him one day, for the last time. He
comes to her and asks her to write his memories, but not his present memories, but the memories of a past life’s love story where he had been the happiest man of all men.”
“Can there be a man happier than you are or a woman more loved than I am, even though they are fictional characters?”
He kissed her forehead, pressing gently with his lips the velvet of her skin.
“I am Uriah Reed, because every character is just another facet of the author. And you are my Andromeda, my Lalage, and my Aleksandra. You are the representation of my Garden of Eden.”
“You see how much I love you, don’t you?” “I don’t know. Help me see clearly.”
He kissed her again.
“Are you still reluctant to marry me?” “It depends.”
Another shower of kisses fell upon the petals of the woman’s lips.
“I will marry you.”
“And will you make me a son?”
“I don’t know about that. Am I not enough for
“I want a son to go hunting with or sailing down the icy waters, a son whom I could instruct how to read and write, or even paint if he likes to.”
She puckered her lips.
“What if I have a daughter? Have you thought about that?”
“I don’t want a daughter. I want a male heir.” “Why not an heiress?”
“There is only one woman in my life, and that is you. I wouldn’t want a daughter.”
“You make it sound so bad,” she retorted, “but let me remind you that we are in this together. As much as you desire a son, the same I want a daughter whom I could teach to play the piano, and sew, and even paint if she likes to.”
He nodded approvingly, although the girl sensed his mind was troubled by something.
“What’s the matter now?”
“I just want to know if you could be someone else, what would you choose to be?”
Aleksandra answered promptly.
“A writer of freedom or a blue bird, one with the sky and with all eternity…”
“And why can’t you be both?”
“You can’t be both. You always have to choose.” “And what would you choose?” “A blue bird…”
“And I would follow you. I will always choose
“But you wouldn’t catch me. The more you strive to get me, the higher I ascend.”
August, 9, 1897
For a moment, listening to her talk about becoming a blue bird, I had the feeling she would instantly fly away, leaving me on earth. I was afraid. I was always afraid to lose her. I was much too happy for the gods to allow me to keep her in my life. That is why fear would seize me unexpectedly like an invisible arm wrapping itself around my neck, pressing and pressing, till my lungs couldn’t contain the vital oxygen any longer.
This sensation, I had also experienced in my childhood when my mother blew all the candles off and wished me good night. After the door closed in slow motion, I was no longer able to see her, and I wondered what she was doing. I was afraid I might not see her in the morning, and my fears all came true one day. I was six and when I went in the kitchen, I noticed that she was not there. And neither was she in the dining room or the living room. It was strange. She always woke up early in the morning. But on that morning, everything had changed.
I climbed the stairs to her room. There was a creepy silence all over the house. When I found myself in front of the door, I knocked, but no reply came. Still, from within the chamber, faintly sobs reached my hearing. The sobs were familiar, although I had never heard my father crying. The outcome is easy to be guessed. I opened the door and peep inside. The servants, my father, they had all gathered around the bed of my mother who seemed to be sleeping a heavy sleep. In their agitation, they had forgotten about me, and only when I approached my father and tugged his sleeve, he remembered he still had a son. Still, I think, it took him a while to actually see me. But when he did understand that I had come there, he simply pulled me to his chest and hugged me.
My father had power and influence. I was entrusted to him, and I have never seen my mother since then. Her body had gone to earth, while her soul had sprung from the cage of the physical remains and soared to eternity.
Now, Aleksandra stood next to me, talking about distant horizons and blue birds that fly without looking back. Somehow I wanted her forever with me. Despite my wishes, time went by, and soon it was the hour of our descent back into the village. And when she headed for the street she lived on, I heard her heartbeats. She was saying goodbye. Aleksandra was about to lose herself in the crowd that was heading in the same direction.
The streets had never been more crowded. Then I did something I thought I would never do. I ran after her, pushing my way with my elbows. I tramped someone’s foot and forgot to apologize. I had eyes only for her slender figure. Strangely, the thought of calling her name didn’t crossed my head or maybe I wanted her name not to be heard. Like a secret password, I was the only one I knew how to use it. Luckily, I got to Aleksandra and caught her by the hand. She turned to me, startled at first, but then relieved to see it was only me. We looked in each other’s eyes. Long seconds passed and neither of us could say something. We were both prowling the inevitable, waiting the other to speak first.
I asked her faltering.
“When will I see you again?”
She was silent for a moment. What is she thinking of now? I waited for her answer as if my whole life had depended upon it. I even hated her for not being like the rest of women, always trying to get my attention. But then I wouldn’t have liked her.
“There is nothing in this world that can stop a man from seeing the woman he wants to see.”
She smiled at me and pressed my hand with her little fingers. I didn’t get the chance to ask if that was a yes or no. She released her hand from my grip, and left, flying from me like a blue bird, without looking back.’
March, 25, 1909
The bell disturbed the silence of the morning, echoing gravely in my heart. Franchise and incense floated in the air, and I felt tired. Last night I didn’t get the chance to rest. The writers’ meeting lasted till late after midnight. The moment I got home, I fell on my bed without even changing my clothes. I am lucky for having a very efficient secretary. She phoned me at 7 o’clock a.m. sharp to remind me of the appointment I had with my colleagues from the Union of Creative Writing. When I heard the phone ringing, I cursed the damned machine with all my heart.
I quickly had a shower which was invigorating. It helped to wake me up.
Now, here I am, together with some of my fellow writers attending the Sunday sermon. The president of our Union wants people to consider him a right and just individual, thus he tries to pose as a pious citizen. I will never understand how people, although they recognize the wolf, they allow him to guard the sheep.
I know that every promise of power and wealth mocked me in the face. I was powerless and poor compared with the mighty and richness of those pure at heart.
“Are you fine, son?”
A priest had come across the bench I was sitting on, away from the church, from the president who was praying inside, and from all the people squatted in front of painted angels and saints.
“I am fine,” I replied, wanting him to go away and leave me alone.
He didn’t leave. I offered him a faint smile, but he obstinately refused to go inside the church. He took a place by my side, diffusing the odour of incense around me. Instinctively, I scooped over, afraid of being too close to his holy presence. Moreover, I could not refrain myself from throwing furtive glances at him. The priest was thin and ragged, resembling a hermit that lives far away from mankind. His appearance sent shivers through my spine, making me aware of the neatly costume I was wearing. The priest didn’t seem to notice my costly clothes. His eyes were piercing the sky, and only later he began talking. His voice sounded peaceful, like Dante’s Virgil guiding a soul through the valley of the material world. Humbly, I listened. Even now, after all these years, his voice still resounds from another world. He, the last martyr of Christ and worthy heir of Heaven, tries in aeternum to enliven hope and faith in people.
“Son, a lot of incense has burnt since I came to this church for the first time. I have even forgotten my age, but I have kept God close. I kept Him in my heart and in my thoughts, and I fed my soul only with prayers. I have only counted my briars and the canons. They are the only ones that tell me how many days and nights have passed. My ears have only heard songs of appraisal. I know by heart each toll of bell. And I love them all, even if the bells foretell death or wedding. It is then I know that God hears and remembers his children.
I have lived all my life in this church, never leaving outside its gates. Still, I have seen the world. I have travelled as far as the eye can reach and the mind could understand. I have seen the fall of Babylon, and my feet tramped over its accursed ruins. These very feet crashed the clay of Bali and Astarte. I cried with the Lamb on the cross, and next to Him I shall be feasting in the new Sion.”
I was listening mesmerized, absorbed by the priest’s spirit. He was talking without looking at me, and I admired his hermit-like charm.
“A lot of people had been in and out this church, and everyone had his sins and his own kindness. I have learnt to recognize the soul and to read the eyes of people. Your soul, my son, is not at peace with itself.”
“You can truly read people, father.”
“No”, he sadly denied. “I am not allowed to read inside one’s soul. This can only be done by God. I can only see the light or darkness and to guess whether there is peace or confusion inside a soul. I’ve approached you to ease your burden, but I can’t uproot pain. This is all up to you.”
“There is no hope for me, father.”
“There is forgiveness for all. God’s love is immeasurable.”
“The deeds I’ve done cannot be forgotten.”
I stopped to take a deep breath of air before I began my confession. Without an explanation, I felt the need of confessing to that queer priest. I wanted him to know me, but mostly I wanted him to weight my soul.
“Father, I have killed, I have cheated, and destroyed lives. My sole purpose was to get power. Not that sort of political power. I am referring to the control over the fate of the one I most loved in this world. And yet,
I failed to save her. I have killed her, father, with my blind desire to have a son. I murdered her who was so pure and innocent, since I imposed motherhood on her when she wasn’t ready for such a burden. And father, I cheated her. On her deathbed, I cursed my soul and this life, I proclaimed the supreme Anathema, and I cursed death, and fall to her knees and promised her immortality. But I lied, and she knew I was lying. How furious she was, and didn’t rest until I asked for God’s forgiveness. Despite my struggle to keep her alive, she died. I destroyed, Father, the most sacred thing in my life, and then I wanted to destroy myself. When I first held a weapon in my hand, I felt strong, above the laws of men. The desire for power had clouded my judgment and I pulled the trigger. The bullet pierced my chest, but God wanted to punish me and kept me alive. It was not a fatal shoot. For several days and nights, I prowled the streets. It felt like a never-ending nightmare and I was wandering through the maze of my own hell. And I plunge into booze and brothels. Father, I have sinned, and ironically, my love for her, instead of keeping her safe, made me betray the only woman I had ever loved. I lied and did everything for the power of mastering death. Sadly though, I failed to order the shadows of death away from her dying body. And Father, now I am miserable and not even my writing provides me solace. And I know I will keep going like this, because there is no way back. “
The priest listened to all my confession, and wrote in his heart every fleeting memory I have shared with him, as well as all the names of the persons whom I had done wrong, beginning with my beloved. When I finished, he spoke again.
“The desire for power made even the Angel of Light fall from the sky. As blinded as you are, he who shall not be named has once been. He let himself deceived and worked against his Father. If he, a celestial and beloved creature, sinned, how could a man stand up before vice? I do not judge you. We all have a cross to carry. Go all the way. This is your faith. Redemption may take a lot of forms. Go all the way to God. May Heaven guide your steps!”
The priest crossed himself and after blessing me, he went away. I had never felt more troubled. I had expected him to blame me, to scold me, to excommunicate me. Instead, he showed me kindness and sympathy. He showed me forgiveness.
I was about to go inside the church when I heard the song of a bird. From a near-by tree, a bird hidden behind the green foliage was singing her song. The bird was confessing to the sky, and to the eternal nature. She was singing her song of liberty. And I was listening, humbled by the power of such a tiny creature of making her soul heard. And I forgave her; I forgave her for having left me, for flying without looking back.
September, 9, 1919
Voices were darting all around me. I couldn’t see the faces, but I assumed they were fighting for my life. Life always battles with death. It is a play as old as time. The end is unpredictable, and the gain consists in getting more time. As much time as possible…
Pain crossed my joints like an arrow.
“Open the door!”
A loud noise of rusty hinges blows in my ears, and I know the door has been opened. I am very surprised how I can still hear, how I can still think.
“Just hang on in there…”
I try to breathe. My lungs hurt so much, and I can feel the smell of medicines. It burns my entrails. But I am no longer a damn Phoenix. I am just a caterpillar crushed by the wings of its butterfly self.
How did I get here?
The last thing that I remember is having driven my car through a mountainous path. I parked at the bottom of a slope, and headed on foot. But where? Yes, I was heading to see her. Oh, my God, everything is so confusing. A moment ago I was climbing over rocks, and now I am lying on a hospital bed.
I can’t feel my feet. Still, I feel my arms lifted by other hands covered in gloves, and then sharp pinches pierce my flesh. I want to shout to their faces that I will be fine. I am strong enough to recover. I have survived so many years by myself that I don’t need anyone around me. But nothing comes out of my mouth. People used to love my discourse. They kept telling me how great my power of persuasion was. And now, I cannot even persuade myself into talking.
A leaden mail has covered my eyes, and I cannot lift my eyelids, but I know she is not there. She hasn’t been there for such a long time.
A flickering light fell over my face. Damned doctors….Why don’t they repair the electric bulbs? What
have they done with all the funds allocated for hospital innovation? If I were awake, I would give them a lesson.
But for the moment, they are teaching me to live again. Tic…Tic…Tic….The heart pumps blood, allowing
the oxygen to fill my lungs.
“Thanks God, his pulse is regular.”
It was the triumphant voice of a man. My doctor... And I knew he was talking about my heart which I felt waking up from a deep slumber. The more my heart began to beat again, the more unconscious I became. I was tired and wanted to sleep. When I awoke, I could open my eyes. The whole room was bathed in light. Also, I noticed that I was not alone. Next to my bed there was the smiling figure of my doctor.
“Good morning, sir!”The doctor was smiling. “How are you feeling today?”
I smiled mockingly.
“I am in a hospital, doc, not in a luxurious resort, but I’ll survive.”
“I am glad to hear it. In two weeks time, you’ll be all recovered. You may rest in peace, since nobody has alerted the media, and thus no one knows about the accident you have suffered. Still, I can’t help wondering what you were doing all alone in the mountains, without any camping tools. Certainly, you must have had your motives.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t thank him either for saving my life. That was his job. But I thanked him for not questioning me more. He was now busy filling in a hospital file.
“Why are you writing about my condition? Can’t you just keep me under your surveillance?”
The doctor smiled.
“Of course, but then I am merely a human. I may forget a symptom or two, and this helps me remember.”
“Why do you want to remember my symptom?”
“To heal you better.”
I ruminated over the idea. Would it be possible to heal your soul through memories? Let’s say that something is missing in your life, and you can’t go back in time to experience again that moment, but you can write your memories and feel your past forming before your eyes like a huge puzzle.
“Doctor,” I shouted as he was getting ready to leave my room.
“What’s the matter?”
“I need you to do me a favour. No one has to know about it.”
“What kind of favour?”
“One that will help me to heal better.”
Later that day, I was holding a block of paper in my hand, and a pencil in the other hand. I didn’t know what to write or what to do with it. But I knew that would be my mirror to the past. With my back on a pillow, lying in bed, I began my manuscript with a dedication. After that, I couldn’t stop writing.
’There is one thing that comes obsessively into my mind. Before I fell, I heard the song of a bird. I cannot tell the species, but there is one thing I know for certain. The bird sang like no bird on earth. I wanted to see the bird, to reach the height that hid her from my sight. And then I began to climb the rocks. The song didn’t come from among the fir-trees. It resounded from high above. I pierced the clouds, trying to see through the blue celestial sea. I didn’t see anything. The more I failed, the more I tried. I felt that if I didn’t see the bird, I would have lived in vain. But as I was busy trying to find her, I got dizzied. All that climbing had exhausted my limbs. And then, the snake darted from the shadow of a rock and mercilessly he bit me. Without being able to hold myself firm, I slipped, and then everything went blank.’
“Will you edit my memories?” He asked, and Lalage looked at him with surprise.
The manuscript fell to the ground, as he headed for the door. Lalage knew it was their last meeting on earth, their last encounter as two normal human beings. As she picked up the manuscript, and wanted to throw it in the fire, a bird flew by. Lalage saw her, and the bird saw Lalage. It was the most beautiful blue bird that had ever flown over the mountains. But then she flew away, carrying her song towards unknown horizons. With the last sight of the bird’s shadow, Lalage knew she wasn’t going to let Uriah Reed alone on his final path.
She went to her table and began to read. “Quickly, quickly!” She shouted when he was
brought to hospital, and when his heart began to beat again, Lalage wept with joy.
“It’s almost over now.”
It was dark in Lalage’s hut, and the fire had quenched. Suddenly, a blue light spread over the horizon, and a song that resembled nothing on earth filled the mountain range. Lalage listened, and ran outside, wanting to see the singing bird. She ran and ran, keeping her face up.
The wind was moaning restlessly among the branches, and she shuddered as she thought she had heard someone calling her name.
She kept running, not looking back, always going further and further.
Her eyes rolled in every direction. There was no one around. She began running faster.
Pressing her hands above the ears, in a useless attempt to block away the sounds, the woman ran. She resembled a prehistoric embodiment of a hunting goddess who had been turned into a prey by the unyielding three Furies of her lost love. She was no longer on earth, flying over her human shadow like a dream of pristine nature. When she stopped, her flight had descended into a rocky valley. There she found the nest of the blue bird. It was floating over a spring, like a boat sailed by eternity. And she saw Uriah Reed’s memories in the wind that kept blowing the bird’s nest down the spring. Then, she knew she would always remember.
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