“You do understand, Gabriel, don’t you? The subterranean entrance gives access to the spot where everything began and where the Vessel might be. What we have before our very eyes is the cradle of mankind, the starting point of creation. I have to find it, to descend under the earth and find God and Eternity, and most of all, save mankind from falling into the wrong hands. Oh, Gabriel, I feel like weeping with joy, like tearing my attire and scratching my back until wings will sprout between my ribs; wings that will carry me there where everything is still and life and death are just vapors of distant ideas. Alas, you don’t know what it is hidden in my soul, the tumult, the force... An entire world is hidden, like in a forest where each tree bears leaves of different shades of colour. Dreams, joys, and hopes, they are all scattered in a heap of fragrance and materialization. Gabriel, I have never known happiness before today.”
For a time, Gabriel was silent. He couldn’t utter a word. What could he have said? That Uriah was hallucinating? But what if the impossible was very possible? Mr. Gabriel Archer had listened to a phantasmagoric speech, he had seen a strange drawing, and now he thought he knew what ailment afflicted his friend. It was the same ghost of immortality that rides with the night and approaches the bed of the sons of God, alluring them with falsehood and illusions. And Uriah had seen this ghost and let himself caught in the firm grip of a traitorous kiss. He had been seduced and maddened. Moreover, Uriah Reed had come to seduce Gabriel as well, to pour the cup of wistful desire into the dry throat of an old bachelor.
Trying to assess the impossibility of such an enterprise, Gabriel entreated Uriah.
“How will you find a place like the one depicted in the drawing? No one knows its location. It may not even exist. No, Uriah, do let me talk. The Vessel you are talking about could be just a hypothesis, but not an argument that God has really severed a part of His soul. Nobody holds the ultimate truth. It is a blasphemy, my friend. In the past, people were burnt at the stake for their heresies. I strongly advise you to take it slow.”
“Fiddlesticks…In the past people were slaughtered because of other’s heresies not their own, because those mighty judges, who claimed to be spotless, were just blindfolded idiots who refused to let truth into their hearts”.
A frenzy of rage had taken over Uriah who kept denouncing the injustice and persecutions of all the innocents who lived in this world.
“When you associate me with heresy, you are mistaken, my Gabby Gabbs old Archer. Mine is not a heresy. I am the last descendant of the Order of The Wooden Cross and a Guardian of Knowledge. My father has entrusted me with a mission. My entire being has been filled, right from my birth onwards, with this impetus, this flow that guides me towards my destiny. I have to find the Vessel and summon God, touch His soul and assure Him that His creation will not go to waste. At least, not under my watch…And then, just think about it.
Would it be wrong for a son to search his Father? Even the young hart springs ahead of the old hart, trying to tread the path followed by the many deer which have run with the hunted. And I know where to run and where I am heading.”
“Do you really know, Uriah?”
“Of course! If you examine closely both drawings, you’ll notice that the flight of stairs is placed in the middle, just like the black dot.”
“So what? I still don’t get you.”
Uriah frowned and raising the tone of his voice, he entrusted Gabriel with a mission.
“Bring me a map and I will point to you the center, the geographical nexus.”
Like in a dream, the misty light of the day filled the room where the two friends were in. Uriah’s green eyes looked greener and blue at the same time, and his voice bore the echoes of a mysterious power which had just been stirred. Gabriel moved from where he was standing, triggered by the command of his friend. He had no longer control over his movements and all his impulses came from outside. His thoughts were roaming in a bewildered land of confusion, but the old bachelor succeeded in keeping his wits. A deep furrow was splitting his wrinkled front, and his eyes had sunk into a bottomless pit. When he left the room, he took a long and deep breath, and his grave mien made him look older than he really was. A few moments later, he brought Uriah the coveted map and laid it on the only sofa he had in the room.
The map spread before them. All those countries, stretching flatly and lifeless, no circumvolution, no gurgling of waters, no rocky paths to tread…There were only shapes and colours, squares and circles, and other variegated forms inside of which geographers had inlaid words, names of spaces and locations. There followed a period of silence as Uriah was carefully examining the map. His eyes were searching madly. He had to be very accurate about the location.No mistake was allowed. Everything had to be perfect. An error would cause all his plans to collapse to the ground the manner a violent gust of wind would blow and scatter the fragile sandcastles. The tension reached its summit. Gabriel also felt the pressure of the situation and the helplessness of not being able to judge the right from wrong.
Uriah’s eyes kept searching on the map. Every geographical dot and undulation was x-rayed, the librarian oscillating like a mind sailor on the ocean of his investigation. Both his reason and his imagination travelled to all four cardinal points, and finally the silence was broken by a victorious cry.
“There!” Uriah shouted triumphantly, pointing with his finger on the map. “There!”
Gabriel looked. The finger of his friend was resting on a tiny spot.
“The center of the earth is Palestine”.
“Are you sure?” Gabriel blinked incredulously. “I mean how can you accurately determine the center of a round planet?”
“Gabriel, if you cut an apple in two halves, you find the seeds hidden at the core. The same applies to our planet as well. I know I am right.”
“Palestine…I would never have imagined.”
“Yes, because each nation has an ethnocentric image of itself. I bet you were thinking that the Garden of Eden must be located in the heart of the Great Britain, or somewhere in The New World. But you couldn’t have been more wrong. The land of Israel, the Nazareth of Jesus Christ, the Palestine crossed by the Jordan River, they all connect. The Garden of Eden must be out there.”
Before the two librarians, the Holy Land stretched endlessly, flooded by the Jordan River until it reached the sandy boundaries of the Arabian Desert. Like wings of a red phoenix, the roads laid their still flight onto the fertile ground of Egypt, billowing in the ashes of the earth. The Mediterranean land, the plains, and the groves, as well as the fields of grain were inviting the two distant travelers to begin their journey and discover the legendary oasis of a sacred space.
“And now what? What are you going to do about it?” asked Gabriel when he managed to talk again.
“Isn’t that obvious? I am leaving for Palestine.” Mr. Gabriel Archer’s amazement was getting
higher than ever. Had he heard well?
“Are you serious, Uriah?”
“Of course, I am. This is not a question of options, Gabriel. If I don’t go now, I’ll be asking all my life why I didn’t followed my heart. Even if I chose to be skeptical, as I have been all my life until now, and the world would start collapsing after the Vessel’s consumption, wouldn’t I be responsible for having known the truth and the way, and yet I followed the path of cozy ignorance? I couldn’t live with that on my conscience, and I can’t leave this world to die or in the hands of darkness. I love this world, Gabriel. It is the world I was born into. It may not be perfect, but it’s my home.”
“Still, I think you should reconsider.” “There is no more time. I feel it.”
“But what about your job as a librarian?” asked Mr. Archer trying desperately to hold onto something material, palpable; perhaps hoping besides hope that he would talk some common sense into Uriah. “You love being a librarian, mate.”
“Yes, I love my books, but most of all, I love the people who wrote those books, who made possible for us to imagine all these amazing worlds of fiction. Don’t you realize, Gabriel? If the Vessel self-destroys itself, there will be no more books, no more people to stargaze and dream of the impossible. I cannot let that happen. I may close my eyes, and hope the Vessel lasts until the end of this century, and it indeed might last, but what about the future generations? They deserve a chance and I am not taking that away from them. I don’t have heirs to pass over this quest to them, like my father did. So you see, Archer, there is no other way. Besides, I am tired, Gabriel Archer, so tired of this piercing feeling of having wasted my life away. I didn’t listen to my father. All this time, he tried to warn me about the existence of the Vessel, and I turned my back away. And now he is gone, and I cannot go to pat his shoulder and apologize.”
“I know he would be proud of you.”
“Sadly, I will never get to hear that from him, too. Anyway, I have to leave the library. Yes, I love being a librarian, but I wouldn’t have become one had it not been for my father. He made me love books for the knowledge they provided. Yes, books have filled my loneliness and fed my mind and soul, but sadly, it is not enough. I must think of the future generation of writers and of those books that might improve life for the better, and which might help people fulfill their dreams. Even though, I am a librarian, that doesn’t mean that I am not a man of flesh and bones. I have also dreams and expectations, and all I did was to bury them deep inside my heart. But I am done with lamentations. I am the Guardian of Knowledge and the next Vessel if I get there on time. The moment has arrived for me to write my own story rather than reading the stories written by others.”
Mr. Gabriel Archer nodded gravely, but he seemed to agree with his friend.
“And when are you leaving?”
“As soon as possible. And I am taking you along.” The announcement fell like a drum beat, pounding in the walls of the entire house, shaking the window panes
and scratching the glass, creeping ominously under the flimsy carpet where the owner of the house had placed his feeble feet, until it reached and clawed the soul of Mr. Gabriel Archer who stared dumbfounded at Uriah with the awe-inspiring gaze of a monkey from beneath the grates of its cage. Prisoner of common truth, Gabriel was finally released and thrown in the arms of a new Truth. And his liberator resembled a shaggy God who had donned the costume of a common man, of a librarian. And Gabriel instantly knew that he would follow everywhere that shaggy God.
That day Uriah did not return to the library. After setting the matters with Gabriel who reluctantly agreed to accompany him, he went to his house. He knew what he had to do. His steps were now lighter and calmer, and a firm resolution shone brightly in his movements, face, and eyes. Arriving home, he went straight to the phone and called the library. A secretary answered and Uriah demanded to speak to the director. A few seconds later, the director’s voice was heard from the other end of the receiver. The latter didn’t seem surprised. He had expected something like that to happen. Uriah had worked himself too much, past the endurance of a common man, and it was clear he needed to find something else in life, a new path. The conversation was brief, ending with the director’s best wishes for the future, and when he hung up the phone, Uriah was now officially unemployed. There was no way back. The journey had one ticket only; there could be no returning after becoming the Vessel. As for Gabriel, he would return, but not after taking with him the pieces of information concerning how to get to Eden and how to become a Vessel after Uriah’s self destruction when the time would come. Uriah knew he himself could not contain God’s soul ad infinitum and that a new Vessel would be needed sooner or later. He had instructed Gabriel to return to England in secret, carrying with him the secrets of the whole enterprise. Then, he was to search for a man called Mr. Bittman, a priest whom Uriah trusted. That priest would pass for a lawyer, and he would present himself to the man or woman who might be a potential Vessel, saying that he/ she had inherited Uriah Reed’s legacy, i.e. the manuscript and the diary. Uriah had decided to follow his father in everything, and from now on, he would put his thoughts on paper. It would help him clear his mind.
As a matter of fact, he didn’t feel so comfortable about all that. He should have acted alone, but he needed someone to pass on his duty. Uriah could only hope that Gabriel wouldn’t get hurt along the way. The journey itself should not take long. Enough time for him to find what he was searching for. He put the suitcase next to his office and locked the manuscript in a secret compartment of another suitcase smaller in size than the first one. Then, he went to the kitchen. On the wall, a little clock was chiming loudly. The time was now a quarter to ten in the morning. Uriah opened the fridge and took some sandwiches from inside. He quickly ate something, having no time to tackle with cooking, and with a mug filled with hot tea he sat down on the armchair near the fireplace.
The fire roared pleasantly, warming the coldness he felt within. It was all a joke, him pretending to act normal, eating, resting, and thinking like all human beings. But it was all a charade. Uriah was worried. He didn’t have second thoughts, but he was worried that he would fail and disappoint his father. No, that couldn’t happen. Mechanically, he raised the mug to his lips. After the first sip, his attention turned towards the manuscript which he had locked in the smaller suitcase. The document was calling him, was crying out to him until finally, not being able to resist it any longer, Uriah got up and went to his home office and unlocked the manuscript. He returned to the living room, and drawing the armchair even closer to the fireplace, he began to read from his father’s manuscript. Soon, he lost the track of time. Lost deep in reading, he really experienced a sensation of genuine blending with his past and with the past of his father. It was the most powerful connection ever. Yes, he really felt like he was connecting with Mr. James Reed as if he was living the life his father lived when he was at that age. Mr. James Reed was a very strange man whose mind had been perturbed by mysterious visions and dreams. Like his son, he shot for the moon.
“Nothing is impossible,” he used to say to his son, “if you have the guts to make it possible. All the bullshit about limits, cause and effect, which science and logic has intoxicated us with is nothing but the small talk of poor idiots who didn’t have balls.”
Was his father right to believe that a man’s will power can change the course of history or was he just a little dotty? It was precisely what Uriah was determined to find out. But honestly, he believed in his father. He had believed in him as a child, and he wouldn’t change his feelings as an adult. More determined than ever, Uriah Reed swore that he would find God; he would find the God of his father.
A car honked loudly, scattering the wandering thoughts of Uriah Reed. The nature of the sound bore a strange feeling of violation, since Zman Street was usually quiet and undisturbed. Uriah Reed got up from the armchair and went to the window. His fingers drew the curtain and the feeble light of the setting sun fell over Uriah’s tired face. He was beginning to feel drained of energy. The day’s events had been too much for him. The slippery time had moved way too fast and as he looked outside, Uriah observed it was already evening. Having been so deeply absorbed by his reading, he scarcely noticed time going by. Lately he hardly noticed anything.
The air was getting harder to breathe, and Uriah opened the window wide. The fresh coolness of the evening filled his lungs. And everything outside seemed to be new, different from what Uriah had seen before. The streets were covered in a chiaroscuro canvas of movement and light mingled with shadow. The rhythm of the city vibrated inside the concrete veins of the paved boulevards and neighbourhoods, but the strangest thing of all was happening inside the mind of Uriah Reed. He was no longer witnessing the tumult and agitation of a typical London neighbourhood view. The streets were populated with a motley crowd of people gone and present, ladies with richly garments and shoulders covered by beautiful embroidered shawls or ladies with their face hidden by dark or crimson capes; men with top hats and walking sticks, and carriages or tram horses. They were walking down the boulevard or travelling inside their carriages, laughing, kissing in the open, as the coachman was swishing his whip in the air, and the ladies were blushing under the quaint umbrellas with which they shielded against the sun. To this throng of past people, another throng was added. Men in elegant suits walked carelessly, holding briefcases or maps. Women and girls passed by, blushing in the beauty of their womanhood. And the sound of the car tyres echoed the chant of the carriage wheels. The entire scene was full of life, promises, and hopes for a future they anticipated in the distance. And the only one who understood their souls was a lonely watchman, Uriah Reed who then swore that he would find these souls again in the place where time stands still and the living essence of man soars to the sun of God’s creation. Yes, every death is in fact a bridge that a soul crosses over to his new birth. We are all representations of our former selves and of the would-be selves.
These thoughts were now battling inside Uriah’s mind, and as he was thus deep in thought, his attention was diverted by a sudden apparition. A dark silhouette passed by, crossing the street. It was the figure of a lady who was hurrying to get somewhere. She had just stepped out from a black cab, the same car whose horn had caused Uriah to come to the window. Uriah watched her attentively. She was young and feline, like a young female cheetah stretching her limbs in an agile spring of life. There was something about her, something familiar in the way she moved and in the flutter of her raven-like hair. He couldn’t clearly distinguish the traits of her face. Nevertheless, he had the feeling that if he just closed his eyes, he would complete in his mind the entire face of that woman. Never had he felt like this about a woman, never in his life had he looked in secret at a woman who was not aware of the fact that she was being watched. But Uriah just couldn’t take his eyes from the shape of her soul. For the first time in his life, he was spellbound. Who was she? Had he met her before? He couldn’t possibly have met her before. He would have remembered her if she had appeared to Ex Libris. No, it was the first time he saw her. And yet...Everything about her seemed so familiar. Suddenly, as if she was summoned by his thoughts, the woman raised her eyes and looked straight at him. From down below, Uriah seemed a human torch, his entire head set ablaze by the setting sun. The woman smiled amused by the peculiar image the unknown stranger had evoked inside her mind. Uriah didn’t see the smile. From up above, he saw only the raven tresses fluttering in the glow of the twilight, but when she reached a shady street portion, she looked up again. Their eyes met, and for the first time Uriah didn’t lower his gaze. He just kept staring at her, and she didn’t take her eyes off him either.
Who are you?
He asked, but no words came out.
Will I see you again?
Uriah Reed didn’t have time to hear the answers to these unvoiced questions as the woman soon disappeared from his view, taking with her all the charm and allure of plunging into the unknown ocean of the masculine self’s encounter with the feminine other. A strange sensation of loss and regret fell over Uriah. He closed the window and tried not to think about that unknown woman. He would probably not see her again. Smiling, he remembered the scene of an old movie where the protagonists travelled together and then forever parted. Life is like a momentary station where people stand in lines waiting for their train. Sometimes they embark in the same wagon, sometimes they take different routes. Nevertheless, they are doomed to say goodbye when the train stops to their station. Uriah smiled condescently. He shouldn’t indulge in romantic thoughts. Not at his age, anyway. The woman was younger, beautiful, like a poem one reads spellbound and then closes his eyes to penetrate the deep meaning of the artistic effects. He is old, like an old knight, galloping towards his forties, but most of all, riding with the wind towards the horizon of a great adventure, i.e. the restoration of Eden on earth and the preservation of mankind. Thanks to him, if he succeeds, those long black tresses will get to be white, and that beauty he has momentarily spotted crossing the street, will ripe and grow into the mature exquisite model of a rapturous old lady. Uriah smiled again, this time the smile was addressed to him, for being so foolishly poetic in times of peril. He ought to shake away these thoughts. Therefore, his whole focus should now be upon the manuscript. Straining his will, he managed to rearrange his whirling logic around the idea that was now becoming an obsession. Yes, the manuscript opens the door to the realm of the unknown, and he is ready to venture himself into what would be the greatest realization of all mankind; that is the idea of immortality and eternity brought to life by the creative mind of a human being.
His mind was busy making plans, arranging pieces of information, and calculating his next movements. And time, like a jailor coming to arrest the body, dawned on him. It was night, cold and dark, and loneliness floated heavily around him, touching with its misty fingers the shuddering soul of Uriah Reed. He yawned, feeling tired. He would have wanted to stay awake, read more, and study, but unfortunately, soon the lack of sleep began to tell sadly on him. His heavy eyelids felt like lead, and his movements lacked energy. Uriah couldn’t have gone on like this. He simply had to get some rest.
When he went to bed that night, he placed the manuscript on his bed table next to his pair of glasses. He said his usual night prayer, and as soon as his head rested on the pillow, his eyelids closed over the blue light of his eyes, and sleep crept to his bed, like an invisible lover coming to embrace the soul that craves for rest. Uriah fell asleep. However, the night brought no peaceful dreams, but strange and tormenting glimpses of a remote past, as if two existences tried to reunite in the eternity of the unconsciousness. There was no more Uriah Reed. Lying in the bed, a body was tossing in its sleep, soulless and empty, while the soul was soaring to the unimaginable heights of intelligibility. When the soul stopped to rest in the arms of the wind, Uriah’s mind caged inside the earthly body gave a long shriek, like a wounded bird. It had remembered. Hovering over the Valley of the Kings, the blue bird lowered down its head. The body was tossing and tossing in its sleep. The bird let herself go, and she fell and fell, whirling in the air, until it hit the chest of the sleeper. With its beak it bit and bit the flesh, digging its own way inside the body, hungrily searching for God’s soul. Uriah was violently shaken, but he didn’t awake. He was still dreaming the dreams woven by the spindlers of fate. He shrieked and collapsed in agony from an insurmountable height. He had seen her, heard her, smelt her fragrance of roses and dewy meadow. The face of the unknown passer-by had returned at night to haunt him.