Waiting At the Gates of Heaven

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Chapter 7

Blue Bandit was sailing across the ocean as swiftly as a gull, swerving in the furious billows and soaring to the cloudless sky. It was a commercial vessel, but it had also plenty of room for two passengers. Our librarians knew very well Captain Ralph O’Hara, a nice Irish who was also a distant cousin of Mr. Gabriel Archer. O’Hara allowed his two acquaintances to get on board, although he was amazed of their crazy idea of travelling so far. But he didn’t ask too many questions, and for Uriah Reed that was a relief since he didn’t want to further develop the theme in front of strangers, moreover when he wasn’t even sure of ever achieving his goal. The Captain offered them two cabins situated on the lower deck, and he also took care that Queeny should be nicely placed alongside his cars. He had three other cars on which he used to transport the goods to the central store in each location he had a contract with. Uriah and Gabriel thanked him heartily and they passed the first days of journey in the joyous company of the Captain himself.

Captain Ralph O’Hara was a jolly fellow and always laughed and smiled. He seldom got angry, and then his smile would turn into a menacing grin. Then his hoarse voice would angrily shout to the other mates, while his stout body jumped energetically from one place of the deck to another. Luckily, his nervous fits were so rare and even if they did occur, they didn’t last for long.

Only once in his life had he been sad, and that story he often told to whoever lent him his ear. The same story he shared with Uriah and Gabriel on the first night on board of the Blue Bandit.

“I still remember that night”, he recalled and at the same time took a hearty bite from a mutton chop. After he swallowed the edible cargo, he resumed his story. “It was a cold December day. Blue Bandit had docked in the central harbor of the Netherlands, and I was out there among the Dutch. Funny, I felt strange. I guess I have never felt more alone. There were thousands of people there, some were chanting old tunes and others were gaily talking to each other as they headed for a local pub; while I was looking for her... My Katarina Radumerian, a beautiful Armenian with eyes like coal and lips like fire. Oh, my fellows, when she looked at me I always lost my senses. Shackled by her poignant gaze, I remained by her side. I was young then, and when she kissed me, it was as if someone had spilt fire whisky down my throat. And there was I, my fellows, back to her, hungrily searching for her, for the woman I had sworn never to return to.

Lost in the crowd, I knew she must be there, although I could not see her. She lived in Netherlands and we met in the same harbor twenty years ago. On that December night, I had returned after eight years of absence, during which we didn’t see each other. We madly loved one another, but she betrayed me and I left her. Well, to be honest, it was I who first left her and then came back to her as soon as Blue Bandit reached the shores of Netherland, only to find her in the arms of another man. And I left again, and never looked for her. But friends, I know that I have only deceived myself. I have never parted with Katarina, because she is always in my mind and in my soul. My Katarina Radumerian… How beautiful she was, my fellows. You should have seen her. My Katarina was just like a gipsy princess. But let’s come back to that December night. I was freezing to death, and still no trace of her. I was just getting ready to return on deck when a stray child pulled my sleeve, and startled I looked at him.

‘Sir’, he said, ‘I am so hungry. I haven’t eaten anything for days. I am starving, sir. Would you buy me a loaf?’

The boy had hollowed cheeks and his poor clothes barely covered the lanky frame of a tiny human body. I nodded and beckoned him to follow me. When we got to a bakery outside the dock, I bought him a warm loaf of bread. He was greedily following my every movement; like he was afraid I could have changed my mind and decided to keep the loaf for myself. When I finally placed the loaf in his tiny hands, his fingers closed tightly over the precious treasure.

‘Thank you, sir’, he said with tears in his eyes.

But he didn’t begin to eat it as I had expected. Instead, he pressed it protectively at his bosom, and he was just about to depart, when I asked him where he was going. He told me he had to arrive to his little cottage to share the loaf with his dying mother, and that he had to hurry lest he met other child beggars who might attempt to snatch the loaf away from him.

I bought him another loaf and accompanied him to his cottage. Snow was heavily falling, and the cold air cut one to the bone, and yet he was so poorly dressed, so helpless. I pitied him heartily and wanted to see him safely returning to his sick mother. But imagine my surprise when on arriving to his cottage, I found his dying mother freezing near the hearth where no fire was burning, and when she turned around to see who was coming, my eyes rested on the familiar face of my Katarina. She had changed, and only the marks of sorrow and near death could be seen in the place of her faded beauty. Recognizing me, she coughed embarrassed and lowered her head. I knew she hated me for seeing her like this, faded and defeated. I was too at a loss of words, but then I knelt beside her and placed the loaf into her hand. Her fingers were so cold and they trembled as they touched mine. I wrapped an old shawl around her shoulders, and asked if she was ok. She nodded, but did not look at me.

It was a strange surreal scene. Feeling tears coming into my eyes, I stood up and bade goodbye. She didn’t answer. However, I didn’t leave until I paid a local innkeeper to fetch her some wood for making fire in the hearth. The man took the money and went on his errand. Nevertheless, when I returned to the harbor a month later, I found the cottage empty. Katarina had died and the boy was staying at the inn where he would start working as soon as he grew older enough. The same night I left Netherlands, and I didn’t come back ever since.”

“Was the child yours?” Uriah asked the captain. “I don’t know”, the answer came. “I never got to

ask her.”

“But he could have been…”

The captain looked embarrassed.

“I guess…”

“You have never seen the boy ever since. Are you not curious what it has become of him?”

“I know he owns the inn now, after Peter, the late innkeeper that took him in, died and left him the business. I know it because I have been asking around other sailors. My Raphael, that’s his name, is doing fine. He’s a prosperous merchant, married to a wonderful woman, and a father of two healthy boys.”

“Why don’t you visit him?”

“What’s the point?” There was sadness now in his voice. “He wouldn’t want me. He still blames me for having left his mother and him…And damn, he’s right. I haven’t been the perfect dad, have I?”

“There is never too late to atone for one’s sins.” The captain blushed embarrassed. Realizing the

awkward situation, Gabriel coughed and tried to change the subject.

“Talking of sins”, he tried to sound merry. “Please, my dear cousin, why don’t you tell us some funny stories about that Romanian priest who liked to indulge himself with wine?”

“That’s right, Gabriel. I used to know a priest. What a fine fellow…His name was Popa Rădulescu. Oh, I still remember the merry night we had together, drinking wine and eating roast chicken. “

The captain wiped the tears from his eyes.

“He was very famous in his village where he had his parish. Even now if you go to Cepari, and ask about Popa Rădulescu, people will remember a funeral and a headache”. Captain Ralph O’Hara burst into laughter. “First, let’s begin with the funeral. Our Popa Rădulescu was once attending a funeral. After the ceremony, he took a seat by the table and started to eat together with other people who had come to pay their respects to the deceased. Now, everybody knew the priest liked to drink, and to avoid seeing him drunk, they served him milk with bread for the final course. After drinking the milk, he asked for his wine.

‘Where is the wine, my good people?’

All the men looked sheepishly at him, and the widow replied.

‘But father, you’ve just had milk…’

‘So? My daughter, wine is good with all types of dishes.’”

Ralph O’Hara laughed heartily.

“And there’s more. One day, the priest had a migraine. As he had no pill in his house, he asked one from his neighbours. When the woman brought him the pill, she was shocked to see that the priest had filled his glass with wine.

‘Father, aren’t you going to take the pill with water?’

‘Why should I do that, my daughter? Isn’t wine a liquid, too?’”

The captain wiped a tear, took a sip from the flask he was carrying on his hip, and toasting for Popa Rădulescu, as that was the priest’s name, blinked at the two friends who had politely kept silence and listened to the story although they skipped large portions of events as they were tired and wanted to retire in their berths. Unfortunately, every night, with the persistence of a dead clock, the captain would again recount his sad love story to his two dinner guests. And soon, Uriah and Gabriel had learnt it by heart.

Almost a week had passed, when one night Uriah Reed woke up in a state of utter desolation. Another strange dream had haunted his sleep and left its deep mark impressed on his mind. Why did he keep dreaming about the Ethiopian princess whom he only thought to be a myth? And now she was real, she had a face, she had a voice, and she had that strange familiarity that he had briefly spotted on the unknown woman who passed by his window. Could that dream mean something? Perhaps the journey to Palestine had triggered some reminiscence of the unconscious, and the city of Jaffa, where Andromeda lived according to the myth, had woken in him the echoes of a distant past. Uriah got up from his bed and went to the table. His night shirt was completely drenched in sweat. He pulled it off his head, and put on a clean one. Feeling thirsty, he filled a glass with water and emptied it down his throat. He was still agitated. Uriah Reed felt like he was being watched, although there was no one with him. He looked around. Loneliness and the wavering jingle of the waves filled the interior of Uriah’s cabin. It was a tiny cabin, but Uriah liked it. He felt as if he was again in his office from the library, writing and studying while time passed by like a cruising ship over the foam of the sea.

October 24, 2016

We are getting closer and closer to our destination. It has been six days since I and Gabriel set our foot on the deck of the ship “Blue Bandit”. The Captain is a nice old fellow, except for the torture he makes us undergo every time we have dinner, but besides his Katarina obsession we have nothing else to complain. Also, the other sailors don’t bother a soul. I and Gabriel enjoy total discretion, since we are the only passengers on board. Moreover, I haven’t suffered from sea-sickness yet, but there is something else that keeps bothering me. I have been having strange dreams, that kind of dreams that fills one soul with awe and wonder. They seem so real, and every time I wake up, I keep asking myself whether I have really woken up or maybe this life that I believe it to be real is in fact the genuine dream. When I close my eyes at night, I become Perseus, a slave in love with the princess of Ethiopia. I know the myth of Andromeda, and although it differs from my dream, somehow it all seems real. And somehow, it kind of makes sense. Palestine, the country I am travelling to, was once called Ethiopia, and even if I have never been there, I know it by heart. I can tell each stone and rock, the contour of a valley or the mumble of each water stream. Is it possible? I thought the goal of this expedition was to unravel the mysteries of Creation and to discover eternity, to become God’s vessel in order to save mankind; but now it feels like I am in fact unraveling the mysteries of my dreams and in doing so, I discover the mythical past of an existence I was not even aware of. Perhaps, like the pair in the drawing I am not supposed to descend alone in the Valley of the Kings where the Garden is located. Who knows?

I feel my head throbbing with pressure. Who am I? Who is really Uriah Reed? And her…her eyes are a hidden book where I read words I cannot fully comprehend, but which I wish to decipher. Dark like the darkest night are those eyes of hers, and still when I hold her hands in my dream and our faces are so close to each other, I can see the faint green light of her soul. Yes. Her soul is like a forest filled with singing birds and lofty trees.

Cepheus was threatening us with his sword, but I only feared that if I had let go of her hand, she might have vanished and I would have awoken. But I always awake; and her face hides behind the shadows of this present where I am Uriah Reed and Perseus is only the representation of a dream. And I cannot protect her, especially from that unknown shadow that has crept into my dreams…Perhaps the shadow is only the anticipation of the evils with whom I’ll have to fight very soon.


The land of Palestine was somewhere in the distance, hidden from sight but nevertheless present in the mind of all the sailors who had grown tired during the journey, but especially in the mind of Messrs. Gabriel Archer and Uriah Reed. The two comrades really enjoyed their voyage. All day long they kept walking down the deck, talking and planning the future of mankind. The most excited was Uriah, of course, although Gabriel had also begun to daydream about the colossal things his companion kept describing to him. And time flew gently by, and moment by moment they were getting nearer and nearer to their destination. According to Captain O’Hara they were due to arrive by the end of November. Meanwhile, journeying on the salty ocean proved to be a real adventure. Even for Queeny which was safely harnessed under the deck, in the select company of the captain’s merchant cars.

“We’ve done it, my friend. We’ve actually done it!” Uriah said to Gabriel on one of their usual evening strolls.

Uriah’s chest filled with a sensation of pride and satisfaction as he looked to his friend, expecting to see on the latter’s face the same feeling. But Gabriel didn’t pay attention to Uriah. His anxious gaze was carefully examining the waves. That evening, they didn’t look too friendly. The nasty blue serpents were coiling and jumping, trying to bite the colossal iron walls. Despite the perilous sight, the vessel kept its route straight. The Captain himself laughed heartily and did not even bother to look twice at the stormy sky.

“By the look on your faces, I suspect you are getting worried. I have seen worse, lads! Trust me; this is a piece of cake.”

The wind grew colder, and Gabriel slightly began to resent the chillness.A shiver, creeping coldly across his backbone, brought to him all his childish fears of a storm at sea. And the shiver crept and crept, reaching finally to his heart.

“What is bothering you, Gabriel?” Uriah asked when he saw his friend’s miserable look.

“Nothing,” he stammered trying to look brave, “absolutely nothing.”

“It doesn’t seem like nothing to me.”

“Seriously, Uriah, you don’t need to worry over me. A little bit of seasickness, that is all. I have never been a traveller before, and this is a huge change for me.”

The Captain laughed again and patted Gabriel’s shoulder, trying to reassure him he had nothing to worry about. Despite his attempts, Gabriel’s spirits were low. He regretted ever going out on sea and quitting his job. However, they had gone too far to go back. Uriah understood Gabriel’s feelings. He had also been a thought traveller, and for the first time he had plunged into the perils and charms of the unknown. But Uriah didn’t believe that his friend was only bothered by seasickness. He carefully examined Gabriel whose gaze had now turned to the sky. There was silence for some moments. Neither of them spoke and Uriah didn’t cease to look at Gabriel. The latter had his eyes fixed on the canopy above, carefully examining the movement of the clouds and the direction of the air draught. A few moments later, the verdict came.

“I think a storm is approaching”, Gabriel announced ominously. “And it isn’t going to be a mild one.”

“This is no storm that is coming; it’s merely bad weather scenery. How many times do I have to tell you not to worry? You remind me of my poor Katarina Radumerian. Like you, she would worry and feared I one day leave her, and then she made me promise not to abandon her. Oh, youth, youth, how quickly do you pass…Have I told you about the night spent in Netherlands? It was a December night and the Blue Bandit had docked in the harbor. There were so many people on land, going about their own business, and I had only eyes for my Katarina. I was searching for her….”

Uriah frowned and didn’t listen anymore. It was the same old story he had been listening to ever since he got on board. Instead, he too examined the black sky. No star was visible, but once in a while wavering lines of electricity crept like yellow snakes on the dark canopy above. He wasn’t afraid of thunders, but the idea of being trapped in a storm at sea disturbed him a little. His rough British features got rougher as he tried to pierce the thick wall of mist that had formed around the ship.

How could I not have observed this mist? He thought. He had been so fully absorbed by his ideas and plans, and the strange dreams that kept haunting his nights; that he hadn’t mentioned to Gabriel the fact he

indeed had missed what was going on around him. When the first raindrop fell from the sky, Uriah

took Gabriel by the arm, leading him to the cabin that was next to Gabriel’s own berth.

“Where are you going, lads?”, O’Hara cried behind them, slightly giggling.

“To rest for a while”, Uriah answered.

“When I was your age, I didn’t need to rest at all.

But go, go. I won’t stop you.”

And they headed towards the lower deck. They didn’t stop until they were inside the cozy cabin and far away from Captain O’Hara’s stories. It was a small room, with only one bed, a closet, and a table with a single chair. The same items of furniture which could also be found in Gabriel’s room…But Uriah’s cabin had a round window facing the ocean. When they entered in, the waves were beating against the thick glass, causing an infernal racket. It was behind that window that Uriah Reed placed himself like a sentinel on guard.

“My friend,” he began addressing to Gabriel, “I wonder if the storm will delay us from reaching the shores of Palestine in due time.”

Gabriel’s eyes popped out. He was vexed and exasperated.

“Don’t you ever stop thinking about anything

else?”

“There isn’t anything else worth thinking about at this very moment.”

He lied, but Gabriel did not know.

“You sound just like my cousin, the captain. I am sick and tired to hear his love story, as I am sick and tired to follow you around like a puppy God knows where.”

“Is that what you truly feel?”

“Of course.”

“Why did you come then? You could have stayed in London.”

“I didn’t have much of a choice. You said you were going to leave and intended to take me along. How could I have left you alone? I wouldn’t have had a peaceful day until your return home.”

“I will never return home.”

“Yes, I have heard that too. But have you thought, that if the Bible is right, after the great deluge, the surface of the earth changed and the Garden of Eden had submerged God knows where? We may be after a wild goose chase, Uriah.”

“We are not. I know that.”

Gabriel scowled.

“Because you’ve read it in a manuscript and in an old book?!”

The features of Uriah’s face grew rougher.

“Because I believe in my father.”

“Well, I don’t.” Gabriel roared with fury.

There was a chilling moment of silence, and when Uriah spoke he sounded exhausted.

“Why are you now telling me this?”

“Because we are caught on board and a storm has begun, and you only think about the manuscript and your garden and you seem to forget that we are not in the vicinity of Eden but in the middle of a storm,” retorted Gabriel.

“No. It is the storm that stays in the middle of our

way.”

Taken aback, Gabriel was silent. He was strongly inclined to consider the highly respectable librarian Uriah Reed a little bit gone of the whack.

“Nonsense”, exploded Uriah. “We are living in the 21st century. What can a storm do against technology, against the power of man who has so divinely invented gadgets and other apparatus?”

“Nature is always stronger than man”, whispered Gabriel.

“Nonsense”, spattered Uriah. “Besides, if you are so afraid of a little storm at sea why have you set your foot on deck? Why have you insisted on taking a boat when we could have travelled by plane? Had we flown by plane, we would have arrived there by now.”

“Oh, is it so Uriah Reed?! Just take a plane, no, this is what you have suggested, haven’t you? And forget about Queeny? Of course, we needed a means of transport but a plane would not have made possible for my car to continue the journey. Besides, a car is very useful on land. It will turn to be very useful as soon as we get to Palestine.”

Uriah sighed. There were no more winds in his

sails.

“Well, you are right, my friend. You are positively right. It seems this was meant to be. And it’s no use complaining about our lot. It could have been worse. Suppose “Blue Bandit” hit an iceberg then, all the story of the Titanic would have repeated itself.”

“It’s not funny, you know?”

“Oh, come on, you heard the captain. There is nothing serious to worry about.”

“Great reassurance”, muttered Gabriel.

Captain O’Hara’s weather predictions turned out to be correct. The storm proved not to be so strong and no thunder disturbed the roaring of the waves. The only frightening thing about it was the mist that remained in the atmosphere. It had surrounded the ocean, like a girdle of vapor, cluttering the vessel with its white floating walls. Black clouds were silently marching in the west direction. Like sad knights of a forgotten era, they followed the night on their black foamy stallions, while the stars were desperately trying to pierce the darkness and bid them goodbye.

By the time the moon appeared on the sky, the sea had calmed down and there were no signs of her restlessness. Gabriel had left Uriah’s room. He had calmed himself and apologized for his burst of anger, then went to rest for the night. Left completely by himself, Uriah was now analysing the manuscript, looking all over again on the drawing. Meanwhile, in his own cabin, Gabriel was busy reading some journals he had bought on land.

I have to find out the truth, Uriah desperately repeated in his mind. The truth about the life of man on earth

After eleven o’clock in the night, Uriah closed the manuscript and took from his pocket the notebook he had begun as a journal. He started writing, like he always did when he wanted to clear his mind of all the negative vibes.

November 6, 2016

A storm has visited the deck of Blue Bandit, but our vessel is a fantastic old sea wolf and it showed no signs of fear or cowardice. It fought bravely and won against the dark forces of nature. Now, the ship heads for Palestine without being deterred by any obstacle. Nevertheless, there is one obstacle I strongly loathe, the obstacle that the French call ennui.

I am so bored. I wish I had a beautiful book in my hands to read from cover to cover. The days pass uneventfully, and I am so tired by all the routine. In the morning we have breakfast, then lunch and supper. When I am not in the dining room, I stroll along the deck with Gabriel, as he is my only companion when Captain O’Hara is not around. Oh, the Captain is a wonderful fellow and sometimes our conversations are witty and saucy provided he doesn’t bring his Katarina in our discussions, but I long to set my foot on the Palestinian ground, and to feel the burning sand, and smell the balmy fragrance of the Jordan River, of the desert. I wonder what we will find at the end of our destination. I am very concerned whether our journey turns to be successful or not. I am very confident in my star and in my good Fortuna. But still, there is a little imp of doubt and it can’t be denied. What if it’s all a delusion? What if Gabriel’s right? No, it couldn’t possibly be so. But then hope can also be trickery; if not why was hope put inside Pandora’s box, a box filled with evil plagues? Were the Greeks right to assume that hoping too much and in vain harms the soul? No, my case is different. I am not hoping. I am certain. I am certain that my father’s theories were right, that Jon Gos’ book presented the truth. It’s just my boredom speaking, this restlessness caused by not busying my mind with lectures and interesting books.

Oh, how bored am I. I almost wish it had been a real frightening storm, one that would smash the waves into billions of particles and would toll the alarm of the vessel’s engines. Frankly, that would have woken me from this torpid sensation of languor. What if I stopped writing to burst into Gabriel’s cabin and shout in his ear: “Hey, I think something has cracked inside the vessel. I can see a thread of water gurgling from the floor. We are about to sink and go down like mice”? That would definitely startle Mr. Gabriel Archer. It would be amusing to see his features stretching tight and his nerves collapsing like a castle of sand. Luckily, I am no mischievous person and I wish no one harm, least to my friend.

Now everything has got back to normal, or at least for the sailors. For me, everything begins. The storm is about to unleash its force, although outside the sky looks calmer. I hope no misfortune will ail our disposition and our journey in particular. I heard the captain saying to one of his stewards that in a week’s time, the boat would reach the coastlines of the eastern Mediterranean region. I can hardly wait for this to happen. I am like a hungry and thirsted individual who is kept alive by the thought of reaching an oasis.

If I close my eyes I see myself and Gabriel in the country, once called Ethiopia. We are there, on land, among the people of Palestine, breathing the balmy air and feasting our eyes on the beauty of the land of Israel. We have reached our goal. We are descending inside the hollows where all the secrets of mankind have lain hidden for centuries. It is now time for the Truth of Eternity to come to the surface, and to be brought to light. And she is holding my hand, forever with me, both in thoughts and actions. We are descending the sacred Valley where two becomes one, and one means two. She is walking by my side and her black hair is fluttering in the breeze, touching my face and my body. And I look at her and she turns her eyes to me. How dark and bright are those eyes of hers, and how much she resembles…me. Yes, I can see my own figure, my own features mingling with hers, until our beings become indistinguishable. I part my lips and call her name softly.

“Andromeda….Andromeda…Andromeda…I am

here. Where are you?”

Her lips quiver, but no sound comes. “Andromeda…” I repeat my call, beckoning her to

speak, to answer.

Sadness invades my soul as I look to her. Sadness and the silence of her mortal frame…She tries to answer and opens her mouth to speak. Only the echo of my own words fills the valley, and then is heard no more. Silence engulfs us, gnawing at our chests; and still, I feel her soul calling me from within the ribcage. She looks into my eyes, and I slightly nod. I have heard. I have understood. Smiling, she disappears before my eyes, and I too disappear. And here I am, on board of the Blue Bandit. It has all been a fleeting vision, a daydream woven by the mystery of the night, by the mystery of life itself. She is no longer by my side and I am completely alone. No female voice fills the silence of the cabin; no dark locks cover my body with their silken coverlet.

I raise my eyes from the diary and look through the round window. Outside, only the waves roar louder, and the seagulls fly and fly, hovering over the glistening and feverish mirror of the calmed sea. I smile. Now the storm has moved inside of me.

“It has begun…”

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