I consider this my best work so far. It underwent one major editing, there will be a second soon.
Find your own meaning into it.
Motto: ""Maktub" means "It is written." The Arabs feel that "It is written" is not really a good translation, because, although everything is already written, God is compassionate, and wrote it all down just to help us."
The Poet sings:
"Why do you pass by my misery, averting your eyes, lost in your wondrous world? Why would you not see me fall on the rotten pavement, hidden in the dirty shadow of shameful poverty?
Fear not my horrid disease.
Spare a coin, noble one."
Time stretched on, as for long days the beggar walked the endless sand, his whispers silenced by the hot, dry wind. Far as it was, the Fair City seemed even farther as it eluded his brave pursuit. Hope still lay in his heart, as strong as in the days when he had heard magical tales of fine carved gates and mountains of glittery gems, told by vagrants much like himself. As his feet carried on, timeless words rang in his ears, filling him yet again with wonder, bringing him back within the large banquet halls, under the rich tables, where the warlords threw chewed bones.
Merciless sun in his bleary eyes, he clutched the remains of his sullen shirt on his scarred back, as if sheltering himself from the elements. The sand felt hot under his bare feet. The burning wind cut through the ragged shirt into the flesh of his back, pushing him stumbling forward through the reddish dunes. His water all but gone, the man scavenged for blood but the native predators outsmarted him, hiding in the mirage.
He had first seen the illusion some days ago, at dawn, rising in front of him and he ran breathless to the fierce gates.
Bitter despair overcame him as the marble towers flew faster than his weakened legs, taunting him with their promise of food and shelter and perhaps a better life. Even he, a wretched, unworthy, mockery of a man, had been willing to lay his life in the untrustworthy hands of destiny for a meager hope. He had gambled on dreams.
Dreams had fed him every single day since the Great War. Dreams of meat roasting over the fire. Dreams of wine flowing freely in the gutter. Dreams of those beautiful, gracious, merciful people that had hidden the Fair City in the winds of dust, away from the path of numerous armies, with their mighty spears glinting victorious in the sun, with their lust for bloodshed and rape.
Dreams of gold...
Most had forgotten the city and her singing fountains, but some still spoke of a more peaceful past; of those who had run from War. Long-haired minnesingers told legends of noble warriors, proud on their steeds, carrying blue-eyed maidens so far away that their memory faded from people's minds as if they had never walked the earth.
Why had a poor man fallen for those lies? Why had he left his trusted corner in a vain quest for riches unheard of? The fever toyed with his mind, clouding his judgment. Birds were circling above, paciently watching him with glowing, cruel eyes.
He now lay half-buried in the golden sand, still lost in the mirage, lids half-closed, tears long dried. His coarse breath no longer held any dream.
He crawled desperately on his jagged knees, leaning upon the bones of his elbows further and further, his hair ashen, his skin burned.
Suddenly, the winds grew cool, he could smell the freshness of life, filling the breeze, sweet songs beckoning him to come forward.
Walls rose before him on the tides of sands, high and erect, spreading the sun with their brightly colored glass-stained windows.
And outward their gates opened, to welcome him. He lifted his arms in silent prayer, he saluted the clouds, the sky. And he walked in.
"I am poor. I have no name. I have no place to call my own. I am no one, nothing, a beggar lost through many. There are no stories to tell, my life is bare to you. I have nothing to give. I lay in front of you naked.
Would you spare a kind word for me, noble one?"
He was not scarred, at least not visibly and impressively enough, to get any coins. He had no gruesome story to reenact, just a never-ending, boring tale of deprivation and hunger. He was not skilled at his job, he could not properly crawl, weep, or look despondent. He was too old to learn. He was a poor beggar.
But as he walked the clean, wide streets of the Fair City, the tramp that he was, basked in its beauty and glory, a new faith in the future filling his heart. It was the kind of beauty that only survives in the heart of dreamers, in the hope of the brave, in the mind of the wise; and a glory as in the old ancient tales of the madmen: true, unsullied, righteous, deeply inscribed in the marble of the towers.
Had anyone told him such a place existed, he would not have believed a word. Yes, he had hoped, but the flesh of his dreams far surpassed his expectations. Graceful, beautiful people smiling and laughing at each other, talking softly in their melodic, barbaric language. They wore ornate garments, colorfully bejeweled, and rich, their figures complimented by the elegance. They seemed friendly and generous, but how could one not be so in this place of abundance?
Yes, the city was indeed rich, even more so than he expected. He gaped unconsciously, like a little child at the plentitude of the markets, filled with fruits he had never heard of, the enticing smells making his head swirl and his belly groan. The merchants had given him bits of delicious pastry, some of which he gulped and others he hid in his pockets for a late dinner.
He strolled languidly through the busy streets, layered with multi-colored bricks, in search of a place to sleep. With an ease polished by many years of practice, the man hid his dirty figure in the shadow of the houses, sneaking past the many warriors patrolling the arched bridges, armed with fierce, curved swords. His furtive glances scoured the area for a dark, quiet abode hopefully near a water source and sheltered from the law. Perhaps under a low bridge or in the back alley of one of the many imposing edifices.
After hours of useless wandering, as it seemed almost every possible place was bathed in the light of the street-lamps, he finally got to a peaceful piazza in the wee hours of morning.
Outlined by numerous shady thickets, all in bloom, sprouting delicate magenta buds, the oval court held in its center a majestic building. It was a tall, marbled, triangular structure with a small fountain in front of it and one cloud scraping steeple. The entrance was guarded by a white stoned, engraved portal, arched high above the massive wooden door. In front of the door, aligned with the fountain, there was a small, squared pedestal on top of which there was a large, copper bowl.
No whisper disturbed the grave silence surrounding the high, belled tower so the beggar felt safe to drink in the sweet scent of the flowers. Inside, through the glass-stained windows, he could see many people on their knees, eyes filled with awe. He felt like joining their grave silence, so he climbed the sill, as agile as a stray cat, and he crouched his tired body in a corner, craning to see more through a transparent patch.
The inside appeared triangular in shape, as well, with a clean, polished wooden-floor, on which the citizens sat. Overlooking the hall, was a high platform, supported by finely carved pillars. There were delicate, deep-scented, white flowers brimming the edge of the altar upon which several people seemed to be addressing the respectful audience. One in the center wore a resplendent white gown, with a large gold medallion shaped like a cross, with snakes coiled around the horizontal bar. It was the symbol of the tower's spire, a symbol the beggar saw often throughout the city, on some of the bigger buildings and even on the gates.
The imposing man started speaking suddenly with a thunderous voice, addressing an older woman on his left. She seemed to shrivel under his angry words, but stood her ground apparently acknowledging some sort of failure. Behind her, there was a tall warrior, long-haired and handsome, sword in hand, menacingly ready to act. The golden helmet kept his face hooded.
In the back, tucked in a corner, a small silhouette stood on its knees, palms up facing forwards, in a silent plea. From time to time, the Lord pointed to it, while angrily addressing the woman. She had erred, that much was clear and now it was time to pay. She was not even trying to fend for herself, although soon, heavy tears began spilling down her cheeks. The beggar wondered what her crime was, why there was no one speaking on her behalf. Meanwhile, the creature started swaying back and forth like a broken puppet, uttering strange, nonsensical syllables, much like a newborn.
The beggar stared not quite knowing what to believe. It was all so strange! The Lord, the warrior, the Lady clutching her purse, the little monster in the shadow... and there was this silver-haired man, right in front of the stage, drawing quickly on a large parchement. All to strange, for his tired mind.
The woman turned towards the creature and spoke apologetically, kindly, shame all over her classical features. After she finished, she, too, got down on her knees, bowed her head, touching the floor, kissing its feet. The minister nodded in sign of approval, his dark eyes, filled with pity, as if caressing the deformed, now-slouched figure. It now stood motionless, insensitive and quiet. Was it... could it have...
The beggar gasped.
Suddenly, there was a thunderous round of applause from the audience.
The beggar was so surprised, he nearly jumped, hardly restraining his cry. Never had he seen such behavior from someone that seemed to be both rich and respected, in front of another, obviously of low-origin. Also, he found the reaction of the crowd highly unexpected and somewhat scary. These were strange people, he decided, better to use caution in approaching them. As he began to fall deeper into a drowsy state, even though the audience kept clapping louder and louder, his train of thought derailed to other strange sights, encountered in the Fair City.
First of all, the striking happiness and well-being of its citizens, chatting carelessly in the intricate maze-like gardens. Was there no death, no pain? Of course, there were warriors all over the place, watching like eagles as not to make things any easier for the petty thieves, but they were stationed solely on the high bridges and the guard towers. Then, the cleanliness, not a single grain of dust or mud anywhere, no rotten stench from the unwashed bodies, carefully masked beneath expensive perfume, no threateningly dark corners for the dejects of society to hide in. The initial joy and wonder began to wear off, leaving behind the bitter taste of uncertainty about tomorrow...
"You think me a parasite feeding off your gains, too slothful to struggle for a better living, content with shamefully exploiting your kindness. You spit on me contempt and disgust with your emptied, angry eyes. Do you not know you are my Maker? As such I raise my hands to you.
Spare my life, noble one."
Days went by, one by one, all the same in the eyes of the beggar. He kept his knees to his chin, in a gentle embrace, in a vain attempt to shelter his being from sufferance, as hunger gnawed at his belly. He could no longer move or even speak from exhaustion. He just lay there, like a powerless child, on the same window sill where he once, seemingly years ago, stood and watched fearfully what appeared to be a trial.
At first, he had thought the building to be a place of worship, perfect for his purposes. He had taken a liking to the dancing trees, filled with small, multi-petaled flowers and the sparkling, joyous fountain. There were many people there, perhaps some might spare food or a coin. Also, there were no guards he was aware of. He might sleep up there, by the bronze bell, he mused. Even though they have peculiar behavior, that does not make them evil or unkind.
Once the applause had stopped, people began flowing out of the building, talking animatedly amongst themselves in that language the beggar could not comprehend. They threw shiny gold coins into the bowl as if it was nothing. The beggar became increasingly aghast, as some of them were laughing as if the tragedy inside never happened. What place is this? he thought to himself. Why do they laugh?
But they did not even glance at him, as they returned to their warm homes. Too tired, maybe they will take pity on him tomorrow. He must be cautious though. Such happiness cannot be maintained without swords and harsh laws. He fell fast asleep on that first night, perched as a bird on the window sill.
The next day, he trekked again through the city, but could not find the courage to hold up his hand and beg for fear of being cast out into the wilderness, easy prey for vultures. He stayed away from markets and the outskirts of the City. He knew the possessive fury of evil-doers and, weak as he was, he had no wish to challenge anyone. So he returned to the building, climbed his window sill and waited for the people to return.
As the sun set, throwing flaming rays upon the towers, they came back as if beckoned by the mighty sound of the bell, entered the hall and kneeled. And they waited for the Lord to appear in his rich clothes, carrying the cross around his neck. This time, the beggar was afraid to watch so he hid his face in his palms and soon fell asleep to the melodic words.
The applause woke him up.
Once rested, a decision began to take shape in his mind. He had to eat, or else all his torment through the desert would have vanished as his traces on the sand. He had hoped there would have been some coins left in the bowl, but the servants had taken it all.
So he sat near the fountain, palms up and started uttering pleas. A coin, spare a coin. Finally, a child saw him, his blue eyes filling with innocent surprise. Curls swaying, she turned to her mother, whispering. The dark-haired woman looked at him, then whispered back to her offspring, urging her to go. They think me leprous, thought the beggar in despair. A coin, a coin, a mere coin. Do not leave, I am hungry. How can you go back to your plentiful table, knowing a man is suffering from hunger?
The crowd looked back at his desperate cry. At the sight of his shredded clothes and his dirty hair, they started talking and pointing at him. They seemed extremely surprised, as if they had never seen such a being in their lives. They surrounded him with curious eyes, but the beggar, scared for his life, fled the square.
He returned the next day, of course. After all, he had no place to go, no place to hide and the ever present hunger drove him close to madness. This time, they had taken the bowl from the pedestal. His luck seemed to have run dry.
Again, he stood close to the fountain, showering in its misty waters, palms up, uttering his worn out beggar speech. Again, the crowd encircled him, but this time the Lord himself made an appearance, surrounded by his aura of authority. He addressed the wreck at his feet in an interrogative, harsh, yet astounded tone.
A coin, a coin, I am simply hungry, can you not understand that? The beggar rubbed his groaning belly and pointed to his mouth.
One of the citizens nearby, the tall, silver-haired painter eyed him with understanding and spoke to the Lord enthusiastically, waving and pointing to his drawing. The latter listened carefully, surprised at first, then as understanding began to spread over his noble features, he nodded and addressed the beggar this time in an admiring manner.
The poor vagabond was confused. Did they accept him? Are they going to give him some coins? Or are they going to lash him in the public square then sacrifice his bleeding body to the desert?
The Lord did not appear to be malevolent, but who could tell the nature of this City's madness?
He tried again. A coin, a piece of moldy bread, anything, have mercy. He stretched his hand, piteously towards the minister. I beg of you, do not leave me prey to hunger. Do not leave.
But they left. Watching him, silently.
Many days later, the beggar agonized on the windowsill. Fragments of his sorrowful life came back before his eyes, dark alleys filled with murderers and drunks, hideous knife wounds, aging prostitutes with scarred faces, offering their venereal charms at the street corner, babies dying in the garbage, a never-ending story of lives suffocated by filth. And then there were the very few, never fully appreciated beautiful moments. A warm body, the radiant smile of a young maiden, a piece of succulent stew... the Fair City... dancing in front of his eyes, mocking him...
The nightmare... The heat...
Those eyes, those eyes watching silently... The silver-haired man with his smile, drawing!
Get up! Leave me be!
He was sweating profusely as his fever run high, twisting and turning, as if trying to get out of the nightmare. He sometimes screamed, as loudly as he had screamed his unfortunate birth all those years ago. He saw the image of his mother, leaning towards him, face full of hatred as it must have been before she threw him in the river. His hands flew up, defending his right to live, his dry throat rarely allowing him to voice his pain, but in his final moments he longed to live.
A coin, a loaf of hard bread.
So he fought.
And stretched the seconds into minutes, the minutes into hours, until towards that frozen moment in time he could fight no more.
It lay at the feet of the fountain, a small silhouette crouched in the shadow, on its knees, palms up, in a final plea.
It died before the applause started, almost all of the beautiful, gracious, rich citizens of the Fair City clapping and cheering around it.
"You fear to look upon me, as if ashamed by your much fortunate station. Fear no more. Spare your tears for the fallen worthy. Walk away. I need not your coins anymore.
I forgive you, noble one."
Should you ever walk the sands in search of lost treasures, you might see one day the illusion of the Fair City, suspended far above the horizon. Should you not look behind you to see your tracks eaten by the sands, you would get the courage to continue on your perilous journey.
Maybe you will pass through the finely carved gates, onto the clean streets, filled with all those beautiful people.
In your wanderings, you would perhaps find a building with a bell-tower and a fountain and if the time is right you might just stumble across a great gathering of men, kneeling in front of a bronze statue on a small pedestal.
You would stand there as they do, respectfully watching the broken, misshaped figure, captured by the genius of the sculptor in a piteous position, a plaque of gold, inscribed with emerald letters at its feet.
And before leaving, you too, would throw a coin in his hand for good luck, a meager tribute for a man that died for Art, while chanting aloud those timeless words written in the sands by The Poet:
"Spare a coin, noble one."
(January 17th, 2003, 7:47 pm)
Truly mesmerising. Your prose is excellent, madame. Your metaphor is consistent and straightforward, your world superbly sculpted.
This is the sort of story I love - that which obviously has a meaning, but it's up to you to find out what it is. Usually not even the author knows what the meaning is.
Mostly I just like it for the fact that it makes my mind churn - not for what answer I arrive at. I only have one nitpick:
told by vagrants much life himself.I believe that your "life" needs to be "like".
(January 17th, 2003, 10:25 pm)
thank you, kind sir!
*goes to edit*
(February 3rd, 2003, 11:53 pm)
You already know how much I like this.
(March 1st, 2003, 5:33 am)
Finally I bring myself to read this... And I find it beautiful.
A skilfully weaved narrative, and that elusive essence called 'meaning'... I love it.
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