There is no center of the world.
“Nothing connects anything. It’s a disjointed series of things, connected haphazardly, going around, through the fabric of space and time, without a point or purpose. I feel lost. More lost than when I started. I thought I had a map of the world. All I had, was a map of getting lost. There are no landmarks, no signs, no lampposts, no hills, no lakes, no denuded trees, no forks in the road to tell me where I am.
“I’m stuck, wondering, where I started, and how I came this far. How could I ever leave the tether, and come this far? There was no back door. There was no security blanket. So that when I fell, I fell into the abyss, destined to wander the darkness, to and fro, purposeless. They don’t say yes. They don’t say no. They don’t say anything. They just watch and they judge. They judge, and they find me pointless. In the vast eternity, of the abyss, I’m pointless.
“A sun is shining. Highlighting everything. Sun rays reflecting off the contours of the things that have a point. Have a surface. Have substance. And an existence. Sun rays, they pass through me, as if they didn’t see me. As if, oops, what a silly mistake…! How insignificant. How trivial. As if, wow, there are even such creatures in existence. As if, hah! Whatever happened to survival of the fittest! As if, the world had a point, in the beginning, and beginning with beings like me, it started to lose it… Like a bitch mother loses count of her pups.
“So many pups. Oh, biting, incessantly biting at her nipples with their tiny new born pincers. The world is losing its point, because parasites like me, those who weren’t meant to survive, have, against all odds, survived. And the world is not forgiving. It remembers. With vehemence. It watches for the first mistake. And it holds ready in its hand the machete of its judgment, to slice the unfit into fodder for the fit. Came from dust, to dust returned. What a mess.
“The world is losing its point, but it will not give in easily. It will chew out the pointless, and render the unnecessary immobile. The world will have its due. What a mess.”
“But who are you, Old man?” the man in the cream suit asked with a concern in his voice. He was five feet and eight inches tall, a whole 5 inches taller than his father, and proud of each of them. The inches, I mean. He had just one father. At least that’s what the mother told me.
The old man was hunched over the box of his street-organ. His hand rested on the crank of the organ, pale and aged. The creases and calluses visible even in the dim sunlight of the evening. The lamps were just beginning to glow. The man seemed to be shaking, very slightly, as if from a barely contained laughter. Then suddenly he sat up and let out an enormous laugh, startling a few ladies passing by, who reined in their children with their hands instinctively.
The man in the suit stood looking perplexed at the old man. There were streaks of water flowing in the criss cross of the wrinkles of his eyes. His wizened face defied being called out of any age. The eagle-beak nose spanned out over a thick white moustache, which covered his mouth and fell over the chin. A huge white beard, where sparrows seemed to be nesting, shook with his laugh. The birds emerged from the mess of hair and bird shit, and fluttered about twittering, clearly irked by the man’s lack of decency towards his neighbors.
“Don’t worry about them,” said the old man when the man in the suit began to wave about, trying to fend off the birds. “They are just looking for a place to rest. They are passers-by.”
The suited man froze with his hands in the air. A sparrow alighted on the old man’s shoulder.
“No, they are not passing really,” the old man corrected himself. “They were passing long ago. They aren’t going anywhere now. Time just stopped, you see. That was, how many, twenty years ago!”
The young man was visibly disturbed. His hair was pasted to his skull and was shiny with a aromatic oil, and the moustache, neatly trimmed, complemented the larger curves of his eyebrows perfectly with their smaller, bolder, upturned semi-circles. His creamy suit with red pinstripe gave an appearance of him being taller than he really was. He loomed over the man with an air of being the proprietor of the place, while really, he was just the son of the manager.
“You can’t sit here, sir!” said the young man again. “This place is meant for… meant for… this place is not meant for anyone to sit. This is the way. People pass from here. No one sits here!”
The old man looked up at him with tired eyes. “Exactly what I told these birds.” he said, “This place is just a way. People pass from here, little birds, this is not a place to stay! They don’t listen to me! They don’t listen to me!” And he laughed again.
The man in the suit looked about. He touched his bow tie with a tremulous hand and looked about. The guard on the door of the hotel looked at him once and then ignored him. The lights on the lamps were glowing wholly now. The two men on the pavement threw two confused shadows on opposite sides, which faded in the glow of the opposing lamps. The street was deserted for the evening was just getting darker but wasn’t quite there yet.
“It will be a cold day,” said the old man all of a sudden, wiping his nose with the edge of his nondescript woolen sweater. He wore an assortment of clothes, and a tiara on his head kept the white hair from falling over his face. Yet when he hunched over, his face was lost in a tangle of mane and the hair formed a rough halo above his head.
“There is no charity here!” the man in the suit said gruffly.
“Yes. Not with you, there isn’t any,” the man said, and offered a hand for the sparrow to alight upon. Then he took the sparrow and hid it in his beard. The second bird followed of its own accord. The twitter died out, and the two men were left alone in the orb of the lighting, measuring each other.
“Get up from here, man, or I will kick you in a minute!” the man in the suit said through flaring nostrils.
The old man looked at his shoes, black, neatly polished, glowing with a dark aura in the lamp light. The holes still carried the whiteness of the leather that the shoes had been cut from.
“No, you won’t,” said the old man, and turned his face towards the street exhaling calmly.
The man in the suit withdrew his right leg a little, intoning, “Are you sure about that?”
The old man nodded without looking at him.
“I will kick you, you old fool!”
The old man shrugged. His hand went to his street-organ, and with a little effort, he detached the organ from its wooden box. He sat the box aside and began tuning the organ.
“What are you doing?” the man asked, incredulous.
“Sit,” the old man tapped the box of the organ by his side. “I’m waiting for someone!”
“What the hell!” the man kicked the box with the side of his shoe. It moved a little. “Go wait somewhere else! This isn’t the place for waiting.”
“Oh?” the old man looked at him, “And what were you doing here then?”
The young man stood stiff. His arms were cleaved to his sides. He turned and went into the hotel. The doorman obliged him with a yawn, one as he went in, and one as he came out, with his jacket wrapped on his left arm.
“She isn’t coming, is she?” the old man said.
The man plucked open his bow-tie and sat down on the wooden box with a huff. He didn’t say anything.
The old man went on tuning the organ. “I’m still waiting,” he said, “if that’s ok with you.”
The young man cast a desolate look on one side of the street, taking in the scant passers-by at the far end, and then the other side. “Who for?” he asked without interest.
“Someone,” said the old man with a jovial turn in his voice, “someone”.
“She’s not coming either,” the young man replied.
“May be,” said the old man. “But she hasn’t been coming for many years now. I’m still waiting.”
“Old man,” the man pinched the bridge of his nose with his right hand, “where the hell did you lose your marbles?”
The old man let out another sonorous laugh, “the same place you found yours.”
The young man sighed. A resigned smile spread on his thin lips. He sat back, with his hands behind, resting on the corners of the box.
“I guess it’s a night for fools,” the man said finally.
“You and I, dear one” the old man replied.
“You and I?” the young one said. “Hardly.”
The old man began turning the crank of the organ. A raspy voice emerged and died out and the old man stopped turning in haste. “Still needs some work,” he said apologetically.
“Who are you waiting for?” the young man asked, correcting the crease on his trousers with a careful hand.
“I’m waiting,” the old man began, still fiddling with the tubes of the organ, “I’m waiting for something who’s never coming back.”
“Who is never coming back?” the man asked him.
“Her.” the old man replied.
“Her who? Who is she?” the young man was becoming impatient.
The old man looked at him for an instance, and with a practized indifference, he managed, “Time.”
“You are waiting for time?” the young man tried to confirm.
The old man nodded after a while. “Yes.”
“Did anyone ever tell you, you don’t make any sense?” the young man asked him.
The old man nodded again, “She did.”
The young man sighed. He looked about the street again. Then he collected his jacket from his lap and flung it onto his shoulder. He was getting up.
“I suppose,” the old man said, “I don’t make sense in the usual way of the world.”
The young man considered this. “I know a few people like that,” he said.
“But then,” said the old man, paying no mind to the young one, “but then you need to consider that I’m not from this world.”
The young man smiled. “I know a few like that too,” he said.
The old man laughed again. “It really is a night for fools! Ha!”
The young man joined in the laughter. The doorman eyed them with distaste.
“I don’t think it’s easy to believe me,” the old man said, picking up a tear from the corner of his eye. He fed the drop to the sparrow that had just peeked out of his beard.
“Curious, and curiouser,” the young man responded.
“But say, if I could show you?” the old man asked.
“I don’t have time to go anywhere, old man,” the young man said. “I have the night shift here.”
“Time, ha!” the old man said. “She’ll take care of herself. I don’t really need time to show it to you.”
The young man arched his pruned eyebrows. “What then?”
The old man pointed to his organ in a knowing way, “This.”
The young man was more perplexed. “What?” he asked, “You still don’t make any sense!”
“It’s all the sense in the world,” the old man said, “that I have never bothered with. Here. In this organ.”
The old man was pointing at the instrument with a magician’s relish. The young man looked on.
“You want me to look in?”
The old man nodded.
“What will I find?” the young man asked.
“Her.” the old man replied.
“For the last time, old man,” the young man ejaculated, “Who is she?”
“Look inside.” the old man calmly replied, pulling the young man closer with an arm, pressing on his shoulder, “She is Time.”
The young man pored over the front of the organ, looking through the metallic pipes. The old man was lighting the dark interior with a tiny lighter.
“And don’t worry.” said the old man, patting his back, “I’ll have you back before you even notice it.”
“Back where,” the young man reeled back with a swiftness, out of the old man’s reach. “Back where?”
“There.” said the old man, pointing nowhere and everywhere at once. It was then that the young man breathed. Something had changed. Something huge, and impossible.
A clean shaven man of forty years stood opposite him, in a black suit and a white shirt, with a bowler hat. The street organ was good as new, and there was a battery of clay figures on the front, mounted on small pedestals, meant to move with the music. Musica Franca, read a bold inscription on the carved wood in a beautiful flowing font. The young man looked up in astonishment, as the man who no longer had a beard, no longer had the sparrows nesting in his beard, no longer had the white hair bound by a rusty tiara, nor the white moustache, or the million times patched clothes of a few moments ago, smiled at him and asked, “Music, sir?”
It was day.
“Don’t worry, young man,” said the man in the black suit. “Don’t worry, it’s just a memory.” He put an arm into the man’s arm and pressed close against him, “Her memory.”
The young man, having tired of the immenseness spectacle, of the brightly coloured street, of people milling about busily somewhere in a place out of time, of shop-fronts and loud jeering calls of the shopkeepers, of the haggling women and the morning shop boys dusting the floor-mats and rags, and having a spotted a woman in the middle of the street, dressed in rags same as the old man a few whiles ago, and who looked as outlandish in the place as the whole place seemed for the given time, asked this when he could find a voice in his throat, “Who is she?”
The man in the black suit smiled, and with a sudden twinkle in his eye, he turned to a side, crying out, “There she goes!” and he dragged the young man with him into the melee of people on the street.
“Hullo!” he said when they had caught up with the woman. She turned, somewhat surprised, and took a moment to recognize the men.
“Hello,” she said, weighing her words carefully, “Mr Ex. And hello, Moustache!”
The young man looked hurt. “My name is –” he began, but was cut off by the smiling Mr Ex.
“Hello Era! How are you! Trust you are doing well! This place seems a little out of time, what? Ha ha! Just a joke. Just a joke. Don’t worry. This gentleman is, hmm, I don’t know his name, Moustache, as you say. Moustache here met me on the pavement in some long past day. He was waiting for a woman. So I brought him here. Good thinking, huh?” the man smiled smugly.
“Yes,” the woman said, without much interest. “Smart Mr Ex.”
“What has happened to this place?” Mr Ex asked, looking lost for a pretext to continue the conversation.
“Nothing.” she said. “Just a little rearrangement.”
“Little.” Mr Ex repeated. “Little, you say? I saw Sun Tzu giving war lessons to Socrates up there! Socrates! It’s a little matter of nearly one thousand years in a soup!”
“It’s all right!” she said, “I know what’s happening. Let it be.”
The man took a step back. He was speaking something under his breath.
“…pointless. They don’t say yes. They don’t say no. They don’t say anything. They just watch and they judge. They judge, and they find me pointless. In the vast eternity, of the abyss, I’m pointless. A sun is shining… Ha ha! What a mess…”
“Enough,” the woman flashed her eyes at the man in black suit. “None of this now.”
The man sucked in a mouthful of air and shut up.
“I was so excited to see you!” said the man, suddenly seeming older than his forty years’ face.
The woman’s expression softened. “I know.” She said. “But see. I’m not ready.” She spread her arms, showing the infinite rainbow of the tatter of clothes on her person. She plucked a feather from her cheap hat and gave it to the young man, “Moustache,” she said, “Keep it.”
“What for?” the man wanted to ask.
“Memory.” She said, before the man could mouth a word. Then she walked to the center of the street and lifted her arms in a ominous way, calling out, “Ladies, Gents, come aboard! We’re about to go!”
She turned to him and said, “The masquerade is due in a minute! Do you have a mask?”
The man in black suit responded instead, “Not to worry. He has me.”
As the road dissolved under them, without letting them fall into the chasm underneath, the scene whirled around, colours mixing with each other, into an indiscriminate kaleidoscope, and a maelstrom of people surrounded them on all sides, now red, now bright pink, before settling into the sombre yellow shade of a young autumn. Suddenly everything was still.
The man turned, there was no one around. The woman was gone. The man in black suit was gone. And gone was the humongous mass of the gentry milling about on the street. There was a street. Black. The sun was about to go down into a dark lake on the western horizon.
There was a pier nearby. A man stood on it, facing a woman. The woman didn’t look up. The man scrutinized her with a keen gaze.
“When will you tell me?” the man on the pier asked.
“Tomorrow.” The woman said passively.
“You said tomorrow yesterday,” the man responded.
The man on the street suddenly realized that it was him standing on the pier, opposite the woman. It didn’t surprise him somehow.
“I will say tomorrow tomorrow as well,” the woman replied, defiantly.
“Can’t you just tell me?” the man pleaded.
“Today, tomorrow, the day after,” the woman said, somewhat playfully, “it’s all the same.”
“And none of them is true.” The man asserted.
“Nor is any of them false,” the woman said.
“Tell me this at least,” the man said, shrinking, “what am I waiting for?”
The woman looked up, for the first time, and directly into his eyes, with a little surprise, “Don’t you know?”
Then a huge wave emerged from the lake and lashed onto the pier, drowning the woman, the man and everything discernible into a wall of water. When the water receded, there was nothing. Even the sun was gone.
Another wave was coming in. Huge, and dark like the wings of a crow against the sun. It rose, and rose, and just as it reached the shore, the man in the black suit took him by the arm and said, “Enough of this one, there is still much to see!”
And the wave washed over them like a harmless jet of thin air, ruffling their hair, leaving them stranded, on the roof of a castle in some unknown century. The dome rose above the city of the night, and the yellow lights gleamed in their tiny orbs all around.
He noticed. The man in the black suit wasn’t with him anymore. He stood at a distance, next to the parapet of the roof. His handsome silhouette cut a beam of light perfectly, and a woman stood next to him.
“Tomorrow,” the woman said.
He realized the woman was the same one who brought them here — the one in rags, the one called Era, and the one who the man in the black suit called Time. “Tomorrow,” she said.
“I know what she said,” said the man in the black suit to the woman.
“Yes,” the woman responded. “No harm in letting you know still.”
“We are just wasting time!” said the man eagerly.
“It’s mine to waste,” the woman said.
“You know, I looked for you everywhere!” the man said, carrying a pain of unfruitful search in his voice. “Everywhere!”
“I know,” the woman placed a tender hand on his cheek.
“Everywhere!” the man said again.
“Except the one place you should have,” the woman said.
The man nodded, “But can you blame me for that?”
“No,” the woman said thoughtfully, “But probably we aren’t meant to be in the place at the same time.”
“No!” the man protested. “No!”
“It doesn’t matter if you don’t accept it,” the woman said.
“No matter.” the man said resolutely, “I will look for you. In all the places, in all the times!”
“And?” the woman smiled.
“And I will find you!” the man said emphatically.
“I will wait for you.” the woman said.
“Long as it takes?” the man asked.
“As long as it takes.” the woman replied.
“Time is yours, isn’t it?” the man said.
“And space yours.” the woman said, just before there was a huge crash, and the glass roof of the castle cracked and they began to descend into the glowing womb of the dome.
“Forever?” the man cried out.
“And ever.” the woman said, her voice being oppressed by the crackle of the mirror and concrete.
There was a ball in progress.
A huge chandelier hung from the ceiling, which was shrouded in darkness but for its scant glow. A man was leading the orchestra on one side of the ballroom. A great mass of women and men, equally matched, moved in the middle of the ballroom. None of them wore clothes. Nobody had a strip of clothing. Everyone wore a mask.
He was sitting on a chair. His own cream suit with red pinstripe was missing. He covered himself with his arms and a laugh echoed at his right side.
“Nobody will notice, Moustache!” said the woman.
She sat on a throne, somewhat higher than him. She wore a mask and, likewise, not a stitch of clothing. One leg was thrown over the arm of the chair in a nonchalant fashion. Reclining with an easy calm, she looked more formidable now.
“This is the truth ball.” said the woman.
“Why are we here?” he asked, averting his gaze.
“You chose to be here,” said the woman.
“I did?” the man wondered aloud.
“Truth,” said the woman, “That’s what you wanted.”
“And this naked throng of people will give me that?”
“I don’t know,” the woman said. “You have to find out.”
“Meaning?” the man looked at her in astonishment.
“Meaning,” she nodded her head in the direction of the dancing mass of people. “Go out. Get closer. Rub against someone. Find out.”
The man gawked at her.
“I don’t want to!” he said after a while.
“No, you don’t,” the woman said easily, “You just want someone to seek you out?”
“Would that were possible,” the man sighed.
“Don’t worry,” the woman said, “There are more truths than one in the world, and all of them are true.”
“But what truth am I looking for?” The man asked, perplexed.
“Not the one that’s available here.” The woman replied.
The man turned from her, and threw a gaze on the mass of people dancing.
There she was, the woman who had stood opposite him on the pier, and the one he had been waiting for on the pavement outside the hotel, the one who didn’t come, who never came.
“There she is,” the woman beside him said.
“She’s with someone,” the man said.
“That’s her truth,” the woman told him.
“Her only truth?” the man asked.
“For now,” the woman said.
“Does it ever change?” the man asked again.
“Maybe,” the woman replied. “If your truth is strong enough.”
“And if I don’t have a truth of my own?” the man asked, with a final sigh.
“Then it’s your lie,” she said, “and no one else’s.”
“Will a lie suffice?” he asked her, as he got up from his seat unsteadily.
“If the truth is lacking,” she looked at him, with a farewell glance, “a lie will work out beautifully.”
And the chandelier dropped, with its innumerable crystals shooting off into all directions. He looked on as thousands of tiny points reached for him in the split of a moment, and pierced his eyes, darkening everything, drowning out all sensation, until he woke, in the middle of the street, in the arms of the man in the black suit.
It was still day.
The woman looked at him, and turned away smiling. A knowing smile.
“Is it over,” the man in the red pinstripe suit asked.
The other man straightened him up, tiding the creases from his suit. “Yes,” he replied, “Yes, I think it’s over.”
They stood together, watching the woman in rags disappear into the tumult of the afternoon marketplace of a land out of time.
When she was gone, the older man turned to him.
“Shall we go then?” asked the man in black suit.
The young man nodded. “You are waiting for her?”
The man took his arm into his own, and said, “Forever.” and as he took a step forward, dissolving the scene again into an inky darkness, his fading voice shoring in like the flotsam of a shipwreck, “And in all places.”
He found himself sitting on the pavement.
He checked his watch, it was still a few minutes to seven. The lamps were all aglow. A few hansom cabs passed by, with the interiors lighted with tiny flames, and glowing through flimsy curtains. The grooms eyed him cautiously, as if he were a miscreant, ready to jump into a cab and rob the ladies inside of their valuables.
He stood up. His jacket was on his shoulder. He dusted his trousers, and pushed his arms into his jacket. Then he stood, arms locked, like the doorman behind him, waiting, eagerly, earnestly for the one who just wouldn’t come.
Ten minutes later, a cab stopped in front of the hotel. He stepped forward and opened the door. She emerged.
She looked breathless.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” she said, smiling. “I am sorry,” she continued. “I know we are meant to have dinner together, and I have kept you waiting for long, but I need to tell you something, and, and I have just a minute to say it.”
“I understand.” the man replied. “Do you need the cab to wait?” he asked her congenially.
The woman looked up at him, somewhat surprised.
“Yes.” she said warily.
The man asked the groom to wait for a while. Then he offered an arm to the woman, who took it gracefully, and they walked down the pavement.
“I met someone today,” the woman said, after a few thoughtful steps.
“Yes?” he said.
“A woman,” she said.
“Go on,” the man in the red pinstripe suit said.
“I don’t know how to say it,” the woman mulled every word before uttering it, “I am not very sure of it.”
“You met someone?” he coaxed her.
“Yes,” she tried. “A woman.”
“Oh?” he said. “Who was she?”
“She didn’t tell me her name,” she said. “She looked like a gypsy woman, dressed in rags, and she took me to see a man, who called her Misty.”
The man smiled.
“And what was this man called?”
“Space,” the woman said, looking into her hands. “She called him Space.”
The man nodded imperceptibly.
“The cabman is waiting,” he said after a moment.
She looked up, apologetically.
“You know what I want to say, don’t you?” she asked.
He smiled, and turned about, back in the direction of the cab, motioning her likewise.
“I know it.” he said when they reached the cab.
He opened the door for her, and she climbed in.
“Our truths are not the same,” he said.
“At least,” the woman jutted out her head from the cab window, “not in this time and place.”
“You can tell yourself that!” the man said, somewhat louder as the cab began to move.
“You don’t believe it?” she asked hurriedly.
“I don’t believe in truths anymore!” he said.
“Then are our lies the same?” she cried out.
“Yes,” he screamed, just as the cab turned a corner and disappeared from view.
“The same as everyone else’s,” he said, and he turned to head into the hotel.
if you liked this, let me know.