Friday, May 11, 2007

Scorpio's Jewels (Part Two)

When night falls, most cities in the West become reflections of the starry skies they lie beneath, full of grounded artificial constellations that coldly shine far brighter than the age-old stars they compete with. The streets of these cities are almost as silent as the unimaginable expanse of space above. In most of the East, this is not the case. In the East, the nights come and go like a fever, and beat to the sound of life.

Rickshaws squeak through dusty streets, lurching through both the sluggish stream of traffic and the thick blanket of smog that envelops it every hour of every day. The blaring of horns that accompanies each near-collision coalesces into a dense wall of sound, which, together with the swirling dust and the stifling heat, forms an almost overpowering attack on the senses. And through it all flows a steady trickle of people, walking slowly in single-file, as close to the edges of the street as possible. Some of these people are short, some are tall; some wear silk while others are dressed in rags. But in some way, they are all the same: they each have black hair and brown skin, and that is all there is as far as the eye can see. Yet every so often, there is someone who is different.

It was on a winter's night that she came to him; the daylight had fled long hours before, leaving in its wake a trail of soft firelight that glimmered in every doorstep and at the side of every road. Her sari shimmered as she walked, and each step she took brought to it a different hue, until she seemed to glow with an ethereal beauty while moving with an otherworldly grace. Nothing at all seemed to touch her; she was like an island of calm amidst a turbulent sea of activity, and not even the sudden cry of some night bird in the shadows could cause a flicker of reaction to cross her beautiful face. It was almost midnight by the time she reached her destination.

With practiced ease the woman entered the old bookshop, and slipped into the shopkeeper's dreams. It was not the first time she had visited them, but that night would be the last. This time the two of them were sitting side-by-side on a wooden bench, overlooking a vast lake that stretched out into the horizon. The great expanse of water was nearly entirely covered in a blanket of green algae, and was almost perfectly still, but for the occasional movement of fish under the surface of the water, or the activity of insects on top of it.

Birdsong coloured the sultry air, while bright sunlight warmed it. There was even a slight breeze, which billowed gently through the shopkeeper's clothes and caressed the woman's hair. After a moment, she moved closer to him on the bench, and then leant against him. Instinctively, he put his arm around her, and smiled as he felt her body melt into his.

"It's good to see you again," he said.

She looked at him curiously. "You're not surprised to see me anymore."

"Why should I be?" he asked.

"You used to be, at first."

"True. I'm not sure why really. Maybe it was because you seemed so real for someone in a dream, " he said hesitantly. "Or maybe you were just so dreamlike in reality."

She smiled. "Don't go confusing yourself now. It looks like you've got enough on your plate as it is."

He started. "Does it now?"

"Of course it does. You never used to have those shadows under your eyes.." She laughed softly. "This is your dream; your world. I thought you'd have gotten rid of them somehow."

The shopkeeper shifted his weight slightly. Sensing it, the woman turned so she could look him in the eye.

His voice was hoarse when he spoke. "All this time you've never noticed anything like that. You've never asked how I am or noticed what's happening to me. And we spend so much time together, in the shop during the day and here during the night. I thought you were ignoring me."

"And the moment I do notice, you complain."

"Have I been expecting too much?" he asked quietly.

"No, no." She sighed. "But it's complicated. With me, it always is."

"I don't really see why it should be. I mean, I think I've made it pretty clear what it is I want... Is what you want so different from that?"

"What do you want?" she asked, tilting her head to one side.

The shopkeeper pulled his arm from around her shoulders and gestured across the landscape. "I want this," he said, simply. "I want all this and everything in it."

"Please, don't say that," she said sadly. "You're asleep, remember? Everything here is a fantasy, a figment of your imagination."

The man leaned closer to the woman. His voice became urgent. "Then maybe I shouldn't wake up. Listen, I spend every waking hour surrounded by fantasies; sure, they're all neatly bound and shelved, but they are fantasies nonetheless. I sell them, or I'm supposed to sell them, for a living." By now he was closer to her than he ever had been while awake. "What difference does one more make?"

Gently, the woman took his hands in hers. "Oh God... It really shouldn't be like this." She sighed.

"But it's all I've got," the shopkeeper replied, in a voice choked with emotion.

She gazed into his eyes, and for a second, they seemed to connect like never before.

"Listen to yourself," she said. "What do you think you sound like? More importantly, what kind of a man do you think you sound like?"

"A tired one."

"A beaten one. You used to be so full of life... what went wrong?"

"You of all people should know the answer to that," the shopkeeper said, with just a trace of bitterness.

The woman looked at her lover tenderly. "No person, no emotion, has the right to reduce you to the state you're in right now. Remember that."

"That's easy for you to say. You've never been on the receiving end, have you?" And then, for the first time that night, he dropped his gaze, and stared at the ground.

Suddenly, the woman moved closer to him, and began whispering in his ear. "Tell you what, I'll give you a helping hand. There's a businessman that lives at the end of your street. He's rich, so rich that he doesn't know what to do with his money. So sometimes he gives out loans, to struggling businesses or people that he thinks really deserve them. Go and see him tomorrow. Make something of your life."

Then she stopped, abruptly kissed him on the cheek, and then, without a flash of light or even the twitch of a perfectly shaped eyelash, she was gone.

To be continued...

1 comment:

David said...

Wow Chaff you never seem to stop to amaze me. Keep up the good work and congrats to the 50 points!