The Word Problem

Golden oak leaves blew across the sidewalk when the man stepped out of the bookstore. Near the bus stop, a beggar sat on the pavement, asking for coins. The commuter truthfully said that he did not have any and gazed down the street, waiting for the bus to appear. The beggar continued to mutter and argue with himself, and the other began to regret that he had not given him anything. When he glanced back, he saw the poor man struggling with the wind, a rolling paper and a bag of loose tobacco. The commuter reached for his pack of cigarettes, and offered the man a few. The beggar was about to accept them, but seemed ashamed and confused, and said that maybe he should not. The commuter insisted, and the beggar accepted two and lit one. Only moments later, the other unlit cigarette came flying through the air and landed at the base of the oak tree. Whether or not it had been the wind, one could not say. The poor man smoked intently and quietly, his stormy blue eyes gazing beyond matter and time. The bus arrived, and when the commuter boarded, he noticed that the passengers were arguing passionately in sign language.

The Rhapsodist

Where the gray waters brush the silver hair of the sands on the islands of olives and broken walls and bleached statues, the young rhapsodist covered her eyes and wept for the burning city, whose smoke rose into the fading sky. Alone, she walked into the mountains, into the snow and wind, to seek the source of voices and words, for words had been catapults and voices had been spears, as ordained by divine songs. On the summit, naked and cold, she raised her fist and sang to the racing clouds, birds, sun, planets, moon and stars. They revolved in an endless whirlpool of light and darkness, too fast for her to stretch her fingers into their machinery and pluck the strings of their orbits or halt their vibrations. The disembodied voice finally spoke through the blindness of vertigo and despair, asking her what she desired. Stranger, return what is ours. Our tales are to be returned at once, she said. It is through our stories that you have dared to disclose yourself and speak, as we rhapsodists stitched our verses together and plucked the sacred strings. Return our stories to us once and for all! They are ours and not yours. And we shall speak through them, not you! There was a long silence; the whirling lights of heaven seemed to freeze. The disembodied voice agreed to honor her request. The rhapsodist staggered down the mountain, almost sliding and tumbling upon the streams of pebbles and scree, eager to report the good news. When she appeared below, the survivors of the burning city screamed out in fear and ran away, for her body was covered in leprosy, her eyes were as blank and shiny as silver, and her mouth had been sewn shut with stitches of adamant.

The Wall

In the beginning, the city had a high thick wall of stone that rose to the great sky. Its gates were beautiful with ornate, calligraphic signs. When times of wealth came, the princes, princesses, merchants, and even a few priests and lawyers, proposed the destruction of the wall. The main argument was that it might look threatening and exclusive. It would be an impediment to trade, diplomacy, and prestige. Nobody should fear the city, they reasoned. Through various machinations, legitimate and illegitimate devices, they managed to convince the citizens to tear down the wall and recycle the stones. The work was difficult and dangerous. Collapsing segments of the ramparts destroyed many houses, killing all within, and some districts even became divided by partitions of fallen rubble. There were riots. Eventually, all of the debris was cleared, the riots were quelled, and the outer wall vanished from history without a trace. Within a generation, the city itself was almost deserted. There were several reasons for this. First, travelers, bankers and traders were afraid to stay in a city without walls, and so commerce dwindled. Secondly, the destruction of the wall had destabilized the very foundations of the city. Many houses sank or caved in. Lastly, there was the weathering, which the wall had formerly slowed. The city did not fall to invaders, as some had thought. Without walls, it just crumbled and faded into dust, like a boneless dead fish in a dried out land.

The Chariot

In the other land, in another part of the universe, the prince taught the nature of things and of the divine. What is reality? It is like four days, or ages or moments. It is like a ride in a chariot outside the walls of the other city. On the first day, you see a man who has rusted and worn in the wind of time, ancient and weak. On the second day, you see a man of wounds and sickness, who walks with crutches in the dust of the cemeteries and ash heaps. On the third day, rolling and thundering alongside the circular wall, you pass a man without life, a corpse being eaten by worms, insects, and rats. On the fourth day, you almost run over a man of hunger, meditative and emaciated, his blood turned to lead, his bones almost bursting through his sinews, his spirit wandering in the effervescent transendence. The chariot orbits the outside wall of the other city. The most ancient wooden artifact from our history is a little chariot that has lost its chessboard. One of these facts is tangential. Our first racing chariot is a whirlwind of lightning that rolls and thunders, its wheels and its spokes blur in the cold wind, and the four days are one circle of day, which is an empty evening in the autumn when the golden leaves detach from their branches and sail into the darkness of stars like stringless kites.

The Abandoned City

Once, a scholar received an inheritance of five keys and a codex of the highway to the abandoned city. The codex was an almanac and a map. Not long after he set out, the codex fell into a well and half of it was drowned and blurred. Some nights later, the wind was blowing, and sparks from the campfire landed on the remaining half of the codex, burning it. Nevertheless, the man resolved to be the codex and find his inheritance of which he vividly dreamed. When he arrived at the abandoned city, he wandered the streets, trying his keys in every lock of the gates to its houses and gardens. At long last, one key finally turned, and he entered into his estate, but there were ghosts there who asked him to leave. They had their own keys and deeds to the estate, and they had already summoned the oligarchs, knowing this day would come. The sergeants and men of law came to arrest him, but after hearing his tale, they allowed him to stay in the empty city, as long as he never entered a house or garden. And for this reason, the scholar became an arsonist, a veritable pyrrhomaniac, burning down the city one house each night, while hiding in the water of the wells by day. The abandoned city thus became a great and enduring smoke signal for wayfarers who might be walking the endless highways.