An exile wandered through the city of rain, full of despair and exhausted from ceaseless walking. It was tiresome to try to hunt down a potato, a piece of coal, a well-tarred roof. Woodcuts on posters and postcards advertized light bulbs on every broken wall, but they were not to be taken from the wet trees, not to be stolen from the glassy shops or passing girls in their swelling coats, not to be conjured from the bare hands of beggars or from old cameras with twin lenses or oblong radios encased in wooden sideboards that one often found discarded in the alleys. The exile walked through arcades of black thoughts and arcades of rain, hungry for golden, silver light. On a rare dry corner of birch trees and gray, box-shaped buildings, a whore whispered to him what he had suspected in the depths of his heart for a long time. The world around him was not his world, and its history was not his history. It would be best if the mysterious stranger forgot about light bulbs and this world altogether. The exile walked off once more into the dark matter of life and weather, a matchbox rattling in his coat pocket.
Long ago, the peasants were allowed to make three kinds of requests: an appeal for justice, an appeal for mercy, or an appeal for solidarity. Sometimes, they could appeal for all three at once. An appeal for justice meant that a person could demand what was owed to him. An appeal for mercy was a request to have a debt forgiven, a crime pardoned or to receive an unmerited gift. An appeal for solidarity was a request for assistance to solve a problem or merely to have one’s complaints heard and recorded for future reference. This was the law. One day, the bonesetter traveled to the capital to make all three requests. The magistrate seemed to be listening, but suddenly denied all three requests without reason. A trifecta of this nature was rare, and it was actually punishable by law. To be denied thrice or to be denied in all three categories was a symptom of either hidden crime or contagious misfortune in the supplicant, or perhaps both, for no one is really guiltless or innocent. Death or exile was the usual penalty. The bonesetter was exiled. The only place for him to go was the desert. The only desert where he thought he might survive or be happy was some 12,000 kilometres away and almost impossible to reach. Moreover, it was a land of cold waves, golden grasslands and dark mountains, a land of living skeletons, sleepwalkers and sheep. The bonesetter hoped that he would have the courage to venture there, the courage to learn about the sheep and to live with the sheep. The sheep are weighted down with so much beauty and sadness.
Into a garden lost on some wayside, through the paper doors the exile opened the world, bronzed and blackened like smooth pebbles embedded in grouts of cool white clouds. Beyond the paper doors the rain divides the pebbles into respective shapes of charcoal pear and ash persimmon, into six different shades of silence. In that first land the paper doors were holes through which the moths would dance, through which the night time coiled. Like cool green tea the summer set all the fields in a foam of sedge.
A galaxy of blood oranges burst all around them, planets and stars glowing with the same sensual twilight. It was an unexpected development, a surprise of physics and mathematics. The smoking paralus crashed into the surface of a planet covered in silver streams and expansive horse chestnut trees. It was forever autumn here. The surviving paraloi disembarked. Several of them gifted in rhetoric gave speeches on the correct course of action. They voted and decided to explore, forage, salvage and scavenge before the next meeting. After voting, the paraloi sang the paean and set off into the woods to gather and eat the horse chestnuts. The horse chestnuts were shiny and delicious. Besides being narcotic, they enabled the paraloi to calculate and meditate at hitherto unknown speeds. Before long, they had measured the circumference of the planet, established its rotation and revolutions, counted all the blood oranges in the night sky, and discovered their lack of food security. Moreover, they began to experience symptoms of poisoning, for horse chestnuts are toxic elsewhere as they are here. Although some were content to eat other things, the majority consumed the horse chestnuts. They met again to vote on the next steps of their adventure. There were long speeches. They voted to conquer the planet, enforce their hegemony over the trees, find a way to return home, make the voyage home, and build trade routes for transporting and selling the horse chestnuts. Once again, they sang the paean and set off to implement their schemes. One would often see one of the paraloi, covered in sick and still cramming raw or cooked chestnuts into his mouth, his eyes lost to faraway dreams or investigations. Others leaned against trees, coughing blood from their lungs and weeping. They invariably lost weight. At another meeting, one of the speakers announced that he was the first wanax of the planet. All native aliens–if any were discovered–and paraloi would be subject to him and pay tributes of horse chestnuts and other materials. The wanax had already selected some paraloi to form a bodyguard. All voted in favour, sang the paean, and entered into a new life of tending trees, gathering and processing horse chestnuts, serving their brutal wanax and waiting for their next narcosis that would alleviate the symptoms of poison and withdrawal. Most were slowly starving to death or succumbing to the toxicity. None were able to think of repairing the paralus and returning home. Runaways left the horse chestnut forests behind to dwell in the gray mountains. Their bodies slowly healed. Desertion meant that they were no longer citizens or paraloi, no longer entitled to speak, vote or sing the paean with the other paraloi. In silence, they ate colorless things from the mountains. Sometimes, a runaway would recall the symptoms of toxicity and shudder, but would still miss the taste, texture and golden pulp of the horse chestnuts with their fragrant narcosis. Some would briefly return to the woods to steal a handful of treats, but would see that the horse chestnuts were really quite colorless, tasteless and dysphoric. Straightaway, they would be running back to the silence and the peace beyond the trees.The mountains were gray and empty. The blood oranges were far, far away.
Once upon a time there was a stranger who lost all memory of his old city. Now and then, he would remember something for a fleeting moment, and would try to hold onto the image, texture, scent or sound. In the daytime, he worked as an architect, but by night he worked through newspaper clippings, cutouts from magazines and bundles of photographs gifted from friends or bought in antique markets. A somnambulist through a nostalgia for a nonexistent world, an unwritten chronotope, a lost monologue or conversation, he built a collage on the walls of his spacious townhouse depicting his imaginary lost city. It was a map and mosaic, an icon and a virtual topography. Later, his friends speculated on the nature of this act. Perhaps if he rebuilt the lost city, the stone angels would open its gates to him, some said. Others said that he had never left the city, its grace was within him and around him, and the collage was merely meant to cure his blindness to this grace. And yet others remained unconvinced by these theories. Nostalgia for edens and the hope of new romes or jerusalems work in tandem. The collage was perhaps a map of the crossroads of time, a river and a mosaic, a platonia and gautamia, order and chaos, in motion and frozen, a sculpture of the human heart. It was his greatest work.
In the days of the great plague, there was a woman who was stricken and who would most likely die in a fortnight or two. Some friends came to her and whispered of a phantom doctor, who would come and heal her if she secretly summoned him. First of all, the woman wanted to know why he was a phantom. Secondly, she doubted that this doctor even existed. The friends gave her testimony of their own cures. They showed her letters and prescriptions the doctor had given; they could even perform some of the minor surgeries and treatments to keep her alive until he appeared. They had other scraps of evidence, but the woman was an expert logician, and destroyed all of their bits of evidence with clear, cold, cutting and seemingly irrefutable arguments. It seemed insane that a doctor would only come if summoned. Why all of these intrigues and phantasms? It was simple, her friends explained. The doctor had been banished for treason by the princes, scholars, bishops and magistrates. They blamed him for the plague, and feared his visitation would make the realm sink deeper into the ravages of contagion. I would rather see a witch doctor, the woman said. At least I can find some entertainment in his traditions and culture. As for this phantom doctor, keep him far away from me, and do not lay your hands on me with any intention of mimicking his treatments. Some of her friends praised her for her bravery and honesty in clinging to her principles and respecting the laws of the realm. Most of her friends mourned her senseless death, but had to flee the realm to live elsewhere, for the laws of the land were ensuring the swift and violent extinction of all life.
Nobody knew where he came from, if that was even the right way of wording it. One day they noticed him, living in an abandoned park on the outskirts of the city. The wonderful park had hillocks, widely spaced trees of silver and golden leaves, abstract and natural sculptures, shallow streams of crystal, and an assortment of gates, blackboards and machinery. The mathematician wandered around, opening and closing gates, writing with chalk on the blackboards and building, mending and rebuilding his machinery. The mathematician loved to speak of the chalk, its powdery white atoms, the way chalk adhered to the board one minute or would blow off into the wind the next, the way the chalk held together to make each integer and formula, or how it fused into a thin film when brushed. On certain days, they came to see him write on a great blackboard. Whenever he wrote on it, fireworks and magic lanterns revolved around him, words and numbers burned in the air and diffused into their faces with an affectionate warmth, and everyone went home afterwards, filled, peaceful and whole. For years, the mathematician taught the children, especially the poor ones, how to add, subtract, divide, multiply, how to factor, use decimals and find roots. Through logic, arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, trigonometry, statistics and even physics, they wandered on a magic journey with him, through the known and unknown that only grew in both distance, wholeness, and intimacy. Engineers, carpenters, cobblers and blacksmiths came to him for advice. Even scholars, philosophers and doctors from the city and other cities learned some of his secrets, although most were too vast to take in. The mathematician helped them keep their books, maintain records, draw plans for building walls or bridges, and charted stars and maps for them. The city grew wealthy. One day, the mathematician vanished. Some say he was murdered; some say he escaped; some say he was exiled. Many accused him of all manner of crimes, while stripping the park of his blackboards and machinery. Those machines that were too mysterious or too great to haul were robbed of parts or vandalized. Most of what they took home they did not know how to use. They were able to reproduce some fireworks and build other kinds of machinery, but after a while the blackboards and machines were returned to the abandoned park, where they began to rust. A legend grew up that the mathematician was only a dream sent by some diabolical magic or plague. The citizens concocted various theories to rationalize the leftover machinery. Some even tried to burn blackboards or melt down gears to destroy the relics. Time passed. The children would go to the abandoned park to play. They built their own machines from scraps and tried to learn from the machines that were more or less intact. They whispered and wrote on blackboards, and some even claimed to have seen magic lanterns, fireworks and the ghost of the mathematician return, walking from blackboard to blackboard, opening and closing gates, blowing enchanted chalk dust from his hands into the north wind.