It was a winter of rain and snow. A man walked into a church to inquire if anyone had seen his gifts. They had not, but tried to ask what kind of shopping bag they would be in. The man walked out, confused, and wandered amongst cats and lampposts. Later, at the police station, they wanted to know how he had lost them; at the pharmacy, they inquired when. Nobody could help him. Then he walked into a candy shop and once again announced that he had lost his gifts. They asked for a receipt or a description of the items, but he only replied that he suffered from the sleeping sickness. Once more, he entered the night, passing through mazes of stone and shadow. In a bar with a gold and yellow signboard, he drank some ale. Nobody there knew what he was talking about, either, especially as he did not seem to know who the gifts were for. In the end, he walked back into the night and stopped by a lamppost on a bridge. I lost my gifts, he said to the lamppost, his voice cracking. What happened? the lamppost asked. I don’t know, he whispered, opening his coat, unbuttoning his cotton shirt and exposing his scarred skin to the whirling snowflakes. They took them, he cried, while I was sleeping! That was cruel, whispered the lamppost, but there will be other gifts that they won’t find. Don’t let them know. They cannot take anything else if they think you are empty.
A man was standing under a blossoming plum tree in the middle of a melon field. Another man approached, accused him of trespassing, and demanded to know what he intended to do in the middle of his field. Who are you? the first man asked. I am the bailiff, and this is my field. Why are you here? The first man seemed out of sorts, if not despondent. I was visiting a house on the hill, he said, admiring a beautiful landscape painting of a blossoming plum tree in the middle of a melon field. I had a strong desire to travel into the picture to stand beneath the tree and soak in the glorious light of the spring morning. Then the strangest thing happened. A servant girl opened the rain shutters, and to my great surprise I saw this wonderful tree and this magnificent field. I departed at once without even seeing the person I was calling on. And yet, when I arrived, I felt lost and depressed, for it seems as though I did not really arrive. I have not reached the tree in the picture or the field I saw through the window. That is a difficult thing, said the bailiff. I have always found servant girls difficult to manage. The wind continued to unroll the azure scroll of the sky. The clouds were very far away now. I could arrest you, the bailiff casually suggested after a long silence, but the man would neither speak nor walk away, as if it were impossible to escape being lost wherever he went. The bailiff looked up at the radiant tree and then at his great fields. I could never grow pricklyash, he confessed. It just would not grow.
There were many mountain passes on the narrow road that led back to the land before the smoke. Many years had passed since he had last seen the shapes of its flowers and the clothes of its climates. Of days in the lure of clouds he had more images than a mind could hold. A headspace of tripping through mists and curling paper, of golden sawdust and blue ashes. And yet he could not seem to name a single voice from that other land. The closer he drew to its ancient gate, the more it seemed not to exist. And still he clutched in his one hand the one straw.
She was a young girl, a whisper of mist—seven strokes of ink on an empty page. In a moment, she might not even exist. One brush of wind could have thrown her away into a different dead end, another narrow corridor of closed gates and steps that echo and stay a long while, their sounds diffusing into the fresh darkness, wandering passages of endless stairways, broken sidewalks and blind shop windows. After a while, it seems that she did blow away. Like a dead leaf detached from its twisted branch. She left a few strands of her golden hair clinging to his coat, which had embraced or imprisoned her form.
A giraffe met a dromedary on the border where the sahra meets the sahel, a land of ones and zeroes. They sat down to make a campfire and have a conversation. The dromedary spoke of his upcoming journey to the southeast, to meet the great sea, its merchants and mariners, to voyage into the sunrise and to trade in silk and surprises. The giraffe spoke of her desire to travel north and west, to the legendary lost tree, the loneliest tree, the loneliest object in the world, which was cut off from everything else by thousands of miles of sand and stone in every direction. The dromedary was curious and wondered how such a journey could be profitable. The giraffe said that she had often been lonely, and it hurt her too much to think of the lonely tree. It was vital that the tree have a friend. The dromedary cautioned against this. First, the tree might not even exist, and even if it did exist, it had survived this long without a friend–to visit it now would be to tamper with its environment and ruin its chance at happiness. Secondly, the possibility that the giraffe would not overcome the temptation to eat of its leaves and shave the tree’s head were too great. In the end, this story would conclude with a corrupted giraffe carcass and a dead tree. The giraffe looked sad, and kicked at the ashes of the campfire with her hoof. It is an axiological problem, the giraffe said, and your neck cannot stretch high enough for this axis. The dromedary was offended, and rose to his full height, setting off at once into the rosy light of the dawn, to cross golden dunes and green savannahs until he encountered the richness of the sea with its pearls, goldfish, trinkets, amphorae, silk, alabaster, spices and shellfish. It is well known that the dromedary became a great merchant selling paper and kindling to the lands beyond the sea. The giraffe set off into the emptiness of the desert, to seek the lonesome tree that might be nothing more than a mirage. One of them remarked: better a dead giraffe than a dead dromedary.