The Archivist

The girl escaped the riots by traveling through mesas, prairies, and deserts. In the sanctuary of an abandoned white mission crumbling at the foot of the iron-gray mountains, she met the almost immortal archivist. The shadow introduced himself with immaculate manners and a gentleness she had never seen before. The man had burning, green eyes full of mystery and tenderness, like a young child still amazed and excited by the world. Dressed in a black frock, a white ruff collar, and long leather boots, she thought he looked like a figure from a history textbook or a character in a renaissance play. The archivist said that he had sailed on galleons six hundred years ago. The interior of the mission was practically a museum exhibit from bygone times. There were bookshelves of ancient codices, polished oak tables covered with manuscripts and charts, and coffers stuffed with relics. They stood over a table, where he showed her pictures resembling an unknown continent. She saw it begin as an almost formless mass in blank, bone-white oceans and acquire firmer and bolder edges of ink, more promontories and inlets, more precise curves. She asked him what the drawings were about. The archivist explained that they were the diagrams of thought experiments, or a succession of related thought experiments that had been acted out in space and time. And he spoke of handwritten thinking machines, diagrams, mind maps, memory palaces illuminated in old manuscripts, geometric drawings with proofs, astronomical tables and charts used for calculation. One by one, he showed her more pictures. Something was beginning to form in her mind. At last, she saw that the drawings were nothing more than maps of her own land. The archivist looked into her eyes with suffering or desperation and asked her what the thought experiments meant.

The Long Gaze

On the wayside, the pilgrim sat below cedars under the wooden rafters of a shelter. On his palms there were no maps to guide, and his head was heavy with seeds of death. Day after day, he counted the hours, and every footfall was a waterfall. The pilgrim had lost his way in a golden sickness. His throat was parched and his eyelids closed. And still he could not bear to name a single mountain of the ancient land, and the closer he drew to its rotting gate, the less he seemed to exist. The pilgrim dreamed it was a woodblock print. It was the long gaze of a stone statue.

The Amnesiac

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.

The Old Beggar

In the beginning, the old beggar welcomed the visits. They brought him star maps, atlases, and charts. There were always new lands, new worlds, new comets and new stars, which they would explain to him. The beggar could travel vast distances without leaving the shade of his favourite tree. The visitors also liked to hear of his years of walking from peak to peak, chewing his coca leaves, leading his herds, and making sure the villagers scattered in the high country had enough to eat. One hundred years of life had passed, and he could walk no more. Memorizing as much as he could, he daydreamed of other worlds. Our world is a view of other worlds, he often whispered. Later, the visitors became more intolerant and belligerent. It was no longer an exhibit of the worlds beyond, but an interrogation, a list of everything the beggar did not know, and he felt as if he never had time to ask a question, argue, or share something of his past. The visitors were a black cloud. They collected around him like flies on a loaf of bread. One day, he asked them to leave. You are blocking my view, he said. I want to see my mountains and my llamas.

The Horseman

In the dark ages, a horseman was dispatched from the old capital to bring important news to a faraway country. Every hundred miles, the horseman briefly rested at the post station, mounted a fresh horse, and dashed off into the openness of the highway. All of the horses were beautiful and galloped well, despite their differences in age, height, and coloring. As the horseman traveled, he viewed a thousand landscapes, learned the migration routes of words and beasts, and dreamed of his country–its stone bridges, lampposts, libraries, teahouses and museums. After crossing the frontier on his last horse, he passed through the twilight lands of shapeshifting trees and dissolving beasts. There were sleepwalkers abroad in the land, gathering stones and collecting dead leaves. At last, he arrived at his destination–the cities of mist and sleep. The sleepwalkers lived in great mansions and ate well, but they never got angry; they never smiled or laughed, either. They amassed heaps of broken stones and dead leaves, storing them in their museums, teahouses, and under their bridges. In the halls of the diplomats, the horseman was received with a mixture of courtesy, suspicion and puzzlement. On a great round table, they unrolled the scroll of their official map, which they updated every fortnight. They pointed to the document, and explained that they could not figure out where the horseman had come from. None of the countries he had passed through, not even the old capital where his journey began, existed. The message he delivered–while understandable in its essentials–was incomprehensible, like the relic of some ancient and indecipherable script from an abandoned and forgotten civilization. They offered him sanctuary in their city. Otherwise, they feared he would gallop back into the nothing. The horseman gratefully and politely declined, setting off at once to return to the old capital. At first, it seemed as if the map had been right. The horseman recognized none of the landscapes along the highway, although he saw sleepwalkers raking leaves and hauling broken stones here and there. The frontier seemed lost. Despairing of ever finding his way home, he continued to ride. One day, only a few miles after seeing a band of sleepwalkers inspecting a stretch of dead trees, he came upon a land he remembered, a land far past the frontier in the heart of the empire. It was twilight, and the horse breathed with great difficulty. The old capital was still far, far away.