by Vincent C. Sales
If you wish to find the woman who sells dreams, go to the most run-down part of the city. In the common market, down a crowded alleyway you will find her selling dreams in glass bottles. She is a witch, she says, who remembers what no one else does. If you ask her about the past, she will tell you stories and lies. They are never the same stories twice.
“Sun Girna Ginar was a great city on the greatest of the islands of the Pacific,” she might begin her tale or maybe she might say, “Only the sea remembers Sun Girna Ginar.” Sometimes she will not use the name Sun Girna Ginar but a different name that will not stay in your memory.
She will tell you stories of the inhabitants of the city: of its soldiers, its beggars, its great Sultan, its priests, its magicians, its lovers. She will tell you of their lives and of their dreams and how the two met or did not meet. Other times she does not remember their names.
Go down to the market, past the fruit vendors, past the vendors of the old clothes, past the vendors of trinkets and baubles, she is there, dressed in rags, a mouth full of empty teeth, selling bottles which she says contain dreams that you can own. If you ask her, she will tell you of a city that no one else remembers but her, a city she swears existed hundreds of years ago — the city where she was born.
No one believes her. Not even the children.
Once, this story begins as many others have, but no longer.
The old woman hacks and coughs, spits, begins again.
Once, in a time which may or may not have passed, there was a city which may or may not have been. It was a great city, unlike any other, whose name may or may not have been Sun Girna Ginar, an ancient name in no remembered tongue. The city was founded by gods.
We do not remember this city because it was before the coming of the Christians, and we remember little or nothing from that time. We remember none of our past greatness, none of the achievements of our ancestors. We do not even remember their names. Yet somehow the stories of this city live on from telling to telling, never written, nothing more than the whisperings of ghosts.
It is said that a river passed through Sun Girna Ginar and that this river led to the land of the dead, who have since and at the time of these events closed their doors to the living. On either side of this land was the sea.
It was a time after the volcano threw ash into the sky, blocking out the sun for an entire year. When the ash came down, it choked the fields, transforming them into a vast, gray desert ruled by a tyrant sun.
Demons, beasts, djinns and angels walked the streets of Sun Girna Ginar along with men and gods and ghosts. They lived, and some died. Others passed from living to dying and back to living with the ease of breathing. They fought, they loved. They dreamed, their dreams were broken.
In this city, they speak of gods who traveled in mortal shape, in disguises both fantastic and grotesque. They speak of men, protected and guided by their ancestors. They speak of efrits, great spirits of fire who roamed the land granting mortals wishes or death, depending on their whim. They speak of angels who kept silent watch over the city and of their fallen brethren, the demons, who traded in lies and seduction and bore a pleasing shape.
They speak of the angel who was said to have lived in the city, in a tower made of ivory. The tower had no doors. Inside the tower was the angel’s harem, women he had kidnapped as children and raised on the nectar of heaven. He was known to love humans, which was strange for his kind, who were always distant and aloof.
They speak of Sun Girna Ginar’s general, Lumawig, who was protected by powerful ancestors. He had never lost a battle, and was most famed for his victory against a thousand men — he slaughtered them all with only forty juramentados on his side. He was a cruel and ruthless man, hated by as many as he was loved, and though there were many attempts on his life, it was said that no one could kill him.
They speak of the djinn Sulayman who was the djinn of the Sultan. He was imprisoned in a garnett for a thousand years and was freed by the Sultan’s magic. Sulayman was the most powerful of all djinns and became the Sultan’s assassin for a hundred years until he was imprisoned again by the Sultan’s enemies.
They speak of the six-headed giant Gawigawen from the mountains of the north who declared war upon Sun Girna Ginar.
They speak of the Sultan who ruled over all in a palace with eighty-eight towers. In his palace in the center of Sun Girna Ginar, there were eleven great domes, hundreds of feet high, and enough stables to hold twelve armies. There were hanging gardens, marvelous stone fountains, and in the center of it all was the eighty-eighth tower where the Sultan lived. From here, he surveyed the stars, which told him of Sun Girna Ginar’s destiny.
They speak also of a woman born of a demon and a witch. When the woman was young, her beauty was unrivaled by any. Men came from distant lands to love her, and in return, she devoured their souls one by one. When she was old, she sold dreams in the marketplace, they say. By luring the city into dreams, she destroyed the city, bringing it to its knees with hope.
This is the story I will tell you, the old woman says, but it begins not with sultans, or generals or giants, or in palaces or battlefields. It begins in the stink of the marketplace, with simple men with unremarkable ancestors, best forgotten.