The Forgotten City

by Vincent C. Sales

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Chapter Three

He remembers. It has been years now since she left, but still he stops sometimes and thinks of her. It is not a conscious act of remembering and he barely realizes it each time he begins to think of her again. She weaves in and out of his waking hours, and she is in every dream.

He sits by the window, smoking silently. They would sit by the window on warm afternoons like this, he remembers. Sometimes they would make love in the precise spot where he sat, overlooking the street. Afterwards, they would lie in each other’s arms as the light flooded the room and they would watch the dust particles turned to gold in their eternal descent.

He remembers her silence. Her beauty was a silent hymn. Wordlessly, she would reach out to him, kiss him sensually on the lips, bury her face in his shoulder and bite the flesh there. The only sound she would make would be a small playful laugh.

He remembers whispered promises and unmade vows. He remembers staring into her eyes and her staring back, unafraid, completely open. He thought that moment was forever.

He remembers Tamisa and all the reasons she gave for leaving.

He remembers her with moonlight in her hair.

In his hand he holds a small glass vial the shape of a woman’s body. He had bought it from an old woman the day before. “A trinket,” she had said. “A trinket with the power of dreams.” He thought the woman was beautiful, could see through the years so cruelly etched on her face. He knew the woman was beautiful in her youth.

“How much is it?” he asked, and she replied, “Thirty silver pieces.”

“A bargain for the power of dreams,” he said. He bought the vial because Tamisa loved glass.

As the old woman handed him the vial he had chosen, she said, “Dreams come in through closed eyes. A drop in each eye closes the eyes and opens the dreaming eye to set your dream free. Now tell me what your dream is.”

He smiled and said without thinking, “Just to see her again. Just once. Up close. Without her knowing.” The old woman looked at him with a mix of admiration and sadness and held his hand tightly. He thanked her and walked away.

He remembers when Tamisa left. She wept like a child with too many tears to cry. Her tears could have watered the dry fields, he had joked and she cried even harder and held him close. Then she kissed him and he tasted salt. Their tongues danced in a final farewell. When he opened his eyes, she had pulled away and had begun walking away from him with one last apologetic look over her shoulder before she was gone forever.

Alone now, he remembers without tears, for the tears don’t come anymore. He opens the glass vial shaped like a woman’s body and the dusty room is filled with the fragrance of Tamisa’s perfume. He smiles at the memory. With the cover of the vial, which is shaped like a knife, he puts a drop of the dream liquid into each eye, hoping it is a drug that will make him forget.

The liquid burns, and he is on fire. He closes his eyes and falls to the floor, for the pain is intense. The fire reaches from his eyes into the back of his head and down his spine. He thrashes on the floor and kicks over a chair, knocks the contents of a table onto the floor. He thinks of tearing out his eyes and instead tears at the skin on his face. He bites his tongue and tastes blood. He throws himself against a wall, hitting his head over and over to take his mind away from the terrible burning of his eyes. Inside, the fire gnaws at his spine, searing his flesh from the inside outwards. His brain feels as if it will explode from the pressure and his eyes continue to burn an itching fire to which there is no rest.

In an eternity, the burning is gone, and he opens his eyes to wake in a dream. In his vision, everything is burning with a holy light, full of magical blues and reds, and the most pure of whites. It is as if every object shone with the light of its soul. How bright would Tamisa burn?

From the depths of the dream, from the street below, he hears fanfare, and he looks outside the burning window to see what miracles there are to behold.

It is a caravan from the distant West. Great burning banners are unfurled in the wind, carried by standard bearers whose skin is the color of coal. In the front of the caravan are proud soldiers with burning swords and spears. Their armor is full of designs of fire. The captains are on great white fire mares impatient in their slow march towards the palace of the Sultan. And then there are creatures he has heard of but never seen until now, great grey beasts as large as houses with snakes protruding from their faces and burning eyes filled with the wisdom of ages. On one of these beasts rides their sultan, or their prince, a boy, no older than ten years.

He goes down to the street to get a closer look and curses the old woman, for everything he sees is full of fire. A crowd has gathered along the sides of the streets. Everywhere, the people point at the burning wonders.

Behind the boy-king comes the harem, each of the women upon a golden carriage carried by more of the coal-colored men (eunuchs, some in the crowd say). Each carriage is heaped with silk of the finest craftsmanship. Hidden somewhere within, the beautiful, untouched wives of the boy-sultan shelter themselves from the afternoon sun.

Carriage upon carriage passes, each one anonymous until one carriage stops in front of the house he once shared with Tamisa. A slender white hand reaches out and pulls aside one of the silk curtains. She is beautiful, the crowd murmurs, but imperially, she pays no attention to them. She pulls the curtains aside completely for all to see her, a simple motion so full of grace. She moves forward slightly to look outside the carriage and the sunlight falls upon her face.

It is Tamisa burning brightly in his vision. She looks no older than he remembers her, but her eyes show the passage of the years. Still, she is beautiful, more so now than ever.

Her body partly outside the carriage, Tamisa looks up. She looks up at the window that overlooks the street, almost hoping to see someone there, a ghost perhaps, but not expecting anyone. She smiles to herself, looks down almost sadly and pulls the curtain back into its place in that same slow graceful movement. And he almost calls out, “Tamisa!” but he stops himself.

Slowly, the caravan passes in front of him and it is night when the last camel enters the Sultan’s palace. He beholds many wonders that day but remembers none. In his mind, there is only one memory that burns one silent name.

Slowly, the fire in his eyes passes away. Less than embers are left. He feels the stinging pain of the self-inflicted wounds on his head. Slowly, he climbs the steps of his house to the room with the window overlooking the street. Moonlight filters in, softly this time, silver, unlike the golden sun. Painfully, he sets the chair aright and sits down at the table. The wind still carries faint traces of her perfume. He remembers. He remembers Tamisa as the fire goes out.

Chapter Four

On the burning day the sultan from the distant West arrived, a young man from an equally distant land chances upon an old woman selling bottles of dreams.

In the temple they are celebrating One Year Since the Memory of Rain, a festival of fire, a feast of the sun. An entire year of fire, they say, means untold good fortune for the next year for bountiful destruction completes the cycle of death. Yet the young man longs only for rain.

He remembers the land where he was born: a place that glowed a vibrant green. It seemed like the rain would never stop there. Night and day were filled with blessings from the sky.

“Blessed day,” an old woman says to the young man. Like the rest of the city, she looks dry and tired.

“Blessed day,” he returns the greeting. He picks up a bottle from the old woman’s stall, admiring the fine craftsmanship. “What are these?” he asks.

“They are dreams,” the old woman replies, “dreams in bottles.”

Amused, the young man says, “Then do you have any bottles with rain in it?”

“Rain,” she says to herself, rummaging among her bottles, “another dream for rain. Must have another one of those somewhere…”

After a few moments, the old woman pulls out a large glass flask full of a dark blue fluid. The young man takes the flask in his hands and perhaps it is a trick of the light, or a reflection of the glass, or magic, but he imagines he sees rainclouds inside. And he remembers home, the gray clouds of his childhood and all the different kinds of rain: the light spray that refreshed, the hard painful rain that fell in sheets and stung the skin, the monsoon that fell for weeks and did not stop, the warm shower that defied logic by co-existing with sunshine, the storm that uprooted trees, the typhoon that flooded the rivers. His mother tongue returns to him and he remembers their many words for rain.

He smiles at the tired, dry, old woman and buys the bottle without a second thought.

She says to him, “Throw the water in the bottle upon a wall, and you will have all the rain you could ever want.”

The young man thanks the old woman, not knowing whether to believe her or not.

The next day, the sun beats down on the city without reprieve, with a tempest of fire. It is a day hotter than any in memory. The young man is at home. He is naked in the coolest room of his little apartment. Still, the heat is unbearable and sweat pours down his body. At the same time it is so humid that his sweat will not evaporate. He wipes at his face with a coarse towel and downs a glass of water. Both do little to help.

The heat possesses his body and he is unable to do anything. His limbs are heavy. His mind cannot function. His entire body is consumed by the fire, reduced to ashes, blown away by the scorching wind. He lies as if paralyzed on a wicker divan.

In the young man’s hands, he holds the glass flask he brought from the old woman. It is cool to the touch and he presses his face against it, runs it over his neck, his arms, his chest. He sighs. It is the only relief he has received all day. He looks deep inside the flask and again sees rainclouds in the dark fluid. A smile touches the edge of his lips and perhaps still possessed by the heat, he stands up and does to the flask exactly what the old woman directed him to do. Without thinking, he uncaps the flask and in one fluid motion, throws the water inside upon an empty wall.

The young man is surrounded by the smell of the rain.

The dark fluid from the flask pours down the wall. It rolls down the wall, briskly becoming lighter as it does so. The fluid pools on the floor. It becomes clear, merely water. The young man looks at the pool and sees the wall reflected in it, but where the wall was supposed to be blank and empty wall, there was to his surprise, a wall with a window.

The young man’s gaze shoots up to the wall, and indeed there is a window there. He knows it is not possible for a window to be there, for on the other side of the wall is another apartment. But there is no denying it: the window is there.

He walks up to the window and a cool breeze blows in his face. The young man sees his homeland in the window. Green trees are everywhere, and it is raining. He can smell the wet earth around five feet below him. He stretches out a hand, looking up at the gray skies. When he pulls his hand back, it is wet. He licks the rainwater from his hands, laughing. With the laughter still strong in his lungs, he leans as far as he can out the window. The rain soaks his hair, runs sensuously over his body. He lets out a shout of joy and it carries far in the valley before him.

The young man returns inside and looks outside the other windows of his home. He sees only clear blue skies, the city and the burning white eye of the sun.

Many days pass and the young man is content.

Every day he comes home an hour before the sun sets, tired of the city, tired from work, just tired. Still it has not rained. It doesn’t matter to the young man. Nothing matters to the young man. Every day, once through the door, he heads straight for his window of rain. He sits on a chair facing the window and looks at the rain until the sun sets. Then everything is all right and he is able to go on.

Sometimes at night he smokes opium by the window. Sometimes he falls asleep to the sound of the rain.

Days pass and the young man’s contentment evaporates in the heat of the sun. Upon coming home he discovers, to his disappointment, that the window of rain is no longer enough. He stands in front of the window all throughout the night and listens to the voice of the rain soothing his restless soul, speaking to him in his mother tongue, calling him by his childhood name. Morning comes and still he is in front of the window. As it becomes light, the agongs from the distance break the early morning silence, bearing news from distant lands. Soon, he knows, it will be time to leave his window of rain. But when the hour comes, instead of walking through his door, he climbs upon the sill of his window of rain. Then without hesitation, he steps through the window and makes a short jump to the earth below. Heralded by rain, his journey begins. He doesn’t look back.

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