by Vincent C. Sales
In a faraway land that knows only rain, they worship him as a god. He is god of the rain, bringer of life, god of the flood, and bringer of death. Here, they do not know him.
He walks the streets in the form of a cat. If he were to take his true form, the people would immediately recognize him as a god. Though they would not know what god he is, they would worship him anyway, as men do when they are faced with something greater than themselves. They would ask for gifts and try to fall in his favor, and in this dry land, their need for him is greater than any other. He does not want that. And so he passes in disguise, an alleycat with deep blue eyes like the sea.
For hundreds of years the god of rain has wondered about those who worship him. From afar, he watches their short lives, hears their prayers, accepts their offerings, and gives them what they want according to his whim. And always he has wondered why these mortals go about their lives with so much hope when the only thing they are certain about is death, why they live with so much passion and hate when they all return to the earth in the end.
Lately, the god of rain has taken to watching the mortals in their cities, to see up close what their lives are about, to smell, to feel, to taste. Always, he takes the form of an animal, for once he took the form of a man and they all wanted to know who he was and where he came from. They watched him when he was the one who wanted to watch.
The cat that is a god walks the narrow alleys of the market with an expression of stoic interest. He avoids the crush of passersby and walks close to the stalls, underneath the legs of tables, over heavy crates full of fruits, around barrels, through heaps of garbage already rotting. From below, he watches children running and playing, mothers smelling the produce on display, vendors haggling over the price of sandals, rough men carrying sacks of rice over their shoulders, pickpockets lurking around corners.
“Greetings, my lord Bagilat,” an old voice says from behind the cat.
Rising to its feet, the cat turns around gracefully and sees an old crone, nothing but skin and bones in truth, on her knees, head bowed, palms open on the ground in supplication.
“Oh, it’s you,” the cat says, its face a mask. “This is a long way from hell.”
The old woman raises her head, careful not to look the cat in the eye. “It is not so far,” she says.
“Get up,” the cat commands. “The mortals are starting to look.”
The old woman does as she is told, holding onto a nearby stall for support, her bony knees shaking with the effort it takes to rise.
The cat jumps up onto the old woman’s stall, landing in an empty space among the glass bottles. Not a single bottle falls.
“What brings you to this land?” the cat asks. It sniffs a bottle and licks the glass tentatively. “And what are these? Your stink is all over them.”
“They are dreams, my lord,” the old woman replies, “and I sell them to the mortals.” She pauses as if thinking of what to say next. Finally, she says, “I am here to destroy the city.”
The god looks at her and tilts its cat head to one side. The stoic cat mask lifts and rises at the corners, and the god laughs.
“Sun Girna Ginar was created by the gods, it is protected by the Sultan and his djinn, Sulayman, guarded by angels and the armies of the General Lumawig, and you, old crone, will destroy the greatest of all the cities of man?”
“No, my lord,” the old woman says, eyes bowed, “not I. Men will destroy the city. I promise you.”
End of Part One
“The Forgotten City” is the first part of an unfinished novel of the same name. It was previously published in the first issue of Story Philippines. Vincent C. Sales has been meaning to finish The Forgotten City for years now but has since become busy with the tech magazine T3, where he is editor-in-chief, his recent marriage, and a new apartment, where he and his wife live together with two fat rabbits.