Dawn

 

 

It is early in the morning. The day is warm and darkness lingers at the ends of the side

streets, in the branches of trees, the windows of offices and apartment blocks. The city is

silent. It is too early for traffic but after a few moments' walking I hear the distant hum of

an engine and the spray of water on tar. The cleaners must be out already, getting the

place tidy for the day. As I reach the first corner I think I smell rain, but it is only

condensation from the cleaners' machines. Far away a crowd crosses the street in a

hushed, languid crocodile. A girl turns and squints in my direction. Here and there I make

out the shadowy forms of men and women huddled in doorways or propped up against

the granite walls of the office buildings. One or two are accompanied by scrawny dogs.

Both humans and dogs exude an aura of unfathomable patience. As I pass by one man

reaches out an open palm but when I dig my hand into my pocket and find it empty I

remember there's no money here and I have no idea what he wants.

 

 

 

Valentino

 

 

 

I walk down a short flight of steps into a bar. Men and women are sitting at tables,

drinking beer or wine. An ornate brass lamp that resembles an inverted samovar casts a

dim light through the room. Glasses gleam in buttery light. At every table a dim,

disembodied flame hovers over a candle. The wavering shadows of heads and bodies

flicker on the roughcast walls. A gypsy waitress strides from table to table, replenishing

glasses. In one corner an old man with sausage-like fingers plays on a guitar.

I take a seat in the corner and wait. All the customers drink quietly. I have the

sense we are all waiting together. After a while I notice there are newspapers scattered on

the seats and benches. In one of the papers the lead story announces the funeral of jazz

singer Billy Holiday. Another features  an account of the trial of the comic star, Fatty

Arbuckle.  I pick up one of the newspapers from the bench beside me. The main story

concerns the death of the film star Rudolf Valentino.

 

According to the piece Valentino has died the previous evening from kidney problems -

the result of obsessive overwork. I lay down the paper and stare intom my glass as if

half-expecting Valentino's face to appear in my beer.

 

The headline reads: Sheik dies nonchalently, asking for more sunlight.


 
 

Museum

 

 

The long avenue is lined on either side by monumental buildings in the Neo-Classical

style. Sunlight beats down on blond limestone and the green corroded copper of the

roofs glows in the brutal light. An unknown flag mounted on the arch flutters in an

unvarying  breeze.

            I climb a dozen high steps to the entrance and walk into a cool vestibule, its floor

tiled in terracotta, ultramarine, Chinese White. I continue up a broad staircase with a

pillared  balustrade; far above me, a ceiling divided into panels, each decorated with a

scene from classical mythology. At the top of the staircase I step on to a granite or marble

landing. I enter the first room through high panelled doors.

             On the right hand wall is a framed key to the exhibition. As is frequently the case in

ethnological displays of this kind the exhibits are arranged according to chronlogy and 

place of origin, beginning with the ancient and most geographically distant, leading

progressively through the building to the inner sanctum of the present time. The ghosts

are  displayed in reflection-free glass cases, illuminated from above by a single spotlight.

A number of cases are provided with items of vegetation or items of furniture to illustrate

the provenance of their particular exhibit.

 

            Many of the old ghosts, especially those in a state of disrepair, arouse either an

unpleasant , cloying melancholy or sickening terror. Others have a grandeur and dignity

that inspire belated respect for their former lives; however, as I progress through the

linked rooms the weight of accumulating sorrow intensifies and my pace slows until I

am all but immobilised by a dull, painful pressure in the region of my chest, a feeling that

at any moment my ribcage will burst open and my heart fly out of my body. I've since been

told that this state of mind is sometimes thought of as a manifestation of Tristitia.

 

              Eventually my journey leads me to the Gallery of the Present Day. A security guard 

with the customary blank expression of his occupation sist on a chair by a low archway

to one side of the room. Behind him a dim amber light glows from an alcove.

            I ask the guard in a friendly way if he isn't allowed to read something to pass the

time but he seems shocked by the question and explains that of course this is quite

impossible as his reposnsibilities deman scrupulous vigilance at all times.

 

            I have by now passed quite a while in the museum and I've grown tired. As is the

case with works of art in a gallery It's quite impossible to look at so many ghosts at one

time before they all begin to look alike. I pause at the threshold of the alcove and consider

whether or not to go in. I decide that this will be my final room and that ione I've taken a

quick look inside I'll get back outdoors, sit down on the grass for a time and enjoy the last

of sun  before it sets. I don't remember the sun shining in this city but I imagine it clearly.

 

            I stoop, enter, and find myself in a tiny cavernous chamber. For several moments

night blindness makes it difficult to distinguish anything but gradually I become aware of

a circle of dim spotlights set into a low, curved ceiling. The spotlights illuminate a tall,

narrow , domed glass case. Inside, a slack, empty ectoplasmic shell sways on its axis,

head askew on one shouler, face shapeless and barely recognisable as my own.

                      


 

 
 

 

 Entertainment

 

It's after dark and I join the crowd waiting to enter the stadium. There are turnstile but the ticket booths

are empty and we pass through unhindered. I take a seat several rows from the field and watch the

ground fill with people. There is no pushing or shoving, everyone takes their turn to pass along the rows

and find a seat. The process lasts a few minutes. Finally every place is occupied. The floodlighting is

dim, and the crowd in the stand opposite is barely visible. Much of the field is also poorly illuminated.

Two teams appear from a tunnel below me and run in parellel lines on to the pitch. Each team kicks a

ball back and forth between them in a desultory fashion. Finally the game begins. For the next  forty-five

minutes the teams play in silence.The crowd follows the progress of the game intenetly, but neither

responds nor applauds, even when goals are scored. A referee directs the proceedings and

occasionally there is a pause in the action due to an infringement. After forty-five minutes there is a ten

minute break and then the game resumes. When the second half finishes the teams leave the field and

the crowd files out into the night.

 

 
 

 

Home


 

 

When he finally returns to his home town it is as if he has never been away. The streets are crowded

with people, none of whom appear to be alive. All are merely obeying the momentum and

vitality of habits and actions performed in previous lives. This illusion of life is too poignant to abandon,

so he acquiesces happily with the deception.

 

The world is entirely recognisable, albeit immeasurably distant. It is as if he is staring across a gulf of a 

thousand miles wide when he looks into someone's face.