5 The poe
The big piece of bark collector, who's unkept teeth push deep fores in my skin, is part of a travelling company. And I can say in all honesty: never had I imagined that I would travel through the desert in a dog's jaw.
Saliva fills the holes the constant gnawing creates, I get fought over when a rival approaches, which causes my spine to shriek in distress as the dogs determine dominance over one another, I get dropped at the feet of the animal's master and get kicked away when he indulges his pet.
The master - Basir they call him - is a stern build man, he travels with the nomads' caravan towards Ceasere, a port several weeks from here. Nothing human is alien to him and he lets himself be led by the convulsions of fate - whatever he means by that - or rather the storm of history, he calls it.
Which makes even less sense to me.
'You are a poetic soul,' I tell him when the dog slumbers at his feet, relishing in the warmth the nightly fire provides, 'yet I must confess that I, the chip in your loyal companion's mouth, can appreciate that. Your poetic nature causes me to reminisce.'
Who wrote poetry? Someone, anyone. I know he did, but what was his name? Blond hairs, grey when they aged, but no face, though I know it must have had great importance to me, for I cry when I cannot remember. The word angelic comes to mind. And eyes, blue as the Mediterranean.
Julius - my dear, why can't I remember your face?
One of my sons, Conrad, liked poetry as well, though his temperament put an end to it. Upon hearing his literary hero wouldn't come, he issued his bodyguards to burn his collection. The rascal! Those books cost me a fortune! I had them shipped all the way from Persia.
'Basir, do you have children? Sitting there, chewing on your nuts and bread, trying to ignore the playing children around you. I know you have been eying that charming brunette.'
The brunette, a voluptuous woman with a baby on her hip, clicks her tongue. "Listen to me, Aleah, and eat it. Don't make me repeat myself!"
The child pulls her sister' hair in disaccord, upon which the mother rises and disciplines her. The big bark collector wakes with a start at the noise, wagging his tail twice before settling his exhausted head back on his paws.
'Ah, children. They are a blessing and a curse at the same time.' I glance at the poet, knowing he agrees with me. I thank whoever is responsible for my lack of eyes, my lack of tears, I don't want people to witness me crying. My children, I'm sorry, so sorry... I'm stuck in the past: the could have, should have, would have.
During the peaceful hours where the dog and his master sleep, I review the state of affairs. I'm lying pressed between the sand and the warm body of the dog, in complete silence, if not for the poet's snoring.
Even though the near quiet is the perfect place for contemplation, I would rather like to stifle the notion that I will never return to my hill. What am I doing here? Perhaps Mia was right, it's much easier if you believe there is a greater reason behind the ways of the world. I turn my thoughts towards the heavens and send a prayer towards Mia's ancestors and angels, but then again, why would they harbour themselves between the clouds?
'I've once had a conversation with an old inhabitant from the east,' I say to my snoring companions, 'she believed that there are gods in everything around us. From the rocks on the cliffs to the wind rushing through the manes of the wild horses galloping over the steppe. Isn't that a beautiful idea? What do you believe in?'
Silence and snoring answer me.
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My recent history with Mia and her son may have known a tragic ending, but I refrain from thinking too much about them since it leaves me in a melancholic mood. Accompanied by dog teeth and the poetic Basir, I travel on. Every day I'm convinced the pet will leave me behind, neglected and forgotten, not even worthy of a dog' attention, but every day he picks me up and carries me as if he were a loyal servant attending to his master. From village to village, each one looking as deplorable as the last. My monologues with Basir are one-sided and his mind doesn't seem to remember anything but the lines for his next poem.
One day, we arrive at a port.
'So poet, you'll leave the desert and it's red rocks and warm sand behind for west- Europe? What of me?'
The poet is way to occupied with his drinks and dreams to spare some attention for the opinions of a big piece of bark.
'I promised myself I would never return there, a promise made by a tree who had the ease and assurance that the hill upon which it grew would remain there forever - and the hill will - only I won't be there to see it. I won't be there to track the sun's progress through the sky nor watch the burial fires from Mia's village. I won't be there to provide shadow to the shepherd and his sheep, - little clouds with their all-knowing and unconcerned expressions. Nor reach out to the heavens until my roots moan and my insects are frightened to death.'
No, I will travel back to the land of my ancestors, my people, my empire, where now my murderer' offspring occupies the throne.
Fishermen return with tubs full of silver bodies, glistening in the sun' outstretched embrace. Cheap prostitutes stroll on the quay. Market vendors arrive with their handcarts and display their products. My attention is mainly saved for the water, all that water, a gigantic puddle on which the earth floats. I heard stories as a tree - of another world- on the other side of the Atlantic. Idiotic adventures, everybody knows the earth is flat, sail too far and you'll fall off.
In my previous life, I used to be surrounded by the world's wisest men, the men with old eyes and long white beards, they all told me the earth is flat. Luckily, we will only be crossing the Mediterranean, even as a big piece of bark, I won't be convinced to board a ship set for the edge of the world.
Basir' temporary lover, the young brunette, cries when he kisses her goodbye.
It's a journey of weeks but it's far from monotonous. The winds turn every two or three days into murderous storms at midnight, so that all passengers flee their cabin and puke over the railing, shouting their prayers, believing their last hour has struck. I'm not concerned, I float, where I to fall overboard I would wash up on a coast, unharmed and waiting for the next piece of bark collector to pick me up.
There are also fights, a few a day, on the upper deck where the mob sleeps, fights with chains and meathooks, incited by wine and suspicion so that at first light there's always someone who has a sailor's grave. In addition to that, is the constant fear of sea-monsters that live at the bottom of the sea and wait for the ships to pass over them, to swallow up all passengers. They are said to have enormous jaws that turn ships into a heap of splinters.
The jaws that have been gnawing at me for so long don't survive the journey. The loyal dog - who nobody bothered to name - rests his head and body at his master' feet, never to rise again. I believe that even though he didn't name his little companion, Basir cared for him, he puts me in his pocket, absentmindedly reaching for me when he feels emotional or prays for the nightly storm to spare the ship.
Sometimes it is pleasantly quiet on board: the poet is lying on the bed in his cabin, with me as talisman under his pillow, with me as his life insurance. As long as Basir' head is on me, he is convinced that nothing bad will happen to him. Basir, the poet, drinking brother and ladies-man, whom I have come to consider a friend.
While my poetic friend is playing dice somewhere or drinking his daily dose of alcohol, I lie on his bed, looking outside. Through the modest window, often no land can be detected for days. As soon as there is land in sight, passengers and sailors alike run onto the deck. From the crow's nest, high up in the mast, I hear the young, brown sailors call out a name: Cyprus. And I spot high rocky coasts like natural triumphal arches with endless rows of pine trees above them, behind them on the high plateau, olive trees and palms seem to wave at me.
Then again the eternal sea, the heaving, the creaking of the prow. Every fibre of the ship moans when it storms. During the next storm, I am slammed on the ground and left soaked, heavy and unwieldy from the seeping salt water. It makes me rethink the notion of whether or not I would float were I to end up in the sea. Everywhere around me I hear people crying and vomiting. Someone shouts that the end of the world has arrived.
'Idiot seafarer, this isn't the end of the world. Perhaps the ending of yours, but the world will keep going, no matter who dies. I know this better than anyone.'
In their eyes it must not make much of a difference, because Basir clings to me as if I am a lifebuoy and afterwards, he puts me lovingly back on the bed, grateful for my help.
My help? So I made my debut as a real talisman? Alright then, I don't have to do anything, I just have to be there and after every disaster, I'm overwhelmed with praise. Personally, I believe it to be rather irrational to make the assumption that I bring luck, even more so knowing that my previous possessor died on the floor several weeks ago.