Views of the City (Rahim Scene III)

Rahim Scene III

The eastern sky dipped diaphanous morning clouds in mango-flesh orange, reds of the exotic fruit’s ripened skin. The morning star, sister of azure, stayed long enough to listen to some early bird sing its river. Yawning deep and long, Rahim rose to blow a kiss across the morning’s rosy cheek.

The cobra sun rose from its basket and hissed in the reptile summer.

Poised, it glared at him with a furious and terrible eye, and prepared to spit at him its venom. What warmth and light and brightness and joy the day held yesterday it abandoned today. The torrid sun came striding in, storming in. Out in the open, he knew better than to run. The fury. The rage. Was the sun jealous? Sure, he held hands with the moon there along the River Firat as he walked north from Condus. But did the sun think he’d forgotten him after what he showed him yesterday? Rahim promised he hadn’t, but the sun, unlike the moon, didn’t pause to reflect. The sun didn’t act, it reacted. And like his father did that time Rahim almost followed a meandering butterfly into the path of a loaded camel, the sun stood over him with arms crossed; though his father never laid a hand on him, the sun’s stare could have chapped his side.

Again, a bird piped her reed flute. Trapped in her melody, the sun’s gaze remained fixed, immobile.

Rahim hopped to his feet and hurried along the River Firat’s western bank, careful not to disturb the bird’s hypnotic tune. Sparse short grass and small shrub dotted the otherwise scorched earth. Not far to the north, where the hills rose, taller grasses swayed in the early morning breeze much as his mother used to do when she listened to the gentle, but robust, twang of the setār lute.

The sun had slithered away, in search, no doubt, of more tasty prey, leaving him to continue north along the river, popping the occasional date in his mouth, taking a drink of and splashing his face with the languid blue-green water.

But by midday, when Rahim stood, his feet planted in the dusty ground, at the point where the rivers Firat and Dircle converged, he gave the serpent the time and space to circle back. Facing a choice without the moon. Facing a choice with the sun overhead, taut and ready to strike. Hissing. Insisting.

He could take the bridge over the River Firat and continue north or follow the River Dircle west.

What if he made the wrong choice? What if that wasn’t really a dream, but a whispering? A snare somewhere deep in his throat trapped his breath. What if that wasn’t really his mother? After all, she never removed her chador—come to think of it, she never wore a chador. And the way she spoke when he promised him he’d find her—she whispered.

Like the very place upon which he stood—a crossroad, an invitation to the whispering things that tempted travelers with knowledge of their fate. A rustling in the grass. A splash in the water. The sun struck and Rahim ran. Ran and ran over the bridge, each foot fall heavier and louder than what came before. Those things, they said, didn’t like bridges; Rahim, his heart slowing, breath evening, stopped at its middle and looked south to Condus, the illusion vanishing before his eyes.

Grey in robes of exile, its streets swarmed with black fever. Between he and the vast city of brick the earth spread out and though spring and all its fragrance faded while the flowers waited for rescue, at least the land held promise. More than willing to let the seasons wear him thin, Rahim could forgive all his hunger, slake all his thirst; he could forgive the cruel sun. But he could not forgive Condus. Under it the land couldn’t move, so heavy did it sit on her chest she could muster only shallow breaths lest the weight of the city break her ribs, perhaps puncture a lung or crush her heart. The city propped her up, leaned her against a grimy wall thick in black shadows. She without the strength to lift her hand could not speak enough to even ask for a little charity. Under the city she had no voice, no name. Where all she could do was wait until it was all over.

He saw the city for what it was, saw the countless minarets for what they were: ringed fingers, taloned fingers, fingers from the monstrous deep, composed in their erections, poised and waiting, waiting to curl around the one million people the monsters held in the palms of their hands, waiting, ever so patient, to crush them.

begging woman

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