Monday, December 12, 2011



‘My name is R, I’m ten years old, and I want to be a writer. And I hate watching television!’ - R states proudly in front of the camera after asking us to focus it on her.
It was summer when I first met R. I was sitting on the grass in this park which also happened to be a social centre and a childcare institution run by a quirky yet sincere commune. I was working on a project there with a friend. R came to me and asked, in an American accent, if I knew her. I had never met her before and honestly stated this fact: plainly, but not without consideration. She left. It wasn’t until the third time of an identical exchange of words that I started feeling that not knowing this unusual girl was something to be changed.
Day after day she spent her summer holidays there, keeping herself company. Occasionally, very rarely she would join other kids, but only for a short moment. The others treated her well, she wasn't being bullied or abused, but it was clear that she preferred to be alone, or to approach other strangers with the same question 'Do you know me?', as if trying to find someone who might introduce her to herself.
Most days she wore floral-print skirts, sporty t-shirts and trainers, and on gloomier days - an oversized pink anorak.
R’s head, for some inexplicable reason, reminded me of old photographs: her wide blue eyes behind glasses always looked surprised: an effect that was empasized by her constantly half-open mouth. Soon I realized it was her 'thinking face', never-ending processing of information that I had initially mistaklen for amazement. Her wheat coloured hair was cut in a simple short bob with a fringe. I remember thinking a very young Iris Murdoch would have looked not unlike R.
Our conversations expanded in diversity. ‘Do you know me?’ was occasionally replaced by ‘Do you want to buy a plant?’ All the funding had been recently cut from the centre-commune-park-project, and to feel like they’re helping adults in the struggle for money, children were selling plants from their garden which occupied a good corner of the park: endearing seedlinngs of tomatoes, peppers, basil and some species of flora that I didn’t even have in my vocabulary.
Our own project was approaching its final stage but my friend and I didn’t quite feel like leaving the place for good yet, we volunteered to do some filmmaking workshops with the local kids.
‘R is on the list too, but you should not count on her in any way. She might join you, sometimes, if she feels like it, but she may leave any time, try not to notice it, she’s been diagnosed with this and that, and she lives in the world of her own.’
We had been officially warned. But nobody had warned us about how mesmerizing R's presence could be. It must be admitted, though, that I found it much harder to resist this unintentional bewitchment than anybody else.
‘You cannot film just R!’ my friend would say. Repeatedly.
Or, when we sat down to watch my first cut of the material: ‘So. We have a film about R.’
We’re playing the detectives today. The mystery being the question of ‘who’s broken in the park at night and left the umbrellas under the bridge?’
The kids buy our story, they enjoy it. They know it’s a game, but still fully indulge in it: it’s good fun. When they grow tired of it they move on to building a camp, painting or playing football. The suspense has been exhausted.
Only R does not let the story go. She needs answers. She will quietly come to you and ask: ‘So who do you think it was? ’
She'll be a good writer.
She needs to start building a wall, or her worlds and their people will haunt her.
R’s mind is disturbingly sharp. She may seem to not know the diference between what’s real and what’s not, but her ability to analyze facts from both these worlds with the uttermost capacity of insight, deduction and logic is frightening and intimidating. R is ten years old. She will burst into tears if she’ll discover you cannot spell a certain word right. The only mistake R makes is that of mistaking her imagination (or stories she's been told) for reality.
R is arranging pots of water colours by the window, absorbed in thought.
‘R? We are going to film the scene about Jack’s car now, everyone else is there. Do you want to do it?’
‘Let’s go then.’
‘Not now. I’m tired now.’
I haven’t seen R for months. Her ‘parental unit’ as R calls it, doesn’t want her to go to the park on weekends, they think it wears her out. I think it wears her out too. I don’t know whom she calls her ‘parental unit’ though. All I know about R’s parents is what the papers say, and the papers say that three years ago R was kidnapped by her father who was then arrested as she was found and brought back to her mother.
Fun fair at the park: an event organized by or for (or both) ex-convicts of the area. The happiest day of my summer so far, and the sunniest too. Barbecue, cakes, people of all ages dancing tango and salsa, instructed by a bulky man in track bottoms. Former prisoners rapping about how Jesus found them behind the bars and pulled them out. Spectacular ridicule. Face paint, sumo fights, games and attractions.
‘R is not here,’ my friend notices disappointed. ‘She said she would be, she asked for the time.’
‘It’s too crowded,’ I say. ‘There’s not enough space.’
We can only guess the amount of people that surround R when she seems to be alone. They would all be squashed here. She’ll be back tomorrow, asking people if they know her. Maybe, eventually, she'll find someone who will.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Golden Croissant

We had breakfast at the ‘The Golden Croissant’- a charming corner coffee shop that served everything your  taste buds would desire except for croissants. We just ordered two ‘lattes’ trying to sound as Italian as possible, and were served two glasses of warm milk. We had said we wanted our lattes warm. We’d forgotten to mention we wanted any coffee in them.
It was about to get really warm, and milk wasn’t showing any signs of chilling to more pleasant temperature.
We discussed some things and disagreed on most of them: sometimes genuinely, but mainly on purpose.
We paid our bill and did not agree on how much we should leave as a tip. We added up my version and his version and divided the sum by two.
As we were leaving the cafe, a van stopped in front of the door. The croissants had arrived.

Sunday, October 30, 2011


The two men were standing in the monastery hall in front of Solvo, the peculiar guru of the South who had always provided independent counsel and assessment on all worldly things across the many kingdoms. Saltus had known him well, years ago as an apprentice, and was utterly bewildered by the change in his once adored teacher.

‘You do realize that one of us is lying to you?’ Saltus said frostily.This was not a place to manifest his former affections, which he had anyway started to question in this puzzle of loyalties.

‘It is true then. You have lost any skill of judgement,’ said Cassius with scorn in his voice.

‘What I have lost is my patience and desire to spend another moment listening to either of you. Have respect, leave this place! I have no understanding of your affairs nor will I take part in them.’

‘All right then. I am taking Tristan with me,’ Saltus declared.

‘I don’t think it’s in boy’s best interests, nor that it would appeal to him,’ Solvo had again assumed the composed posture and look that were, as he thought, expected of him.

‘May I hear him say that?’

‘Young people’s minds are like rivers,’ the old man said in a softened voice, both his hands raised as though he was holding a very delicate piece of fabric. Saltus did not manage to suppress a little laugh at this sight; the corners of Cassius’s lips too were engaged in maintaining a dignified expression: for the first time in years they agreed on something – the fact that guru’s wits had decidedly abandoned him. But Solvo’s stream of wisdom was unstoppable:

‘In their swift ways of life, that often imply great courage, they’re not bothered by the rocks under their feet and dark caves and traps. They think themselves so sharp, so fearless. And they are fearless. But it’s a good riverbed, an ancient riverbed of old knowledge and tradition, that keeps them safe and guided throughout their journey. It contains them, holds them together and keeps them on track.’

‘Holy treetop, you’re a poet now. Will there be a reading in the tavern?’, said Saltus.

‘A little twisted for my taste. And what do you rely on in your journey, your profundity?’ Cassius was getting impatient.

Solvo closed his eyes, inhaled through his long and narrow nose and uttered in a velvety voice: ‘Fair wind.’ He opened his eyes and smiled with fake slyness.

‘Good luck with your wind!’ Cassius bowed vigorously and left the hall. Saltus bowed and did the same.

He had to go and find Tristan. That should not be too hard he thought. The place had never been overly supervised, and he found it hard to imagine that the man that Solvo had become could actually exert genuine authority over people, be they hermits, monks, guards or soldiers, and thankfully Saltus had not seen any of the latter around. He crossed the courtyard and headed towards the private chambers. As a young man, in other times of confusion, he had spent a good three months living here. They were not bad memories at all, in fact quite the opposite. A pleasant thought crossed his mind: he could not imagine secluding himself in here forever, but another streak of solitude and quiet he could do with when this would all be over: a holiday. For the old time sake he decided to start the search at his own old room.

‘Where do you think you are going, Saltus?’ A familiar voice resounded in the archway: Cassius's fury hadn't taken him far.

‘Are you talking to me?’

‘I believeI am, if you are who you look like. Too often people turn out to not be who they seem these days. Especially among the oak-folk.’

'If there's something you want to say, just say it. I think we’ve had enough of mumbo-jumbo for the day.’

‘Don’t undermine metaphor, Saltus, it's a cunning little thing. Here's an example for you: there will be autumn, sooner or later, and many an acorn will fall. It may be very good for the roots though, especially if they’re weak, to have all those little noutritious heroes rotting on them. What a dignified compost!’

‘You may say what you like. We all may, if we don’t mind having our heads chopped off. Since I’m quite fond of my own and not in such high regard of yours, I’ll leave the talking to you.’

‘Man of deeds, not words? But they’re not two mutually exclusive things you know? Words and deeds. My lot may be a bit mouthy right now, maybe a distastefully so, but we barely ever speak of what we don’t think worth doing. Being not scared of talk is not always a sign of wisdom.’

‘But I’m scared, Cassius. Why wouldn’t I be? Aren't you?’

‘I’m good at spotting danger when it’s around, and I definitely prefer to maintain a polite distance from it. Scared? Concerned. And most of all about you. Fear is an emotion, and weren’t you always the more emotionally advanced one?’

‘If that means that I wasn’t a cold hearted schemer...’

‘I don’t know what it means, I never have,’ Cassius laughed bitterly, ‘But that’s what our mother used to say. To me. Often enough to plant it in my head...’

They looked at each other in quiet. Saltus loved their late mother but he was also aware of how unfair she had been to his brother. For a split second he thought whether they could join in a mutual understanding of it just like they had over Solvo's raving, but before he had time to say anything or even think of what to say, Cassius spoke first:

‘This is not revenge, Saltus. Not for me. But those who do seek revenge have a point.’

‘As do we.’

‘As do you. But I have chosen my side for my own reasons. You may not be aware of them, and they might seem unwise to you if you knew, but I’m not uncertain. I am where I am. Try to believe it is more than cold scheming that keeps me with your enemy.' He bowed to leave before adding: 'Be scared... if that means you'll stay alert.’

Saltus waited for his brother to enter the central building before approaching the bedraggled wooden door that he would still recognize anywhere, and knocked on it. There was no answer. He looked around to see if anybody was about and, being as sure as he could that nobody could see him, he pushed the rusty handle and pulled a wry face at the unwelcome squeaking of the hinges. As the door opened he stood motionless in the doorway for a good moment.

‘Now there’s an uncanny coincidence.’

‘Hello, Saltus.’ Tristan was sitting on a chair near the window, looking out of it. ‘I must look more into the customs of this place. As a former resident you might enlighten me: if you knock on somebody’s door and there’s no answer, you just enter the room, am I right?’ He finally looked at Saltus. ‘You always said I was too curious.’

‘Are you well?’ Saltus asked, but found himself surprised at how good Tristan looked.

‘Very well, trust your eyes. No hidden wounds, inside or out. You?’

‘No damage whatsoever, not recently.'

Tristan got up from the chair, went to a little table with a bowl of water on it and sprinkled his face.

'Tristan, what are you doing here?’

‘I was going to ask the same. Aren’t we both curious?’

‘There are other things you should be curious about.'

‘You tease me!’

‘Maya is missing.’

Tristan seemed disturbingly unaffected by the news.

‘Well. Everything is relative,’ he said, wiping his face and hands in a towel.


‘If someone is missing in one place, they’re not missed somewhere else.’

The uncomforatble feeling of Tristan gazing over his shoulder made Saltus turn around.

‘Tea?’ Maya was standing in the doorway and smiling.

‘I don’t...’

‘I don’t think Saltus will be staying for tea. His ...mission... has suffered failure and he now needs to work on a new plan, he has no time to waste.’

Saltus could not make out if Tristan was mocking him or not, nor could he understand how his nephew knew of the outcome of his meeting with Solvo. This entire encounter was not exactly going the way he had planned it.

‘Jonas and Heather are missing too.'

Maya and Tristan exchanged concerned looks. One couldn't tell whether they were worried about their friends or anxious about what the other two might be up to.

'Don’t tell me they too have joined your little camp here.’

‘Saltus, my excessive curiosity is growing: what do you want?’

‘I will not state the obvious - that something has obviously changed...’

‘These are times of change. Everything changes, voluntarily or not.’

Saltus held on to these words with hope. Was there the unvoluntary side to this awkwardness? He smiled an encouraging smile which seemed to irritate Tristan even more.

‘What do you want?’

‘I’m not here on my own behalf. I have been asked to arrange for you to meet someone.’

‘Have you really not worked on a more convincing way to sell me on that?’

‘I don’t know much myself.’

Tristan laughed and looked out of the window.

‘They think you’re curious enough not to miss this oportunity.’

‘Oportunity?... They?’

‘The three of them, although I’ve only spoken to one.’

‘Three... one of whom?’

‘Looks like I’ve got you almost as confused as you’ve got me. If you want to see them, you’ll know where to find me first,’ Saltus had given up his perplexed expression and was now speaking in full bold confidence. He cared for Tristan, but there was a line his nephew had crossed that didn’t allow him to carry on in the same fatherly way.

‘And how will I know that?’

‘Same way I found you. You hadn't exactly scattered pebbles to mark your trace. What is the one, perhaps, the only thing we still have in common?' One side of his face pulled a resentful smile. ‘Curiosity! Sorry I have to miss the tea, Maya. Good day to you both.’

As Saltus was about to turn out of the archway, he took one last look at the chamber door which was still open, and with the corner of his eye he thought he saw a cloak disappear behind it, of the same midnight blue that his brother Cassius had been wearing earlier.

Sunday, September 25, 2011



Tuesday, September 20, 2011



Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Daily Bread

It was snowing gently. The air was pleasantly crisp, and flickering candles in the windows were throwing warm light on the narrow dusky streets. Heather was on an errand to deliver bread to several households. She was rather enjoying the task, as it could get quite stuffy in the house during winters when the door was closed most of the time and so were the windows. Everybody else loved heat in this family of bakers, loved it so much that Heather thought they wouldn’t mind sleeping in the mouth of the oven which was always spreading its hot, alder leaf scented breath in the kitchen, and from there to the rest of the house, finding escape only through the sole nostril that this building had - the window of Heather’s room that remained open throughout the year. Sometimes when it got too cold she would be asked to close it as the chill was spreading to the next rooms. This was no doubt a warm house in all meanings of the word.

In need of some refreshment Heather had picked the basket from the big table and left, thus unspokenly volunteering to bring the hot loafs to their new owners. It was a favourable arrangement for everyone, as Heather’s three brothers - the other candidates for this mission, were not at all keen on a walk at this time of year, except for the one walk leading to the pub down the road, and a groggy stagger back a couple of hours later.

The smell of freshly baked bread from the basket mixed with other fragrances that lingered in the streets: fried onions, cooked beef, cinnamon pies, tobacco, and the less-pleasant smell coming from Amos Perkins’s house – a sad building on the edge of the city that many believed was held together by some kind of magic, for by the looks of it there was no way it could stand upright according to any laws of nature. The house stood a little aside from the cluster of other buildings in the very North of Arbora, however on days when the city was visited by strong Northern wind Mr. Perkins’s presence was made nasally noticeable in the vicinity. That was actually the only way in which his presence was made noticeable at all, as he barely left his house. Those few who had ever entered his domicile claimed that part of the infamous odour, and that was the good part of it, came from the chunks of dried meat that were hung all over the ceiling. Did he bake his own bread? Did someone else bake it for him? Or did he just live on meat like a sworn carnivore? Heather often asked herself these questions as his place of dwelling came into her sight. Something felt different about this architectural wonder tonight, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what it was.

There was one loaf of bread left in the basket, snoozing comfortably under a double layer of tea towel. Heather did not bother to have a look at the delivery note to check who it was meant for, it was the same people day after day, she could have done this tour with her eyes closed, unmistakeably knocking on the right doors. She took the bread out of the basket and knocked on the door of Mrs. Cottonclew, Mr. Perkins’s closest neighbour who never tired of complaining about the ‘benefits’ of living at such a short distance from him. Waiting for the door to open, Heather took off her scarf, put it in the basket and covered it with the towel to make it look like there was still work to be done in case this was one of the days when Anne Cottonclew’s urge to pour her soul out would mean staying here for an extra hour, as it had happened so many times before. It was getting cold, even for Heather, and dark. There was no answer, so she knocked louder this time. She took a step back and looked up at the top floor windows. They were as dark as the ground floor ones. Had the lady of the house fallen asleep? The last thing their family needed was a complaint about a failed delivery. She kept knocking on the door and waiting for the next ten minutes before turning around to leave. The wind was blowing from the South, and after a couple of steps Heather realized how unpleasant that would make her journey home. In need of some comfort she broke a chunk off the undelivered bread and took a bite. She put the remaining loaf back in the basket and removed her scarf from it. As she was putting the scarf around her neck a piece of paper fell out of it and landed on the ground. She picked the drenched delivery note up and had a quick look at it. The lump of bread got stuck in her throat. ‘Quail lane 1. Amos Perkins’ said the last line. This was a disaster, and a very confusing one. It made no sense. Heather gave it a moment of thought. Had Anne Cottonclew gone out and forwarded the order to her favourite neighbour? Why would she? She had enough friends among her more agreeable neighbours, and several of them were obviously at home this hour. Whatever the answer was, there was only one thing that Heather could do - she would have to go home, explain all this to her parents as efficiently and apologetically as possible, grab another loaf and rush back. Neither of the things on this to-do list delighted her, besides - it would be pitch black and freezing by the time it would be accomplished. She turned around one last time to see if there were any signs that at least Amos Perkins was at home. He no doubt was.

Heather finally realized what it was that had seemed so unwonted about Perkins's house earlier. All its windows that were usually gloomy and dark were gleaming with bright candlelight, and so was the door. It was open and someone was standing in the doorway. Heather’s heart was racing. She had been noticed. She cursed herself for banging on Mrs. Cottonclew’s door so loudly and insistantly. Now she will have to go and confess to Mr. Perkins that in a moment of absent-mindedess she had half-consumed his bakery order, and then amiably promise to be back as soon as possible with a replacement. A sudden realization made the sitaution worse: unlikely as it might be, all signs were pointing at the possibility that Perkins might be having guests: one of the many reasons why the man was so unsociable was his infamous stinginess, and yet tonight there seemed to be countless candles lit in all the rooms, and there was bread to be delivered to his house. This was bad, this was worse than a missed regular delivery to a regular customer. Guests will have to be kept waiting. And as Heather was slowly making her way towards the house, which in its turn seemed shaking with desire to collapse over her, she started having doubts whether the tall shadow in the doorway belonged to Amos Perkins at all. She could hear her own heartbeat. The person came towards her. There were no signs of Perkins’s proverbial limp in his pace.


Heather stopped. That was the last thing she had expected to hear right now, uttered in the voice of the last person she would expect to meet here. She batted her eyes to try and see through the darkness and snow.


Friday, September 9, 2011

The Beginning

The First, the Second and the Third met again at the Twistroot Glade - the ancient meeting-place so familiar to the three companions, and totally and absolutely unknown to anyone else in the whole wide world. They met at midnight between the third and the fourth day of the week, as they had done every fortnight since joining the Secret Three, each at their own time. The Third had missed one of the gatherings shortly after joining the Order twenty four years ago. No one knew exactly what the cause of that absence had been, but by the way he walked and spoke two weeks later it was clear that the reason had most likely had to do with fighting for his life in one way or another. The Second, due to a persistant and dangerous illness, had had to miss three secret meetings in a row, and even now, a decade later, he still felt shame for such infamously lengthy non-attendance. The First had never missed a single one of the Midweek Councils in his long and dedicated life. But no life, no matter how long and fulfilled, could measure the history of the Order of the Secret Three.

It was a bit of an irony that secrecy had literally become the Order’s most characteristic feature, for there had been times when this society, minute is numbers but great in wisdom, was very well known. Now, however, it had become so respectably old and prudently inconspicious that people barely remembered of its existence in the olden days, and were totally unaware of the fact that three people still religiously assembled every two weeks to honour this longstanding custom. And no one, except for the three honorable members themselves, knew that such gathering was taking place this midnight, deep in the forest, within a circle formed on the ground by tangled tree roots.

The moon was kindly throwing its light over the glade so that the Three could see everything clearly: everything except for their faces that were hidden under the hoods of their grey cloaks. They could not see each other’s face that night. They had never seen each other’s face before. Neither of them, in spite of all the guessing and suspicions over the years, had the faintest idea of who the other two were.

After a general greeting that seemed more rushed than usual the Second said:

‘The Tilians are going all the way this time. They either gain Arbora back or they leave it forever. As a mound of ash.’

‘Back!’ the First laughed softly. ‘These people cannot even remember the times when Arbora was theirs. It has never been theirs. Their great grandfathers’? – yes. Some of them. But most of those who are fighting there now have never even crossed the borders before. The Tilian cities have grown bigger, stronger and more prosperous than Arbora has ever been. And yet they want it. Want it back, as they would put it.’

‘When a branch breaks a branch, when a root strangles a root, they...we must act,’ the Second delivered as if quoting from a book. ‘I’m afraid that happens to be now.’

The Three stood in silence for a while. They had been indulging in their knowledge of history of these lands and people for years, wondering whether a day would come when the history woud make itself known again, and the knowledge prove valuable. That day had come: as they were standing in the glade where every little sound of nature could be heard in the quiet of the night, miles away in the city all subtle sounds were muted by cries and commands, clashing swords and breaking walls. The citadel was at war. And burning.

‘Where do we start?’ the Second asked in a deflated voice, lacking any pretence of dignity that had coloured his speech at previous meetings. He felt none of the sensation he thought he would at a time like this. There was no excitement. Only will to withdraw, desire to be useful, and the annoying reality between the two. Had he grown old? Was that why this did not seem like an adventure?

Another streak of silence followed before the First broke it.

‘The two of us who are counsellors to the sovereigns must speak to them. That is what we do: speak and hope they will listen. You...’, he turned his head towards the Third, ‘...must find the children.’

The Third smiled. He alone knew he did it as his face was still covered: the extraordinary circumstances were not a reason to break the code.

‘The children. Yes, of course I'll find them.’

That’s what they had been when he last saw them nine years ago. Children.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Dwarf

The dwarf leered eerily at Maya while generously pouring hedge hyssop infusion in two large clay cups from a rusty old kettle; his long yellow front teeth set in a frame of what might have been a smile.

‘You haven’t come empty-handed, have you?’ he said rather than asked.

‘I’m sorry, I haven’t brought anything.’

What kind of unnecessary enquiry was that? He knew very well she had not come to the citadel for tea, and there was no need to assume she would have any refreshments with her.

The quirky host placed himself on a high wooden stool, not without some effor. He pushed one of the cups towards his guest, took the other one with both hands and stared at the swirl of steam coming from the surface of the hot beverage. His facial expressions changed so vividly as if the vapour was telling the most thrilling of stories.

‘You have golden hair,’ he said in a voice that was both squeaky and mild, still looking at the green drink and noddling his head slowly.

‘Golden hair and eyes of moss. You...’ he finally looked up and stretched a long gnarled finger at her, ‘...will bring us three years of abundant harvest, and a plague when those three years have passed. A plague, cruel and merciless, the kind of which these lands have not seen for hundreds of years.’

He said it all very calmly, almost in a chant; his whole body swaying from side to side now. This was the most extraordinary dwarf Maya had ever seen, which could as well be explained by the fact that she had never seen a dwarf before, ordinary or not. His reasoning in its turn didn’t seem any less odd to Maya than the speaker himself.

‘And that is because I have golden hair an eyes of moss?’ she asked in perplexity.

‘And eyes of moss,’ he nodded assent.

‘I’m still quite puzzled. How exactly do these things ...?’

‘Shall I explain?!!’ the dwarf interrupted her ardently. The chance to officially explain himself had sparked a flame of genuine excitement. He put his cup on the table, took a deep breath, widened his eyes just to narrow them again dramatically.

‘You see. If one has hair of gold and eyes of moss, they bring to these lands prosperity for a year, a year and a year,’ he counted all three years by unbending the fingers of his left hand with his right one, ‘and then a plague: a pestilance rich in death and sorrow, and all things unpleasant.’

‘And is there no one else with hair and eyes like mine in this city?’

‘Was!’ the dwarf banged his fist on the table. ‘Four hundred years ago, there was. And there was general prosperity that lasted for three winters and three summers. And the plague was there too, at the end of it all.’

‘And the hair and eyes? What do they have to do with that?’

‘What do they have to do?’ He looked at Maya bewildered, utterly astonished by such lack of deduction skills in a human mind. He sighed heavily and started again.

‘A woman lived here in those days. She had those eyes and that hair. It’s all in the Chronicles. And she was held responsible. For the plague at least. Some say the rich harvests and fortunate trade in the years prior to that plight were also her doing. But until this day everybody in Arbora, from a king to a toad, knows it’s a bad omen when the likes of her come to the city. Have you a hat?’

When was the last time this creature had left his shack, Maya thought? Did he know at all that Arbora and the lands surrounding it were already overcome by plague and war? There was no need to predict any more of it. Had he any knowledge of who the king was, or who claimed to be the rightful queen up there in the citadel? She would have liked to ask him, explain to him if necessary had the time not been so scarce and so precious. But it was. Therefore she got straight to the one question that had been on her mind all along, and although it didn’t seem very likely that her host would be of great help, she had to give it a chance.

‘I’m looking for a friend,’ she said.

‘Tell me about it,’ the dwarf rolled his eyes. ‘I’ve been looking for a friend too, yet never managed to find one.’ He reflected on his own words for a moment. The swaying stopped. The dwarf’s gaze seemed to be wandering somewhere. Maya didn’t quite know how to carry on with this interview in a more sensitive manner, but the need for answers about her old friend was stronger than the compassion for this new acquaintance.

‘The truth is, it’s this particular friend I’m looking for.’

‘You have friends?’ Dwarf’s eyes widened and his whole face gleamed at the revelation that these creatures might actually exist, that right now there was somebody, sitting here oposite him in his own kitchen, claiming to have seen them.

‘Just one,’ she smiled sadly.

‘One friend!’ the dwarf raised his index finger. He held it very close to his eyes and squinted at it in admiration.

‘Anyway, I hope I still have this one left. Perhaps you’ve heard of him. Perhaps you know if he’s here. His name is...’

‘No!’ The dwarf said with firm certitude. He clambered off the stool and headed towards the door. As he was about to disappear behind the sheaves of garlic hanging at the doorpost, he added without looking back: ‘I have not heard of any friends in Arbora.’

Tuesday, August 30, 2011



Saturday, August 27, 2011



A Portrait of Stephen as an Old Man

Like on many other sunny days, and sometimes even foggy and rainy ones, I had decided to make my way home from the soap shop walking. It’s just an hour an a half, and the bit through Regent’s Park always turns out to be particularly nice and refreshing, especially if it’s good weather like it was that day, and if you allow yourself to sit down for a moment in a nice shade thrown by the trees of the alley.

I sat on a bench and decided to finish the pasta that lingered in my backpack since the day before; but unlike yesterday it tasted of nothing, as if the airtight box had absorbed the flavour of every single ingredient. I put the box away and just sat there.

An elderly gentleman approached me.

‘Excuse me, are you Polish?’ he asked.

‘Sorry, I’m not.’

‘I’m Polish, and you look one hundred percent Polish to me. Can I sit here with you a little.’

Not being able to say ‘no’ remains one of my greatest weaknesses. He sat down at a polite distance, crossed his legs and put one arm on the back of the bench.

He was old. And grey. Eighty? Eighty five? His face was very tanned. Later, when he told me about the women he’d met in this alley, I realized he spent most of his free time (and most of his time apparently was free these days) here, in Regent’s Park.

I would also find out soon that his name was Stephen.

Stephen was wearing white tennis shoes, purple high waist trousers with a brown leather belt, and a blue shirt that was almost as blue as his eyes. I had never seen such blue eyes before.

‘I am from Poland, but I live here now. I came here sixty years ago. I went to Poland a couple of weeks ago. I go there a lot. Now I won’t be going for a while, I don’t have the money. But in a couple of years I will go again.’

‘One of my best friends is from Poland.’ I said.



Lodz is very industrial. There are a lot of factories in Lodz, manufacturers.’

‘I’ve never been to Lodz.’

‘No, neither have I. I go to Warsaw.’

‘I like Warsaw.’

‘You’ve been to Warsaw?’

I nodded. ‘I like the centre very much, ’ I said.

‘I like the centre too. That’s where I spent all my time as a child. I’m not interested in the suburbs. But we lived in the suburbs. My father was a very rich man. Director of a great company. But he was very stingy. He wanted us to live in the suburbs because it was cheaper. Director of a great company! Half an hour walk from the centre. Rich but very stingy. I spent all my time in the centre anyway, I just walked there. That is where I met my first girlfriend, centre of Warsaw.’

‘I was nineteen and I had never even spoken to a girl before. Like properly spoken to one. Nineteen years old! Twenty almost. When was I going to start? ‘Am I a coward?’ I asked myself. No, I couldn’t let that be. I was not a coward.’

‘I saw her in a street. She was very nice looking. I walked behind her for a good while until I finally got myself to speak to her. My heart was racing. ‘Can I walk with you a little?’ I said. She said yes, and she became my first girlfriend.’

Stephen submerged in a dreamy silence.

‘But she never gave me her love. We met twice a week and walked. Sometimes we were holding hands, but that was it. I would walk her home, and then she would say ‘It was nice to walk with you Stephen’ and leave me there, at the door. Twice a week! That was it. But she did make it clear from the very beginning that the twice-weekly meetings was all I should expect. She was in love with another man. I was in love with her. Immediately! As soon as I saw her. She was very nice looking.’

He passed his hand over his own face while picturing hers.

‘We only walked and talked, sometimes holding hands.’ A bittersweet smile crossed Stephen’s face.

‘But I wanted to kiss her, I wanted to hold her close to my heart.’

He crossed his arms in front of him, leaving enough space for the imaginary girl in his embrace, and then squeezed them close to his chest closing his eyes.

‘I wanted to kiss her. But no – ‘It was nice to walk with you Stephen.’’

He smirked sincerely.

He looked ahead for a while.

‘I went back to Warsaw a couple of weeks ago. I have been back several times, but this time I went back to this one specific place. And I just stood there and stared at this spot in the street. It was the spot where I got shot.’ he said with a mysterious smile. ‘In 1944 during the Warsaw Uprising. By the Germans. Warsaw Uprising. 1944.’

‘I had never held a weapon before. And I didn’t have one then. We were all given grenades, I had mine with me. I was standing in the middle of the street, and they said to us, they promised that they would keep the door of the factory building behind us open, they would never close it before we’d be safe. If the Germans were to approach, we had to throw our grenades at them and run, run back to the building and then they would close the door behind us. That was the plan.’

‘It never happened. I was looking ahead, waiting for the Germans to come. I couldn’t see anyone. Where were they? Suddenly I flew up in the air. About this high.’

Stephen held his hand more than a metre from the ground.

‘I didn’t understand what it was, what had happened. They came from the side. The bullet went into my side, and then went out through my back. In through here’, he pointed at the space under his ribs on the right hand side, ‘and then out through the back.’

‘I was lucky. If it had stayed in, I would have died. It would have been impossible to survive in those circumstances. I was a young boy then. Two weeks ago I went to that exact place again for the first time. After 60 years. I just stood there and thought ‘But how? Where? Where did he come from? I still can’t understand it.’

‘Does it still look the same there?’ I just had to say something as profound as that to feel like I’m contributing to this diamonologue.

‘Yes, exactly the same, and I still don’t know where he came from. Impossible! I was playing this game with myself you know?’

Another deeply relevant comment of mine followed a la reference to CSI crime scene investigation methods.

‘Yes, yes! That is exactly what I was doing! I tried to stand as I stood there that day, but it still makes no sense.’

Another long silence and searching gaze ahead indicated that Stephen was having another little trip in time and space.

‘Not far from here: three, maybe five minutes walk away, years ago, I met an American woman. Very nice looking, tall. She was walking, I walked behind her for a moment and then I asked if I could walk with her. She said I could. I asked for her name.

‘‘My name is Jacqueline, Stephen.’ Stephen is my name, I’m called Stephen.’

That was the first time he told me his name.

‘‘My name is Jacqueline, but everybody calls me Jackie.’ She told me she had run away from her husband who had stayed in Washington DC. She said he loved women a bit too much. I walked with her and listened, and I had this feeling that I’d met her before. I didn’t understand it that day, but the next morning I was reading a paper, and there she was! It was Jackie Kennedy!’

‘I saw that coming,’ I said like a triumphant quiz player trying to show that I didn’t even need those last couple of clues to make my perfect guess.

‘You did? You’re bright! It was Jackie Kennedy! She had run away from her husband. Of course he liked women too much. He was always with Marilyn Monroe and other film stars. She couldn’t take it any more, she came to London and stayed here with a Polish prince, Prince Radziwill, in his house not far from where the Queen lives, not far from Victoria. She went back to her husband two months later, back to the States where he got shot.’

Silence. A new story, Stephen?

‘Years later I read in a paper that she had died. But she told me all this. I was a stranger, I was a nobody to her, so she could tell me all these things.’

‘I met another woman here in this park. Very nice looking. We spoke and walked for half an hour, and she wouldn’t even tell me her name. Half an hour! And she wouldn’t take my hand either.’

Our conversation was certainly at least approaching the length of 30 minutes, which according to Stephen was the time necessary to make the right bond to be able to hold each other by hand. And although it may have not even crossed his mind, I was a bigger coward at my 27 that he had been at 19, and wasn’t quite ready to check whether the hand holding policy was expected of me there that day.

‘It was nice to talk to you, Stephen,’ I said. ‘But I’m afraid I have to get back to work.’

‘You work? And you gave me your time.’ he said in an infectiously moving way.

I got up from the bench and gave him my hand for a shake.

‘Nice to meet you, Stephen.’ And in order to comply with at least one of Stephen’s codes of social politeness, I did let him know my name.

‘I will see you again. One day. In this place’, he said, pointing at the empty space next to him on the bench where I had just been sitting. I walked away rather quickly at a pace that should say that I actually have to be somewhere, hoping he hadn’t seen me earlier coming from the centre, and now going ‘back’ in the opposite direction.

I looked at my watch, it was 3:10 pm. We had spoken for more than half an hour. He had spoken.

The sun was still very high in the sky which was almost as blue as Stephen’s eyes.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Jar

Several days and nights they just walked. There was no sign of a river, a lake, a spring, a puddle. Nothing. They had never been this thirsty in their lives, but it didn’t feel like thirst any more. They didn’t crave water. It was as if they’d never known water before and had managed to erase any memories of the sensation caused by drinking it. They didn’t feel thirsty, they felt ill. Luigi felt like someone was maliciously pressing their fist against his forehead.

The last two days they had managed to survive by drinking Chiara’s tears. She would weep and weep, and the only atonement for the annoying sound she made by doing so was the jar of tears she presented to the others in the evening. In spite of the immense temptation they didn’t drink it at once. They burried the jar in the sand, and waited for the air to cool down and chill the odd drink. It was salty. Luigi blamed himself. He was convinced that Chiara’s excessive meat consumption was the reason of this saltiness, and cursed himself for having chosen the trade of a butcher which had lead to feeding his family beef on a daily basis. ‘Would they taste different if I was a vintager?’ he asked himself.

The only things Chiara had managed to take with her in the confusion of escape were the photograph album and a selection of spices. She tried to refresh the harsh beverage with those, but if anything they just made it worse.

They knew it would rain. The sky wasn’t even clear, there were some bleak clouds, and it became chillier with every hour. They only hoped it would rain on time.

As they were having a little rest at a poplar growth, Chiara lay on her back and tried to draw all the clouds together with the power of her imagination. She had heard of people who could do such things. In her mind she ordered the tree fluff that was filling the air to go up and join the clouds too, make them heavy enough to burst and pour down.

Everybody else was asleep. She found the jar among her brother’s belongings, removed the lid and tried her best to cry. She tried to think of the saddest things possible. Deaths of her dearest people, ones that had already taken place and ones that remained yet to be feared. She thought back on being made to leave their house in such a merciless way, having left mother behind. Her heart was painfully clenched and blood was racing through her head but the tears did not come.

She looked at the leafage of the trees above her, located what seemed like the lowest branch, and went towards it. It was still quite high for her short build. She managed to grab it after the fourth jump and held on to it tightly. She bent the branch and started to pick the leaves one by one throwing them at her feet. When she could reach them no longer, Chiara let the branch go. As it swayed back it shed five more leaves, two of which Chiara couldn’t see as they got stuck in her frizzy brown hair. She got all the poplar leaves together and sat down again with the jar between her legs. She popped some stunted leaves in her mouth and began to chew them while attempting to squeeze the juice out of the more promising ones.

When the others started waking up two hours later she had managed to produce exactly six drops of poplar leaf nectar.

It was very quiet. Like calm before the storm.

It started bucketing down.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011


November 2009