Reflective Journal

I

“Nothing in the Universe has a name.”

There is a howl outside. It hides in the many folds of the eternal wind and it tells the story of all that has come before. Nameless, speechless, it beseeches our ears for attention with lipless prayers. Like a solemn monarch, we nod in thoughtful agreement and quickly turn away. Ahead, the empty clouds rain upon us in ceaseless discharge. Fascinated by our own ignorance, we embrace the seasons and mistake them for progress.

We are memories in the making. Stories to be told and read and written. When the sun is down and the day is over, nothing but a few lines of dialogue remain, deceptive artifacts of personality stored in faulty recorders we like to call memory. For what are we if not what others make of us? What are others to us if not what we see of them? The pitch of their voices, the hue of irises, the scent of intentions and twisted meanings.

Within every man and woman lies infinity.

Some days ago, I took the train home from work. It was already dark, and from the comfort of my seat I could see the configurations of rushing lights that made up the outside.

-The burden of no culture. (white, male, European, heterosexual)

– “I have studied you.” The Bengali man in the train. What right do I have to write about anything or anyone? About things I haven’t seen or known? What right do I have to define you?

– The asphalt darker where the wheels don’t tread. Opening paths. A sliver of usefulness in what we do. Ideas breed ideas.

We taught ourselves secrets of our own making.

What you see above was written when things still made a modicum of sense. Word tells me this document was created the 13th of February, on a Thursday to be more precise. At first it was meant to have some sort of narrative coherence with carefully crafted metaphors and powerful images in what I know now was an attempt to avoid facing the complex relationship I keep with my own subjectivity.

Never mind that. We are here now.

I must admit I expected more of the course. Or perhaps myself. This doesn’t mean that I find the classes boring or the novels lacking or the poems superfluous. Nothing further from the truth. I believe, however, that there is a depth to them that our conversations in class do not even scratch the surface off. Sometimes I have the feeling that we are simply talking about books without really going anywhere.

Can this have something to do with the perpetual epistemological crisis I seem to live in? Most certainly. I’ve always had a hard time expressing an opinion without backing it with facts or at least arguments (I struggle as I write this).

Then there is the problem of representation, of course. The way we construct others. Because in the end that’s what we do, whether it is those who love us or a string of words printed on paper. We build them from the scratches of our own perception, and reduce them to tiny little boxes we call words and like to believe everything stacks so neatly. And then we say: “hey, that’s you!”

But how can we? How can I? As the only individual in the class to fulfill these three criteria at the same time (male, heterosexual, European) I am very much aware of the baggage my opinions, even the informed ones, may carry. Due to pre-arranged circumstances I didn’t have anything to do with, I enjoy certain privileges that will invariably inform my thoughts, actions and opinions. There are certain things I can only apprehend factually, as I will never face or feel the fears and prejudices other people do. Which is not to say that I can’t face other obstacles, obviously. Patriarchy and expectations are there for everyone to suffer.

How, then, can my opinions matter?

Now, don’t mistake this for self-pity. If anything, it is a chance for self-examination. A window of opportunity to find reasons for it to matter. For the things we say about the books and fictions to matter. To make them matter. While I’m very aware that the power of representation is a very dangerous tool, it is also a powerful one. And that is, perhaps, the redeeming quality of literature and all we do. It is through poems like Migritude that one can glimpse or even feel the rage and frustration of the migrants whose lives are weighed against a piece of paper. Through novels like Love Marriage or The Lowland  that one can glimpse the vast gulfs of perception that separate the different ways of existing in this world.

To remain silent is to be complacent. To let things be as they are.

And that’s not at all what I want. Because in the end, that’s why we do things. To dissect the vessels of meaning we call words and definitions and build new, more plural paths for everyone to tread. Or not. The choice is what matters. It always is. Perhaps that’s it, isn’t it? We do what we do so that choices can become real.

Architects of meaning.

(tear the words down)

The above is an exercise I wrote earlier this year as part of a postcolonial literature course for an MA in English Literature. As the tittle suggests, the exercise was presented to us as an opportunity to approach the course and its contents in a subjective way. The struggles presented in the journal accompany me to this day (and will continue to do so for as long as I breathe).

Nowhere In Sight

It started as a rogue heartbeat, a misaligned piece of machinery slightly out of joint, promptly ignored by those around it or probably mistaken for something else entirely. As the sound finally stopped, the face became fixed in an ambiguous grimace, a moment of doubt or perhaps joy that soon became the subject of many scholarly debates and refined shows.

(Although this is universally acknowledged as the time of its death, the moment of the demise came much later.)

The philosophical implications of its passing were soon forgotten, relegated to a dusty corner of an increasingly self-absorbed academia, and that ambivalent grin became another hollow icon to be worn on shirts and write songs about. Little by little, any remainder of coherent meaning or transcendent truth was carefully carved out of that final moment. Technocrats and spinners of truths unraveled every pore of that countenance with calculated business acumen in an attempt to extend its productivity way beyond its expiration date. Politicians kept parroting half-baked metaphors about it, never fully understanding what they were doing and never intending to. National holidays were announced, masks were crafted, posters were painted, until that multifarious visage covered almost the entire country, plastered to every window and wall. It wasn’t long until TV shows were produced and swift nutrient franchises (by that time the word “fast” had also outlived its usefulness) acknowledged its selling potential and started to name and shape their products after it.

(Some optimists point at this event as the time of demise. The truth is another matter completely.)

Meanwhile, the hands that had once known the texture of its skin are long buried, lost beneath the unmarked grave of collective history, together with the memories that had given it life and all the contexts that had seen it rise to its almost deific status.

As per the face itself, it remains attached to the body it once belonged to, buried also beneath heaps of trash and neat bundles of inconsequential prayers. The once awe-inspiring contours, now little more than a bleached portrait of mortal frailty, keep breaking down into its irreductible components – time, dust, and          – no longer bearing any resemblance to the effigies carved in its image and likeness.

(As of today, the time of demise remains nowhere in sight.)

Encounters within the Aurochs’ Gaze

“Ten thousand years ago, a wounded prey is running away from its hunters. Three arrows of a material that is not yet flint are stuck on its side. The beast stumbles, gasps for air and closes its eyes one last time as the frigid waters of the lake claim it. The hunters pass it by, the prey forgotten.

After a violent pause and millennia of silence, a bunch of bones are unearthed and reassembled on top of a wooden dais surrounded by glass and unfamiliar air. On the other side, a stranger stands, lingers for a moment, and walks by.”

Very often, we think of cultural encounters as a clash of civilizations and colliding world-views. These encounters bring to the fore differences and complexities through the alien familiarity and the uncomfortable closeness of the other. We see on those who are not us the quality that brings us closer to them, and as a result, a vast array of at first irreconcilable and often inconceivable differences is laid before us like an insolvable abyss.

Very often, too, we disregard such encounters happening around us, specially when those encounters happen within the eyes of the dead.

The Aurochs of Vig was uncovered in 1905 in a turf digging nine thousand years after its death. Its remains, rescued and rearranged in the most natural of ways, now rests within the Prehistoric Period section of the National Museum of Denmark. Poised in a casual resting position, it seems as if the aurochs head was to turn and look at you at any moment, waving perhaps the remnants of an invisible tail, or scratching the echo of a disappeared ground with its exposed hooves.

It is the eyes, though, and the markings on the side where the arrows hit ten thousand years ago that raise the questions. What is the last thing the aurochs saw? Who pulled the string of the bow that fired the arrow? Who made the arrow that hit the beast? How did they learn to make them?

When the almost perfectly preserved bones of the aurochs were discovered at Vig, those who found the remnants of the beast uncovered with it a cultural encounter that began ten thousand years ago. Such encounter realizes itself every time a visitor stares into the hollow eyes of the aurochs and wonders about its impossible journey through time, the markings of arrows on its side, and all the little things still unknown about the beast and the hunter’s chase.

In this encounter, however, there is none of the friction, conflict or even violence that arises from the meeting of living and dynamic world-views. In this encounter, there is no dialogue but reflection.

When we stare into the aurochs’ gaze, we find only ourselves staring back.

Aurochs

The Aurochs of Vig


This was a blog entry I wrote in 2018 for my MA in English and Cultural Encounters in Denmark, when the sun still shone and one was allowed to go out and bask in its life-giving radiance. It was a risky gambit, written in a hurry, referring to no other academic sources or bibliography. The professor loved it.

The One at Fault

is life

is the father that never beat me

is the friend that didn’t betray me

is the mother that always loved me

and the teacher that believed in me

the one at fault

is society

the man I didn’t vote for

that thing I can’t control

the decay I can’t stop

and the walls I can’t bring down

the one at fault

is a word I never said

an afternoon of quiet rage

an uneasy coupling

and a middling faith

the one at fault

 

is me

 

Upon Contemplating the Wall

It has its roots in the deepest of the earth and it circles the whirling mysteries.

In my vision I see unbearable walls arranged in identical rows like sets of perfect teeth. One moment I feel their presence, looming and bending over me like an iron curtain dancing to steel winds. They take too much space and in that space entire eons are trapped, helplessly torn from the fabric of the air. But then I blink and there’s an amber light and  I step over the walls as they crumble beneath my feet like a faulty sand castle. That’s when I realise that I’m the one taking too much space and in that moment I feel the aeons burrowing their way out of my skin, gasping for all the air they’ve been denied.

When I wake up, I name the three tears on my pillow after the seasons and the hole in my chest grunts in protest.

The Line

To Edda and Samsara;

May you live more lives than one. 

There was a time when I thought I would achieve great things. Possessed by the spirit of youth, I saw in my future a tree made of golden leaves and silver branches, waiting for me to reach out and pick its fruit. As I age and my back keeps bending forwards, my eyes can no longer stand the brightness of such sight, and now I can only look down, where the roots, old and twisted, plunge deep into the earth. Around them, a carpet of fallen leaves and bleeding plums reveals to me the innards of the discarded futures I never dared confront.

I could blame the Line and all that came with it. I could blame the House of Transparency for my contentment, curse my life under the gaze of the Hegemonic Eye. But the truth is that I did nothing to resist it. We thought we were making a change. We believed we could make things happen. We took the streets and shouted and raged at those who made us miserable. Whenever we were not stopped, we thought we were winning. Until our dissent and its manifestations were sanctioned and included in the list of accepted practices and we understood we had been playing their game all along. There was no way out. There was no way in. The Hegemoic Eye saw all, and all it didn’t see, did not exist. The space in between was called the Line.

Looking back, I realise all the things we could´ve done and no one did. I wish I could tell you a story of bravery and defiance, of bold women and men who accomplished great things. For a time, we believed the Empaths were the answer. But then the House of Transparency came and even their message was filtered and codified so that we would see it through the Hegemonic Eye.

It took two children to end it all. Their story is well known all over the Ecology of Knowledges; everyone has read the many accounts narrating their encounter and the events that brought down the Hegemonic Eye. But as it is always said, there is only one way to fully understand a story, and that is telling it yourself.

“Beyond the Line there are no sins.”

Tahira thought about it as she was walking back home. She was always quick at grasping whatever new concepts the teacher threw at her. She was good at Maths, Physics, Philosophy and of course, the Science and the Language. She knew by heart the List of Accepted and Desired practices, as well as the Sinful Act. She was always told by how much she outstripped her classmates, and how much farther than them she would get. But what had the teacher meant? As she went down the road, Tahira passed a formation of men walking to work. Most of them had adopted the customary stance for efficient moves, a kinetic pattern created with the purpose of maximising one’s mobility without spending too much energy. Most days, she would also adopt that pattern on her way home, but today her movement was focused on stimulating deductive processes. She had learnt, from a very young age, that adopting the kinetic patterns prescribed by the House of Transparency brought ease to her mind and her body. Her limbs responded in a predictable way that she had learnt to recognise and perform. There was something soothing in being able to understand what was going on within and around you just by looking at the way people moved.

During dinner, Tahira asked her parents about it. Whatever she couldn’t understand, she could always count on them to explain.

            “Who said that to you?” her father said, keeping his eyes on the screen that made up one of the dining room walls.

            “A teacher.”

Both mother and father looked at Tahira.

            “Well, before the Line was drawn, there was no virtue or sin. There was no way of knowing what was wrong and what was right, until the House of Transparency came and brought to us the kinetic patterns and the List. Now, we don’t need to think about it.”

Tahira looked at her father, puzzled. She already knew that. But then again, father’s job didn’t involve knowing things, so she wasn’t very surprised by his explanation.

Her mother sensed another question brewing and answered it before it was uttered:

      “Although the word ‘sin’ makes reference to ancient religious practices and superstitions that the Science has long disproved, nowadays it is used to define those practices that everyone would call ‘wrong’. What your teacher probably meant is that dwellers beyond the Line do not know what is right because they do not know what is wrong.”

               “Is that why they live beyond the Line?”

               “Exactly,” answered mother with a smile.

              “And that’s why we live on this side,” added father.

They kept eating in silence.

Before going to sleep, Tahira asked the screen about the Line. There were many diagrams and graphics and maps stating its length and purpose. There was even an interactive simulation that showed its evolution over-time. There was, however, no date or time stamp that could tell her when the Line was drawn or by whom. The House of Transparency was also mentioned several times, as was the introduction of kinetic patterns and their vital role in society. Tahira noticed that the Line was not straight. In fact, it was very irregular at some places. A curiously shaped bent got her attention. It was not very far from home. Tahira yawned, selected a recommended dream from the list and went to sleep.

It didn’t take her long to find the place. She had almost forgotten about it after her refreshing dream, but when the teacher posed them a mathematical question on the screen, something in the way the numbers were arranged reminded her of the irregular patterns she had seen the night before on her own screen. After class, she found herself adopting a kinetic pattern she hadn’t attuned to in a very long time, and she got home earlier than usual. There was no one home. She knew what she had to do. She knew she had to select a recipe from the list, do her homework and her daily set of exercises, but for some reason, going through all that felt like the most difficult task she had ever faced. Tahira asked the screen for some meditative exercises. When she failed to calm down, she took her jacket and started walking towards the Line.

Although she had never been in that part of the city, everything looked increasingly familiar as she walked further away from home. The buildings, the streets, the crossroads, all had a dreamlike quality to them, as if her mind was trying too hard to remember them and thus convinced itself that she had already walked those roads. The more she went south, the less people she encountered. Twice she had to change route to avoid a couple of suspicious looking individuals whose kinetic patterns were hardly recognisable or bordered on the sinful.

Eventually, her steps took her to a small cove that blended gracefully with a lake so wide she had trouble seeing the other side. The entrance was hidden in such a natural way that she would have had trouble finding it if she hadn’t known where she was going. For some reason, the feeling of familiarity was stronger here.

 It couldn’t be much further to the Line.

Tahira checked her terminal and her blood froze. According to the map, the Line was right in front of her, cutting the lake in half. But there was nothing there. No wall, no fence, no contrast or desolation, nothing that marked the end of a world and the beginning of another. “Beyond the Line there are no sins.” As the feeling of familiarity threatened to overwhelm her, an unsurmountable urge to flee took over Tahira.

Mother was pacing up and down the dining room, trying to keep up with a pattern devised to ease worries and calm thoughts. As soon as father saw Tahira, he stood up with an inelegancy inappropriate for a man. Father had never been good at remembering patterns or enacting them and that was perhaps why he never got very far in life.

Where were you? Why did you leave? Why didn’t you answer your terminal? Have you not seen what’s going on? Tahira checked her terminal, as if looking for an excuse, but it was in a lockdown. All of them were. Apparently, the screen explained, the Empaths had taken the streets yet again, performing patterns of disconformity listed under the sinful act. The Hegemonic Eye was considering withdrawing the Line yet again so that another quarter of the city would be left on the other side, at least temporarily.

              “They will bring ruin to all of us. What’s with this nonsense of calling them people? There is no one beyond the Line! No one! Only beasts and savages without the Science and the Language!” grunted father.

Tahira wanted to cry. Mother shut down the screen. When father realised, he took Tahira in a silent embrace. It was then that she remembered. The cove, the sand, the lake. They lived there before, when the Line was still far away and sin was just a rumour. That night, Tahira chose not to dream.

The sand of the lake shore felt warm to the touch. Tahira had spent many days trying to solve the riddle of the Line in her mind. Her efforts had started to affect her kinetic patterns and her performance at school was also starting to drop. She had to know and see for herself.

Tahira took her shoes off and got closer to the water. At first, she was afraid that a hand with too many fingers would grab her from the ankles and drag her deep down, but when she felt the coolness easing her feet, she didn’t run away. Where was the Line? Where were the savages father spoke of? She spent some time imagining impossible things moving about the trees on the other side, looking at her with too many eyes bent at the wrong angles.

Tahira was ready to leave when she noticed something by her feet. It was a symbol drawn on the sand. She inspected it closely. It was not the Language. It was not the Science. It was something she had never seen before. All of a sudden, she became aware of the Line and its immediacy. There was another symbol now. And another. She fought the urge to run away with a series of localised kinetic patterns prescribed to abate ugly thoughts. What were they? Where did they come from? As the questions dawned on her mind, she realized that something, or rather someone, was drawing them. She looked at the hand holding the stick and then at the body it belonged to and finally at the face looking at her with curious eyes.

“What-“ Tahira tripped on her own feet before she could finish, falling on top of the symbols. A hand reached for Tahira. It was a hand with five fingers not unlike hers, connected to an arm also not unlike hers, governed by a body of familiar shapes and contours. Tahira counted the eyes on this new face: only two. They remained like that for some time until Tahira finally accepted the helping hand and got to her feet.

Was this girl a savage? She didn’t look dangerous. She didn’t feel dangerous. In fact, she didn’t even look that different. Tahira raised her hand and touched the girl’s face. It felt warm, just like her mum’s. The girl smiled and touched Tahira’s cheek in return. Soon, all the doubt was forgotten, and the children started to draw shapes on the sand and playing with the water. It was clear this girl didn’t know the Language, or the Science, and there was something about her kinetic patterns that Tahira couldn’t really grasp. She moved about in ways hard to predict, and sometimes she even incurred into patterns from the sinful act. But what puzzled Tahira the most were those patterns she couldn’t even recognise. It was almost as if the girl didn’t know what a pattern was. How odd, Tahira thought, and she wondered whether the girl felt the same way about her.

Perhaps there is something else than the Language, Tahira pondered one afternoon as she drew letters on the sand for her friend. But how was that possible? Wasn’t the point of the Language to unite the people and push civilization forward? Perhaps there is more than one Language, Tahira surprised herself thinking. Ever since she met Anlama, most of the things that came to her mind were questions. She had started questioning the patterns, the list, the Science, and even the Line itself. There was something in the smile of her friend that defied all categorizations and brought to her mind possibilities that she would have never thought possible.

It was one of those afternoons that mother found them. Tahira was looking at Anlama’s face, trying to repeat the sounds that came out of her mouth when her friend’s smile vanished.

Tahira turned to see what had scared her friend so much and she found mother standing right under the cove’s entrance, shielded by shadow. Tahira suddenly stood up, disregarding all kinetic patterns. Mother nodded. Tahira looked back one last time before following. Anlama was gone, the symbols on the sand scrapped.

 

The House of Transparency was waiting for her. She knew they were the ones to regulate the Language and the patterns as well as the list. She knew they were the ones who kept civilization together by keeping opacity at a minimum: “Transparency brings clarity. Clarity brings understanding. Understanding brings peace.” She remembered understanding the words once, when she had read them on her first visit, and the warmth they used to fill her with whenever she saw them on the screen. But where once was comfort and reassurance, now there was only despair.

          “Mum, please…” pleaded Tahira as the Regulators took her, tears raining down her cheeks. “Please don’t let them do it, please…”

            “I love you Tahira. More than anything else in this world.”

 Tahira’s last thoughts before falling asleep were of shapes in the sand and a friendly smile.

 

“Why do you have to pick me up at school?” Tahira asked mother not for the first time in the last few weeks. She had the vague recollection of having been ill. It must have been something serious, for it had even affected her kinetic patterns and her ability to follow them. Tahira had the feeling that there were some things she should be able to remember, but try as she might, she was unable to make things fall into place. “It’s an effect of the illness, don’t think too much about it and it will go away.”

That night, the screen talked about the Line. The Hegemonic Eye had decreed a new delineation that would reshape the city to reflect the new kinetic patterns established by the House of Transparency as a response to an increasing number of savages trying to cross the Line. In order to ensure safety, a curfew had been established with immediate effect. It was not far from home. Father started complaining and mumbling, while mother focused on her meal. Tahira could only look at the screen. There was something there, something that eluded her among the maps and diagrams and the pictures of violence. A memory that she should be able to remember lurked right beneath the screen, under place where the Line bent in a curious shape.

And then it hit her. The sand, the lake, the smile burning bright at the back of her mind. Tahira left the house ignoring the curfew and incurring into several sinful acts. She didn’t care anymore. She should have never cared. Before she realised what she was doing, she was already running towards the cove. There was no pattern her legs would obey or follow. With every stride, she shed a kinetic pattern and an element from the list was erased.  When she stumbled upon the riots, she simply plunged through. Empaths and Enforcers alike formed a sort of corridor of violence almost without realising. There was something about the way she moved that even the Empaths couldn’t grasp, something vaguely familiar and compelling that defied categorization.

Anlama was waiting on the lake when she finally got there. This time she was not alone. There were more people with her, behind her, around her. People from beyond the Line. As soon as she saw Tahira, Anlama ran towards her and the two of them fused in a sisterly embrace. Tahira could feel her heart beating against Anlama’s chest. She whispered something in her ear. She didn’t understand the words, but she didn’t need to. Now that they were together again, they could teach each other all the things they had never known they ignored.

            They were still locked in their embrace when they fell dead on the sand.

When the screens all over the city broadcast the Enforcer shooting the bullet that pierced the girls’ hearts, the city finally awoke. Although the uprising led by the Empaths shook the city to its foundations, the image of Anlama’s and Tahira´s blood mixing in the sand triggered on us more subtle and profound changes. The patterns were gradually abandoned only to become objects of study. The List that had once dictated the choices of so many was abolished, its contents preserved as a remainder of all the things that had been imposed upon us. But it was only when they entered the city and we welcomed each other like long lost relatives meeting for the first time that we realised: the Line was finally gone. Two children had brought it down.

It is your responsibility to never draw it again.

Embrace change.

Expand your ignorance.

Seek new ways of knowing.

And never forget that all knowledge is precious.

After all, there is no knowledge that is not known by someone for some purpose.

The Wastes

There were very few things David feared at his tender age. The tales of the Great Mother had instilled in him the courage and foolishness to disregard fear as a coward’s tool. There was no fear in the story of Rogan the Red Faced, whose temper contained a heat so fierce it could make the ice melt. There was no hesitation in Aleouac’s fable, whose strength was so great and her warmth so intense that she pierced the sky with the tip of her spear, allowing the long-forgotten Sun to shine one last time over the war-torn clans. Such was the beauty of its light, the power of its glow, that it extinguished the fires of war in the hearts of men and rekindled the flame of kinship and unity, as everyone wept at the idiocy of war and embraced one another like brothers and sisters.

            Once, when the clan was asleep and the cave was alive with the sound of a thousand quiet breaths, David went to find the Wall of Thoughts on his own. He wanted to study the alluring shapes on its surface, rest his hand on the dents of the stone and decipher its secret meanings. But when he was crossing the Chamber of Echoes, he realised how cold and silent it was, how far away the walls were from each other and scurried out of the room, following the comforting night-whispers of the clan back to the common chamber. It was only when he was back within the warm hurdle of the clan, right before falling asleep in the hollow of his mother’s arms, that David wondered about the strange feeling that had turned his stomach into a knot and made him walk faster than he would openly admit, and it occurred to him that it might have been the beginning of something akin to fear.

It was not until he saw the Frozen Wastes, ten years after having been poured into the world from the great dark by his first mother, that David experienced fear for the first time in his life. As soon as he set foot on the unfamiliar hardness of the icy surface, his first impulse was to run. Run back to the cave, away from the unnatural cold that bit through his furs and plunged its fangs into its confused skin, back to the embracing comfort of the clan. But when he saw James standing tall right behind him like an impassable wall, David understood that there was no way back. Turning his head towards the impossible vastness that were the Wastes, he felt the sudden urge to drop to the ground, to find the deepest crack on the ice and bury himself there.

Yet, David turned his back towards his first father and faced the Wastes.

Up until that moment, his world had been composed of several shades of brown and grey and many gradients between hard, soft and harsh. His hands knew of the smoothness of the cave walls, of the rough patches and odd dents in the Wall of Thoughts. There was a lifetime of touch and warmth beneath his skin, a layered universe of sensations and stimuli that told him who he was and where he belonged to. He was David, one of the Oikumen, inheritors of the Ice and the Earth, and the cave was his home. For as long as he could remember, that thought had been the pillar that held his mind together, the fundamental truth around which the walls of his inner cave had grown and expanded with thoughts and secrets of his own making, as he listened to the stories of the Great Mother and learnt from his mothers and fathers.

When David stepped into the Wastes, the pillar broke. There was no audible crack or sudden collapse, no broken stone or shattered walls. His mind remained structurally intact, yet something had changed. “The world is a cave without walls”, Janira used to say. He had always dismissed the thought as a quaint saying from the stories of old, because how could one even imagine such a thing? But as his eyes failed to process the surreal landscape before them, the small thing that had slipped into the stony chambers of his mind-cave became suddenly noticeable. There was a new echo within the halls of his cave, something subtle, lighter than a whisper. Yet, when David tried to listen to what it was saying, he could hear nothing. Nothing. That was it. The world was not a cave. It might have been long ago, but the only thing that now remained was an endlessly stretching space filled with the thresholds of bending arches long extinct and the hungry hollows of forgotten chambers left behind by walls turned to dust. Nothing. And it was now within him. Like the whispers of the Great Mother, this unfamiliar presence carried with it a story of its own. But the portrait it painted was not of great deeds and wise parables. As this new story told itself, it borrowed the walls within his mind cave, eating away at the ones that were already there. Eating away at him and all the names that came before him.

When David finally understood, it was already too late. He tried to cling to the names of the great warriors of old, to invoke the warmth of the clan with the secret words that he had learnt from the Wall of Thoughts. But as he tried to recall the faces of those he loved, he found that they were leaving him, as were their names and all that had come with them, until the cold filled everything he was and the only thing that was left for him was the frozen white of the eternal Wastes.

It was the voice of his father that brought him back. As soon as he felt James’s hand on his shoulder, David remembered. Through the spiteful cold and the monstrous stillness of the Wastes, through the thick furs and the old leather of his lamellar armour, David felt the warmth of all his brothers and sisters, as if the hand of his father carried not only its own weight and meaning, but also the fierce determination of Rogan’s temper and the flaming strength of Aleouac’s courage.

Thus, David took a step into the Wastes and then another, as the warmth exiled the cold from his body, as the names and faces of the clan flooded back to the halls of his mind. Yet, somewhere within the depths of his mind-cave, a wall remained to be claimed. It was a wall not unlike the rest, as it also told a story. Or rather, the beginning of one. It was the story of nothing. And it would stay with him for the rest of his life.

The Cave

The first thing David ever felt was the cold, hard surface of stone. His first memories hosted no hint or trace of the warmth and comfort that were to fill his later years, but only the blind bluntness of naked rock against soft skin. The second thing David remembered was a voice, a delicate melody soothing and taunting him with the sound of what he would later call hope, as he groped and cried in the dark of the cave. The third, perhaps more compelling feeling David ever experienced was that of all-encompassing warmth, as he was passed along the arms of the clan and words of comfort and welcome were gently dropped into his ears by the people he would learn to call family.

            Years later, in the brutal cold of the Frozen Wastes, under the imposing weight of an unforgiving sky, David would often recall that moment of near peace, summoning the warmths he had learned to love and name through the cycles, humming the melody he had always remembered but never really learned, as the comfort of the clan filled his body and eased his mind.

            There was Janira’s warmth, calming and reassuring, an anchor to the world and himself. Although all the women in the clan that had ever given birth were his mothers, Janira was the one to pour him from the great dark into this world. From her, David learnt to find strength in compassion, to draw a circle big enough to embrace the whole clan in the arms of his mind, to feel their warmth as if it was his own. She also taught him the history of the world beneath the ice, back when the gods walked the earth and there was still earth to be walked on.

            There was also James’s warmth, silent and distant, never too obvious yet always there, like the faint glow of smouldering ember. From all his fathers David learned many great things about the world, such as the meanings of the different brightnesses of the great cloud that was the sky or the words spoken both by the mouth and the body. But James was the one to pull him from the dark into this world, and from him he had learnt about the Frozen Wastes and its lurking predators, as well as how to defeat them in combat, and for that he was grateful.

            Zenobia’s warmth was of another kind. It started like a familiar comfort not unlike the one he felt amongst his brothers and sisters, until one night, sitting together on the Chamber of Echoes as they listened to the tales of the Great Mother, David discovered a newfound warmth in Zenobia’s smile that stuck in his mind like a feverish thought. It was after one of these tales that she took him against the hard surface of the Wall of Thoughts, their warmths tearing ravenously at each other like the fabled Sun had done with the heat of the world uncountable cycles ago.

            And in all those memories, with their many corners and turns, their high ceilings and low archs, their comforting surfaces and unnerving hollows, the walls of the cave stood like a quiet witness to their unfolding lives. It was there that David had learnt to look at each of his brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, as if the warmth in their eyes and hearts was worth protecting with his own life. For they were the Oikumen, one of the last remnants of a world now buried in ice, inheritors of the ice and the earth, and that was their home.

The Ice

The day David turned ten, his father took him to hunt for the first time. The Frozen Wastes had always unsettled the child and his father knew it, as he knew that one day he wouldn’t be there to provide for him. That morning, James woke David up when the clouds were still dark and took him to the workshop. They prepared for the journey in silence, the stillness of the cave broken only by James’s occasional questions and David’s curt answers. As he checked the integrity of the thick furs that were to keep them alive in the frozen hell that were the Wastes, David had the feeling that he was being tested. It was not the first time he went through the preparations with his father, in fact he knew the process by heart now, but the way James looked at his hands go over all the familiar motions as they felt the weathered smoothness of the leather that made up most of the laminar armour, David could feel the weight of a lifetime of expectations looming in his father’s gaze.

Without a word, James handed his spear to his son with a solemn motion, and David took it between his small hands. Unlike the times he had held it while his father taught him how to move with it, how to thrust with it, how to kill with it, the spear felt real and solid, its head tipped by all the preys that had fallen before it in the hands of his father and the hands of his father before that. Contemplating the imperfections that ran along the weapon’s shaft, counting the small dents on the spear tip, David recalled each and every one of its stories as his father had told them to him, weaving the tale of the clan through years, back to a time in which the spear had been newly cast and its shaft as smooth as the cave walls. Then and there, it was difficult for David to imagine a time in which weapons were only a sporting rarity and people didn’t have to sleep huddled together to prevent the creeping cold of the Wastes from taking them. A time before the ice.

As father and son made their way out of the common chamber, David glanced back one last time trying to find Janira amongst the familiar mass of bodily heat and oblivious respirations that came from a clan still asleep. When his eyes couldn’t find her, he followed his father towards the cold light of the Wastes, where the ice waited patiently, and no comfort could ever be found.

In the lonely dark, amongst the warmth of her sleeping family, a mother wept silently for the fate of her child like many others had done before her, as she wondered how such small shoulders, which had only ever known the comfort of the cave, could ever hold the weight of their entire world.

Mil Espejos

Mil espejos revelan una verdad

bajo la mirada de un ojo incierto.

¿Son tus pestañas las que crecen en las grietas?

¿O son los pelos de tu lengua que murmuran en chasquidos?

Los sapos y las culebras son ya huesos resecos

en cuya médula vacía yacen enterrados

los recuerdos de tu felicidad.

(fueron a encontrarse con la mía)

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Una vez te pensé infinita.

Hoy, aprendo a convivir con la variable irresoluble de tu recuerdo.