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Tainaron by Leena Krohn, 1998

Mail from another city

© Leena Krohn

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Tainaron - Mail from another city





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Shimmer - the third letter


And then the lights of evening are lit, with hundreds of reflections in water and eyes and windows. You know, don't you, that there are creatures who light up their vicinity with the glow of their own organs or parts of the body: fireflies in the gardens of the south, the glow-worm on its blade of grass and the creatures who live in moats, who carry lamps on their monstrous foreheads. Colder still is the vast lustre of rotten wood covered in honey fungus....


But here in Tainaron, too, there are those who, at evening, draw glances because they secrete a fine veil of light and at times, when they become agitated, glimmer and flash. I gaze at them with admiration as they hurry past me in the street - always quickly, with almost dancing steps. They emerge from their houses only at evening, and I have no idea what they do until then, the livelong day - perhaps they merely sleep.


I have never seen any of them alone; they move in flocks and free groupings as if participating in some kind of formation dancing in the squares. But if it rains or if there is a fresh breeze, the sparklers go out like candles and disappear beneath the roofs. Difficulties and a severe climate, tiring work and unexpected upheavals are not for their sort. Whenever I see them I find myself thinking that there must be a party somewhere and that lots of fun is to be expected. They look so cheerful and carefree, and their rose-pink or yellowish glow would embellish any ballroom.


In the middle of the city there is a stairway around which Tainaronians gather in the evenings to converse or merely to watch one another. It is here that the most colourful, the strangest, the most elegant, the richest and the most tattered of all meet, on these broad steps, worn over many centuries. The Fireflies, too - is that not a good name for these little shimmerers? - are seen here as soon as darkness falls, as long as the weather is calm and warm.


I feel melancholy when I look at them, but I have never tried to approach them. I do not even believe that they speak any of the city's official languages; I do not know whether they speak at all. They are as graceful as down, as fine and light as the first flush of youth that no one has ever lived.


Recently I have betaken myself on many evenings to the steps to rejoice in their glimmer. They do not notice me, but when they pass - dance! - past me and past the beggars and past the pomp of the blue-belted knight, hope quivers and the spirit of spring gusts around them as freshly as if nothing had ever yet been lost forever.


But I must tell you, too, that when, yesterday morning, I crossed the square on the way to a certain side-street, I saw in the ditch a dusty rag, with a few pitying backs bowed over it. I passed it by without stopping, but when, at the corner of the street, I stopped to look, I saw it being lifted from the ground and carried away. It was only then that I understood that I had seen one of the sparklers, but this time quite alone. It was no longer glimmering, even palely; it was just a small, dark mass. The spark of joy, the gleam of life itself, had been extinguished. Wherever, whenever I happen to witness its destruction, bitter pain, seemingly incurable, weakens my sight and eats away from me, too, the small days of life.


But tonight in the city the Fireflies were on the move once more, as many in number as flocks of birds in spring, more joyful and glimmering more strongly than ever before.



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