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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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The seventeenth spring - the sixth letter


In Tainaron, many things are different from at home. The first things that occur to me are eyes. For with many of the people here, you see, they grow so large that they take up as much as one third of their faces. Whether that makes their sight more accurate, I do not know, but I presume they see their surroundings to some extent differently from us. And, moreover, their organs of sight are made up of countless cones, and in the sunlight their lens-surfaces glitter like rainbows. At first I was troubled when I had to converse with such a person, for I could never be sure whether he was looking at me or past me. It no longer worries me. It is true that there are also people whose eyes are as small as points, but then there are many of them, in the forehead, at the ends of the antennae, even on the back.


Like their eyes, Tainaronians may have a number of pairs of hands and feet, too, but it does not seem to me that they run any faster than we do, or get more done in their lives. Some of them, it is true, have a jumping fork under their bellies, which they can, whenever necessary, release like a lever and thus hurl themselves forward, sometimes by dozens of metres.


The hustling forest of antennae and pedipalpi in the streets at rush-hour is certainly an extraordinary sight for people like us, but most difficult of all is to accustom oneself to a certain other phenomenon that marks the life of the majority of the inhabitants here in the city. This phenomenon is metamorphosis; and for me, at least, it is so strange, to my very marrow, that even to think about it makes me feel uncomfortable. For, you see, the people here live two or many consecutive lives, which may have nothing in common, although one follows from the last in a way that is incomprehensible to me.


We, too, change, but gradually. We are used to a certain continuity, and most of us have a character that remains more or less constant. It is different here. It remains a mystery to me what the real connection is between two consecutive lives. How can a person who changes so completely still say he is in any sense the same as before? How can he continue? How can he remember?


Here you can bump into a stranger, and he will come up to you like an old acquaintance and begin to remember some past amusing coincidence that you apparently experienced together. When you ask, 'When?', he laughs and answers: 'When I was someone else.'


But perhaps you will never discover with whom you have the honour of conversing, for they often change comprehensively and completely, both their appearance and their way of life.


There are also those who withdraw into total seclusion for as much as seventeen years. They live in tiny rooms, no more than boxes; they do not see anyone, do not go anywhere, and hardly eat. But whether they sleep or wake there, they are continually changing and forsaking the form they had before.


Seventeen years! And when, finally, the seventeenth spring arrives, they stop out of their hermit caves into full sunlight. And there begins their only summer, for in the autumn they die; but all summer long they celebrate all the more. What a life! Do you understand it?


But sometimes I feel a little envious: to be able to curl up in a pupal cell without hoping for dreams, knowing that one spring one will step before the eyes of the world, new, refreshed, free from the past....


Farewell once more; my head is heavy and I believe a thunderstorm is brewing. I ponder the reasons why you do not reply, and there are many. Are you dead? Have you moved? The city where you lived has perhaps disappeared from the face of the earth? And can I trust the mail of Tainaron; who knows on what back-garden compost-heap my letters are languishing? Or you stand on your doormat turning my letter over in your hands; turning it over and then putting it aside unopened, on top of the pile of newspapers and advertisements that grows and grows in the dusty corner.


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