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Mail from another city ež1

by Leena Krohn ež2

The day of the great mogul - The twelfth letter ež235

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The day of the great mogul - The twelfth letter ež235

I do not know why I pick up my pen again. No longer because I might expect return mail. But I would like to tell someone that something strange has happened, some curious, unpleasant changes, and I have no idea what has caused them. Perhaps it is temporary, and my life will return to how it was before. Perhaps, too, the days that were like prizes, long ago, will return. ež236

I have not travelled anywhere, but this city is now different. The change does not please me. When I look out, I see that it is as if it has been unclothed. The most important thing is absent; the thing that once, just a moment ago, made me strong and happy. I look at the ground, I look at the sky, and everywhere is the same absence, in the eyes that crowd the streets and the department stores as if they were seeking their lost pupils in the windows and sales counters. If I were to send you photographs of Tainaron before and Tainaron now, you would say no difference is visible, and perhaps it is so; but nevertheless I know that everything is decisively different. ež237

If the sounds of the city were to be muted for a moment, I could hear a secretly crumbling sound as if a trickle of sand were falling from the side of a sandpit. And the vital force, which I believed to be inexhaustible, runs and runs somewhere where no one can use it. ež238

Is this is what is known as growing old? Do I see it everywhere, although it exists only inside myself? And what once was happiness around me, was it too a mere reflection? But in that case how can I know anything of what Tainaron is, what it is like? ež239

Today the book I open describes the great mogul Aurangzeb, who was a cruel tyrant. Fifteen of his elephants fell into a cleft on a mountain road, and on the back of one of them was his favourite wife. ež240

'Remarkable,' writes the great mogul, 'empty-handed I came into this world, and now, as I leave it, I drag with me an enormous caravan of sins.... My sorrow mortifies me. Farewell, farewell, farewell.' ež241

I force myself to get up and open the door and step out into the street. I have decided to eat, but from the window table of the cafÚ the passers-by look as if they are dragging burdens which are invisible but nevertheless heavy. The liquid glimmers in my cup, and soon I shall have to swallow it. I look at it as if it were the goblet of today. ež242

Under the marble table my legs wait, motionless, symmetrical, side by side. I do not know whether I have ever sensed their existence as such. They are alive, and all at once I am scorched by hot pity. My legs, my poor legs! Modest, sturdy and resilient, my own pillars, you too will wither! ež243

Small days, small days. The woman who, in the tramcar, takes a comb from her handbag and, pulling it through her stiff hair, complains: 'The comb doesn't work, no. The concrete eats the hair so.' ež244

A friend who sways toward me, his coat open, shaking his fingers. There was a time when he ran from table to table, his face flushed, to proclaim that his dogma was the youth of the world. What he says now is something quite different, quite different, but I do not listen; I mourn. The youth of the world! ež245

How we secrete words around us, so that the eye of reality may not see us! In vain! So hopelessly thin and tattered a veil does not hide anything, and we writhe in the brightness of destiny. No shield, no armour, and neither will flesh ever return to the word. ež246

And when I pass by the statue of the Great Sleeper, around it billows a tired song: ež247

Sweet is my sleep, but more to be mere stone, ež248

so long as ruin and dishonour reign; ež249

to bear nought, to feel nought, is my great gain; ež250

then wake me not, speak in an undertone! ež251

My poor friend! I saw his finger fall and he wavered across the frosty wasteland and shut himself up in the fortress of the telephone kiosk in the square. ež252

It happened there, not here in Tainaron, for these are different statues, but the days are as small everywhere and their shape is that of a funnel. ež253

I wonder if you too have noticed: there are moments when you do not wish to wish and then you look inward and what is it that you see? An endless sequence of wishes, infinitely many yous, and all of the yous are threaded on to the tough thread of memory, and in the end you yourself are no more than that thinnest of thin threads, and it quivers, tensed.... ež254

But today I walked past a chirping flock of sparrows and it fell silent as a wave of nausea swept across me and suddenly the earth gave way beneath my feet and I remembered once more that beneath Tainaron is nothing but a crust, as insubstantial as one night's ice. ež255

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Author: ©Leena Krohn 1998
Translation: ©Hildi Hawkins
E-presentation: © Ralph Amissah
W3 since October 3 1993