In the Absence of Time

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Some days the gods feel like philosophers, they grow on the city and its surroundings a strong wind. So, coming from the abandoned cemetery on the outskirts of this venerable city, desert sand mixed with fine dust of bleached bones, it happens to me sometimes that I have the sensation of breathing my ancestors, to bring them deep inside me, in my alveoli, where they remain buried until the next big death. Me, my frail body of a young girl with black hair and red lips, brown skin and ivory nails; me, I become their new tomb.

In the family home, it was a day of trouble when I searched the cupboards and the attic in search of my past – a past that has not yet shown me my inner ghosts, so – I came across an old wooden box. Inside, there were fifty audiocassettes (something of which the younger are unaware, and only occasionally see in museums): they had strange markings on them( “Paris, July 1984″, ” Jaipur, October 1976 “,” Berlin, December 1974 “,” Yokohama, July 1982 “,” Manaus, May 1977 “)… In another box, I found something to listen to these tapes. The sound sizzled as if it was also dust. This sound was the rain, or rather the rainfall all around the world: monsoon, storm, cyclone, hurricane, light rain, drizzle, thunderstorm. A friend of my grandfather’s, a great traveler, recorded these sounds from all around the world, and it is true that closing my eyes, I could feel the drops of water, sometimes scarce, sometimes innumerable, brushing against my skin. Hearing that old water still flowing after fifty years gave me chills. This water hunter had scoured the planet in search of these sounds, and that water still flows in my heart and in my veins.

Another cardboard, another life? Books, old editions of Penguin classics. A paradise, for me, a parallel world indeed. On top, a yellowed copy of The Great Gatsby. I have never read Scott Fitzgerald, and this morning when the rain fell outside (unless it was from a cassette?), I sat on the floor, against the wall. My cold silver parrot earrings caressed my skin. A fresh breeze was on my ankles. I opened the book. It bore the stamp of a former Rajasthani state prison. Almost on every page, a hand had annotated, sometimes drawing the faces (Daisy, Gatsby, Mr. Mumbles, etc.) Fitzgerald had described. In a low voice, I read that first sentence, mesmerized: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

It seems that all this water flowing before me, these others’ dust flying around me, these annotated pages in front of me, are so many messages, symbols, and mysteries passed from one soul to another, to translate, to understand, to love.

Far away from the desert, years later, somewhere in the depths of Europe, I was to suddenly remember these old recordings after a sudden rainfall. I would wonder if the sound in those cassettes belonged to an uncertain past or this then unknown future, if that old man had managed to hunt time with water. On the way of this pilgrimage – because one has to call it by its name – I was able to feel a spirit that I have never felt before. Not one of God or something approaching (I am very distant with such apragmatic concepts), but the one of all the generations of pilgrims that walked between the trees, moved stones to put a memory of the site in their pockets, wrote their names on the walls of the cave, parts of past lives that cannot disappear, ghosts of existences still breathing after death, second world that my bloody hand could touch. Time appears and disappears in such moments. Time is a firefly, a dream, one wakes up from it, then falls back into it again. It seems sometimes that everything that will happen has already happened, that we are only waiting for the future because we don’t know what else to do. Waiting is the strangest thing we’ve ever invented.

Do you remember this tiny grey spot at the base of my neck?  You had the habit of saying that it was a miniature print of moon because I slept so frequently outside at night, looking at stars. How could I forget it? How could I forget you?

I didn’t. I didn’t forget you. You see, I know the future because there is none. Everything is happening right now, it’s just a matter of where we are. The rain that fell in Paris in 1984 is still falling. I can hear it. I can even see you getting wet, still just a child.


This was first published in Kindle Magazine, where I write a monthly column on cities, memory, etc. This column will be the last in the series.

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