The Assassination of Nobel A novel

 By Asaad Al-Jabbouri

19
Conjuring the spirit of Nobel

Philemon got out of bed early that cloudy Monday morning. There was no
sign of the sun in the sky, but that was not unusual in that country. Anyone born
in in Denmark has grown accustomed to the gray darkness that will blanket
the sky for most of his life. Danes and foreigners alike blindly accept that fate
without discussion or negotiation. Philemon could barely control his thoughts
as he cursed, mocked, and damned his own existence. He thought it best to
leave the villa so he climbed into his car, leaving the others deep in the mineral
water of sleep.
Where did you get that this early in the morning, Philemon? Mineral water
of sleep?
Are there other kinds of water for sleep?
Possibly. The water of sleep must be a secret. That’s true. If not, the
effervescence of dreams in the mind would cease. Dreams are like mineral
gases that escape from us while we sleep, to expand, fly, and evaporate.
Damn you Philemon. Why do you go on like this? Are you bitter that they’re
sleeping calmly while your thoughts are racing?
No, that’s not what’s bothering you right now, Philemon.
Inside your head is another matter.
A huge, exceptional matter. But you don’t want to get into it. You’re right.
One shouldn’t fill his mind with thoughts that could change the face of the
planet. The brain is a hunk of flesh in the shape of twisted tubes. Inside there is
cold blood and hot acids. A city in ruin. Hanging bridges, stalks of grain and
locusts. But there is no paradise in the mind. Always remember that and laugh.
You’re miserable, Philemon! An ant has more courage than you. That isn’t
your fault. It’s the ant’s fault for not giving you his form, his spirit, and his life.
He left you a man, dressed in pants, jacket, shoes, and necktie.
That’s true Philemon. If the ant knew what has happened to you and what is
happening to you now then he’d behave differently.
Yes. He might take you with him under the sand, at least, to ease the sharp
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pains from the daily discomforts that you find in your mind.
What’s with you, Philemon?
Is your mind wandering because you woke up so early this morning?
Damn sleep and your need for it. Damn what it can do to you!
Philemon stopped suddenly and climbed out of the car as though emerging
from the belly of a whale. He tried to catch his breath while he stood on the side
of the road, ignored by the other commuters. The fields before him were like a
deep white fire rippling with strange waves. He was suddenly moved to shout a
song he’d never heard before. He sang to the fields then hurried back to his car
and sped off to no particular destination.
Philemon’s absence throughout the day worried Phoebe. Everyone noticed
how anxious she was; Philemon hadn’t left the slightest clue as to where he
had gone. At first she suspected Kahi’s influence on him. However creative and
brilliant Philemon was, he could be suggestible before the charismatic Indian.
Philemon finally returned shortly after eight that evening. As soon as he
came in Phoebe ran to him. As she approached him she saw his eyes burned
with passion and his body was tense. He didn’t pay any attention to her. He
walked into the living room and found Kahi and Lang there waiting silently.
He waved at them and, after a moment of silence, asked Kahi to join him in the
laboratory.
Soon the two sat in the laboratory in chairs next to a desk covered with
a computer, printer, papers, files, some books, newspapers, and scientific
magazines. Philemon looked at Kahi and said,
“My friend, tonight I want you to do something exceptional. Something
important. An idea that could produce a new history and change the universe.
Now, you might object but I believe we can achieve a truly great thing.”
Kahi listened seriously and responded,
“I’m at your service, Philemon. But you must tell me what it is you’re
thinking of.”
“Please don’t let me down.”
“Tell me and we’ll see. I’ve never let a friend down before. Come, tell me
what’s on your mind.”
“I want you to conjure the spirit of Nobel.”
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“Nobel who? Do you mean the Swiss scientist, Alfred Nobel?”
“The very same. The inventor of dynamite. I want to meet him.”
“What! Why? So he can blow us to pieces and scatter us all over the
universe?” Kahi responded, aghast.
Philemon stood and said excitedly,
“This is not the time for jokes. It’s time to work.”
“How could I do such a thing, Philemon? It’s impossible. A man of that
reputation and importance is dangerous. His spirit won’t come easily,” Kahi
said disapprovingly.
“Why don’t you tell everyone just how incapable you are. I doubt you could
conjure a fly from the kitchen. You’re all talk,” Philemon responded, mocking
his friend.
“Enough, Philemon! If I decide to do something, I do it. You’ll see that
for yourself tomorrow,” Kahi responded, shaking in anger. Philemon pressed
further.
“Why wait for tomorrow? Do you need to get help from some other conjurer,
Kahi? I want Nobel now. His spirit burning in front of me.”
“What do you want with Nobel? It’s been over a century since his death.”
“My spirit called for him.”
“I don’t know how I can call his spirit from here but I will try and do
the impossible for you. Wait here, I’ll bring my kit from my room and we’ll
begin. You must be optimistic. My work relies on optimism. That is extremely
important otherwise no spirits will come to us. The spirits live in a life of
brightness, free of discomfort; you might find that they are not ready to return
to Earth. They consider us dwellers of a deep hell. Remember that Philemon.
The dead, they’re making an incredible sacrifice when they lend us their spirits,
even for a short while.”
Kahi left the laboratory to bring his kit while Philemon sat surrounded by
chemicals silently staring at his hands.
It was after midnight before Kahi returned with his equipment. Kahi called
to Philemon,
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“It’s time to get started, Philemon. He should be here within the hour. But
tell me, Philemon, what was Alfred Nobel’s mother’s name?”
“How should I know that? Is the name necessary for the process?”
“No, not necessary. But it is better to use it in this kind of procedure. If
Nobel first refuses our invitation he might accept if we trick him into thinking
his mother is here with us. But all of that depends on the relationship he had
with her, of course.”
“And you can trick a spirit?”
“A little, but remember that spirits can surmount any obstacle. They have an
incredible ability to escape from anything they find unpleasant.”
“And does that apply to my spirit as well? It doesn’t feel that way.”
“For now. You’re still alive. You shouldn’t feel that way.”
“You’re saying it will in the afterlife. What good is that to the dead?”
“Don’t be stupid, Philemon. At most, you’ll get no more than a hundred
years in this world, but your spirit, after your clinical death, will live in the ether
for millions of years. Now this is important: why do you want me to summon
Nobel’s spirit?”
“Slow down. I can’t take all that, Kahi. There are just too many questions.”
Kahi began to arrange the tools and equipment necessary for the procedure,
which required rearranging the furniture and various items in the laboratory. As
he put the final touches on things he addressed Philemon coldly.
“You need to sit in this chair and remain silent. This won’t take long.
When Mr. Nobel’s spirit arrives I’ll signal to you that you can move. Is that
understood?”
“Yes. Everything will go smoothly, I promise you Kahi. Just hurry up and
call him.”
Everything was silent. The only light in the room came from the small blue
lamp. Kahi read his talisman in a deep voice as the scent of incense poured over
the room. Philemon felt like a huge tree trunk surrounded in a darkness broken
only occasionally by beams of light emitted from the small lamp in Kahi’s
hand. Philemon had the sudden, overwhelming desire to scream but it quickly
dissipated as he watched the sweat pour down Kahi’s face as he chanted words
from the talisman Philemon couldn’t understand.
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Time dragged on and Nobel’s spirit did not appear, so Kahi intensified his
incantations and reading of the talisman and changed the type incense that was
burning.
“Is the celestial mail broken?” Kahi asked himself.
After three hours he found himself stuck, which had never happened to him
before. He was tired, dizzy, and confused as to what could have caused him to
fail. But he didn’t give up. In a quivering voice he asked Philemon to turn on the
lights in the laboratory and get the car ready to go. Perhaps he failed to conjure
Nobel’s spirit because he didn’t want to appear in such close quarters. Perhaps
he didn’t want to return to the arctic weather again?
“Anything is possible. There are spirits that are still arrogant in death,” he
told Philemon as he gathered his tools and carried them towards the car.
It was three in the morning when the two of them set off for the hills
surrounding Helsingør to try to conjure Nobel in the open, fresh air.
“Don’t get so worked up Kahi. Nobel’s spirit might be on some distant
planet,” Philemon said, trying to calm Kahi.
“No matter how far away he is, he should send us some sort of signal, however
small. He shouldn’t think so little of us,” Kahi’s broken voice responded.
“Perhaps his spirit has been summoned elsewhere. Isn’t that possible?”
“No. If that were the case we would have gotten some sort of signal.”
The car turned and cut through a long field between the main road and the
line of trees at the edge of a the forest. The two men took to foot in the dark.
Philemon began to set up the tent while Kahi retrieved the magical kit from his
bags. The final step was to light a red lamp. The light cut through the Indian
incense that filled the silent space. Philemon sat wordlessly watching his friend
Kahi work as he began to read from the talisman again, but this time in a much
louder voice.
A strange mixture of sounds Philemon had never heard before began to leak
into his consciousness. A music that carried in its folds a world of rough seas,
animal wails, mills crumbling stone, the flapping of curtains in a furious storm,
and cries of women. Philemon heard all of those sounds in the darkness. Kahi
did not know what was happening to Philemon. Busy continuing his efforts to
summon Nobel, he failed to notice the first signs that the spirit had arrived.
At first Philemon had mocked Kahi and his chosen profession. Now he
found himself in the heart of a storm of spirits without any knowledge of how
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to protect himself from the dangers that poured into his mind as Nobel’s spirit
arrived.
What could Philemon do if Nobel asked him to go back with him, for
instance? Could he refuse such an invitation after he had been so insistent
on summoning the spirit of a man who had been dead for over a century and
created the substance that consumed the lives of millions?
In the dark of night the incense decanter spewed miraculous odors. The
smoke was not far from what Philemon felt toward Kahi and his demons. He
had seen the very best of what his magical friend was capable of.
In a matter of moments the clouds parted to reveal a red escalator at the top
of which sat huge chair filled with an imposing figure dressed as a man from the
eighteenth century. The man sat completely silent.
Even from afar, Philemon could tell that the man was none other than Alfred
Nobel. A fever came over Philemon as the shock set in. He tried not to let it take
over him as he heard the voice of Alfred Nobel speaking calmly.
“I know you wished to meet me, Philemon. Now I am here before you, body
and spirit. I am always in this state. I don’t want anyone to see me as weak. I’m
a few hours late, but the truth is I did not want to come down here. Would you
like to climb up here and meet me? Welcome.”
As soon as Nobel raised his finger, the escalator started to move, landing on
the hill that Kahi and Philemon had chosen. Philemon was afraid and hesitant,
but not for long. He slowly approached the stairs to meet Nobel.
Kahi called after him, his voice quivering, but Philemon ignored the warning
and placed his foot on the first step.
Kahi’s eyes were wide in shock. He didn’t want his friend to be blown up
with dynamite. Everything might explode and turn to ash with a simple touch
from Nobel.
Kahi believed that was how Philemon’s life would end, that his stupid
friend would meet his fate on such an adventure. Philemon gave little thought
to Kahi’s screams. He was drawn towards the huge chair, focused solely on
meeting Nobel. Kahi had no idea how to stop the escalator to keep Philemon
from getting any closer to the giant dynamite chair Nobel sat upon. Everything
happened so quickly; Kahi couldn’t do anything to stop him.
His head spun. He lost focus as the terrible scene unfolded before him. He
didn’t know how to extinguish the incense or destroy his equipment. Every
attempt he made to end the ceremony or break the connection failed. He had the
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sudden urge to run after Philemon and grab him by the collar of his shirt and
drag him back to the ground but Philemon had already almost reached the chair.
Only a few steps stood between the historic meeting of Philemon and Nobel.
Suddenly the escalator disappeared and clouds covered the sky. No sign
of the chair or Nobel. Kahi sat aghast, staring at the movements of the clouds
across the sky. He tried to gather his equipment but could not. He left everything
strewn about as his legs carried him towards the car.
“What will I tell Phoebe when I return to the villa alone?
Will I tell her that he was eaten by wolves in the forest, that I couldn’t save him?
Can I tell her that Philemon went on a magical journey to die at the hands
of the spirit of Alfred Nobel?
No. No. Phoebe would never believe that.
What made me agree to all this? If only I hadn’t been so stupid!
How could I have agreed with someone as mad as Philemon? How could I
leave him to face someone like Nobel?
I must have finally lost my mind to do something so terribly stupid. How
could I have agreed to that? Nobel of all people!”
Suddenly Kahi fell silent. He decided he would not return to the villa. He
would leave Denmark for good.
When Philemon reached the top of the escalator Nobel smiled and extended
his hand without getting up from his enormous chair. The formality was not
comforting to Philemon. He quickly got over the feeling when he imagined
Nobel as an old man who couldn’t be blamed for his behavior. Nobel ordered
his guards to place a chair next to him for Philemon. In that moment Philemon’s
mind reeled with thoughts and predictions. Then his eyes settled on the chair
upon which Nobel sat.
The chair was made out of dynamite. He knew that from the warning
stickers. In sudden terrible realization, Philemon noticed that it wasn’t only
the chair that was made out of dynamite: all of Nobel’s limbs were as well.
Philemon froze in fear. Nobel knew what must be going through Philemon’s
mind so he tried to dispel his fears, saying,
“Listen, Philemon: When I moved on to the afterlife I found myself in a
bit of a predicament. Everyone here, without exception, refused me. Even the
angels and demons. I tried to change my image but it was clear it was impossible
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to change their opinion of me. There was no solution to the existential crisis I
was caught in. So, I thought hard about how to solve the matter, to not be left
stuck between Heaven and Hell. I was an outcast, trapped in the expanse of
the heavens. Everyone fled from me. Everyone refused me. No one wanted
anything to do with me.
That had been my reality since I arrived in the heavens. I felt a crushing
isolation. I knew I couldn’t possibly deserve such terrible treatment, to be so
blatantly ignored and cast aside.
It was terribly painful and when I ultimately lost hope of breaking this
isolation through legitimate means, I decided to fight. So I created this middle
realm for myself. The buffer between Heaven and Hell. I have extended my
control over this boundless region, ruling it as one might rule a nation.
I never would have thought of creating this little state had it not been for
the repeated denial of my membership in either Heaven or Hell. So, naturally, I
sought a third option to end my isolation.
They were afraid to judge me. They said, ‘if we let him into Hell he might
make use of the flames there given the fire he commanded in life.’ They said,
‘if we admit him to Paradise he could easily destroy it given his scientific
knowledge and creative abilities.’
They thought I’d create some substance that would bring Paradise crashing
down on them. So they wrote many reports and slandered me.
All of the dead wanted me punished for my discovery, though most of them
hadn’t even died in battle.
Ever since I started establishing this middle realm I’ve been safe. No one
could even come close to the borders. As for my judgment, the idea has long
since died.”
As Philemon stood there stunned at what he was hearing, a man came forward
carrying two green crystal glasses filled with a thick orange liquid. Nobel took
his glass and toasted his guest. Meanwhile there were strange creatures strewn
about the terrace surrounding the giant chair drinking from leather waterskins
tied to their belts. As soon as the two finished their drinks, the glasses floated
off into the void. Then an incredibly tall figure stepped forward and blew into a
long horn. Creatures poured out from the clefts in the ground to form massive
columns presenting a mythical parade to Nobel.
“We present this exhibition to anyone who travels through my realm or
comes to visit us. Though it is very rare that anyone comes to visit us here. A
visit such as your is not normal. But it is a bold and important in step ending
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our damned isolation.”
Nobel continued,
“The void has transformed me to a highwayman in this wilderness. It’s been
nearly a century of this.”
“Did you say a highwayman?” Philemon responded in shock.
“Don’t be so surprised. I’m nothing but a highwayman, stopping humans on
their way to Heaven or Hell.”
“Does this have anything to do with religion?”
“No. It’s out of boredom in the never-ending monotony of this place. Look
at those. They’re a group of castaway humans. I captured them out there. They
had no home, amassing along the borders.”
“What did you do to them?”
“I organized them into gangs to keep them from growing bored or restless
and destructive.”
“You did what?”
“What would you have me do to them? I created this buffer zone for them
and they took it over. Here they feel free from the neglect and contempt of
isolation. The middle realm became a place of hope for them. It began to grow.
Do you know that man walking alone over there?”
“No, I’ve never seen him before.”
“That is Gilgamesh.”
“Gilgamesh?! What has he done to himself? He looks like a madman.”
“I don’t know. I found him wandering, lost. I was told that after he crossed
the entire world he came here searching for Enkidu in the wilderness.”
“There! Is that Hitler?”
“Yes. That’s him. He met with me a few weeks ago. He left very angry,
hurling insults and curses at me.”
“Why did he do that?”
“You’ll laugh when I tell you. Hitler came to admonish me about dynamite!
So I asked him, ‘why Mein Fuhrer?’ He said that the compound was a reason
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for his loss of World War Two, because dynamite wasn’t powerful enough to
destroy the world.”
“And you were angry at him?”
“Not at all. I remained totally calm. Perhaps because Marilyn Monroe had
just come in. Yeah. She surprised us. Hitler stared at her and told her, ‘If you
had been with my troops at the door of Stalingrad my entire army would have
been warmed by the fire of your thighs, saving us from that bitter defeat.’”
“What bullshit!”
“A few days ago, over there across from the demons’ barracks, Jean-Paul
Sartre, al-Tabari, Charlie Chaplin, Umm Kulthum, Michelangelo, and Omar
Khayyam all had a special meeting. I think it was a seminar. According to the
reports I got from the intelligence services, the subject was how to get rid of
ants in the land of the third existence.
At the time I was flying in a glider with Confucius. When he saw them he
wanted to join but before he could he asked me if I knew a counterfeiter who
get him a visa for his Chinese passport.”
“Did he ever join them in the end? Did he convert one of them?”
“I don’t know. But I told him: focus on Ibn Jarir al-Tabari, he’s the historian
of kings.”
“But isn’t their meeting a little strange? I mean what connects al-Tabari,
Sartre, Khayyam, da Vinci, Chaplin and Umm Kulthum? “
“Don’t be surprised by paradoxes here in the wilderness. We abducted Umm
Kulthum from there to entertain our people here. The people were suffering
here; we had to change the mood. As for da Vinci, he’s here for his own
personal reason: he wants us to grant him a temporary trip. He wants us to let
him descend to the Earth so he can destroy all the statues he made. You might
laugh at some of what goes on here, but Sartre will certainly have you rolling,
laughing in tears. If you sat with him you’d hear him going over the news that
he wrote for Charlie Chaplin to read over our broadcasts we have here.
If only you could see him play chess with Omar Khayyam without his
glasses that he says were lost during the students’ protests on the streets of Paris.
He always snatches the bishop from the board, saying he doesn’t recognize his
authority.”
“But he’s not with Simone de Beauvoir. Isn’t that strange?”
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“He said she refused to enter the middle realm after she grew bored of the
illusion of existence and nothingness.”
“She might be right. But tell me, Mr. Nobel: is that man over there smoking
the pipe and reading al-Ahram on that monument President Sadat of Egypt?”
“You mean the man sitting on that big monument? Do you know him?”
“Not personally, but I saw him once when he was addressing the Knesset.
That’s all I know about him.”
“It is President Sadat. He sought political asylum here with us and we
couldn’t refuse him. He was very insistent. What could we do with a man who
had faced so much harassment and abuse in his public and private life? He said
they were assassinating him twice a day.”
“What about the monument he’s sitting under?”
“That’s a monument to the Unknown Soldier. He brought it with him from
Egypt. He hardly ever leaves it. Sadat weeps his heart out in front of that
statue. We don’t know exactly what happened. In any case, he’s free to do as
he pleases.”
“Your realm is truly democratic, Mr. Nobel. And much better than the snow
of Stockholm. After more than a hundred years since you left, you still haven’t
given up on the principles you fought for.”
Nobel smiled at the attempt at flattery, then looked to Philemon, and said,
“I think what you said about the snow is absolutely right. That’s why I
left Stockholm and chose another home: Sanremo. Europe had become like
a group of candles, each with a different, shape, color, and size. Though they
are candles, fading each in their own way. That’s how we see the withering
of those states in the world of globalization. We pick up sad bits of news from
distant broadcasts. What distressed me is Europe being smoke for the American
chimney.
Oh, tell me: Do you know that young woman putting the blue hat on her head?”
“Is that Princess Diana?”
“Exactly. You have a good memory, Mr. Philemon. That impresses me. The
princess came to us from your land incredibly saddened. We treated her here for
months. It wasn’t just her body that was ripped apart, but her spirit as well. She
arrived here a scrap of tattered flesh. It was unbelievable. Do you know why
that happened, Philemon? You might think you know but allow me to tell you.
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The Europeans tore Princess Diana apart because she nearly became a bridge
connecting the East and the West. Their arrogance tore that bridge down before
it could be completed. That barbaric, racist genocide. No one from the civilized
or democratic world can be excused for what history will bring.”
“What does Princess Diana do now?”
“During the day she sells flowers and joins Omar Khayyam once she finishes
her work. That’s all she does these days.”
“The woman doesn’t want to repent…” Philemon commented to himself.
However he heard Nobel saying to him in a booming voice,
“Don’t talk to yourself here. Tell me Philemon: what does she need to repent
for? For her love for Dodi or that she’s with another Eastern man here?”
“That is not what I meant, Mr. Nobel. What is it that makes Diana spend her
fate here? Does she seriously think she’s in a free zone?”
“What do you think it is then? What do you see here?”
“I only see a borderless wilderness. But let me ask you about that man
standing there. Isn’t that Salvador Dali?”
“Yes, that’s him. He came here to paint the emperor of Waq-Waq. That’s
been his job for months now. He can’t find any work except painting surrealist
portraits for those leaders obsessed with cutting men’s throats.”
“Perhaps they’re doing so to win your prize, just as you wanted. You want
to see men chasing after your prize like herds of cattle. You want the writers,
scientists, and politicians to all dream of your prize. You’re always in control,
and everyone else is just a slave with no hope of ever gaining any value unless
they win Nobel’s prize.”
“I never said that. Not on Earth and not here. Where did you get this
nonsense?”
“Whether you said it or not, that’s the goal of the committee you left behind.
They’ve introduced politics, ideologies, religions, ethnic conflicts and hidden
agendas to the prize.
This is what has come of your legacy.”
“Is that what brought you there? To distress me?”
“And who said I work for you, Mr. Nobel?” Philemon snapped and rose
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from the chair in which he had been sitting.
Nobel grabbed him by the shoulders to calm the situation, and said,
“I know you didn’t come here to tell me what has happened to my prize
lately. You mock, but you came for the prize itself, didn’t you, Philemon?”
“Not at all.”
“What, then, has brought you to meet me here?”
“Simply to ridicule you and your discovery of 1866.”
Nobel felt a rage sweep through his body unlike any he had ever felt before.
He signaled with his finger for his guards to throw Philemon in a deep chasm in
the lower world but he paused, and collected himself. He then placed his hand
on Philemon’s shoulder and said to him,
“Your ridicule will not make light of me, my discovery, or the value of my
prize. But tell me: what reason do you have to attack me? To what end?”
Philemon recoiled and screamed like a madman,
“For my own discovery, one that will outshine everything that came before
it! That’s right, Nobel. I’ll send you and your prize to the depths of Hell.”
Nobel exploded in laughter, nearly falling from his chair. When he finished
his hysterical laughter he posed a question of Philemon.
“And what is you amazing discovery, Philemon? A shawarma skewer the
size of the pyramids?”
“Ah, there you go reverting back to your true nature, mocking the other. You
all will never get past the battle for racial superiority. At least not any time soon.
My discovery will be the final arbitrator to right all wrongs.”
“We’ll see, Philemon. Aren’t you tired of sitting? Come, let us take a tour.”
The two stood and climbed into a long, strangely decorated vehicle.
Philemon laughed then Nobel asked him,
“Do you see that young man holding that thin stick searching about that
piece of land? That is the poet Arthur Rimbaud. He contacted me a few days
ago complaining about the boredom he’s experiencing in Paris Two. I don’t
know what he meant by Paris Two.”
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“What you think he’s doing with that stick?” Philemon asked surprised at
the situation.
“He says he’s drilling for oil!” Nobel answered, laughing.
“A poet drilling for oil? Could that really happen to such an amazing poet
and adventurer as Rimbaud, mister Nobel?”
“Isn’t that what Rimbaud did in his search for wealth in Yemen and Africa
before? What’s so wrong with things repeating themselves here?
When he saw the lure of the East he gave up the magic of poetry. He left it
to enter the world of trading slaves, coffee, leather, precious stones, and mules
in Yemen, Ethiopia, and other nations on the Red Sea. Then he got caught up in
the gold rush. Then he returned home a dead man.”
“Damn!”
“Damn him because he insulted the East? Or what?”
“No. That’s not what I mean. Damn the gold that made Rimbaud forsake
poetry. We loved that poet.”
“Don’t worry about it, Philemon. Perhaps Rimbaud will write again
someday.”
“I don’t see much hope in that.”
“Don’t be a fool, Philemon. Who ever didn’t finish his book on the earth can
return to finish it here.
We provide everything necessary. I’m not a warmonger or dictator that would
stop such works from being produced. This third realm could became a haven
for the creativity of the unruly or those cast aside on Earth. Any philosopher,
writer, or poet who left a work unfinished on Earth could finish it here with us.
Look there, the woman in the bathing suit near the lake. Perhaps you don’t
know her. That is al-Khansa herself. That woman’s story is one of tears and
wailing. She had two brothers, Sakhr and Mu’awiyah, who were both killed in
war. After that she lost her four children all at the Battle of Qadisiyah, the first
battle between the Arabs and Persians. That’s what the history books say about
her, anyway.
She was an Arab poet from the sixth century. She lamented their loss all
of her life. When she found them in the heavens al-Khansa did not please
them. They expected her to put aside her sadness, but she did the opposite. She
continued to weep and write elegies. Her family grew wary of her and threw
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Asaad al-Jabbouri
her out. Yes, Philemon. They expelled her because they didn’t feel she was
necessary.”
“They’re a bunch of bastards and lowlifes, they aren’t worth a single one of
her tears,” Philemon remarked, full of anger.
“Why such anger, Philemon? Perhaps her family said to her: ‘Thank you for
the tears. Thank you for the elegies. Thank you for the sadness. Thank you for
the wailing, weeping, and mourning clothes. But there is no need to repeat all of
that in Paradise. You wrote poems about us, yes. But here you’re upsetting us.
That isn’t right. You’re talking as if there will be a Third Qadisiyah and that is a
terrifying prospect, al-Khansa. We don’t have any swords to fight with here. No
great cannons to fire into the face of the enemy. We don’t have any ammunition
in our inventory. Calm down, that’s enough.’
But al-Khansa could only hear the spirit of lament deep inside her. So they
expelled her and we found her. We brought her a psychologist, a social worker,
and a historian. We wed her to four strapping men to warm the sadness from
her chest. Four men to fulfill her desires and help her forget to the pain of
yesterday.”
“Wow. You all take on a lot here. It seems you charge yourself with repairing
every broken thing that comes to you from Earth.”
“What else can we do? Everyone who comes to us brings their own baggage
and issues.”
“I have taken a lot of your time Mr. Nobel. I apologize for my ignorance.
Perhaps I’ve caused you some inconvenience or annoyance. Let me take my
leave. A friend of mine is waiting for me.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Philemon. Oh, and tell your friend Kahi not to summon
my spirit for anyone else in the future.
Let him know that Nobel hates that. Come here a moment, Philemon. It is
almost dawn in your world but before you go I’ll show you some of the planets
in the never-ending vastness of space. There, that’s the planet of vagabonds.
And there, that’s called the planet of politicians, murderers, and convicts. There,
the green one, that’s the planet of poetry, love, the dead, music, and song. The
planet near that one is the planet of scientists, theologians, and porters.
Every spirit that leaves the Earth has to pass through these different planets.
So where’s the game? In piracy. And we’re not the only ones out here preying
on the passing souls.
Perhaps you didn’t know that. Allow me to let you in on a few things. Every
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spirit that passes by has its own particular scent that is detected by the planets.
The soul of a general, for instance, cannot infiltrate the planet of poets. A farmer
or postal worker can’t visit a planet that doesn’t include their specialties. There
is a type of spiritual magnetism that draws the soul to the planet. I’ve worked
to bypass this rule, to create something different. I made this place a monument
to paradoxes. Here in this region we take whichever passersbys we want. And
now, Philemon, you may return if you’d like.”
“It has been a true pleasure. But will we meet again, Mr. Nobel?”
“That will depend on your future invention, won’t it?”
Those last few words were ringing in Philemon’s ears as he returned to the
villa where he found everyone waiting for him, including Kahi. It was nearly
six in the morning. Philemon didn’t say a word to anyone. His feet took him to
his bedroom where he fell into a deep sleep.
Phoebe’s mind was a storm. She tried to get Kahi to discuss what had
happened the previous night but despite her insistence Kahi hadn’t said a word
since the shock of seeing Philemon return. She prodded him until he finally
spoke.
“Phoebe, do you want the details of last night?”
“Yes. That is exactly what we want from you, Kahi. We’re dying to know,”
Phoebe answered, pleading.
Kahi responded, tiredness dragging his face.
“I was doing a special job for Philemon.”
“Murder? Kidnapping? Assault? What, God damn it!” Phoebe yelled in a
voice filled with fear.
“Something like that. We assaulted the spirit of Nobel for Philemon,” Kahi
responded coldly.
“Why?”
“I conjured the spirit of Nobel for Philemon and the two spent the night
together in some strange place. I don’t know what they did. That is all I know.”
Phoebe stood and left the living room for the bedroom. She peeked in on
Philemon’s sleeping body, which suddenly seemed to her like a ship caught between flames.