Hamza was a brittle boy, so it came as no surprise that when the sky filled with poison, he was the first to stop breathing. The noxious fumes that emanated from the smoking cigars of giants who sat on hillsides, burning brush with their flaming toes, spread across the terrified towns below. And Hamza, small and delicate, felt himself, as he held his breath, lifted inches above the earth.
It seemed that he was flying, but then he realised he was perfectly still, hovering above the ground. And the world began to shrink beneath his feet. He saw as his footprints, left on the dirt below, became smaller until a full grove was visible in their place. And then the entire country with it rivers, and smouldering hills, were visible too. He could see as it grew smaller and smaller, the sky, the dome, and the feathery clouds falling into a space the size of his foot.
Eventually, the entire universe shrunk into what looked to Hamza like a crystal ball, with the light of stars and suns twinkling along its spherical rims, and he could see near to this round universe were several other twinkling spheres. He was looking at a sea of orbital dimensions. And even this sea grew smaller beneath him, and revealed itself vast, until he could see thousands upon thousands of spheres with swirling lights inside of them, some brighter, some dimmer. As they became smaller, he realised that they seemed to be swimming not in a sea, but down a massive river, and they were not alone in this watery abode.
There was, betwixt the swimming orbs of realities, a long black and white snake slithering through a river it considered its own. ”Dragon”, Hamza whispered. He knew this serpent from stories, it was striped and venomous, and knocked some universes round with it whipping tails, while others it swallowed.
Hamza grew afraid. What if the serpent noticed him there, how would he fight it? He had no weapons, only his hands which held a heavy wooden flute. He had managed to grasp the instrument while he was still standing on his earth. He held it as the fumes swarmed his nostrils, and if he had not moved above the ground, but remained where he was, he would have died with it clenched in his stubborn fingers.
But he wasn’t dead. He was alone, watching the serpent, and he was far away from home. But he was not dead.
The river of realities and its slithery resident continued to shrink beneath him and he relaxed, watching the serpent disappear under a thick mist that covered the water. This mist smelled fresh, and cold, and as Hamza rose above it, he saw there were no stars, no universe. He was ascending into blackness, and emptiness, and a quietude that he could have never imagined. It was stillness, as if time did not exist there, and nothing moved. Even the river seemed to stop, and the mist clung to its suspended position like a floor separating the water of universes, and Hamza.
He turned away from the river and saw behind him a large mountain protruding above the mist. It stood high and deeply into the still blackness, and upon it, Hamza’s feet found anchoring. He stood on the mountain, which was empty, and also black. It seemed to be vacant of any life but his own, and the quiet stones.
He took a few steps and heard the gravel crunch beneath his feet. He thought he heard something else too and paused. Was he alone? He stood stalk still, breathing the cold blackness, and then, decided he was indeed alone. He walked slowly towards a boulder that stood as high as his shoulders. First reaching up to secure his flute upon it, he then lifted himself onto the boulder to sit. He adjusted his position to face the river again which was obscured by its ceiling of mist. He thought he saw a twinkling from one of the spheres, but it was gone as soon as it came.
In his hands the flute was cradled. It was not light, nor was it obscenely heavy, but it felt substantial. And he held it like he often did, as if it were an unsheathed sword, delicately, careful not to cut himself or anything else- despite that it was cylindrical. This was a thing to be respected. And there he was, with this flute in a place of absolute quiet.
Everything that was, was beneath the mountain, the mist, in a river, in impossible spheres. And he knew his planet was a moment ago smouldering, suffocated by the rancorous giants. But time did not move or slither on this black mountain, so Hamza knew the giants were not moving either, and he was alone. He felt a sense of peace and relief in the lack of movement. But there was also a dread. He dreaded the past and present that seemed to be simultaneous in this place.
Feeling what he did, he lifted the flute to his lips took a deep breath of the blackness, blowing it into the flute to produce a familiar sound. It was as if he brought his life and home with him to the edges of existence through that sound. The note moved outward from the flute like a ripple, and all of what he saw seemed to bend as a curtain in the wind. Even the rock upon which he was sitting flapped around him momentarily, and was still again.
He took another breath and a song came to his lips from memory. His fingers moved along the cylindrical sword as he breathed a melody he had never played before, but it was in head, and in his heart, and with it he moved the space around him like a pulse moved the blood.
It was a song slow and solemn, and painfully beautiful. The blackness swayed through the mountain, like a reflection in a disturbed pond. Even the mist seemed to ripple in reaction to the song. It was a melody that he heard from an old man who played old songs. It was of sadness and grief of having lost a home, but also of beauty and longing, and a sense of peace in having known something as beautiful as it had been. It was song you could cry to for love and for loss, simultaneously an ode, and a dirge.
It was the curse of sadness of blackness as black as that nightless night in which Hamza was seated. But it was his courtship to the beauty of everything, even that slithering Dragon that turned worlds of time. Deep in the river, the Dragon stopped what it was doing to listen and, for the first time, in the time that it was, it felt a loveliness. It felt not alone, nor haunting (which was its nature), but instead a part of something pleasing, and it saw the spheres alight in the river that it was suddenly glad to share. Hamza’s was the only sound for the eternity the Dragon was in.
And the brittle boy felt his life immortalised on that mountain. He played his breath in the space of everything, for the smouldering hills and twinkling spheres, and for all things that fit in the space of his foot print.
Sketch by Saying Sooth, 1 January 2018
© Saying Sooth 2018