We are looking into the Art Nouveau interior of a café, located somewhere in the capital of the Republic of Balayagrevo-Moguschia. Once, the capital’s name was Jurbek, but the authorities have changed it so many times, nobody remembers the actual name anymore. The location of the café is of no vital importance for the following developments. If preferred by the conducting force, it might as well be placed in any other Eastern European city that can look onto a period of strong bourgeois culture in its history, from which the café would be a remnant.
Close to one of the tall windows, at a small table, sit two young people. The man is probably in the beginning of his thirties, his temple hair having turned from brown to grey. The sleeves of his loose shirt are rolled up. He stares through the steam from his coffee cup into a flow of pictures only visible to him. Opposite to him sits a girl with black eyes in her mid-twenties. The hair is cut short and slightly tousled. She sips from a drink that looks like “Pastis” to us reader-spectators while never turning her eyes from the magazine article she is holding on to with the other hand. Still in his thoughts, the man lets some of the brown liquid run down his throat. Then his eyes clear up all of a sudden.
He: Let’s say … I passed away right now. What would your first thought be?
She is mumbling something that cannot be understood.
She: How unusual!
He (taking a moment to process her answer): Is that all?
She (finally managing to withdraw from her reading): Miraculous, how life can surprise you again and again. No such thing as complete knowledge. Please hear this: An old man from Turkestan just opened the first “Jinnistry”, a ministry for all the Jinnis that are out of work.
He (reluctantly shifting to the new subject): Jinnis?
She: Jinnis, yes. You don’t remember Aladdin? They are spirits of the fire or air and when a man succeeds in getting a jinni to serve him, he can ask three boons from him.
He: For the moment, I’d be content with only one. Just answer what would come to your mind in case I died of a heart attack right now.
She (reflecting his words for a while): Well … I would probably think that you shouldn’t have drunk so much coffee.
He gives her a tired look.
She (starting to visualise the scenario): And then I would be in mourning … I’d organise a funeral for you and the ceremony would be accompanied by a trio playing … Fauré, I would be wearing black and sunglasses like Jackie Kennedy from this day onwards and come to your grave every morning, kneeling down there and telling you how much I miss you and how lonely I am now.
He: But I wouldn’t be able to answer. All that would be left in this world of me would be a handful of ashes.
She (confident): No, you would always be around, like a spirit of the air. I’d still see you how you sit in the frame of the window playing the saxophone. In the dark, there would be the twinkling of your cats’ eyes and even in winter I could be sensing the smell from your sun-warmed neck.
He: And then, after a couple of years, you would meet some other guy and your memories of me would fade slowly.
She: No, no. If I met another man, he would realise soon that I’d never be only his, but that he would have to share me with somebody else, even though he might have no idea who this invisible other is.
He: So I will stay among the living as a shadow. But what will be missing is my substance. You can remember my face and the sound of my voice and maybe turn to me in times of despair, because you know my personality and the advice I would give. Still, all of the small beautiful details I have saved deep inside will be lost. What about the image of the harbour with the early sunrays darting through the mist? What about my mother’s cheerfulness in the rare moments she could forget my father’s raging fits? Or the dizzying happiness when the girl from my class that had drawn me into her room was suddenly standing there naked.
She (contemplating): It seems to me … it seems to me that you needn’t worry about this. You are right about the fact that the single images and feelings cannot be preserved. But then, all of these have imprinted themselves into your character and shaped it a certain way. So, you are something like the essence of your memories and if I keep only a droplet of it in my heart, as long as it is beating the whole Avram will be close to me.
Avram leans back, drinking of the coffee, letting her words circulate in his mind. Although he doesn’t speak, his gloomy mood seems to have dispersed. His eyes, resting on his girl friend that has returned to reading the magazine, become full of affection. When noticing the gaze she looks up.
She: Naturally, I am not doing this out of pure human kindness. As you don’t want to vanish completely from the surface of this planet you better attend to the archivist of your soul – I am talking about myself here – the best you can. You might start out by paying the bill.
Avram smiles. Suddenly, a strong force – probably the above-mentioned conducting force – is sucking us reader-spectators out of the café, hauling us up into the sky. We see the café and the surrounding buildings becoming smaller, the block becoming one of many in the quarter, the quarter becoming one of many in the city. Then we burst through the clouds, feeling them cold on our skin; the ultramarine of the sky, intensified by the fractured white light of 333 suns, hiding behind steaming glaciers, is blinding bright; angels falling all around us are singing with luminous voices, a deafening canto, while they are eaten up by blue flames; huge floating basalt formations are moving slowly closer and then it is possible to see what they are:
Huge letters, a F, an Iand a N.
What follows is blackness…