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All Rights Reserved Copyright © 2014 by Liliana Negoi

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted, downloaded, distributed, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, including photocopying and recording, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without permission in writing from the author.

SOLO-CHESS

Liliana Negoi

“[…] one can never pull back fast enough at the scent of the forbidden fruit…

and no god ever said that sniffing is a sin […]”

To whom I owe thanks:

First of all, to my unnamed mentor, who instilled the idea of this book in my life – I

hope that when you read it, you will see the labyrinth of mirrors coming to life!

Secondly, to my Dear Friends (yes, with capitals) Yelena and Edward and Jay, who

had the patience to read my words and to soak their brains with my writing long

before it was finished, helping me and lending me the beauty of their own soul and

mind for feedback, and for their constant and unconditioned friendship and support!

Thirdly, to Adriana and Raluca, who, in a very sisterly manner, never ceased to nag

me about finishing this book!

And fourthly, to all the online poetry communities of which I’ve been and still am a part

– for helping me understand the social Kaleidoscope!

Liliana Negoi

Solo-Chess

Prologue – Dreams within dreams

We never know, in the virtual reality, where fantasy ends

and prescience begins. We never know whether what we take as

our sheer inventions aren’t actually unaware visions of someone

else’s reality, or whether somebody may take our own reality and

turn it into fiction. We can always come to the point where we can’t

tell anymore whether what we see in the mirror is us or someone

else – or maybe we always were the ghost of another being?!

Sometimes all you have to do in order to understand things is to

watch from inside the mirror’s perspective. Then you realize the

truth, up to the level that life and death are one and the same.

Learning THAT is easy. Returning on the right side of the mirror

afterward – that can be indeed a challenge. And if you don’t find

your way back – ah, well, you can always attempt to live the life of

your reflection…or die…

Liliana Negoi

Solo-Chess

I.

Befriend…ignore…befriend…ignore…”Why the hell do I

even bother to think about this?! I said NO FRIENDS LIST!”, she

concluded roughly in her head and clicked the “Ignore” button, then

placed her fingers on the keyboard, trying to compose a message

that could sweeten somehow the rejection.

“Thank you for your friendship request, I feel honored by

it…”

She felt indeed flattered this time. It wasn’t like the general

thing, people adding her as a friend on that website just because

they were collecting names under the pretext of friendship.

Somehow this time was different.

“The fact that I chose though to not accept it is due to the

decision I made some time ago that I would not keep a friends list on

this website.”

Maybe his name sounded more interesting - “yeah right,

that’s obviously a penname, who knows what’s hiding behind it?!

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or maybe she just wanted to believe that some people really liked

her poems, and not just pretended to understand the layers in them.

Or maybe she was intrigued by his own writings.

“I do admire your work, so please don't misunderstand my

actions!”

Why the hell was she trying so hard to make him not feel

offended after all?! Too many excuses hidden in those words…but

she didn’t erase the line. She removed a strand of hair gently tickling

her forehead and then went on:

“It’s just a part of my weird being.”

A bitter smile blossomed in the corner of her mouth. Weird

she was indeed for some. For most actually. Because nobody had

actually tried to peel the onion of her life and feel the hidden tears.

“Again, thank you!”

And she signed. She hesitated a second before clicking on

“Send” - then sighed when “Your message was sent successfully”

appeared on the screen, and closed the window. Suddenly Karina

felt empty. She knew that soon she was going to receive a message

with a plain and simple “don’t worry, I understand, that’s OK”

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content, and that the conversation was going to be reduced this way

to commenting on each other’s poems. Why then was she hoping for

something else to happen?! For some God-only-known reason, she

wished it this time to be different.

All of a sudden she jumped from the chair mumbling "Damn!

Damn, damn, damn! I knew I forgot about something!"

Running towards the kitchen she felt the smell of burnt and

she began to question her perception of time "How on earth didn't I

feel an hour going by?!" She opened the window and started the

ventilator, then turned off the oven and took what was supposed to

be a chocolate cake out of it. She felt like crying - not because of the

damn cake, she could make another in no time. But a feeling of

unexplainable frustration had taken control over her. She glanced at

the tray, now smoked and black and filled with something that

looked too much like ash and too little like pastry, and after

swallowing the knot of tears that was forming in her throat she threw

away the former cake and started to wash the dishes.

- Mama, chto ne tak? What's wrong mama?

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She was startled by the sound of Masha's voice, and took a

second to adopt a smile, then turned around and winked at her

daughter:

- Nichego strashnogo, Masha. Nothing is wrong. Tvoya

mama nemnogo glupa segodnya, your mama is only a bit silly today.

I will have to make another cake dear, the one I made earlier got

burnt.

- Mama is silly, mama is silly!

Masha began to laugh while repeating that, and jumping on

one foot she headed towards the room where Tamara, her sister,

was playing with some dolls. Her playful scansion brought a real

smile on Karina's face, easing in a certain manner her strange

discomfort. She returned to the dishes in the sink and finished them,

then took out the ingredients for a new cake. The sunlight was too

dim that day over Samara and she thought while mixing the eggs

that probably the only place one would have enjoyed such a day

was the shore of Volga. With a touch of melancholy in her soul she

stopped for a second and threw a glance towards the sky,

remembering the long nights she used to spend on that shore years

ago, before getting married, making campfires with her friends and

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singing with them whatever crossed their minds. "Ou sont les neiges

d'antan?!" she wondered, then she smiled again and lowered her

sight towards the bowl in her hands, concluding ironically "It's worse

than I thought if I'm starting to transpose the nostalgia into French

instead of Russian or English

".

Karina Ruseeva had been a brilliant English teacher some

years ago, before the twins were born. "How thin is the border

between feeling all and nothing

or

at least feeling close to

nothing

".

She missed the days when she had to deal with entire

classes of high school teenagers, trying to explain them the

mechanisms of a foreign language, breaking the rules of pedagogy

and explaining to them that the meaning of a word was above

grammar or phrase structure – that a language based first on

structures and then on meaning was like a body without a soul –

maybe perfect in its appearance, but with a hollow existence. “Hell,

my whole life is just a grammar thing…”. Sometimes she used to

prove her theories right by quoting the famous line from the Bible “At

the beginning was the Word”. Not grammar, not structure, not

writing. The WORD. Which her lessons always explained to be the

bearer of immense quantities of energy and power, if placed in the

correct circumstances and used

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because of the meanings implied. Karina knew that it was difficult for

common teenagers to understand the complete implications of what

she was explaining to them, but not just once she had had the most

amazing surprise of pupils coming to her with linguistic issues and

demonstrations, asking for help in matters she wouldn’t have dared

to propose to them, digging deep and dissecting English and

Russian literature and especially poetry in unorthodox ways. Those

moments were priceless for her, when she had the chance of taking

teaching a step higher, even if that meant for her to cut from her own

spare time, getting that way on the nerves of some of her much

older colleagues that were teaching in the same high school. Many

of them had been relieved when she had to give up teaching

because of the birth of her two daughters. As much as she loved

children, in the second she had found out that she was going to be a

mother Karina felt that her world was starting to diminish. She knew

that her husband was crazy about kids, and she would have never

considered an abortion, but deep down inside she wanted to cry,

feeling that this pregnancy was going to limit her life in yet unknown

ways. After bringing the girls to life, her deepest fears came true.

Karina’s parents were dead for many years now, and the

relationship with her in-laws was quite thorny, because they had

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always felt that a teacher, no matter how good, was no match for

their sole son, engineer by profession. So Karina had to give up her

own job in order to take care of the twins, because under no

circumstances she and Alec could have ever afforded a babysitter,

and that way the only financial source left was her husband’s job –

one more reason for her in-laws to consider that their marriage

should have never happened. And what was worse, was that Karina

herself had more and more often moments when she thought the

same. Never had her husband given her actual reasons to complain,

he was an exemplary father for the two girls, no acts of

unfaithfulness towards her, no vices – except for smoking, but

considering that ever since the birth of Masha and Tamara he had

contented himself of smoking only outside the house this could have

hardly been considered anymore a vice – no violence…”But no

passion anymore either” sighed Karina. She knew he was too

preoccupied with providing for his family, which was a huge pressure

already, and therefore things were somehow justified, so she knew

she had no right to reproach him his always colder attitude. Some

years ago, when she had met him, she thought he was “the one”

destined to make her understand the meaning of “forever”. They

were indeed very different one from the other, and many people

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didn’t actually see a marriage coming out of their relationship. But

she had stubbornly clinched to the idea that all that mattered was

that she and Alec wanted to be together. So she had willingly closed

her eyes to all the differences, molding herself on his temperament

and personality and wanting to believe that he was trying to

understand her too. “Sheer stupidity…”. Too late had she realized

that he had actually taken all her gestures for granted, as if

deserved, and cared too little about her inner needs, about her

passions and desires. However, now it was much too late for

complaining, and the reality was that Karina’s life was slowly being

reduced to just taking care of the two girls, which, no matter how

pleasant an activity, was far from being enough for her spirit.

Reaching this point of self-analysis, that she had reached so

many times already, Karina filled the cake-pan with the batter,

turned on the oven and placed it inside, then cleaned the table and

sat on a chair. She was aware that she had lied to Masha when she

had said that everything was fine. But what could have a four-year-

old understand from her throes?! “Well, except for those two angels,

my marriage is toast, so I might just as well smear butter and honey

on it and eat it for breakfast…after all, Alec will be home soon, and

my time for self-pity is done for

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today. I can at least pretend I’m enjoying this simulacrum of a

relationship for the sake of my girls…”. However it was more than

obvious that she didn’t know for how long she was going to be able

to preserve this image of “perfect marriage”. Or for how long she

was going to WANT to do that…

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II.

People are unhappy not because of the lives they live, but

because of the lives they know they could live. And as long as they

don’t know what they’re missing, they have no reason to question

their on-going experiences and to ask themselves if there should be

anything more to life than the common hues of grayish pink painting

their footsteps in the middle of an ocean of colors each morning.

Unhappiness is born in that tiny fraction of a second when our soul

gets a glance inside some forbidden to us paradise and we suddenly

become aware that what we have is definitely not enough compared

to what we’d want, and what we’d want is obviously not meant for us

to have, either because someone cut to it right in front of ourselves

or because we’re not worthy of that by not even dreaming of it. Thus

the fable of the sour grapes was born, and even if there are so many

various degrees of sweetness and so many different levels of

perceiving it, for each and every single person in this world there is

something compared to which the nectar of gods is just some insipid

liquor.

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For some people the moment of the revelation of their own

private Fata Morgana falls bluntly, like the splash of a stone in a

lake, ripping apart the tender fragile surface shell of their lives and

piercing through all their layers until the bottom of the water. And

then they KNOW that they have to do something about that,

because in that moment change has already happened within

themselves, and they cannot go back to being how they were before

it had happened – they’d always know that the stone is somewhere,

deep inside of them. For those of them who choose though to still

their waters and to pretend that nothing is wrong and that they have

the strength to move on without changing anything, Fate has

invented the most bitter spice of the human thinking, the ever

milestone of their cowardice – the “what if”.

For others the beginning of the process is less destructive

apparently, but more overwhelming in time, like a mild rain turning

into a deluge. Everybody loves a mild rain, especially during hot

summer days for instance, when the sun is burning and when our

scorching skin dreams of the warm drops sprayed all over it,

refreshing it and removing the Saharan feeling springing from each

pore. Sometimes though such a blessing can escalate slowly into

abundant showers, sweeping

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everything in front of them, uncaring of circumstances or

consequences. And when it does, those that are dragged away by

its’ flow are not to stand straight again soon…

Of course, there’s always the third category of people, those

who never become aware of the possibility of the “else” and who go

on with their lives each day in a sweetish monotonous lazy inertia,

each “tomorrow” being just another carbon copy of “today”. Those

are the living proofs of the saying “ignorance is bliss” – they would

never feel the curiosity to wander beyond the fence of their reality

and venture into the world of dreaming, nothing could pluck them

away from their comfortable repetitive day loop. Utterly

dispassionate, they just live, without ever feeling or wanting to feel

alive.

Fortunately enough for Asheq he wasn’t a part of this third

category. Unfortunately for him, he belonged to the second one, his

life going on just like a water faucet lightly turned down – you hear it

dripping through the night but don’t feel like getting up and putting a

stop to it, nevertheless you do realize that something isn’t right. And

Asheq was aware that something about his life wasn’t right, although

his life could have continued to be just the way it was for whatever

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residual time he had left after the ominous 50, minus the many years

of smoking a range of dubious substances.

But Asheq had dreams. Lucid dreams, which he was aware

that were the result of his hidden frustrations regarding his

existence. Not just once had his mental diary recorded evenings in

which he was so deeply sunk in the reading of some book that he

came to the point of wondering why it was suddenly so pitch dark

around him without him seeing any aurora borealis. And then he

realized that his wife had turned off the lights for the night. And lo!

Within the darkness lies true light! Once he’d managed to push his

way through the thick coagulating darkness and made it to his

designated portion of the bed, he was beginning to see things again.

Sometimes he saw things with such clarity that he almost wanted to

shout like an Indian Sadhu “Fool! Open up your mind’s eyes and see

the color of life! The rest is all Maya!”. The first thing that took shape

was a vague impression of the book he was just reading. But soon

enough, books that he had read, books that he could have read and

books not yet having been written were starting to play hide-and-

seek with his retina. Other times a single word or even one

godforsaken syllable, whose meaning or origin he wasn’t even able

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to recall, was sufficient to rush a conflagration of images from one

end to the other of his mental screen.

Asheq knew that he was going to reach a point where lucid

dreaming would become insufficient for his need of “else”. Little did

he know though towards what he was heading.

It all started as a whim. Or could it rather be defined as a

perversion fermented by his infinite boredom? Whatever the reason,

one fatal morning, just five minutes before a crucial board-meeting,

during that deep moment of lull when you feel a tingling sensation

rising from region of your solar plexus, he ‘accidentally’ browsed into

a poetry site on the web, registered himself, and jotted down his first

ever haiku in lightning speed:

Crunching Excel data Stolen glances of Cherry blossoms On my other monitor

Now, any John Doe can write a haiku. These days there are

even automatic haiku generators that will spew a 5-7-5 at a single

click. After all, what is haiku since the death of Richard Wright but

three sentences of bad English beaten together in an omelet of

cherry blossoms sprinkled with the dust of an autumn moon or two?

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If the trio of Basho, Buso and Isa were not long dead they would

jump off the cliff of Mount Fuji. And the one that Asheq had

produced was not even a 5-7-5. But one cannot deny that it was an

accurate depiction taken from a sliver of his daily life. He actually

worked on a computer with two monitors. As a professional

geographer, he needed that fortification of LCD panels, not just to

shield himself from the radiant smile of the overenthusiastic office

secretary sitting on the other side, but also to look at maps and data

simultaneously. And at some point he put on an awesome image of

light pink cherry blossoms upon his desktop. A little more googling

brought in the perfect magical words from Basho to embellish that

divine image:

How many many things They call to mind - These Cherry blossoms

Whenever he worked on just one monitor, he could sneak a

view of that breathtaking image on the other one. Momentarily, his

screen would transform into a real window, blasting open all the

splendor of medieval Japan – a place where he had never been to,

but also in some ways, a place he never completely came out of.

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So, in this sudden attack of the Muses, he could at least

claim authenticity, if not the mystic quality of those masters of the

olden days. And of course, he had cleverly thought out a penname

– Al Attar, “the perfume” – to remain secret and yet exude a subtle

fragrance throughout the website. “That will save me from any

embarrassment at the office or home”, he thought. As he was about

to enter the meeting-room, he found himself mildly whistling.

“Today”, he said to himself “I have enough nectar in my soul to drink

my coffee sugar-free”.

Later that afternoon during a break, he contoured his Poet

Profile: “If I knew, I would tell who I am. For me, poetry is an attempt

to express the inexpressible – to say things for which no language

has yet been invented – a magic, a dream, a mantra vaguely

understood, an algorithm of emotions, which creeps through the

labyrinths of heart. I love to jot Haikus (or pseudo-Haikus) during

short breaks amidst office work – particularly on a stressful day –

there is nothing too poetical about the work I do for living.”

For several months, like a modern Count of Monte-Cristo, he

kept chiseling out a narrow tunnel through his insipid prison floor, bit

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by bit, verse by verse. Now, finally, after one more blow, he hoped to

see the first ray of light.

Struggling to shut his arrogant umbrella and getting inside

the car at the same time, one Sunday afternoon, he got completely

drenched. Not that there was anything terrible in getting himself wet

in a splash of rain, but he feared that some of the items in his

grocery bag must have undergone the same fate. “You care

because your whole universe is probably lying on a fine balance

upon some miniscule spice in that shopping list” he answered in

silence with a declamatory sarcasm to the unasked question of why

he should care about that. The roll of tissue was lying on the floor of

the backseat. After one half-hearted effort to grab that from behind,

he just mumbled “oh, whatever…” and ignited his engine. Something

inside told him that even though today had been just a meager

tomorrow for yesterday by an oversight in last night’s calculations, it

was actually today’s tomorrow which would be a brand new

tomorrow, filling his soul with a flood of sunshine. “Tomorrow is

Monday. I’m sure tomorrow I’ll find some message from ‘her’” he

murmured.

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III.

Suddenly inside her head some sort of alarm started ticking.

Karina opened her eyes in the darkness filling the room and

grabbled for the clock to check the time. “Only 5:23…” she moaned,

knowing that she wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep again. It was

much too early though, and she knew that by the end of the day she

was going to feel so damn tired and longing to just drown herself in a

hot relaxing bath…Sometimes she felt like all those daily routines,

more tiring for her soul and brain than for the rest of her body, were

eating her alive. While showering she realized at some point that

she was slowly humming “There must be something more than this

provincial life” and she smiled: she had watched “Beauty and the

beast” the night before with the twins and her brain was still

munching on the music leftovers from that cartoon. However she

couldn’t stop a shiver when a fugitive thought crossed her mind -

“am I to remain at this level forever

?”

After shower she took her

coffee and headed silently towards the computer. From a certain

point of view she was actually happy to have awaken so early -

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those hours left until her children and husband were going to make

her forget about the definition of "spare time" were almost like a very

small holiday, a time only for herself and her virtual world. That

assembly of metal and plastic and alloys, cables and boards linked

together, fans making a perpetual monotonous noise, had become

lately one of her best friends, if not the best. Her husband didn’t care

about her writing poetry - hell! he had never even tried to read what

she was writing. “My confessor” smiled Karina to the computer,

laying her fingers on the keyboard almost as if caressing it. She

treated it like a portal through which her imagination had the

freedom to fly towards the rest of the world. And that noisy box had

been such a faithful servant so far! It took her only a few clicks to

suddenly find herself in a totally different realm, where words were

her allies and meanings submitted to her will

A word bender I am…what more loyal subjects could one

ask for than words arranging themselves at will? How do I show the

others though the rainbows that I watch flowing from my fingertips

each time a poem decides to come to life? They would never

understand…nobody would…

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Before starting to write anything, she opened her email

inbox, curious to see what messages would be waiting for her this

morning, and how many of those were actually just things destined

to be trashed without second thoughts. But for a second her heart

skipped a beat when among all those names she found a reply from

Al Attar to the message she had sent him the day before. She

clicked on it, trying to not expect too much, but couldn't help a smile

appearing on her face when she saw more than the short traditional

"it's OK" message:

"I respect your decision, and I am quite OK with that, the

only reason I put some people in my friend list is to check out their

poetry from time to time without much hassle – it's an easy way to

locate the poets of my choice, but of course I'll be able to find your

poems out by a name search too. Thanks again for taking time to

explain out - this effort, by itself, is a sign of friendship!"

Diplomatic…and not only. The last phrase amused her – he

already counted her as a friend despite the fact that officially she

had refused his friendship proposal. She liked his polite persistence,

reminding her of the fact that there still were people who paid care to

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human relationships and for whom diplomacy was not related strictly

to the world of politics.

While gazing at his words, Karina had a short flash of a

teenage memory when her father had taken her to a mountain lake

and taught her to jump in its water from a high cliff near-by. Up to

that moment she had never jumped from any trampoline higher than

two meters, and that only at usual pools. “You are a wonderful

swimmer, Kasha” he had told her, “and normally I’d let you get

acquainted with the water, swim a little at first to see how cold or

how deep it goes. But I want you to learn the thrill of the unknown. I

want you to stare at that lake’s surface until you are ready to

embrace the feeling of it, until you can make the water your own, no

matter if cold or warm, if deep or not. I want you to accept the

unknown as a part of your being, and to have no fears in exploring it

and in assimilating its beauty. I know you can do this, moya

devochka, but I want you to know that too.”

And she had stared. For a long time back then, she

remembered she had just sat on that cliff, aware that her father

would have never endangered her, and therefore knowing that the

lake was safe. But the simple fact that it was the first time that she

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was diving in it without previously “tasting the water”, as her father

used to say, made her heart twitch in a strange way. She wasn’t

able to name the feeling governing her soul in that moment, but she

knew it wasn’t fear. More like a mixture of emotions, dragging her

heart back and forth, like the waves of an inner sea. There was

curiosity, but also holding back, she trusted her father, she wanted

to dive, but the lake lying at the feet of that cliff looked differently

when seen from that height than when seen from the shore. She

pictured the jump repeatedly in her mind; she knew how to do that,

but she still wasn’t able to find that special element to push her off

that cliff. Until in a moment of sudden wisdom, she understood that

what her father expected from her was not her faith in him, but her

faith in herself, because he himself had that faith. In that moment

she stood up on the edge, looked down, took a deep breath and

jumped, arrowing through the lake’s surface and into its depths. And

there was no fear in her gestures, or holding back, only the pleasure

of discovering the lake and herself. And love.

Karina shook herself from the bitter-sweetness of that

memory – she missed her father a lot, and from time to time such

flashes reminded her of that gap within her life. However, the past

was the past, and there was no

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point in spending more time than necessary for remembering it.

“Come on Kasha, think present tense”, she smiled to herself, looking

again at the screen in front of her. Attar’s words were still there, and

suddenly she realized that she wanted to know this person. She had

no idea what she would find beneath that name’s surface, but for

some reason she was willing to take the dive into the unknown. So

she placed her hands again on the keyboard, and words just flew

out of her fingers while she politely let him know that friendship was

not an excluded option, even if there wasn’t going to be an official

record of that on the poetry website. She smiled, anticipating his

reaction when receiving her reply, and after a few more phrases

meant to coat the tacit friendship acceptance in the aura of a

handshake, she sent the message to Attar.

“You seem to be a nice person, judging by your words…and

I most certainly could use a friend right now, even if not a very

intimate one…I’m so tired of feeling alone in the virtual world…”, she

thought, while browsing randomly through the poems posted on the

website since her last logged-in session.

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Small noises came to her ears and she realized that in that

moment she wasn’t the only one up in the house anymore. The door

cracked slowly and Tamara’s rumpled blond hair sneaked in.

- Mama, do you think that bunnies can fly?

- Why do you ask that, Tam?

The little girl came and cuddled in her mother’s arms. Karina

kissed her on the forehead and had a gentle attempt of taming her

daughter’s locks.

- Because my blue bunny flied last night with a green bird,

answered slowly the child, and I was afraid that I wasn’t going to see

him again.

Karina smiled and sweetness filled her soul.

- I’m sure that bunnies can fly at night Tam, when we all

sleep, but I’m also sure that your bunny would never leave you. He

just probably loves you so much that he shared with you this secret

of his when you were dreaming.

Tamara pondered in silence for a few seconds, and then she

fixed Karina with a pair of huge round green eyes and said:

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- So it’s like now I am important because I know this thing

about bunnies?

Karina felt tears springing from her eyes:

- You are important anyway Tam. You and Masha are my

two little treasures. And probably the bunny knows that and wanted

to be a part of this too. Now go back into your bed and try to sleep a

little bit longer while mama will prepare breakfast, OK? said Karina

with a large smile on her face and put down her daughter.

- OK, replied happy Tamara, and after smacking her

mother’s cheek she sneaked quietly back into her room.

Karina remained still for a moment, not being able to oust

from her mind the girl’s dream. “Bunnies flying with birds…who

knows if in another world bunnies aren’t really flying?

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IV.

“The Japanese (if I remember correctly) culture says that a

person has three masks – one that can be seen by everybody,

another one, deeper, that can be seen only by his/her close ones,

and a third one, very deep inside, that only that person actually

knows: so

if

I get to know you under your second mask I will feel

honored, but that doesn't mean the first one is less meaningful.”

Asheq kept reading and reading those lines with a radiant

smile spread across his face. After many miscalculations and shards

of disappointment pinning his will to the wall, he finally felt as if a ray

of sunshine had suddenly decided to rest in his heart.

Several days back, when Karina had first rejected his

“friendship” offer in the poetry page, Asheq felt a mild sting of insult

because of that. “It’s nothing personal”, she had written him, “It’s just

that I took a policy to have no friends on this site”. He could have

always claimed that his friends list on that website was nothing more

than an innocuous list of fellow poets that he liked, offering thus an

easier access to their works. “Besides” he thought, “you don’t even

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need to put in your real image or name. Most people around there

have the most impersonal avatars one could imagine – me included.

And it’s as sure as hell that most of the names used – mine also –

aren’t real either. After all, I’m not the only one hiding behind the

mask of some strange image…What could hurt in having a few kind

words now and then for the recently posted poems?!”

So, at first he honestly wondered where was the harm in this

game of soft friendship and why had she declined his innocent

request. But are we ever completely innocent? Asheq had obviously

been dazzled by the cadence of Karina’s latest poem, involving the

morning saga of one drop of orange nectar on a sensuous journey

down the contour of a woman’s body. It spread a warm delight

through his weary mind, reminding his inner strings of levels of

resonation that he had ceased to hope for in this life. That in itself

would have been reason enough for him to keep track of this

talented poet. But it would have been a blatant lie to say that this

was the only reason. In her profile picture, quite as an exception to

the general rule on that website, she had supposedly used her own

photo -- the image of an elegant woman in her full bloom, with a

twinkle in her eyes that could pierce your heart. And she had that

rare quality of a face that you have never seen before, but have

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never completely forgotten…like one of those dreams that still linger

over your consciousness long after repeated eye-wash in cold

water…How could one not be intrigued by the complexity of

circumstances that had given birth to such a combination of beauty

and talent?

What kept Asheq’s hope still high was the ending of that first

message - “I feel so bad that I have to decline your friendship…” or

something similar to that. It was a “no”, but won’t you even see a

faint shadow of “yes” like a diffused watermark behind that very

polite, almost apologetic “no”? Asheq was not too wrong in his

reading between the lines, and now, after a few more back-and-forth

minimal conversation bouncing through the last few days, he had the

confirmation while reading her last message to him. “In this orchard

of life, some fruits are better not touched. You just need to wait with

palms raised until they fall to you by the sheer force of gravity”,

remembered Asheq with a smile his grandfather’s teachings.

So today she wanted to scratch through his layers, he

thought. “Lady, do you know what I fear?” he wanted to say. “I fear

that the number of masks is not just three, they are infinite…in this

life we are like Matroskas – a doll within a doll within a doll

within…ad infinitum. You ask me to ‘honor’ you with my second

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persona. Well, I’d be delighted to do that – oh, I am DYING to do

that. But the question is, how do I locate my second mask within an

infinite series?!”

At this point Asheq leaned against the back of his chair and

cleaned leisurely his glasses while gazing absentmindedly through

the window. The morning was sunny and the mild warmth reflected

on his face was echoing his inner state of contentment. Boston

appeared pleasantly quiet for the moment, at least the area where

his office was situated, but he was aware that this was only a

momentary oasis of peace. Soon the street noises were going to fill

entirely the air between the buildings and he was going to feel each

of the sound increments as if some adrenaline shots within the city’s

veins. He knew he was supposed to go on a field trip in a couple of

hours, and normally that would have made him happy because it

gave him the chance to escape the office environment and to

breathe some fresh air. But in this moment he wasn’t so sure

anymore that he wanted to go out. “You have no choice, fool!”, he

laughed bitterly at himself. “Work is work. And your fragile virtual

freedom can wait.”

Nevertheless, he was determined to not postpone the

search for his ‘second mask’ and to draw in a few words a first

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sketch of himself for Karina. “Let’s start slowly”, he said to himself,

and then he began to compose his response. “First of all, as you

probably guessed already, Al Attar is just a penname. My real name

is Asheq Khan…”

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V.

- Masha, niet! NIET! Stop right there! Bozhe moĭ, do I really

have to punish you so that you’d listen to me?!

When finally the little girl decided to stop from running in the

park, Karina was already exhausted of zigzagging after her and

bended forward, palms on knees, trying to catch up her breath.

Masha looked at her mother with an incredibly impertinent smile on

her face, chocolate dripping from her chin on her coat, while her

sister was contenting herself to staying on the bench and looking on

the pictures from a children’s book. After managing to get a grip on

herself, Karina talked calmly to her daughter:

- Masha, please, get back on the blanket so I can clean you

up, or we’re going home. Either you are a good girl and listen to me,

or you’ll be punished.

- Niet mama.

- Masha, please…

But it was obvious that the little girl had absolutely no

intention of listening to her mother. Karina felt a bitter taste flooding

her mouth – this one daughter of hers appeared to be just as

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stubborn as her father. She knew damn well that when Alec wanted

to do something, nobody in the whole world was able to stop him

from doing that – but unfortunately most times his stubbornness was

more related to stupid things than to the important ones…like that

time when they had lots of financial problems, but he had insisted on

buying that small apartment they were living in. Karina still

remembered the months of struggle and the sleepless nights and all

the tears that had been shed because of having to deal with the

huge debts…Eventually it had all passed, but the marks in her soul

remained, although unseen by her husband.

- Fine, be it your way…, she sighed, pretending to abandon

the chase after her daughter, and walked towards her twin sister as

if not caring anymore. Seeing the upset face of her mother, Masha

looked blank for a moment, and then ran to her, embracing her

knees with her little arms and looking up to her with a shade of

sorrow in her eyes. Somehow she realized she had pushed her luck

a bit too much.

- Ya izvinyayusʹ mama, I’m sorry…I promise to be good, I

won’t do it again…please…

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Pleasantly surprised, Karina struggled to not smile –

“There’s still hope for you, my young one, as it seems…” she

thought, then adopted a serious face and spoke to the girl:

- I want you to know that I’m very upset because of you. I

am your mother, and you have to listen to me, because I love you

and I only mean you well. You understand that?

- Yes.

- Good then, now come here, let me clean your coat and

wipe your face and hands, and then you can go ahead and play.

While doing all that, Karina couldn’t help wondering at the

different characters of her daughters. Although twins, they were like

day and night. While Masha always seemed to be on the run, always

agitated and restless, Tamara was much closer to her soul, patient

and calm, never hurrying unless necessary, and had an obvious

inclination towards books and listening to her mother’s readings that

filled Karina’s soul with a huge pride. She was hoping that at least

one child was going to be more like her in the future, so that she

would feel less lonely and misunderstood – the way things were

going, so far the family was quite balanced, thought Karina, with one

girl resembling more and more to her father and the other one to

herself. She looked at Tamara – her blond-almost white curly hair

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looked like golden floss in the sweet sunlight covering her and, her

eyes were doll-like round while focusing on the book she was

holding. Karina smiled and barely refrained from taking the child into

her arms and ruining the splendor of the entire moment. “This is one

of the things for which God keeps this Earth from falling” she

remembered her mother’s words, but totally unexpected, in that

moment Asheq’s name popped up in her mind and caught her off-

guard. Her fingers trembled for one second and the wing of a

butterfly caressed her heart.

His passion for words, equaling hers, was quite

overwhelming, and she could see in his emails that reading and

writing came easy to him. “A geographer…who would have

thought…but what a beautiful landscape your mind has, dear

friend…” smiled Karina to herself. In his last message he had

actually unleashed his philosophic theories related to God and free

will, and she was partially fascinated and partially amused by the

passion with which he unfolded his knowledge and thoughts in front

of her.

“Personally, I believe in a Creator (God/Allah) because not

believing in him gives rise to a number of irresolvable paradoxes

(without a deep 'faith' in atheism, of course). But if this God is kind to

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us or even aware of us is a whole different question and cannot be

overcome without a giant leap of faith (think of this nugget of

Aristotelian argument: God is the object of our love because he is

the very best and we should always love whatever is the best. But

God, being the very best, will He love anything BUT the very best?

No! Therefore, God is only focused in Himself, The Very Best. He

remains so focused in Himself, that chances are, he may not even

be aware of our existence! The metaphysical counter-argument to

that would be that God is so good that He loves us back despite all

our shortcomings and forgoes the pleasure of being wrapped up in

Himself. This argument is not too dissimilar to the argument

concerning the reincarnation of Buddha: if Nirvana is the ultimate

goal and if Buddha reached Nirvana, then why is he recycled back to

this world of pain and suffering again and again (down to our

venerable Dalai Lama)? The response is: although he reached

Nirvana in the very cycle, he comes back on his free will to help

others reach Nirvana. I take such arguments with a grain of salt.”

Karina was aware also that this was some sort of test from

his part, because after a very solid exposure of ideas, his message

suddenly embraced a tone of apparent regret, “I believe that, by

now, I have bored you to death with my pedantic philosophical

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harangues.” Karina allowed herself another smile: “No, you don’t

believe that, my dear Asheq. You only hope that I can digest

something more than just poetry, and you will be given a proper

reply to those ‘harangues’ of yours, once I get home in front of my

computer.”

Whatever the reason for which Asheq had offered her such

a burst of arguments all of a sudden, Karina felt happy, almost in a

childish way, that he had done it. There were few people that she

knew who would have been glad to discuss such matters with her,

so she wouldn’t have given up on Asheq’s mood for philosophic

arguments for (almost) nothing in the world. And she felt that it was

also a proof of trust, of confidence. He was revealing himself to her,

indirectly pointing towards his fear of being rejected.

Therefore, later that day, after returning with her daughters

from the park, she considered that she had been chewing enough

on her answer, and so she began to write him back, grateful that the

girls were behaving nicely enough as to allow her the time to do that.

And she wrote, and wrote, something that was starting to

look like a “Good God, I don’t think I’ll be able to finish this email in

this lifetime…” message. But when eventually she managed to put

the final dot and to sign it, she had a smile of satisfaction on her

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face. “Let’s see if I got your message right…and if you’ll get mine the

same way”

They had actually many things in common – “frightfully many

things” she thought sometimes – and gradually she had also begun

to open her soul to this new and day by day dearer friend. But the

most important elements that had related them – and Karina was

aware that, had this not have been true, her interest in him would

have significantly decreased – were words and all that involved

them. And this intellectual challenge was exactly what she needed in

order to help her stretch the limbs of her mind right now.

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VI.

The boy looked at the old man as he was preparing the

mousetrap. He kept gazing at his grandfather’s hands, as they were

slowly and deftly handling the trap and placing the bait inside of it.

The old man noticed with the corner of his eye the boy’s focused

attitude and, retaining a smile under his white moustache, he

murmured with a neutral tone:

- We are going to catch that mouse…yes sir, we will…

The boy lifted his round eyes and after pondering for one

second, he asked with a serious voice:

- Grandpa, do you think this is fair?

As if suddenly surprised, the old man stopped from what he

was doing and turned back to the eleven years old child.

- Now what makes you say that?

- Well, I was thinking, when you will place this trap, the

mouse will enter in it because it will be attracted by the bait, which is

food. And I was thinking that it’s not fair to take advantage on the

mouse’s hunger. If I was a mouse, I wouldn’t like to have no choice

when in need for food…

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- Mmm, not fair you say…and what would you want to do?

- Maybe we should try to give the mouse an option.

- An option?

- Sure. We will place food in another place also. And if the

mouse will settle for that food only, it will have the chance to escape.

But if, after eating, it will also go for the bait inside the trap, it will be

caught not because of its hunger, but because of its greed.

The old man thought for a few seconds about that, and then

he nodded and replied slowly, still withholding a smile:

- I guess we can do that. But you know, a mouse is just a

mouse, and the temptation to go inside the trap will still be there.

- Yes, but it won’t be as if we didn’t give it a chance…

- Not always in life we are aware of the traps lying in front of

us, smiled the old man. Too often we allow ourselves to be guided

by greed…

- Like Adam and Eve.

- No, Adam and Eve is a different story, smiled the old man.

They knew they were not allowed to eat from that tree, and they

were aware of that when they ate the fruit.

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- I still think it was a trap. And I also think that God would

have been disappointed if Adam and Eve wouldn’t have had the

curiosity to eat from it.

- So it was a good trap, you say. Why do you think God

would have been disappointed?

- Because setting such a trap would mean to be aware of all

the implications. And that thing can be done only by someone who

fell in such a trap at least once. I think God had His share of a

forbidden fruit at some point…

The old man smiled bitterly:

- It’s not good to be so wise at such a young age Asheq…life

will be so boring for you when you will grow…

And his grandfather had been right. “He was always right…”,

sighed Asheq. Now, while having to endure the social pain of that

friendly reunion organized by his wife, he realized that none of the

guests would have been able to discuss with him about any of the

things that truly interested him. None, because their limited minds

never had the curiosity of burdening themselves with theories and

ideas beyond those related strictly to basic animal needs or to

shallow things which, in Asheq’s opinion, needed nothing more than

a square centimeter of interest. So when his son, Farid, asked him

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discreetly the permission of leaving the room in order to go and read

a book, he approved with a smile, glad to have to cover for him for

such a reason. He was only twelve years old, but he was already

showing more brains and wit than all those surrounding him in that

room, and one of Asheq’s most dear activities was to spend time

with Farid, whether that meant to discuss on all sort of topics, to go

out on long walks or to play chess. “I am but a proud father of a

wonderful son…but shouldn’t all fathers be like that?

- …yes, and Asheq is supposed to leave next week because

of his work. He works so much lately…such a dutiful husband and

father…, overheard Asheq his wife’s voice in a conversation. He

smiled to her, in a mute “thank you” and in the same second

bitterness invaded his mind. “What does she care about my

work…or about my thoughts…she has all she needs. I only do my

‘duty’ to the family…”

Suddenly his appetite vanished, despite the wonderful

courses prepared by his wife, and he wished he could evade too

from that reunion, like his son had. But there wasn’t anyone to whom

he could ask permission for that, so he was just supposed to stay

there and pretend to be interested in socializing with people. As if

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trying to temper a little his inner frustration, his neurons began to

tingle, and he felt words blooming inside his brain:

soundless voices yo-yo bouncing empty words – wasted language

Yes! He had to write those down, quickly, before they

vanished. So he whispered to his wife that he needed to make a

brief phone call, and he rushed into the study to note down what had

just crossed his mind. While opening his laptop, he noticed in the

right side of his monitor a tiny icon, signalizing him the existence of a

new message. He hesitated for a second – he suspected that it had

to be from Karina, but this time he felt a slight fear to open it. His last

message to her had been a very long one, and he had adventured

into a land where usually few agreed to follow him – his wife

included. Not just once had his religious – more like heretic –

theories been a subject of burning arguments with her. She was a

good wife, and a wonderful mother, but her own views were so

stubbornly bigot sometimes that he simply gave up talking about

such topics with her. And now he had thrown the bait to Karina,

aware that it could have scared her away with such discussions, but

needing to find out the intellectual limits of this online friendship. And

also to show-off a little in front of her…So he took a deep breath,

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mustering up his courage, and clicked on that icon. After a

torturously long second, the page began to load, and he got to read

the first lines:

“Don’t worry, you could never bore me with

what was your

expression, "pedantic philosophical harangues"? I like to talk about

all sorts of subjects, and I like to develop and to go into details…”

He closed it briskly, prior to getting to read anymore of it,

while his pupils enlarged and his pulse began to race. A huge smile

blossomed on his face, while he felt like glowing with happiness. Not

only that she wasn’t rejecting his ideas, but she was actually willing

to talk about those! Asheq’s fingers were itching to re-open that

message and to read it all in one breath, but he refrained from doing

that, savoring with small masochistic sips the sweet pain of having to

wait for one more day until reading it completely. “This calls for a

quiet time, a time that would be spent exclusively on doing this…I’ll

just leave for work 30 minutes earlier on Monday morning and I will

read it in the office…”

For the rest of the evening, Asheq was, to the pleasant

surprise of his wife, the most marvelous host for his guests. He even

managed to have some splendidly spicy conversations on topics that

he usually found quite boring, but nobody knew how hard he was

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struggling to not look as if Christmas lights had just been lit inside

his heart three months before the due term. Somewhere, in a huge

server, God only knows where on Earth, among zillion of info and

data and other things, inside an e-mail inbox, laid encrypted in zeros

and ones the promise of a delightful Monday morning. And it

belonged to him.

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VII.

Sunday – the seventh day. “No, Sunday is just a day. Not

the seventh, not the first, just a day in the structure of the calendar.

One rotation of Earth around its axis, the sum of events comprised

within twenty-four hours, one more…oh, this is becoming stupid.”

And this Sunday was not even sunny, as it should be given

the fact that it was a day of the sun.

“I just wish winter came faster…”, thought Karina.

There had been a time when she used to love autumn, but

now the grey-colored sky shedding tears of rain only made her think

of a snake casting its skin. She felt numb, and in days like this one

she just wanted to hide somewhere alone and dream with her eyes

open about times and places lost somewhere in the database of her

DNA’s helix.

It’s easy to travel when the journey is done within the

memory of your dreams. It’s easy because you can simply sit on the

magic carpet of desire and you suddenly find yourself floating above

the world, watching with hungry eyes as marvels unfold in front of

your enlarged pupils. You only wish you had one hundred eyes, like

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Juno’s Argus, to fill your soul fifty times faster with all the wonders

and then to admire the panoramic view of your enriched core, just as

spectacular as the open tail of a peacock.

“But today, what to dream about?

She needed sounds and colors and scents, she needed

something to veil her in some sort of cocoon from which to later

emerge unfolding the wings that would carry her across the universe

of words. “Some call this ‘writer’s block’” she smiled. “Actually it’s

just a cold autumn…no, a cold fall…and sunlight hides beyond the

sky…”

- WRITE ME! she heard inside her mind.

Suddenly, as if those two words had been the poetic

Abracadabra meant to unlock her thoughts, her fingertips began to

itch and lines began to form:

ever flawless raindrops mercifully adorning the naked arms of an old willow

as if in a secret sacrament paint the soul of clouds on the muddy canvas covering the careless roots with false hopes of a mild fall…

burlesque shivers undulate the air into some contorted fragile lace,

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ethereal ephemeron

betraying the ashen bliss of ignorance…

could you blame sunlight for sometimes hiding in the bosom of sky’s memories?

Karina looked at the newly born poem with a feeling of

emptiness inside. It always happened that way – after she managed

to channel poetry into words she always felt somehow depleted. Not

because the writing in itself would have exhausted her – but she felt

each poem as an independent limb of her spirit, and revealing it was

like exposing herself to the rest of the world. And she loved it, but

she feared – no, she KNEW – that all the others saw in her lines

most of the times were just metaphors.

“Just metaphors…as if our life on earth would be anything

else but a huge metaphor for dreaming…we’re all nothing more than

the puzzle pieces from someone’s dream, and maybe our death

simply means that they woke up from their sleep and thus cut our

breath with the blink of their eye. The loveliest part though is how

dreams find a way to merge, to link to one another.”

She sipped from her cup of tea and while savoring the

jasmine flavored liquid she felt the shade of a smile – Asheq had told

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her at some point that jasmine tea was one of his favorites. “Just

one more tiny thing that binds the two of us. As if poetry and

philosophy hadn’t been enough…”.

She knew she wasn’t going to receive an answer from him

until the next day – he had told her that he tries as much as possible

to avoid computers and phones during weekends. “Good for you –

you probably spend these hours with your family. Healthy attitude…”

For a second she tried to picture him with his wife and son, and

suddenly she realized that she was somehow feeling envious. She

had no idea how his wife looked like, but he had sent her an image

of himself together with his son and they looked so happy together

that she couldn’t even dream of something not being right about his

family. And, after all, he had painted his personal life in such

beautiful colors – how could she not feel envious?!

She remembered the acidic comment that he had added

when sending her the photo – “…I thought you wouldn't feel too

comfortable talking to an Andalusian statue…”. And it was quite a

difference indeed. He didn’t seem to be very tall, and he had an air

of Arab character taken from some scheherazadian story – “of

course he has, after all he is of Arabic lineage” threw Karina some

cold water over her neurons, “my mind is behaving redundantly…”.

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He also had a wide smile contagiously curving his mouth and she

felt like wanting to smile simply by looking at him. “Yes, I do love to

laugh my head off

I

believe in the lightness of existence” he had

replied to her when she had actually told him that. And his son was

the perfect (though obviously younger) replica of his father. “That

photo is the mark of a proud and happy father and husband.” She

liked him, and she had honestly admitted that within her mind,

although she wasn’t able to also admit that it wasn’t just a friendly

“liking” involved.

For the umpteenth time Karina looked inside the fountain of

her heart and asked herself, as she had already done so many times

already, what was the hidden reason for which she tended to grow

so dangerously fond of him. The jasmine tea had been just a small

and pleasant coincidence – one of several so far. However she felt a

childish joy each time some other element appeared, treating it like

some wonderful proof of…something. She felt as if she was

searching, scratching softly the layers of sand, like a careful

archaeologist, aware deep down inside of her that she was

expecting to find…something…something of a beautiful value…

“I wonder what will be the color of your Sunday, Asheq…if it

will have a color…”

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VIII.

“[…]…you can't even begin to imagine how nice it feels to

read your e-mails! I almost forgot the pleasure that long letters can

bring

I

used to write letters when I was younger (by younger

meaning somewhere at the beginning of my 20s). I loved

calligraphy, probably because of my drawing talent, but ever since

computers entered my life the hand-written letters became fewer

and fewer until they almost vanished

Now

I don't think I write more

than two per year, and quite short ones.

First of all I don't believe in the traditional image of God –

the white-beard guy waiting up-there to decide whether we go up or

down. I rather believe in some energy entity and some sort of

interdependency between itself and us – and this reminds me of a

quote from Frank Herbert's "Dune": ‘what senses do we lack if we

cannot see another world around ourselves?’

I think we expect too much for God to be like us, to look like

us, I think we take too literally the words of the Bible and other

books, instead of trying to find the real meanings behind the words.

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(I know, this is beginning to look less like an e-mail and

more like an essay, but allow me the hunch that this will not make

you unhappy.)

In my opinion, God, or whatever his name is, is actually

some sort of energy mass from which we come when we’re born

and into which we return at our physical death, to which we are

always connected in some yet unknown to us way but expressed

under the form of prayers, mantras, meditation, whatever…and

which is depending on us, as souls, almost as much as we depend

on it, and the same goes for “the devil” – and that would explain that

permanent “good vs. evil” fight. What probably happens is that the

gravitation force of the two types of energy oscillates…or at least

this is how I see it – like a rope game, in which two teams pull a rope

with the intention of breaking it…[…]”

Asheq felt deliciously intoxicated. “A rare fruit indeed,

grandpa. The drops falling from this mind are worth every second of

waiting…”. He read again Karina’s reply and then closed almost with

tenderness the email, grateful for the heavenly beginning of a week

that she had just offered him. His eyes fixed the light bulb in the

middle of the ceiling, pondering not on the content of her message,

but on the almost miraculous circumstances that had presented him

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with such a wonderful thinker. To have a male friend with whom to

share such pretentious topics would have been a more than

pleasant pass-time. But to have a woman in the same intellectual

position – and even more, such a complex combination between the

layer of outer beauty and the layer of inner one, and all in a splendid

pack labeled “friend” – this was indeed something that thrilled his

mind in such an uncontrollably euphoric manner…

- Good morning Mr. Khan.

Asheq repressed a sudden ugly word. The voice of the

secretary who had just entered through the door managed to break

the bubble in which his thoughts were floating somewhere in the

upper area of the room, in the vicinity of that utterly unaesthetic

lustre.

- Good morning Julia, he replied on a neutral tone, feeling a

knot of nausea stuck in his throat at the sight of her insistent gazing.

“No good now…the moment is gone…” he thought, bitterly,

realizing that he wasn’t going to be able to resume his share of day-

dreaming anymore. So under the pretext of working assiduously, he

decided to send a brief reply to Karina, in a feeble attempt to

reestablish that ethereal connection he had just lost moments ago

due to his secretary.

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“Most people run away from me when I get into a

philosophical (and often heretical) rant – that includes my wife as

well – so it's a joy that you apparently survived my first deluge of

monologues (still time to opt out lady)” he wrote, and then thought

“please don’t…”, but left the words there. Aware that he wasn’t going

to have enough time to write her about as many things as he would

have wanted to, and also that she should have probably been awake

at this moment, he contented himself to complete that message with

a few more things, and among others he decided to include an

invitation “Do write to me whenever you can, even when I’m not

around

I

also love to hear ordinary things – how a day goes by,

what you ate, your most outrageous actions in life

anything (of

course not at the expense of your poetry)

for

words are windows

and the wider you open them up, the more light gets into my

soul (wow, now I’m quite impressed by my own poetic words!).”

He didn’t know what impact such an invitation would have

on Karina, but somehow he felt encouraged by her previous reply.

He wanted more of her. “More of HER!” His fingers trembled, his

flesh admitting in silence what his mind still wasn’t ready to admit.

“What am I doing here?!

he thought for a second, but then

banished that shred of a question. This online friendship was simply

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much too tasty to stop after a first (and so savory) bite and somehow

he knew in that moment that Adam must have felt the same when

tasting from the forbidden fruit.

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IX.

[…] for the first time she rose her head and undressed her

heart in front of him: “they say that ‘beauty is in the eye of the

beholder’…yet we all make use of the mirror of Snow-White’s

stepmother when we don’t have a pair of eyes to tell us that for them

we’re the ‘fairest of them all’…and if we don’t have that either, we

are bound to forever see ourselves as ignored frogs…”[…]

- Writing again Kasha?

The voice of her husband appearing almost from nowhere

right behind her startled her and she turned around.

- Yes. You see, I’m working on a series of texts…

- Yeah, yeah, whatever…Listen, I’ll be away this week, my

boss wants to start a new project and I must go with him on a

business trip all the way to Moscow.

- That far? murmured Karina sad all of a sudden.

- Da. He needs to be at some general meeting and he said

that he needed my assistance, so…

Alec looked at her and for a second his heart leapt. For

some reason, seeing her with that sad look on her face touched a

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string inside him. He was aware that it wasn’t easy for her, but he

had no choice.

- Come, moya dorogaya, my dear, I’m sure the devochki will

keep you so busy that you won’t even feel me gone those days.

- It’s not just that, Alec…I just…miss us…

- Now-now, don’t get mushy. We both know that I have to do

this and that’s that. Besides, this new contract should bring us quite

a lot of money, and considering the global economic situation…

Karina knew that he was right about the money – she just

hated the fact that somehow he always kept hiding behind the same

lame excuse: “we both know that I have to do this”. She had the

feeling that he was going only round and round, ignoring whatever

else was going on around him, but she also knew that there was no

point in starting a discussion with him – especially not now, when he

was about to go away.

- When are you leaving? she asked feebly.

- Tomorrow morning. I know it’s on a short notice, but my

boss decided only today that I would be going too. We are supposed

to be in Moscow for a first meeting on Wednesday at lunch.

- And when would you be back?

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- Theoretically, Sunday evening, if nothing unexpected

happens in the meantime.

- I see…Well, you need to get ready then. I’ll prepare your

baggage – you go and spend some time with the girls. They’ll miss

you a lot the upcoming week…

And without saying anything else, Karina headed for the

bedroom, to get Alec’s things together, while her husband went into

the girls’ room.

While folding his shirts she looked at the properly ironed

sleeves – a perfect reflection of their day-to-day existence. Each line

placed right where it was supposed to be, no ruckle, no imperfection,

just lifeless fabrics mirroring in their stillness the permanent

repetition of their same daily flowlessness.

We all live some sort of an origami life – we fold it and unfold

it and refold it marveling at the new shapes we seem to obtain,

imagining that in each dot of the paper plan lies the potential

confluence of an infinity of folds, and since in the plan we have an

infinity of dots, we would be thus presented with an infinity of

infinities. Some people have explained this (apparently infinite)

variety by introducing the notion of “free will”. Others claim that

actually the possibilities are quite limited and repetitive, but since we

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don’t get to experiment all of them, we live with the illusion that our

options are always open. What we fail to realize though is that it

really doesn’t matter whether our options are infinite or limited,

because the original paper remains the same. We have no idea

what it would be like to fold something different than that. And

because of this, on the lines where the paper has been folded and

unfolded too many times, it begins to break.

Such was the case of their relationship. “I don’t know what I

should be wishing for…there are people on this earth who would

think of me as being selfish for wanting more from life than what I

have. Others would say I’m ungrateful…but I think I would need a

lifetime to explain them that I am not ungrateful for what I have, but

for what I don’t have…there’s a big difference between these two,

and I somehow fear that it is not in this lifetime that I will manage to

explain that…”

She continued to prepare Alec’s luggage, but with the same

thoughts roaming through her mind – “Maybe I am simply going

insane…” – and before she realized it, she was again in front of her

computer, desperately seeking a way to confess all her inner fears

and thus letting loose to Asheq’s invitation much sooner than he

would have imagined.

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“I’m venting here, so please don’t be scared of this sudden

burst. But I really need to talk to someone, and for some reason I

feel that you should be the one to listen to me right now…

Tell me, would you hate me if one day I’d say to you that I

just want to break free and run away to some place where nobody

knew me? If one day I would just abnegate my role as a wife and

mother and give up my entire life as it was up to that moment? If I

just wanted to re-forge myself into another person, maybe better or

maybe worse, but different? I know you may say that the past would

always haunt me and that at some point after that, sooner or later, I

may come to regret such a choice…but what if I didn’t? What if what

I actually crave is freedom from all these social conveniences? What

if being a mother is the only thing that stands between me and my

dreams? Maybe I am just tired enough of the chains of motherhood,

maybe motherhood should have never been an attribute of mine.

Maybe I’m simply ungrateful for the blessing of those two kids I

have. Maybe this is what triggers the insanity in my brain – sheer

ingratitude masked with hypocrisy under the make-up of a

responsible mother. Or maybe I just hate myself because all the

choices that I made so far seem to have consequences that I don’t

like at all…maybe I’m just one crazy human being, starving like a

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moth for the flame of the unknown, preferring to die on the bohemian

altar of dreams than to live a seemingly ever boring life…

I’m tired of cold fights and iced words hissed between two

bites of food over dinner, and of having to earn my right to myself

every once in a while. I don’t want much, I don’t NEED much to be

happy. But the little that would truly make me happy I’m not allowed

to have. Or maybe I don’t deserve it, because of the selfishness I

prove by willing to deny my role as a mother…

You said at some point that you noticed how my writing has

an inward tendency, deepening and darkening in time. My writing

deepens and darkens each time I realize that I am not happy with

my current life. The raw truth about my existence is that it brings me

more pain than happiness, and I keep lying to myself that I can keep

moving on because of moments like my daughter wiping away my

tears with her hand the other day, asking me to not cry anymore,

saying that she’d be good for she thought that I was crying because

of her, when in fact she had nothing to do with her mother’s sorrow.

When I met my husband, years ago, I believed to have

found my soul-mate – or, better said, I hoped so ardently to have

found my soul-mate that I ignored all that appeared to be against

that. In time though things changed, and not only I am now aware

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that he is no such thing, but I find myself wanting more and more

often to just run away and hide…

Not once during our marriage has my husband said that he

was sorry when he had done something wrong, not once during our

marriage has he accepted to listen to me when I am trying to tell him

that I am not happy anymore. But then again, maybe the fault is not

his, because of acting that way, maybe the fault is simply mine, for

accepting that for a much too long a time now.

And here I am, riding again and again the merry-go-round of

my self-pity mechanism…but you offered your ear to listen and I

actually needed one in this very moment…

I’m sorry if this offered you too soon a glimpse of my third

mask. And I do hope this didn’t scare you away

It was only after pressing the “Send” button that she realized

how much she had actually revealed. But now it was too late – and a

cold shiver traveled through her spine. She had chosen to confide in

a person which she barely knew, simply because of a momentary

impulse. “Let’s be serious, I never act on such impulses, and that

was not something to share with just some person…what have you

done to me to trust you with so much on such a short notice Ash?

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X.

“I realize it couldn’t have been easy for you to talk to me

suddenly of such intimate matters, and I have to tell you first of all

that I am grateful for and honored by your trust.

And now about what you shared with me – I will not tell you

what you should or shouldn’t do, I do not believe that I am the best

advisor in such a matter, even if in this moment, after your pain

resonated in a much deeper level within me, I wish I could have the

necessary and sufficient wisdom to tell you ‘Do this! And you will be

happy!’. Instead, I will share with you my own such part of life.

Personally, I do not believe in a recipe of absolute

happiness, because the world from which I come is too much based

on the concepts of duty and respect and too less on those of

happiness and love. You said that your marriage lacks passion –

well, in my case, I got married through a traditional arranged

marriage, where the parents and the Elders decide your conjugal

fate. The modern version is that parents go around with their

children’s (actually adults in their 20s-30s) profile, and when they

find a match (which usually means similarities of family background,

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education, money, expectations, etc.) they arrange for the two young

ones to meet somewhere under the surveillance of parents and

zillions of other relatives. ‘He’ and ‘She’ may not get a chance to talk

– but they will be able to have a look of each other. The

“engagement” is then brought into discussion, and marriage rituals

follow. I will not say that it is not awkward to get married to someone

you never knew, but after the official event “He” and “She” try to get

to know each other gradually before getting intimate, and in time

they adjust to each other.

I went through the same thing years ago, and I was aware of

the huge differences between me and my wife. She was and still is a

very religious, clean and perfectionist person, and it took quite a lot

of time to find a common ground with me as her husband. Even if

back then I wasn’t the man that she would have expected, her sense

of duty and respect towards parents and elders was high, and she

took it as her life’s goal to make this marriage work. And she did.

She managed to shape the complete bohemian that I was when we

got married into the respectable man writing to you in this moment.

She is a perfect mother to our son, Farid, and a woman with high

morale values, generous and compassionate.

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Even if she and I converge in things like our love for nature

and environment, our love for our son, our passion for traveling, we

are still of different temperaments in other regards – she believes in

control, I believe in letting go, she is a very practical person and I am

the most impractical kind of a fellow, she has no interest in books

while I am an obsessive-compulsive reader…

The truth is we are not exactly passionate about each other,

but we have weathered through many years of marriage so far, and I

must say that most of the efforts in this matter belong to her. I am

aware that it wasn’t easy for her to put up with the kind of person

that I am, and that is one of the things that deepen my respect for

her, because she was able to put her own likes and dislikes aside

and to focus on what she was supposed to be – a good wife and

mother.

And since you mentioned the term ‘soul-mate’ – for me, the

soul-mate phenomenon is some sort of a 'magic coincidence' of the

minds. Human behavioral pattern/temperament can be varied, but

nevertheless finite -controlled by genetic make-up and environment

of development. Our exercise of free will in a world of chances is an

attempt to skew that probability – to bias the result to some preferred

direction – for example, if someone likes you very strongly, he will

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consciously or subconsciously mimic your activities (a very basic

language of the body) and it can easily get into the way we talk,

walk, think, the exact words we say at the exact moment (don’t be

too surprised if you find I have gradually started to write e-mails

exactly like you or vice-versa).

All logical explanations left aside though, it would indeed be

amazing to actually find someone who feels to be a part of your own

soul. You thought you found that some years ago, in the person of

your husband, and back then you believed it true, even if it wasn’t. I

am yet to find someone like that

or have I…?”

Asheq stopped and looked at the screen, then breathed

deeply. Somehow Karina’s sudden burst of pain had made him look

in a different way at his own marriage. “I have a good marriage.” He

felt the lie tasting metallic on his tongue. True, his union with Minnah

was satisfactory. True, she was indeed a woman that many men

would have been proud to have as wife, and he still remembered

how pleased had his parents been when he had married her. She

was well-graced – he had never denied that. She had stricken him

as a beautiful woman from the first time he had seen her, with a pair

of amazing black slightly almond-shaped eyes and long dark

hair

oh,

she was indeed a sight. Even now she still had that noble,

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almost royal aspect. And she had always been kind-hearted and

inclined to help those in need, even if that meant to deprive herself

of any sort of resources. “Maybe that is what sweetened the

intellectual dryness of our ‘Us’…”.

But after so many years of common life with her, he felt the

demon of honesty biting from his heart – “Come on, admit it, you

aren’t happy with your marriage either…” His brain had a feeble

attempt to fight reality with a “But I am content!” thought. That was

lame though, and he felt it. “A marriage shouldn’t be about being

content – a marriage should be about love first of all…” continued

his heart the silent crusade. Eventually, with a profound sigh, he

gave up in front of his inner voice. No, he wasn’t happy either. But

uttered or not, that didn’t change the fact that he still considered his

marriage to be, under the given circumstances, quite a successful

one. So Asheq adopted a relaxed mine, his back straightened and

even allowed half a smile to bloom in the corner of his mouth. “I

have an accomplished life…”

After smearing truth with that ounce of pride, though having

lost the short inner argument with himself, his eyes and attention

returned to the e-mail he had stopped from writing. “Maybe this is

simply the fate of all marriages” he thought, “to be just parts of a dull

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reality, harshly removing the dream-like layer of the honey-moon

concept. Or maybe this is how the idea of ‘sour-grapes’ was first

born – because of people for whom grapes are never sweet enough,

not even when they turn to raisins.”

He suddenly felt the need to soothe Karina’s sorrow,

knowing far too well how her creative spirit must have felt, caged in

an unsupportive relationship. In the same time he also felt frustrated

– and how not to feel that way, since it seemed that her husband

had ended up being married to the kind of woman that Asheq would

have rather had as his own wife?!

Not always though we have our wishes granted – and this

was definitely not a wish to toy with. But so sweet was the bitterness

of that frustration, and it kept lingering in such a tender way in his

thoughts! Asheq looked for a moment inside his soul and indulged

himself with a second of breathlessness while contemplating an

absolute impossible “what if”. “What if Karina was my wife?

An electric shiver ran through his spine and he closed his

eyes and held his breath, for fear that the sudden pleasure invading

him was going to evaporate much too soon through his pores. The

image of Karina appeared behind his closed eye-lids, and he

imagined how it would have been to talk to her face to face, to be

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able to trace her reactions while sharing ideas, thoughts and

arguments, to sip directly from her lips her passion for words

dissolved in her breath…to have such a woman as his wife…

Moments later, the guilt for allowing himself such a

weakness gained field and Asheq opened back his eyes and even

managed to find inside him the strength to apply a mild scolding to

his hidden but still very much alive bohemian side.

“Let’s go back to reality, shall we? Now, where was I?

Ah,

the e-mail.” Asheq’s mind having gone back to normal, he returned

to the reply that he was writing to Karina. He smiled to the screen

while typing, as if she was right there, in front of him, and he would

have actually addressed her:

“I guess what I am trying to say here is that things are

sometimes easy and sometimes hard. We wish for things to be

different but not always is that possible. And in those times when it

isn’t, the escape that we have lies within our dreams and

imagination. You have to believe, deep down inside of you, that

somewhere in your path there will come a moment when either all

the sorrow will make sense, or when none of it will matter anymore.

Whatever happens though, don’t stop hoping for sunshine –

and don’t stop writing poetry. You are much too good at that to let it

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waste! People will agree with me on that at some point in the future,

I am certain of that. In the meantime, know that I am here for you, as

a friend and confessor and whatever else you deem me fit for.

In one of the first e-mails that we exchanged you wrote at

some point ‘welcome into my life and please stay’. I believe that this

would be the moment when I should answer that, by saying ‘let me

be thy shadow, dearest one’.

Smile for me, Kasha! All will be well!

Kindest regards,

Asheq”

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XI.

It’s amazing how much a word can help sometimes, if

coming from a gentle heart and loaded with kindness. Maybe it was

the human tone of Asheq’s messages in general, or maybe the fact

that he had not judged her, but been there for her in a very sensitive

moment, or maybe simply the thought that he himself didn’t have the

perfect marital paradise at home, resonating in an “I’m not the only

one” idea – no matter for which of the above reasons, or even for all

of them, or for others aside those, Karina started to feel her soul

being veiled by some sort of warm and protecting sheath, as if

suddenly coated in cotton. That online presence had a most

marvelous way of calming her, sweetening her thoughts the same

way a ray of sun sweetens the sky of autumn when covered in thick

gray clouds.

“Why can’t Alec be more like him?

But asking such a question was a waste of time, and Karina

knew that. So after a while she simply stopped comparing the two

men in her life – “after all, you too are a man in my life, Ash…” – and

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accepted with silent gratitude the joy with which Asheq was slowly

filling her soul, up to the deepest corners, hour by hour, day by day.

The “soul-mate” discussion, accidentally opened by her in

that e-mailed cry of desperation, became one of their favorite

teasing topics, and quite soon after that Asheq began to sign his

messages with “Sincerely, your brain-mate”, amusing her and

providing their relationship with a new level of intimacy. “He is

indeed my brain-mate”, admitted Karina. The way they kept sharing

parts of their life-related experiences widened and the exchange of

messages thickened, as if somehow each of them was trying to

absorb all the being of the other through their words.

Some evenings after Karina’s outburst episode, despite the

late hour – or more like especially because of the late hour, since it

was only then that Karina was able to find the time to be online – it

so happened that she was in front of the computer when one of

Asheq’s messages entered her inbox. It was a short one, and only

meant to compliment her beauty:

If beauty was only about looks, you would still be

beautiful; on the other hand, I would rather have to hide behind my

stony avatar again, my dear.

How you pop up amidst my work!”.

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Karina smiled amused, because this was coming as a

consequence to a previous discussion they had had recently, in

which Asheq didn’t miss the chance to expose his theories on

beauty. So without waiting or thinking too much, she wrote him back

quickly:

“They say that beauty is within the eye of the beholder – and

it depends on what sort of beauty one searches. But the first

meaning given to that word is that of the looks - and I do check the

mirror every day, so I know how I look like.

As for you having to hide behind that stone face – first, why

do you have such an impression? And second – do I appear to be

such a shallow person?”

She was aware that this was going to become quite a funny

discussion, for she knew by now that he wasn’t able to resist the

temptation of a common laughter with her anymore than she was

with him. And indeed, his answer wasn’t late by any means:

“I said that would be my fate IF only looks counted. And if I

had not thought of you as much above that seeker of "shallow"

beauty, would I be so enamored by you?!

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By the way, in one of the early writings of Plato, Socrates

argues himself to be the most beautiful person of Athens

to recall which work it was…”

I’m trying

Karina chuckled – this man was impossible. He wasn’t able

to ignore philosophy even for the shortest of moments. And was that

second part of the message a test to see how much attention did

she really pay to what actually interested him? She wrote back on a

teasing tone:

“Enamored – now why did that word make my fingers shiver

suddenly?

And was it Plato or Xenophon?!

Asheq’s reply returned, dry like a Martini and with an olive-

like last line:

“I think it was Plato in the role of Socrates, arguing that if

beauty fulfils purpose, and if the purpose of big eyes was to see

more, his eyes were then the most beautiful

so on and so forth

written obviously with a light tone, probably only to show how our

appreciations depend upon the framing of our concepts. But it might

be Xenophon as well. Read more than 15 years ago, so allow me

the privilege of a short mind. Xenophon of course portrays Socrates

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in a different light of pragmatism probably because of his own

military background.

Can't help keeping an eye on the inbox for you, my dear!”

Aha! There it was – the invitation to elaborate, masked

under the excuse of age-due forgetfulness. “That truly deserves a

good laughter” smiled Karina. Asheq had an exceptional memory, he

had proved it more than once already. But, on the other hand, he

was at work in that very moment, so she might as well provide him

with the benefit of the doubt. “Let’s play philosophy games then!”

she said to herself and wrote back:

“I won't say ‘same here’ – oh God, did I just say it?!

In Xenophon’s Symposium there is this dialogue, between

Socrates and Critobulus, in which Socrates attaches the value of

usefulness to beauty. But then again, if we are to consider this text,

it only refers to physical usefulness, at least as far as I can

remember - so nothing related to the soul. Probably because the

beauty of one's soul is something much too subjective?

For

instance me evaluating the beauty of your own soul – I could hardly

be objective in this moment, my dear brain-mate.

Oh, yes, that’s right…I had forgotten you don’t believe in the

existence of the soul…”

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That last statement was a bit of a challenge in itself. Asheq

had never uttered anything about that, but Karina felt that this was a

nice moment to push him a little. And since he was so eager to

discuss about such topics…

But the answer that came was a bit different than what she

was expecting, as if suddenly he lost his appetite for philosophy:

“Thanks for the correction – otherwise I would have checked

it out online during my lunch hour, and by then you would have

probably gone to bed.

Have I told you that I have a clock on my desktop set up at

your current time? I guess that would make me a bit of a voyeur, no?

My need to constantly know your whenabouts…”

Karina took a deep breath. Wasn’t she doing almost the

same thing?

“Maybe…and maybe we are just playing with fire…I was just

thinking that the daily calculus of the time difference between the

two of us is the sweetest math I ever did…

You do realize that we are crossing the ‘brain-mate’

threshold, don’t you, Ash?”

She knew that this was a direction which their conversation

shouldn’t have taken, but somehow she wasn’t able to fight it, or

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better said, she didn’t want to fight it. Maybe because deep down in

her subconscious she was aware that all this back and forth word

play between her and Asheq was just a superficial cover of

something much stronger boiling in both of them. She felt it, but she

wasn’t ready to give it a name. Not yet. As if not naming it yet would

have postponed the birth of a bitter-sweet reality already claiming

space in her heart.

“Even for a dullard like me that is one obvious thing – and I’d

dare to claim the position of soul-mate, but since you already know

that I’m not so passionate about that concept…

By the way, aren’t you approaching your bedtime? I’ll be

there in my Astral Body or whatever it requires…so keep some

space for me, will you?”

Asheq’s reply had a certain air of fear and withholding, as if

he was afraid he’d scare her away if he spoke his mind, and Karina

sheltered the same fear inside her heart. But this was no longer a

point from which words could be withdrawn and feelings repressed,

so she just wrote:

“I didn’t realize you believed in Astral Bodies – and no, my

bedtime has to wait a bit more tonight because I still have a few

things to take care of around here. Besides, I would think of you

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anyway, so I might as well just enjoy your so dear to me presence

online.”

Night was becoming thicker and thicker outside and her

heartbeats rushed while waiting for his next message, which came

almost immediately:

“Astral Body?! Who said that? Me? Come on, I’m a hardcore

skeptic, ain’t I? Angels, devils, souls, stuff like that sounds too unreal

compared to the two of us anyway.

But whatever it turns out to be, a pair of good wings of any

color you choose, some firepower and the quality of moving

stealthily through the 9-hour time-barrier – that’s all that I need to get

to you. Don't mind horns or any other spectacular appendage

either

I’ll

perch on your shoulder and whisper sugary nonsense into

your heart – get you dizzy with dark innuendos

and sneak into

your sleep

Asheq’s words were smiling, but it was obvious now that he

was probably shivering in this moment at the other end of the online

connection the same way she was right there, in the darkness of her

room. Something more needed to be said.

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“You are no devil, but no angel either, and I don’t know if I

should dare to call you ‘my love’ so soon. The following lines are

yours, freshly written:

let my dreams lay on your fingertips…the fragrance of the black air flowing over the aura of a falling star melts within the smoke of that last candle lit, while praying for a long night… let my voice caress the shadow of words meant just for you…seconds slow down while heartbeats race… grant me shelter in your soul…”

The minutes following her last message felt like torture –

had she crossed the line too soon? Maybe she should have

stopped, maybe that was too much…what will he think of her? He

must have realized that this was true, and she was certain that she

hadn’t misinterpreted his messages…

Patience is not something we have when we are in

love…especially when we were deprived of passion for a long time.

If we could take all the love words in the world and find some way to

compress them all in a pack of some sort, we would, so that we

would thus try to prove our feelings to the one we love. And naturally

this desire comes matched with the fear of “too much”, because

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there’s always a reverse of the medal, when our loved one feels

overwhelmed by our feelings.

That was exactly why Karina’s fingers were trembling in that

moment, hoping that she hadn’t flooded him with too much all at

once. And when his words finally appeared on screen, she kept her

breath while reading them:

“I'm speechless

you

made my day, for today and many

more days to come – I'll treasure that piece like a Jaksha. What

Muse inspires to pen such unearthly language? What's in your diet?

Moonlight and musk?

All my life, it has either been too early or too late to call

someone ‘my love’, and therefore the true form of suffering called

‘Love’ has been, until now, something that I analyzed mostly from a

distance…Could it be true that I might finally take a sip in that cup

of desire?”

“He is in love with me but he doesn’t trust me?

Or

what?

thought Karina a bit discouraged by his tone, and typed slowly “and

would ‘too early’ be a bad thing this time?”

“If only you’d be half world closer to my fingertips…” came

promptly his reply filled with nuances of desire and regret. Karina’s

vision blurred and her fingertips stopped on the screen, caressing

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the words in front of her as if she would have caressed him. With her

heart pounding she managed to write back one final message for the

night – “I’ll go to bed now, but before I do, I have one question that I

need you to answer me when you have time – tell me please, what

am I to you?”

And after a final smile brought by his reply – “I wish you a

desperate night tonight – may you toss and turn…no, no, bad joke.

Sleep peacefully, have sweet dreams! And of course, that tingling

sensation on your neck is me – ALL ME!” – she shut down the

computer and closed her eyes, drinking in small sips those seconds

of passion dissolved in the darkness of the night and in the silence

surrounding her.

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XII.

“What am I to you?”

Those words of Karina kept spinning with light speed inside

his head and for the first time in a long while Asheq had no idea how

to express what he was feeling. To be honest, it was the first time

actually that he felt so dizzy and intoxicated – “if I was on the edge

of a mountain now, I swear I’d throw myself into the abyss with the

certainty that I can fly…How do I tell you everything that you are to

me, Kasha?”

He stood up from his chair and looked through the large

window next to him, with his senses numbed by a sudden state of

reverie. “She fell in love with me…” For a second he thought he

heard angels singing in the background – but just a few moments

later he realized that it was actually a classic piece of music

streaming towards him from Julia’s desk. “Delibes’ Flowers’ duet”, as

she kindly pointed out to him when he asked her about it. “Flowers’

duet…” he thought, remaining in a state of reverie. Yes, that fit her

wonderfully. He turned back to the window and closed his eyes.

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Kasha’s radiant smile came to his memory, brightening his thoughts.

Almost instinctively he smiled back to that image.

“You are my inspiration to wake up every morning with a

smile…”

That was a true statement. He knew it. It had become a daily

joy to open his eyes knowing that “she” was there, one click away.

Sometimes he feared that one day he was going to discover that she

was nothing but a phantasm created by his mind thirsty for love, and

in the next second his eyes were searching feverishly for her name

in his inbox, as if that would have been enough a proof of the reality

of her existence. Soothed by the simple reading of her name, Asheq

felt himself wrapped in layers of sweetness, so the fact that he had

fallen in love with her was not an unexpected thing – but the strength

of his feelings was. It had been enough to consciously admit the

existence of love, and now it seemed as if waves after waves of

some intoxicating potion were washing the shores of his heart with

each passing second.

“What you are to me…you’re so much more, don’t you

know?”

Who would have thought that there would come a moment

when he was going to silently thank her for having rejected his

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friendship offer on that obscure website? What he – no, what THEY

had gained because of that rejection was such an amazing thing that

words were not able to contain within them.

“If I had a bit of your word magic, I’d drown you with my

deepest love and affection…”

And he would have done so. He felt frustrated suddenly

because of not finding the right words to make her feel inside her the

same fire that was burning his heart. He was aware that, if fate had

presented him with that tiny, close-to-zero chance of a relationship

with her, he would have been able to sacrifice everything for it.

“Almost everything…” he corrected himself, smiling bitterly. There

was one thing that he would have never sacrificed for his own

happiness, no matter how much he was yearning for completion –

the happiness of his son.

“You are my heaven that I will never get to enter…”

His mind remained still, contemplating in silence the

beautiful bitterness of the situation. Asheq was thankful in a twisted

kind of way that he and Karina had been chosen to be a part of such

a classic tragedy. He was also glad that fate had decided to prove to

him in such a delicate manner that he could actually love someone

in a way he couldn’t have thought possible. She completed him, his

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mind, his heart, and he was sure that things wouldn’t have stopped

here, were not for the distance between them two.

Feeling a hand on his shoulder, he winced and turned

around, only to see a colleague of his – he had no idea when this

one had entered the office, not to speak about the fact that he

appeared to wait for an answer from him.

- Sorry…you were saying?

- Aren’t you coming? The meeting…the conference room…

- Oh, yes…I totally forgot about that…I’ll be right there…

He entered the conference room and sat in the farthest and

most unexposed corner in-there, hoping to remain unnoticed, trying

to no avail to pay attention to what was being discussed there and

blessing all the known saints when the man in front of them turned

off the lights and began to roll some slides on a white screen. He

needed nothing more to start dreaming with his eyes open, and

suddenly he wasn’t in the conference room anymore, but

somewhere out in the middle of nature.

He walks through the shadow of scented pines, with aching

legs and muddy boots, towards what he knows to be “their” home, in

a meadow nearby. Halfway through, he sees “her” relaxing on a

rock, among wild pink-brushes, butterweeds and crimson mountain-

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prides, half-reclining in her natural elegance, like in a Claude Monet

painting. She doesn’t seem to hear him coming from behind, so

absorbed she is in relishing the changing color of the sky as the

world catches fire under the last rays of light. He stands stealthily

behind her and takes her in a warm embrace – she turns around in a

burst of joy and plants a moist kiss upon his lips. He holds her tight

as they step towards their home, drunken like two bees in too much

honey…

- Mr. Khan?

Shaken suddenly from his dreaming, Asheq blinked and

realized with hidden embarrassment that he had been asked a

question and that he had no idea what it was about. So he took a

second to clear his throat, and looked back at his colleague, raising

his eyebrows as a silent question mark.

- Do you think we can run some further tests on that area

near the river? repeated that one the question for him.

- Well, there are some matters to consider…I think I would

need some more time to go through the data again…

“Damn, there’s no way I can give a decent answer to this…”

he thought, and then he took a deep breath, adopted a preoccupied

face and said:

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- There are a few things that I want to be sure of, prior to

giving you an answer – why don’t you e-mail me all the info and I’ll

get back to you on this matter as soon as possible?

- OK then, will do so, came the answer, and then the man’s

attention moved to something else.

Relieved, Asheq exhaled slowly, and then stood up,

excused himself under some fictional pretext and went back to his

office, where he couldn’t help a chuckle when remembering the

earlier minutes. “I was worse than a school boy caught with his mind

elsewhere during classes…” Out of reflex, he checked his email,

although he knew that at this moment Karina was probably asleep

and he would find no message from her – besides, he was still

supposed to answer to her question. “What you are to me…so many

things you are…” he thought while writing back to her, in a feeble

attempt to mirror the flood of feelings that now, freed of the dam of

any social scruples, were filling his soul at leisure.

For the rest of the day he struggled to get out of that state of

dreaming, without too much success, and also without feeling the

hours passing. He wanted to dream of her again, with open eyes,

but he was aware that there, in his twelfth floor office, that wasn’t

possible in that very moment. It was around five o’clock when he

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gratefully realized that his working day was over and that he was

free to go home, so he took his things and left in a hurry, barely

mumbling a “good-bye” to the confused secretary whose eyes traced

him on his way out.

He needed time, time to properly assimilate this intoxicating

beatitude, time to feed voraciously on the continuum of dreams

flooding his mind. He just wanted to think of her.

Once home, he told his wife that he needed to work on

some papers for his job, and shut himself in the study, where, for the

sake of appearances, opened several folders on his desk, then sat

in his chair and allowed himself to finally end the dream he had

begun to dream at work. Now that he had admitted how he felt, he

saw no point in denying himself anymore the wild beauty of this

alternate reality…

She has immersed herself in the warm comfort of the

bathtub, filled with fuzzy foam smelling like lavender. In the faint light

of the flickering candles he sees her heavenly body softly quivering

for his touch under the translucent bubbles of soap. Throwing away

his clothes, he cannot wait for one moment longer to join her in that

prismatic ocean of love…his skin against her skin…his soul inside

her soul. She moans mildly under his caress, and her delicate touch

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in all the right spots lights him up like wildfire…she engulfs him in

kisses as sweet as “After Eight”’s and as many as stars teeming the

Autumn night-sky. Time stands still as he explores her, turning every

layer of her soul as she opens them up for him, one by one, like the

secret manuscript of a long forgotten lore. Sparks of syllables

brighten the dim night like fireworks as they lose themselves in that

wonderful crescendo of love-making. He hears her voice crying out

his name…

- Asheq? Dinner is ready. Come down.

Minnah’s voice passing through the door broke his dream

thread brutally, making him bite his lips in order to hide his

frustration. Still gasping for air because of his fantasy, he threw her a

dry “OK” and then opened the window, hoping that the cool evening

air would calm down his heartbeats. This simply was a dream that

refused to allow itself to be dreamed in one piece…”If you were

here, with me, it would be so easy to show you what I feel for you, to

show you what you are to me, Kasha…but who am I to you?” he

whispered, nodding slightly his head, while the twilight shades from

outside reflected themselves for a second in his eyes.

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XIII.

“He is in love with me!”

Karina was so thankful that her husband was not around to

decipher that smile that simply wouldn’t let itself erased from her

lips. Asheq’s words were decorating her mind like Christmas lights,

and in a sweet surrender she kept picking random sentences from

what he had written to her and she re-inhaled their perfume over and

over again, wrapping her thoughts with their narcotic fragrance.

Somehow she felt as if she had just opened her eyes upon the most

extraordinary world, and now she wasn’t able to stop from day-

dreaming, bewitched by his words – “If I could, I would command the

words to come to life – maybe then they could truly express how I

feel for you”.

“But you don’t need magic words to melt me, Ash” thought

Karina, “it’s enough to see your name on the screen, even if you

wouldn’t write me a thing

Lost in contemplating her newly discovered Eden, she

suddenly felt that her mind was like some sort of gigantic hall, or

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better said like a grotto, in which one thought kept resonating and

sending waves in all directions – “He is in love with me!”

She had no idea of the precise moment when she had fallen