By: M. Aan Mansyur
I burnt the City of M even though the remaining population had busted their guts rebuilding it. Three years ago the city was nothing more than an enormous pile of ashes thanks to the deed of a band of cretins with fiery temper.
I didn’t do it alone. I believe there’s nothing in the world that can be achieved with only two hands and one head, let alone a huge matter like burning down a city. With the money I collected for about two years working as a provider of time in the Last Library, I paid twenty one young men who don’t know and don’t want to know what they live for. Finding despondent, unemployed lads like them was as easy as letting out an angry burst of vitriol for the idiocy of others.
They were born to parents who are control freaks and never let their children make choices for their own life. Those boys can’t even name the genre of music they enjoy listening to.
Should you ask why I burnt the City of M, for the sake of anything that always bothers you before going to bed, the same question had cracked my head open and that’s the reason I wrote this confession. I often write to merely save my life, to answer my own questions about the things that I deem critical, and at times it works. My late father was a writer. “Learn to write as if life forces you to provide breathing assistance to yourselves,” he told me a few months before committing suicide by jumping from the third floor of a hotel by the sea belonging to a former mayor he used to hate.
There were only a handful of people in this world my father didn’t hate and, according to him, being a writer is the safest path for haters, especially those who hate themselves.
One thing I know very well about the City of M: the entire population never manages to elude memories. They, I’m included, are nothing more than a mob whose life rolls backwards. All citizens of the City of M view that things of beauty only existed in the past. The future is a mere wishful thinking and not a worthy goal at all.
In the Last Library, at the heart of the City of M, a place that would more accurately fit into the description of a café, 372 days ago Jiwa proposed to me and, though a bit vacillated about my decision, I accepted it. There weren’t shelves of books in the Last Library. No computers where visitors could locate an electronic book. There was absolutely no book that could be borrowed or read as generally found in a hitherto known library. Since the City of M was put to the torch by those goddamned half-wits, no one has had time to read a book. Or, as Luri always puts it, everyone in the city has transformed into a sad tome and needs someone else to read them as they’re sick and tired of reading their own sadness.
The two-story building whose walls were almost all made up of frosted glass as it was rarely cleaned housed metal tables and chairs painted and laid out in a casual manner — a table flanked by two chairs — and you could order a drink or meal just like in a cafe. The Last Library was never too crowded, except occasionally on weekends; thus, it didn’t need more than two staff to take care of it.
During my stint as a provider of time in the Last Library, I ordered coffee all the time. Just coffee. Because, you know, the most important thing for people with insomnia like me is drinking coffee. And the personnel who would cater to all the needs of the Last Library’s visitors was none other than Luri, a taciturn lady who likes to write poetry and suffers from severe misophonia. She always clogged up both her ears with cotton when visitors were having meals. The sound of a clicking tongue having a chew would instantly drive her up the wall and make her want to kill somebody. Luri was the one brewing the coffee — she knew very well how I liked it — and preparing the meals the visitors ordered. She also set up schedule of meetings between the providers of time and the library members in need. The Last Library was Luri.
The only thing that could be borrowed at the Last Library was time and it was the only reason why the place was called a library. Time, said Luri, is a book or a book is time — it’s up to you which strikes you as more appropriate or sounds more beautiful. Don’t think of science fiction stories or post-apocalypse novels and movies. In the Last Library, there were several like me who worked by dedicating a few hours week in week out to anyone who needed to be heard — or read, if you agree with Luri’s take. The staple of the City of M residents, Luri told me when I applied for the job, is being read. Everyone has long and heavy-loaded stories. They need readers who are capable of bearing with them and at the same time resilient — and, especially, they’re willing to pay dearly for it. That was what set the wheels of time business in motion at the Last Library.
Besides having a main job as a shopkeeper at a clothing store, I decided to become a provider of time since the Last Library opened. And, as you probably have guessed, Jiwa was one of the City of M residents who frequented and reveled in borrowing my time. If you have a question on why I became a provider of time, I could come up with a list of reasons that might sound more reasonable and not provoke a series of other questions, like I always tell people. For example, of course, it was to fill my spare time while earning additional income — and indeed both aren’t wrong. However, to Jiwa, and only to him, I revealed the main reason truthfully.
I wanted to listen as many stories as possible that are sadder than the story of my life so I could forgive — or, rather, soothe — myself. Luri once told me of this and I believe her: “If you still wanna live, the most effective way to heal the wound is cover it with a larger wound.”
Truth be told, I secretly began to realize that I’d fallen for Jiwa at the third meeting in our favorite corner, on the library’s rear balcony, and it made me hate myself for feeling I was easy to fall in love. I felt like discovering the man I loved was reborn in Jiwa. That man was the lover of Alika, my twin sister. Alika and the man both she and I loved were burnt away in the fire and their bodies were never found. Sometimes it filled me with rage to imagine they died hugging each other in a room at a cheap inn. Their naked bodies were consumed by the fire.
Since the third meeting with Jiwa, I always thought that I had betrayed the people I love, including myself. Sounds silly indeed, I know. Every second of my life had turned into a lesson — because it’s too much and preposterous to call it a struggle — of reining myself in.
However, my poor mother who loved my late father so much once said, “Love is the suffering no one’s able to evade. Love is a disaster that’s both carefree and beautiful. ”
My mother was also engulfed in flames along with her frequently recurring rheumatism. When the fire took place, I put my mother’s body in the middle of the road after I got spent carrying her in my arms and tried to drag and save myself. It wasn’t far from our house; it was in front of a police station that’s always empty. Sometimes, you know, it drowns me in sadness and makes me want to take my own life to recall that event.
I burnt the City of M seven months after getting married to Jiwa. Until now, I hasn’t got a clue why I did the fatuous thing that a group of dim-witted lads had done so well before, which to date still often take the piss out of me.
Prior to the fire built by those imbeciles, which lasted for nine days, there were at least 800,000 people inhabiting the city. Only a quarter of them survived. You can calculate on your own how many people were incinerated and turned into ashes. In fact, for your sake, don’t ever try to imagine the looks and smells of the City of M for several weeks after the incident.
“Hell completely unveiled itself here. Dante, if he were among the survivors, would have cursed the death for letting him escape,” Luri commented. I didn’t know who Dante was and what he had to do with the inferno.
Residents who survived the fire had no other choices but to buck up — they say the sacred fire had washed away contempt from the city and their lives — and began to rebuild the city from its shambles and agreed to call it the City of M. They let the old name which I find funny be buried with ashes and become the ground on which the new city was constructed.
In the past, before burnt down by several youths calling themselves the City Rescue Front, anyone would burst into laughter every time they heard or read the name of this city. Every day there was futility that didn’t make sense to men taking place and spreading across the media which fed on such subject. And in a bid to put an end to the joke, some feeble-minded boys burnt their own city to the ground. They didn’t expect to create hell out of it. It didn’t occur to them that it could destroy the whole city and kill hundreds of thousands of people, including their families, in just nine days. They had hell of a time to sink it in and decided to commit suicide together a day after the blaze finally died.
Now people don’t know whether to laugh or cry when the original name of the City of M is inadvertently brought up — because, as Luri wrote in one of her poems, sometimes memories come rushing like a storm from the inside, unpredictable and inevitable, to drag you out and hurl you into the crevice between joy and sorrow.
Jiwa and I were among the population of the City of M who survived the conflagration and had to endure the curse of living as a thick book. Our stories were both sad, but Jiwa had much sadder stories and sometimes I thought that was the reason I said yes to his proposal.
When we had our seventh meeting, a few minutes before sunset, for the first time I saw Jiwa smiling. He handed me a cup of coffee with a slightly trembling hand. I felt his shuddering creeping gently on my arm — well, if something a little more poetic is your cup of tea, it had the deepest part of me trembled. There was something growing out of Jiwa’s eyes. It was as if I watched the sun rising many times in the space of a few seconds — and unwittingly night had fallen casting its cloak over the balcony of the library. Deep inside of me happiness and sadness erupted. Simultaneously. Jiwa, I knew, saw both feelings broke out through my eyes.
“I drank too much coffee today. Couldn’t sleep last night,” said Jiwa.
“Who messed with your mind?”
“This meeting and Akila.”
Jiwa called my name for the first time in front of me and it made me laugh. He looked baffled.
“Don’t look at me like that. I hate to change the subject,” I said.
“Listen, Akila, I wanna marry you.”
It didn’t take me by surprise.
Since our third meeting, somehow, I felt sooner or later Jiwa would definitely say that.
“I’ve presented a new complexity to you. I know,” Jiwa added.
“It’s nine o’clock, Luri has to close the library. Tomorrow’s a day off, I’ve got four hours you can borrow. ”
“It’s not a day off. Tomorrow’s my birthday,” he responded.
“Tomorrow I have twelve hours then. All is yours. For free,” I said. “And — ”
“I’m ready to be your wife.”
Luri put the lights out one by one in the library’s inner room. Jiwa and I left the balcony. Before coming in and passing through the door, not far from the stairs, Jiwa pulled my arms and kissed their backs; I looked up to the sky.
It was filled with stars. The moon was absent.
I burnt the City of M seven days after Jiwa committed suicide. For heaven’s sake, I don’t understand why he ended his life and left me in such a miserable manner. I’ve tried everything in my power to find out the reason. There wasn’t any clue that could help me understand what actually happened.
My confusion hit the roof the day after Jiwa’s funeral, when Luri handed over a will and a key to the Last Library. The day after that, Luri disappeared. In the will, Jiwa told me that the Last Library is now legally mine.
How stupid I was for not knowing that Jiwa was the owner of the Last Library!
That night, from the heart of the city, on the rear balcony of the Last Library, I started the fire. The lads I put my hope in and paid did the same from various locations I had selected.
I burnt the City of M again and still, up to this point, I don’t know why I did it.