The one hundred and sixteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya lowered his left hand, flitted it about his face as though it were a moth, and reverently placed it upon his heart. The many who had joined together in the lowlands to hear their leader speak let out a collective sigh, a purging of life-breath, tinged with sadness, hope, regret. The Farikh brought his speech to a close, plucked one long, white hair from his worn old scalp and let it dance on the breeze towards his people.
A low, mournful horn was blown, and it seemed as though the trees themselves wept into the reverberations that crept through their ancient tendrils. Blossom rained down on the once nomadic people of Drehjnev, spinning in tiny vortexes around the feet of the children who sat at the base of the lectern. The poet laureate, in his deep green robe and mask of pheasant feathers, walked towards the front of the crowd, his footsteps in time with the guttural coughing of many horns. Twigs snapped beneath his bare, calloused feet, and the trees continued to cry their white feathered tears onto his long dark hair. With a deep voice, the laureate sang the old songs of Drehjnev. He sang of how they, the people and the ancestors of the people, had travelled far between the floodlands. Of how their ancestors had awoken in smoke, and had to herd their cattle for decades to find pastures. Of how the first Farikh Al Dromoshvya had brought order into chaos, creating the beauty of ceremony , the communion with the promised land of Drehjnev. The poet stamped his feet three times onto the grass, and the music softened, became a single, deep, throbbing hum. He threw his head back, and bellowed “The sky turned the deepest Kracznow grey with the beating of a thousand wings!” The crowd stood up, the bells and charms around their waists chiming, and replied: “And our forefathers were but yellow birds held underground, trapped in stasis, unmoving in amber. We sing to our beloved Farikh, who taught us love, and thus he made us free”. Cymbals crashed, feet began to stamp, and horns were blown in rhythm as the children of Drehjnev began to dance, and cheer, and weave between the trees and resting cattle.
The one hundred and sixteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya could hear the revelry as he walked slowly, with his ancient’s gait, back to the abode that his title granted him. He smiled to himself as he opened the heavy door, glad that his people were happy; that they should not mourn for what they knew was coming. The Farikh’s hard, leathery soles climbed into the high seat of his study, and with a twinge of fear moving through his chest, the Farikh knew that he must now turn his attentions to The Art of Dying. For as long as there had been a succession of Farikh Al Dromoshvyas, there had been the book, the impenetrable ancient history of his people; written through visions in the dying hours of those selected to lead. Each Farikh, for one hundred and sixteen generations, had managed to write a page of shaky, barely legible script, telling what appeared to be a singular narrative received at the hour of death. The story told of two figures – often seen as gods or deities of past civilisations – from many centuries before the floods, and contained words and concepts long since lost to the people and leaders of Drehjnev. The book was, to the nation, evidence of the nation’s divine nature. Not even the greatest scribes could fully decipher the complexities of the visions, or see beyond the mundane, surface nature of the jagged indigo ink symbols on the old, old paper.
The current Farikh, dressed in his cotton shroud, opened the book to page number one hundred and sixteen. It was empty, blank. He knew he had at least an hour before the time of his death, he could feel the coldness of it lapping, coming like small waves on the shore of his being. Every seventh wave was a large one, enveloping a part of his body, sapping away at his consciousness and replacing lucidity with new, strange scenes. He could see the moment of his birth, so very clearly. His mother lay down her pestle, and gripped the bridles of her cattle until her hands bled, the life spasms wracking her body, tossing her fragile form as if it were a wooden poppet being thrown about in the white waters of the river Granscz. He could see his initiation as a novice, on his fifth birthday, and the nervousness he felt as he sang the laureate’s song to his tutors. He could see their astonished faces, their eyes light up with the subtle inflections of his sung vowels, the improvisation on the basic, ancient melody. The one hundred and fifteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya had died only a week before, and within a month the child had been inaugurated, and shown the book that lay before his old, shaking hands.
The Art of Dying had commenced its dance. The Farikh had burnt the edges of the sage, its pale blue smoke curled around the old mans black eyes and tattooed scalp. With a strained breath, and a cracked, fearful voice, he began to speak words he had heard only once before, as a small child, confusedly wearing the ceremonial headdress of the leaders of Drehjnev . ‘I am the black bird, I am the sky. I am the past moments, wrapped in the roots of a world-tree. I am the water sipped by stone, and held on the feathers of my people’s wing. I am the black bird, I am the sky. I am the past moments, wrapped in breath of my birthing cattle. I am the water sipped by stone, and held on the feet of smaller lives.’ As the dark, nebulous air of the room began to slip away, the one hundred and sixteenth Farikh Al Dromoshvya dipped his quill into the indigo pot at his side, and wrote, continuing through visions and a quivering hand the ancient history of the founders of the nation of Drehjnev, documenting the final moments before the great alignment of celestial bodies, before the great floods. He saw.
* * * * * *
“It’s on days like these,” he said, “That I can’t help thinking of my roots.”
The conversation died in the air, the last syllables that dripped from Joseph’s mouth had already been sucked into the plastic receiver, and trapped with the slamming down of hands on ringing metal. Then spoken vowels dawdled along fibre-optic cables at a sluggish speed of light, ripping themselves between the wooden obelisks of Britain’s telecommunication system before failing to leap out the other end into Tanya’s straining ear. The whole redundant journey was over in a billionth of a second, a sub-atomic tragic race which ended with a peculiar sort of resolution for Tanya. The line was dead before the words reached her cocked head, and the flat tone sidled up against her ear, its drone confirming nothing other than that she no longer loved him.
Of course, she had suspected this for some time. It was her twenty-fourth birthday.
Joseph walked away from his land-line telephone, switched off his mobile and threw himself onto his settee sideways, so as to land with a leg dangling over one of the arms of the soft, charcoal grey fabric monstrosity that sat, bloated and obese, in the centre of his living room. He scratched himself, and scrabbled around in the swollen cleft of the seat, searching for the controls to the television. His eyes fixed on the coffee table, a black cypress rectangle standing upright like a squat sentinel in the sea of magnolia. There was a slight stain marring the otherwise flawless veneer. Tanya had left her mug of peppermint tea there last night, and the condensation had left a herbal goitre, a single semen coloured ring on the surface. Joseph set about removing the stain with a succession of different fabrics. Once satisfied, he leaned back, one soft white hands reached behind his head to adjust the tan suede cushions, and the other negotiated the television controls.
It was a Wednesday afternoon, which meant the glowing tube that leered from the corner of the room did so in a more polite, ordered way, showing cartoons of plastic violence and spewing idiocy into the minds of the young. Joseph hated kid’s telly. He was an adult – he had unfolded himself from an awkward adolescence six or seven years ago, he had let go of all the play-dough magics of his early years and had long since trampled them underfoot; the cystic yellows of his youth mingled with ashen tones until there was nothing but monochromes clinging to his otherwise pristine brown leather brogues.
Joseph looked up. The sky had turned a deep grey, and he could hear the beating of a thousand wings outside his window. The rain began to fall.