A dark silhouette emerged from a corner of the cemetery, as black as the crosses and statues, as mercurial as the trees changing shapes in unseen wind. It hesitated for a while as to where to go, and then it poured itself at the bottom of a cross, shifting and fidgeting until it filled the space between the cross and the raised marble arm of a candle holder. It sat there for a while, as if to rest or just to gaze at the stars … And breathed.
The plane smoothly swoops to the right and then levels. The wings change shape, expanding, and the speedbrakes pop up, slowing down the plane in preparation for landing – the return to terra firma.
The writer opens his eyes and sees the forests below; the pine forests of his homeland island. The bottle of water in his hand wrinkles suddenly, squeezed by an unseen mouth sucking the last breaths of air within. It always makes him wonder if that is the effect flying has on the blood vessels in his own body. He loosens the lid letting new air in, and hears the sigh of relief as the bottle suddenly regains its shape.
He closes his notepad. He has been scribbling answers to a questionnaire sent in by a journalist. “What was the moment you started to write?” Aye, the heck of a moment that must have been! Hmm ... Perhaps that night – one of the many – when, on my way back from the tavern, I took a shortcut through the cemetery. A wave of sickness was squeezing my insides, and an invisible, disgusting mouth was sucking all the oxygen from my lungs. I forced myself to hold and not vomit over the tombs and the crosses, out of respect for the departed ones. I felt myself liquidy and translucent, as if I was filled not only with alcohol, but with a sort of mercurial poison running through my veins. I let myself fall on top of the low fence of a grave, the skin on my body tightening and wrinkling rapidly around me, like the cloth wrapping the dead. I sat still for a long time, gazing at the stars. Then I lit a cigarette, trying to remember who I was, and how I ended up there.
In the light of the match, something caught my eye, next to me, across the low fence, at the root of the cross: a small package, nicely wrapped. Oh, somebody must have placed an offering there! I lit one of the candles and I looked again, intrigued. I took the package in my hands, cursing myself for the sacrilege. The package felt ... strangely alive (or just a trick of my trembling hands under inebriation), and I had the absurd sensation that it was discreetly pulsating with a type of life I had never encountered before. What the hell ...? Horrified, I ripped the wrapping paper. To my astonishment and relief, I discovered that it was a book. I turned it in my hands, incredulous. I looked at the cover, and I read the title. I opened it and, on the front page, I could barely decipher a dedication, “To my teacher, my first novel that, sadly, arrives too late”. I read it again, aloud. Then I looked at the name carved on the cross – oh yes, oh shameless me, idiot drunkard, I was sitting on the teacher’s grave! The village teacher, who had recently died. So – I computed in my drunken head – that was a book left by somebody alive for somebody dead, who will never read it; a book that will never be read. What if – I told myself with a thought that clearly wasn't mine, and I felt as if a lid had just opened above my head, letting fresh air in – what if I were to stand in for the departed one? A wave of strange fondness overwhelmed me (after all, I was drunk), for the person that had left the book there ... Suddenly, I had a purpose in life and a duty to keep – to not let that soul be disappointed. By Heavens, I had to read that book! And I forced myself to read it … And I liked it. And then I read more; and more; and more. I studied. Then I started to write. I published my first novel ...
The jolt of the plane touching the ground brings a halt to his thoughts. He emerges from the plane like a blinking mole in the blinding sun. Outside the airport, he climbs in a taxi that takes him to the cemetery. He has arranged for a meeting there, somebody was expecting him, and he had to arrive on time.
They greet each other at the entrance, and then walk together to the teacher’s grave. She looks almost like the photo on the back cover of that book, the cemetery book. ‘You know, when I left my book on the teacher's grave I was convinced it would end up in the bin, among withered flowers and burnt candles. Or that a ghost or a restless soul might find it, read it, like it, and convert to literature ...’ She laughs, concluding, ‘Well, I wasn’t far from truth …’
They light a candle, and then sit together on the bench facing the teacher's grave, in silence for a while, looking at each other, smiling. They reminisce about the old days and the new days, the teacher, the village, the uni, the latest literary gossip, and then, just before leaving, he takes a book out of his bag, handing it to her. ‘This is for you. From me.’
She takes it with a sigh (that could have been of delight or relief), opens it, and finds the handwritten dedication on the front page, “To my teacher, my first novel that, luckily, arrives in time”.
They both look at the sky in the distance to those invisible stars. And breathe ...